by Zafar Bangash (Opinion, Crescent International Vol. 51, No. 9, Rabi' al-Thani, 1444)
Most people yearn for justice. They know that if there is justice in society, they will have peace. ‘No justice, no peace’ is a popular slogan raised by peace activists at rallies, especially in the west.
Yet there is little justice or peace in the world even in countries whose rulers never tire of talking about human rights. There is widespread injustice borne of greed and arrogance. This is as true within societies as between them. The rich and powerful exploit the poor and weak.
Seeking legal redress for injustices is enormously expensive and beyond the reach of most ordinary people even in affluent societies. In others, the justice system is corrupted to serve the interests of the rich and powerful.
A quick glance at the world’s current situation shows the enormous suffering inflicted on people. Consider just one example. Since 911, at least 32 million people have been killed by the self-proclaimed superpower that also pompously claims to be a ‘shining city upon a hill.’ Seldom in history has such barbarism been witnessed.
What accounts for such inhuman conduct? When people abandon divine guidance and assume the power and authority that rightly belongs to Allah (God), they make rules that serve only their interests. This, regrettably, has been the case throughout much of history except that the tools of destruction have become much more lethal today. Add to that the suffering inflicted through sanctions and one can begin to see the scale of suffering inflicted on innocent people.
A particularly grim reminder of this reality was provided on May 12, 1996 when Lesley Stahls of CBS program 60-Minutes asked then US Secretary of State Madelaine Albright whether the death of more than half a million Iraqi children was worth the price for keeping Iraq under sanctions. As far as Albright was concerned, the death of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children was worth the price for keeping a dictator (Saddam Hussein) in check. Sanctions on Iraq must continue, she insisted.
The same disregard for human life is at play in maintaining sanctions on the Islamic Republic of Iran, Cuba or Venezuela. In Iran, tens of thousands of children and the elderly have died because US sanctions prevent much-needed medicines from being imported. Yet the US president proclaimed open support for rioters and terrorists that have set fire to banks, mosques and ambulances and murdered policemen in Iran, all in the name of “supporting freedom”.
Foreign spies have been arrested in Iran (see here and here) who were involved in instigating riots with the clear intention of destabilizing the Islamic government.
Let us reflect on the Islamic position on justice. First, a clarification is in order. Islam talks about justice in the comprehensive sense, not merely in the legalist or mechanical sense. That is why social justice is so frequently emphasized in the noble Qur’an.
Numerous ayats in the noble Qur’an exhort the committed Muslims to uphold justice even if it be against themselves, their parents or relatives. And the Qur’an makes clear that there can be no distinction in administering justice, whether it relates to a rich person or poor.
Unfortunately, in the world today, the rich get away, literally, with murder because they can subvert the judicial system. The poor are subjected to harsh punishment much beyond the crime that they may have been forced to commit because of their difficult circumstances.
Here are a couple of ayats from the noble Qur’an that address the issue of justice.
“O you who have made a firm commitment to Allah! Be ever steadfast in upholding equity, bearing witness to the truth for the sake of Allah, even though it be against your own selves or your parents and kinsfolk. Whether the person concerned is rich or poor, Allah’s claim takes precedence over [the claims of] either of them. Do not, then, follow your own desires, lest you swerve from justice: for if you distort [the truth], behold, Allah is indeed aware of all that you do!” (Al-Qur’an 4:135).
In another ayah, Allah again reminds the committed Muslims to “… bear witness to the truth in all equity; and never let the hatred of anyone lead you into the sin of deviating from justice. Be just: this is closest to being conscious of Allah[’s power presence]…” (5:08).
Unlike western advocates of human rights that indulge in selective outrage, Muslims have by and large adhered to these principles. Lest someone points to the gross injustices prevalent in Muslim societies, let us remind them that the rulers in these Muslim countries are installed and propped up by western regimes. They are provided the tools of oppression by the very western regimes whose human rights organizations point accusing fingers at these regimes.
Their victims are committed Muslims whose only crime is to ask for basic human rights. Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Bahrain, among many others, offer ready examples. The west has close ties with these regimes providing them weapons and political support. True, relations with the Saudis have soured somewhat due to the oil crisis, but this cannot wipe out the long association the US has had with the Saudis.
There are also specific examples from the Prophetic Seerah (life-example of the Prophet (pbuh)) that emphasize the importance of justice. Before he received formal revelation, Muhammad (pbuh) joined a pact to provide justice to those wronged by the powerful clan chiefs of Makkah. Called the Hulf al-Fudool, it emerged as a consequence of a poor Yemeni merchant who sold goods to a powerful Makkan chief but the latter refused to pay.
A group of Makkah notables, among them Muhammad (pbuh) joined hands to secure the Yemeni merchant’s due. They vowed to uphold this pact and implement it in any situation where an injustice is perpetrated. After receiving the revelation and with his responsibilities multiplying manifold delivering the message of Islam, the noble Messenger (pbuh) continued to show keen interest in the deliberations of Hulf al-Fudool.
When Islam’s message was publicly proclaimed in Makkah, the powerful chiefs became very angry. Since the majority of those who embraced Islam were the downtrodden of society, the chiefs mercilessly tortured them.
One poor couple—Summaya and Yasir—were relentlessly tortured in the blistering heat of Makkah. While the Prophet (pbuh) could not rescue them because he did not have the power to confront the powerful chiefs, he offered the victims moral support.
Every day, the Prophet (pbuh) would stand at some distance to counsel patience. He gave them the glad tidings of Paradise. The poor couple was tortured to death, becoming the first martyrs of Islam. Sumayya preceded her husband Yasir in death.
There is another episode in the Prophet’s blessed life when he migrated to Madinah. To the people of the oasis town, he offered what is referred to as the Covenant of Madinah that set out in writing the rights and responsibilities of all the important constituencies.
The noble Messenger (pbuh) did more. He entered into treaties with the outlying tribes to the west of Madinah. While his primary mission was to propagate the message of Islam, these treaties were not contingent upon the tribes accepting Islam even though they were invited to join. What these treaties achieved was peace in the areas surrounding Madinah.
There was another objective as well: to assure these tribes’ neutrality in the anticipated attack by the Makkan mushriks on Muslims. The Prophet’s treaties secured peace around the peripheries of Madinah when conflict would have been deeply injurious.
Today, regrettably, many countries enter into treaties but discard them once they achieve their narrow objectives. Others look for pretexts to wage war because they covet the resources of targeted countries. In the process they kill millions of innocent people.
When the victims try to defend themselves, they are branded as terrorists and extremists. In other words, the victims are not permitted to even defend themselves against the barbarism of their tormentors.