In this series, Shaykh Walead Mosaad speaks about defining social justice in the Islamic paradigm. This segment speaks about how Muslims should pursue social action.
What Causes Injustice in the World?
As Muslims, we believe that nothing can happen without the will of Allah. It is impossible for anything to happen against His decree.
What about the injustice that occurs? We believe that Allah has firmly commanded us to establish justice and good conduct, and forbids us from bad conduct. It is our responsibility to uphold these principles and act with righteousness.
However, from a Divine perspective, Allah sends us calamities and difficulties for two reasons: either to admonish us, or to teach us a lesson which can raise us.
Accountability and Oppression
The question then arises: who created actions?
In terms of actual creation, that is, making something out of nothing, only Allah has the power to create. However, we humans have take kasb, or acquisition, of actions which we are responsible for.
Oppression has two forms. There is oppression against others, which can be punished by Allah in this life or the next. However, there is also oppression against the self, which we will also be held accountable for.
Distributive justice, from an Islamic paradigm is based on an equitable distribution of rights and responsibilities, rather than a strictly uniform one. A strict uniformity approach would be unjust. For example, we do not speak to children in the same way that we speak to adults, and vice versa. That is because we have a responsibility towards our children, to raise them and guide them. We do not have the same responsibility towards adults.
In addition, adults are also treated differently according to their circumstances and abilities. A woman, for example, is entitled to different things than a man is, because she can bear children. A man does not have the right to provide for himself by using his wife’s money, but she can use his money.
Enjoining Good and Righting Wrongs
The concept of enjoining the good and forbidding the wrong is one that is shared by both Muslim scholars and modern social activists.
In fact, Imam Nawawi stated that doing this would be obligatory under the following three conditions. Firstly, the wrong in question would have to be considered harmful by scholarly consensus. Secondly, that in the process of righting the wrong, a greater harm would not occur. Thirdly, the method of reproach had to be within the confines of the Sacred Law.
Similarity, Imam Ghazali determined five steps by which to correct a wrong, as follows:
- To assume that the person involved in the action is doing so innocently, and raise awareness and give counsel to them.
- To gently admonish them.
- To verbally rebuke them.
- To physically prevent them, if they are actively engaging in the action.
- To physically discipline the guilty party after the fact, if the act could not be prevented. This step is only for the authorities to carry out, and civilians should only report to the designated authority, in order to prevent vigilantism.
Imam Ghazali warned that a person should not move on to the next step, until they have absolutely exhausted all means to succeed on the earlier steps.
About the Series
Social justice has been the focus in recent times of Muslim activists and communities. More often than not, the methods and objectives employed in Muslim social justice work has drawn from practices of other communities and traditions not necessarily rooted in Islamic principles. Does the Islamic tradition contain relevant principles that can be drawn upon to inform social justice work?