The Muslims, starting with Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him), put into practice the highest form of justice. Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) placed himself on the same level with the rest of humanity. The Qur’ân relates to us that he said: “Verily I am a man like yourselves.”
He did not use his eminent and noble status in order to set himself apart from the rest of humanity and justify seizing their rights and property without just cause. Quite the contrary, he was a most admirable example for upholding justice, even against himself, in spite of the fact that he was Allah’s Prophet and Messenger.
It has been related that Asyad b. Khudayr (may Allah be pleased with him) was a righteous, cheerful, and handsome man. Once while he was in the presence of Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him), addressing the people and making them laugh, Allah’s Messenger jabbed him in his hip. He said: “You have injured me.”
Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) then said: “You may take retribution.”
He said: “O Messenger of Allah, you have a shirt on and I do not.” Allah’s Messenger lifted his shirt. Asyad then embraced him and said, “By my mother and father, I wanted only this.” Then he kissed Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) on the hip.
This is one of the most striking examples of justice that the most equitable leaders throughout the centuries were never able to equal when dealing with their subjects.
Another example of the practical application of justice in Islam is that of `Umar b. al-Khattâb, the Commander of the Faithful, who would not let his testimony take precedence over anyone else’s testimony merely because he was the ruler. It has been related about him that while he was on his habitual nightly patrol to survey the condition of his subjects, he saw a man and woman committing adultery.
He later assembled the people and addressed them, saying: “O people, what would you say about a man and a woman who the Commander of the Faithful saw committing adultery?”
`Alî b. Abî Tâlib (may Allah be pleased with him) said: “The Commander of the Faithful would have to produce four witnesses or he would be lashed for bearing false testimony.” He then recited the following verse from the Qur’ân:
Those who accuse chaste women and do not produce four witnesses should be given eighty lashes and their testimony should never again be accepted. These people, they are the sinners.
The Commander of the Faithful had no recourse but to withhold the names of the perpetrators, because he realized that he would not be able to produce the rest of the witnesses, and in this matter he was no different than the rest of the Muslims.
Another example is that of `Alî b. Abî Tâlib, the fourth Caliph (may Allah be pleased with him). One day, he lost his coat of armor and found it in the possession of a Christian, so he took the case to the judge Shurayh. `Ali, as the plaintiff, said: “This coat of armor is mine. I neither sold it nor gave it away.”
Shurayh then asked the Christian about it, who said: “The coat of armor is none other than mine, and I do not consider the Commander of the Faithful to be a liar.”
Shurayh then turned to `Alî and said: “The coat of armor is in his possession. This gives him an apparent right over it. Do you have any evidence to support your claim?”
`Ali (may Allah be pleased with him) then said: “Shurayh is correct. I do not have any proof.” Thus, Shurayh ruled in favor of the Christian.
The Christian turned away, taking the coat of armor with him. He took only a few steps before he turned around and said: “As for myself, I bear witness that these are the laws of the Prophets. The Commander of the Faithful takes me to the judge and he rules in my favor against him. I bear witness that there is no God but Allah and that Muhammad is his Messenger. The coat of armor is yours, O Commander of the Faithful. I was following behind your army while you were departing from Siffîn, and I came up from behind your multi-hued camel.”
`Alî (may Allah be pleased with him) said: “Since you have accepted Islam, then it is yours.”
There are numerous other examples that show how justice in Islam was put into practice to the highest degree. Allah says:
lieve, stand firmly for Allah as just witnesses and do not let the enmity and hatred of others make you avoid justice. Be just, for this is nearer to piety. Fear Allah. Verily Allah is well acquainted with what you do.
Islam considers freedom to be a natural right of the human being. Living becomes devoid of worth when freedom is not present. When a person loses his or her freedom, his or her inner self dies, even though on the outside, he or she continues to live; eating, drinking, working, and going through the other motions of life. Islam elevates freedom to such a level that it has made free thought the proper way of coming to know about Allah’s existence, Allah’s existence being a fact that needs no external proofs or miracles to be known. Allah says:
There is no compulsion in religion. Guidance is clear from error.
The verse negates the use of compulsion in religion, though religious belief is the mightiest thing that a human may possess. This makes it quite clear that compultion is not to be tolerated in any other matter and that the human being is independent in what he or she possesses and does without being subjected to the will of anyone else. The individual has free will and free choice.
The Meaning of Freedom: Freedom is a person’s ability to do something or abstain from it of his or her own free will. It is a special quality enjoyed by every rational human being. With it, a person acts without the interference of others, because that person is not owned by anyone, not on the individual level, nor on the level of the state, society, or nation.
Does “freedom” mean being left completely without any regulation?
Islam’s recognition of freedom does not imply that it leaves the individual free of all restrictions and guidelines, because that kind of “freedom” is mere anarchy that gives free reign to lusts and base desires. It is well known that these vain desires bring more harm to the human being than they do good. For this reason, Islam forbids a person to follow them. Islam regards the human being as a naturally social creature who lives among many others of the same kind. No one’s freedom is granted at the expense of another’s. Everyone must be given freedom on both the individual and societal levels. For this reason, Islam sets down certain rules and guidelines that guarantee the freedom of all. These guidelines can be outlined in the following manner:
A. The freedom of individuals and communities should never jeopardize the general order of society or destroy its foundations.
B. The freedom of individuals or communities should never cause the loss of more general rights. This is in consideration of their intrinsic value.
C. No one’s freedom should violate the freedom of others.
These regulations and guidelines show that Islam does not recognize individual freedom at the expense of the community, nor does it establish freedoms for communities at the expense of individuals. Instead, it strikes a balance between the two, giving everyone their just due.
Types of freedom:
• Individual freedom with reference to material concerns.
• Individual freedom with reference to more abstract matters.
Individual Freedom with Reference to Material Concerns A. Personal Freedom: A human being should be fully capable of disposing of his or her own affairs in every matter that is of personal significance without fearing injury to his or her person, property, or reputation as long as his or her activity does not transgress against the rights of others. Personal freedom implies the existence of two things:
1. Sanctity of the self: Islam places great emphasis on human dignity, and grants the human being a lofty status. It enjoins people to show respect for others and refrain from belittling them. Allah says:
– Truly, We have honored the children of Adam.
– And when your Lord said to the angels: ‘Verily I will place a vicegerent on the Earth.’ They said: ‘Will You place therein those who will make mischief and shed blood while we extol Your praises and glorify you?’ He said: ‘Verily I know what you know not.”
These texts call to the honor, nobility, and sanctity of the human being and give consideration for human faculties. Islam places the human being on the highest level. For this reason, Islam considers transgression against one person to be transgression against society as a whole. Likewise, it considers concern for one person to be concern for society as a whole. Allah says:
For this reason, we decreed for the Children of Israel that whoever kills a single soul unjustly or does mischief in the land will be like a person who has killed all of mankind and whoever saves a single soul will be like one who saved all of mankind.
This recognition of human dignity applies to everyone, whether male or female, ruler or subject. It is a right of every human being, regardless of color, race, or religion. Even the foundling in the street must be taken in and honored on account of that intrinsic human worth.
If anyone finds a child abandoned on the street, that person must take that child in. If no one does this, then everyone in the community is sinful and they are all responsible to Allah for the child’s demise.
In the same way that Islam emphasizes the dignity of the human being during his or her lifetime, it does so for the human being after death. Islam forbids mutilating the corpse and commands that the body be prepared for burial and then properly buried. Likewise, Islam prohibits sitting on graves or defecating on them.
2. Security of the self: Islam guarantees the safety of the person’s life, honor, and wealth. It is forbidden to kill, injure, or otherwise transgress against another human being. It does not matter whether this injury is physical, like imprisonment, or psychological, like verbal abuse.
To prevent all such forms of abuse and create an environment where people can exercise their personal freedom, Islamic Law prescribes disciplinary measures and punishments. The greater the transgression, the sterner the punishment. The punishment for murder is retribution. Allah says:
O you who believe, retribution is prescribed for you in murder.
Retribution is also required in cases of injury and dismemberment. Allah says:
We prescribed for them in it a life for a life, an eye for an eye, a nose for a nose, an ear for an ear, a tooth for a tooth, and retribution in injury.
`Umar b. al-Khattâb (may Allah be pleased with him) prohibited his governors from beating anyone except with the decree of a reputed judge. `Umar also demanded that the governors who disobeyed be beaten to the extent that they beat their subjects. `Umar went further to prohibit the governors from insulting any of their subjects, setting down a punishment for those governors who defied him in this.
B. Freedom of Travel: An individual is free to travel at will within his or her country and outside of it without any impediment. It is a natural right of a human being to be able to depart and return. It is a requirement of life to be able to do so. It is often necessary to earn a livelihood, find employment, seek knowledge, and achieve many other things. Movement is a quality of all living things. It is a necessary part of what it means to be alive. Freedom of movement is established by the Qur’ân, Sunnah, and the consensus of the jurists.
In the Qur’ân, Allah says:
It is He Who made the Earth submit to you, so traverse its surface and eat of its sustenance and to Him is your return.
No one should be prohibited from movement except for an overriding consideration of the general welfare. When a plague struck Syria, `Umar b. al-Khattâb (may Allah be pleased with him) prohibited travel to Syria. He did so in order to carry out the instructions of Allah’s Messenger: “If you hear about a plague in a certain land, then do not go there, and if you are in a land when a plague strikes it, then do not leave and try to flee it.”
To facilitate the people’s freedom of movement, Islam prohibits any transgression being committed against travelers or hindrance being placed in their way. For the same reason, Islam has prescribed an extremely stern punishment for highway robbery. Allah says:
The recompense of those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger and go about in the Earth spreading mischief is that they should be killed or crucified or have their hands and feet cut off on opposite sides or be exiled from the land. This is a disgrace in this world, and they have in the Hereafter a great punishment.
In order to facilitate use of the roadways, the Prophet (peace be upon him) forbade his Companions from sitting down in them. He said: “Avoid sitting in the roadways.” His Companions responded: “O Messenger of Allah, we have no recourse but to sit in these places.” He said: “If this is the case, then give the road its rights.” They said: “What are the rights of the road, O Messenger of Allah?” He said: “Lowering the gaze, abstaining from abuse, returning the greeting of peace, enjoining what is right, and forbidding what is wrong.”
The streets should be used for what they are built for, like traveling and the transportation of goods. Using them for any other purpose is prohibited, especially if it leads to harming others.
Due to the importance of travel in the life of a Muslim and due to the fact that unforeseen problems often occur during travel, Allah has granted the wayfarer a right to a share of the Zakâh funds (alms) if needed, even if this person is affluent in his or her own land.
C. Freedom of Residence: Any person who is capable of securing a place of residence for his or her self has the freedom to do so. Likewise, the state should provide suitable housing for those who are incapable of doing so for themselves, so that they can have at least a minimal standard of living.
Abû Sa`îd al-Khudrî (may Allah be pleased with him) relates that Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) said: “Whoever has excess shelter should provide shelter for one who has none, and whoever has excess provisions should provide for one who has none.”
The jurist Ibn Hazm uses this hadîth and others as proof that the affluent Muslims are expected to provide for the needs of the poor when the Zakâh funds and tributes are insufficient to address their basic needs. These needs are food, drink, clothing, and shelter from the heat and cold. The prominent people in society and in government are responsible to collect these funds and distribute them to the needy, both Muslim and Non-Muslim, because the fulfillment of these basic needs is a universal right of all humanity. Every member of society should be guaranteed these things.
When a person owns a home, it is not permissible for anyone else – not even the president of the country – to break into that home or enter it without the owner’s permission except under the direst circumstances. Allah says:
O you who believe, do not enter the homes of others before announcing yourselves and greeting the occupants. This is better for you that perhaps you might take heed. And if you find no one present, then do not enter their homes until you receive permission. If you are told to go back, then go back. This is purer for you. And Allah knows well all that you do.
If entering houses without permission is forbidden, confiscating or destroying the homes of others is even more heinous. The only exception to this is where the general welfare of society rests upon doing so. In these cases, the homes can be taken as long as fair compensation is given to the owners.
There are many instances where the general welfare might require the acquisition of others’ homes. It might be necessary to complete such projects as expanding a mosque, constructing a needed road, or building a hospital. `Umar b. al-Khattâb (may Allah be pleased with him) displaced the people of Najrân and compensated them with the city of Kufah.
To protect the sanctity of the home, Islam prohibits spying. Allah says:
Do not spy, and do not backbite one another.
Spying violates the rights of others by violating the sanctity of the home and compromising the inhabitants’ personal freedom. Islam goes so far in preserving the sanctity of the home that it waives the right to retribution or blood money in cases where the home of another has been violated. Abû Hurayrah related that Allah’s Messenger said: “Whoever looks into the home of another without permission, then poke out his eye, and there will be no compensation for the eye.” Even though the eye of a human being is sacred and the monetary damages that Islam demands from one who damages the eyes of another are great, they are waived in this case where the eyes were used to violate the righs of another.”
D. Freedom of Ownership: Possession is where a person is able to dispose of something and benefit from it in any legally sanctioned manner. There are various types of property and various legitimate ways of acquiring it, all of which can be summarized as follows:
1. Types of property: Property or possession is of two types, private and public. Private property is where an individual has something and has the exclusive right to benefit from it.
Islam grants the individual the right to possess. It is a fundamental principle of Islamic Economics. It acknowledges the natural consequences of private ownership, like the need to preserve it and safeguard it from seizure, theft, and misappropriation. Islam sets stern punishments for transgressing against another’s property in order to safeguard the right to private property.
There are other consequences of private ownership that Islam addresses, like the freedom to dispose of one’s property through buying, selling, leasing, mortgaging, gifting, bequeathing, and other types of legitimate commercial behavior.
Islam, however, does not leave private ownership completely unregulated. It sets down a number of regulations to ensure that the rights of others are not violated. Islam prohibits usury, fraud, bribery, hoarding, and other harmful practices.
The freedom to own property is the same for men and women. Allah says:
Men have a share in what they earn and women have a share in what they earn.
As for public property, it is possessed by society at large, or by a sector of society. All the people in society benefit from it collectively. No individual has an exclusive right to any part of it.
This type of property includes mosques, hospitals, public roads, rivers, oceans, and the public treasury. Public property is used for the public benefit. It is not to be used for the benefit of political leaders or other individuals. No one should interfere with it without a legally valid reason, like managing the property and employing it for the common good.
2. Means of acquiring property:
The legitimate means of acquiring property are those that are specifically recognized by Islamic Law. All other ways of acquiring property are forbidden. The legitimate means of acquisition can be broken down into two categories: private and public.
Private acquisition can occur in two different situations. The first is where the wealth concerned is already the property another. The second is where it is not. Wealth that is the property of another cannot be transferred from its owner to another except for a legitimate reason. These reasons include the transfer of property due to inheritance, bequests, preemption, contractual obligation, or a gift.
Wealth that has never been the property of another cannot become someone’s property except through activity that leads to possession. This would include developing barren land, hunting wild game, extracting mineral wealth from the Earth, and being allotted unowned wealth by way of a government charter.
Personal ownership is also subject to the following conditions:
1. The owner must continue to use the property productively. Neglecting the property is harmful even to the owner and using it productively is beneficial to all of society.
2. The owner must pay the necessary Zakâh tax. If the person possesses a certain amount of wealth, it may be subject to the Zakâh tax. Zakâh is considered spending in the cause of Allah, but it is also considered a right of the wealth itself.
3. The owner must avoid all prohibited means of acquiring wealth, like interest, fraud, and cornering the market through hoarding.
4. The owner should not squander the wealth nor be excessively stingy with it.
Public acquisition of wealth manifests itself in many ways. The first of these are the natural resources that are readily available to everyone without much effort, like water, public pastureland, and fire.
The second of these are resources that are protected and maintained by the state for the general benefit. This includes such things as graveyards, military bases, government agencies, public endowments, and Zakâh funds.
Then there are those resources not owned by anyone and resources that were previously owned then fell under a long period of neglect, like undeveloped land.
Finally there are those resources acquired by the state through military effort, like the spoils of war.
E. Freedom of Work: Working is an Islamically permissible way of making a living. It holds a high honor among the various activities of life. Islam recognizes the individual’s right to engage in any field of work he or she wishes unless this leads to a conflict of interests or causes detriment to society.
Due to the importance of work in Islam, it is considered a form of struggle (jihad) in the cause of Allah. Ka`b b. `Ajazah (may Allah be pleased with him) relates that a man passed the Prophet (peace be upon him) and the Companions saw how hard working and industrious he was. They said: “O Messenger of Allah, if he were only doing this much work for the sake of Allah…”
Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) said: “If he is working to support his small children, then it is for the sake of Allah. If he is working to support his elderly parents, then it is for the sake of Allah. If he is working to occupy himself and keep his desires in check, then it is for the sake of Allah. If, on the other hand, he is doing so to show off and earn fame, then he is working for the sake of Satan.”
We find in the Qur’ân and Sunnah many texts that speak about work and praise a number of occupations, like metalworking, shipbuilding, and agriculture. The reason for this is that work, in and of itself, is a means of survival. Survival, in turn, is a necessary condition for the greatest purpose in life – worshipping Allah and seeking His pleasure. The greatness of this objective elevates the means needed to attain it.
The greatest objective is the pleasure of Allah, and work and sacrifice are the greatest means of attaining it. The Qur’ân praises work and earning a livelihood only to show the great benefits that it brings, its importance for human survival, and that it is Allah’s greatest blessing for humanity.
Individual Freedom with Reference to Abstract Concerns
A. Freedom of Belief: The individual has a right to choose the religion that he or she is convinced is true without being compelled by anyone. Compulsion negates free will, so a person who is compelled is not truly convinced. If we consider Allah’s words “There is no compulsion in religion”, …we find that Islam has completely rejected the use of force in matters of belief. Islam asserts that thoughts and beliefs must develop in complete freedom. When a person accepts a religion, creed, or idea under compulsion or threat, then such an acceptance is false, worthless, and rejected. It is not in that person’s heart. There is no conviction behind it. For this reason, Allah says:
– If your Lord had willed, then everyone on Earth would have believed. Would you compel the people in order to make them believers?
– So remind them (O Muhammad), you are only one who reminds. You are not a dictator over them.
These verses and others like them reject the use of compulsion in matters of belief and assert the individual’s right to choose what to believe and what religion to embrace.
It follows from freedom of belief that there must be dialogue and discussion about religious matters. There must be an exchange of ideas and the opportunity to clarify matters that are ambiguous or poorly understood. This is so that belief can be attained with conviction and peace of mind and so that someone who does not know the truth can have a chance to arrive at it.
The Prophets and Messengers (peace be upon him) used to try to convince their people by engaging in discussions with them. Abraham (peace be upon him) engaged his Lord in discussion on the issue of death and resurrection in order to increase his conviction. Allah relates it in the Qur’ân as follows:
And when Abraham said: “My Lord, show me how you bring the dead to life.” He (Allah) said: “Do you not believe?” He said: “Yes, but (I ask) for the contentment of my heart.” He (Allah) said: “Take four birds and train them to come to you, then place a portion of them on every mountain. Then call them. They will come to you swiftly.” Then when it became clear to him, he said: “I know that Allah is Mighty, Wise.”
The angel Gabriel (peace be upon him) came to Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) and asked him about Islam, faith, piety, and the signs of the Hour. This is a clear proof for Islam’s insistence upon free discussion in religious matters, both between the Muslims themselves as well as between Muslims and the adherents of other faiths.
The condition for such discussions is the sincere desire to arrive at the truth and to accept the truth when it becomes clear. The purpose of discussion must not be to present false and confusing arguments or to spread doubts. Such discussions are forbidden, because they do not help people to arrive at the truth with certainty and conviction.
It also follows from freedom of belief that there must be freedom of religious practice. A person must be allowed to carry out his or her religious duties without being rebuked, belittled, or threatened. The position that Islam has given to Non-Muslims living in the Islamic State is one of the glorious facts of Islamic history and a sign of Islam’s greatness and magnanimity. When Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) arrived in Yathrib (now known as Madinah) he gave the Jews a treaty of peace.
It afforded them the right to believe and worship according to their own religion and in their own places of worship. The Rightly Guided Caliphs who succeeded him followed the same practice. `Umar b. al-Khattâb (may Allah be pleased with him) sent to the people of Jerusalem a treaty with the following wording:
This is what `Umar, the Commander of the Faithful, grants to the people of Iliyâ’ in peace. He grants them the safety of their persons, their churches, and their crosses… their churches will not be shut down nor destroyed. Nothing will be taken from them nor from their crosses. They will not be compelled to abandon their faith nor shall they any one of them be abused.
The scholars of Europe today bear witness to the magnanimity of Islam and admit this in their books.
Michaud, in his book The History of the Crusades, writes:
Islam, that commands jihâd, is magnanimous to the followers of other faiths. It exempted the patriarchs, monks, and their servants from taxation and prohibited the killing of monks specifically, because of their devoting their lives to worship. `Umar b. al-Khattâb did not harm the Christians in any way when he opened up Jerusalem. The Crusaders slaughtered the Muslims and burnt down their homes when they entered that city.
B. Freedom of Opinion: Freedom of opinion or freedom of thought is protected by Islam. Islam permits the individual to look into Creation and observe all the phenomena that it contains. It encourages the individual to experiment, employ reason, and utilize the world around him for the benefit of humanity, because everything in Creation is there for the benefit of the human being. The human being is capable of utilizing nature to his own benefit, transforming it and manipulating it to the maximum possible extent. This can only be achieved with a considerable amount of thought and contemplation.
Advancing ones opinion can be done in many circumstances and for many reasons:
1. It can be done to clarify the truth and counteract falsehood. Allah says:
Let there arise from you a group of people who call to goodness, enjoin what is right, and forbid what is wrong. These are the ones who are successful.
In this verse, Allah is asking the believers to make the truth – that which is right – manifest and also to refute falsehood.
2. It can be done to prevent oppression and establish justice. This is what the Prophets and Messengers did when they confronted the kings and leaders. Scholars and intellectuals do so when they confront the rulers and judges. Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) said: “The best struggle (jihad) is to speak the truth in front of an unjust king.”
3. A person may advance his or her opinion to clarify which affairs are more important and should be dealt with first. The members of the consultative councils in many countries and societies often do this.
Freedom of opinion can manifest itself in countless other ways, but this freedom is granted by Islam only to foster good and to allow the individual to develop his or her self and society. It is not there so a person can injure himself and others or follow his lusts and destructive desires.
When we look into Islamic history, we find that freedom of opinion was put into practice since the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him).
We can see that the Companion Habbâb b. al-Mundhir gave his personal opinion about where the Muslims should position themselves during the Battle of Badr. His opinion on this matter ran contrary to the opinion of the Prophet (peace be upon him). The Prophet (peace be upon him) accepted his opinion.
When the Prophet’s wife `A’ishah was accused of adultery, some of the Companions advised him to divorce her. Then the Qur’ân testified to her innocence. There are many other examples in history where the Companions freely gave their opinions to Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him).
C. Freedom of Education: Islam requires the individual to seek knowledge and has granted every individual the right to seek an education. It has placed no restrictions on this, as long as the knowledge sought is of benefit to the Muslims in their worldly lives or their religion. Quite the contrary, Islam encourages people to seek all such knowledge.
As for knowledge that yields no benefit, but may even cause harm, it is forbidden for the Muslim to seek it. Magic and fortune telling fall under this category.
Knowledge and education are of great importance for life. For this reason, the very first verse of the Qur’ân to be revealed ordered the Prophet (peace be upon him) to read. Allah says:
Read in the name of your Lord Who created; Who created man from a clot. Read! And your Lord is Most Generous, Who taught by way of the pen; Who taught the human being what he did not know.
Reading is the key to knowledge. This is the reason why the Prophet (peace be upon him) would pardon any prisoner of war from among the disbelievers if they would teach the children of Madinah how to read and write. This was after the Muslims had to emigrate to Madinah fleeing persecution, and after the unbelievers subsequently went to war against them.
One of the great qualities of Islam is that it opens up the doors of knowledge for humanity and encouraged the people to walk through them and progress as far as possible. Islam hates the neglect of knowledge and backwardness. For this reason, it is the responsibility of the Islamic State to provide all of its people with educational opportunities and to guarantee everyone their right to an education. This right must be guaranteed to everyone in the country, just like any other right.
D. Political Freedom: This refers to the freedom of the people to choose and elect their political leadership, as well as their right to monitor and criticize the performance of that leadership and to remove that leadership whenever they deviate from the Law of Allah and turn away from justice.
Likewise, it is the right of the individual to participate in carrying out the responsibilities of the government, because political authority is a collective right of the citizenry. It is not the exclusive privilege of any individual or group of people. The selection of the political leadership might occur as a result of appointment or the consultation of the people of knowledge and distinction who represent the public in a number of affairs. Among these affairs is that of making juristic decisions on issues that are not addressed by the sacred text. The political leadership must refer to the experts on matters like these. In the same way, the leadership must refer to such people in matters of serious general importance, like declaring war, making peace, concluding a treaty, establishing diplomatic ties, drafting a budget, and granting public assistance to certain sectors of the population.
Verily Allah commands you to render trusts back to their owners and if you judge between people that you judge justly.
Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) said: “Religion is sincerity.” His Companions asked: “To whom, O Messenger of Allah?” He replied: “To Allah’s Messenger, the leaders of the Muslims, and the masses.”
Equality is defined as two things being similar in value and consideration. When we say that the human being is equal to his or her fellow human being, we mean that they all share the same human worth and have the same rights and responsibilities.
Equality is a very important general principle for human life. It is acknowledged by Islamic Law and is in harmony with sound reason. It is needed for the proper functioning of society.
In order to prevent discrimination between people in fulfilling their needs, it is necessary for there to be some principle to safeguard the rights that are shared by all. Ths principle is that of equality. It is the only principle that secures for everybody his or her rights.
Manifestations of equality:
A. Equality in human worth:
When Islam arrived in the world, it found the people were different in their physical qualities and their upbringings. They were differentiated by affiliation and by lineage. They waged war against each other over territory and out of bigotry and tribalism. They forgot that they all shared a common origin. The Brahmans of India claimed that humans were unequal in human worth.
The Greeks used to believe that they were a preferred people, better than all others. They believed that they were not created from the same elements that other people, whom they called Berbers, were created from.
The Romans recorded in their books that Non-Romans did not share any of the rights enjoyed by Romans and that they were all created to serve the Romans.
The Jews believed that they were Allah’s chosen people and that the Canaanites – the rest of humanity – were an inferior creation that was created to serve them.
The Arabs saw themselves as the most perfect race in every sense and considered the rest of humanity – whom they referred to as `ajam – to be inferior and deficient in their humanity.
This was the condition of the human societies that existed at that time. They invariably separated people into two classes: the nobility and the slaves.
Islam is extremely concerned with the principle of equality of human worth. It considers it a basic principle that all people must believe in as part of their faith in their Lord. Islam asserts that people are equal like the teeth of a comb with respect to their origins and human makeup. There is no difference between people in this respect, whether they be men or women, Arabs or Non-Arabs, black or white, master or slave, rich or poor. All people come from the same origin. They are all the descendants of Adam and Adam was from dust.
This type of equality is extolled by the Qur’ân. Allah says:
We have honored the children of Adam and carried them over land and sea and provided them from the good things and preferred them over much of what We have created.
This honor applies to all humanity.
Humanity as a whole is honored by Allah. All people, without exception, are regarded as members of humanity. Islam does not permit society to establish a caste system. It also does not permit any group of people claming superiority over another on an arbitrary basis like color, special origins, environment, or prestige. Islam rejects all pretenses that allow someone to take a position of superiority over another. Allah says:
O mankind, fear your Lord who created you from one soul and created from it its mate and spread forth from them both many men and women.
Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) said: “People are equal like the teeth of a comb.”
One day, the Prophet (peace be upon him) heard Abû Dharr al-Ghifârî who was an Arab insult Bilâl b. Rabâh who was an Ethiopian by saying to him: “O son of a black woman.”
Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) became very angry and rebuked Abû Dharr saying: “You are a man with the habits of the time of ignorance. The child of a white woman has no preference over the child of a black woman. The only preference is by piety or good deeds.”
At this point Abû Dharr placed his cheek on the ground and swore an oath that Bilâl should place his foot on his cheek until Allah forgives his mistake and pardons his ignorant action.
The question remains: Does equality in human worth negate the idea that some people are better than others?
The answer is that there can be no preference of one person over another – or of one group of people over another – on the basis of origins, physical makeup, or lineage.
In fact, on the level of human worth, Adam (peace be upon him) – who was the first human being on the face of the Earth – is equal to the last human being to live in the future. There can be no preference based on factors that people have no control over, like physical appearance.
Preference can only be achieved in matters that a person is capable of achieving, like performing good deeds, abstaining from evil, believing in Allah, performing prayers, paying the Zakâh tax, fasting, and performing the Hajj pilgrimage. These deeds fall within human capabilities, and everyone can perform them in the best possible manner. In this way, one person can be better than another. Allah says:
O mankind, verily We created you from a male and a female and made you nations and tribes so you could come to know one another. Verily the noblest of you with Allah is the most pious.
In this way, the Muslim is better than the disbeliever, because the Muslim performs the acts of piety that are wanted by Allah. Allah says:
Or should We make those who believe and perform righteous deeds like those who wreck havoc in the Earth or make the believers like the disbelievers?
The preference of some people over others on account of their deeds even exists between Muslims. Allah says:
Those among you who spent and fought before the victory are not the same as those who (only) spent and fought afterwards – they are higher in rank.
This type of inequality extends to the Prophets and Messengers. Some were better than others and enjoyed a higher status. Allah says:
Those Messengers, We preferred some of them to others. Allah spoke to some of them directly and some of them he raised in status.
The preference of some Prophets over others was not due to their physical makeup or human worth. It was instead on account of the noble deeds that they performed and the Message that they had to carry. A Prophet who was sent only to his people is not the same as one who was sent to all humanity.
Someone might ask: How can there be equality between people when people were created as different nations and ethnic groups having different languages and colors?
The answer is that though these differences exist in the world, Islamic Law does not recognize them. Such diversity in form and appearance only serves to show the great power of the Creator Who does with His Creation what He pleases. These differences do not exist to justify divisiveness, hatred and animosity. Allah mentions the wisdom behind these differences in the same verse in which He mentions them. Allah says:
O you who believe, verily We created you from a male and a female and made you nations and tribes so you could come to know one another. Verily the noblest of you with Allah is the most pious.
The reason for such physical differences exist so people can “come to know one another.” They must work together for their common human interests. They must all strive to worship their Lord and Creator. They must work to further their own interests and the interests of humanity as a whole. They must develop and uplift human society, and bring forth the gifts of civilization and culture.
B. Equality before the law: Allah alone creates and He alone sets down the Law. He sets down the firmest principles for ensuring human equality before His Law. In this way, He makes it impossible for any individual or group of people to claim superiority over others and use their position to set down whatever laws suit their interests, no matter how detrimental those laws might be. Allah alone has the right to legislate, just like He alone brings forth the Creation. Allah says:
– The decree is with Allah alone. He commands you not to worship anyone but Him.
– And judge between them with what Allah has revealed and follow not their vain desires, and beware lest they turn you away from some of what Allah has revealed to you.
Allah alone sets down the Law, since the intent of the Law is to achieve truth and justice. It must not bend to vested interests and vain desires. No matter what laws are established by human beings, they will never be able to completely correct and just at all times. They might achieve justice on occasion, but fail to do so at other times. The reason for this is that vested interests always play a part in their formulation. They must always suffer from deficiencies and limitations. This is why history is replete with all kinds of oppression on account of man-made laws.
How does Islamic Law achieve equality? Islamic Law addresses all humanity in general terms. It applies to the rulers and the ruled alike. It applies to all men and women. It enjoins upon all people to carry out its commandments, like performing prayer, paying alms, fasting, and embarking on the Hajj pilgrimage. The governors are not exempted from prayer any more than the governed are.
The same can be said for the prohibitions. Theft, adultery, and false accusation are forbidden for everyone. There are no exceptions to this. This is what equality before the law means.
C. Equality before the courts:
The Islamic judicial system is based upon the Divine Law. Just as people are equal before the Law itself, they are equal when it comes to the way the Law is carried out. The judge is equal to the one being judged. The rulers and the subjects are equal before the courts. No one is beyond the reach of the courts. Equality before the courts has been the practice since the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and the Rightly Guided Caliphs.
`Â’ishah relates that the tribe of Quraysh was very upset about the case of a woman from the Makhzûm clan who had committed theft. They sought out someone who would intercede on her behalf before Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him). And who would have more courage to do so than Usâmah b. Zayd, who was very dear to Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him)? Usamah went to him and spoke on her behalf. Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) said: “Would you intercede in a punishment prescribed by Allah?” He then went and addressed the public saying: “O people! Those who came before you came to ruin only because whenever a noble committed theft, they would pardon him, but whenever a weak person did so, they would carry out the punishment. By Allah, if Fâtimah, the daughter of Muhammad, committed theft, I would cut off her hand.”