Social Justice in Islam

Social Justice in Islam


Social justice and development are integral and compliment
each other for the healthy development of a moral and just
society. Development should lead to social justice where the
most impoverished and marginalized are reached, their basic
needs are met, and are enriched and have access to
resources as any dignified, independent and free human
being. Social justice philanthropy where our giving and
volunteering are geared to achieve social justice and social
mobility by reaching the most marginalized and enabling
them to enhance their status and depend on themselves is
essential, especially when these efforts involve policy
changes and shifting peoples’ perception towards peoples’
giving habits.


Social Justice in Islam

Islam has emphasized on numerous principles that organize
relationships among members of the society. One of the
most important principles is social justice with all important
values that it involves like peace, love, brotherhood, and
prosperity. Justice in Islam is not only practiced on Muslims.
Rather, it is practiced on every human being regardless to
his/her beliefs or religion. 1
The Meaning of Justice
Justice as a concept refers to equality in giving rights and in
abiding by obligations without discriminations for any reason,
either for religion, race, color, etc… 2
Justice As Manifested in Quran
TThe importance of justice is manifested in being one of
God’s names in Islam. It is considered among the most
important values underlined by the Quran and repeated in a
number of its verses. God has required justice to be a
necessary part of the behavior of every Muslim. It covers
every aspect in life and has to be practiced with every
person in the world, including rivals and enemies. As God
said, “Lo! Allah Commandeth you that ye restore deposits to
their owners, and, if ye judge between mankind, that ye
judge justly. Lo! Comely is this which Allah admonisheth you.
Lo! Allah is ever Hearer, Seer. (Sourat al Nesa’a, 58) He also
said, “O ye who believe! Be steadfast witnesses for Allah in
equity, and let not hatred of any people seduce you that ye
deal not justly. Deal justly, that is nearer to your duty.
Observe your duty to Allah. Lo! Allah is informed of what ye
do. (Sourat al Ma’eda, 8).


The definition of social justice:
Social justice means giving each individual what he/she
deserves, the distribution of financial benefits in the society,
providing equally for basic needs. It is also the
egalitarianism in opportunities, i.e. each person has a
chance to climb up the social ladder.4
The Basis of Social Justice in Islam
Social justice is one of the most important aspects of justice
in Islam. As was clarified by Dr. Sayed Qotb, in Social Justice
in Islam, there are three basic elements of social justice in
Islam. These are the absolute freedom of conscience, the
complete equality of all men, and the social interdependence
among members of the society. Considering the first
element, which is freedom of conscience, social justice can
not be achieved except with a totally free human conscience
that purely believes that there is no superior authority over
any individual except God. Power is only in the hand of God,
and nobody can work as a mediator between Him and His
creatures, even if he is a prophet. As God said concerning
Prophet Mohamed “Say: Lo! I control not hurt nor benefit for
you” (Sourat Al Gen, 21) and said, “O people of the
Scripture! Come to an agreement between us and you: that
we shall worship non but Allah, and that we shall ascribe no
partner unto Him, and that none of us shall take others for
lords beside Allah. And if they retrun away, tehn say: Bear
witness that we are they who have surrendered (unto Him).
(Sourat Al Imran, 64) With this freed soul, man lives with no
fear of any creature since nobody but God can benefit or
harm his life, livelihood, or position. However, this attempt
to totally free the man’s soul from the fear of any object or
creature except God cannot be fully realized since humans
are still bonded to basic instinctive needs, the most
important of which is food. Therefore, in order for Islam to
realistically achieve this freedom of soul, God has put a set
of social laws that provides the human being with his basic
needs and, in turn, guarantees the liberalization of the
human soul. One of the most important laws is the complete
equality among human beings. Nobody can assert his
superiority over the others by having blue or noble blood
running in his veins or by claiming that he is coming from
the race of gods. As Qotb states, Islam ”taught the unity of
the human race in origin and in history, in life and in death,
in privileges and in responsibilities, before the law and
before Allah, in this world and in the world to come.” This is
manifested in Quran when God said, “O mankind! Be careful
of your duty to your Lord Who created you from a single soul
and from it created its mate and from them twain hath
spread abroad a multitude of men and women. Be careful of
your duty toward Allah in Whom ye claim (your rights) of
one another, and toward the wombs (that bare you). Lo!
Allah hath been a Watcher over you.” (Sourat el Nesa’, 1).
God also said, “O mankind! Lo! We have created you male
and female, and have made you nations and tribes that ye
may know one another. Lo! The noblest of you, in the sight
of Allah, is the best in conduct. Lo! Allah is Knower, Aware.”
(Sourat el Hogorat, 13) Therefore, human dignity is
preserved for every human being; the only difference among
people is their morals, not their race nor their colors. 5
The second important law that guarantees the human
freedom is the social interdependence. 6 Social
interdependence means the man’s sense of duty and
responsibility towards his society. It doesn’t only mean the
emotional sympathy towards the others, but it also means
taking pragmatic actions to help the needy in the society to
the degree that sufficiently covers their basic needs. This is
through paying zakat; if it doesn’t fulfill the basic needs,
additional money should be taken from the rich to fill the
needs of the poor. 7
Examples of Social Justice in Islam
The Prophet Mohamed was the best example to great morals
and ethics, including justice. His model was also followed by
his friends, particularly the second Caliph Omar Ibn el
Khattab whom the Prophet called as the sagacious or the
wise because he was always able to differentiate between
the just and the unjust. When Omar Ibn el Khattab became
the second caliph, he asked the publics in one of his
speeches to reform him if they find him unjust to them. He
was putting himself in an equal level with the common
publics since he knew that God perceives human beings as
equal with no difference between the rulers and the ruled.8
In another speech that was attended by leaders who were
appointed by him to govern the Islamic cities he said, “I
didn’t hire them as rulers to mistreat you or to take your
money … If any of you faces injustice by any of them, raise
it to me, and I will give your rights back to you.”9
Besides equality, the friends of the Prophet Mohamed played
the best examples of unlimited giving and social
interdependence. For instance, Abu Bakr el Sediq, the best
friend of the prophet and the first caliph, spent 35,000
Dirham from his 40,000 Dirham fortune to spend on the
poor Muslims who faced lots of torture and mistreatment due
to their conversion to Islam. Another example was that of Ali
Ibn Aby Taleb who donated three loafs, which were all what
he owned, to a needy, an orphan, and a captive. 10
Hence, social justice with what it requires of equality and
social interdependence by all members of the society, either
rulers or ruled is considered as one of the most important
values of Islam. It was widely practiced by the Prophet
Mohamed and his friends, which led to build a strong and
united society. Because of the lack of these concepts in our
world of today, it is of great significance to revise what Islam
has taught us in order to rebuild a healthy society full of love
and security.
Fundamentals of Islamic Economic System
By Dr. Muhammad Sharif Chaudhry
I. General Meaning
II. Islamic Concept
III. Foundations of Islamic Social Justice
IV. Elements of Social Justice of Islam
I- General Meaning
The term social justice is of recent vintage. It first appeared in political
debate in the early nineteenth century. It was employed by political
thinkers like John Stuart Mill and its use has since become widespread.
Social justice implies that overall pattern of distribution in a society ought
to be brought into line with principles of justice. There have been two
major conception of social justice, one embodying the notions of merit and
desert, the other those of need and equality.
The first conception entails that each person’s social position and material
rewards should as far as possible correspond to their place on a scale of
merit, an idea also expressed in demands for ‘careers open to talents’ and
‘equality of opportunity’. It implies the ending of hereditary privilege and an
open society in which people have the chance to display their desert. The
second conception entails that goods should be allocated according to
each person’s various needs. It is closely allied to an idea of equality,
since a programme which successfully satisfies need makes people
materially equal in one important respect.
II- Islamic Concept
Islam, being religion of nature, understands that human beings are born
with varying gifts. As they differ in their bodies and their features so they
differ in their mental and other capabilities. Their environment, their
circumstances and their hereditary gains also differ. In this situation there
can be no possibility of economic equality. Thus the existence of
economic inequalities among the human beings is but natural. It is also
there because Islam allows individual initiative in earning wealth and gives
right of private ownership of property. Moreover, existence of inequalities
in economic and social life is a part of Divine scheme whereby God tests
and tries the people to know who are good and who are bad. To this fact,
the Holy Qur’an refers when it says:
 He it is who hath placed you as viceroys of the earth and hath exalted
some of you in rank above others, that He may try you by (the test
of) that which He hath given you………
-(6 : 165)
 And Allah hath favoured some of you above others in provision………
-(16 : 71)
 ……… We have apportioned among them their livelihood in the life of
the world, and raised some of them above others in rank that some
of them may take labour from others…….
-(43 : 32)
However, despite recognising inequalities as natural and part of Divine
world order, Islam permits differences in wealth within reasonable limits
only. It does not tolerate that these differences should grow so wide that
some people live their life in absolute luxury while millions are left to lead a
life of abject poverty and misery. It does not allow economic disparities
turn into an extreme position wherein millions of have-nots’ become serfs
and slaves in the hands of few ‘haves’ of the society. In other words, we
can say that Islam does not believe in equal distribution of economic
resources and wealth among the people rather it believes in equitable, just
and fair distribution. It bridges the gulf between the rich and the poor by
taking very effective measures to modify the distribution of wealth in
favour of the poor.
Islam, on the one hand, ensures just and equitable distribution of wealth
among the people and, on the other hand, provides social security to the
poor and the destitute in the form of basic necessities of life. Besides that,
Islam also protects the weak from the economic exploitation by the strong.
All there are various aspects and manifestations of what is called Islamic
social justice.
Thus social justice (which is also referred to as economic justice or
distributive justice) according to Islamic conception includes three things,
namely : (1) fair and equitable distribution of wealth, (2) provision of basic
necessities of life to the poor and the needy, and (3) protection of the
weak against economic exploitation by the strong.
III- Foundations of Islamic Social Justice
Ideological basis of the above mentioned concept of Islamic social justice
are found in the following verses of the Holy Qur’an, Ahadith of Prophet
Muhammad (PBUH) and traditions of Prophet’s companions :-
1. Give unto orphans their wealth. Exchange not the good for the bad
(in your management thereof) nor absorb their wealth into your own
wealth. Lo ! that would be a great sin.
-(Al-Qur’an 4 : 2)
2. ……..Give full measure and full weight, in justice……….
_(Al-Qur’an 6 : 152)
3. And know that whatever ye take as spoils of war, Lo! A fifth
thereof is for Allah, and for the messenger and for the kinsman
(who hath need) and orphans and the needy and the wayfarer. If ye
believe in Allah and that which We revealed unto Our slave on the
Day of Discrimination, the day when the two armies met. And Allah
is Able to do all things.
-(Al-Qur’an 8:41)
4. The alms are only for the poor and the needy, and those who
collect them, and those whose hearts are to be reconciled and to
free the captives and the debtors, and for the cause of Allah, and
(for) the wayfarers; a duty imposed by Allah. Allah is Knower, Wise.
-(Al-Qur’an 9:60)
5. And Allah hath favoured some of you above others in provision.
Now those who are more favoured will by no means hand over their
provision to those (slaves) whom their right hands possess, so that
they may be equal with them in respect thereof. It is then the grace
of Allah that they deny?
-(Al-Qur’an 16 : 71)
6. He placed therein firm hills rising above it, and blessed it and
measured therein its sustenance in four Days, alike for (all) who
-(Al-Qur’an 41 : 10)
7. And the sky He hath uplifted; and He hath set the measure, that
ye exceed not the measure, but observe the measure strictly, nor
fall short thereof.
-(Al-Qur’an 55 : 7-9)
8. Believe in Allah and His messenger, and spend of that whereof
He hath made you trustees……….
-(Al-Qur’an 57 : 7)
9. We verily sent our messengers with clear proofs, and revealed
with them the scripture and the Balance, that mankind may observe
right measure………..
_(Al-Qur’an 57 : 25)
10. That which Allah giveth as spoil unto His messenger from the
people of the townships, it is for Allah and His messenger and for
the near of kin and the orphans and the needy and the wayfarer,
that it become not a commodity between the rich among you.
_(Al-Qur’an 59 : 7)
11. And in whose wealth there is a right acknowledged. For the beggar
and the destitute;
-(Al-Qur’an 70 : 24-25)
12. The Prophet of Islam is reported to have said: If anyone spent a
night in a town and he remained hungry till morning, the promise of
God’s protection for that town came to an end.
-(Musnad Ahmad)
13. The Messenger of Allah said: The government is the guardian of
anyone who has no guardian.
-(Abu Daud, Tirmizi)
14. Abu Hurairah reported that the Messenger of Allah said: One who
strives for the widows and the poor is like one who fights in the way
of Allah.……..
-(Bukhari, Muslim)
15. The Messenger of Allah said: No one’s faith amongst you is
reliable until he likes for his brother (in Islam) what he likes for
16. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) is reported to have said : The son of
man has no better right than that he would have a house wherein
he may live, and a piece of cloth whereby he may hide his
nakedness, and a piece of bread and some water.
-(Al-Muhalla by Ibn Hazm)
17. Abu Saeed Khudhri reports that the Holy Prophet said; “Anyone
who possesses goods more than his needs, should give the
surplus goods to the weak (and poor); and whosoever possesses
food more than his needs should give the surplus food to the needy
and the destitute.” He further added that the Holy Prophet went on
referring to different kinds of goods in similar manner until we
thought that none of us had any right over his surplus wealth.’
-(Al-Muhalla by Ibn Hazm)
18. The Prophet of Islam is reported to have once said : One who has
an extra camel (transport), should give it to the one who has no
camel (transport); one who has surplus provision, should give it to
the one who has none; one who has two persons’ food, should take
a third (as his guest), and if it is for four, he should take fifth or sixth
person (as his guest).
19. Caliph Umar once said : Each and every Muslim has a right in the
property of Bait-ul-Mal whether he exercises it or not.
20. It is reported that Umar in the last year of Caliphate, said: “The
thing which I have known today, had I known before, I would never
have delayed it and would have, undoubtedly, distributed the
surplus wealth of the wealthy among the poor Muhajrin.”
-(Al-Muhalla by Ibn Hazm)
21. Ali is reported to have said that “God has made it obligatory on the
rich to meet the economic needs of the poor up to the extent of
their absolute necessities. If they are hungry or naked or involved in
other financial difficulties, it will be merely because the rich are not
doing their duty. Therefore God will question them about it on the
Day of Judgement and will give them due punishment.”
-(Al-Muhalla by Ibn Hazm)
IV- Elements of Social Justice of Islam
We have already defined social justice of Islam and have also mentioned
that it comprises three elements i.e., equitable distribution of wealth,
provision of social security and protection of the weak against the strong.
All these elements have been dealt with in detail at proper places in this
book. Let us briefly discuss them here.
1. No doubt Islam accepts unequal distribution of wealth as natural
and part of Divine Scheme of world order, yet it does not allow
existence of wide disparities in distribution of wealth. If distribution
of wealth in a community is unfair and unequitable, social peace in
that community is always at stake and conflict between the poor
and the rich is bound to result in war and class struggle. Islam
being religion of peace is against such class conflict. It establishes
fraternity and brotherhood in the ranks of the members of Islamic
community. Islam believes in well-being of its followers and,
therefore, ensures fair and equitable distribution of income and
wealth among them. For bridging the gulf between the rich and the
poor and for ensuring just and equitable distribution of economic
resources and wealth, Islam has taken very effective measures.
Positive measures taken by it are Zakat and Sadaqat, laws of
inheritance and bequest, monetary atonements, voluntary charities
and compulsory contributions in the form of taxes and various
levies. To prevent concentration of wealth in few hands, Islam has
taken some prohibitive measures also. These include abolition of
interest, prohibition of acquisition of wealth through illegal and
unfair means, prohibition of hoarding of wealth, etc.
2. Islamic economic system guarantees basic human needs to all the
citizens of the Islamic state. Islam enjoins upon the well-to-do to
fulfil the needs of the poor and the destitute. According to Al-Quran,
the poor and the needy have share in the wealth of the rich. The
Quran says: And in whose wealth there is a right acknowledged for
the poor beggar and the destitute”-(70 : 24-25).
To the question as to how much wealth should be spent by the rich
for the cause of the poor, the Qur’an replies : “……. And they ask
thee how much they are to spend; say : “What is beyond your
needs”-(2:219). Thus the revealed book of Islam expects from the
rich to spend all their surplus wealth for their poor brothers if the
circumstances so demand. Abu Zarr Ghaffari, a close companion of
the Prophet, who is considered a great champion of the cause of
social justice, holds the view that it is unlawful to keep any surplus
wealth after meeting one’s personal needs and so the same must
be spent on satisfying the needs of the deprived of members of the
Muslim Ummah (community). In his view, so long as there is even
one poor person who is unable to meet his basic needs of life,
surplus wealth of the rich must be collected by the state and spent
on poor. It is reported that he was expelled from Syria by Governor
Muawwiya for preaching such views and later on even caliph
Usman asked him to stop propagating such views or to leave
Madinah and he preferred the latter option.
According to some Muslim jurists, the Islamic state should provide
social security cover to all its citizens and undertake especially to
provide basic necessities of life to all those poor, destitute, deprived
of, disabled and unemployed citizens who themselves are not able
to provide for them and their families. If the Islamic state fails to do
so it has no right to demand allegiance from its citizens.
About holding of surplus wealth by the rich and responsibilities of
the Islamic state to provide basic necessities of life to the poor, it
would be pertinent if we produce the views of Ibn Hazm, a great
Muslim jurist. He says : “It is the duty of the rich that they should
meet the needs of the poor and the destitute of their village or town.
And if the treasury is not sufficient to meet their needs, then the
state has the right to take their surplus wealth, if necessary by
force, to meet the needs of the poor in the community. He further
says that all the companions of the Holy Prophet are agreed upon
this that if there is anyone hungry or naked or without shelter, it is
incumbent upon the state to supply his needs from the surplus
wealth of the rich (in case its own treasury is insufficient).”
3. Elimination of economic exploitation of the weak by the strong is
another element of Islamic social justice. Many steps have been
taken by Islam in this direction. Riba or usury is one of the worst
instruments of human exploitation and this has been abolished root
and branch. Other means of human exploitation such as bribery,
gambling, speculative transactions, fraudulent practices,
prostitution, embezzlement, etc. have also been prohibited in
Islamic society.
Interest of the weaker classes of the society like women, orphans,
slaves, labourers, tenants, consumers, etc. have been protected
through detailed legislation by Islam.
The women were treated as chattel and were denied the status of
human being before emergence of Islam. Islam restored their
human status and gave them equal social and economic rights
along with men. In the economic field, for example, women have
been given rights to own property, to acquire property and to
dispose it off at their discretion. They are given rights of inheritance
from their parents, their husbands, their children and near relatives.
They are allowed to work to earn their livelihood through any
dignified profession or vocation of their choice. The orphans have
been another economically exploited class in society as their
property is generally devoured by their guardians and near kindred.
Islam has declared devouring the property of the orphans a major
sin. The Qur’an warns the devourers of orphan’s property in these
words : “Lo ! Those who devour the wealth of orphans wrongfully,
they do but swallow fire into their bellies, and they will be exposed
to burning fire”- (4:10). The slaves were perhaps the most exploited
class in human history. Islam declared the emancipation of slaves
as the most pious act and enjoined upon its followers to set the
slaves free and thus earn God’s pleasure. The Qur’an has made
emancipation of slaves an expiation of some kinds of sins of the
believers. The Muslim men and women were encouraged to marry
the believing maids and slaves in preference to non-believers even
if the non-believers were very rich and good looking. Islamic state
is obliged to financially assist the slaves in their manumission out of
its Zakat revenues.
Islam has protected the labourers against the economic exploitation
by the capitalist by providing that fair wages should be fixed before
employing the labourers and that they should be promptly paid their
wages before their sweat dries up. To eliminate the exploitation of
the tenants by the landlords, Islam almost abolished Jagirdari
system. Interests of consumers have been protected by ordering
ban on certain exploitive business malpractices like hoarding,
monopoly, speculation, and short-weighing and short-measuring.

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