New Islamic Directions

By Imam Zaid Shakir

Peace and Justice in Islam

Posted in notes by Imam Zaid Shakir on 2008-07-23

   
We are living in a world where there could obviously be more peace. As Muslims, we realize this fact more than most people, as the peace of many of our brothers and sisters in various parts of the globe has been tragically disrupted –in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, and other locales.  Similarly, we are living in a world where there could be more justice. We read almost daily of assassinations in various parts of the world, where terrorist groups, military forces or intelligence services, oftentimes in summary fashion, declare victims guilty, and then proceed to execute them. Unfortunately, such unprincipled political behavior has become increasingly common in both the foreign and domestic policies of this country, causing untold damage to her image and credibility abroad.

These two issues, peace and justice, are joined in the slogans we hear from many activists, especially here in the United States, “No Justice, No Peace!” [1] This linkage is logical, as justice must be considered one of the indispensable prerequisites of any lasting peace. This article intends to briefly look at the ideas of peace and justice in Islam and explore their deeper significance in the life of a Muslim.

Peace

In the Arabic language, the word peace is derived from the radicals S-L-M. The scholars of language mention four closely related terms that can be derived from this origin: Salaam, Salaamah, Silm, and Salm. Raghib al-Isfahani says in his lexicon of Qur’anic terms, “Al-Salm and al-Salaamah mean freedom from any external or internal ruination.” [2] Based on that he mentions that true peace will only exist in Paradise, for only there will there be perpetuity with no end; complete satisfaction with no need; perfect honor with no humiliation; and perfect health with no disease. In this regard, God is known as al-Salaam, because He alone is described as being totally free from any defects or flaws. [3] This understanding of peace being, ultimately, a reality associated with a transformed world, is also understood in both Jewish and Christian theology. [4]

At the level of interstate relations, if we ponder the above definition, we can consider peaceful relations between nations as a condition where violence, a state inevitably involving both internal and external ruination, is absent. In this sense, war can be viewed as an aberrational state. The aberrational nature of war is made clearer if we consider that murder, the ultimate consequence of war, is considered an innovation, which destroyed the peace formerly existing among the human family. It is stated in a prophetic tradition, “No soul is killed unjustly, except that the elder son of Adam [Cain] shares in the stain of the crime. That is because he was the first to innovate murder [in the human family].” [5]

At the individual level, peace can be viewed as an absence of the ruinations of the heart. One free from such ruinations, will succeed, God-willing, when he/she meets his/her Lord. Therefore, he/she will enter safely into the Abode of Peace [Dar as-Salaam]. God says in that regard, “[On] the day no amount of wealth or children will be of any benefit. [The only one benefited] will be one who comes before God with a rectified heart.” [26:89]

If one reflects on these meanings, it should be clear that the wars, which Muslims have been involved in throughout our long history, do not nullify the validity of the statement, “Islam is the religion of peace.” What is meant by that expression, and God knows best, is that Islam provides a path for the human being to enter Paradise [Dar as-Salaam], and there he/she will know true peace.

Peace does have meanings wider than those mentioned above. One of the loftier objectives of our religious is to introduce into the world an ethos that facilitates the spreading of peace at every level. Our personal relations with our fellow Muslims should begin with the implementation of the Prophetic order, “Spread peace between you all.” [6] This order is so pressing that the Beloved Prophet, peace and blessings of God be upon Him, advised its indiscriminate implementation. He says at the end of a tradition in which he described one of the best forms of Islam, “Extent the greeting of peace, to those you know and those you know not.” [7] This is a very weighty matter, which calls for our deeper reflection. Its weightiness is illustrated by the fact that it is mentioned as being one of the things that completes our faith. The Prophet, peace and blessing of God upon Him, said in that regard, “You will not enter Paradise until you believe, and you will not believe until you love one another. Shall I indicate to you something that will surely lead to your mutual love? Spread the greeting and spirit of peace between yourselves.” [8]

Our relations with our spouses should also be characterized by peace. God admonishes us concerning those relations, “And peace is best.” [4:128] Similarly, in our relations with other nations, God commands us, If they [the enemy] inclines towards peace, then you should similarly incline, and place your trust in God.  [8:61]  As mentioned above, peace is the original state that prevailed in relations between individuals and societies. This opinion is based, among other narrations, on the saying of the Prophet, peace and blessings of God be upon Him, that Jesus, peace be upon him, “will return the world to a state of peace” [Yurji’ as-Salaam] after his appearance at the end of time. [9]

As we have explained above, the original state in human affairs is peace. One of the principles operative in our law is that we do not move away from the original ruling in any affair without a valid justification. Corporate greed and imperial hubris do not constitute legitimate justifications in this regard. This principle, coupled with the imperative of preserving innocent life, makes it imperative that we work to avoid war. The imperative to preserve innocent human life arises from the verse, Whoever saves an innocent life it is as if he has saved all of humanity, and whoever takes a life unjustly, it is as if he has murdered all of humanity. (Qur’an 5:32)

Justice

Our lexicographers define justice, variously, as, “To rule based on that contained in the Book of God and the tradition [Sunnah] of His Messenger, peace and blessings of God upon Him, and refraining from ruling based on empty opinion.” It is also defined as “extending inherent rights [to their possessors] equitably.” [10] This latter definition emphasizes the importance of equity as an essential aspect of distributive justice.

The concept of justice is one of the essential pillars in the maintenance of both the natural and social orders. God, be He Exalted, has said, …and He has established the scale, therefore, do not transgress in the scale [of justice]. Undertake the measuring with justice and do not cheat concerning the scale. [55:7-8]  Justice, as many of our scholars point out, is one of the underpinnings of the order that has been established by God. This reality is also a foundation of a healthy social order. God says in that regard, O, You who believe! Be upright for God, witnesses to justice; and do not let your hatred of a people move you to a position where you are unjust. Be just, that is closer to piety. Be mindful of God! Verily God is well-informed concerning all that you do. [4:135]

This social aspect of justice has been beautifully summarized by Imam al-Qurtubi. He says, discussing the relationship between two words which are usually translated as justice [al-‘Adl], and distributive justice [al-Qist] “Justice is the basis of all human relations and a foundation of Islamic rule.” [11] This saying is illustrative of the meaning conveyed by the saying of God, Verily, We have sent Our Messengers with clear proofs, and We have revealed unto them the Scripture and the Balance in order that they lead people with Justice… [57:25]

Imam Mawardi has summarized the social implications of distributive justice in the following way:

One of the things that reforms worldly affairs is the principle of distributive justice. It facilitates amicable relations between people, engenders obedience to the Divine Law, and brings about the prosperity of countries. It is the basis of a thriving economy, strong families, and stable government. Nothing devastates the land nor corrupts the mind as quickly as tyranny. That is because there are no acceptable limits [to regulate tyranny]. [12]

For this reason, Ibn Taymiyya sees the responsibilities of Islamic government emanating from a single verse in the Qur’an, God enjoins that you deliver the Trusts to their rightful possessors. And when you rule over [or judge between] people, that you do so with justice… [4: 58] [13] The Noble Prophet, peace and blessings of God be upon Him, has said in this context, “Surely the most beloved of people with God, and the closest to Him on the Day of Resurrection will be a just leader. And the most hated of people and the furthest removed from Him will be a tyrannical leader.” [14]

Clearing himself from even an inadvertent association with oppressive, unjust acts, our beloved Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon Him, is reported to have said, “You bring your disputes to me for adjudication; perhaps one of you is less eloquent than another, and I rule against the wronged party on the basis of what I have heard. Therefore, if I inadvertently grant one of you something owed to his brother do not take it, for I am granting him something that constitutes a piece of Hellfire.” [15]

Our impeccably just Khalifa, Umar Ibn al_Khattab, relates the following penetrating words:

Verily, God sets forth parables for you, and He directs admonition towards you in order that hearts will be quickened. Surely, the hearts are dead until God quickens them. Justice has signs and portents. As for its signs, they are shyness, generosity, humility, and gentleness. As for its portents, they are embodied in mercy. He has [likewise] made for every affair a gate, and He has made that gate accessible by providing a key. The gate of justice is a deep consideration of consequences, and its key is otherworldliness. Consideration of consequences ultimately involves remembering death, and preparing for it by freely parting from one’s wealth. Otherworldliness involves dealing justly with everyone and being satisfied with what suffices. If one is not satisfied with what suffices him, no abundance will every enrich him.” [16]

Much of this discussion has focused on distributive justice. However, the Qur’an also places great emphasis on commutative justice. God commands in Sura an-Nur, Do not be moved by partiality to discriminate in meting out divinely legislated punishments. [24:2] The Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings of God be upon him, mentioned that one of the reasons behind the ruination of a nation is a lack of commutative justice. [17] In this context, he mentioned that if his very daughter were to steal, he would not hesitate to punish her to the full extent of the law. [18]

In summary, this brief discussion should make it clear to any fair-minded person that peace and justice are comprehensive concepts with deep implications. To be true to our appellation, Muslim, we have to be people committed to peace and justice. We must clearly illustrate to the world that our religion is indeed the religion of peace. However, our striving for peace must never allow us to be unjust, nor should it allow us to passively accept injustices.

We must take a stand for justice, as we are ordered in the Qur’an, Be you upright supporters of justice… [4: 135]  However, that stand must go far beyond slogans, such as the one mentioned at the beginning of this article, and move into the realm of positive action. Action inspired by the Qur’an, and the words and deeds of our illustrious Prophet, peace and blessings of God upon him.  These twin sources served as the basis for the just words and actions of our righteous forebears, some of which have been mentioned in this article.

Notes

[1]This slogan has been particularly popularized by the New York –based activist, Rev. Al Sharpton, and his followers.
[2]Raghib al-Isfahani, al-Mufradat fi Gharib al-Qur’an (Beirut:Dar al-Ma’rifa, no date), 239.
[3]Al-Mufradat, p. 239.
[4]See The Holy Bible, Isaiah, 9:6-7; and John 14:27.
[5]Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani, Fath al-Bari Sharh Sahih al-Bukhari (Damascus: Dar al-Fayha’, 1417/1997), 13:369, no. 7321.
[6]This Hadith is related by Imam Muslim, Imam Abu Dawud, and Imamal-Tirmidhi in their collections. Quoted in Abi Zakariyya Yahya ibn Sharaf al-Nawawi, Riyad al-Salihin, (Damascus: Dar al-Ma’moun Li al-Turath, 1994) 289-290.
[7] Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani, Fath al-Bari (Damascus: Dar al-Fayha’, 1997), 11: 26-27. The full text of the Prophetic Tradition follows: A man asked the Prophet (Peace and Blessings of Allah be upon) “Which Islam is best?” He replied, “That you provide food, and extend the greeting of peace, to those you know and those you know not.”
[8] This is the full narration of the Prophetic Tradition mentioned in note no.4 above.
[9] Prophetic traditions, which narrate this meaning are related by Imam al-Bukhari, Imam Muslim, and Imam Ibn Majah. See for example,  Fath al-Bari, 6:599-600. The above quote is from the version of Ibn Majah. Imam al-Bukhari’s version mentions that Jesus will “…put an end to war.”
[10] These and other definitions of justice are mentioned in Salih ibn ‘Abdullah ibn Humayd, Nadr al-Na’im fi Makarim Akhlaq al-Rasul al-Karim (Jeddah: Dar al-Wasila, 2000) 7: 2792.
[11] Quoted in Nadr al-Na’im, 8:3153.
[12] Quoted in Nadr al-Na’im, 7:2793.
[13] See Ahmad ibn Taymiyya, Al-Siyasa Al-Shar’iyya (Beirut: Dar al-Afaq al-Jadida, 1983) 4-5.
[14] Abu ‘Isa al-Tirmidhi, al-Jami’ (Cairo: Dar Ihya al-Turath al-‘Arabi, 1938), no. 1329.
[15] Fath al-Bari, 5:354.
[16] Quoted in Nadr al-Na’im, 7:2811.
[17] This concept is mention at the beginning of the tradition where a lady from Bani Makhzum, one of the most aristocratic Arab tribes, stole something and the companions were moved to intervene for a lessening of her punishment. The Noble Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, responded, “O people! Those before you were ruined in that if a noble person among them stole something, they left him alone. On the other hand, if a lower class person stole something, they punished him!” See this narration in its entirety in Abi Zakariyya Yahya ibn Sharaf al-Nawawi, al-Minhaj: Sharh Sahih Muslim (Beirut: Dar al-Ma’rifa, 1419/1998), 11:186-187, no. 4386.
[18] Al-Minhaj, 11:186-187, no. 4386.

 


Comments

By ayesha on July 24, 2008 at 4:01pm

Thank for this Imam Zaid, This was uplifting and encouraging to read especially as we are not always just with each other. Nor do we always strive to make peace between ourselves. The importance of peace and justice in Islam can be exemplified by the hadith that states that there is more reward in making peace between two people than in optional dhikr and fasts. May Allah reward your work.

By Omair on July 26, 2008 at 12:43pm

As-Salaam Alaikum Imam Zaid This is a timely article. I hope it will be widely read. Jazak Allahu Khair Omair

By Hamzah bin Taalib on July 28, 2008 at 10:33am

Bismillah Salaam, May Allah increase you and all of us for that penetrating summary of peace and justice. However, I would like to ask you about the situation of people who live in a system that is fundamentally unjust in regards to criminal law. Some of us are perplexed about how to bring others to justice if the government has not proved to provide the correct punishment required for crime. Some punishments can be either extremely severe or extremely lenient, while other punishments might differ according to class or race. I assume that it would be our obligation to attempt to make significant policy changes that will bring real justice, but until then, what are these people supposed to do? If vigilantes cause more problems, and pacifists accommodate the problems, where do we turn to find a practical balance to achieve peace?

By Azeem on July 29, 2008 at 4:53pm

Asalamualikum, we would greatly appreciate it if you could write in defense of Imam Siraj

By Imam Zaid Shakir on August 13, 2008 at 4:44pm

As-Salaam 'Alaikum Hamzah, Insha Allah you are well. Your apparent frustration can be alleviated if you reflect on a basic Islamic principle found in the Hadith, "From a person's Islam being good is his leaving what does not concern him." This includes those things beyond our control. If something, such as aspects of the "system" that are obviously unjust, but which we lack the resources to change right now, are beyond our control, then they are none of our business. Hence, we should leave them. As for policies and other realities which we can organize to change then we do our best to work to change them. This illustrates an aspect of the balance of the Muslim who is part of the "Middle Nation." When we know something is beyond our control we are pacifists, and when we know we can make meaningful change we are activists. Hence, we are not in a zero sum situation where is it all this or all that. We are balanced here as is the case in all of our affairs, i.e. between fear and hope, between worldly involvement and worldly abstinence, between sexual freedom and celibacy, etc. If we approach life in this way, we will never be frustrated. We will work diligently to address those things within our power to meaningfully change, and we will leave those things beyond our power to impact on. As Allah, changes our condition and the conditions around us some of the things we were unable to address today, we will be able to address tomorrow. Generally speaking, we have become so removed from the spirit of our religion because of the materialism that pervades our society that we may look at such an approach as "copping out." However, this was the way of our Prophet, peace upon him. When situations arose that he was powerless to address he left. When Yasir's family was being tortured, he did not pretend that with his small band of followers he was going to take on the Quraysh. He simply said, "Be patient O Family of Yasir! Your appointed place is Paradise." His response illustrates several things. First of all, he was looking at his situation in a strategic and historical lens that focused on the big picture before himself and his Companions in light of the reality of the distribution of power in the world at that time. They understood that sometimes building power requires acts that accentuate your immediate lack of power. What if he had retaliated against the Quraysh at that point. We probably would not be reading or writing these words. Secondly, he was reminding them that the objective of a believer is the attainment of Paradise and that for their suffering in this world Paradise would be theirs. Again, this is standard religious thinking. However, sometimes, even though we may pray or fast we can tend to not think religiously. The lesson I am emphasizing here has been taught in a well-known saying: "God, give me the strength to change the things I can change, the patience to accept the things I cannot change, and the wisdom to know the difference between the two." A lot of times our work in these areas is unproductive or nonexistent because of our lack of historical vision. A lot of things we see wrong and wish to change did not evolve overnight. They are the result of historical movements and developments that have occurred in some instances over the course of centuries. Changing them will require to historical vision to understand how we can begin to introduce the ideas, concepts and influences that will culminate in meaningful and deep change that may not occur on our lifetimes. In the meantime, our immediate, ongoing every day concern is to do the work that will help us to attain Paradise. This is the work we should never leave. We should also understand that dealing with the negative consequences of some of the unjust institutions and individuals in this world is part of the process whereby Allah tests our patience. He mentions in the Qur'an, "We have made some of you sources of tribulation to others. Will you not be patient?" May Allah bless us all to do the actions of the people destined for Paradise. As-Salaam 'Alaikum Azeem, Insha Allah I can write something on the situation confronting Imam Siraj. I have been busy working on two books this summer and with a heavy travel schedule thrown in, have not had a lot of time to keep up with this blog. However, let me say this. Why is it necessary for me to write something to defend Imam Siraj when he has not done anything? Would I not be giving credence and amplifying the propaganda of a handful of neo-cons racists who the American themselves people no longer give credence to? The proof that is the following: 1. Virtually, every trial which the government has brought in service of their neo-con ideologues has ended in the Muslims being absolved of any crimes or given light sentences for minor offences. We can mention the recent Hamdan decision, the Holy Land Foundation decision, The LA Palestinian case, Sami Arian's acquittal (even though the judge, not the people twisted the law to keep him in jail), etc. 2. The embarrassing campaign of Rudolph Guiliani, the neo-con's guy, in the Republican primaries. He could not win a single state and had to exit after his pitiful last stand in Florida. 3. The 2006 mid-term elections, where the people voted overwhelming Democratic as a clear rejection of the Bush/Neo-con agenda (too bad the democrats are so pathetic that they could not translate that energy into any meaningful policy changes). 4. The great enthusiasm for Obama across the board when he was talking about real change. The bottom line is that we have a lot of work to do that transcends knee-jerk reactions to the desperate initiatives from the advocates of a failed agenda. On the other hand, since you might have more free time than I do right now, perhaps you can gather the powerful defense of Imam Siraj issued by Mayor Bloomberg, and other officials in New York, the fair explanation in the CNN article that showed how Imam Siraj is not even an "unindicted co-conspirator," as is frequently alleged, and other readily available information and spread it. Addressing wrong is an individually binding obligation. May Allah help us all to do better as individuals. May Allah bless you all and protect all of our leaders.

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