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The greatness of Islamic justice

Equality before the Law

Islam's rulings concerning civil rights do not differ from its rulings concerning the aforementioned rights. Islam treats all people equally before the law and grants them equal civil rights without any discrimination between a beggar and a prince, or a nobleman and a man of modest birth.

The Second Rightly Guided Caliph, `Umar ben Al Khattab, who was responsible for organizing the administration of justice in the muslim state upon the firm foundation of the Holy Quran and the Traditions of the Prophet, said in his first speech after becoming Caliph: "O people I swear by God that there is no man among you as powerful as he who is helpless until I restore his rights to him, and there is no man amongst you as helpless as he who is powerful until I restore what he had usurped to its rightful owner".

`Umar ben Al Khattab's message to Abu Mousa Al Ash'ary concerning the administration of justice embodied the greater part of the rulings of the Faith of Islam on justice. He wrote "From the servant of God, `Umar ben Al Khattab, Commander of the Faithful, to the servant of God, Ibn Qays, Peace be upon you.

The administration of justice is a religious duty and a tradition from the Prophet to be observed, so understand thoroughly the cases presented before you and enforce the sentence that you know to be just, for declaring the truth without executing justice is not just. Treat all people who stand before you equally in the way you greet them, address them and judge them. By so doing no nobleman would expect or hope for an unjust sentence in his favour and no poor man would despair of your just ruling''.

Umar ben Al Khattab's last testament to his successor as Caliph was :

"Treat all people equally and do not be influenced by any person who deserves punishment, and take no notice of any person's censure provided you have pronounced a just sentence. Never allow your preference or partiality for any person to influence your judgement in the affairs of the people whom God has entrusted to our authority."

The matter of equality in Islam was not limited to merely declaring principles and establishing laws, but history records that these principles and laws were executed solemnly and conscientiously during the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad, blessings and peace be upon him, and during the reign of the Four Rightly Guided Caliphs who succeeded him, during the Golden Age of Islam which represents the principles and spirit of Islam in every respect Usama ibn Zayd, one of the most beloved companions of the Prophet Muhammad, prayer and peace be upon him, once attempted to intercede with him on behalf of Fatima daughter of Al Aswad Al Makhzoumiya who had been sentenced to the punish- ment of theft for stealing velvet material and golden ornaments. The Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, refused Osama's intercession, in spite of his affection for him, and reprimanded him severely saying "How can you intercede with me concerning a penalty ordained by God Almighty Allah." Then he said to the people who had witnessed the matter : "Before the advent of Islam, people of noble descent were not punished if they were guilty of theft and poor indigent people were punished for the same crime. I swear by God Almighty, that if my daughter Fatima were guilty of the crime of theft, I would sentence her to the punishment ordained by God Almighty."

A Jew once lodged a complaint to the Caliph `Omar ben Al Khattab against `Ali Abu Talib. When they both stood before the Caliph `Omar, he addessed the Jew by his name and addressed `Ali Abu Talib by his appellation of Abu Al Hasan (the Father of Hasan) as he was accustomed to addressing him. `Ali showed signs of displeasure and the Caliph `Umar asked him if he had resented his adversary being a Jew with whom he had been obliged to stand on equal footing before the Caliph. `Ali Abu Talib replied that that had not been the cause of his displeasure, the reason being that the Caliph had addressed the Jew by his name whereas he had addressed him by his appellation of Abu Al Hasan, which is a sign of respect and veneration. `All ben Abu Talib had thus expressed his displeasure because `Umar ben Al Khattab had inadvertantly treated him with more respect than his adversary.

A son of `Amr ben Al `Aas, the governor of Egypt, once struck a man of the lower class. The man swore that he would lodge a complaint to the Caliph `Umar ben Al Khattab. `Amr ben Al Aas's son told the man to do so, boasting that the Caliph would never punish him, since he was the son of the noble ruler of Egypt. Later, during the pilgrimage season when the Caliph `Omar, his retinue, `Amr ben `Al `Aas and his son were assembled together, the man whom `Amr's son had struck went to the Caliph, and pointed to the son of `Amr ben Al `Aas and said : "This man struck me unjustly and when I threatened to complain to you, he told me that he was the son of a nobleman and that you would never punish him".

The Caliph `Umar ben Al Khattab looked at `Amr ben Al `Aas and uttered his famous words "What right have you to enslave people, whose mothers gave birth to them as free people?" He then gave the man who had lodged his complaint a whip and told him to strike the son of the nobleman - namely the son of `Amr ben Al `Aas - as he had struck him.

On a certain occasion, the Caliph `Umar witnessed a man and a woman committing adultery, so he assembled the people around him and said : "How should the Caliph of the Muslims act when he witnesses the sin of adultery being committed ?"

`Ali ben Abu Talib replied : "There must be four witnesses to the sin of adultery and if he cannot present these witnesses and he accuses the man and woman of adultery, he must be punished for the sin of slander without sufficient evidence, as any other person would be punished in a similar situation".`Ali ben Abu Talib then recited the following Quranic verse: "And those who launch a charge against chaste women and produce not four witnesses (to support their allegations), - flog them with eighty stripes; and reject their evidence ever after ; for such men are wicked transgressors" [2].

The Caliph `Umar did not reply nor did he reveal the identity of the man and woman whom he had witnessed committing the sin of adultery.

Islam applies the principle of equality in its treatment of Muslims and non-Muslims. Islam ordains that non-Muslims living in a Muslim state or in a state under Muslim rule have the same rights and obligations as their fellow Muslims. They are subject to the Muslim laws of justice except in matters concerning their religion. Accordingly their faith and beliefs are respected by the state and the community in which they live.

Another example of Islamic Justice

Allah created man to be His servant and to implement His way on earth. If humans distance themselves from this message, then they distance themselves from God’s injunctions. That is why Islam has prepared its followers to follow this righteous instinct, it is a joy to our spirit to stand and think of the greatness of Islamic justice, how fair Islamic law is to individuals and groups, rulers and the ruled!

Let us visit one of Islam’s greatest and brightest symbols of justice, Shurayh Al-Qaadhi (the judge), who narrates: The Caliph `Umar ibn Al-Khattaab bought a horse from a bedouin, paid its price and rode off with it. However, after traveling a little distance, the Caliph noticed some kind of defect in the horse so he returned to the seller, requesting him to take it back since it was defective. The man refused, telling the Caliph that the horse was perfectly healthy when it was sold to him. `Umar told the man to choose a judge and the man suggested Shurayh bin Al-Haarith Al-Kindi whom `Umar accepted.

After the judge listened to the bedouin’s testimony, he turned to `Umar asking: “Was the horse normal and healthy when you bought it?” `Umar replied: “Yes, it was.” Shurayh then said: “Then keep what you bought or return it as you took.” ‘Umar looked at Shurayh in admiration saying: “Thus justice should be -- statement, distinguishing words and fair justice… I give you the position of Chief Justice of Koofah in ‘Iraq.”

This is Islamic justice, an ordinary bedouin taking the Caliph to court, deciding which judge to go to and the Caliph accepting the judge’s decision voluntarily. However, this leader was not an ordinary man, but the one about whom the Prophet , said: “O Allah! Make Islam victorious by one of the two `Umars (becoming Muslim).”

`Umar did not threaten the bedouin or misuse his power, neither did he tell the bedouin that he had exceeded his authority nor that he would get back to him. No, `Umar accepted the judge’s decision with all modesty.

`Umar admitted that the horse was healthy when he took it and he accepted the judgment, making the case an everlasting example of Islamic justice. The judge’s fairness made ‘Umar appoint him as a judge of Koofah. He rewarded the judge for his justice and fairness and did not jail him for ruling against him, as some leaders may have done in present so-called ‘democracies’.

Another example of Shurayh’s justice

‘Ali bin Abi Talib lost a shield that was dear to him and later found it in the hands of a non-Muslim citizen who was selling it in one of Koofah’s markets. When he saw it, ‘Ali said: “This is my shield that fell off my camel on so and so night at such and such time.” The man answered: “No, this is my shield in my hand.” ‘Ali replied: “No, it is mine since I never sold or gave it to any one.”

The man agreed to let a judge decide, which ‘Ali accepted. They went to Shurayh who asked ‘Ali for his side of the story. ‘Ali said that the shield was his and that he had found it with that man, it had fallen off his camel and he had never sold it or given it to anyone. The judge turned to the other man asking his story. The man said that he did not accuse ‘Ali of lying, but the shield was his, as it was in his hands.

Shurayh turned to ‘Ali saying: “I believe you, but we need the statement of two witnesses to back your story.” ‘Ali said that there was his aide Qanbar and his son Al-Hassan to which the man replied that a son could not testify for the benefit of his father. Ali said: “O God, a man who is promised paradise cannot act as a witness! Have you not heard what the Prophet , said that Al-Hassan and Al-Hussayn were the masters of the youths of paradise? Shurayh said: “Yes I have, but a son cannot bear witness for his father.”

Then ‘Ali turned to the man and said: “Take the shield, as I have no other witnesses.”

The man, who was a non-Muslim, then said: “O ‘Ali, the shield is yours. What a great religion! I can sue ‘Ali and get a judge to pass a decision for my benefit! I declare myself a Muslim.” He told the judge that he was following the army and had seen the shield fall down and picked it up. ‘Ali then told him to keep the shield and gave him a horse, besides. Soon after, the man was seen under Ali’s leadership fighting Al-Kharajites (dissenters). Are these two examples not sufficient for us to follow those great men?

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