Social justice and the rule of law are critical issues that demand the attention of policymakers and intellectuals, all those with an interest in building a prosperous and confident nation ready to take its place as an important power in the world. Since Islam is a religion of peace, harmony and fraternity, it, like all other aspects of man’s societal life, pays special emphasis on social justice and rule of law as these are imperatives for building a healthy and just society.
Social justice actually is justice in terms of distribution of wealth and privileges and provision of opportunities within a society. It assigns rights and duties in the institutions of society which enables people to receive basic rights and benefits. The term also implies that individuals fulfil their societal roles and receive their due from society. Rule of law implies implementation of law in letter and spirit and without any discrimination. The phenomenon also enunciates that no one is above law and everyone has an equal status in the eyes of law. Social justice and rule of law, thus, are inevitable for a healthy, progressive and peaceful society.
Islam has declared social justice and rule of law the essence of society and has made it incumbent upon the government of an Islamic state to ensure their enforcement. The Holy Quran, at a number of places, highlights the importance of these two aspects. For instance, in verse 58 of Surah An-Nisa, Allah Almighty says:
“And when you judge between people, judge with justice”
Similarly verse 135 of the same Surah ordains:
“O you who have believed, be persistently standing firm in justice, witnesses for Allah, even if it be against yourselves or parents and relatives. Whether one is rich or poor, Allah is more worthy of both. So follow not [personal] inclination, lest you not be just. And if you distort [your testimony] or refuse [to give it], then indeed Allah is ever, with what you do, Acquainted.”
In consonance with Allah’s commandments, the Holy Prophet (PBUH) established a society that was based on social justice and rule of law; where everyone was equal before law irrespective of power, authority, wealth, colour, sex, creed and religion; and where all the government functionaries, including the head of the state, were accountable and answerable to the people. Although the Holy Prophet (PBUH) was the supreme political, religious, spiritual and military head of the Muslim state, yet he led a simple life. He lived in a mud house that was accessible to all. There was no difference between the lifestyle of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) and that of ordinary Muslims. The Mother of the Believers Hazrat Aisha (RA) narrates:
“On the day of the demise of the Holy Prophet (PBUH), we had nothing to eat at night.”
As a judge, the Holy Prophet (PBUH) dispensed justice in the truest meaning of the word and for this purpose he never tolerated any sort of discrimination and no compromise was made on enforcement of punishments awarded after the due process of law. Once a Quraishite lady belonging to an influential family was nabbed for committing theft and the charge was proved against her. As per the Islamic injunctions, the Holy Prophet (PBUH) ordered to amputate her hand. Some important members of her clan came to the Holy Prophet (PBUH) and sought respite for her. The Holy prophet did not like this and he said, “The people before you were destroyed because they used to inflict the legal punishments on the poor and forgive the rich. By Him in Whose Hand my soul is, if Fatima (the daughter of the Prophet) did that (i.e. stole), I would cut off her hand.”
We can find numerous instances from the Holy Prophet’s (PBUH) life, when he maintained social justice and never gave any consideration to class, status or wealth. For instance, he (PBUH) appointed Hazrat Zaid bin Haritha (RA), who was a former slave, as commander-in-chief of the Muslim army in the Battle of Mu’tah. Similarly, he (PBUH) assigned the important and prestigious task of calling people to prayers to Hazrat Bilal (RA) who was a Negro salve. On the occasion of Battle of Trench, the Holy Prophet (PBUH) personally took part in digging the trench along with other Muslims.
The four Rightly-guided Caliphs (RA) also laid special emphasis on social justice and rule of law. Following in footsteps of the Holy Prophet (PBUH), they led simple lives and kept themselves answerable and accountable to the general public. They established great standards of social justice and fully maintained the rule of law.
The first Caliph, Hazrat Abu Bakr Siddique (RA), used to help his neighbours and other deserving people in every possible way. He used to milk goats of a destitute woman before becoming the Caliph. When he (RA) became Caliph, the woman got worried as to who would now milk her goats. When Hazrat Abu Bakr (RA) came to know about that, he (RA) said to her, “By Allah, caliphate cannot stop me from performing social services”.
He (RA) did not become the ‘ruler,’ as we know the term today, but remained loyal to his faith and welfare of the people remained his topmost priority.
The second Caliph Hazrat Umar-e-Farooq (RA) was the most powerful ruler of his time, but he lived in a mud house, having no personal guards or servants. On the occasion of the conquest of Jerusalem (636 AD), when he (RA) was going there to receive keys of the city from the Patriarch, he (RA) was travelling with his slave. They were having one camel on which each of them rode by turn. When they were entering Jerusalem, it happened to be the slave’s turn to ride on the camel. Hazrat Umar (RA) entered Jerusalem holding the rope of the camel on which was riding his slave.
Once a person came to Hazrat Umar (RA) and complained that in a horse race, his horse was leading but Muhammad the son of Amr bin Al-Aas, the Governor of Egypt, had beaten him. Hazrat Umar (RA) summoned Amr and his son to Madina. They were apprised of the complaint against them. They could not offer a satisfactory explanation. So, Hazrat Umar (RA) ordered that the complainant should beat Amr’s son in the same way as he had beaten him.
The third Caliph Hazrat Usman bin Affan (RA) at the time of his martyrdom was having no security guards in his mud house in Medina despite the fact that he was the head of a great Muslim Empire that spread over three continents.
During his caliphate, the fourth Caliph Hazrat Ali al-Murtaza (RA) brought a suit before Qazi named Shuraih against a Jew regarding the custody of an armour. The decided ruled in favour of the Jew and against the Caliph as Hazrat Ali (RA) could not produce witnesses to the satisfaction of the Qazi although that armour was his rightful property.
Clauses about social justice and rule of law are also part and parcel of the Constitution of Pakistan, 1973, but their implementation still remains a far cry. That’s why we are inflicted with numerous problems. For example, billions of rupees are spent on the royal lifestyle of rulers in the name of protocol and security. It is an enormous wastage of national resources and a flagrant violation of social justice. In the same way, on account of double standards, our system has failed to deliver justice and it is unable to bring to book those corrupt elements that commit massive corruption and plunder national resources. So, the most pressing need of the time is to bring into place dynamic and uniform standards of social justice and rule of law as it is the only path that leads to real development.
The fundamental cause of the present problems being faced by most Muslim countries is that their governments do not provide for social justice and rule of law, which is a flagrant violation of Islamic tenets. In contrast to present-day Muslim world, the Western countries have adopted these phenomena and they are developing in various fields leaving Muslims far behind. Therefore, Muslims must strive to implement the golden teachings of social justice and rule of law as enshrined in the Holy Quran and Sunnah.