"THE HIGHER ASPIRATIONS OF JUSTICE"
7 February 2020
The Quran manifests the power of words. Words make a great deal of difference because of way that God created existence. God created humans as intelligent animals capable of reason and reasoning. Intelligent and rational animals respond to words. The Quran persistently reminds and calls humanity to reason, through the power of words. The more human beings stop responding to words, the more that words lose their place and role in the life of human beings and the more de-humanized the human factor becomes.
God effects creation through words. The most miraculous thing about humans is their ability to decide their path, having comprehended the power of words. What makes us accountable before God is our willingness, refusal or obstinance to respond to words. Without words, there would be no accountability. The way that God reaches us and creates the entire mechanism of responsibility and accountability is through the medium of words, and words are revelation. If God speaks and puts us on notice through the power of words and humans no longer respond or the words no longer have impact, then the entire mechanism of discharging our covenant before God, and the very logic and reason behind the entire process of creation, responsibility and accountability fall apart.
In Surah Al-Shura, God describes the state of a people who exist fully aware of their covenantal relationship with God and who are successfully discharging this covenantal relationship; rational animals who are in a state of grace with their Lord.
It is as if God is saying that a fully engaged society conducts their affairs through a system of shura. Shura is the power of words; a fuller meaning for the word shura than “consultation” is “deliberation”. They share words – deliberate – with each other. If this deliberative process becomes formalistic, meaning people get together, listen to each other talk, and then thoroughly ignore each other, they are not discharging the obligation of shura. In Islamic law, there are separate legalistic, technical arguments about shura, but for our purposes, we are talking about the social ethics of rational Muslim human beings and the way we negotiate affairs in life through a deliberative process.
Critically, in the verse immediately following, God reminds that in a society that is in a state of grace with God, it is as if this active, deliberative process also leads to the circulation of wealth. Money is not hoarded and coveted, but circulates, such that there are not sharp inequities between the poor and rich. Wealth is distributed justly.
Further, in the social, ethical order, there must be a way to address injustice. If a society violates rights and there is no way to address or conquer injustice, they will not exist in a state of grace with God. A society in which there is no deliberative process, where wealth is not distributed justly and there is no way to address injustice cannot be an Islamic, moral society.
Surah Al-Shura also reveals that as a principle of justice, a wrong must be addressed proportionately and measuredly. In other words, the mechanisms of justice must result in the ability to address injustices with logical proportionality and consistency to count as true justice.
God makes it plainly clear, whether you call it democracy or something else, that a state of grace with God can only be if your affairs are deliberative (deliberative justice); if there is distributive economic justice; if there are mechanisms to address injustice (procedural justice) and compel the powerful and empower the powerless (substantive justice) with proportionality. With God’s word so clear, how is injustice, political cowardliness, despotism, and nepotism so prevalent in Muslim countries? It is as if God is speaking and no one is listening.
There are Muslims who say to obey an unjust ruler and philosophize oppression, injustice and despotism. People often focus on the need to advance fields such as engineering or medicine but fail to realize that the biggest challenge confronting societies is to building institutions of law that can create a system of proportional, equal justice. Muslims avoid discourse on justice, instead choosing to believe whoever has power holds the right to obedience, marginalizing the power of the Quran’s words.
The sunnah of the Prophet and his companions was that their khutbahs always related to the living affairs of their people. Those who give khutbahs today that have nothing to do with the living challenges of Muslims do not follow the example of the Prophet, rather they follow the sunnah of despotism, after despotic rulers who came to power and want to control what is said in khutbahs. It is as if they have murdered the Quran. This results in an Islam that justifies ugliness, cruelty, hypocrisy and despotism.
Western Muslims often ignore the moral universe of the Quran, producing an Islam comprised of meaningless rituals that do not lead to the liberation of human beings, the aspirations of justice, or a higher ethical existence. Instead, this Islam tells you your attitude towards this world must be one of bitter perseverance and patience, as this world is an evil place that must be persevered to get to the hereafter, where the fun begins. This creates abnormal psychologies and sad, despairing, bitter human beings. When Islam becomes a vehicle to take Muslims to the depths of darkness, instead of elevating to a higher ethical plane, religion becomes evil and harmful. As God-fearing Muslims, we cannot accept this about our faith.
An Egyptian man named Ahmed Sabee’ was recently arrested and disappeared in Egypt. Ahmed is a brilliant, young comparative religion scholar who has mastered Hebrew and Aramaic, and posts YouTube videos about ancient manuscripts of the Old and New Testaments. He has studied the Talmudic tradition and engages in discussions about the history of the church and comparative studies between the Quran and the Bible. He doesn’t talk about politics at all. In a recent video, Ahmed discussed an incident in which Pope Francis slapped away the hand of a woman who pulled him towards her. He compared it to an incident when the Prophet Muhammad was grabbed by the collar in the marketplace, so hard that it left a mark on his neck. The Prophet reacted by turning and smiling at the man who grabbed him. Comparing the reactions of the Pope and the Prophet Muhammad, Ahmed pointed out the hypocrisy of Islamophobes, who celebrated the Pope’s apology for slapping the woman’s hand, yet who demonize the Prophet. The Church of Egypt complained that Ahmed criticized the Pope, which led to Ahmed’s arrest in Egypt. It is unclear what his fate has since become.
The arrest of someone like Ahmed Sabee’ is the arrest of every intelligent intellect in the entire Muslim world. In the same way that God tells us, "Killing a single human being is like killing the entire humanity," when you arrest a single intellect, you've arrested scholarship and the entire ummah. You've arrested the principle of the word and you've preempted and aborted the possibilities of justice.
God challenges us to establish justice among us, to overcome injustice and aggression. God challenges us to institute justice through its various branches: deliberative justice, distributive justice, procedural justice and substantive justice, as an extension of our covenantal relationship with God. As long as we do not realize that Islam is, heart and soul, a rebellion against injustice, oppression, despotism and suffering, then we have betrayed Islam itself.