The Law of Islam

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Shari’a (the Law of Islam) recognizes no difference between the religious and secular life. It governs every aspect of the believer’s journey through life and of the nations ruled by it. Shari’a means “the path to the watering place”. It covers criminal law, oaths, contract law, evidence, judicial procedure, marriage, family inheritance, slavery, education, personal hygiene, the killing of animals, manners and deportment and it is interpreted when necessary by religious scholars who sit as judges.

The Law finds four sources in the Islamic world: The Qur-an (the word of God), the Hadith (traditions of the prophet) and when these sources are silent, consensus or Ijma’ a of those learned in the law, and Qiyas – analogy or deduction from a study of the Qur-an of the proper way to decide. The Shi’a would disagree with Ijma’ as a source of Law and prefer to rely on the infallibility of their Imam. Never the less, the concept of JUSTICE under God’s law is critical to understanding Islam.

In Islam, the relationship between justice and wisdom in the Arabic language is significant. The words aukm, “judgement”, and aikmah, “wisdom” come from the same root, and al-Åakim (the “All-Wise”) is another of the names of God in the Qur-an.

Why is justice so important in Islam? The core article of faith is the oneness of God, reflected in the unity of His creation in its totality. This unity is reflected in harmony and balance. Injustice destroys harmony and upsets balance thereby provoking disorder.

The Muslim is commanded to give primacy to prayer throughout his life and, in all that he does, to remember God. It is true that people can maintain prayer and remembrance under all conditions, even in the midst of chaos, but the fact remains that spiritual life prospers and flourishes when it has a stable base, a firm platform from which the ascent to the knowledge of God. A disordered society compounded of danger and distractions, unjust and troubled, provides no such security. The man who has to watch his back all the time is diverted from the remembrance of God as is the one who has suffered injustice and must struggle to eliminate feelings of anger and resentment. Moreover injustice fractures the brotherhood and sisterhood of the believers which is an essential element in an Islamic society.

Above and beyond this is the simple fact that He who is called “the Just” commands justice both in society and in every aspect of human relations. Since, in Islam, all things are inter-connected – this is an aspect of unity – it might even be said that every act of injustice jars on the cosmos as a whole like a discordant note in a piece of music.” (Eaton)

Those who enquire about the basics of Islam are usually told about the “Five Pillars” of the religion. These relate to faith and to practice, but at a deeper level it might be said that there are two great pillars which support the whole edifice. These are Peace and Justice. They are clearly connected since there can be no enduring peace without justice. The very word Isläm comes from the same verbal root as saläm meaning “peace” and, since the religion is based upon total submission to the will of God, Muslims believe that real peace is out of reach unless it is based upon this submission within the universal order. They believe equally that there can be no real justice except as an aspect of submission to the source of all that is just and well ordered. Although God in Himself is beyond comprehension or analysis, the Qur-an gives us hints as to His true nature through what are sometimes called “the 99 names” and one of these is al-Adl, “the Just”. Another of these names is al-Muqsiö, “the Dispenser of Justice” or “He who gives to each thing its due”.

The Qur-an praises those who always act “in the light of truth” and tells us: “Perfected are the words of your Lord in truth and justice”. It tells us also: “Behold, God enjoins justice and good actions and generosity to our fellows….”, and it commands us never to let hatred lead us into deviating from justice: “Be just! That is closest to God consciousness”. This, of course, applies to all believers who must fear divine justice if subjective factors or personal emotions lead them to deviate from the path of justice which is also the path of Islam, but it weighs heavily upon those who are required to adjudicate in disputes or to give judgement in criminal cases.

Believers are warned again and again that if they hope for mercy from their Lord – as all must – then they have to show mercy to their fellows and to “every creature that has a living heart” including the beasts and the birds. “God gives a reward for gentleness which He will never give for harshness”, said the Prophet. It is clear that, for the Muslim, there is a powerful restraint upon justice if justice is understood merely as a weighing of relevant facts and that is why the human judge, fallible and himself in need of mercy, trembles when he gives judgement.


I know that this concept of Islam differs starkly from the image of hijacked airliners crashing into the World Trade Center. In the same way that Jim Jones (of The People’s Temple fame) might be said to not be representative of all Christians, the murderers of innocent men, women and children on September 11, 2001 are clearly not representative of all Muslims and by all standards, violated the basic tenants of Islam.

I am not Muslim, I am not an apologist for any faith or for those without faith. At the same time, it’s important that we all understand each other as we strive to live together on the same planet. I have posted this to help those who are not acquainted with Islam to find greater understanding of the concept of “Justice” within the framework of Islam
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