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 Social Justice in Islam    by Professor A. R. Momin

Egalitarianism, universal brotherhood of humanity and social justice form the bedrock of the social structure of Islam. These cardinal principles are embedded in the Islamic world-view. It is therefore profitable to examine the nature, scope and significance of the concept of social justice in the larger context of the Islamic world-view.

The Islamic world-view

Islam is not a racial or parochial religion, confined to a particular race or people or to a given period of history. It is universal in its message and appeal. The universality of the Islamic faith is reflected in its view of prophecy as well as in its attitude towards other religions. According to the Islamic belief, prophets and divine messengers have been sent to all people in every part of the world (Quran 16:36). Muslims are required to believe in not only the prophecy of Muhammad (SAW) but also that of all other prophets who carried the divine message at different points of time.

In the Islamic view, God is transcendent, but not as an external despot, high in the skies, who is unconcerned about man's fate. The Quran says that God is closer to man than the artery of his neck. He is the most compassionate, the most merciful. He is not a parochial deity but the Lord of the universe and of all humankind.

According to the Islamic view, man is not the product of a blind process of evolution, but a being who has been created by God with His own hands. All humans, according to the Islamic view, are born innocent, untainted by original sin or guilt. Man has been endowed with self-consciousness, reason and moral choice. The Quran describes man as God's vicegerent on earth (2:30; 6:165). In the Islamic view, human nature is characterised by a certain duality or polarity. On the one hand, man is said to have been created from clay, a lowly substance (Quran 23:12; 32:7). On the other hand, God has breathed His soul into him (Quran 15:29). Furthermore, man has been endowed with the capacity and freedom to choose between good and evil (Quran (76:3; 90:8-10). Thus, man possesses two rather contradictory kinds of potentialities: benign and sublime, on the one hand, and vicious and demonic, on the other. In the Islamic view, the relationship between the individual and society is one of complementarity. Islam avoids the extremes of both exaggerated individualism and communitarian totalitarianism.

The Islamic conception of human nature avoids the fallacies of romanticism, cynicism and determinism. It takes due cognisance of the existence of evil and viciousness and says that it is embedded in the structure of the human psyche. At the same time, it emphasizes that man has the capacity and freedom to overcome his organismic frailties and limitations and to actualize his benign potentialities. It underscores the unfolding and development of the benign, angelic qualities inherent in human nature.

As God's vicegerent on earth, man is accountable to his Creator for all his actions. Though the world and all its bounties have been created for man, he is required to use the God-given resources prudently and in moderation. The Islamic principle of moral accountability provides a corrective to the wasteful consumption of resources.

The Islamic ethos covers all spheres of human life, both temporal and spiritual. Islam makes no differentiation between what is God's and what is Caesar's, between the external world and the internal world. It does not posit a rigid duality between the sacred and the profane. The Islamic faith avoids the extremes of renunciation and self-abnegation, on the one hand, and excessive self-indulgence, on the other. It underscores the value of balance and moderation.

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