In the Name of God, the Most Compassionate, the Dispenser of Grace
In this time of instant global communication, we are flooded with horrific scenes of gross injustices that are happening in real time. Tragically our own beautiful country also ranks as the 2nd most unequal country in the world. We have become accustomed to the sounds of violence n our streets, the stench of corruption in our governing structures، and the sight of raw poverty next door to outrageous opulence. Some of us cannot bear the knowledge of millions of souls suffering around us so we subconsciously confine our solidarity with the oppressed to designated times. Even at those designated times our reflection or action is only borne from a need to conform, and often more an expression of emotion than an informed protest. My khutbah today will focus on the dire need, more than ever before, for every one of us to make a stand for justice.
But what is justice?
The Merriam Webster and Oxford online dictionary defines justice broadly as the quality of being impartial, fair and reasonable. We find in the Holy Quran a significantly more instructive and descriptive expression of justice. In surah al-Nisa’ verse 135, Allah, the lord of Compassionate Justice proclaims:
Oh you who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be against rich or poor: for Allah can best protect both. Follow not the lusts of lest ye swerve and if you distort justice or decline to do justice, verily Allah is well-acquainted with all that ye do. (Surah An-Nisa Q4:,135)
The prestigious Harvard Law School has recognised this Qur’anic verse to be one of the greatest expressions for justice in history. In recognition of this they decided to display this verse prominently at the entrance of their faculty library.
Verse 135 of surah al-Nisa’ is a direct command to believers to protect the notion of justice, even if it be against not just your fellow Muslim, but your parents and relatives. Besides the direct injunction to be advocates for justice, this verse links the concept of justice with themes of faith, sacrifice, dependency and knowledge. I would like to reflect on the last of the aforementioned pre-requisites for justice, namely that of knowledge.
Knowledge as a Pre-Reqiuisite for Witnessing to Justice
Earlier this year, I was fortunate enough to enter the holy city of Jerusalem. We had meticulously planned our journey for months. To me, the epitome of injustice was located in Palestine and I felt I had a duty as a Muslim to witness the occupation that I had heard so much about as well as visit the 3rd most sacred mosque in Islam. I was able to fulfil both of my wishes. At the King Hussein crossing into Israel, my family was held for over 8 hours and questioned rigorously. We witnessed the vast difference in treatment that Americans received as opposed to Palestinians. In front of our eyes, we watched a mother with their two young kids told that they have 5 minutes to leave their father. I was a melting pot of emotions – I felt anger, sadness and an overwhelming sense of conviction that as a human being I have a duty to do whatever I can to rectify the situation. It was at that point however, that I realised that my lack of knowledge on the conflict meant that I would not know where to start. Ashamedly, up to that point my knowledge on Palestine was almost entirely consisted of snippets of Jumuah lectures, protest speeches and news items.
For those two days I spent in Jerusalem, through my limited interactions with the inhabitants I learnt that this was not a struggle of Muslims, but of a close-knit community consisting of different religions, cultures and identities. I learnt that while the protection of the 3rd most sacred mosque of Islam was important, the protection of the dignity, honour and freedom of Human Life, was of significantly greater. For all its heritage, aesthetic splendour and sacred value, it was the heartbeat of the community of that sustained the life of the city.
But the most important lesson I took home was that anger and sadness, shouting and crying is not enough. I learnt that to even start to make a difference I needed to go back to the history of the occupation, I need to understand the politics behind both groups, I need to intimately get to know the people involved in this conflict. To take off my shades of bias developed by years of media, speeches, lectures and step into the shoes of both Israeli and Palestinian citizens. Only then can I start to understand the intricacies of this conflict and make an educated stand on what I believe is right. Not only that, I will be able to proactively make a difference where I know I can on a proactive and not reactive level.
Today marks the end of Israeli Apartheid Week, IAW. What a great initiative, promoting the osmosis of different viewpoints on the occupation on a peaceful platform and creating awareness about the conflict. However, if at heart we choose to make a stand and make a tangible difference for the Palestinians we cannot limit our involvement to awareness days and weeks like this. We need to proactively educate ourselves, read and understand the conflict, continuously reflecting over the issue. I am a strong believer in the idea that what dominates our thoughts defines who we are. If we continuously are engaging our minds on the conflict, we can elevate from sporadic emotional blind supporters of people of our religion, to educated advocates for justice even against ourselves as a true Muslim should. Allah (SWT) mentions in that same verse from Surah An Nisa:
“…Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even as against yourselves…”
This principle should apply for all injustices that we can identify around us. As Muslims, we have a duty to proactively seek justice wherever we may see wrong. As the prophet (SAW) is reported to have said,
“Whosoever of you sees an evil, let him change it with his hand; and if he is not able to do so, then [let him change it] with his tongue; and if he is not able to do so, then with his heart — and that is the weakest of faith.” [Muslim]
Living in the 2nd most unequal society in the world, we see injustices around us on a continual basis. It is easy to be overwhelmed by the enormity of the task ahead, when corruption and oppression run rife even in our own law enforcement institutions. In 2012, 44 mine workers were brutally killed by police, many having been shot in the back and far from police lines. We have a duty as South African Muslims to speak out against such injustices. And in order to make a difference with our speech, we need to delve into the underlying causes, the contexts and the reasons for the conflict from both all parties involved.
One of my father’s famous pieces of advice is – there are always 3 sides to a story, the one side, the other side and then the truth! If one does not understand the entire problem at hand, one canoot hope to reach a just solution. As with anything, one of my Teacher’s told me “Fahmu Su’al, Nisful Jawab” – understanding the question is half the answer.
I work in an engineering consulting firm – I am learning more and more that for all the speciality we have to offer, all the years of training and sophisticated programs we use – the most important tool we have to offer is the tool of actually listening to the problem before presenting the solution. Leaders in industry call it design led thinking or the human centric approach, but essentially it boils down to really empathising with all involved.
There are thousands of injustices happening around us. We are witness to them every single day – the problem is that we have become so desensitised that we cannot see them as injustices any more. Whether it be in the form of unfair treatment of domestic workers or illegal dumping we have a responsibility to act in a just manner. My challenge to myself and the jamaa is to look beyond just ourselves and the Muslim community and identify an injustice around us and decide to proactively fight for its eradication. To prioritise the consistent research into the history, monitoring of new developments and reflections on new possibilities. Then, once the knowledge is there, to be the organiser of/ part of actively changing that injustice whether it be joining an organisation, attending protest marches, writing letters to the media. With the correct understanding of the problem, these actions will have so much more meaning.
May Allah bless us with the consistency to have the dedication to actively educate ourselves about the injustices around us continuously and to use this knowledge to proactively fight to eradicate the injustices around us.
In conclusion, ‘to render justice’, in the words of Imam al-Sarkhasi, (d.1096) a noted classical Islamic jurist, ‘ranks as the most noble of acts of devotion next to belief in God. It is the greatest of all the duties entrusted to the prophets…and it is the strongest justification for man’s stewardship of earth.’
Imam al-Sarakhs’i linking of justice with acts of devotion and piety echoes the source and fountainhead of his knowledge base, namely the Glorious Qur’an, which proclaims:
“Be just for it is the closest thing to Piety and Righteousness” (Surah Al Maeda, Q5 V8)
As a Muslim, justice is an inherent quality which we need to proactively strive to program. The qualities of listening, understanding all parties’ contexts and then taking an informed stance is what will ensure that our efforts make a difference.
Du`a / Supplication
O Most Wise! Increase us in knowledge and give us the courage to use this knowledge to speak out against injustices around us.
O Most Just! Make us adhere to justice and fairness in all cases, whether it be against our families or ourselves.
Allah! Help all people caught up in conflict zones such as Palestine, Syria, Iraq, Nigeria, Sudan and places from all around the world.
O Allah! Creator of the Heavens and Earth, O Protector! O Sustainer! Protect all the oppressed people in all places from all that is evil and bad.
O Allah! You are the source of peace and from You comes peace, exalted You are, O Lord of Majesty and Honour.