The Final Sermon: Law and Justice

The words of our beloved Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) are full of rich lessons. Among them is his address during the farewell Hajj. This is the ninth in a series of articles on The Prophet’s Last Sermon, Lessons for Humanity.

“And truly the blood-vengeance of the Era of Ignorance has been laid aside forever, and the first blood-vengeance we shall start with is that which is due for the blood of [my kinsman] ‘Amir ibn Rabi‘a ibn Harith ibn ‘Abd al-Muttalib.”

The fourth of the sections is on the prohibition of blood vengeance. From the pre-Islamic practices, if you kill one of our people, we will kill a few of your people. We are now at enmity with each other across generations.

 It was not only amongst the Arabs, this was part of tribal society. Tribes would forget why they were fighting each other but they would know that we are at war with each other. Wrongs are redressed, but wrongs are redressed by law, not by vengeance.  

There are beautiful principles that the scholars deduced from the Prophetic teachings concerning harm of any kind. The governing principle is harm is lifted but harm is not lifted by harm. If somebody wrongs you, you cannot wrong them back by taking their life, or property or harming them verbally. Rather, take legal recourse.

The Sacred Law

The first step, where it is not the question of murder and so on, is that you settle by the standard of the Sacred law. If you cannot settle then you reconcile. If you cannot reconcile then you arbitrate or you take it to the law. You take it to the law within the limits of Allah’s law. Even by law, you cannot take beyond what is rightfully yours.

The true servants of Allah submit to His command even in testing times. They leave ugly tribalism. We do not believe in the mob mentality that those people harmed us, let’s let the mob go loose and let’s attack them.  

This has implications in our times as well. Just because someone did wrong, we do not go tear them down in public etc. We are people of the law. If we believe in Allah as our Lord, we believe that what the messengers come with is the truth from the Just, the Wise, the Merciful, then we find in that sacred guidance, that which is true, just, wise and merciful. That is, if we understand it soundly and implement it soundly. 

If someone wrongs you and you want to respond, find out what the limits of the right response. You have a right to seek your right in the right manner, not by wronging and sometimes it is superior to forgive and overlook, but not always. Sometimes you are not permitted to forgive another because the harm others do has societal implications too. That is something you learn by learning about Islamic law, so we can fulfill our life responsibilities soundly. 

Hereditary Distinctions and Justice

“Truly, the hereditary distinctions that were pretensions to respect in the Era of Ignorance have been laid aside forever, except for the custodianship of the Kaaba [by Bani ‘Abd al-Dar] and the giving of drink to pilgrims [by al-‘Abbas].”

The fifth has to do with hereditary distinctions. These are things that you find in every society to try to have some kind of social order but also, people who have social advantages, economic advantages, and political advantages, want to preserve those. 

What we see in Prophetic teachings is that the basis of merit and social standing is firstly religious uprightness and mindfulness. This is what we, above all, respect and admire.

Secondly, when it comes to positions, we choose based on qualifications and ability to fulfil the trust. The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), when he was migrating from Makka to Madina, he chose a non-Muslim guide because that person was the most qualified and able to fulfil the responsibility at hand.  

You see this throughout Islamic history. Arabs of course had a deep sense of Arabness. One of the early caliphs of Islam asked his vizier who is the leading scholar in this city and that city. They named the largest seven/eight cities of the lands of Islam. In each city, the senior most scholar was either a freed slave or a non-Arab. This was within the first four generations of Islam.

Basis of Honor

The basis of honor in society was granted based on who had the most knowledge, and who had the most righteousness. This gave great strength to Muslim societies. The scholars taught those most deserving, not the most prestigious. 

Imam al-Kamal ibn al-Humam, arguably the foremost Hanafi scholar in the last 600 years of Islamic scholarship, his roots were not from the heartland of Islam. He was from Siwas which is in what is modern-day Eastern Turkey. His family had moved to Cairo and that is where he grew up. He became the head scholar of the Hanafis in Cairo. 

He appointed two successors after him. One was Ibn Amir Haj Al-Halabi was originally from Aleppo. The second was Qasim ibn Qutlubuqa who was from the Sudan. He was from very limited means and similarly, his family had migrated to Cairo and also did not have any means. That is how position was granted. It was not based on what family you are from and what your social standing is. 

Also in political positions. You see this in the early centuries of Islam. In many Muslim armies, even in the early times, generals and governors were non-Muslims. You see that in the armies of the Ottomans, the Mughals of India and others. They had appointed leaders in their armies, and governors who were non-Muslim because these were the people they deemed most fit to do the job. This is a source of both religious strength but also social strength.

Civilizations are guided by values but built by humans. So the civilizations of Islam are not sacred, they are not a revelation, but the underlying values are frequently manifest throughout Islamic history.