Social Justice in the Ancient World

By K. D. Irani; Morris Silver | Go to book overview

10
Social Justice in Early Islamic Society

FEREYDOUN HOVEYDA

The modern concept of social justice is based on a secular philosophy that took shape in the Western world in the eighteenth century and was enshrined, after a long evolution in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights ( 1948). At its core, this philosophy emphasizes individual freedom, tolerance, human dignity and a complete separation of church and state.

Islam, advocating total submission to the will of Allah and establishing no separation whatsoever between government and religion, seems at first sight far from the philosophy that led to modern welfare legislation. In many surats, the Koran forbids the believer to question social inequalities. It considers social differentiations as willed by Allah. One surat, for instance, states: "See how we have given preference one over the other, and verily the Hereafter will be greater in degrees and greater in preferment"( XVII:21); and "Covet not the thing in which Allah hath made some of you excel others. Unto men a fortune from that which they have earned and unto women a fortune from that which they have earned"( IV:32); and "Allah hath favoured some of you above others in provision. Now those who are more favoured will by no means hand over their provision to those whom their right hands possess, so that they may be equal with them in respect thereof. Is it then the grace of Allah they deny?"( XVI: 71). There are many other surats in the same vein.

Moreover, the believer, in his total submission to the will of God, has only duties and obligations toward Him. He must obey the Divine Law. Yet, most paradoxically, from these obligations, emerge some rights, as for instance, the duty of respecting other men's rights ( Brohi 1978: 181).

One also finds in the Koran elements of "social justice" in the form of

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