Be Just in All That You Say
Sheikh Salman al-Oadah
Islam teaches us how to speak about other people. We are supposed to conduct ourselves ethically, and make certain to speak in a just and equitable manner. We must observe justice in what we declare, even when it concerns ourselves or those we love.
“O 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.” [Sûrah al-Nisâ’: 153]
A Muslim is commanded to speak and act justly, though he might be speaking about someone who opposes and hates him, and who he in turn despises. Allah says: “O you who believe! Stand out firmly for Allah, as witnesses to fair dealing, and let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just: that is nearest to piety: and fear Allah. For Allah is well-acquainted with all that ye do.” [Sûrah al-Mâ’idah: 8]
Allah had commanded the Muslims to be just even with the pagans of Mecca who drove the Muslims out of their homes. He says: “Let not the hatred of some people for (once) shutting you out of the Sacred Mosque lead you to transgression (and hostility on your part). Help one another in righteousness and piety, but do not help one another in sin and rancor. Fear Allah: for Allah is strict in punishment.” [Sûrah al-Mâ’idah: 2]
The Muslims must deal justly even with those who wage war against them. Allah prohibits the Muslims from transgression. He says: “Fight against those who fight against you, but do not transgress bounds. Indeed Allah does not love transgressors.” [Sûrah al-Baqarah: 190]
There can be no doubt that Allah has made justice – which includes being just in the things that we say about others – compulsory for everyone under all circumstances. We must speak justly whether we are speaking about ourselves or about others. We must be just whether we are speaking about Muslims or non-Muslims. We must be just when we speak about any topic, large or small.
Ibn Taymiyah says: “Justice is mandatory for everyone. It must be applied to everyone under all circumstances in all places and at all times. Oppression is forbidden for everyone. No one should be oppressed under any circumstance or in any place or at any time.”
One of the most important rules of thumb for being just in what we say is never to generalize. When sweeping generalizations are made, they invariably gloss over a great number of differences and disagreements that exist among the people being spoken about. The premium that Islam places on individual responsibility means that the individual is directly accountable for his or her own opinions, statements and actions. He is not held responsible – before men or before Allah – for the words and deeds of others who might share the same ethnicity or who hail from the same community.
Allah says: “And We have made every person’s actions to cling to his neck, and We will bring forth to him on the Day of Judgment a book which he will find wide open:” [Sûrah al-Isrâ’:13]
Allah says: “Each individual in pledge for his deeds.” [Sûrah al-Tûr: 21]
Allah has commanded us to treat all people well, because that is closer to the realization of justice. He says: “And say to people a good word.” [Sûrah al-Baqarah: 83]
When we call others to truth, we must do so with kindness: “Invite to the way of your Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious: for your Lord knows best who have strayed from His Path, and who receive guidance.” [Sûrah al-Nahl: 125]
This should condition the Muslim’s mindset so that he always deals with others in a spirit of justice and equity. A Muslim should be merciful with others. Indeed, the reason why Allah sent the Messengers is to show mercy to all people. Allah says: “And We did not send you (O Muhammad) except as a mercy to all the worlds.” [Sûrah al-Anbiyâ’: 107]
Mercy is a most noble character trait. It is the trait of Allah’s Messengers and of those who truly follow in their footsteps. It is the quality of those who follow the Sunnah that they are the most merciful of people in their dealings with others. The closer a Muslim comes to Allah’s light and guidance - the more steadfast he is on the straight path – the more he becomes typified by mercy in his conduct.
We beseech Allah as follows: “The Beneficent, the Merciful. Master of the Day of Judgment. You alone we worship, and from You alone we seek help. Guide us on the straight path.”
It is never right to attack people with our words or spread dubious things about them. Suggesting sinful speculations about people is one of the quickest ways of falling into injustice.
Allah says: “They follow nothing but conjecture; and conjecture avails nothing against the truth.” [Sûrah al-Najm: 28]
Allah also says: “They follow nothing but conjecture and what their own souls desire!- Even though there has already come to them Guidance from their Lord!” [Sûrah al-Najm: 23]
Allah addresses the problem of basing out dealings with others on suspicions when He says: “O ye who believe! Avoid suspicion as much (as possible): for suspicion in some cases is a sin: And spy not on each other behind their backs. Would any of you like to eat the flesh of his dead brother? Nay, ye would abhor it...But fear Allah: For Allah is Oft-Returning, Most Merciful.” [Sûrah al-Hujurât: 12]
In most cases, the unjust things that people say about each other stems from suspicions and baseless impressions. If they are challenged to prove their allegations, they will not be able to do so.
We need to be just in our speech, even when we are dealing with those whom we disagree with. Ibn Taymiyah says: “The innovator and the one who does wrong needs to be addressed with a tone of mercy and kindness, not with one of anger and vengefulness.”
We must treat everyone with kindness and justice, because ths is what the general ethical teachings of Islam demand from us, and those teachings are established with decisive textual evidence. Indeed, even when it comes to an enemy, the basic rule is to deal with that person in a decent manner. This is what reduces enmity and opens the door to mutual understanding and reconciliation.
Allah says: “Goodness and evil cannot be equal. Repel (evil) with what is better: Then the one between whom and you there had been hatred will become as it if he were your dear friend. And no one will be granted such goodness except those who exercise patience and self-restraint,- none but persons of the greatest good fortune.” [Sûrah Fussilat: 34-35]
Making enemies of others through slander and defamation and exaggerating their mistakes to create issues out of them – this is a most vile form of injustice. It is even worse, when the words of the Qur’ân, the teachings of Islam, and the statements of the scholars are exploited to defame someone – when the dressing of truth is used to disguise one’s injustice towards another person.
We as Muslims are warned against exploiting differences of opinion as means of sewing dissention and perpetrating injustice.
Allah says: “Humankind was a single nation, and Allah sent Messengers with glad tidings and warnings; and with them He sent the Book in truth, to judge between people in matters wherein they differed; but the People of the Book, after the clear signs came to them, did not differ among themselves, except through their hatred of each other. Allah, by His grace, guided the believers to the truth, concerning that wherein they differed. For Allah guides whom He will to a path that is straight.” [Sûrah a-Baqarah: 213]
Whenever people behave contrary to the dictates of mercy, they come closer to perpetrating injustice and oppression. They forget Islam’s teachings about how people are supposed to treat each other, and how disagreements are to be handled amicably. They speak wrongly and transgress against the rights of others – the rights that Allah, in His Book, commands us to uphold.
One of the great words of advice and admonition in the Qur’ân appears in the following verse: “And come not nigh to the orphan’s property, except to improve it, until he attains the age of full strength. Give measure and weight with (full) justice;- no burden do We place on any soul, but that which it can bear;- Whenever you speak, speak justly, even if a near relative is concerned; and fulfill the covenant of Allah: thus does He command you, that ye may remember.” [Sûrah al-An`âm: 152]