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[This entry contains two subentries:

Concepts of Justice

It has been argued that if the Christian worldview is predominantly cast in terms of love, then the Islamic one is suffused by a discourse on justice. As one commentator has put it, “Neither in the Qurʿān nor in the Traditions are there measures to indicate what are the constituent elements of justice or how justice can be realized on Earth” (Khadduri, pp. 10–11). However, the ideas of paying one's moral and fiscal debts and of tempering retribution with mercy are features that characterize both God and the just person. For an individual to be ʿadl (just) is, as the term implies, to be balanced, to engage in acts that are framed by an awareness, born of the pursuit of reason over passion, of the harm that may be done to the ties that bind individuals to one another and all believers into a single community. The Qurʿān (6:152) thus enjoins one to “be just, even if it should be to a near kinsman” and demonstrates practical application when, for example, it recommends that contracts be written down in order to avoid subsequent doubt. It is, therefore, possible to see in the Qurʿān and Muḥammad 's own actions an implicit theory of justice that informs later interpretations and applications.

Central to the prophetic conception of justice are three features: relationships among men and toward God are reciprocal in nature, and justice exists where this reciprocity guides all interaction; justice is both a process and a result of equating otherwise dissimilar entities; and because relationships are highly contextual, justice is to be grasped through its multifarious enactments rather than as a single abstract principle.

Just individuals are those to whom power appropriately devolves, because they have regulated their ties with others according to balanced, reciprocal obligations. These reciprocal obligations reduce social chaos and facilitate ever-greater networks of indebtedness among those who develop their God-given reason to understand the divine word and the mundane world alike. Justice as the process of equating implies that reason and experience must be used to calculate similarities, a process that shows itself in qiyās (analogic reasoning), no less than in attending to the differences between men and women, Muslims and non-Muslims, and assigning each category to its respective domain. The contextual quality of justice shows itself in the quest for an understanding of the spheres within which each person or historical moment exists and the ways in which fundamental qualities and kaleidoscopic changes must be scrutinized and balanced.

The elements of Islamic justice were the source of contention among moral and political theorists from the outset of Islam. During his lifetime the Prophet governed in direct accord with divine precept. After his death disagreement centered on which line possessed the capacity to rule justly and which procedures for rule should hold sway. For Sunnīs political justice lay in acknowledging legitimate authority through ijmāʿ (community consensus); for the Shīʿī it lay in the strict perpetuation of the line of legitimate succession. For the Sunnī the ruler 's legitimacy was in theory hedged by the need for shūrā (consultation). The Sunnī Umayyad dynasty, however, combined the doctrine of an elected caliph with the idea that the responsible believer is the one who does not fail to obey the legitimate successor to the Prophet. Others, known collectively as Qādarīyah, believed that each man is responsible for his own acts and that political justice lies not in compulsory obedience but in holding even the caliph responsible for his unjust acts.

Notwithstanding its claims for continuity, the model of the caliphate failed to provide specific guidance for a theory of the just sovereign. During the brief period in the eighth century when the ʿAbbāsid dynasty favored them, the Muʿtazilah argued that divine justice is beyond human grasp but that human reason can best approximate divine justice through the exercise of reason and free will. Indeed, they argued, it is by such acts that one gains unity with that inner sense of justice toward which all men are naturally directed. Although the Muʿtazilī emphasis on reason and unity brought them into conflict with more powerful opponents, the terms of the debate were set: to the legalists (including al-Shāfiʿī [767–820]) men choose to do justice or injustice through their adherence to the law; to al-Ashʿarī (d. 935 or 936) men could do justice but could not create its very terms; to al-Taḥāwī (d. 933) and al-Bāqillānī (d. 1012) the very uses to which God 's created justice are put are themselves creative acts. By contrast, the Shīʿī theorists of the Būyid and Fāṭimid dynasties of the tenth and eleventh centuries argued that, in the absence of an infallibly sinless imam, men may even defend themselves through taqīyah (dissimulation) against an unjust caliph—a practice that Sunnīs regarded as little more than personal convenience. To both of these positions Ṣūfī theorists, such as Ibn al-ʿArabī (1165–1240), countered that justice can be made manifest in this world not by creative acts of reason but only by engagement in ecstatic devotion.

As Islam spread into new territories and contact with classical Western thought increased, Islamic thinkers had to consider the practical applications of justice in law and politics. The Virtuous City of al-Fārābī (c.878–c.950) was to be characterized by the division and protection of all good things among the people; the Just City of Ibn Sīnā, (980–1037) was constituted by a social contract among administrators, artisans, and guardians, the welfare of all being secured by a common fund of resources. As the demands of actual administration increased, specific content for these propositions developed. The concept of maṣlaḥah (public interest), al-Ghazālī (1058–1111) and al-Tūfī (d. 1316), received legal force by calculating social consequence against individual interest; procedural justice lay in the qualities of the judge 's character, in the use of a council of adviser/assessors, in the use of advisory opinions by outside scholars, and in the increasing use of elaborate procedures for ascertaining the credibility of witnesses. The traditional absence of appellate structures reduced dependence on any fallible judge, although the accepted legitimacy of different schools of Islamic law and resident experts allowed local custom to inform the practice of daily justice.

Because justice was seen to pervade all domains of life, Islamic thinkers sought to unify political, legal, and social justice. In the face of Mongol invaders and Western crusaders, Ibn Taymīyah (1263–1328) sought to stem the decline of Islam by urging that despotic rulers must give way to a politicized sharīʿah (the divine law) in which, for example, precedence would be given to family unity over emotion-laden repudiation, and just wars would be limited to defensive actions. From his initial emphasis on society as a fluctuating balance of religion and ʿaṣabīyah (social solidarity), Ibn Khaldūn (1332–1406), observing the decadence of fourteenth-century Egypt, increasingly stressed procedural regularities and taʿzīr (discretionary penalties) as a check on political injustice. Although he and others believed men were inherently unjust, their more secular, political approach to issues of justice had to wait until later ages to achieve a more activist orientation.

The intrusion of Western colonialists, particularly in the nineteenth century, prompted two major strands of thought on the question of justice. Modernists sought to include institutions modeled after those of the West into their political systems, although traditionalists found Western approaches inconsistent with Islam. Jamāl al-Dīn al-Afghānī (1838–1897) believed that the injustices of Muslim despots could be rectified by renewing the principle of consultation in the form of elective assemblies and by the political unity of all Muslims against Western powers. Like his predecessors he combined moral renewal through revitalized virtues with a political program that would insure fuller community participation. But when al-Afghānī 's proposals failed to move Muslim tyrants or the populace at large, some, like his student Muḥammad ʿAbduh (1849–1905), looked to Western procedural standards, which they did not regard as incompatible with Islam, for guidance. As a judge and grand muftī, ʿAbduh issued fatwās allowing, for example, the use of interest through postal bank accounts. He often spoke in terms of revelation and natural law as well as in terms of the compatibility of revelation with evolution and social reformation, but his equivocation and his deep concern with the moral transformation of society signaled precisely the dilemma faced by many of his era who were drawn to both Western and indigenous forms of injustice.

Many of the conflicts between modernists and traditionalists centered on the adoption of new legal codes. The very idea of a code was largely a Western one, but the process of codification forced many Muslims to consider which propositions they regarded as essential to Islam and which as dispensable accretions. Moreover, the process of adopting codes offered the opportunity for establishing a system for legal changes. Of central importance was the formulation of the Mecelle (Ar., Majallah; Civil Code), which was applied throughout Ottoman territories in the 1870s. Together with the short-lived Ottoman constitution of 1876, it marked the trend that culminated in Turkey's unilateral disestablishment of Islam and its wholesale adoption of European codes. By contrast French colonial territories adopted French commercial and criminal law, but these countries retained relatively intact their Islamic family law practices until they achieved national independence.

Owing largely to the efforts in the late 1940s of the Egyptian jurist ʿAbd al-Razzāq al-Sanhūrī (1895–1971), civil codes were drawn up for Egypt, Iraq, and Kuwait, with other countries drawing on elements of his work. In each instance the codes left it to sharīʿah principles to fill in where the code was silent. In fact, more often than not Western substantive law filled in the whole of the civil law, and the sense of distinctive Islamic principles—of fault and liability, of intentionality in contracts or unconscionable agreements—was largely replaced by non-Muslim concepts.

By contrast, the strain between Western Islamic standards of justice has been most significantly tested in family law. Following independence in 1956, Tunisia took the more extreme position, formally abolishing polygamy and requiring all divorces to be pronounced by the judge. At the other extreme, Pakistan and the Gulf States continued highly traditional forms of Muslim family law, largely unaffected by outside forces. In between lay a vast array of compromises: from Morocco, where the code remains very close to Mālikī principles but places increased discretion in the hands of the qāḍī (judge), to Malaysia, where adat (local custom) grants wives a share of all marital assets at the time of divorce.

The struggles over appropriate laws of personal status have profoundly affected views of the nature of Islamic justice: as women became more educated and occupied a greater role in the economy, justice was conceived by many as requiring greater equalization, though not full equality, of men and women. At the same time the very forces that led to such liberalization contributed to the backlash against it: fundamentalists, from Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in Iran to the Muslim Brothers in Egypt, find the relations of men and women one of the domains where Western influence has distorted justice by rendering an imbalance among what they see as natural differences.

Similarly, in criminal law the precepts of divine revelation have been read to imply ḥudūd (invariant punishments) for listed offenses and taʿzīr (discretionary punishments) for a broader range of infractions. Some of these penalties, though rarely applied, conflict with international human rights conventions, while others bespeak localized standards of justice—as when, for example, a learned man may be held to a higher standard of behavior than an unlettered one, because his acts are thought to have greater consequences for society. Recent attempts by the ministers of justice of Islamic nations to compose a uniform penal law has yielded a document none is likely to adopt, because each nation adheres to quite different standards of punishment. The very process of drawing up such a document reveals both the commonalities and the discrepancies wrought by different histories and attitudes.

Issues of social justice have also taken very different paths. Although the language of distributive justice is broadly shared, neither modernists nor traditionalists have succeeded in capturing its terms for any universally accepted program. The combination of Islam and socialism in Algeria and Libya, for example, has resulted in the greater use of the central government for the redistribution of resources; moderate states, such as Indonesia and Jordan, have used public funds to reconstruct the educational system and provide greater security against disaster. But again, what is seen to be just depends far more on the political and economic circumstances of each country than uniformly adopted beliefs about Islamic justice. In this respect the intellectual history of the concept of justice replicates much of earlier history, for it is the local amalgam, proffered as distinctly Islamic, that both unites and separates Muslim nations.

One common concern is the nature of economic justice, exemplified by the permissibility of charging interest. Ribā, which is usually translated as “usury” but more accurately refers to any form of unjust enrichment, was historically avoided by various legal fictions. The rise of Islamic banking, however, has resulted in practices that are commensurate with modern economic institutions but are felt to conform to the prohibition on interest. This development is particularly important, because it is rare for Islamic conceptions of justice to be embraced in specific institutional enactments.

As fundamentalist regimes have taken power in Iran, Sudan, and several Malaysian states—and as their influence expands in Pakistan, Algeria, and Jordan—the equation of sharīʿah with justice has been no more fully consummated than at other times in Muslim history. Although formally preeminent, Islamic law is not, in fact, given unalloyed application in any of the Islamic republics. Moreover, justice—in the sense of receiving a fair share of the wealth of the state—has led to an emphasis on delivery of actual services rather than the imposition of formal law alone. Thus the terms of justice have been put into play once again, and the quest for new equivalences, contexts, and forms of reciprocal obligation have become embroiled in bureaucratic and party structures.

If justice is central to the way that Muslims think of themselves, it must also be noted that jawr (injustice) plays no less a role. Injustice is often felt rather than articulated, and Muslims tend to believe, like Montaigne, that institutions, far from eradicating injustice, often provide a forum for its elaboration. Justice, for most Muslims, can only be expected where face-to-face constraints allow reciprocity to work, whereas the state is seen as unreciprocity incarnate. Where international actions or local corruption lead to a perceived imbalance, the personal offense that is taken is profound. Justice, to Muslims, is not, as Adam Smith had it for the West, the least of the virtues, because it is one that merely entails the avoidance of harm. Rather, justice is the most essential, if indeterminate, of virtues for Muslims, because it keeps open the quest for equivalence, a quest seen as central to both human nature and revealed orderliness in the world of reason and passion.



  • Abdul Mannan, Muḥammad. Islamic Economics: Theory and Practice. London, 1986. Thorough analysis of the implementation of banking, trade, planning, and labor relations in accordance with revitalized Islamic concepts.
  • Antoun, Richard. Muslim Preacher in the Modern World. Princeton, N.J., 1989. Case study of a Jordanian preacher whose sermons exemplify popular justice.
  • Ewing, Katherine, ed.Sharīʿat and Ambiguity in South Asian Islam. Berkeley, Calif., 1988. Collection of essays showing the relation of various Muslim law codes to local customs and historical situations.
  • Hathout, Maher. In Pursuit of Justice: The Jurisprudence of Human Rights in Islam. Muslim Public Affairs Committee, 2006.
  • Iqbal, Munawar, ed.Distributive Justice and Need Fulfillment in an Islamic Economy. Islamabad, 1986. Essays by Muslim scholars on landownership and poverty law that could be practiced in accordance with Islamic precepts.
  • Kamali, Mohammad Hashim. Freedom, Equality and Justice in Islam. Islamic Texts Society, 2002.
  • Kassem, Hammond. “The Idea of Justice in Islamic Philosophy.”Diogenes79 (1972): 81–108.
  • Kerr, Malcolm H.Islamic Reform: The Political and Legal Theories of Muḥammad ʿAbduh and Rashīd Riḍā. Berkeley, Calif., 1966. Excellent analysis of the idealist tradition in Islamic jurisprudence as represented by two leading thinkers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
  • Khadduri, Majid. The Islamic Conception of Justice. The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001. The most comprehensive study of texts on Islamic justice, covering classical as well as modern writers.
  • Mahmood, Tahir. Family Law Reform in the Muslim World. Bombay, 1972. Carefully selected and translated excerpts from codes promulgated in almost every modern Muslim nation.
  • Mammeri, Mouloud. The Sleep of the Just. Translated by Len Ortzen. Boston, 1956. Algerian novel demonstrating the conflicted sense of identity and justice surrounding the life of an Arab living under colonialism.
  • Qutb, Sayyid. Social Justice in Islam. Translated by John B. Hardie and Hamid Algar. Oneonta, N.Y.: Islamic Publications International, 2000.
  • Rosen, Lawrence. The Anthropology of Justice: Law as Culture in Islamic Society. Cambridge, U.K., 1989. Study of a modern Islamic court in Morocco and its implementation of justice in the light of current social and cultural norms.
  • Rosen, Lawrence. The Justice of Islam: Comparative Perspectives on Islamic Law and Society. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.
  • Shah-Kazemi, Reza. The Sacred Foundations of Justice in Islam: The Teachings of  ʿAli ibn Abi Talib. World Wisdom, 2007.
  • Yamānī, Aḥmad Zakī. Islamic Law and Islamic Issues. Jiddah, 1968. Insightful study of Islamic law as practiced in a traditional Islamic context by a scholar best known as Saudi Arabia 's former oil minister.

Lawrence Rosen

Social Justice

The Nahḍah (renaissance; rebirth), founded in the latter part of the nineteenth century, was a vast intellectual, cultural, religious, and political movement that sought to translate the main principles of Western progress into Arab and Muslim terms. It stood against the degeneration of Islam and attempted to rescue the achievements of classical Islamic civilization from centuries of decline and oblivion.


Representatives of the Nahḍah movement in the Arab world—Jamāl al-Dīn al-Afghānī, Rifāʿah Rāfiʿ al-Ṭaṭāwī, Muḥammad al-Ṣaffār, Muḥammad ʿAbduh, Qāsim Amīn, and others—believed that their societies had to overcome decadence and stagnation and find answers to the increasing Western challenge, in both its technical and intellectual aspects. One such challenge was the need to achieve a new Muslim social and political order that would eliminate poverty and helplessness in Muslim societies. The issue of social justice in nineteenth-century Muslim thought arose from backward social and economic conditions that did not attract the serious attention of the traditional ʿulamāʿ class, and from Western domination that did nothing to improve the social conditions of the dominated people. Nahḍah thinkers criticized these two failures. Al-Afghānī 's critique of the Indian ʿulamāʿ, for instance, summarizes the position of the Nahḍah thinkers:

"Why do you not raise your eyes from those defective books and why do you not cast your glance on this wide world? … Yet you spend no thought on this question of great importance, incumbent on every intelligent man, which is: What is the cause of poverty, indigence, helplessness, and distress of the Muslims, and is there a cure for this important phenomenon and great misfortune or not? (Nikki R. Keddie, An Islamic Response to Imperialism: Political and Religious Writings of Sayyid Jamal ad-Din al-Afghani, Berkeley, 1983, p. 64.)"

Social justice was closely bound to a host of religious, political, and educational issues and questions facing the Arab and Muslim world of the nineteenth century. Nevertheless, because of the existing political conditions—that is, the hegemony of colonialism—the Nahḍah movement  “did not manage to formulate a coherent and efficacious program of social transformations, as would have been necessary to resist the imperialist aggression” (Samir Amin, The Arab World: Nationalism and Class Struggle, London, 1983, p. 33). The failure of the Nahḍah movement to attain its immediate social and political goals—arising from the formidable challenges of colonialism—placed the issue of social justice at the forefront of Muslim debate in the twentieth century.

In twentieth-century Islamic thought, the issue of social justice became more sharply defined, especially with the movement of peasants from the countryside to the cities. This migration created social and demographic tensions that gave Islam a definite ideological and political role in society (see Joel Beinin, “Islamic Response to the Capitalist Penetration of the Middle East,” in The Islamic Impulse, edited by Barbara F. Stowasser, Washington, D.C., 1987, pp. 87–105). The foundation by Ḥasan al-Bannā of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt in 1928 and its rapid spread to the rest of the Arab world reflected a social crisis endemic in Arab societies: the Muslim Brotherhood has always thought of itself as an organizational and religious response to the plight of the poor and downtrodden in society.

Reaction to Western Hegemony.

In order to understand the relation between Islamic resurgence and social justice, one must distinguish among resurgence as a reaction to imperialism and colonialism, resurgence as a reaction to the emergence of nation-states (especially in the 1950s and 1960s), and resurgence as a reaction to the contemporary situation. The latter is exemplified by the lack of political unity in the Arab world, by the rise of the Persian Gulf states and petrodollar diplomacy, and by widening social gaps in Arab countries, particularly Egypt, Sudan, Lebanon, and Algeria (see John L. Esposito, The Islamic Threat: Myth or Reality, New York, 1992, especially chaps. 3–5).

In the first stage, Islamic resurgence reacted to issues of social justice in the context of imperialism by using Islamic concepts and motifs to respond to a formidable modern situation. As “a psychosocial phenomenon taking form under European domination and in direct reaction to it” (Hisham Sharabi, Neopatriarchy: A Theory of Distorted Change in Arab Society, New York, 1988, p. 64), the Islamic resurgence produced outstanding thinkers like Ḥasan al-Bannā, Muḥammad al-Ghazālī, ʿAbd al-Qādir ʿAwdah, and Sayyid Quṭb, who supported social justice in writings and through activism.


Ḥasan al-Bannā used the mosque to spread his social and economic message. His perception of the mosque as a dynamic domain for the propagation of Islam and the preparation of an activist Muslim group developed in the social context of the early days of the Muslim Brotherhood. At that time, the Muslim Brotherhood attracted the poor and the uneducated, so the mosque, as a sacred place and as a place that gives emotional comfort and security to the poor, was the ideal venue for the preaching of the Muslim Brotherhood 's ideas. Al-Bannā was aware of the total dependency of the Third World in general, and the Muslim world in particular, on the West. He understood that “Islam, far from being a philosophical doctrine or cultural trend, was a social movement aiming at social improvement in all aspects of life. In other words, it was necessary [in al-Bannā's view] to formulate an Islamic ideology, i.e., a holistic Islamic theory capable of putting forth a cure for prevailing social conditions” (ʿAbd Allāh al-Nafīsī, Al-Ikhwān al-Muslimūn, al-tajribah wa-al-khaṭaʿ: Awrāq fī al-naqd al-dhātī [The Muslim Brothers, Trial and Error: Readings in Self-Criticism], Cairo, 1989, p. 12).


This phase of Muslim reaction also witnessed a major controversy on issues of religion and social justice between the Islamist camp, represented by Muḥammad al-Ghazālī, and the liberal camp, represented by Khālid Muḥammad Khālid. In From Here We Start (translated by Ismāʿīl R. al-Fārūqī, Washington, D.C., 1953), Khālid (1920–1996) maintains that a major reason behind the deteriorating social and economic conditions in Egypt at the time (late 1940s)—beside Western hegemony—was the existence of a Muslim priesthood “pregnant with pernicious doctrines and deadly principles” (p. 32). According to Khālid, the sole aim of this class has been to exploit people 's spirituality and devotion to religion, while maintaining its social prestige. It also

"commingled its interests with religious doctrine itself, thereby completing the desecration of religion … Later on, the priesthood, with consistency and with perseverance, went about envenoming everything with its deadly poison, consecrating economic and social reactionism and preaching eloquently the virtues and excellence of poverty, ignorance and disease (ibid., p. 32)."

In Khālid 's view, then, the truth represented by the priestly class is “a form of mental and religious terrorism” (Pauline M. Rosenau, Post-Modernism and the Social Sciences: Insights, Inroads, and Intrusions, Princeton, 1992, p. 78).

As a liberal thinker who believes that social justice can be only achieved in the context of state-religion separation, Khālid also criticizes the Muslim Brotherhood 's doctrine of the compatibility between religion and society and religion and state. Any “priestly class,” ancient or modern, aligned with the ʿulamāʿ or with the Muslim Brotherhood, is the embodiment of social injustice and exploitation of the poor. This class, “the fastest runner after booty, wealth, and pride” (From Here We Start, p. 33), promotes superstitions instead of rationalism and poverty instead of wealth. Khālid concludes that any meddling of religion in the affairs of society is apt to “annihilate the personality of the nation, to drag the whole people down into an abyss of servility and subjection, and to breed an instinct of following” (ibid., p. 36).

Muḥammad al-Ghazālī (1917–1996), a leading Muslim Brotherhood thinker, also believed that some of the ʿulamāʿ were parasites sucking the blood of the poor (Muḥammad al-Ghazālī, Al-Islām al-muftarā ʿalayhi bayna al-Shuyūʿīyīn wa-al-raʿsmālīyīn, Cairo, 1952, p. 27). He bases his criticism of these ʿulamāʿ on concepts different from those of Khālid and argues that a new generation of Muslims must come into being because

"the men who now lead the defense of Islam are, without exception, bringing shame to themselves and their cause … The service of God and Mammon cannot be combined; nor can the duty of jihad be compatible with the pursuit of pleasure and comfort. It requires a really deranged mind to bring these opposites together in any system of human life. Such must be the minds of those Azharites who grow fat while Islam grows thin, and repose in comfort while [Muslims] suffer in anguish. These deceivers have devised devilish means for escaping the genuine duties of Islam. They are more crafty and sly than those hashish smugglers who escape justice and the police. On one hand, we have a group of men satisfied merely with the performance of personal worship. When they are asked to take care of the public, or observe the social duties of Islam, they answer despondently, “politics is not our business” … On the other hand, we have a group that fights sectarianism and worship of the dead, yet its members profess to belong to Muhammad bin Abd al-Wahab. They silently worship the living and sheepishly submit to the tyrants and despots of their “Wahabi” land [Saudia Arabia] … We have seen many leaders of al-Azhar who did not leave their office chairs until their pockets bulged with riches, though they claimed to be the “spiritual continuation” of the legacy of Muhammad ʿAbduh and Jamal al-Din [al-Afghānī]. (Our Beginning in Wisdom, translated by Ismāʿīl R. al-Fārūqī, Washington, D.C., 1953, pp. 69–70.)"

Muḥammad al-Ghazālī paved the way in his 1940s writings for the emergence of Sayyid Quṭb (1906–1966), whose thought on social justice reflects the transitional phase in Egypt 's life from colonialism to national independence in the 1950s.

Sayyid Quṭb.

Quṭb 's Social Justice in Islam (1948) has shaped the thought of many Islamists on social and economic issues. The book is a critical comment on the social, economic, cultural, and educational conditions and policies of the Egpytian state in the interwar period. Quṭb lays out a theory of proper conduct in social, legal, and political affairs. Notwithstanding his normative analysis and his idealistic solutions, Quṭb 's main goal is to dissect socioeconomic and political problems in the light of what he considers “genuine Islam.” He takes it for granted that there is a widespread malaise in Egyptian society, and he offers the “true” Islamic solution to remedy this situation. Quṭb 's influential arguments reflect the thoughts of a complex man in transition and a complex situation in flux, and his arguments buttress many of the theories in the Muslim Brotherhood movement and its offshoots in the 1960s and 1970s.

Quṭb points out that the past independence of Islam as a socioreligious and political system stands in sharp contrast to its present manifestations; he argues that the current secular state 's monopoly over religion must be dismantled. One way of doing so is to attack the privileges of the religious hierarchy that was always linked with the state. Quṭb contends that the ʿulamāʿ, as the established Muslim clergy, have robbed the poor of their social prestige and economic prosperity. Islamic history has known ʿulamāʿ who have exploited religion for their worldly benefits and have kept the workers and lower classes drugged by means of religion (ibid., p. 16).

Quṭb argues that the Islamic notion of social justice is all-embracing; it takes account of the material as well as the spiritual dimensions of people 's well-being. He enumerates as the foundations of the Islamic theory of social justice absolute freedom of conscience, complete equality of all men, and the mutual responsibility of society. The individual is the supreme example of social justice and must place his trust in divine and not human authority. Divine authority is indivisible, so people have nothing to fear in this life; they should neither allow anxiety to rule their lives nor fear transient difficulties. Despite this encouragement, Quṭb emphasizes the need for food and shelter: “the empty belly cannot appreciate high-sounding phrases. Or else he is compelled to ask for charity, and all his self-esteem leaves him lost, forever” (ibid., p. 19). Qutb concludes that social justice cannot prevail if the material foundations of society are unsound and the minority exploits the majority. One way of insuring material well-being is through mutual responsibility. The individual must care about the community, which should, in turn, be responsible for feeding the poor and destitute. Islam has therefore instituted zakāt (alms-giving) as both an individual and a social responsibility in order to combat poverty.

Although Islam, according to Quṭb, respects the individual 's property, justice is not always concerned with the interests of the individual. The individual is a steward of property on behalf of society, so property in its broadest sense is a right which can belong only to society; society in turn receives it as a trust from God who is the only true owner of anything. Thus, although the individual has the right to possess property, the community's interest is supreme. Communal property—water, grazing, and fire, according to Muhammad—is a distinguishing mark of Islam and cannot be restricted to individuals. Honest gain comes through work, so Islam opposes monopoly, usury, corruption, wastefulness, and dishonest commercial practices. Above all, Islam stands against the love of luxury which is an individual as well as a social disease.

In his search for a historical foundation of “the true spirit of Islam,” Quṭb finds that Abū Dharr al-Ghifārī (d. 652), a companion of the Prophet, was the true embodiment of this spirit. Abū Dharr was unpopular with corrupt rulers, and any person emulating his example at present will find the same treatment at the hands of “the present-day exponents of exploitation.” Abū Dharr stood against the system of preferential treatment instituted by the third caliph, ʿUthmān, and he favored a comprehensive system of justice like the one instituted by ʿAlī. When Muʿāwiyah—opponent of ʿAlī and first Umayyad caliph—came to power, he used public money for bribes and gifts to buy the allegiance of others, and the Umayyad rulers, in his view, did not distinguish between their private funds and public money.

Social and political corruption is an old story, and Quṭb traces the deviation from the Islamic ideal to the early Islamic state. Present Islam is unfaithful to its origins. The pious have always been the steadfast few, from Abū Dharr in the first century of Islam to Quṭb in the present. Is most Muslim history, then, only the story of deviation from and betrayal of the ideal?

Quṭb 's Social Justice in Islam contains the theoretical foundations of the Muslim Brotherhood's social thought. Quṭb 's analysis, although grounded in idealistic solutions, dispels the notion of social harmony in Egyptian society which is instead torn apart between feudalists and exploiters—including the professional men of religion—on the one hand, and foreign imperialists on the other. A radical critique of this state of affairs, therefore, requires the criticism of two parallel but equally hegemonic forces and their frames of thought, one indigenous and the other foreign.

After Independence.

In postindependence Arab history, social justice was expressed in a variety of ways: Islam and socialism; Islam and nationalism; Islam and the emergence of the Persian Gulf states; and Islam and al-takāful al-ijtimāʿī (social solidarity) (Sami A. Hanna, “Al-takaful al-Ijtimaʿi and Islamic Socialism,” The Muslim World 59, no. 3–4 [July–October 1969]: 275–286). According to the Syrian Muṣṭafā al-Sibāʿī, writing in the late 1950s, Islam and socialism are compatible, and the movement for Islamic socialism after independence rests on five main rights, those of life, liberty, knowledge, dignity, and property (al-Sibāʿī, “Islamic Socialism,” in Political and Social Thought in the Contemporary Middle East, edited by Kemal Karpat, New York, 1968, pp. 123–124). On the other hand, Maḥmūd Shaltūt, a rector of al-Azhar University during Nasser 's regime, believes social justice can be achieved in the secular nation-state: “Whoever holds authority in the Muslim community and influences its interests must therefore take steps to see to it that the nation draws the greatest profit possible from agriculture, commerce, and industry by coordinating the three sectors of activity” (Shaltūt, “Socialism and Islam,” ibid., 131).

This phase also witnessed the participation of a number of Arab Shī ʿī thinkers in framing social issues based on their vision of social justice. Foremost among them are Muḥammad Bāqir al-Ṣadr of Iraq and Muḥammad Ḥusayn Faḍlallāh of Lebanon. Al-Ṣadr 's major work Iqti Ṣādunā (Our Economics) proposes that the conceptual roots of both capitalism and socialism are incompatible with Islam and that Islam provides a unique economic system that, if applied correctly, could meet the demands of the modern age. Faḍlallāh, too, identifies himself with the downtrodden, especially in Lebanese society, and following liberation theology, he links the issue of social justice with the empowerment of the poor and the weak. In his Al-Islām wa-manṭiq al-qūwah, Faḍlallāh argues that in order to achieve social justice in society, the poor must rise against oppression.

Social justice has been a pivotal issue in modern Islamic thought, at least in the Arab world. No increase in the social and economic gaps in Arab society is likely to push the issue aside.See also FAḍLALLāH, MUḥAMMAD ḤUSAYN; GHAZāLī, MUḥAMMAD AL-; KHāLID, KHāLID MUḥAMMAD; MODERNISM; ṢADR, MUḥAMMAD BāQIR AL-; SHALTūT, MAḥMūD; and SIBāʿī, MUṣṭAFā AL-.


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Ibrahim M. Abu-Rabiʿ

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