Ramadan, the holy month during which the Quran was first revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), is for Muslims a month of fasting, prayer, and meditation. The rituals of fasting and long night-vigil Tarawih prayers are meant to teach us self discipline, as we deny our bodies food in order to strengthen and feed our spirits.
Ramadan is not only a month in which we re-dedicate ourselves to worship with renewed vigor, it is also a month in which, through our hunger and our sacrifices, we remember those who go hungry simply because there is no food. We remember those who thirst because there is no water. We remember those who are without homes or mosques to take shelter in, and those who have even been deprived of their families and their Ummah due to famine, war, and poverty.
Ramadan is a month in which we remember those who have not been remembered, and ask ourselves and our communities: “What are we going to do about this?”
I once heard Linda Sarsour say that when people ask her how they can take part in activism and the struggle for social justice, she responds “Islam is activism, activism is Islam. When you wake up as a Muslim, you are working for justice.”
Our religion and our Quran do not just teach us justice as a component of religion; our Quran is itself a guidance towards true justice, towards an egalitarian society in which injustice is a weed that cannot grow.
Below are a few examples of social justice in the Quran.
1. Surat al Ma’un:
Have you seen him who denies the Final Judgement?/
Then such is the man who repulses the orphan (with harshness), And encourages not the feeding of the indigent.
So woe to those praying ones, Who are careless of their prayers. Those who (want but) to be seen (of men).
But refuse (to supply) (even) neighbourly needs.
Surat Al Ma’un is an admonition to all of us that acts of worship alone, such as daily prayer, are not the essence of piety. Rather, if we are sincere in our prayers and make them for the sake of Allah, and not simply to appear religious, then we must enjoin justice for orphans, the indigent, and our neighbors.
2. Surat An-Nisa, verse 135:
O ye 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 your hearts), lest ye swerve, and if ye distort (justice) or decline to do justice, verily Allah is well- acquainted with all that ye do.
This verse of the Quran was recently recognized by Harvard law as one of the best teachings of justice in history. This Ayat in Surat An-Nisa, or “The Women,” commands us to “…stand out firmly for justice,” recognizing and reforming the faults in ourselves first. This verse also commands us to stand up to people who may hold a higher stature than us, such as our parents or our kin; people we may be reluctant to speak out against because we have a social or cultural obligation to them. This Ayat also teaches us to speak truth to power, commanding us to speak out against both rich or poor people. Here also, we find the essence of why we fast during Ramadan: Learning to control our desires, as learning not to follow the “lusts of our hearts” is the key to remaining on the straight and narrow in Islam.
3. Surat al-Mumtahana, verses 8 and 9
Allah does not forbid you from being good to those who have not fought you in the deen or driven you from your homes, or from being just towards them. Allah loves those who are just. Allah merely forbids you from taking as friends those who have fought you in the religion and driven you from your homes and who supported your expulsion. Any who take them as friends are wrongdoers.
Here now is a verse which dispels a myth that poisons interfaith relations between Muslims and non-Muslims: The terrible fallacy that Muslims hate or wish to destroy people of other faiths, or at the very least, refuse to associate with them. While some (cough cough, Da’esh) point to verses in the Quran which were revealed during a time when the first Muslims were persecuted by the Quraish, claiming that these verses prohibit Muslims from interacting with non-Muslims, this verse clearly shows that Allah is specifically referring to those who would commit actual violence against Muslims.
This verse informs us that justice means being good to our non-Muslim neighbors, and taking them as friends.
Also in this verse is further proof that practicing justice brings one closer to Allah: “Allah loves the just.”
4. Surat An-Namal, verse 18/19:
Till, when they came to the valley of the ants, one of the ants said: “O ants! Enter your dwellings, lest Sulaiman (Solomon) and his hosts crush you, while they perceive not.”
So he [Sulaiman] smiled, amused at her speech and said: “My Lord! Inspire and bestow upon me the power and ability that I may be grateful for Your Favours which You have bestowed on me and on my parents, and that I may do righteous good deeds that will please You, and admit me by Your Mercy among Your righteous slaves.”
This fable from the Quran is one every Muslim child loves, and hears whenever they might wish to examine (or capture) an ant. In this story, the Prophet Sulaiman halts his vast army so as not to harm several of Allah’s creatures: A small army of ants.
Here is a tale which espouses in every Muslim a sense of a special brand of justice–environmental justice. Justice towards the Earth and its creatures is not a novel concept in Islam, but in today’s world, threatened by climate change and driven by consumption, it is of tremendous importance. As Muslims, we have a duty towards not only our human neighbors, but our animal neighbors and nature as well.
5. Surat Ad-Duhaa
By the morning light and the dark of night, your Lord has not forsaken you nor does he abhor you. The end shall be better than the beginning, and you will be satisfied. Did he not find you an orphan and give you shelter? Did he not find you in error and guide you? Did he not find you poor and enrich you? Do not wrong the orphan, then, nor chide the beggar, but proclaim the goodness of your Lord.
Here it is, in the chapter of the Quran aptly titled for the bright early hours after sunrise, the Golden Rule. In this verse, Allah reminds us that He is the most just, and has treated us justly. We thrive in His justice, and as we enjoy justice, so we should pass justice on to others. We were all orphans, wrongdoers, and beggars, and the goodness of our Lord guided us and showed us how to strive towards being better people. With this in mind, we must extend the hand of kindness to all, and lift everyone we can into a just society, by living justly and passing on the goodness which Allah showed to us.