Islam and Social Justice (Part 1)

Social Justice in Ancient Civilizations

Different conceptions of justice according to ancient Western philosophy were centered upon the individual. Plato wrote in The Republic that it would be an ideal state that “every member of the community must be assigned to the class for which he finds himself best fitted.”[12] Aristotle believed rights existed only between free people. He regarded certain classes of individuals as natural slaves.[13]

Indeed, slavery continued to be widespread in Rome and Greece, and throughout the then entire world until Islam came and endeavored to abolish it in a remarkable gradual way. Reflecting the same Western perception, The Letter to the Ephesians attributed to Paul[14] states that everyone should be bound to do his duty in the class where they were born. These concepts of justice tend to reflect the rigid class systems that swept the world then when slavery and subjugation of women was typical.

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“On the other hand, for the privileged groups, strong concepts of fairness and the community existed. Socrates is attributed developing the idea of a social contract, whereby people ought to follow the rules of a society, and accept its burdens, because they have lived to accept its benefits.[15] During the Middle Ages, religious scholars particularly, such as Thomas Aquinas continued discussion of justice in various ways, but ultimately connected to being a good citizen for the purpose of serving God.”[16]

To see how these Western conceptions of justice were practiced on the ground, let us take a look at some of the most influential civilizations of the time:

In the Greek civilization, for example, the society was divided into masters who constituted the minority that dwelled in Athens and Sparta[17][17] and who were entitled to all known rights on the one hand. On the other hand, there were the slaves who formed the majority of the population with no rights at all, even the right to life.

In the Roman civilization, mostly the whole world was colonized and thus enslaved by the Romans who constituted a small portion of the population of Rome.

The matter did not differ too much in both ancient Chinese and Indian civilizations. As in India, “While legally outlawed, the caste system “remains”[18] strong in practice, with social and employment opportunities strongly governed by one’s caste of birth.”[19] Imagine that this is the case of India in today’s modern and civilized world, can anyone imagine what was really taking place on the ground several centuries ago?!

Nevertheless, the Pharaonic civilization in Ancient Egypt exceeded all limits in terms of oppression and injustice as the Pharaoh was considered the worshiped god who can do whatever he likes with his subjects without any sort of accountability or questioning.

In the next part, we will examine the concept of social justice in Islam and its applications.

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About Dr. Ali Al-Halawani
Dr. Ali Al-Halawani is Assistant Professor of Linguistics and Translation Studies. He is an author, translator, and writer based in Canada. To date, Al-Halawani authored over 400 original articles on Islam and Muslims, most of which can be accessed on www.aboutislam.net and other famous websites. He has recently started to self-publish his articles and new books, which are available on Amazon and Kindle. You can reach him at [email protected]