Justice in Pakistan & the Muslim World

It is strange that, in spite of the great stress on justice in Islam, justice did not become a cornerstone of Pakistan’s development policy. One of the reasons for this may perhaps be that one of our own great economists, Dr. Mehbubul Haq, who became the Minster of Planning in Pakistan, felt that justice was a luxury we could not afford. This was in harmony with the then-prevalent view in Development Economics. In step with this philosophy, he wrote that “the underdeveloped countries must consciously accept a philosophy of growth and shelve for the distant future all ideas of equitable distribution and welfare state. It should be recognized that these are luxuries that only developed countries can afford.”

This philosophy set the direction of development policies in Pakistan and sowed the seeds of future turmoil in our society. Unless the workers and the common people get their due as a result of their work and creativity, they are not going to work hard. Without justice, the Islamic goal of creating human brotherhood will remain an empty slogan. It is, therefore, necessary to create a society where there is socio-economic justice to enable people to get not only proper reward for their work but also all their other rights.

To promote justice, it is necessary to have a system that ensures that the poor and needy are also adequately taken care of. For this purpose, Islam has established a very effective institution. This is the institution of ‘zakat.' Initially, the governments did not realize the contribution that zakat could make in fostering socio-economic justice and development. It can be used to fulfill the needs of the poor and handicapped, and also provide them education and seed capital to start small enterprises and, thereby, stand on their own feet. President Ziaul Haq tried to revive this institution. However, it has not yet started playing the crucial role that it is expected to play in a Muslim society.

Some people allege that zakat may not be able to play a great role because the modem welfare states are spending far more than what zakat would contribute. It is unfair to compare state spending with private sector zakat collections. These should be compared only with private sector contributions to charity in other countries. A study team led by Lester Salamon of Johns Hopkins University found that private giving in developed countries in the second half of the 1990s varied from around 1 percent of GDP in the US to less than 0.1 percent in Italy. In contrast with this, zakat is at the compulsory rate of 2.5 percent of net worth. There are different estimates of how much revenue it may be able to generate. These range from as much as 1.8 to 4.3 percent of GDP. Zakat would be in addition to what the Islamic welfare state is itself expected to spend out of its budgetary resources. If properly collected and distributed, zakat can serve as an important instrument -for relieving hardship, removing poverty, and expanding self-employment opportunities. This should help reduce unemployment and inequalities of income and wealth in Muslim countries.

One indispensable part of justice is the security of life, property and honor for every individual. The Prophet (PBUH) declared in the sermon he delivered during his farewell pilgrimage that “your life, your property and your honor are as sacred as this Day of the Hajj, in this month of yours, in this city of yours.”21 However, security of life continues to remain an unrealized dream in a number of Muslim countries. There are countries where it is difficult for a person to invest. If he invests and his business prospers, some big shot may come and forcefully become a sleeping partner to share the profit without making any contribution to the business. He may even take over the business at a very low price. Security of life continues to remain a problem. There is also the danger of being kidnapped for money along with the threat of being killed if you fail to pay the ransom. Violence takes place all around and people feel insecure. This naturally affects investment decisions. Unless there is security of life as well as property, people do not feel comfortable about investing.

Honest fulfillment of all socio-economic and political obligations is a very important teaching of Islam. However, this teaching also remains unfulfilled in most Muslim societies. Justice demands that workers be paid their due reward for whatever they have done. Our laborers are not able to get enough even to meet their basic needs. When businesses are asked about why this is the case, their reply is that if they pay more they will not be able to earn enough profit. This is not right because they do make a lot of money. If one asks them what their assets were ten years ago and compares them with what they have now, one finds a substantial increase. Despite this, if they state that they cannot afford to give their laborers enough to be able to meet even their basic needs, they are being unjust and unrealistic.

Prevention of cruelty to everyone in any form is obligatory. According to Ibn Taymiyyah and many other scholars, injustice is not allowed to anyone or anything. The use of the word ‘anything’ implies that injustice to animals, birds, insects, and the environment is as prohibited as it is to human beings. With respect to human beings, injustice is not allowed to any one, irrespective of whether he is a Muslim, a non-Muslim, or even an unjust person.

M. Umer Chapra


Source: Essays on Muslims and the Challenges of Globalisation, Institute of Policy Studies, Islamabad. Republished with permission. 

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