Harun Yahya - Justice and Tolerance in the Qur'an
Justice and Tolerance in the Qur'an

"If you do judge, judge between them justly. God loves the just."
(Our'an: 5:42)

The Prophets Have Brought Justice

For the majority of people, an environment where the justice referred to in the foregoing sections prevails seems utopian, an illusory concept that can only exist in the realms of literature. This attitude denies that a society in which there is real justice is possible. Nevertheless, history has witnessed periods when justice ordained in the Qur'an was built up and real peace, tolerance and security pervaded human relations.

In communities to which the messengers of God were sent, social relations were marked by great tolerance, peace and justice. As God informs us, "Every nation has a Messenger and when their Messenger comes everything is decided between them justly. They are not wronged" (Qur'an, 10:47). No one was oppressed in their times, and true justice prevailed among people.

God commands all His messengers to administer justice with no consideration of race and ethnicity. The books revealed to the Prophet Isa' (Jesus), Musa (Moses) and Dawud (David) summoned people to good morals, tolerance, peace and trust, as did the Qur'an revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). The following verse makes it clear that one of the reasons why messengers are sent is "to establish justice":

We sent Our Messengers with the Clear Signs and sent down the Book and the Balance with them so that mankind might establish justice. (Qur'an, 57:25)

In the Qur'an, one of the prophets who is told to display exemplary conduct in ruling with justice is the Prophet Dawud. Two litigants came to the Prophet Dawud requesting him to judge between them with truth:

Has the story of the litigants reached you? How they climbed up to the Upper Room and came in on Dawud who was alarmed by them. They said, "Do not be afraid. We are two litigants, one of whom has acted unjustly towards the other, so judge between us with truth and do not be unjust and guide us to the Right Path. This brother of mine has ninety-nine ewes and I have only one." He said, "Let me have charge of it," and got the better of me with his words. (Qur'an, 38:21-23)

As stated in the verse, the two litigants asked God's Prophet not to be unjust while judging between them and to guide them to the right path. They trusted in his justice and submitted themselves to his verdict. The answer of the Prophet Dawud was as follows:

He said, "He has wronged you by asking for your ewe to add to his ewes. Truly many partners are unjust to one another-except those who believe and do right actions, and how few they are!"... (Qur'an, 38:24)

This decision of the Prophet Dawud sets a very good example for believers since he sided with the person who was in the right, rather than the more powerful one, and hence acted justly. In the 25th verse of the same Sura, the moral perfection displayed by the Prophet Dawud is praised, and he is given the glad tidings of a good homecoming as "he has nearness to Us and a good Homecoming". In the 26th verse, God reminds the Prophet Dawud of the importance of justice:

...We have made you a caliph on the earth, so judge between people with truth and do not follow your own desires, letting them misguide you from the Way of God. Those who are misguided from the Way of God will receive a harsh punishment because they forgot the Day of Reckoning.

The people of Shu'aib, who were sent to Madyan, were a tribe that acted unjustly in commercial life. They manipulated peoples' assets, devalued their goods and defrauded them. The Prophet Shu'aib warned his people of their unjust attitudes and called them to justice. In one verse God states the following regarding this matter:

And to Madyan We sent their brother Shu'ayb who said, "My people, worship God! You have no other deity than Him. A Clear Sign has come to you from your Lord. Give full measure and full weight. Do not diminish people's goods. Do not cause corruption in the land after it has been put right. That is better for you if you are believers." (Qur'an, 7:85)

In another verse, the Prophet Shu'aib reminds his people that honest earnings are better for them, and tells them to exercise justice:

My people! Give full measure and full weight with justice; do not diminish people's goods; and do not go about the earth, corrupting it. What endures with God is better for you if you are believers. I am not set over you as your keeper. (Qur'an, 11:85-86)

In the Qur'an, God gives many examples related to the just attitudes displayed by the Prophet Musa, the Prophet Isa', the Prophet Yusuf (Joseph) and other prophets, and the way they invited their people to do good is explained in detail.

The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), too, administered justice among his people in compliance with the verse, "...Be upholders of justice, bearing witness for God alone..." (Qur'an, 4:135). His utmost meticulousness in the administration of justice and his moral perfection were the main reason why people placed unshakeable trust in him and committed themselves to God's religion. Furthermore, during the first years of the revelation of the Quran, seeing the Prophet Muhammad's moral perfection and justice, many prominent disbelievers submitted themselves to him and converted to Islam.

Such examples are legion in the life of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), many of which have been conveyed to us in historical accounts and the sayings of the Prophet (hadith). His just, tolerant, compassionate attitudes became very good examples to follow for Muslims in every age. There are divine purposes in his words, attitudes and practises. God relates the moral perfection of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and the great care he showed to believers as follows:

A Messenger has come to you from among yourselves. Your suffering is distressing to him; he is deeply concerned for you; he is gentle and merciful to the believers. (Qur'an, 9:128)


The Exemplary Life of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)

God commands His messengers to maintain justice among people. The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), the last messenger, started to spread the religion of Islam in Mecca, where he received the revelations, with a just attitude.

At that period, the Arabian Peninsula, and especially Mecca, was shaken by social problems. In the period preceding the Blessed Period, which is called the "The Age of Ignorance," there was severe discrimination between races and religions. Disputes among tribes, an unjust economic order, plundering, intolerant attitudes between members of different religions, differences between the poor and the wealthy and many other injustices were the natural consequences of such discrimination. The maintenance of justice could not be established, the poor were oppressed by those in power, and were subjected to violence because of their race, religion or language. People were forced to work under very hard conditions, and were virtually tortured.

In commercial life, under the burden of the interest-ridden system, small-scale businesses disappeared, whereas the wealthy tended to extravagant consumption. Some of these immoral acts became almost like traditions. For instance, the Arabs of the ignorant age who raided and plundered commercial caravans sold their spoils at very low prices and influenced market conditions. Sometimes, they kept these goods deliberately and generated a black market.

In the Qur'an, God gives information about the desert Arabs who made up the majority of society before the time of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). This society's disinclination to comply with the words of the messenger is related in the following verse:

The desert Arabs are the worst in disbelief and hypocrisy, and more fitted to be ignorant of the limits which God has sent down to His Messenger. But God is Knowing, Wise. (Qur'an, 9:97)

The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was sent to such ignorant people to summon them to good morals and the right path. No difficulty could shake his commitment. He communicated God's message to a tribe which was particularly inclined to disbelief, and was throughout his life a role model for them. As also stated in the verse below, he called on his people to be just:

Say: "My Lord has commanded justice..." (Qur'an, 7:29)

The message of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), coupled with his good morals, had a great impact all over the Arabian Peninsula, and people converted to Islam in great numbers. The just commands of the Qur'an good morals, tolerance, peace and a peaceful social order-prevailed during his time. One of the most important reasons for this is that, in compliance with the verse, the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) observed social justice without discriminating between people:

God commands you to return to their owners the things you hold in trust and, when you judge between people, to judge with justice. How excellent is what God exhorts you to do! God is All-Hearing, All-Seeing. (Qur'an, 4:58)

One example is the contract the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) signed with the people of Najran, who were among the people of the Book. This text reveals an exercise of justice which was unprecedented in that age. The article of the pact of Najran, "If any one of the people of Najran demands his rights, justice shall be done between the plaintiff and respondent. Neither oppression shall be allowed to be perpetrated on them, nor shall they be permitted to oppress any one"1, manifest the kind of justice people enjoyed at that time. Due to this unprecedented administration, people placed strong trust in God's messenger, and even his most terrible enemies could not help being impressed by the Prophet's honesty.

These examples of good morals which appeared as a consequence of the Prophet Muhammad's meticulously observing God's commands also reflect the tolerant, peaceful order God's messengers introduced to social life. In a society where people comply with the values of the Qur'an meticulously, it is obvious that a peaceful life will be secured.


The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) Opposed All Forms of Racism

The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) upheld justice in his time and rejected the ignorant belief which considered some people superior to others because of their language, race, social status or ethnicity. That is because such discrimination is severely condemned in the Qur'an. "Racism," as defined in our day, is an idea God prohibits in the Qur'an, but which receives extensive support in ignorant societies. As mentioned earlier, one of the divine purposes in the creation of the different races is "that they should come to know each other." In the sight of God, all people are equal, and the only superiority anyone can have over anyone else is his fear of God and faith in Him.

The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) also declared to his people, who committed racism, that ethnic differences had no importance and that everyone was equal in the eyes of God. He repeatedly underlined that all that mattered was having sincere faith. While summoning his people to have faith, the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) commanded them not to discriminate in his last sermon:

O people! Your God is one and your forefather (Adam) is one. An Arab is not better than a non-Arab and a non-Arab is not better than an Arab, and a red (i.e. white tinged with red) person is not better than a black person and a black person is not better than a red person, except in piety. Indeed the noblest among you is the one who is deeply conscious of God.2

The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) also told people that God created man from nothing, that everyone is created equal and that everyone will give account of his deeds all alone before God. For this reason, he added that it would be a great wrong to look for superiority in one's descent.

The Prophet (pbuh) commanded thus:

(All of) you are children of Adam, and Adam is from dust. Let some men cease to take pride in others. 3

The Prophet (pbuh) stated that no criteria except for heedfulness are acceptable:

Your descent is nothing to be proud of. Nor does it bring you superiority. O people! All of you are the children of Adam. You are like equal wheat grains in a bowl ... No one has any superiority over anyone else, except in religion and heedfulness. In order to consider someone a wicked person, it suffices that he humiliates other people, is mean with money, bad-tempered and exceeds the limits.4

Throughout his life, the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) advised his people to set aside their ignorant and perverse values and to live by the Qur'an. In the Qur'an, racist attitudes are defined as "fanatical rage," and people's ambitious attitudes are criticised. A related verse reads:

Those who disbelieve filled their hearts with fanatical rage-the fanatical rage of the Time of Ignorance-and God sent down serenity to His Messenger and to the believers, and obliged them to respect the formula of heedfulness which they had most right to and were most entitled to. God has knowledge of all things. (Qur'an, 48:26)

Muslims who obeyed God's call in the above verse led their lives in peace and security, both during the Blessed Period of the first community of Islam and in succeeding ages when just administrators reigned.


In the Period of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), Contracts Signed with the People of
the Book and the Pagans Secured Justice in Society

After the migration of the Prophet (pbuh) from Mecca to Medina, he encountered many different communities. At that period, Jews, Christians and pagans who held power were all living together. Under such circumstances, the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) united the cosmopolitan structure to secure social unity and peace by making social agreements-either by sending letters or holding face-to-face meetings-with more than a hundred communities, and thus achieved social compromise.5 Prof. Thomas Arnold stresses the importance of the social unity established by the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in these words:

Arabia that had never before obeyed one prince, suddenly exhibits a political unity and swears allegiance to the will of an absolute ruler. Out of the numerous tribes, big and small, of a hundred different kinds that were incessantly at feud with one another, Muhammad's word created a nation.6

As is related in many verses in the Qur'an, living in peace with people of other religions is perceived as good by Islam. In one verse, God commands Muslims to believe in all the holy books revealed by Him and respect their beliefs:

So call and go straight as you have been ordered to. Do not follow their whims and desires but say, "I believe in whatever God has sent down [in the form] of a Book and I am ordered to be just between you. God is our Lord and your Lord. We have our actions and you have your actions. There is no debate between us and you. God will gather us all together. He is our final destination." (Qur'an, 42:15)

The above verse describes the relations a Muslim should establish with people of other religions. Muslims are also held responsible for adopting the morality of the prophet and being tolerant and just towards other people. This person can be anyone, a Buddhist, a Jew, a Christian or even an atheist. Such honest and just attitudes will make a very positive impact on their hearts, no matter what or who they believe in-or even if they have no beliefs at all-and they will become a means to make them feel closer to Islam.

The Prophet's migration to Medina and his administration there were marked by brotherhood and tolerance, and proved that a peaceful life among groups of people of different religions, races and languages is possible. The fact that the first text the Prophet (pbuh) dictated was a peace agreement provides evidence for the fact that he was committed to the establishment of peace and tolerance. Following his conquest of Mecca, the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) released even those who had formerly tortured Muslims, and was tolerant towards them. This superior morality of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was unprecedented in Arab society, and was greatly appreciated by people.

At that time, the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) also became a role model for all believers regarding the establishment of true justice in conquered countries. Towards the natives of these lands, he exercised the justice described in the Qur'an and made agreements which pleased the parties involved. The fact that no party suffered even minor injustice was the distinctive feature of these agreements. For this reason, no matter which race or religion they belonged to, the people of conquered countries were always pleased with the justice introduced by Islam.

The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and the companions of the Prophet, peace be upon them all, were people who ensured justice among people, as the verse stresses: "Among those We have created there is a community who guide by the Truth and act justly according to it." (Qur'an, 7:181)

In the contract made with the Christians of Najran, who lived in South Arabia, the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) demonstrates one of the best examples of tolerance and justice. The contract included the following article:

The lives of the people of Najran and its surrounding area, their religion, their land, property, cattle and those of them who are present or absent, their messengers and their places of worship are under the protection of Allah and guardianship of His Prophet.7

By means of such contracts, the Messenger of God secured a social order for Muslims and the People of the Book alike, which was marked by peace and security. This order was a total manifestation of the following verse:

Those who believe, those who are Jews, and the Christians and Sabaeans, all who believe in God and the Last Day and act rightly, will have their reward with their Lord. They will feel no fear and will know no sorrow. (Qur'an, 2:62)

The examples cited above are only a few of the measures implemented by the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) that show the way he exercised justice. However, the most important of these contracts is the Constitution of Medina signed by Jews and pagan communities. This contract is still the subject of many articles today, and is closely examined.

The Constitution of Medina was prepared under the leadership of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) 1,400 years ago, that is in 622 AD, to meet the needs of people of different beliefs, and was put into practice as a written legal contract. Different communities of different religions and races that had harboured deep-seated enmity towards one another for 120 years became parties to this legal contract. By means of this contract, the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) showed that conflicts between those societies, which had been enemies and quite unable to reach any form of compromise, could come to an end, and they could actually live side by side.

According to the Constitution of Medina, everyone was free to adhere to any belief or religion or to make any political or philosophical choice. People sharing the same views could come together and form a community. Everyone was free to exercise his own justice system. However, anyone who committed a crime would be protected by no-one. The parties to the contract would co-operate and provide support for each other, and remain under the protection of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). Conflicts between the parties would be brought to the Messenger of God.

This contract remained in force from 622 to 632 AD. Through this document, tribal structures which had formerly been based on blood and kinship were abolished, and people of different cultural, ethnical and geographical backgrounds came together and formed a social unity. The Constitution of Medina secured absolute religious freedom. This freedom was articulated in the following article:

The Jews of Banu 'Awf are a community along with the believers. To the Jews their religion and to the Muslims their religion.8

This contract granted the right of membership to Jews, and the idolator communities as well. Article 16 reads: "The Jew who follows us is surely entitled to our support and the same equal rights as any one of us. He shall not be wronged nor his enemy be assisted."9 The companions of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) also strictly adhered to this mentality and granted this right to Berbers, Buddhists, Brahmans and other similar communities. During this period, disputes were easily resolved, everyone respected other people's beliefs, and peace and justice prevailed for a long period of time.

The Prophet (pbuh) also made contracts with pagans as well as the people of the Book. Pagans were always treated with justice, and when they asked for protection, their requests were readily accepted by the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).

This meant that these communities sought the protection of the Prophet (pbuh) in the face of an attack or a wrongful accusation. Throughout his life, many non-Muslims and pagans requested protection from the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), and he took them under his protection and ensured their security. In Sura Tawba, God states that requests of pagans seeking protection be accepted by believers. Of this, God says the following:

If any of the associators ask you for protection, give them protection until they have heard the words of God. Then convey them to a place where they are safe…. As long as they are straight with you, be straight with them. God loves those who do their duty. (Qur'an, 9:6-7)

As the verse also suggests, God asks believers to assume a just attitude towards pagans and holds them responsible for ensuring their security in the event they seek protection from believers.


The People of the Book In the Period of the
Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)

When we examine the relations of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) with the people of the Book during the first years of Islam, we see that he co-operated with Christians. When Muslims were subjected to cruelty by pagans in Mecca, the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) told them to migrate to Ethiopia, a place where Christians lived at that time. King Negus, the Christian ruler of that country, accepted the migrant Muslims and protected them against oppression.

The Qur'an also gives the example of Isa's disciples to other believers for their loyalty to God and His messenger. There are also striking similarities between the first Muslims and the first Christians. The communities who first believed in God always remained faithful to God's messengers, despite being subjected to difficulty and torture. In the Qur'an, God relates that the first Christians in the time of Isa' were sincere Muslims who surrendered themselves to their Lord:

When Isa' sensed disbelief on their part, he said, "Who will be my helpers to God?" The disciples said, "We are God's helpers. We believe in God. Bear witness that we are Muslims." (Qur'an, 3:52)

And when I inspired the Disciples to believe in Me and in My Messenger, they said, "We believe. Bear witness that we are Muslims." (Qur'an, 5:111)

The tolerant attitude adopted by the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) towards Jewish communities also sets a good example for all believers. During the period of the Constitution of Medina, the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) treated Jews kindly and tolerantly. He encouraged that there be co-operation, counselling and goodness between Muslims and Jews.10 Indeed, this was put into practice in daily life. This just and tolerant attitude of the Prophet (pbuh) surely applied to all people from all religions and races. Despite treachery, attacks and plots, the Prophet (pbuh) always forgave the perpetrators in compliance with the verse "those who pardon other people" (Qur'an, 3:134). And as the verse suggests, "Call to the way of your Lord with wisdom and kindly instruction, and discuss (things) with them in the politest manner..." (Qur'an, 16:125), he always summoned people to Islam with gracious advice.


In the Period of the Caliphs Justice was Exercised in
Compliance With the Qur'an

After the death of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), the caliphs who succeeded him were also very sensitive regarding exercising justice. In conquered countries, both natives and newcomers led their lives in peace and security. Abu Bakr, the first Caliph, demanded his people to adopt just and tolerant attitudes in these lands. All these attitudes were in compliance with the values of the Qur'an. Abu Bakr gave the following command to his army before the first Syrian expedition:

Stop, O people, that I may give you ten rules to keep by heart: Do not commit treachery, nor depart from the right path. You must not mutilate, neither kill a child or aged man or woman. Do not destroy a palm tree, nor burn it with fire and do not cut any fruitful tree. You must not slay any of the flock or herds or the camels, save for your subsistence. You are likely to pass by people who have devoted their lives to monastic services; leave them to that to which they have devoted their lives. You are likely, likewise, to find people who will present to you meals of many kinds. You may eat; but do no forget to mention the name of Allah.11

Umar ibn al-Khattab, who succeeded Abu Bakr, was famous for his justice and made contracts with the indigenous people of conquered countries, just like the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) did. Each one of these contracts was an example of tolerance and justice. For instance, in his declaration granting protection to Christians in Jerusalem and Lod, he ensured that churches would not be demolished and guaranteed that Muslims would not worship in churches in groups. Umar granted the same conditions to the Christians of Bethlehem. During the conquest of Medain, the declaration of protection given to the Nestorian Patriarch Isho'yab III (650 - 660 AD) again guaranteed that churches would not be demolished and that no building would be converted into a house or a mosque. The letter written by the patriarch to the bishop of Fars (Persia) after the conquest is most striking, in the sense that it depicts the tolerance and compassion shown by Muslim rulers to the People of the Book in the words of a Christian:

The Arabs to whom God has given at this time the government of the world... do not persecute the Christian religion. Indeed, they favour it, honour our priests and the saints of the Lord and confer benefits on churches and monasteries.12

The following document by Umar shows us the kind of tolerance God grants to man, provided that he adopts the character traits described in the Qur'an:

This is the security which 'Umar, the servant of God, the commander of the faithful, grants to the people of Ælia. He grants to all, whether sick or sound, security for their lives, their possessions, their churches and their crosses, and for all that concerns their religion. Their churches shall not be changed into dwelling places, nor destroyed, neither shall they nor their appurtenances be in any way diminished, nor the crosses of the inhabitants nor aught of their possessions, nor shall any constraint be put upon them in the matter of their faith, nor shall any one of them be harmed.13

All these are very important examples revealing the understanding of justice and tolerance of true believers.

By means of the conquests made in the period of caliphs, the communities in these regions were saved from violence and had the opportunity to come to know Islam. However, people were never forced to convert to Islam. As the verse, "To you your religion, and to me, mine" (Qur'an, 109:6) suggests, everyone practised their religion freely and never faced any sort of oppression. They learned about the religion of Islam from the practices of Muslim people who observed its principles in their true sense, and thus they were greatly impressed. The majority of these people complied with the sincere call of these pious Muslims, and thus the number of people who converted to Islam increased steadily. For instance, in the time of Abu Bakr, some of the Christians in Kinde and Iyad converted to Islam of their own free will, as did others after the conquest of Damascus.14

The false assertion that people in conquered countries converted to Islam under threat has also been disproved by Western researchers, and the justice and tolerant attitude of Muslims has been confirmed. L.Browne, a Western researcher, expresses this situation in the following words:

Incidentally these well-established facts dispose of the idea so widely fostered in Christian writings that the Muslims, wherever they went, forced people to accept Islam at the point of the sword.15

In his book The Prospects of Islam, Browne goes on to say that the real motive behind the Muslims' conquests was the brotherhood of Islam.


1 The Pact of Najran, Article 8, http://www.islamic resources.com/Pact_of_Najran.htm
2 Mosnad Ahmad, #22978.
3 Narrated by Abu Hurayrah (r.a.), Ahmad, Abu Dawud, 4/331
4 Mosnad Ahmad, 4/158, Ibn Qasir, 4/218
5 Muhammad Hamidullah, Introduction to Islam, Publications of Centre Culture, Paris ,1957, p. 228.
6 Prof. Thomas Arnold, The Spread of Islam in the World, Goodword Books, 2001, p. 32-33
7 The Pact of Najran, Article 6, http://www.islamic resources.com /Pact_of_Najran.htm
8 The Constitution of Medina, http://www.islamic-study.org/jews-prophet-page-2.htm
9 The Constitution of Medina, http://www.islamic-study.org/jews-prophet-page-2.htm
10 Muhammad Hamidullah, Al-Vesaiq, pp. 44-45.
11 Tabari, Ta'rikh, I, 1850, cited in Majid Khadduri, War and Peace in the Law of Islam, Johns Hopkins Press, Baltimore, 1955, p. 102
12 W.H.C. Frend, "Christianity in the Middle East: Survey Down to A.D. 1800", Religion in the Middle East, Ed. A.J. Arberry, I-II Cambridge, 1969, Volume I, p. 289.
13 Prof. Thomas Arnold, The Spread of Islam in the World, A History of Peaceful Preaching, Goodword Books, 2001, p. 56.
14 Narrated by Ibn Ishaq, Abu Yusuf, 146; Levent Öztürk, Asr-ı Saadetten Haçlı Seferlerine Kadar İslam Toplumunda Hıristiyanlar (Christians in the Islamic Society From the Blessed Period to the Crusades), İz Yayıncılık, Istanbul, 1998, p. 55.
15 L. Browne, The Prospects of Islam, pp. 11-15.