From eastern Congo with the rapes of hundreds of women to bombs that kill dozens in Pakistan and Afghanistan; from the raging drug battles in Mexico to the attacks on Sept. 11 ten years ago, or the other uncountable acts of violence that occur all over the world, the specter of oppression and injustice takes its daily toll on human lives.
Unfortunately, these acts of oppression and injustice have become all too common. There is not enough space in all the newspapers or enough time on the radio and television stations of the world to recount all the injustices suffered each day. Only the sadistically bizarre or the grotesquely violent forms of oppression are reported in the news; for every act that is reported there are many other abuses that will never see the light of day.
In the United States alone, FBI reports indicate that in 2008 there were approximately 2.6 violent crimes every minute. This included an average of one murder every 32 minutes and one rape every 6 minutes.
If we are to believe that a Just and Merciful Being created this world, then what role does He play and what is His response to this daily occurrence of oppression?
Human oppression is nothing new. This cycle of bloodshed and cruelty has existed since Cain killed Abel, son of Prophet Adam `alayhi as-salam (peace be upon him). There are many places in the Bible’s Old Testament where the issue of oppression is addressed, and God clearly states He will not tolerate injustice. People guilty of oppression will suffer the consequences of their actions.
The Old Testament states, “O house of David, this is what the LORD says: ‘Administer justice every morning; rescue from the hand of his oppressor the one who has been robbed, or my wrath will break out and burn like fire because of the evil you have done — burn with no one to quench it,’” (Jeremiah 21:12).
There are entire passages in the Bible where the Prophet Habakkuk cries out to God of the injustices committed, and God is said to have responded in a lengthy recrimination that curses these oppressors:
“Woe to him who builds his realm by unjust gain to set his nest on high, to escape the clutches of ruin! You have plotted the ruin of many peoples, shaming your own house and forfeiting your life. The stones of the wall will cry out, and the beams of the woodwork will echo it. ‘Woe to him who builds a city with bloodshed and establishes a town by crime!’ Has not the Lord Almighty determined that the people’s labor is only fuel for the fire, that the nations exhaust themselves for nothing?” (Habakkuk 2 9-13).
In the Qur’an as well, we read, “O you who have believed, be persistently standing firmly for Allah, witnesses in justice, and do not let the hatred of a people prevent you from being just. Be just: that is nearer to righteousness. And fear Allah; indeed Allah is Acquainted with what you do,” (Qur’an 5:8).
The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ (peace be upon him) is quoted to have said, “Beware of the supplication of the unjustly treated, because there is no shelter or veil between it and Allah.”1
Many scholars agree that the cries of the oppressed rise straight to God who will answer in due time — regardless of the race, gender, or religion of the oppressed. However, one may ask, not all perpetrators of oppression face the consequences of their actions in this world.
In the great balance of justice, and all the ages of oppression that weigh heavily on the side of injustice, when and how will this balance of justice be set right? A Just God cannot allow this skewed balance to exist indefinitely. It stands to reason that there will come a time when people must account for their actions and face their consequences.
Islam teaches that people who die await the Day of Judgment or the Day of Resurrection. Depending upon the person’s deeds, he or she will rest in a state of either peace or despair. Just like Judaism and Christianity, Islam teaches that on day this universe will come to an end and herald the Day of Judgment. On this day, every single person who was born will be presented with their deeds and will be called to account for them by God.
According to one interpretation there will be three courts of judgment:
- The first will deal with belief in the Oneness of God;
- the second will deal with the duties and conduct of a person to other human beings;
- and the last will deal with duties to God.
A person unable to successfully pass any of these courts will be punished in hell.2
In regard to the second court of judgment, the companion of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, Ali bin Abi Talib radi allahu `anhu (may God be pleased with him) said, “By Allah! If I am made to spend from dawn to dusk on thorns; and if my hands and feet were chained, and I were to be dragged through the streets and markets, it is better than to present myself to the court of Allah, if I have committed an oppression against any one of his creatures or if I have usurped the rights of another.”3
In another narration, the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ is quoted to have said, “Whoever has oppressed another person concerning his reputation or anything else, he should beg him to forgive him before the Day of Resurrection when there will be no money (to compensate for wrong deeds), but if he has good deeds, those good deeds will be taken from him according to his oppression which he has done, and if he has no good deeds, the sins of the oppressed person will be loaded on him.”4
It is far better for those who have wronged others to make amends with them in this world than to wait until the next. The punishment of those who oppress others is such that their good deeds will be taken from them, or the sins of the oppressed will be placed upon them.
In another place in the Qur’an, we see, “The cause is only against the ones who wrong the people and tyrannize upon the earth without right. Those will have a painful punishment,” (Qur’an 42:42).
Islam confers no privileges for Muslims who oppress others, nor does Islam confer on them the status of the “chosen people” and excuse their actions. There are people of Muslim origin who are guilty of heinous actions, and there are Muslim rulers who are tyrants, but neither represents the Islamic spirit of justice.
There is a double-standard in the media by which the media is quick to label these individuals as “model” Muslims representing Islam, while it hesitates to label other oppressors of, for example, Christian origin as “model” Christians representing Christianity.
Further, due to the U.S. engagement in Muslim lands such as Iraq and Afghanistan, Muslims receive disproportionate coverage and scrutiny in the news, the likes of which is not afforded to other groups involved in violence.
This is not to say that the actions of these Muslims are to be excused, but to claim that only Muslims engage in these acts is preposterous. The level of hysteria that is raised on some news and talk shows does not reach the same fevered pitch when discussing the recent events of the Congo as it does with minor Muslim-related incidents.
Nevertheless, there can be no excuse for the oppression and injustices committed by anyone. The perpetrators of all wanton acts of violence, like those of the Congo, like those of Sept. 11, will face their Lord one day and receive their just due.