I begin by praising God and by sending peace and blessings to the Prophet Muhammad. Today I want to just outline a brief presentation on the general issue we are talking about today which is justice. This is a very complicated topic and the subtopic that I’ve been given has even many more dimensions.
I have 20 minutes so I've decided to simplify my presentation and focus on basically one issue; and that is how to understand justice as a balance between allowing the maximum freedom possible, the freedom that God has given us to choose to do right or choose to do wrong, with the need to have rules that regulate our lives here on this earth so that we don’t impede on each other’s freedoms, as well as rules or guidelines that help us develop a close and meaningful relationship with Allah so that we can attain His pleasure and ultimately His eternal presence.
So this balance between freedom and following rules or guidelines, I think that much unhappiness that we see and experience in our own selves is by being imbalanced in this area from one side or the other by inclining towards one side or the other, or not understanding the rules of each of these two important aspects of our lives as believers and so we are confused.
Now on the one hand we have people who see the pursuit of freedom as an end in itself, as a value in itself. And although I don’t like to rely very much on the different contemporary science or the current studies and science when I'm talking about Islamic theology and ethics, I think there are some interesting and important facts about human beings, about our psychology, about the way our brain works that can help us understand why we have some of the rules we have about being a Muslim, why Islamic civilization and Islamic scholars have developed certain ways of interacting with the Muslim community to help guide us.
I think that there are some very important realities that can help us understand these things, and live ultimately on more satisfying peaceful life in harmony with the guidance that we have been given through the prophets and particularly through the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him).
So the issue of freedom, we are all aware of a very clear statement in the Quran that Allah the Almighty gives us “ There is no compulsion in deen (religion)” (Al-Baqarah 2:256). Now one of the aspects of the subject I’m supposed to address today is simplicity. Is there any thing that can be more apparently simple than this?
Part of the challenge is to, on the one hand, not lose the simplicity of very clear messages that are given to us by Allah in the Quran and by the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), not losing that simplicity and clarity and at the same time not becoming simplistic, because of course in the application of these principles we are dealing with complex societies, complex human beings who are living in particular circumstances.
So to always remember not to make things overly complicated so that we lose the clarity of the message, after all that is one of the main points of revelation is to help guide us in a complicated and sometimes confusing world, while at the same time not reverting to a very simplistic approach in dealing with complicated situations: individuals, societies, communities.
But it is very clear that when our creator tells us “There’s no compulsion in religion” that we need to contemplate this statement very deeply that we understand as Muslims that the term deen (religion) is not simply about worship about how we pray and how we fast and the rules for making pilgrimage and the other areas of `Ibadat (acts of worship) but that deen includes as well the way that we are required and encouraged to interact with each other, all of the good things there are to do, as well as the necessary things, the required things and the limits and the rules on our interactions.
For example our contractual relationships that they must be entered into voluntarily that the people shouldn’t deceive each other on the two sides of the contract, that we should fulfill our contracts, that we should not engage in usury.
So there are many other rules that affect our worldly lives that are aspects of our religion. Now if that is the case that there is no compulsion in religion, then how do we as a community that has clear guidelines about these things interact with other communities who have chosen a different way of understanding their contractual laws, political matters, family laws and many other aspects of life.
And here is where things can start to become very complicated and we need then to engage as a community in very serious deliberation and study about these matters. These are not issues that can be answered very simply. This is where simplistic thinking will only get us into trouble. And here’s where we are required to join together as a collective obligation (fard kifaya) in studying these issues by developing think tanks, by developing collages and universities, madrassas, by developing journals where we study these matters, by supporting the education of scholars, men and women who can research these issues and come to a very deep understanding.
By engaging in a dialogue with the communities with whom we are interacting on these matters to see if we have any common values or principles so that together we can build a more just society. And in fact one of the very satisfying things about engaging at a deep level, at the levels of ethics and values with sincere people of other faith communities in America, is that we discover that there are some truly significant shared values and that together when we research and study and discuss at a serious and deep level that we find that not only is it easier for us to fulfill our own religious obligations to find the freedom to do that, but we also together with others we can make society as a whole more fair and more just.
But if this is the case, if we are going to not be simplistic about these matters and if we are going to understand them on a deep level, then we also have to understand that as individuals there are certain matters that we are not going to completely understand, they will be out of our areas of expertise. It doesn’t mean we can’t understand something about them, but if we have not deeply studied in this area, if we are not specialists or experts in this area, then we will find it very difficult to make a decision about how to act. When we are presented with a situation in which we have to choose one way or another; is this lawful or is it unlawful, is this act or transaction permissible or is it prohibited?
And here we have this tension within us as human beings where we want to express our individuality, we want to choose issues freely. And in fact current science has shown that when we do choose something freely there are certain areas of our brains that are stimulated that create a sense of pleasure and joy that are not stimulated when we are simply given that thing.
So say that you are present in a situation where you can do one of two things, and you choose to do a good thing, you will not only have chosen to do the good thing but you will feel an added sense of satisfaction and pleasure because of doing the good thing. Now if you have been compelled to do that by your parents, your teachers or someone else to do that and experienced that situation as being oppressive or in a way taking away your freedom of choice you wouldn’t experience the same satisfaction even though the result was precisely the same.
You got the same object or the same good or you ended up doing the exact same thing. You know, playing in a particular sport or buying a particular item. So this desire to always want to be the one who chooses is something that is hardwired within us.