The Prophet Muhammad(s) proclaimed the message of Islam at a time when the Arabs buried their daughters alive. Through his words and actions, he reminded Muslims to love children and be kind towards them. Although this aspect of Islamic teachings is well-known and emphasised, we may not be aware of the Prophet’s emphasis on being just towards children. From the very beginning, children should witness justice from their parents; even the smallest issues should be handled with justice. It is these actions which we may consider trivial that develop the quality of justice within the child.
The Holy Prophet(s) saw a man with two children; he kissed one and did not kiss the other. The Prophet(s) said, “Why did you not treat them with justice?” In another tradition, he states, “Keep justice for all your children in your mind even when some of them are away. If you desire treatment of love, kindness and justice from your children, then give them similar treatment.”
Consequently, as parents, we have a duty to teach our children about justice and raise them to be committed towards justice. Parents who are just do not show preference to a son or a daughter, or a child who is more beautiful or intelligent; they have the same feelings of love and affection for all of their children.
Just as the Prophet(s) guided us 1400 years ago, psychological studies (K. McAuliffe, P. Blake, F. Warneken, 2017) have found that children, even infants, can recognise unfairness. Infants as young as 12 months expect that resources (such as sweets) should be divided equally between two characters in a scene, whereas nursery-aged children will protest if they receive less than their peers. As children get older, they are willing to punish those who have been unfair, whether they are victims themselves or when they witness someone else being treated unfairly.
However, although children in general develop a sense of when they have been wronged by a young age, the tendency to recognise unfairness when others are wronged varies across cultures, according to Katherine McAuliffe and her colleagues. The drive to be treated fairly is a basic human response, indicating that the sense of justice is universal and innate, but the sense of equality for others – or social justice – is not so innate. This finding is very useful in understanding why, although the desire for justice is so innate and universal, we do not observe a world filled with justice. It is quite the opposite, a world filled with injustice.
Findings suggest that we need to learn social justice. According to Dr Eileen Kennedy-Moore, parents and educators have a responsibility to teach children about social justice by helping them to imagine how others feel and becoming aware of current and historical injustices. If we role model kindness and compassion to those who are suffering, like orphans and the poor, our practical concern will teach our children more than mere words.
Every week during Friday prayers we are encouraged to remember those suffering injustice worldwide. In fact, according to the Prophet(s), all believers are like one body; if one part of them is hurt then all the others feel the pain.
Imam al-Sadiq(a)says, “As pure and cool water is craved for by a thirsty person, so do people desire to have justice and equality and their taste is sweeter and better for them. There is nothing better than justice.”
Unlike other virtues which may have exceptions or extremes, justice stands alone as the only virtue which is good in every case, while injustice, its opposite, is always abhorrent. It is a universal value regardless of faith, ethnicity, or nationality. Even those with no faith will profess to love justice and detest injustice. Justice is such a universal value that the Imam compares it to thirst. All humanity feels thirst; likewise, all humanity longs for justice, especially when the world is full of injustice. The concept of an awaited saviour of humanity who will establish a just world is found in many religions.
Even someone who does not believe in religion will still desire justice because justice is the universal law around which the whole system of creation revolves. Justice is so essential that it is even one of our fundamental beliefs and a condition for any social position in our jurisprudence. The true meaning of the word justice implies that everything is in its own proper place. Consequently, any violations of anyone’s rights are contrary to the principle of justice.
According to the Qur’an, one of the reasons that prophets were sent was to establish justice, “So that mankind may maintain justice” (57:25). If justice is established, it means all forms of oppression, injustice, tyranny, discrimination and bloodshed would be abolished. In her Sermon of Fadak, Lady Fatima(a) said that justice is prescribed to establish proper harmony in the hearts.
When justice is established in the world just as it was filled with tyranny, the rancour and hatred in our hearts will be replaced with peace and harmony.
In the blessed month of Sha‘ban, we celebrate the birth of Imam Husayn(a) and Imam Mahdi(atf). There is a special relationship between these two holy Imams, and perhaps the most salient aspect is that they are both symbols of justice. Imam Husayn(a)sacrificed everything when he rose against an unjust ruler, while Imam Mahdi(atf) is the one who will fill the earth with justice. It may be for this reason that he is the awaited Saviour of Humanity.
A world full of justice is not a dream or an imaginary scenario; it is indeed the reality the world is moving toward. In Nahj al-Balaghah Imam ‘Ali(a), who was rightfully called “The Voice of Human Justice” by George Jordac, states that Imam Mahdi(atf) “will show you the just way of behaviour.” Hence, the followers of Imam Mahdi(atf) will be those who are ready to establish justice in their own souls and hearts, families, and communities worldwide. We pray to God to hasten the reappearance of Imam Mahdi(atf) and include us among his followers who will witness such a just world.