Islam encourages social justice

Islam is associated with terrorist activities but this is most unfair, for my faith teaches me to sp

Some believe praying five times a day and fasting in the month of Ramadan are all that you need to do to be a good Muslim. While these are fundamental features of the faith, in order of closeness to God, they are rated less.

Standing firm for justice is considered closest to Godliness. In other words my religious and social responsibility is to work for just causes. In my faith I am required to stand witness to justice, fairness and equality not just in words but in practice. In Qur’an God says "be just, that it closest to Godliness".

My faith demands that I do not lead a passive life. I am reminded in the Qur’an that I have to stand for justice at all cost, even if it means I have go against myself, my family or friends. I must serve justice even against my bitter enemies. For God does not favour the unjust.

In a trouble filled world my faith has become synonymous with violence and hate. It is often associated with terrorist activities and suicide bombing. Unfortunately this is most unfair, for my faith teaches me to spread peace on earth. In fact unless I submit to peace, i.e. peace inside myself and at peace with everything around me, I am not considered a good Muslim. No wonder the blessed Prophet used to make this prayer on a regular basis –

“Oh God,
You are peace.
From you comes peace
To you returns peace
Revive us with a salutation of peace
And lead us to your abode of peace”

For me social justice starts at home. I must care for my parents as my responsibility especially when they reach old age. Qur’an reminds me that after being loyal to God I must be good to my parents. Once a man came to the blessed Prophet and said “O prophet I have performed Hajj – pilgrimage, carrying my elderly mother on my shoulder, have I paid her back for everything?” The prophet replied, “Not even for one contraction”.

One of my regular prayers to God is “O God please be merciful to my parents just like they were merciful to me when I was little”.

To lock up my parents in a care home when they are old, frail and most vulnerable is simply cruel and unjust. Thus in Islam social justice starts from home. I must be just to my wife and my children as I will be asked about my duties and responsibilities on the Day of Judgement.

I must do everything possible to sustain a good relationship with my relatives. I am reminded by the prophet who said “one who cuts relations with relatives; God will cut relations with him or her”.

Social justice in Islam extends to even to those who are not related to me such as the neighbours, orphans and the needy. I am not considered a Muslim if I go to sleep with my stomach full while my neighbour sleeps hungry. I must help the orphans and the needy by sharing with them part of my wealth through paying Zakat (a proportion of my surplus wealth which must be given on a yearly basis to poor and the needy) and voluntary charity. The blessed Prophet once said “he is not a Muslim who sleeps with his stomach full while his neighbour stays hungry”.

Social justice is about my struggle against inequality. In today’s world I must fight against poverty. We have excessive amount of wealth that is often wasted in the developed world while millions of people in the developing world die of hunger. Islam stands firmly against such inequality and encourages me to be involved with initiatives that would eradicate poverty and challenge the root causes of inequality. Everyday many people from Africa and Asia risk their lives to cross to the West simply looking for a better life. Most do not make it this far and perish on the way. Islam teaches me to be prepared to share what I have with those who do not have it.

I am concerned about the abuse of our environment and exploitation of our natural resources. My faith says that I am a “custodian” of this earth and its surrounding. As a custodian I do not have the right to either abuse it or stand by watch it get destroyed. I have to take active steps to ensure its healthy longevity. This too is my struggle for justice.

Ajmal Masroor is regularly invited to speak on issues on integration and Islam in the modern world. He leads Friday prayers in several Mosques across London.
Photo: André Spicer
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“It’s scary to do it again”: the five-year-old fined £150 for running a lemonade stand

Enforcement officers penalised a child selling home-made lemonade in the street. Her father tells the full story. 

It was a lively Saturday afternoon in east London’s Mile End. Groups of people streamed through residential streets on their way to a music festival in the local park; booming bass could be heard from the surrounding houses.

One five-year-old girl who lived in the area had an idea. She had been to her school’s summer fête recently and looked longingly at the stalls. She loved the idea of setting up her own stall, and today was a good day for it.

“She eventually came round to the idea of selling lemonade,” her father André Spicer tells me. So he and his daughter went to their local shop to buy some lemons. They mixed a few jugs of lemonade, the girl made a fetching A4 sign with some lemons drawn on it – 50p for a small cup, £1 for a large – and they carried a table from home to the end of their road. 

“People suddenly started coming up and buying stuff, pretty quickly, and they were very happy,” Spicer recalls. “People looked overjoyed at this cute little girl on the side of the road – community feel and all that sort of stuff.”

But the heart-warming scene was soon interrupted. After about half an hour of what Spicer describes as “brisk” trade – his daughter’s recipe secret was some mint and a little bit of cucumber, for a “bit of a British touch” – four enforcement officers came striding up to the stand.

Three were in uniform, and one was in plain clothes. One uniformed officer turned the camera on his vest on, and began reciting a legal script at the weeping five-year-old.

“You’re trading without a licence, pursuant to x, y, z act and blah dah dah dah, really going through a script,” Spicer tells me, saying they showed no compassion for his daughter. “This is my job, I’m doing it and that’s it, basically.”

The girl burst into tears the moment they arrived.

“Officials have some degree of intimidation. I’m a grown adult, so I wasn’t super intimidated, but I was a bit shocked,” says Spicer. “But my daughter was intimidated. She started crying straight away.”

As they continued to recite their legalese, her father picked her up to try to comfort her – but that didn’t stop the officers giving her stall a £150 fine and handing them a penalty notice. “TRADING WITHOUT LICENCE,” it screamed.


Picture: André Spicer

“She was crying and repeating, ‘I’ve done a bad thing’,” says Spicer. “As we walked home, I had to try and convince her that it wasn’t her, it wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t her who had done something bad.”

She cried all the way home, and it wasn’t until she watched her favourite film, Brave, that she calmed down. It was then that Spicer suggested next time they would “do it all correctly”, get a permit, and set up another stand.

“No, I don’t want to, it’s a bit scary to do it again,” she replied. Her father hopes that “she’ll be able to get over it”, and that her enterprising spirit will return.

The Council has since apologised and cancelled the fine, and called on its officials to “show common sense and to use their powers sensibly”.

But Spicer felt “there’s a bigger principle here”, and wrote a piece for the Telegraph arguing that children in modern Britain are too restricted.

He would “absolutely” encourage his daughter to set up another stall, and “I’d encourage other people to go and do it as well. It’s a great way to spend a bit of time with the kids in the holidays, and they might learn something.”

A fitting reminder of the great life lesson: when life gives you a fixed penalty notice, make lemonade.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.