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 Social Justice in Islam    by Professor A. R. Momin

Charity and philanthropy

The Islamic tradition places a great deal of emphasis on compassion, altruism, sacrifice and charity. The Quran urges Muslims to spend on the poor and the needy (Quran 2:195, 219, 254, 264, 267, 274; 3:92; 14:31; 57:10-11; 76:8, 9). The Prophet is reported to have said: "All humankind is (like) the family of God and the dearest of them in the sight of God is the one who is the most kind and beneficial to God's family." He also said that a person who renders (some) service to widows and the poor is equal to one who is engaged in jihad in the path of God or to one who spends the whole day in fasting and the whole night in prayers. He warned that a Muslim who eats to his heart's content while his neighbour keeps hungry is not a true believer.

A significant aspect of the concept of social justice and egalitarianism in Islam relates to the humane treatment of slaves and their emancipation. The institution of slavery, which was widespread in pre-Islamic Arabia, was temporarily continued with a view to provide security and succour to prisoners of war. The Prophet exhorted Muslims to deal with slaves in the most humane manner and to treat them like one's family in respect of food, clothes and education. Islam sought the gradual eradication of slavery. The Quran says that liberating a slave is the best form of charity (Quran 90:11). A large number of slaves were set free by the Prophet and his Companions. According to Islamic law, a freed slave and a freeborn are equal in status. The Prophet got his cousin Zynab married to his freed slave Zayd ibn Haritha. Islamic law stipulates that a slave has the right to purchase his freedom by paying some compensation to his master.

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