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2. Equality before the Law
Islam's rulings concerning civil rights do not differ from its rulings concerning the aforementioned rights. Islam treats all people equally before the law and grants them equal civil rights without any discrimination between a beggar and a prince, or a nobleman and a man of modest birth.
The Second Rightly Guided Caliph, `Umar ben Al Khattab, who was responsible for organizing the administration of justice in the muslim state upon the firm foundation of the Holy Qur'an and the Traditions of the Prophet, said in his first speech after becoming Caliph: "O people I swear by God that there is no man among you as powerful as he who is helpless until I restore his rights to him, and there is no man amongst you as helpless as he who is powerful until I restore what he had usurped to its rightful owner".
`Umar ben Al Khattab's message to Abu Mousa Al Ash'ary concerning the administration of justice embodied the greater part of the rulings of the Faith of Islam on justice. He wrote "From the servant of God, `Umar ben Al Khattab, Commander of the Faithful, to the servant of God, Ibn Qays, Peace be upon you.
The administration of justice is a religious duty and a tradition from the Prophet to be observed, so understand thoroughly the cases presented before you and enforce the sentence that you know to be just, for declaring the truth without executing justice is not just. Treat all people who stand before you equally in the way you greet them, address them and judge them. By so doing no nobleman would expect or hope for an unjust sentence in his favour and no poor man would despair of your just ruling'.
Umar ben Al Khattab's last testament to his successor as Caliph was :
"Treat all people equally and do not be influenced by any person who deserves punishment, and take no notice of any person's censure provided you have pronounced a just sentence. Never allow your preference or partiality for any person to influence your judgement in the affairs of the people whom God has entrusted to our authority."
The matter of equality in Islam was not limited to merely declaring principles and establishing laws, but history records that these principles and laws were executed solemnly and conscientiously during the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad, blessings and peace be upon him, and during the reign of the Four Rightly Guided Caliphs who succeeded him, during the Golden Age of Islam which represents the principles and spirit of Islam in every respect Usama ibn Zayd, one of the most beloved companions of the Prophet Muhammad, prayer and peace be upon him, once attempted to intercede with him on behalf of Fatima daughter of Al Aswad Al Makhzoumiya who had been sentenced to the punish- ment of theft for stealing velvet material and golden ornaments. The Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, refused Osama's intercession, in spite of his affection for him, and reprimanded him severely saying "How can you intercede with me concerning a penalty ordained by God Almighty Allah." Then he said to the people who had witnessed the matter : "Before the advent of Islam, people of noble descent were not punished if they were guilty of theft and poor indigent people were punished for the same crime. I swear by God Almighty, that if my daughter Fatima were guilty of the crime of theft, I would sentence her to the punishment ordained by God Almighty."
A Jew once lodged a complaint to the Caliph `Omar ben Al Khattab against `Ali Abu Talib. When they both stood before the Caliph `Omar, he addessed the Jew by his name and addressed `Ali Abu Talib by his appellation of Abu Al Hasan (the Father of Hasan) as he was accustomed to addressing him. `Ali showed signs of displeasure and the Caliph `Umar asked him if he had resented his adversary being a Jew with whom he had been obliged to stand on equal footing before the Caliph. `Ali Abu Talib replied that that had not been the cause of his displeasure, the reason being that the Caliph had addressed the Jew by his name whereas he had addressed him by his appellation of Abu Al Hasan, which is a sign of respect and veneration. `All ben Abu Talib had thus expressed his displeasure because `Umar ben Al Khattab had inadvertantly treated him with more respect than his adversary.
A son of `Amr ben Al `Aas, the governor of Egypt, once struck a man of the lower class. The man swore that he would lodge a complaint to the Caliph `Umar ben Al Khattab. `Amr ben Al Aas's son told the man to do so, boasting that the Caliph would never punish him, since he was the son of the noble ruler of Egypt. Later, during the pilgrimage season when the Caliph `Omar, his retinue, `Amr ben `Al `Aas and his son were assembled together, the man whom `Amr's son had struck went to the Caliph, and pointed to the son of `Amr ben Al `Aas and said : "This man struck me unjustly and when I threatened to complain to you, he told me that he was the son of a nobleman and that you would never punish him".
The Caliph `Umar ben Al Khattab looked at `Amr ben Al `Aas and uttered his famous words "What right have you to enslave people, whose mothers gave birth to them as free people?" He then gave the man who had lodged his complaint a whip and told him to strike the son of the nobleman - namely the son of `Amr ben Al `Aas - as he had struck him.
On a certain occasion, the Caliph `Umar witnessed a man and a woman committing adultery, so he assembled the people around him and said : "How should the Caliph of the Muslims act when he witnesses the sin of adultery being committed ?"
`Ali ben Abu Talib replied : "There must be four witnesses to the sin of adultery and if he cannot present these witnesses and he accuses the man and woman of adultery, he must be punished for the sin of slander without sufficient evidence, as any other person would be punished in a similar situation".`Ali ben Abu Talib then recited the following Quranic verse: "And those who launch a charge against chaste women and produce not four witnesses (to support their allegations), - flog them with eighty stripes; and reject their evidence ever after ; for such men are wicked transgressors" 2 .
The Caliph `Umar did not reply nor did he reveal the identity of the man and woman whom he had witnessed committing the sin of adultery.
Islam applies the principle of equality in its treatment of Muslims and non-Muslims. Islam ordains that non-Muslims living in a Muslim state or in a state under Muslim rule have the same rights and obligations as their fellow Muslims. They are subject to the Muslim laws of justice except in matters concerning their religion. Accordingly their faith and beliefs are respected by the state and the community in which they live.
There is a great difference between these sublime principles of Islam and the laws of the United States of America which claims to be the most democratic country in the world. Until very recently, the laws of the United States of America discriminated between the white and black citizens.
This discrimination was manifested in all situations, dealings and even in matters of justice, such as the harshness of the verdict and the manner of its execution.
These laws even gave a white man the right to tie a black man to a tree and burn him alive or to cut him to pieces, without him having been tried in court, if the black man had had any kind of relationship with a white woman even if she had consented to this relationship. A similar fate awaited any black person who overstepped the limits of these unjust laws.
We have all read in the press about two cases which prove, beyond a shadow of doubt, the extent of the injustice of this racial discrimination in certain states of the United States of America.
The first case concerns Uthrene Lucy, a black American girl, living in the State of Alabama, who had applied to be registered as a student in the University of Alabama. The University refused her application on account of the colour of her skin, but she filed a suit against the University in the Federal Court in Birmingham, the capital of the State of Alabam. The court ruled that she be admitted to the University and accordingly notified the University officially on the first of July 1955. However, as soon as the students heard about the court's verdict, they organized a violent demonstration of approximately seven thousand students representing the various faculties and colleges. They demanded that this black girl be killed by being hanged from a tree, in the same way that black men who had had any relationship with white women were hanged. The students made an effigy of Uthrene Lucy and burnt it in the city squares. They did not limit their violence to these demonstrations but some students actually attacked the girl, threw rotten eggs at her and even tried to lynch her. They also swore that they would never allow her to sit side by side with them in the lecture hall. These demonstrations were applauded by the authorities of the University and on February the sixth 1956, they issued a decree suspending her from continuing her studies at the University, in spite of the verdict previously issued by the Federal Court which had granted her that right.
Uthrene Lucy was consequently forced to remain in her home to escape from the violence of hostile crowds. Nevertheless, she filed another suit against the University in the Federal Court in Birmingham where she and her sisters lived, and demanded the annulment of the University's decree of suspension. Uthrene Lucy received threatening calls on her telephone which continued to ring every two minutes for seven whole hours one night. The poor girl was accordingly forced to leave her home in Birmingha and live in another town where she would not be recognized, in order to escape from the persecution to which she had been subjected.
Although the Federal Court of Birmingha had issued a verdict that Uthrene Lucy resume her studies at the University, on the twenty ninth of February 1956, the Board of Directors of the University assembled a few hours after the verdict had been pronounced, and unanimously voted that Uthrene Lucy be expelled from the University. They had, by their decision, defied the verdict of the Federal Court of Birmingha in addition to false alleging that the girl had declared that the demonstrations directed against her had been instigated by the University authorities.
John Cadeel, a member of the Board of Directors of the University, declared in his testimony in Court that he feared that the students would kill Uthrene Lucy and that the verdict of the Federal Court had placed the girl's life in danger. The Governor of Alabama suggested that a committee consisting of both white and black citizens should be formed in order to solve racial problems in the state in a peaceful manner. Nevertheless, he himself admitted that "Every sane person knows that white and black children will never go to school together in Alabama". 3
The second example of racial discrimination also occurred in the city of Birmingham in the state of Alabama. It concerned a black woman who sat in a seat reserved for white passengers on a bus. In the state of Mabama black people were not allowed to sit in the seats reserved for white people. This woman refused to leave her seat and sit in the seats allotted to black passengers and was consequently arrested by the police and taken to the police station.
The woman appeared in court and was sentenced to a fine, upon which all the black people in the state of Alabama boycotted the buses as a sign of their protestation. The jury in the court declared that the procedure of boycotting the buses was an illegal procedure and arrested more than a hundred negroes who had led the boycotting and tried them before a court of justice in March 1956. 4
There can accordingly be no comparison between the aforementioned treatment of negroes in the United States of America and the just principles and tolerant rulings ordained by Islam, in its treatment of non-Muslims. Non-Muslims were accorded equality with Muslims in all matters in addition to being guaranteed respect for their faith, religious beliefs, rites and ceremonies.
The tolerant rulings of Islam and its just principles cannot, in any way, be compared to the brutal treatment to which the natives of the colonies were recently subjected. These people led a life humiliation and were subjected to unjust laws which are inconsistent with the basic principles of human rights. Nevertheless, those in power applied just laws to their own subjects and to the subjects of other Western communities.
In many cases the colonialists did their utmost to eradicate the nation of the country they had occupied, so that their own countrymen could dominate the land completely. Examples of this Policy are manifested in the European colonists' treatment of the Red Indians the original inhabitants of North America and their treatment of the Aboriginees and Maoris the original inhabitants of Australia and New Zealand. This policy resulted in the genocide of the natives, and the minority that survived now lives in the remote districts of their country after being hunted like wild beasts by the colonists, while others live in reservations.
As a result of this brutal inhumane policy, the United Nations issued a clause in its Charter which prohibits the genocide of nations. 5