From eastern Congo with the rape of hundreds of women to bombs that kill dozens in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the raging drug battles in Mexico, the attacks of Sept. 11 nine years ago, or any of the other daily uncountable acts of violence that occur all over the world, the specter of oppression and injustice takes its daily toll on human lives.
Unfortunately, these acts of oppression and injustice are nothing new, and have become all too common. There is not enough space in all the newspapers or time on the radio and television stations of the world to recount all the injustices suffered daily. Only the sadistically bizarre or the grotesquely violent forms of oppression are reported in the news; for every act that is reported there are many other abuses that will never see the light of day.
In the United States alone, FBI reports indicate there were approximately 2.6 violent crimes every minute in 2008. This included an average of one murder every 32 minutes and one rape every six minutes.
If we are to believe that a just and merciful being created this world, then what role does he play and what is his response to this daily occurrence of oppression?
Human oppression is nothing new. This cycle of bloodshed and cruelty has existed since Abel killed Cain. There are many places in the Bible’s Old Testament where the issue of oppression is addressed, and God clearly states that he will not tolerate injustice and oppression. People guilty of oppression will suffer the consequences of their actions.
The Old Testament states, “O house of David, this is what the LORD says: ‘Administer justice every morning; rescue from the hand of his oppressor the one who has been robbed, or my wrath will break out and burn like fire because of the evil you have done — burn with no one to quench it.’” (Jeremiah, 21:12)
There are entire passages in the Bible where the Prophet Habakkuk cries out to God of the injustices committed, and God is said to have responded in a lengthy recrimination that curses these oppressors:
“Woe to him who builds his realm by unjust gain to set his nest on high, to escape the clutches of ruin! You have plotted the ruin of many peoples, shaming your own house and forfeiting your life. The stones of the wall will cry out, and the beams of the woodwork will echo it. ‘Woe to him who builds a city with bloodshed and establishes a town by crime!’ Has not the Lord Almighty determined that the people’s labor is only fuel for the fire, that the nations exhaust themselves for nothing?” (Habakkuk 2, 9-13).
In the Quran as well, we read, “O you who believe! Stand out firmly for Allah, as witnesses to fair dealing, and let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just: that is next to piety: and fear Allah. For Allah is well-acquainted with all that you do” (The Table Spread, verse 12).
The Prophet Muhammad is quoted to have to said, “Beware of the supplication of the unjustly treated, because there is no shelter or veil between it and Allah.”
The cries of the oppressed rise straight to God who will answer in due time — regardless of the race, gender, or religion of the oppressed. However, one may ask, not all perpetrators of oppression face the consequences of their actions in this world.
In the great balance of justice, and all the ages of oppression that weighs heavily on the side of injustice, when and how will this balance of justice be set right? A just God cannot allow this skewed balance to exist indefinitely. It stands to reason that there will come a time when people must account for their actions and face their consequences.
Islam teaches that people who die await the Day of Judgment or the Day of Resurrection. Depending upon the person’s deeds, he or she will rest in a state of either peace or despair. Just like Judaism and Christianity, Islam teaches that one day this universe will come to an end and herald the Day of Judgment. On this day, every single person who was born will be presented with their deeds and will be called to account for them by God.
There will be three courts of judgment: The first will deal with belief in the oneness of God; the second will deal with duties and conduct of a person to other human beings; and the last will deal with duties to God. A person unable to successfully pass any of these courts will be punished in hell.
In regard to the second court of judgment the companion of the Prophet Muhammad, Ali bin Abi Talib, said, “By Allah! If I am made to spend from dawn to dusk on thorns; and if my hands and feet were chained, and I were to be dragged through the streets and markets, it is better than to present myself to the court of Allah, if I have committed an oppression against any one of his creatures or if I have usurped the rights of another.”
In another narration, the Prophet Muhammad is quoted to have said, “Whoever has oppressed another person concerning his reputation or anything else, he should beg him to forgive him before the Day of Resurrection when there will be no money (to compensate for wrong deeds), but if he has good deeds, those good deeds will be taken from him according to his oppression which he has done, and if he has no good deeds, the sins of the oppressed person will be loaded on him.”
It is far better for those who have wronged others to make amends with them in this world than to wait until the next. The punishment of those who oppress others is such that their good deeds will be taken from them, and the sins of the oppressed will be placed upon them.
In another place in the Quran, we see “The blame is only against those who oppress men and wrongdoing and insolently transgress beyond bounds through the land, defying right and justice: for such there will be a penalty grievous.”
Islam confers no privileges for Muslims who oppress others, nor does Islam confer on them a status of the chosen people and excuse their actions. There are people of Muslim origin who are guilty of heinous actions, and there are Muslim rulers who are tyrants, but neither represents Islam.
There is a double-standard in the media where while it is quick to label these individuals as “model” Muslims representing Islam, it hesitates in labeling like-oppressors of Christian origin as “model” Christians representing Christianity.
Further, due to the U.S. engagement in Muslim lands such as Iraq and Afghanistan, Muslims receive disproportionate coverage and scrutiny in the news, the likes of which is not afforded to other groups involved in violence.
This is not to say that the actions of these Muslims are to be excused, but to claim that only Muslims engage in these acts is preposterous. The level of hysteria that is raised on some news and talk shows does not reach the same fevered pitch when discussing the recent events of the Congo as it does with Muslim-related incidents.
Nevertheless, there can be no excuse for the oppression and injustices committed by anyone. The perpetrators of all wanton acts of violence, like those of the Congo, like those of Sept. 11, will face their Lord one day and receive their just due.
Ali Shareef is a graduate student in the college of engineering at the University of Maine in Orono. Columns on Islam are published in cooperation with the Islamic Center of Maine in Orono.