In Juz’ 28 of the Qur’an, (58:1-66:12), Allah begins and ends with discussions about the treatment of women. In the very first surah of this juz’, Allah responds to the complaint of a woman whose husband had committed zihar, a means of essentially abandoning one’s wife that wasn’t quite divorce, but was somehow worse — a practice that was common at the time. Allah explicitly forbids this practice and warns those who practice it of a painful punishment. Towards the end of the juz’, in Surah At-Talaq, we are given instructions on the appropriate way to conclude a marriage, with reminders that these are guidelines from Allah and that we will be held accountable for our adherence to these instructions.
As I read through this juz’ and various explanations of the surahs within it, I couldn’t help but think about the inevitability of injustice in the world and the appropriate ways that we, as the followers of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), ambassadors for Allah’s mercy, should respond to it. We are all born into unjust societies and circumstances, coming of age amid social norms and practices like zihar that are exploitative, harmful and oftentimes downright cruel.
I’m ashamed to admit that I wasn’t always mature enough or compassionate enough to understand the ways in which society was broken. I’m more ashamed to admit that sometimes I believed the lies we are told about why injustice endures. Things like persistent poverty being a result of laziness, men harming women being the result of choices the women made, or the infallibility of law enforcement officials, these are all messages that are deliberately constructed and repeated as a means of maintaining “social order,” and it took me a while to recognize them as such.
Guilt can be productive when it leads to positive action, so I remind myself of two things. First, that the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was sent to a people with social norms so terrible that even before he received his Divine mission, the Prophet (PBUH) regularly retreated from his society to distance himself, purify himself spiritually and seek out solutions to overwhelming social problems. The test of being born into amoral and unjust circumstances is not unique to us, and many of the early companions, some of the most noble human beings to ever walk this earth, also fell victim to the problematic norms of their time before the light of Islam transformed them. The second thing I remind myself of is that through this perfect faith, we have been given a blueprint for how to eradicate these injustices, and as long as Allah allows me to breathe, I can keep working towards that goal.
That verse consistently inspires me to sacrifice my own comfort, do the hard thing because it’s right and ensure people are treated equitably, even when I may personally benefit from doing otherwise.
I mentioned how this juz’ begins and ends, but many of the ways in which to transform a society for the better are contained throughout the surahs in the middle. Some of the verses that communicate the goals to me include:
“O believers! When you are told to make room in gatherings, then do so. Allah will make room for you ˹in His grace˺…” (58:11)
“..believers! Why do you say what you do not do? How despicable it is in the sight of Allah that you say what you do not do! (61:2-3)
“Your wealth and children are only a test, but Allah ˹alone˺ has a great reward. So be mindful of Allah to the best of your ability, hear and obey, and spend in charity—that will be best for you. And whoever is saved from the selfishness of their own souls, it is they who are ˹truly˺ successful.” —64:15-16
It’s common to highlight injustice when criticizing the caustic behaviors of the 1%, but if I’m being honest, I’ve also recognized the same ways toxic perspectives manifest in my own life and choices, and my own perspectives on the comforts I am entitled to. It’s just as important that I resist the greed and selfishness in my own heart, even if my failure to do so won’t visibly harm people the way it can when billionaires do it. The American Dream asserts that we can all grow rich and live wildly prosperous lives if we want that prosperity bad enough. The inconvenient truth is that many of us will never have the material wealth or authority to affect the kind of change we are desperate to see in the world, but honestly, we don’t have to. Those verses demonstrate we can each show up to make the world better by taking the opportunities afforded to us. That can mean making space for people and including those who wouldn’t always be invited into certain circles, just because we understand the cruelty of being left out of them. It can mean sincerity, and not loudly promoting virtue for attention when we aren’t willing to commit to them ourselves. And for everyone, it should mean recognizing the blessing of our material possessions and the opportunity to please God by using them to help His creation. I truly believe that a willingness to sacrifice our own comforts to do what is right is at the center of every noble endeavor and an unwillingness to do so is at the center of every injustice.
As I close, I am again reminded of the second to last surah of this juz’, Surah At-Talaq, where Allah describes the rules for equitable divorce. After providing specific instructions, He promises for the person who follows those instructions “…and He (Allah) will provide for them from sources they could never imagine (65:3).” That verse consistently inspires me to sacrifice my own comfort, do the hard thing because it’s right and ensure people are treated equitably, even when I may personally benefit from doing otherwise. I pray that we apply the lessons of this juz’, and the entire Qur’an to our individual journeys, act dutifully in support of the women of the world, eradicate injustice wherever we find it, confront problematic norms, no matter how much they serve us and constantly seek Allah’s pleasure in every action that we take.
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Osama Abdul-Salaam has served as the education chair, officer and board member of Center DC, a welcoming community for Muslims and those interested in exploring Islam in the Washington, D.C., metro area for the last five years. He is also a board member for the Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative (MuslimARC) and a volunteer at the Muslim Community Center in Montgomery County, Maryland.