Muslims Down Under had the privilege of speaking with Imam Hadi, a central missionary for the worldwide Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. This community is the only Muslim community in the world that has been led by a singular spiritual caliphate for more than a century. The current Khalifa or Caliph of the community is His Holiness Mirza Masroor Ahmed (may God be his Helper). Imam Hadi currently represents His Holiness in Queensland, Australia, by serving as the Minister of Religion for the state, supervising a community which spans across four chapters. He is also the Imam of two mosques, namely Masjid Mubarak in Brisbane and Masjid Baitul Masroor in Logan. In the past he has worked in MTA International, the world’s first Muslim television channel and Islamic Broadcasting service, as well as serving in Spain and Ghana. He is currently also the executive producer for the What is Islam? campaign, as well as the Muslims Down Under platform.
This is an abridged transcript from portions of this interview discussing Social Justice – Whose Responsibility Is It?
Click below to listen to the full interview or visit our YouTube channel to watch the video podcast.
Bushra: Welcome back to another episode of the Muslims Down Under podcast. If you’ve been listening to our past few episodes, you’ll know that in this series we’ve been discussing various concepts of social justice and we’ve had the privilege to speak with many esteemed guests on our podcast, including Senator Fatma Payman most recently, and Senator Pat Dodson. Today we are now very privileged to have with us another knowledgeable guest, Imam Hadi. Peace be upon you and welcome to our podcast.
Imam Hadi: Assalam-o-Alaikum, peace be upon you. Thank you for having me.
Bushra: So, let’s get started. In today’s episode, we wanted to discuss the concepts surrounding social justice and explore the aspect of responsibility. If you were to define the term social justice, how would you do so?
Imam Hadi: Well, that’s a really good question and yeah, you’re right, absolutely. I think fundamentally, social justice or justice – the term is usually understood to mean giving everyone their fair due or giving everyone fair access and opportunity equitably, and ultimately being fair in all aspects of life. As a Muslim, we obviously refer to the Holy Quran for guidance and the Holy Quran actually describes justice to a great deal and there are two aspects of justice, which I think further refine this understanding that usually everyone would have, and that is that first and foremost in life there’s always 2 aspects. You have chaos, you have order, you have good, you have evil, and it’s the interplay between these two things which fundamentally gives life meaning right? It gives us purpose. It’s a game that we all have to play and abide by.
And Islam teaches that in terms of good in society, it should always be rewarded with good. In the Holy Quran God Almighty states: “ جَزَآءُ الۡاِحۡسَانِ اِلَّا الۡاِحۡسَانُ”, Can the recompense or reward for good be anything but good? But, in particular, when it comes to good, God Almighty and the Holy Quran does not limit it to anything equal, as in reciprocation in an equal measure. God Almighty states that the reward for good can be limitless and you do not need to limit someone when it comes to rewarding someone for their good actions. Because by nature, goodness – it multiplies, it compounds over time and that’s something that you can observe in the natural world, in the natural order (of things). Any good step or good investment, ultimately multiplies many folds and has multiple good results which then factor into further good results. Whereas the idea of punishment in Islam, in terms of how evil needs to be dealt with in terms of justice, the Holy Qur’an presents the concept that: ‘ جَزَآءُ سَیِّئَۃٍۭ بِمِثۡلِہَا “…the punishment of an evil shall be the like thereof”, as in it has to be absolutely equal, for the punishment cannot be more severe than the bad action itself, and neither should it be something which is less than the evil deed that has been committed, right? It has to be absolutely equal. And fundamentally, the other thing that Islam espouses is that the fundamental intention behind providing a punishment should be for reformation, so even that then adds a few other factors into the decision making that ultimately, well, the punishment could be equal, but it would only be considered equal if it’s also bringing about reformation, right? And that can be brought about in several ways.
Bushra: Yeah, I think these days you know the term social justice, it’s become kind of like a buzzword and it’s very hard (to understand), or I think it’s like it has lost its meaning over time. What it really means, and the two practical ways of defining what social justice means are very, practical… exploring how you think, in Australia there’s a lot of gap that we can bridge as a society towards more social justice and a more cohesive community and becoming a more productive community, expanding on those two points that you’ve just mentioned as described by Islam, what kind of proactive actions or practical steps can individuals take to seek social justice?
Imam Hadi: Well, I think first and foremost it’s important to diagnose the issue, isn’t it? I think trying to go around with a remedy without really knowing what you’re remedying isn’t really smart. First and foremost, there has to be an issue in the first place, and I think sometimes it’s equally wise. You know, the old saying that if it’s not broken then you don’t need to fix it. So sometimes I think today, we have a number of issues in society, and it’s something which you can observe quite clearly, especially through I would say social media, and you have this thing where you have a lot of activists or so-called activists or self-declared activists who are trying to jump behind some sort of cause to try and ultimately I think, psychologically speaking, what you’re witnessing there is ultimately we as human beings, we would like to find purpose and meaning in life and you need to be driven by something and you need to feel like you’re contributing towards society to feel like you have a place in the world and I think that’s where you can see a rise in the desire to contribute to the social justice case can sometimes occur. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t people out there who are genuinely working towards social justice. Obviously there are, but when you see that increase in society, of people talking more than actually acting it, I would say that fundamentally this could be one of the causes and I think behind it also, the most supreme cause I would say is the lack of understanding in relation to God. When you take God out of the equation, when you don’t really have a meaningful understanding of who God is or what God’s places in your life, then sometimes you tend to see a lot of confusion in society, unfortunately because you don’t have an objective moral standard that’s provided on the basis of Divine attributes…. So what I mean by that is, there could be a number of issues in society which can be diagnosed, and sometimes it might not be something which is affecting the nation in general, because in general the nation might be good in terms of justice and I think that holds true for most Western countries, I think, generally speaking. I mean, it can be argued that maybe in more recent times slowly the fabric of society is being tarnished and there’s a decay in the moral fibre of society, which naturally is going to have long term effects which we might not be able to perceive straight away, and it’s something that we will have inevitably have to deal with in the long run, particularly in the West.
Ultimately a society is made-up of individuals and the way we know this to be true that sometimes in a privileged society it’s very difficult to kind of tell how much of an affect individuals have on society, because of your privileges and you’re not going through difficult times. Or maybe you’re not really facing an injustice immediately, right? Or, a lack of justice isn’t something that’s perceived on a day-to-day basis. Then sometimes it’s easy to kind of not really know the importance of how individuals contribute to society. But if you go to, for example, countries which I would say you can very comfortably declare to be failed states, for example, Pakistan. Anyone who’s visited Pakistan or if you’ve done your research, you’ll know that Pakistan in general, unfortunately, could quite comfortably be declared as a state which has either failed or it’s definitely failing. And when you actually analyse the issues that are found in Pakistan or countries which could be similar, but I take the example of Pakistan in particular because unfortunately there you have an extreme case of you know religious fundamentalism which unfortunately, even affects the most educated people within society. And all of these things, they unfortunately completely destroy the society from within and though you know on a superficial level, it seems like the society is moving, but the anxiety that’s found within its citizens it’s just immense and sometimes people who are brought up in such an environment they can’t think of anything better.
And it’s something which even affects the households. And sometimes that’s then exported and imported into Western society. Because when these people move to, unfortunately, Western society they bring that culture with them sometimes. So for example, the culture of treating maybe the daughter-in-law, your wife unfairly and not treating her with respect and honour the way that Islam describes. You know it naturally does away with the very fabric of society, right? So fundamentally what I’m describing is that it’s sometimes very difficult from a privileged standpoint to realise how much of an effect or how much an individual can contribute to society. If every individual were to have a correct moral compass based on an objective divine standard. And if every individual were to understand the importance of responsibility, sacrifice, and particularly trying their level best to do the right thing when they have the opportunity to do so. Then obviously, that multiplies.
So fundamentally, it’s always going to come down to the individual. An individual would need to practically try and act upon the dictates of justice. So, now the question of what an individual can do? Well, again, as I said, I think it’s always important to start at home. It’s important to first get your own house in order. It’s like throwing stones in a glass house, right? First and foremost, it’s important to question as an individual within my own circle, how much am I actually behaving with justice? Am I treating my family members with justice? Am I just to my children? Am I just to my wife or as a wife am I just to my husband? If I’m doing that correctly, well, that’s fine. Now let’s take it one step further and am I just with my neighbours. Am I just with my community? OK, great when I’m at work. How am I dealing with people? Am I dealing with justice? And fundamentally, when you develop that ability to be just, which needs to come from the individual, then naturally, when you’re in a situation which demands a greater sacrifice, a situation where there’s greater peer pressure which sometimes can derail the best of us, then you can act with justice. But if you don’t do the due diligence on the lower levels, you can say of society, or the more fundamental grassroot levels than to expect justice from that individual at a higher level, you know, is obviously nonsensical.
Bushra: Absolutely, I think you’re describing the characteristics of a just person as per the teachings of Islam, it describes that Islam is not a passive faith. It provides that opportunity for reformation, as you were just explaining and God consciousness in all our acts, no matter who we are, no matter what our lifestyle and we can apply these things in whatever situation we are, even things like sports as well and I think the beauty of those practises and those principles is that they safeguard us from those wrongdoings and injustice. And they kind of provide us a blueprint to live our best lives and they provide us guidance and instruction on how to be more just in all situations. And you know ultimately, then, Islam teaches us that the responsibility lies on each and every one of us, no matter who we are and what we do. So if you were to just expand on that individual responsibility, that impact on what one person can have on enabling justice within society. And what kind of ethical and moral ideals a person should have to be a more just person, how would you describe or define the ideal person?
Imam Hadi: Well, I think it’s a really good question because I think justice is where it all begins, isn’t it? Justice, it’s such an important ideal. Because what Islam presents is that justice is the first step to moral development, if not spiritual level of development, right? So Islam is quite clear that first and foremost, you need to enter the moral paradigm before you can even consider the spiritual paradigm. For example, I was reflecting on one saying of the Holy Prophet Muhammad, may peace be upon him, and he particularly says that: “you cannot be grateful to God until you are grateful to His creation”.
Sometimes you think, well, what do you mean? Why? Why can’t you be grateful to God? First and foremost why do you need to be grateful to His creation? I think the best way to look at this is, well, fundamentally the first step is your moral responsibility. How do you operate yourself in society? Until you’re able to correct your moral characteristics, to then consider it would be immature to even consider spirituality. Because spirituality is something that comes much after. But sometimes, we don’t realise that there is this progression that is required for a person’s growth. And fundamentally, the way Islam presents that progression quite practically is that the first step to your moral progression and your growth – I mean, ultimately, what is morality? Morality is, well, you have some natural qualities and you use your intellect and your reasoning to govern those natural qualities like love, anger and you utilise those in the correct place and at the correct time. But they can only really be utilised in the context of a society. So, it means civility, it means civil behaviour, working with others, treating others correctly right? And all of that is dictated by justice, right? If you will have the fundamental quality of justice within your heart, it’s only then you would be able to place things appropriately in its correct position, right?
So, similarly, if you’re talking about the moral framework of an individual – ensuring that you utilise your natural qualities in the correct place and time, which would make them into a moral quality, requires fundamentally the ability to be just. If you don’t have the ability to be just if you don’t know how to measure and reason appropriately, then obviously you’re going to be all over the place, right? Because, Islam fundamentally teaches that no natural quality is innately bad, it only becomes evil or bad with its incorrect usage, right? When you don’t put something in its proper place? So, ultimately it’s important to develop that ability to be just in every circumstance. And this is really important because sometimes we forget that and we forget it in the most convenient of situations. Ultimately it’s very important to develop that fundamental ability for justice. Otherwise you quite literally don’t even have a foundation for a moral and civilised society, right? And, you know, ultimately, if you don’t have the fundamental basis of justice within you, then it’s very difficult to even establish peace because you’ll never be able to establish the moral framework that’s even required for a peaceful and stable society.
Bushra: So, everyone has an innate quality, something that I guess we all have, where we have our own interests, but then also we understand the rights and interests of others. So, how do we find that balance between the two? And still make sure that we’re still trying to develop those moral qualities. As you’ve explained, how do we develop that just behaviour towards everyone, whether it’s in our homes or broader within society with other people of faith or with other communities as well, while still maintaining our own beliefs and understandings that we have ourselves?
Imam Hadi: Yeah, well, I think that’s really important because ultimately, it takes practice. Sometimes we don’t consider our own moral behaviour and our own moral journey. Again, from an Islamic standpoint, spirituality comes much later. It’s important first and foremost. Develop a moral framework within yourself and within your immediate society and what I mean by immediate society, I mean first and foremost, everyone has some sort of responsibility immediately, particularly within the nuclear family and the household, right? But all of that, it requires practice, and it requires a lot of thoughtful effort. You have to be consciously trying to develop that ability to be just and know that fundamentally everything requires its due right. The other way that Islam describes justice is balance. In the first chapter of the Holy Quran we are directed to seek a path known as الصِّرَاطَ الۡمُسۡتَقِیۡمَ, the balanced path, the just path, the path in which you invest and you give time and attention to everything appropriately. And that’s a quality that needs to be developed over time through a lot of prayer, reflection, but then also through practical application, right? And until someone actually actively considers it as something that needs to be nurtured and developed, then it’s not something that you would technically readily be developing overtime, and sometimes it’s even possible that if you don’t give it it’s due regard, then overtime you would even lose the ability to be able to be just. So fundamentally, what Islam describes, you know there’s a beautiful saying of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and he says that أَلاَ كُلُّكُمْ رَاعٍ وَكُلُّكُمْ مَسْئُول, that each and every one of you is a shepherd, and each and everyone of you will be asked, or will be judged in regard to your responsibility as a shepherd. So fundamentally, each and every single one of us has some sort of responsibility that we need to attend to and that can be a plethora of things.
So, for example, there’s another saying of the Holy Prophet, peace be upon him, in which he openly states that every aspect of your life has a right, you, yourself, your being itself has a right over you. You should be dealing with yourself as though it’s someone you need to take care of. Similarly, your wife or your spouse has a right over you. Your neighbour has a right over you etcetera, right. Everything has its due right. And everything that you are responsible for is required to be attended to. So now if you keep these two things in mind and then you begin with your own self, right? And I think that’s the first place to begin. It’s important to first and foremost begin with yourself before you start trying to apply that to those around you. Otherwise it’s nonsensical, isn’t it?
Another very profound verse of the Holy Quran, where God Almighty states to the believing people that لِمَ تَقُوۡلُوۡنَ مَا لَا تَفۡعَلُوۡنَ, “Why do you say, that which you yourself do not do?” کَبُرَ مَقۡتًا عِنۡدَ اللّٰہِ اَنۡ تَقُوۡلُوۡا مَا لَا تَفۡعَلُوۡنَ (“Most hateful is it in the sight of Allah that you say what you do not do.”) That it is most distasteful, not even distasteful مَقۡتًا means it’s a severe form of hate in the eyes of God. It is highly dislikeable in the eyes of God that you should say something which you yourself do not do, and ultimately what that means is that you cannot really have any impact on society unless you yourself are actually acting upon the very dictates that you believe society should also express and manifest.
So, it’s important to first begin with yourself and then ask yourself, that, well, OK. What am I doing for my own morality and then ultimately spirituality right? How am I investing in myself to ensure that every day there’s growth, right? Because ultimately Islam teaches us that if you would like to achieve purpose and meaning in life then it’s important to try and imitate the Divine attributes of God almighty, right?
It’s really important that you or we take decisions submitting to the will of God rather than the will of society. I mean, it’s either or isn’t it? Either you submit to the will of God, or naturally as a human being, you’re going to submit and worship a myriad of God’s in a society. And God Almighty states that well, when you stand for justice, you do it purely for the sake of God. And how do you do it? Even if you have to give testimony against your own parents, even if you have to give testimony against your own kith and kin, right? You will still give testimony against them if it’s required to do so. And for example, in another place Allah Almighty states that you should always behave with justice, He states, “Let not the enmity of a people inside you to act otherwise than with justice, always be just” meaning that even if you have an enemy, even then you should ensure that your behaviour towards them is just. And you’re not putting down sanctions which are unjust, or in any way trying to stop that individual, or maybe society that you’re dealing with, or a group of people from progressing and making the most of their lives. So, there’s so many different levels. And ultimately, what I’m trying to explain is that all of those things ultimately will always come from that initial effort to develop justice within the individual.
If the individual understands the responsibility and the importance of justice and fair dealing and in decision making, and in developing that moral framework and you actively try to research and develop that overtime, then of course, when it comes to society and dealing with others and making the best decision for yourself, you’ll naturally be able to do so because it’s not something that you’ve not attended to. You’ve carefully curated that behaviour within you which then enables you to take the correct decisions at the correct time. You know, when you need to stand up and when you do not need to stand up, when it’s appropriate to speak out, when it’s not appropriate to speak out etcetera, but all of that again, it all comes down to the individual out of it.
Bushra: I think you’ve summed up the topic of our episode and this conversation here today very nicely and also very comprehensively giving us all very practical action items. Things that we can all enable within our lives, and take responsibility and positive action to enable social justice within our homes and societies. So, thank you so much for being a part of our episode today and sharing this insight with us.
Imam Hadi: No worries, it was a pleasure talking to you.