Tafsir Zone - Surah 4: an-Nisa' (Women )

Tafsir Zone

Surah an-Nisa' 4:135
 

Overview (Verse 135)

Justice in All Situations
 
Believers! Be ever steadfast in upholding equity, bearing witness to the truth for the sake of God, even though it be against yourselves, or your parents and kin. Whether the person concerned be rich or poor, God’s claim takes precedence over [the claims of] either of them. Do not, then, follow your own desires, lest you swerve from justice. If you distort [the truth] or decline to do justice, then [know that] God is indeed aware of all that you do. (Verse 135)
 

This is an address to the believers, using their new and unique status which ensures a true rebirth of their community. Indeed, they have enjoyed a rebirth of souls, principles, concepts and goals. They have been given a new trust and assigned a new task which places them as mankind’s leaders and requires them to maintain justice among all people. Hence, addressing them by the very fact of their being believers is of special importance. It is because they are believers that they are being prepared to fulfil the duties commensurate with this greatest of trusts.
 
Here we see the wise Qur’ānic method of educating the Muslim community in full operation, preparing the addressees for their difficult duties: “Be ever steadfast in upholding equity, bearing witness to the truth for the sake of God, even though it be against yourselves, or your parents and kin. Whether the person concerned be rich or poor, God’s claim takes precedence over [the claims of] either of them.” (Verse 135) The trust they have been assigned is to maintain justice, in its absolute sense, in every situation. It is the sort of fairness which prevents aggression and oppression anywhere on earth. It guarantees justice between people, giving everyone, Muslim or non-Muslim, their rights. In their entitlement to justice, all people, believers and unbelievers, are equal in God’s sight, as we have seen in the incident involving the Jewish man in Madinah. Similarly, relative and stranger, friend and foe, poor and rich are treated with absolute equality.
 
“Be ever steadfast in upholding equity, bearing witness to the truth for the sake of God.” (Verse 135) This is something to be done, dealing directly with God and for His sake. It is not for the sake of anyone else for or against whom a testimony is given. Nor is it to serve the interests of any individual, group or community. It is not something that takes into account the circumstances of any particular case. It is a testimony given for God’s sake, free of any desire, prejudice, interest or consideration.
 
“Even though it be against yourselves, or your parents and kin.” (Verse 135) At this point, the Qur’ānic method of education tries to place a person firstly in opposition to himself and secondly against his feelings towards his parents and kin. This is a very difficult task, much more difficult than stating it verbally or understanding its significance theoretically. To put this into practice is totally different from having a mental picture of what it involves. It is only the person who tries to do it practically that can understand its difficulty. Nevertheless, the Qur’ānic method prepares the hearts of believers for this hard task, because it must be put into effect: the rule must be stated and human individuals must abide by it.
 
The Qur’ān also puts a person in opposition to his natural and social feelings. This when the person against whom one testifies is poor, claims our sympathy and help in his testimony or when his social background inherited from earlier days encourages witnesses to speak against him. The same applies in reverse. When a person involved is rich, social considerations or his own arrogance or other behaviour may encourage a testimony for or against him. All such feelings have their pull when encountered in reality. The Qur’ān wants us to face all such feelings as it prepares us to stand against ourselves or our own parents and relatives.
 
“Whether the person concerned be rich or poor, God’s claim takes precedence over [the claims of] either of them.” (Verse 135) It is a hard task, just as we have said, time and again. When Islam pushed the believers to scale those heights, it produced in reality a miraculous situation, one which can never be fulfilled except under this magnificent Divine system.
 
“Do not, then, follow your own desires, lest you swerve from justice.” (Verse 135) Desires are of different types, some of which have already been mentioned. Love of oneself, one’s immediate family and other relatives is one type of desire, as is sympathy with a poor person when giving testimony or arbitrating. Being courteous or hostile to a rich person is another type of desire. In a situation of being a witness or making judgement, taking sides with one’s clan, tribe, community, nation or motherland is one desire, as is taking sides against one’s enemies, even though they are enemies to our faith. Desires have many other forms and God prohibits that we be influenced by any one of them in such a way that we deviate from truth and justice.
 
The verse concludes with a clear warning against twisting the truth in one’s testimony: “If you distort [the truth] or decline to do justice, then [know that] God is indeed aware of all that you do.” (Verse 135) It is sufficient for a believer to remember that God sees what he does to realise the seriousness of this warning and to tremble at what it means. We must not forget that this is addressed to people who really do believe.
 
`Abdullāh ibn Rawāĥah was sent by the Prophet to Khaybar to estimate the produce of its land. The Prophet had concluded arrangements with its people by which they would continue to cultivate the land there in return for half its produce. The other half belonged to the Muslims in Madinah. The Jews in Khaybar tried to bribe Ibn Rawāĥah in order that he should give them a favourable estimate. He said to them: “I have come to you from the person whom I love most. On the other hand, I dislike you more than I dislike your equivalent number of monkeys and pigs. Yet my love of him and hatred of you will not cause me to be unfair to you.” They said: “It is on the basis of such fairness that the heavens and earth are set to prosper.”
 
He was a man who had completed his education in the Prophet’s school and under his own supervision, following that unique Divine curriculum. He was simply a human being who went through that hardest of experiences completing it successfully. He achieved, like many others, the miracle that is possible only through that sort of education.
 
Centuries then passed by after that special period in human history. Libraries are now the home of numerous books on all aspects of the law. Life is full of judicial systems, legal procedures and technicalities. Much has been said about justice, and many volumes speak about lengthy legal procedures. Theories, administrative authorities and systems of different types are available to regulate all this. But the proper experience of real justice, seeing it in practice and achieving its highest level has only been possible under the Islamic approach and practical system. It was seen first during that special period when it was at its zenith. It was then fulfilled by successive generations in the land where Islam was implemented, by hearts committed to this faith and through individuals and communities living under Islam and according to its teachings.
 
This fact must be truly appreciated by those who admire modern legal processes and procedures and sophisticated legal systems. They often think that all this is more conducive to achieving justice than under the simple system of that unique period witnessed many centuries ago. They feel that today’s procedures are tighter and better controlled than that distant simple form. But all this is a myth entertained by those who are often deceived by magnitude and form. They do not realise the truth that it was only the Divine system that achieved that highest grade of fairness, despite the simplicity of its system and procedure. It is the only system that can today achieve the same high standard, taking into consideration all that has been introduced of new systems and procedures.
 
We do not mean that we need to dismantle modern legal systems. What we should know is that it is not the system that creates justice, but the spirit behind the system, whatever form and shape it may take and regardless of the time and place where it is applied.