Islam’s greatest contribution to social justice was the example it set in according to honor and respect to all people — weak or strong, kings or commoners – whether in family circles, social life, positions of power, or in government. By the same token, no one is above the law.

Here are only a few examples of incidents illustrating justice in the history of Islam:

1. Ali ibn abi Talib, the fourth Caliph, lost his coat of armor. One day, he saw a Christian of Kufa selling the same coat of armor. This case was brought to the Qadi (judge) Shurayh bin al Alharith. Ali went to his court as if he were a commoner. Since he was asked by the judge to produce two witnesses, Ali brought forward his son Hasan and his servant Qambar. The Qadi rejected the evidence of Hasan on the grounds that it is not appropriate for a son to testify in support of his father. Thus Ali, the reigning Caliph, lost his case. However, the Christian of Kufa was so impressed at the Muslim judge’s display of such equality, that he himself admitted Ali was the rightful owner of the armor. (Azmath-e-Sahaba, pp. 32-33).

2. Once during the reign of ‘Umar Faruq, the second Caliph, Amr ibn al-Aas, who was then governor of Egypt, arranged a horse race in which his own son, Muhammed ibn Amr, was to participate. But when his son’s horse lost to a young native Copt, the enraged son lashed the Copt boy with a whip, saying, “Take that! That will teach you to beat the son of a nobleman!” The Copt youth complained to the Caliph in Medina, who called an inquiry. When it was found that the beating was unjust, he immediately sent an emissary to summon the governor and his son immediately from Egypt. When they arrived, Caliph Umar Faruq handed the Copt boy a whip to flog the guilty party, just as he himself had been flogged.

Thus in the presence of governor Amr ibn al-Aas, the Copt boy whipped his son, stopping only when he was satisfied that the punishment was sufficient. Then the Caliph himself addressed the governor, saying: “O Amr, since when have you enslaved people who were born free? (Azmat-e-Sahaba, pp. 40-41)

3. During the Caliphate of the same ‘Umar Faruq, Palestine was conquered and the Caliph thus had to travel there to sign certain agreements with the conquered nation. When he left Medina, he was wearing rough clothes and had only one servant and one camel. He said to his servant, “If I mount the camel and you go on foot, it will not be fair to you. And if you mount the camel while I go on foot that will not be fair to me. And if we both sit on the camel’s back, that will be an injustice to the camel. So, it would be better if all three of us took turns.”

So, taking it by turns, ‘Umar Faruq would ride and the servant would walk, and vice versa, and then both would take a turn of walking so that the camel should be spared. Traveling in this manner, they reached the gates of Palestine, where the inhabitants gaped at the sight of the Caliph going on foot while his servant rode the camel, for it was the latter’s turn to ride as they approached their destination. In fact, many Palestinians failed to make out who was the Caliph and who was the servant. (Taamir ki Taraf, pp. 56-57).

In effect, Islam generated an intellectual and moral revolution based on its radical renewal of justice-based principles and their practical applications to daily life throughout virtually the entire known world of that time. This revolution was so powerful that its effects were still being felt a millennium later.

After the earthly passing of the Prophet, came Sahaba (or era of the Prophet’s Companions), followed by Tabi’in (era of the Companions of the Prophet’s Companions); together these periods are known as the Golden Age of Islam. But the effects of the Islamic ethical revolution lasted far beyond this time, continuing to leave their imprint on human society through succeeding centuries.

It is unfortunate that today’s leadership in Muslim majority countries do not consider these noble examples and too often act contrary to these examples.