Justice in our dealings with others

I’ve mentioned on this blog before that my family owns a business and in business one learns many life lessons. I’ve been meaning to write more in depth about those important lessons, but that would have to wait for another day as I am short on time these days to bring all those concepts together. I will say though, that one of the benefits of being in business is you get to meet a lot of people and hear various perspectives, which I enjoy very much.

In the area we have our business, there are predominantly Hispanic businesses and there are some restaurants/grocery stores owned by Muslims. Yesterday, I was at the business for a few hours to help out, which I haven’t been doing lately due to my exams.

I had a conversation with a Hispanic man, whose services many restaurants and grocery stores in the area utilize. Our family has known him for years and he has built cabinets here and there, sections of the store, in short many things for the business. In this process we have become good friends, who talk about many things.

 Business, which involves money and therefore involves ethics, teaches you a lot of about a person’s character and their sense of justice. There is a famous saying from Omar ibn Khattab RA, the third Caliph of the Muslim Empire, which I implement in my own life, and this saying states you know a person’s character in three occasions. One if you traveled with that person as travel reveals many aspects to someone. Two, how a person behaves behind your back is also very telling. And third, which is relevant to this discussion, business or money exchange reveals a lot about a person’s morals.   

Going back to my friend, he has worked with several Muslim business owners and what is the conclusion he has reached about them? Let’s just say he had very negative things to tell me. I won’t go into the specifics to what he said, because I don’t want to point fingers or make it personal. In short what he observed was that there was a great lack of justice. I didn’t see his views as an attack on Muslims. I believe he is a good man and a sincere human being, who only communicated his experience and he understands he can’t pass judgment on millions of people from every culture of humanity based on personal experience.

However with that said, I do believe his experience with Muslims is not isolated. Of course there is no doubt corruption and injustice exists in all cultures and societies and that one will find Muslims to be amongst the most ethical people in business. All I am saying is that Muslims have to do better. People notice what we say about Islam being just and what we do in practice is different. As saying the goes, actions speak louder than words. How many times have we heard the abuse of maids in certain Muslim cultures? The stories I have read on the news and heard about boil my blood. I won’t go into it. It’s tragic and very well documented. Just google it.

Though this is not as severe as the physical torture that some workers have encountered, it is still amounts to abuse.  One of my friends, who went back to her ancestral land, told me about a fight she had with her family, who ate at the dinner table while the maid ate on the floor, alone in a corner. Some people may feel that it’s important for employer and employee relationships to be separated, but in my opinion I say that is nonsense. It’s smart of course in keeping a professional relationship. I am not against that. However the most important relationship in our interactions whether professional or personal is the human relationship and if you are eating to your fill on a high chair and conversing with your family, while another human being is only a few feet away on the floor and all alone, you heart is sick. Yes I am judging you. I find it to be a great injustice and I get very emotional on these things so I’ll stop myself. I was ecstatic to learn that my friend stood up against her family and reminded them about the teachings of Islam. Sometimes we feel like we have to make great strides to make an impact for the good of humanity, when we can make the world a better place every day in very small ways.

What my friend did may or may not have changed her family’s long held traditions, but because she spoke up she delivered a blow to their injustice. Next time when someone else comes along and they deliver another blow against the tradition then the foundation gets weaker and so on. But to not say anything at all then no change comes. What’s strange is that her family accused her of being too “American”  for denouncing their practice.  She is not alone to be charged of being too “American”, when exercising equality. Many of us have experienced this.

 I was once at a grocery store in a predominantly Muslim country, which I shall not name. When I got everything that I needed in the cart, I headed to the line. I only had a few items and my cousins, who are practically born in that country, grabbed my hand to take me to the front of the line. I refused. I wasn’t going to cut people in front of me just because they knew the store owner. It was unfair and I wasn’t going to do it. They laughed and accused me of being too “American.” They also informed me I was going to be in line for a long time if I waited my turn. I didn’t budge and decided to stay in line. It turned out that my cousins were right. People came in and cut the line like the rest of us were not there standing in line. If you are used to everyone waiting their turn then to stand in line for several minutes only to have someone cut you as they please, then you can imagine the frustration. There were many similar incidents of corruption that I experienced and it becomes almost impossible to be in a society like that and still remain a fair person. It’s as if to exercise fairness would mean to put yourself at a disadvantage. In fact that is exactly what happens so people become corrupt to survive.

I find it a very sad reality that in some Muslim societies people equate fairness and justice to Western Ideology, when those very principles are commanded in the Quran and embodied in tradition of the prophet Muhammed scw. What they have come to see as “foreign” is their own legacy.

 Sensitivity to justice and protecting the rights of others, especially the vulnerable and poor is a heavy, very heavy matter. I am not trying to preach or anything, but we all are aware of the importance of justice. And by we, I mean everyone regardless of our religious traditions. We are a human family. Then why is it so hard to practice justice for some? Even animals practice justice. Is not the employee one is paying low pages or working like a dog just like you? Is this person not a father or a mother working hard for their family? A minimum wage law may exist or a person may have an “alien” status, or because of poverty a person will work for anything you give them, but that in no way cancels the rights they have over you. Making profit should never override justice.

Justice is the basis of all things that are good. Religion without justice is corrupt. A society without justice is corrupt.  May God make us people that are conscious of the rights of others and who spread justice upon the earth. I can only first and foremost check and start with myself.