Social Justice

What is Social Justice

The distribution of the benefits and the hardships in society, together with the way they are allocated. Geographers are particularly concerned with the spatial expression of social justice; where do the advantaged and disadvantaged groups live, why do they live there, and what is the connection between their place of residence and their future advantage or disadvantage (D. Harvey 1996; D. M. Smith 1994, 2000). Such questions can be asked on global, national, regional, and local scales.

Social Injustice’ is a concept relating to the perceived unfairness or injustice of a society in its divisions of rewards and burdens. The concept is distinct from those of justice in law, which may or may not be considered moral in practice. Social Injustice arises when equals are treated unequally and unequal are treated equally.

Social justice, sometimes called “Civil Justice”, refers to the concept of a society in which "justice" is achieved in every aspect of society, rather than merely the administration of law. It is generally thought of as a world which affords individuals and groups fair treatment and an impartial share of the benefits of society. Different proponents of social justice have developed different interpretations of what constitutes fair treatment and an impartial share. It can also refer to the distribution of advantages and disadvantages within a society.

Social justice is both a philosophical debate and an important issue in politics, religion and civil society. Most individuals wish to live in a just society, but different political ideologies have different conceptions of what a 'just society' actually is. The term "Social Justice" is often employed by the political left to describe a society with a greater degree of economic egalitarianism, which may be achieved through progressive taxation, income redistribution, or even property redistribution, policies aimed toward achieving that which developmental economists refer to as equality of opportunity and equality of outcome.

The requirements of justice applied to the framework of social existence. The term has been attacked as involving redundancy, since justice is necessarily a social or interpersonal concern. Indeed, John Rawls's magnum opus is entitled A Theory of Justice. What is usually intended by the term is a consideration of the requirements of justice applied to the benefits and burdens of a common existence and in this sense social justice is necessarily a matter of distribution. But the particular emphasis in ‘social justice’ is on the foundational character of justice in social life: we are invited to move from a conception of justice to the design of constitutions, to critical perspectives on economic organization, to theories of civil disobedience. In this way, social justice defines the framework within which particular applications of distributive justice arise. A concern with justification, with the appeal to just conditions of social co-operation, has been a marked feature of contemporary liberalism.

United Nations declaration on human rights

Every man is a joint inheritor of all the natural resources and of the powers, inventions and possibilities accumulated by our forerunners. He is entitled, within the measure of these resources and without distinction of race, colour or professed beliefs or opinions, to the nourishment, covering and medical care needed to realise his full possibilities of physical and mental development from birth to death. Notwithstanding the various and unequal qualities of individuals, all men shall be deemed absolutely equal in the eyes of the law, equally important in social life and equally entitled to the respect of their fellow-men.”

The Concept of Equal Justice

In ancient times the concept of human inequality, which was prevalent everywhere, gave rise to social injustice in every society.

For example, the Greek philosopher, Aristotle, regarded certain classes of individuals as natural slaves. Although there were other thinkers who did not subscribe to this view, slavery continued to be widespread in Rome and Greece, and indeed, throughout the entire world of antiquity.

In modern times, this concept has been further strengthened by Darwin's theory of evolution, according to which mankind was regarded as having achieved differing levels of development, the apex being white European civilization.

The superstitious concept of racial differences, handed down to us from ancient times, paved the way for social discrimination. And such discrimination found an academic basis in modern times in Darwin's theory of evolution, which purported to show that in the evolutionary process, some groups had made distinctive progress while many other groups had been left far behind. That is to say that certain groups attained a superior level, while others remained in a primitive condition.

Thanks to this theory of evolution, the European nations came to regard other nations as being inferior to them--hence the concept of 'the white man's burden' according to which the white races considered themselves invested with the natural right to subjugate the rest of the world in order to civilize it. This was the logic behind the colonialism of modem times. These concepts, in some measure, are still extant.
The world of today can be broadly divided into two parts--the traditional and the scientific. The former appears undeveloped and the latter developed. But from the standpoint of social justice, there is no difference, because in both, beliefs which form a permanent obstacle to social justice still persist.
The traditional world is influenced to a large extent by believers in Karma, the theory that anyone born today necessarily shoulders the burden of his past deeds. As they see it, that is a law of nature, as such, has to be submitted to unquestioningly. A belief of this nature obviously stifles any possible incentive for social justice. In the light of such a belief 'injustice' simply becomes 'nature's verdict.' The human being has to suffer in this world for his misdeeds in his previous life cycle. Given this state of affairs, it is just not possible for anyone to alleviate human suffering. That being so, how can there be any motivation to act out of a sense of justice?

The scientific world is likewise under the influence of this concept of human inequality, but for another reason--the general acceptance gained by the theory of evolution. The concept of the biological evolution of life seeks to explain the differences in the existing species, advancing the theory that in the process of evolution some have gone forward while others have been left behind. For instance, Darwin claims that the female of the human species remained at a primitive stage in the evolutionary process while 'man has ultimately become superior to woman'. By the same token, the blacks of Africa, the pygmies and other dwarfish races have been 'left behind.' Because of this theory, the scientific world cannot be sympathetic to the supposedly backward, or under evolved races.

The theory has been advanced that if people suffer a variety of afflictions, it is 'their own fault.' That is to say that those who are made to feel inferior in the treatment they receive from others are, in fact, suffering the consequences of their own shortcomings. It is as if they were fated to be the victims of injustice; the perpetrators are not, therefore, to be blamed.

With the advent of Islam, all such ideas based on an inherent inequality lost ground. In different ways, and with great persistence Islam presented to the world the concept that, in spite of outward differences, all human beings are equal. All are entitled to equal social status and equal rights. No one is inferior or superior. Here are two references from the Qur'an and Hadith respectively.

Men, we have created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes that you might get to know one another. The noblest of you in Allah's sight is the most righteous of you. Allah is wise and all knowing (49:13).

According to this verse of the Qur'an, the difference of color and race found among human beings is for the purpose, not of discrimination, but of identification. Men in essence are equal. What really distinguishes one man from another is character. His superiority can therefore bespeak of only in terms of the degree to which a man is honorable. The truly honorable man is one who is God--fearing and who recognizes and fulfils the rights of God and his fellow men.

On the occasion of the final pilgrimage, the Prophet delivered his last sermon while sitting oh his camel. One of the things he said is recorded in these words:

'O people listen carefully, your Lord is one Lord, and there is no doubt about it. Your ancestor, is one ancestor, there is no doubt about it. Listen well to my words: no Arab has any superiority over a non--Arab, and no none—Arab is superior to an Arab. No black is superior to a brown or red, and no red superior to any black. If there is any superiority in anyone it is due to his God--fearing qualities. Have I conveyed the message?' the Prophet asked the people. The people answered from all corners, 'Indeed so! God be witness.' Then the Prophet said: 'Let him that is present tell it unto him that is absent.'(Al-Jamili Ahkam al-Qur'an, 16:342)

This declaration was made by the Prophet in the final year of his life at a time when the whole of Arabia had been conquered. As such, it was not the declaration of a reformer, but of a ruler of the time. His definition of human equality was not just listened to as a theory, but was immediately put into practice--nay, enforced in society.

In his declaration, the Prophet told the person that just as there is one Creator of this world so all the human beings in this world were born of one man and woman. All human beings were thus equal, being each other's brothers and sisters. They might differ in respect of appearance, but as to honor, status and the right to legal justice, there was no difference between them.

So far as human status is concerned, Islam clearly states that if people have been placed on different rungs of the social ladder, this is not a matter of having been favored with or deprived of social distinction but of their being under divine trial. God has created man in this world in order to test him. Worldly goods and position (or the lack of them) are used by God as instruments of this test. They are like examination papers set by the Almighty.

Opulence and penury are both intended to be states in which man is tested. He should, therefore, stop suffering from inferiority or superiority complexes, and should consider instead whether he is going to pass or fail this test.

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