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FAITH AND RESTORATIVE JUSTICE -- A MUSLIM PERSPECTIVE

[By Imam Dr. Zijad Delic - Special to the Canadian Islamic Congress Friday
Magazine]


March 7, 2008

- Introduction: Faith

Faith is all about hope, not fear; about help, not burdens; about healing, not punishment; about comfort, not trouble... Faith is about guiding individuals to pathways of self-improvement and self-awareness, from which a sense of social responsibility can grow.

More than ever before in history, we are critically in need of a great renewal in faith, for with all our differences today, we live in a global village where interactions are regular and where relations could sour even further if we do not learn better how to interact. Faith is also a support for ethics; and we will not survive the 21st century with the ethics of the 20th.

- Restorative Justice: What does it mean to Muslims?

It is about sending a clear message to the community that certain
behaviors, attitudes and manners are unacceptable and unwelcome. For
Muslims, our religious texts teach us not to exclude, marginalize, or
ostracize others but to work towards justice with dignity for all --
victims, offenders and the community.

Restorative Justice in fact begins with oneself. If I, as an individual,
cannot comprehend and reconcile with the principles of accountability,
justice, honesty, forgiveness and repentance, I cannot successfully
participate in Restorative Justice, for I cannot give away what I do not
have.

In the context of Islam (as well as in other major faiths), the ultimate
goal of Restorative Justice is the prevention of crime, whether in our
families, neighborhoods, educational institutions, communities, or society
at large. We are all part of the global village; thus the global village
benefits when both individuals and communities live their faith through
commitment and action.

This notion springs from the Islamic formative principles namely the
Qur'an and the Sunnah. I am personally inspired by several verses from the
Qur'an and from the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad (Sunnah).

As one example among many I could cite in the Qur'an, God Almighty has
given us a model verse for human relations: "Forgiveness and
reconciliation supersedes injury for injury." (42:40)

The base of restorative Justice is in peace -- peace with God, within
oneself, with others and with the environment. There is no peace without
Justice, and no Justice without forgiveness. Where Justice is not firmly
established, the blessings of God's peace cannot happen.

- Restorative Justice: Where and How?

We should never forget about the importance of faith when everything in
our lives is going well, but we need faith even more when things are not
well.

1. Family: an institution built on understanding, support, kindness,
trust, honesty, respect, fairness.

Wives and Husbands: If a disagreement occurs often, we need an awareness
of God - that is, faith. We need a moral compass; we need discussion,
talk, arbitration, a cooling period, and more hope. But where hope
becomes exhausted, divorce is allowed. Yet even though considered lawful,
divorce is hateful in the eyes of God. And if divorce happens, it should
be in an honorable manner, not as we see it today - through courts in an
unethical fashion.

Children: The degree of love expressed within a family, and the
cooperation among parents, reflects on children. We cannot blame the
children for our mistakes, for the first school they attend is the one in
our homes. Today, no one wants to fulfill this vital responsibility:
parents, school, community, society... seems too much.

A badu (desert person) came to the Prophet Muhammad one day, as he was
playing with his grandchildren. The badu was shocked. "You play with
them? We do not do that!" he exclaimed. But Muhammad said: What can I do
for you, when there is no place for mercy in your heart?" An amazing
revelation! What good is a heart is without mercy in it?

Parents: God directs that you worship Him and be kind and obedient to
your parents; after being thankful to God, we are to be thankful next to
our parents. The Hadith says the path to Paradise is under our parents'
feet, particularly the feet of our mothers.

Sisters: Our inward maturity of faith is reflected in how we treat the
women of our families and communities. In marriage, our faith-in-action
is demonstrated by how respectfully we treat our spouses, who are our
life partners and equal in the sight of God.

Elders: The Hadith tells us that those who do not know, or willfully
ignore, the rights of the elderly (or senior citizens) among us do not
belong to the fold of Islam. Need any more be said to inform us about
where we stand today?

2. Neighborhood: One whose neighbors cannot feel safe from mischief is not
a good believer ... and will not enter Paradise, says the Hadith.
Additionally, we learn from the Hadith; even when you cook soup, add
more water, remembering your neighbor who might come to you in need.

Gabriel informed the Prophet so often about the important of one's
neighbors and their welfare that he thought neighbors might well inherit
one another. Good neighbors make for a good community, so we should
always be mindful of who our neighbors are. Who is around us? The answer
is: Our brothers and sisters.

3. School: Today, our children are given very sophisticated instruction
and they absorb a great deal of information and data. But - are they
truly well-educated? Will they become wise mature adults, or simply
information- saturated brings? Ethics and spirituality matter in Islam.
Do they matter to Muslims? Do they matter in our children's schooling?

4. Community and Global Village: It's a simple but true equation: Better
individuals make a better community. The Hadith records the Prophet and
Messenger Muhammad as saying: "By the One [God] in whose hands is my
soul! A servant does not believe until he/she loves for others what
he/she loves for himself/herself." This is not rocket-science, but
another eloquent expression of the Golden Rule, which all major faiths
have taken to the heart of their belief systems.

- Conclusion

In Islam, the wrong that we do toward God is wholly between us and God.
But the wrong that we do towards other people is two-dimensional: it
comprises wrong-doing toward the commands of God, as well as wrong-doing
toward our fellow human beings. Thus, when we repent of the second type of
wrong-doing, we ask forgiveness from both God and humanity. In the first
case, it is only God that we need to ask for forgiveness.

(Imam Dr. Zijad Delic is CIC's National Executive Director in Ottawa. This
article was edited for the Canadian Islamic Congress Friday Magazine.)

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