NO DISCRIMINATION IN DISPENSING JUSTICE
In the pre-Islamic age
of ignorance in Arabia, as in most parts of the world, those
who disposed wealth and power or were connected with those
who did, committed crimes without fear of punishment. Powerful
tribes or clans crushed the weak and defenseless who enjoyed
no legal rights or protection.
Banu Makhzum were one of the most powerful Makkan clans. Together
with the Umayyads, they lorded it over the weaker clans without
In the early days after the conquest of Makka, when the Prophet
Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, began to apply
the Islamic laws, a woman from Banu Makhzum called Fatima
committed a crime of theft. In fact, she had stolen many times
before that but had always escaped punishment every time because
she belonged to a powerful clan. On this occasion, since the
Islamic legal system was in force, she was sentenced to the
Hoping that they could secure the freedom of Fatima this time
too, the clan of Banu Mahkzum attempted to intercede for her.
They sent Usama to God's Messenger, upon him be peace and
blessings. Usama, may God be pleased with him, was the son
Zayd, the emancipated slave of the Prophet and, like Zayd,
very dear to him. Unable to resist the insistent pressure
from the Banu Makhzum, Usama pleaded with the Prophet for
Fatima to be excused.
The Prophet was, for the second time, angry with Usama. The
first was after he had learnt how Usama, in a military campaign
in which the Prophet himself did not take part, had killed
a soldier of the enemy. Usama had overcome the soldier and
was about to kill him when the latter professed belief in
Islam. However, thinking that the man had declared belief
only to avoid death, Usama had killed him. When the matter
was referred to the Prophet, he reprimanded Usama, saying
many times: 'Did you cut his heart open and look whether he
had declared belief because of fear of death?' Usama, reflecting
on the Prophet's anger with him, had remarked: 'If only I
had become Muslim after this event (i.e. not committed an
offence which made the Messenger so angry and annoyed)'!
Seeing again the anger and annoyance of the Prophet, upon
him be peace and blessings, Usama repented and asked for forgiveness,
saying: 'O Messenger of God! Since I sought to intercede with
you to excuse a woman for a crime she committed against the
weak and defenseless, I ask you for forgiveness on my own
account, and I withdraw my request.'
The Prophet ordered the punishment to be carried out according
to the law, and the woman's hand was cut off. After this,
the Messenger instructed 'A'isha: 'If that woman needs something
and cannot meet the need by herself, let her come to us and
let us provide for her.' Then, he climbed the pulpit in the
Mosque and gave the following warning:
'O people! Know of a certainty that the Almighty ruined many
of the peoples before you because they did not observe justice.
When an influential person among them who had powerful backing
committed a crime, they ignored it, but if the same crime
was committed by a weak one, they applied the necessary punishment.
I swear by God, Who keeps the soul of Muhammad in His grasp,
that if my daughter Fatima steals, I will not hesitate to
cut off her hand.'