Reflections from Surah An-Nisa: Fairness and Social Responsibility in Islam

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As a community, we all have a responsibility to look after each other. To make sure we treat each other fairly and with kindness and respect. To help one another during times of need and ensure everyone feels heard and welcomed as a part of the community. 

Likewise, in Islam, fairness and justice are important parts of our faith. From the Quran to the Sunnah (the actions and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ), Islam emphasises to us our social responsibility – to look after the rights of our family, our community, the environment, our faith and our own wellbeing. 

In fact, the fourth chapter of the Quran, Surah An-Nisa (The Women), provides us with profound guidance and advice on how to uphold our social responsibilities. In its 176 verses, this chapter delves into various aspects of our lives, from how to resolve personal disputes to ways to build our sense of unity as a community, that advocates for a just and fair society for all of us. 

Here are some key reflections and verses that remind us of the importance of having compassion, empathy and solidarity with one another and how it continues to resonate with us in our society today. 

Fairness and Equity in Wealth and Inheritance 

“For men there is a share in what their parents and close relatives leave, and for women there is a share in what their parents and close relatives leave—whether it is little or much. ˹These are˺ obligatory shares.”

(Quran 4:7)

This verse addresses the distribution of inheritance between men and women. It emphasises that both men and women have a rightful share in the inheritance left by their parents and close relatives, regardless of whether the inheritance is large or small. These portions are also fixed and mandatory according to Islamic law, as signified by the phrase “obligatory shares”. 

In essence, this verse highlights the duty to fulfil equity of inheritance in Islam, which ensures that both male and female heirs receive their due shares from the estate of their parents and close relatives and that the financial rights of all family members are protected. It also stands as a reminder of the fair and just treatment of heirs, regardless of their gender or the size of the inheritance. 

Women’s Rights in Marriage 

“O believers! It is not permissible for you to inherit women against their will or mistreat them to make them return some of the dowry ˹as a ransom for divorce˺…”

(Quran 4:19)

This verse serves as a powerful reminder of the importance of consent, respect and fair treatment within marital relationships. The prohibition against inheriting women against their will reflects the principle of respecting a woman’s agency and autonomy. Furthermore, the verse addresses the issue of mistreating or exploiting women by using financial pressure. All women have the right to make decisions about their lives, including in their finances, marriage and divorce, without being forced or mistreated by someone else.

“If a woman fears indifference or neglect from her husband, there is no blame on either of them if they seek ˹fair˺ settlement, which is best.”

(Quran 4:128)

The verse emphasises the importance of mutual respect and healthy communication within a marriage. The act of seeking a fair settlement during times when tensions might arise, such as when a woman fears that her husband is neglecting her, means being able to openly communicate and work together to find a solution that works for both spouses and the welfare of their marriage.

As such, both of these verses highlight the importance of upholding justice, fairness and respect in marriages and the rights and autonomy women have in these relationships. 

Treat Others with Kindness and Respect  

“…And be kind to parents, relatives, orphans, the poor, near and distant neighbours, close friends, ˹needy˺ travellers, and those ˹bondspeople˺ in your possession….”

(Quran 4:36)

This verse emphasises the importance of showing kindness and compassion to all. From family members or travellers in need, young or old, rich or poor, those we work for or those who work for us, everyone has a right to be treated with respect and care and be embraced by a just and welcoming community.

“And when you are greeted, respond with a better greeting or at least similarly…”

(Quran 4:86)

This verse also teaches us the value of treating others with respect. It encourages us to respond to greetings in a kind and courteous manner, either by returning a better greeting or at least an equally kind one. 

As such, both of these verses reflect how Islam emphasises the importance of having a noble character, by being respectful and kind to one another and staying connected with community. 

Give Each Person Their Due 

“O believers! Do not devour one another’s wealth illegally, but rather trade by mutual consent…”

(Quran 4:29)

This verse discourages us from using unlawful or unjust practices to attain the property of others. Rather, we should make fair trades and transactions, practising honesty and respecting the rights of others in financial matters.

“Indeed, Allah commands you to return trusts to their rightful owners; and when you judge between people, judge with fairness.”

(Quran 4:58)

This verse has two main points. Firstly, it reminds us that, if someone entrusts us with something, it is our duty to return it to them intact and not misuse it. Secondly, it encourages us, in our positions of power, to settle disputes with fairness and impartiality and ensure that everyone’s rights are respected.

As such, both of these verses highlight the importance of honesty, fairness and respect in Islam for the rights of others in various aspects of life, whether it’s in business or in matters of judgment.

Stand Up for Justice

“O believers! Stand firm for justice as witnesses for Allah even if it is against yourselves, your parents, or close relatives. Be they rich or poor, Allah is best to ensure their interests. So do not let your desires cause you to deviate ˹from justice˺. If you distort the testimony or refuse to give it, then ˹know that˺ Allah is certainly All-Aware of what you do.”

(Quran 4:135)

The verse instructs us to stand firm for justice, even if it goes against our own desires, family ties or personal interests. As His witnesses, Allah (SWT) entrusts us to be truthful and just in our testimonies and be accountable for our actions. By placing importance on truth and fairness in our lives, whether it be legal proceedings, conflict resolution and our decisions, we help build a more just and equitable society, especially for those in our community who need it most.

In conclusion, Surah An-Nisa is one of the many chapters in the Holy Quran that imparts timeless guidance on fairness and social responsibility in Islam. From the equitable distribution of wealth and rights to promoting kindness and respect, honest business practices to standing up for justice, this chapter’s teachings continue to resonate with us in today’s world, highlighting the ongoing importance of justice, equity and compassion for building a better society.

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