The Pharaoh of Egypt was known to be one of the worst of humankind- enslaving people, commanding genocide and pillaging people’s homes. He led the epitome of an oppressive regime. Yet when God commanded Moses and Aaron to go advise the Pharaoh against his wrongdoings He told them to speak to him with gentle speech [Qur’an 20:44-45]. While injustice should anger us, I am learning that the most effective way to make change is to express problems and solutions with grace, in a way that will compel people to change, rather than just condemn them or their actions. However, I realize that gentle speech was not the end of dealing with Pharaoh. Moses’ people took action afterwards since the Pharaoh did not heed his warnings. The point I intend to draw out here was his grace in speech and the willingness to give chances regardless of what the Pharaoh did at first.
What disturbs me about our justice system is that it’s about winners and losers, punishment and reward, instead of actual solutions to the root of problems that plague our communities. The aim of a leader in society should be to transform people, see their redemptive qualities, their potential for greatness and bring it out rather than criminalize people. I’ve thought about this even in terms of “abusers” in cases of domestic violence. Nobody wants to be criminalized and thought of as evil. We are more dynamic than that. This does not justify wrong behavior but perhaps we should shift our focus on the good that person has to offer instead of making their wrong behavior define them.
In an event on Maya Schenwar’s reading of her book Locked Up, Locked Down, I learned about restorative justice, an alternative to imprisoning people that focuses on creating harmony in societies when a problem arises instead of just removing the person who committed the crime and labeling him or her as a criminal. An example of what restorative justice would look like is: if violence were to break out in a community, instead of calling the police who may escalate violence and arrest a party involved, a group of people dedicated to providing a safe space for the victim, de-escalating the situation, and solving the problem at the root of the violent act, would be called. The aim here would be abolishing the cycle of incarcerating people and giving perpetrators an opportunity to understand the effect of their action and work towards solving it. This approach emphasizes the importance of safety and healing for the victim and the responsibility of the community for maintaining peace. I push you all to think the same way Schenwar and an amazing professor of mine, Dr. Floyd Hayes, pushed me to think of what will really become of our society when we lock away people that are “problems.” What are they on reserve for?
I began with explaining how I look up to Prophets who were known to be transformers of people and of society through the most just means. Time and time again Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) inspired people to turn around their lives by treating them like gems. He taught us, “People are metals like gold and silver. The best of them at the time of Jahiliyyah [the time of ignorance] will be the best of them in Islam, if they truly understand…” (Muslim). He emphasized the message that strong qualities in people that can be used for bad can be turned around and used for good causes. While we do not draw pictures of our Prophets, Arabs were people of deep and precise language so it was common for people to express their love for Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) through poetry. Since he has inspired me so much through the beauty of his words and characters, I thought I would share a poem that attempts to, but could not even do justice for such a beautiful person.