Equality is a crucial component of Islamic ethics. But not all notions of “equality” are the same. The modern liberal notion of equality, for example, significantly diverges from the notion of equality propounded by classical liberal thinkers. For example, according to America’s founding fathers, barring women and blacks from voting or owning property was perfectly consistent with their understanding of equality.
Be that as it may, one very explicit expression of equality as it relates to justice from the sayings of the Prophet ﷺ is found in Sahih Bukhari as follows:
Usama approached the Prophet ﷺ on behalf of a woman (who had committed theft). The Prophet ﷺ said, “The people before you were destroyed because they used to inflict the legal punishments on the poor and forgive the rich. By Him in Whose Hand my soul is! If Fatima (the daughter of the Prophet ﷺ) did that (i.e. stole), I would cut off her hand.”
Another narration on the matter that provides further details is as follows:
“The Quraish became very worried about the Makhzumiya lady who had committed theft. They said, “Nobody can speak (in favor of the lady) to Allah’s Messenger ﷺ and nobody dares do that except Usama who is the favorite of Allah’s Messenger ﷺ.” When Usama spoke to Allah’s Messenger ﷺ about that matter, Allah’s Messenger ﷺ said, “Do you intercede (with me) to violate one of the legal punishments of Allah?” Then he got up and addressed the people, saying, “O people! The nations before you went astray because if a noble person committed theft, they used to leave him, but if a weak person among them committed theft, they used to inflict the legal punishment on him. By Allah, if Fatima, the daughter of Muhammad committed theft, Muhammad would cut off her hand!”
Yeah, some people may bristle at the idea of corporal punishment, but I certainly don’t see why reasonable people should automatically disqualify the possibility of such punishment as a deterrent for egregious theft. Look at today’s world, where investment banks and major corporations have no qualms committing fraud on a global scale, literally stealing billions of dollars from the public and causing all manner of financial crises that have rocked the world over the past 8 years. Even when some of these bankers were convicted of committing these crimes, did they serve a day in jail? Absolutely not! At most they were fined. Imagine that: you steal a billion dollars and only have to pay a fine of a few million dollars. Sounds like a great profit margin to me. But look at how harshly the justice system treats petty crime by the poor and by minorities. Steal a TV and you could face years in prison. How is that proportional? Where is the equality there? Corporate malfeasance and illegality on the part of investment banks have resulted in immeasurable suffering the world over as millions of people lost their jobs, lost their homes, lost their lives. If you ask me, these are crimes that truly deserve hand-cutting.
In any case, the Prophet ﷺ forewarned the results of such injustice and as citizens and residents of these nations, that is bad news for all of us.