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Zia Haq, Hindustan Times
New Delhi, January 16, 2013
Harvard University, the esteemed Ivy League institution, has put up a verse from the Quran at the entrance of its famed law faculty, calling it one of the “irrepressible” ideas on justice, alongside the Magna Carta, sparking an online debate. Verse 135 from chapter four of the Muslim holy book, the only one devoted to women, enjoins believers to stand firmly for justice and depose as witnesses even against oneself and one’s parents, if need be, for the sake of truth.

Revealed in Medina after the Prophet’s migration from Mecca in 622 CE, the verse, according to Harvard’s citation, addresses the “importance of truthfulness in testimony”.

This move has evoked sharp responses from far-right outfits inside and outside the US. Some groups have cited Harvard’s faith-respecting facilities, such as a Shariah-complaint gym, a Muslim chaplainry and “azaan” broadcasts five times a day as the “Islamisation of the world’s greatest university”.

“Words of Justice” plastered on the walls of Milstein East Conference Room have excerpts dating back to 550 BCE. Both the faculty and students made the selections.

The first quotation is from Saint Augustine: “An unjust law is no law at all.” The verse from Quran’s “Al-Nisa” chapter is placed between Augustine’s canonical quote and the Magna Carta — the canon of modern civil liberties.

“The words on these walls affirm the power and irrepressibility of the idea of justice,” dean Martha Minow states in an introduction. A student tweeted the story, causing an online tsunami.

“Harvard Dhimmis Submit..,” mocked an online comment, “dhimmi” being a pejorative Islamic term for non-Muslims in a Muslim state.