Justice, particular, Divine justice is an important topic in theological discussions in mostly all religions and justice is also an important topic in the social sciences and ethics. Justice in the Quran discusses some of the verses regarding Divine justice and also justice in the social sphere and as a virtue.
The topics discussed in this article are as follows:
Justice in the Quran: Divine Justice
شَهِدَ اللَّـهُ أَنَّهُ لَا إِلَـٰهَ إِلَّا هُوَ وَالْمَلَائِكَةُ وَأُولُو الْعِلْمِ قَائِمًا بِالْقِسْطِ ۚ لَا إِلَـٰهَ إِلَّا هُوَ الْعَزِيزُ الْحَكِيمُ ﴿18﴾
Allah, maintainer of justice, the Almighty and the All-wise, besides whom there is no god, bears witness that there is no god except Him, and [so do] the angels and those who possess knowledge. 1
The verse explains that Allah bears witness that there is no deity or god besides Him and He gives this witness while He is just in His actions and governance of people.
God is a just witness and gives witness that there is no God but Him. This witness is given by Him through the system and world of creation which itself is based on justice and is justice itself (and shows the justice of its agent and creator). Apart from this, the apparent words of the verse explain that God gives this witness verbally as well. 2
God is Not Oppressive Even to the Smallest Degree
Another verse which also explains God’s justice is the following:
إِنَّ اللَّـهَ لَا يَظْلِمُ مِثْقَالَ ذَرَّةٍ ۖ وَإِن تَكُ حَسَنَةً يُضَاعِفْهَا وَيُؤْتِ مِن لَّدُنْهُ أَجْرًا عَظِيمًا ﴿40﴾
Indeed Allah does not wrong [anyone] [even to the extent of] an atom’s weight, and if it be a good deed He doubles it[s reward], and gives from Himself a great reward. 3
Dharrah (ذرّه) refers either to small red ants which are seen with difficulty or refers to a particle of dust which becomes visible when light falls upon it. The reason why God does not oppress anyone is because He is aware of its foulness and is needless of it and is also aware of His needlessness. A foul act is committed by an ignorant or needy person, or one who thinks he needs it while he actually does not. God, however, is above and pure of such deficiencies or weaknesses.
The verse does not seek to explain that God’s not being oppressive applies on to that small particle; rather, it explains that God does not commit any type of oppression. 4
Justice in the Quran: Social Justice
An important topic in the discussion of justice is social justice and numerous verses of the Quran speak of this issue. Some of these will be discussed below.
Justice and Favor
إِنَّ اللَّـهَ يَأْمُرُ بِالْعَدْلِ وَالْإِحْسَانِ وَإِيتَاءِ ذِي الْقُرْبَىٰ وَيَنْهَىٰ عَنِ الْفَحْشَاءِ وَالْمُنكَرِ وَالْبَغْيِ ۚ يَعِظُكُمْ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَذَكَّرُونَ ﴿90﴾
Indeed Allah enjoins justice and kindness, and generosity towards relatives, and He forbids indecency, wrongdoing, and aggression. He advises you, so that you may take admonition. 5
In this verse God has mentioned three important laws which are the foundations of societies because according to Islam, the most important goal of its teachings is to reform society and the public sphere. Even though society is formed of individuals and each person has their own personality and their good and bad characteristics, due to their nature of civilization, the happiness and prosperity of each person depends on the goodness and the reform of society. Therefore, an entirely corrupt society would make the reform and salvation of an individual very difficult.
Justice: The Opposite of Oppression
Justice or ʿadl (عدل) is the opposite of oppression or ẓulm (ظلم). Justice can be divided into individual and social justice and each of these can also be divided into the following:
- Absolute justice that the intellect judges to be good and is not abrogated in any time or age.
- Justice that the intellect cannot determine; rather, it is recognized through religion, for example, blood money for a crime and so forth.
Justice means to establish equality between two things but not through giving both sides the same thing; rather, it is through giving each what it is worthy of and so that each is in its true and deserving place. 6
Justice in the Different Spheres
Justice in the different spheres is as follows:
- In beliefs, it is to believe in that which is right.
- In the individual sphere, it is to do that which entails our happiness and prosperity and to abstain from doing something that would be unfortunate to us by following our base desires and ego.
- Among and between people, justice is to give each person the place they deserve based on the ruling of the intellect, religion or social convention. For example, bestowing favor on the one who is benevolent, taking back the rights of the oppressed, not discriminating in executing the law, and so forth.
Based on the context of the verse, the justice being spoken of here is social justice, that is, to behave with each person in society as they deserve and give them a place they are worthy of. 7
Justice in the Quran: Economic Justice
وَيْلٌ لِّلْمُطَفِّفِينَ ﴿1﴾
الَّذِينَ إِذَا اكْتَالُوا عَلَى النَّاسِ يَسْتَوْفُونَ ﴿2﴾
وَإِذَا كَالُوهُمْ أَو وَّزَنُوهُمْ يُخْسِرُونَ ﴿3﴾
Woe to the defrauders, who use short measures, who, when they measure [a commodity bought] from the people, take the full measure, but diminish when they measure or weigh for them. 8
Economic discipline and attention is at the top of the prophets’ reform plans. In another verse, Prophet Shuʿayb(شعیب) says to his people: Observe the full measure, and do not be of those who give short measure. Weigh with an even balance, and do not cheat the people of their goods. Do not act wickedly on the earth, causing corruption. 9
Short-changing applies to all vocations and professions and is in accordance with each. Whether a person is a teacher, laborer, seller, doctor, writer, engineer, and so forth; if they neglect their responsibilities they have short-changed the other party.
In the verses of surah Mutaffifin, the word taṭfīf (تطفیف) means to reduce and give less of something than one should. The root of this word refers to the margins or sides of something and therefore, a seller who cuts back from the goods is known as muṭaffif (مطفّف). 10
Justice in the Quran: Judging With Justice
إِنَّ اللَّـهَ يَأْمُرُكُمْ أَن تُؤَدُّوا الْأَمَانَاتِ إِلَىٰ أَهْلِهَا وَإِذَا حَكَمْتُم بَيْنَ النَّاسِ أَن تَحْكُمُوا بِالْعَدْلِ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّـهَ نِعِمَّا يَعِظُكُم بِهِ ۗ إِنَّ اللَّـهَ كَانَ سَمِيعًا بَصِيرًا ﴿58﴾
Indeed Allah commands you to deliver the trusts to their [rightful] owners, and to judge with fairness when you judge between people. Excellent indeed is what Allah advises you. Indeed Allah is all-hearing, all-seeing. 11
It is only when governance and judgment is based on justice that social justice can be established and each person would receive their rights. The importance of this is something that no one can deny. 12 The Quran gives this important command to the Muslims so that no one is judged unfairly
The Quran also asks the Prophet to judge between non-Muslim with justice in the following verses:
O Apostle! Do not grieve for those who are active in [promoting] unfaith, such as those who say, ‘We believe’ with their mouths, but whose hearts have no faith, and the Jews who eavesdrop with the aim of [telling] lies [against you] and eavesdrop for other people who do not come to you… Eavesdroppers with the aim of [telling] lies, eaters of the unlawful—if they come to you, judge between them, or disregard them. If you disregard them, they will not harm you in any way. But if you judge, judge between them with justice. Indeed Allah loves the just. 13
Justice in the Quran: Not Allowing Personal Feelings to Interfere
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا كُونُوا قَوَّامِينَ لِلَّـهِ شُهَدَاءَ بِالْقِسْطِ ۖ وَلَا يَجْرِمَنَّكُمْ شَنَآنُ قَوْمٍ عَلَىٰ أَلَّا تَعْدِلُوا ۚ اعْدِلُوا هُوَ أَقْرَبُ لِلتَّقْوَىٰ ۖ وَاتَّقُوا اللَّـهَ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّـهَ خَبِيرٌ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ ﴿8﴾
O you who have faith! Be maintainers, as witnesses for the sake of Allah, of justice, and ill feeling for a people should never lead you to be unfair. Be fair; that is nearer to Godwariness, and be wary of Allah. Allah is indeed well aware of what you do. 14
This verse is similar to the verse of surah Nisa which states:
O you who have faith! Be maintainers of justice and witnesses for the sake of Allah, even if it should be against yourselves or [your] parents and near relatives, and whether it be [someone] rich or poor, for Allah has a greater right over them. So do not follow [your] desires, lest you should be unfair, and if you distort [the testimony] or disregard [it], Allah is indeed well aware of what you do. 15
The difference is that in the verse of surah Nisa the believers have been prohibited from deviating from the path of justice and truth regarding giving witness for someone, that is, one’s own desire should not lead him/her to give a false witness for someone because they are related. However, the verse of surah Maʾidah is about giving false witness against someone because of the enmity one has against them. 16
Summary of Justice in the Quran
Justice is an important part of Islam; both in theology and ethics. Divine Justice is one of the pillars of faith and is a belief that God would never do an injustice to anyone and nor anything that goes against the intellect and rationality. This has been explained in multiple verses of the Quran.
Another important aspect of justice is in ethics and the social sciences. A healthy society must be one that is governed by justice and in which the individuals possess the virtue of justice so that no one is oppressed and the rights of everyone are given and received. This aspect has also been explained in many verses.
- [3: 18].qarai translation
- Tafsīr al-Mīzān. Vol. 3, pp. 177-178.
- [4: 40]. Qarai translation
- Tabarsi, F. Tafsir Majmaʿ al-Bayān fī Tafsīr al-Quran, 1st ed. translated by a group of translators. Vol. 5, p. 151
- [16: 90]. Qarai translation
- Tafsīr al-Mīzān. Vol. 12, pp. 476, 477-478
- Ibid. p. 478
- [83: 1-3]. Qarai translation
- [26: 181-183]. Qarai translation
- Tafsīr Nūr. Surah Mutaffifin, commentary of verses 1-6
- [4: 58]. Qarai translation
- Qarashi, A. A. Tafsīr Aḥsan al-Ḥadīth, 3rd ed. Bethat Publications. Vol. 2, p. 389
- [5: 41-41]. Qarai translation
- [5: 8]. Qarai translation
- [4: 135]. Qarai translation
- Tafsīr al-Mīzān. Vol. 5, p. 385.