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The message of the Quran: Justice

26Oct 2015
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The message of the Quran: Justice

Justice is often discussed as being very important in Islam. Imam Hussain’s (as) stand was ultimately for justice. Fatima Muhammad considers this important principle with reference to the Quran and its application

Every book written has a message and all divine books have the common message of worship of a divine authority. Dedicated seekers of truth need discerning minds in order to sift through these often conflicting ideologies to reach a satisfying conclusion.

Upon reading these books one must ask: Does the message reflect principles that appeal to common sense? Are they consistent with the laws of nature? Are there absurdities that do not stand the test of time? Is the Lord of that book one worthy of worship or simply an all-powerful bully? A book claiming to be the Word of the Creator would have a message that is both unique yet appeals to the entire human race.

“We sent Our Messengers with clear evidence, and sent with them the Book and the Balance so that people would maintain justice…” (Quran 57:25)

The Quran asks many things of its followers. It asks all of them to adhere to certain principles of faith called aqaaid (beliefs) and instructs the performance of certain duties called fara’idh (obligatory acts). But how do we summarise the message of the Quran? What does it boil down to? All the morality, the miracles, the parables, the requirements and the recommendations — what is the major code they are all a minor part of? What is the branch they stem from?

What is the one thing that if a person perfects could make him or her one of the Khayr ul-Bariyyah (best of people) mentioned in Surah al-Bayyinah (Quran 98:7)? The message of the Quran is the lesson that Allah (swt) has been teaching humanity since its inception. The message is that of justice.

Justice in the Quran

We can examine this message of justice by following the parables and statements Allah (swt) uses in the Quran to elaborate on His lessons. The parables go back from the beginning of the history of humanity and the statements examine the characteristics of the personalities in the stories. Combining the Quran’s tactics of relating stories in parables and expanding on principles in statements we can see how true the words of Imam Ali (as) are: “Justice is the essence of the people’s welfare as well as the adherence to the Divine path.” (Qisarul Jumal)

To examine the message of Islam from the very beginning, we open the Quran at Surah al-Baqrah and read the story of the first human being. Allah (swt) creates and educates Adam (as). There is the incident with Iblis (Satan) — the first rebellion Where humanity makes itself an enemy. Allah promises that His true servants will not be swayed by Satan. Thus armed, Adam (as) and Hawwa receive what will be humanity’s first brush with justice.

“And We said: O Adam! Dwell you and your wife in the garden and eat from it a plenteous (food) wherever you wish and do not approach this tree, for then you will be of the unjust.” (Quran 2:35)

After they eat the fruit, they repent and Allah (swt) forgives them. Now humanity is not just equipped for the struggle for justice with knowledge and warnings but also with practical experience. Allah (swt) then blesses them with children. In the story of Habeel and Qabeel we find that they both give offerings in the name of Allah (swt). But only Habeel’s gets accepted. Qabeel threatens to murder Habeel. Habeel’s response is recorded in the Quran:

“If you will stretch forth your hand towards me to slay me, I am not one to stretch forth my hand towards you to slay you, surely I fear Allah, the Lord of the worlds: Surely I wish that you should bear the sin committed against me and your own sin, and so you would be of the inmates of the fire, and this is the recompense of the unjust.” (Quran 5:28-29)

Justice throughout history

Then come the people of Nuh, Hud, Salih, Lut and Shuayb (as). According to the Quran every town and nation destroyed by Allah’s (swt) wrath was unjust. When Ibrahim (as) was made an Imam he asks his Lord whether Imamate will continue in his generations. Allah (swt) replies yes, but not with those who are without justice.

The pharoah and his followers are called unjust. The worshippers of the Golden Calf are called unjust. Isa (as) preaches to his people but the rebellious of them try to slay him. The Quran calls the killers of the Prophets unjust. The Holy Prophet (pbuh) was plagued by the unjust disbelievers and even more unjust hypocrites. There are entire chapters of the Quran condemning his enemies.

The nature of injustice

Having examined the Quran’s view of the history of humanity we can see a perpetual struggle between justice and injustice. But what constitutes injustice? What makes an unjust person?

“…and whoever exceeds the limits of Allah these it is that are the unjust.” (Quran 2:229)

An unjust person, the Quran says, is one who exceeds the limits of Allah(swt). So laws in Islam are from the devine rather than from man.

The unjust are in clear error (31:11) and Allah does not guide them (2:258). Allah does not love them (3:57). They are proud people (46:20). The unjust people are friends with each other (45:19).

The unjust will not be successful (6:21). The unjust will never prosper (12:23). The unjust turn away from the communications of Allah (swt) (6:157). They make up lies against Allah (swt) (6:93). Allah (swt) does not forgive them (4:168). Allah (swt) forgives the unjust only after they accept their injustice and do good after evil (27:11).

A deeper insight can be gained when we analyse the word used for injustice in the Quran. The word is dhulm, which literally means darkness. A universal human trait is to avoid the dark and move towards the light. This primitive instinct stems from when humanity lived in caves and unknown dangers lurked in the night. Most living things including plants and micro-organisms also grow and move towards the light and away from the dark. Such is the word the Quran uses for lack of justice.
The verse of Ibrahim’s (as) covenant with Allah (swt) states, Imamate is only given to the just. In fact, Allah (swt) wants all of His creation to be just and treated justly (3:108); this command is incumbent on all He has created. Allah (swt) Himself is called al-Adl or the Just. The Quran says:

“… and Allah is not unjust to them, but they are unjust to themselves.” (Quran 3:117)

Types of justice

The word Quran uses for injustice is dhulm; lterally darkness. By contrast Allah (swt) is the Noor (light) and the ‘Adl (Just).

Justice is discussed in the Quran from two angles — social justice and justice to oneself. The Quran lays out specific and in some cases extensive rules on the topic of social justice. It talks about buying, selling, treating one’s spouse, parent-children interaction, how to treat robbers and murderers and when to be merciful and forgiving. Rights may never be violated, even in the case of prisoners and criminals. In Surah Nisa we find the command:

“Believers, be steadfast for the cause of Allah and just in bearing witness. Let not a group’s hostility make you deviate from justice. Be just for it is closer to piety…” (Quran 5:8)

When the Quran talks about justice to oneself it is truly unique. The holy books and sacred philosophies of other schools of thought take sin into the context of man sinning against his god/gods. But Islam –recognises sin a wrong to oneself. Allah (swt) is immune to any wrong we do.

“…And they did not do Us any harm, but they made their own souls suffer the loss.” (Quran 2:57)


To summarise the universal message of the Quran, humanity was created by Allah (swt) for a purpose. Humanity can achieve this purpose by using the instrument Allah (swt) has given it called ’Aql (intellect) to sift through the evidence presented by Allah (swt) in the form of signs and Prophets to achieve full submission.

But humanity is constantly faced with choices. We are given free will at each turn to decide what we will do. Will we do what our desires lead us to do? Will we stand up for what we believe in? Will we leave such serious topics for scholars and not give the question a second thought? To choose to exercise our free will for the right thing, even if it is simply the act of questioning oneself what the right thing to do actually is, constitutes justice.

Applying justice at every step of our decision making processes brings us closer to Allah (swt). It can bring us from the lowest of the low to the highest of the high. It is justice that makes the Zoroastrian called Salman al-Farsi embark on a journey beginning with his asking the question “Is what I’m worshipping right?” and ending with the Prophet (pbuh) saying “Salman is part of my Ahlul Bayt.” It is justice that makes Abu Dharr the most truthful companion of the Prophet (pbuh). It is justice that makes Maisam prefer his tongue to be ripped out rather than curse Imam Ali (as). It is justice that makes Hurr pay allegiance to Imam Hussain (as) at the eleventh hour.

Justice calls to all, it is for us to decide to let our hearts hear it and our bodies submissive to it. And when Imam Mahdi (ajf) appears, it is the establishment of justice throughout the world that Allah (swt) has promised us. It is for those who are incapable of hearing the message of Allah (swt) that is the voice of justice reverberating from Hazrat Adam (as) through the generations until the time of the Imam of our Age (ajf).

“And the parable of those who disbelieve is as the parable of one who calls out to that which hears no more than a call and a cry; deaf, dumb (and) blind, so they do not understand.” (Quran, 2:171)

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