Wherever the Quran uses the word justice, it has been placed against the world zulm (oppression)
Human history testifies to the fact that when justice is absent from a society, anarchy, lawlessness and instability become the feature of that society.
A just society is identified with peace, stability, and uplift of the human soul; the reason being that a just society ensures equal rights, dignity and equal opportunities for economic growth and social and emotional well-being of its people. In a just society, the lawmakers, the different social institutions and agencies and the individuals are as a whole are accountable and responsible for every single act vis-à-vis the rights of fellow human beings, animals, plants, etc. In a just society, a man does not simply live in the world; he rather lives with the world and is, therefore, bound to respect the rights and dignity of other people.
There might be a long debate about the possibilities and impossibilities of establishing a perfectly just society given the issues of relativity that the term brings within itself; however, there should be no doubt that justice at the individual level and at the societal level and at the administrative level is simply putting one’s heart, mind and conscience into action, so that the decisions one is going to arrive at may be in consonance with the principles of justice and balance regarding a particular issue. In other words, one may say that one has to be judicious as well as spiritually aware of the consequences of a decision.
Without going into the review of how justice has been defined and discussed by philosophers, theologians, social scientists and jurists, I would briefly discuss here the Quranic perspective on justice, by attempting a brief analysis and explanation of some ayats of the Quran that talk of justice.
Regarding justice, Allah says in the Quran: “God commands justice and fair dealing…”(16:90); at another place, Allah thus commands for the establishment of justice, “O you, who believe, be upright for God, and be bearers of witness with justice” (5:8); at yet another place, Allah makes clear the reason He sent prophets and messengers to mankind: “We sent our messengers with clear signs and sent down with them the Book and the Measure in order to establish justice among the people…”(57:25). Similarly, there are ayats that speak about justice without any ambiguity: “Indeed, Allah loves those who act justly” (60:8); “O you who believe, be persistently standing firm in justice, witnesses for Allah, even if it be against yourselves or parents and relatives; whether one is rich or poor, Allah is worthy of both”( 4:135); “And approach not the property of the orphan except in the fairest way, until he (or she) attains the full strength, and give measurement and weight with justice” (6:152), and many more ayats of this thematic nature.
The study of such ayats in the Quran and the context in which they appear reveals that wherever the Quran uses the word justice (with all of its Arabic variants) it has been placed against the world zulm (oppression and aggression) or for that matter the word transgression.
The binary opposition between justice and oppression/ transgression is very much clear in the ayats other than the ones quoted above. There are many statements in the Quran that condemn injustice, oppression and transgression without any ambiguity: for example, “Indeed, Allah commands you to render trust to whom it is due and when you judge between people, judge with justice. Excellent is that which Allah instructs you. Indeed, Allah is ever Hearing and Seeing” (4:58) and “Verily, Allah orders justice and good conduct and giving to relatives and He forbids immorality and bad conduct and transgression. He admonishes you so that perhaps you will be reminded” (16:90).
What is indicated by these ayats quite clearly is that justice is at the core of the Quranic message to mankind, by the chain of prophets of which Mohammad (SAW) was the last, undoubtedly, according to the Quran. If a discourse analysis of the Quran is conducted with focus on themes of justice, it would perhaps be revealed that seventy percent of the Quran actually revolves around the theme of justice in its different contexts: social, economic, political, legal, military, Individual, familial, environmental, religious, etc. It is perhaps one of the reasons that Allah is so concerned about justice in human affairs and, therefore, he has named the hereafter as ‘yum ud din’ (the Day of Judgement) or the Day when Allah Himself would do justice among the people. It won’t be an exaggeration to state that the concept of ‘adl’ and ‘qist’ in the Quran is more than law; it is a virtue, as a just man is who Allah loves the most.
According to Al-Asfahani, “Justice pertains to act justly with others. Outer action is not enough; the person also needs to be upright in character. This is the internal condition of the soul; when in balance, the rational faculty predominates and justice as a cardinal virtue emerges” (quoted in Yasien Mohammad, 2020) which in other words means that injustice is nothing but to put something at its improper place.
Asfahani is quoted by Yasmien to have stated that “God describes justice in terms of al-mizan (the scale/ the balance), because weighing is one of its obvious concrete actions. Prophet Mohammad (SAW) said, “The heavens and the earth have been established through justice”. That is to say if the existence of the world and its principles were either more or less than what is required, the world would not be in perfect order. Ironically, unjust people expect justice to be done: even thieves expect it from one another. If they agree certain on conditions, and some of them violate those conditions, they are so incensed by the injustice that their relationships are thrown into chaos and disorder. Thus each soul naturally feels happy when seeing or hearing justice, and feels unhappy to see or hear the opposite. That is why even the unjust admire just actions when they see or hear them. It is said that a just person is confident of being cleared by God on the Day of Judgement.
Since man has an innate sense of justice, he is grieved by the abnormalities and disorders of the world. He is sad to see someone with physical deformities like a limp or squint. To achieve equality and symmetry, God placed single features like the nose in the middle, and other organs like ears in pairs, one on each side of the body. Imitating God’s design, painters and sculptors ensure that paintings and carvings are symmetrical and harmonious and that they are not distorted.
In other words, the emphasis of the Quran on ‘adl’ and ‘qist’ in hundreds of its ayats is aimed at creating harmony, balance, symmetry and proportion in human conduct and behaviour at the individual, societal and collective levels, so that life under the sun would be in a symmetrical state with that of the heavens; with the result, the kingdom of the God would be established on earth as God wants it to be. Having said this, there might be critics who would say that such an idealisation is like a Utopian state which is beautiful to think about and dream about. One may partly agree with such critics but would refute their criticism by stating that justice is undoubtedly one of the biggest essential needs of human life as it is through justice alone that man is able to regain his lost dignity, freedom and his status as the crown of all creations: in Islamic terminology, as the Vicegerent of God on earth. Had it not been so, God would not have said, “wa la qaddkaramnabaniadama” which means “Verily, we have made man a dignified creation”; and, man loses this dignity when injustice, oppression, imbalance and disproportion become the order of the day in any aspect of human life. From the stage of innocence, when there existed unity, proportion, balance and symmetry, to the state of fall, when justice was replaced by injustice, the Mercy of God demands that man must strive to go back to that state of unity and balance so that life comes to a full circle.
Coming back to the Quranic concept of justice, it would be apt to state that since the word Islam has been derived from the word salam (which means peace and stability), the concept of justice in the Quran is, therefore, rooted in peace and stability, which cannot be possible until all the institutions of human world: government, economy, military, police, education, etc, would be ready to do away with all the imperfections and distortions through proper education, compassion, love and enlightenment, which is a constant process and work-in-progress and needs a sincere and honest dialogic pursuit.
Concluding, the Quranic concept of justice is one of the essences of the Quran which one must read with open mind, heart, ears and eyes so that all the senses are in dialogue with the same. It is one of the most important core themes of the Quran; therefore, secularists can benefit themselves equally as their thrust area also happens to be justice, equality and freedom for all so much so that even atheists are equally benefitted by such a compassionate and loving message of Allah about Justice. Needless to mention, Prophet Mohammad’s life was the best reflection of this justice and so was of his companions like Abu Bakr, Umar, Othman, Ali and others. Prophet Mohammad (SAW) is reported to have said, “Many a community ruined itself in the past as they only punished the poor and ignored the offences of the exalted. By Allah, if Mohammad’s daughter, Fatima, would have committed theft, her hand would have been severed” (Bukhari).