Justice is a fortress
Justice is a fortress in which all who are frightened take refuge. In fact, if a tyrant feels oppressed, does he not call for justice and scorn and condemn injustice? But you never see the opposite, someone condemning justice. Therefore, a man who is equitable by nature can rest at peace in this impregnable fortress.
Ibn Ḥazm, al-Akhlāq wal’Siyār (In pursuit of virtue)
In a world engulfed by a lack of justice it is worth reminding ourselves of what the final revelation that has been sent to mankind says about the concept of justice. There are many verses within the text of the Qur’ān, as well as the Prophetic Sunnah upon this. Many will no doubt be readily familiar with one Qur’ānic verse in particular, since it is repeated at most Friday sermons. Justice is not a mere abstraction, but a direct command that Allah has ordered the believers with and it is worth reiterating those textual evidences.
إن الله يأمر بالعدل والإحسان وإيتاء ذي القربى وينهى عن الفحشاء والمنكر والبغي يعظكم لعلكم تذكرون
Allah commands justice, doing good, and generosity towards relatives and He forbids what is shameful, blameworthy, and oppressive. He teaches you, so that you may take heed. [16:90]
In his acclaimed Tafsir (exegesis) of the Qur’ān [Tafsir Ibn Kathir, Vol. 4, p.595], Ibn Kathir comments upon this verse as follows:
The Almighty says that He commands His servants with justice, which is equity and balance, and He assigns to doing good Iḥsān, as Allah Almighty said: [sic, in other verses: 16: 126, 42: 40 and 5: 45]. There are other verses which support the institution of justice in Islam, as well as encouraging fairness and virtue.
The importance of this verse on justice has not escaped modern mufasireen (exegetes) either. In the Tafsir of al-Sa’di [by Abdur-Raḥman al-Sa’di, Vol. 5, pp. 233/234] we find an eloquent commentary upon the magnitude of this verse:
The justice that Allah enjoins includes justice with regard to His dues and those of His slaves. Justice in this sense involves paying those dues in full, by doing what Allah has ordained of financial and physical duties, and those which are a combination of both, whether that duty is to Him or to other people, as well as treating other people on the basis of complete justice. Anyone who is in a position of authority should fulfil his duties towards those who are under his authority. This applies equally to the ruler, members of the judiciary, deputies of the ruler and deputies of the judiciary.
Justice is what Allah has enjoined upon them in His Book and on the lips of His Messenger peace and blessings be upon him and He has commanded them to adhere to it. Justice in interactions includes the area of buying and selling, as well as all other business transactions; that requires fulfilling all obligations and commitments, not falling short with regard to dues, not cheating, deceiving or wrongdoing others. Justice is obligatory and kindness is a virtue that is encouraged, such as benefitting people by means of wealth, physical actions, knowledge and other ways of benefitting them. That even includes kindness to animals, including those whose flesh it is permissible to eat and others.
Summarising the commentary upon the verse, al-Sa’di writes [Vol. 5, p. 235]:
This verse is concise and includes all that is enjoined and prohibited; there is nothing that is not included. This is a basic principle to which all minor issues are connected. Anything that involves justice, kindness or giving kinsfolk their due comes under the heading of that which Allah has enjoined; anything that involves obscenity, wickedness or wrongdoing comes under the heading of that which Allah has forbidden. Thus, we see the goodness and beauty of that which Allah has enjoined, and the evil and ugliness of that which He has prohibited. Everything that people say or do is to be measured by this standard. Blessed be the One Who put in His words guidance, healing, light and the criterion to distinguish between good and evil in all things.
Imām al-Ṭabari [Tafsir al-Ṭabari Vol. 14, p.337] cites a narrative upon the authority of the Companion Abdullah ibn Mas’ud, may Allah be pleased with him, regarding the comprehensive nature of this verse:
حدثنا ابن حميد قال ثنا جرير عن منصور عن الشعبيّ عن شتَير بن شَكَل قال سمعت عبد الله يقول إن أجمع آية في القرآن لخير أو لشر، آية في سورة النحل إن الله يأمر بالعدل والإحسان الآية
Ibn Ḥumayd narrated to us he said Jarir narrated to us from Manṣur from al-Sha’bi from Shatyir ibn Shakl, he said I heard Abdullah (Ibn Mas’ud) saying: The most comprehensive verse in the Qur’an is in Surah al-Nahl, ‘Allah commands justice, doing good,’ to the end of the verse.
Elsewhere in the text of the Qur’ān, there are other verses given exposition upon the command of justice.
لقد أرسلنا رسلنا بالبينات وأنزلنا معهم الكتاب والميزان ليقوم الناس بالقسط
We sent Our messengers with clear signs, the Book and the Balance, so that people could uphold justice. [57: 25]
Within the commentary upon this verse, Imām al-Ṭabari [Tafsir al-Ṭabari Vol. 22, p. 424] writes:
The Almighty says where he mentioned: We have verily sent Our Messengers with detailed statements of the clear exposition and indicators, and sent down with them the Book of legal rulings and laws and the Balance, is the balance of justice. As has been narrated by:
حدثنا ابن عبد الأعلى قال ثنا ابن ثور عن معمر عن قتادة الكتاب والميزان قال الميزان: العدل
Ibn ‘Abd al-‘Alā narrated to us he said Ibn Thawr narrated to us from Ma’mar from Qatādah (regarding) ‘the Book and the Balance,’ he said, ‘the Balance, is justice.’
حدثني يونس قال أخبرنا ابن وهب قال قال ابن زيد في قوله وأنزلنا معهم الكتاب والميزان بالحق قال الميزان: ما يعمل الناس، ويتعاطون عليه في الدنيا من معايشهم التي يأخذون ويعطون، يأخذون بميزان، ويعطون بميزان، يعرف ما يأخذ وما يعطي قال والكتاب فيه دين الناس الذي يعملون ويتركون فالكتاب للآخرة، والميزان للدنيا
Yunus narrated to us he said Ibn Wahb reported to us, he said: Ibn Zayd said concerning His statement ‘And sent down with them the Book and the Balance,’ in accordance with what is right (bil’ḥaqq). He said: ‘The Balance is what people use their exchanges of worldly goods and the necessities by means of it and that which they take and give. They take by means of a balance, and they give in accordance with a balance, and this is how they know what they take and give.
Earlier on in the Tafsir [Vol. 22, p. 178] for the verse in Surah al-Raḥman (8), mentioning the ‘measure and balance,’ al-Ṭabari includes the following commentary
And His Saying: ‘That you exceed not the mizān (measure),’ that you neither oppress nor wrong (anyone) according to the measure (of justice), as narrated by:
حدثنا بشر قال ثنا يزيد قال ثنا سعيد عن قتادة قوله ألا تطغوا في الميزان اعدل يا ابن آدم كما تحب أن يعدل عليك، وأوف كما تحبّ أن يُوَفى لك، فإن بالعدل صلاح الناس وكان ابن عباس يقول: يا معشر المَوالِي، إنكم قد وليتم أمرين، بهما هلك من كان قبلكم، هذا المكيال والميزان
Bishr narrated to us he said Yazeed narrated to us he said Sa’eed narrated to us from Qatādah, concerning his statement: ‘That you exceed not the measure,’ O sons of Adam, be just as you wish to be treated justly. Give ‘awfi (full measure) just as you wish to receive full measure. Truly, by justice, the wellbeing of humanity (is achieved). Ibn ‘Abbās used to say: ‘O clients of the Arabs! You have been entrusted with two things, (the misuse) of which led your predecessors to perdition: this mikyāl (balance) the mizān (measure).
Upholding justice, not neglecting it and bearing true witness, regardless of who it may be against, is outlined by Allah in the following command with the most magnificent eloquence.
ياأيها الذين آمنوا كونوا قوامين بالقسط شهداء لله ولو على أنفسكم أو الوالدين والأقربين إن يكن غنيا أو فقيرا فالله أولى بهما فلا تتبعوا الهوى أن تعدلوا وإن تلووا أو تعرضوا فإن الله كان بما تعملون خبيرا
O you who believe, uphold justice and bear witness to Allah, even if it is against yourselves, your parents, or your close relatives. Whether the person is rich or poor, Allah can best take care of both. Refrain from following your own desire, so that you can act justly – if you distort or neglect justice, Allah is fully aware of what you do. [4: 135]
In Fi Zilāl al-Qur’ān [‘In the Shade of the Qur’ān,’ (Eng.) Vol. 3, p. 344] Sayyid Qutb provides a lucid comment upon the aforementioned verse:
‘The trust they have been assigned is to maintain justice, in its absolute sense, in every situation. It is the sort of fairness which prevents aggression and oppression anywhere on earth. It guarantees justice between people, giving everyone, Muslim or non-Muslim, their rights. In their entitlement to justice, all people, believers and unbelievers, are equal in Allah’s sight…’
A more detailed explanation is provided by Ibn Kathir in his Tafsir [Vol. 2, pp. 432/433]:
The Almighty commands His believing servants to be upstanding with Qisṭ, which is justice not deviating from it, neither right nor left. They should not fear the blame of anyone or allow anyone to prevent them from doing something for the sake of Allah. They are also required to help, support and aid each other for the sake of Allah. His statement ‘as witnesses to Allah,’ is similar to His (other) statement: ‘and establish the testimony for Allah.’ [65: 2]. That is, that testimony should be delivered precisely, for the sake of Allah, thus making the testimony correct, truly just, and free of alterations, changes or deletions. This is why He said: ‘even though it be against yourselves,’ namely, give correct testimony and say the truth when you are asked about it, even if harm will affect you as a consequence. Indeed, Allah shall make a way out and give relief for those who obey Him in every matter. His statement: ‘or your parents or your kin,’ means even if you have to testify against your parents and kin, do not compromise for their sake. Rather, give the correct and just witness even if they are harmed in the process, for the truth presides above everyone and is preferred to everyone.
His statement: ‘be he rich or poor, Allah is a better protector to both,’ means do not favour someone because he is rich, or feel pity for him because he is poor, for Allah is their caretaker, a better protector of them than you, and has better knowledge of what is good for them. And His statement, ‘so follow not the lusts, lest you may avoid justice,’ means let not desire, or the hatred you have against others lure you into injustice in your affairs. Rather, stand for justice in all situations. As the Almighty has said:
ولا يجرمنكم شنآن قوم على ألا تعدلوا اعدلوا هو أقرب للتقوى
And let not the enmity and hatred of others make you avoid justice. Be just: that is nearer to piety. [5: 8]
Regarding the latter verse mentioned by Ibn Kathir in Surah al-Mā’idah [5: 8], he comments as follows in the Tafsir [Vol. 3, p. 62]:
Do not be driven by your hatred for some people into abandoning justice, for justice is ordained for everyone. That is why He said: ‘Be just: that is nearer to piety,’ meaning, your (doing) justice is closer to piety than abandoning it.
The word utilised in the Qur’ānic verse [4: 135] is ‘Qisṭ.’ As already mentioned above, this means justice. Imām al-Ṭabari confirms this in his Tafsir [Vol. 5, pp. 278, 280] in relation to the commentary upon a different verse found in Surah ‘Imrān [3: 18]. He writes:
Abu Ja’far said: As for His saying ‘upholding justice,’ indeed its meaning is that He is the one who dispenses justice among His creatures. The ‘Qisṭ’ means justice, from (the Arabs) who said: ‘He is muqsiṭ (fair),’ and ‘Qad aqsaṭa (He has been fair)),’ when a person has been just. The word ‘qā’iman’ – upstanding, is in the accusative case because it is a conditional clause.
حدثني المثنى قال حدثنا أبو حذيفة قال حدثنا شبل عن ابن أبي نجيح عن مجاهد بالقسط بالعدل
al-Muthanna narrated to me he said Abu Ḥudhayfa narrated to us he said Shibl narrated to us from Ibn Abi Najiḥ from Mujāhid (said): ‘Upholding Qisṭ,’ with justice.
Ibn Qayyim provides some poignant remarks on the nature of justice in Madārij al-Sālikīn [Ranks of the Divine Seekers, Vol. 1, p. 506]:
For Allah has created His servants to like truth, justice, forgiveness, favour, and reciprocating bounty with gratitude, and dislike the opposites of these acts. This is the same as the difference between sweet and sour to their sense of taste and the fragrance of musk and rotting stench to their sense of smell, and the difference between a melodious sound and its opposite to their ears; the same holds for all that they receive through their senses, be they outer or inner; they separate the good from the corrupt and the beneficial from the harmful.
Allah instructs in another verse:
قل أمر ربي بالقسط وأقيموا وجوهكم عند كل مسجد وادعوه مخلصين له الدين كما بدأكم تعودون
Say: My Lord commands justice. Direct your worship straight to Him wherever you pray; call on Him; devote your Deen entirely to Him. Just as He first created you, so you will come back [to life] again. [7: 29]
One can indeed contrast the command to justice in these verses with something that is far away from any notion of justice: oppression. Here, we have a famous narration from the Companion Jābir ibn Abdullah, may Allah be pleased with him, which was recorded in Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim:
حدثنا عبد الله بن مسلمة بن قعنب حدثنا داود يعني ابن قيس عن عبيد الله بن مقسم عن جابر بن عبد الله أن رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم قال اتقوا الظلم فإن الظلم ظلمات يوم القيامة واتقوا الشح فإن الشح أهلك من كان قبلكم حملهم على أن سفكوا دماءهم واستحلوا محارمهم
Abdullah ibn Maslama ibn Qa’nab narrated to us Dāwud, that is to say Ibn Qays, narrated to us from Ubaydullah ibn Miqsam from Jābir ibn Abdullah that the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him said:
Beware of committing oppression, for oppression is a darkness on the Day of Resurrection, and be on your guard against stinginess for stinginess destroyed those who were before you, as it incited them to shed blood and make lawful what was unlawful for them.
The selection of textual evidences is by no means exhaustive. Rather it is a small snapshot into the nature of this topic upon justice. Perhaps the small exposition outlined can help to serve as an important reminder about the obligation to stand for justice.
Given the critical juncture mankind finds itself at, with dark political forces seeking to enslave the world, it is imperative Muslims recognise the obligation to carry this standard of justice to all of mankind. here is no justice save in the justice of Islam.