Indeed, Allah orders justice and good conduct and giving to relatives and forbids immorality and bad conduct and oppression. He admonishes you that perhaps you will be reminded. [Surat Al-Nahl, 16: 90]
And act justly. Verily, Allah loves the just. [Surat Al-Hujurat, 49: 9]
And the heavens He raised high, and set up the balance in order that you may not transgress due balance. [Surat Al-Rahman, 55: 7- 8]
Whoever is in charge of Muslims’ affairs and appoints a man while knowing that there is a more competent person to serve Muslims has indeed betrayed the trust of Allah and His Messenger. [Hakim and Tabarani]
If a ruler who has the authority to rule Muslim subjects dies deceiving them, Allah will forbid Paradise for him. (Bukhari)
Whoever rules over ten people will come in fetters on the Day of Judgment until justice releases him; otherwise, injustice will cause him to perish. (Ahmad)
It has been said that Allah grants supremacy to a just government even though it may be non-believing, and does not grant supremacy to an unjust government even though it may be believing. (Imam Ibn Taymiyyah)
Lexically, the Arabic word ‘adl means justice and equity. A person who is described as’ adl is someone whose words and decisions are satisfying. Al-‘adl is also one of the names of Allah the Almighty, which means “the Just Who does not follow whims and desires and thus does not issue an unjust decision.” ‘Adl also means following a middle course as opposed to excess.
All these definitions amplify the same core meaning, namely moderation and equity.
Shaykh Muhammad Al-Amin Al-Shinqiti writes in Adhwaa’ Al-Bayan,
The linguistic meaning of ‘adl is fairness and even-handedness as opposed to injustice. It means following a middle course between excess and negligence. Therefore, justice, or ‘adl, can be established by eschewing these two extremes.
Technically, ‘adl has more or less the same meaning as the linguistic meaning, and Muslim scholars have provided various definitions which are similar or almost the same. These include the following:
‘Ali ibn Abi Talib and a number of the Prophet’s Companions defined ‘adl as insaf, or justice.
Al-Fakhr Al-Razi said, “‘Adl means the middle course between the two extremes of excess and negligence.”
Shaikh ‘Abd Al-Rahman Al-Sa‘di said, “‘Adl means putting things in their proper place and rendering to others all their due rights.”
In summary, ‘adl means justice and rendering to others all their due rights. These rights include rights towards Allah the Almighty by worshipping Him alone—without any partners, obeying His commands and avoiding what He has made forbidden. They also include rights towards people by dealing justly with them and not withholding their due rights.
Types of Justice
When we typically think of justice, we often mean legal justice or social justice, that is, justice in relation to others, especially in a monetary sense.
In Islam, however, as we have seen, the concept of justice is so pivotal that Allah has told us that He has established the heavens and the earth on the principle of “balance,” [Surat Al-Rahman, 55:7] meaning justice. The most important kind of justice in Islam is justice with respect to our Creator and Sustainer.
In Islam, ‘adl falls into three types:
- ‘adl towards one’s Lord— concerned with the science of Tawhid and the Muslim creed
- ‘adl towards oneself—concerned with the science of Tawhid and the Muslim creed
- ‘adl towards other people—concerned with dealings or mu’amalat.
(1) The first type is specifically concerned with worshipping one’s Lord alone, making one’s religious devotions sincere to Him and not associating partners with Him in worship (shirk). Allah says,
Surely, associating partners [with Allah in worship] is a grievous wrong. [Surat Luqman, 31:13]
When the verse: Those who believe and do not adulterate their belief with zulm (wrong)—it is they who shall have peace and who are rightly guided [Surat Al-An’am, 6:82] was revealed, the Companions of the Messenger panicked, for they thought everyone sometimes adulterates his or her belief with some kind of zulm (literally, injustice). The Prophet reassured them that here Allah had meant a specific kind of zulm—the most enormous kind, in fact, which is shirk—ascribing partners to Allah.
(2) To establish ‘adl with oneself means to strive hard to do that which will bring about one’s salvation in this life and in the Hereafter and to eschew all that is bound to lead to one’s ruin and doom in this life and in the Hereafter. ‘Adl with oneself can be achieved by discharging one’s obligations, while not transgressing the limits set by Allah the Almighty. Allah says:
By the soul and the proportion and order given to it, and its inspiration as to its wrong and its right: Successful is the one who purifies it, and ruined is the one who corrupts it. [Surat Al-Shams, 91:7-10]
For such as had transgressed all bounds and had preferred the life of this world, the abode will be Hell-Fire; and for such as had entertained the fear of standing before their Lord’s [tribunal] and had restrained [their] soul from lower desires, their abode will be the Garden. [Surat Al-Nazi’at, 79:37-41]
And whoever transgresses the limits of Allah does indeed wrong his own soul. [Surat Al-Talaq, 65:1]
And whoever transgresses the limits [prescribed by] Allah, it is they who are the wrongdoers. [Surat Al-Baqarah, 2:229]
(3) The common understanding of justice, that is, justice in dealings with others, is also equally important in Islam. To establish ‘adl with others means to do justice to them, and not to withhold from them the rights that are their due. Allah says:
Give just measure and weight, nor withhold from the people the things that are their due. [Surat Al-A’raf, 7:85]
O you who believe! Be steadfast in the cause of Allah, bearing witness in equity; and let not a people’s enmity incite you to act otherwise than with justice. Be [always] just; that is nearer to righteousness. And fear Allah. Surely, Allah is aware of what you do. [Surat Al-Ma’idah, 5:8]
There are numerous verses to this effect. What particularly concerns us in this article is the third type of ‘adl, namely, establishing ‘adl among the people. Muslim jurists have extensively explored this aspect of ‘adl, ensuring justice among people.
Coming up, insha’Allah, in Part 2, ‘Adl as Justice Among the People…