The Meaning and Purpose of Justice
Justice walks hand in hand with Fairness. In the Qur’anic worldview, they are similar, but not the same. Fairness (Arabic: ʿadl), a rational balance based on reason. Justice (Arabic: qisṭ), an equal sharing. Allah is often referred to as “the Fair” (al-ʿadl), and this epithet is considered one of the “99 Names of Allah” in the Islamic tradition. But this word as a name does not appear in the Qur’an itself. Rather, it is Justice that is directly equated to Allah’s universal being. We see this by comparing the following two verses:
يَـٰٓأَيُّہَا ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُواْ كُونُواْ قَوَّٲمِينَ بِٱلۡقِسۡطِ شُہَدَآءَ لِلَّهِ
O you who believed! Be responsible for justice, witnesses towards Allah. (4:135)
يَـٰٓأَيُّہَا ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُواْ كُونُواْ قَوَّٲمِينَ لِلَّهِ شُہَدَآءَ بِٱلۡقِسۡطِۖ
O you who believed! Be responsible towards Allah, witnesses to justice. (5:8)
We can see here that the verses are identical except that the words “justice” and “Allah” have changed places. This shows us that they are equivalent. Allah, the universal laws, and justice, are all one. The universe is governed by a drive to share equally amongst all creation. As such, we see verse 25 from Chapter 57 (al-Ḥadīd), which begins:
لَقَدۡ أَرۡسَلۡنَا رُسُلَنَا بِٱلۡبَيِّنَـٰتِ وَأَنزَلۡنَا مَعَهُمُ ٱلۡكِتَـٰبَ وَٱلۡمِيزَانَ لِيَقُومَ ٱلنَّاسُ بِٱلۡقِسۡطِۖ (٢٥)
57. Indeed We sent Our messengers with clear evidence, and sent down with them the law and the balance, that humans uphold justice.
This verse describes one purpose of the revelation: to encourage people to establish and uphold justice, an equal sharing of resources, etymologically speaking. Although people often use religion or the Qur’anic revelation as a justification for sowing discord, fighting amongst each other, and governing over people even to the point of taking away certain rights, these choices are not consistent with the purpose of revelation. One excellent example of the intention of divine inspiration comes from the story of Moses. Allah sent Moses to the Pharaoh, not to punish him in Allah’s name, but to speak gently to him and convince him to end the oppression of a people, giving them the same fairness and rights that Pharoah’s people were enjoying. As long as the enslaved people were oppressed, there could not be peace in that land.
The same is true today. As long as our world does not operate with justice as a universal principle, then natural and financial resources will not be equally distributed amongst all people. When powers that be take away resources from others, they create animosity, fear, and unrest, because people feel that the situation is not fair. To achieve world peace, we must choose to live our lives “responsible for justice.”
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