Fatima Jaffer – Nairobi, Kenya
Just: The Way Things Are
So we’ve dealt with the first of five core beliefs Muslims have: that there is One Absolute God. Naturally, the next question is what kind of God is He? Gentle, loving and fatherly? Kingly, authoritative and demanding? What motivates Muslims to believe in Him; to trust and obey Him so completely? Is it fear? Is it hope? Or something else?
There’s a famous tradition from Islamic history that goes:
“Some people worship God out of greed (for heaven), this is the worship of the merchant. Others worship out of fear (of hell); this is the worship of slaves. Others worship out of love; this is the worship of the free man.” – Ali ibn Abi Talib
Regardless of which category you belong to, the one thing that you rely on is that at the end of the day, you’ll be treated fairly. Without that, why would you put in so much effort?
By Any Other Name…
“The most beautiful names belong to Allah. so call on Him by them…”
(The Qur’an – The Heights, Verse 180)
You might have come across the phrase ‘The 99 names of God’, also called Asma’ul Husna (Beautiful Names). Muslims call upon God by various names, each representing an attribute, for example: Ar-Rahman (The Merciful), Al-Ghafoor (The Forgiving), Al-Waliyy (The Friend), Al-Wadood (The Loving), Al-Hakeem (The Wise) and so on. Of all these attributes, the one singled out for a founding belief is Al-‘Adil (The Just). It seems odd at first that instead of more obviously appealing qualities such as love and mercy, this should be the one that God chooses to emphasize. But perhaps while we focus on our secondary emotional needs, He prefers to reassure the most essential of our inner needs – that of fairness. Justice gives everything in the universe a sense of purpose and being. It’s inborn in human nature to understand, respect and feel particularly possessive of this principle. “That’s not fair!” is a refrain that is heard coming with equal passion from kindergarten kids and professional adults.
We’ll talk about why Islam describes itself as the Innate or Natural Religion another day, but for the purpose of this article, we need only look at human instinct to understand why a sense of justice is what keeps a society alive and healthy. The situation in Gaza is still fresh in our minds. People around the world are shocked by the loss of innocent lives, and the outrage at what is being described as a genocide is a world concern. What is it that has united opinions across race, culture, nationality and faith? A sense of violated justice. We feel that something ‘wrong’ is taking place, and that we must as a global community speak up against it – even if we are helpless in terms of power to make a difference. This is what reminds us that we are still human on some level. That we haven’t been reduced to a bestial level (because even animals have some basic sense of justice.)
That is why the second root of belief in Islam can be added as below:
I. That there is Only One God. (Arabic: Tawhid)
II. That God is Just (Arabic: Adalat)
All God’s other attributes are dependent on His Justice. In the bigger picture, if He wasn’t Just then how could we respect Him? How would we explain the balance of all things or that innate trust every human being has that every injustice committed in the world will have to be accounted for some day, some how?
From an Islamic perspective, the reason why Justice makes everything fall in place is because Muslims recognize it on two levels:
a) The common meaning i.e. the opposite of oppression, the following of personal rights. The mistake we often make is to try and apply this kind of justice to God and then end up with questions like: “If God is Just why does He let the innocent suffer?” We fail to realise that this kind of justice is flawed even its best.
b) The Divine Justice applied to God, defined as “to put everything in its place”. The entire cosmos is maintained by this kind of Justice. It means that God ensures that the universe (and all of creation) is in a state of equilibrium.