A Survey of the Concept of ‘adl and qist, in the Qur’an

By Ayatullah Sayyid Imam Ruhallah Musawi Khomeini
Excerpt from ‘Theory of Justice – Chapter 2″ 


Second Discourse: A Survey of the Concept of ‘adl and qist, in the Qur’an

1- A Survey of the Concept of ‘adl and qist

The special terms of a school of thought or a comprehensive human system construct a special order of categories and notions that are occasionally maintained as part of the language totality of that school, enabling one to understand the theoretical and intellectual foundations of that school. In such a method, naturally, the tendency towards the text finds a special standing and significance. To elaborate, the meanings of phrases and terms are determined in a view of the text in which they have been used. It should not, of course, go unsaid that in addition to the tendency towards the text, the adoption of two other methods is also fundamental and essential: one, explaining the meaning of the terms in the totality of the language applied by that school or order.

To put it differently, the lexical and etymological discourse on the terms and the meaning of the terms in a view of the social, cultural and historical circumstances and introducing phrases in which the terms are applied. Anyhow, what counts is that for understanding the intellectual and philosophical foundations of a school, one should first and foremost inquire about the language of that school, and language comprises a set of terms each of which are expressive of a special perspective of that school regarding the world or interpreting the world on its basis.

To put it differently, each of our terms is expressive of a special aspect and angle from which we look at the world. What we call a “concept” is nothing but a manifestation of this mental aspect and angle. In other words, a concept is a more or less lasting and fixed state of that aspect and angle. Etymology or denotation is the analytical survey of such aspects and stands having been crystallized in terms of language.

In fact, for understanding the notion of a school, one should first treat its etymology of the terms. Perhaps the concept of interpretation of the Qur’an by the Qur’an is expressive of such a purpose. Although here the relationship of language with reality should also be considered and this subject has been fully regarded in the verses of the Qur’an, whether we consider realities as existential matters or social and cultural ones. That is why, except by understanding each term in the totality of a language system, the concept of the term cannot be clear, as it should. Therefore, as put by Isutsu:

“By analytical survey of the major and principal terms (religious-ethical) of language, the researcher may gradually attain the understanding of the fundamental structure of the system that all of the events involving moral judgment go through its sieve prior to developing into an attainable form for members of that language community.”

‘Adl has been defined in manifold meanings such as dad (pleading for ‘idalat), kismat (destiny), share, fairness, moderation, balance, merit, equality, right, righteousness, temperance, middle way, qist (Name of the Names of God), qist, impartiality, etc.For example; in Al-Monjad the following meanings have been given: pleading for ‘adl, provider of ‘adl, just, equal, peer, righteousness, evenness, qist, judgment and fairness. The author of Lisan al-Arab also writes in this respect: “‘adl is what human beings maintain to be perseverance and righteousness. ‘Adl is the opposite word for tyranny.”At times, the term has been defined as pleading for ‘adl, qist, fairness, adjustment, appraisal, resistance of disposition contrasted with oppression, fairness,20 evenness, judgment, opposite to oppressor, just, fair, straight disposition, straightforward, correct, fair and equitable.

Qist has also been defined as ‘adl, pleading for ‘adl, qist, judgment, just, righteous, fair, ‘adl-seeker, quantity, measurement, measure, scale, portion, share.

By reviewing the terms it is understood that sometimes qist and ‘adl have been applied as meaning against oppression. For example; in verses 47 and 48 of the Qur’an, Surah Yasin the phrase “qaza bainahom belqist” has been brought up against “la yazlamoon qist.” It means that judgment by qist is equivalent to not being subject to oppression. Since God is the dispenser of qist, therefore, His will is maintained as a criterion for dispensing qist in human society. “Whoso judgeth not by that which Allah hath revealed: such are wrong doers.”

Also in contrast to ‘adl and qist which have been occasionally used synonymously (Surah an-Nisa, verses 3, 128 and 129), the term “meil” has been used to mean going beyond the limit, immoderation, intemperance. Generally speaking, and based on what was stated in chapter one, in the Holy Qur’an, ‘adl has an ontological and philosophical meaning, a sense of measurement of existence, attribute of essence and action of the Truth, in anthropological terms as ‘adl and resistance, lasting disposition and in social and political terms as criteria and measure of affairs and in all cases as perseverance, straight path and moderation. On this basis, perhaps the general concept of ‘adl can be explained as straight forwardness, resistance and straight path. Some exegetists have interpreted path and straight path as ‘adl.

Therefore, ‘adl signifies moving on the straight path and commensurate with nature and real structure of existence and man. For this reason, in this outlook, ‘adl also means equality, negation of discrimination, respecting merits and granting every rightful person what he/she deserves and also meaning “respect for merits diffused in existence and not withholding correct diffusion” and “placing everything in its right place.”

2 – A Comparative Study of ‘adl and qist in the Qur’an:

Qist is sometimes defined as synonymous to ‘adl and sometimes as its opposite, also meaning share and portion. It is said that ‘qistas’ which means “measure and scale” has been derived from qist which means ‘adl. Moreover, among the other beautiful names of God is being equitable, which has been explained as synonymous with being just. Qist is among the roots that, like ‘adl, are a characteristic of man, society and things.

Many researchers and interpreters have not maintained any difference between these two terms and consider them as synonymous. For instance, Imam Khomeini writes:

Al-Qist, the vowel sound coming below the letter Q signifies ‘adl and its placement after ‘adl is therefore an interpretive preference.”

‘Allamah Tabataba’i has the following comment to make in this respect: “Qist means ‘adl, and rising up for qist signifies acting just and preserving ‘adl. Therefore, by “Qavamin BilQist” is meant those who completely rise up for ‘adl. The closest factor and the most complete cause for following the truth and protecting its loss is this very quality.

However, a further study clarifies the differences between these two concepts:

Some scholars consider qist to be opposite to oppression and ‘adl as opposite to cruelty. Therefore, qist signifies that the rights of others should be respected and no aggression be made, while ‘adl signifies respect for moderation, balance and equality in all affairs as their circumstances require them to be, also heeding inclinations, awareness, interests, feelings and inner tendencies in addition to behavior. Therefore, perhaps it can be said that qist is more concerned with human relationship with other human beings, objects and nature, while ‘adl covers also man’s relationship with himself and with God.

That is why in the Qur’an qist has been applied more in cases of respect for the rights of individual in the society and reward and punishment and establishment of order accordingly. Dr. ‘Ali Shari’ati explaining ‘adl and qist writes:”‘adl consists of the legal form of social relations among individuals and social groups based on the recognized rights of individual and group, and qist consists of the real share of everyone and every group from the entire material and spiritual blessings and social resources in the face of the role they play in society.”

To express the difference between qist and ‘adl, Shari’ati uses two terms: One is legal right and the other real right. Respect for legal right is ‘adl and respect for real right is qist. Legal right is founded on agreement and contract while real right is the real share and lot of the individual remote from agreement.

Based on what was stated, even by assuming that ‘adl in this perspective is simply a social·‘adl, this outlook of ‘adl, that is, respecting legal rights, is not so much acceptable. Moreover, ‘adl is an inclusive concept covering existential dimensions and features of existence and man, also serving as factor protecting the individual human being. Moralists have accordingly said: A just person is one whose mental forces of his soul are moderate and none of his instincts overpowers the other forces.

Perhaps some of the verses are oriented towards an outbreak of oppression or the likelihood of its occurrence and the association of qist with terms such as measure, weight, balance has created this idea in the minds of some persons that verses dealing with ‘adl rest on state and this state is, more than all else, an inner situation. However, qist in its conventional concept is not a state but an outward situation based on written criteria and laws: “Conventional qist is outward and its establishment has outward criteria and signs.”

This assumption is not acceptable either because qist is an objective issue which is that same true and real share of every being in the world and existence, while conventional qist or real qist in the society is the same as social affair coupled with the truth and real share of individuals and societies. Therefore, real qist is the basis of conventional qist and both have special criteria and rules. On the other hand, ‘adl is not simply an inner state and a worldly habit, but as put by Imam ‘Ali (‘a),[making sure] that everything is placed in its real place.35 Therefore, ‘adl constitutes the basis of qist and qist is the consequence of ‘adl in the life of the individual and society.

  • Some scholars have defined ‘adl as equality and qist as respecting the share and right of every ‘Adl can be taken as a criterion and standard, but qist cannot be regarded as a criterion and rule. Therefore, it may be said that qist does not mean ‘adl (is not the same as the meaning of ‘adl) but rather setting the share and portion. If the share and portion is rightful, it is an instance of ‘adl; foregoing it is an instance of oppression, and in fact qist means maintaining the share and considering the side to be right, and ‘adl, its quality.
  •  The study of the issue is of importance also from this dimension that in the realm of realization, qist can be placed prior to ‘adl and ‘adl as perfection of qist. In a qist-oriented society, everyone attains his/her rights in conformity with his/her talent or aptitude and Since people differ in abilities, talents and vocations, in a qist-oriented society differences exist. However, ‘adl exists after the elimination of inabilities, backwardness and gap among natural blessings. Therefore, some people have considered an ‘adl-oriented society as being superior to qist-oriented society: ‘The establishment of qist has been the cornerstone of a healthy assembly and is the purpose of all prophets’ missions; dispensation of ‘adl is perfection and the completion of the mission.

‘Adl applies also to inner states, emotions and purification of the soul and the creation of moderation in physical faculties and placing each member and power in its right place, while simultaneously regarding introduction of temperance and edification of the society. Therefore, in spiritual terms, the realization of ‘adl is owes itself to ‘adl and minus ‘adl it will not be possible to realize qist.

3 – Instances of ‘adl and qist:

The Qur’an has touched on the numerous and outstanding instances of ‘adl and qist or manner of its implementation in human societies. These instances have been propounded in different dimensions of political , social, economic, moral and spiritual life, expressing the significance, necessity and the position of qist and ‘adl and the qist-oriented and ‘adl-oriented society as seen by the Qur’an. Some of these instances are briefly as follows:

1- The negation of usury as one of the most corrupt form of oppression and economic injustice and an obstacle to ‘adl and qist in a human community. In numerous verses of the Qur’an (Surah Baqarah verses 275 and 279, Surah Al-e ‘Imran verse 130, Surah an-Nisa’ verse 161, Surah Rum verse 39, etc.) have strictly negated usury, emphatically forbidding its practice and enumerating its losses. For example; in verses 278 and 279 Surah Baqarah considers its practice as synonymous with war against God and the Messenger of God (s).

“O you who believe! Observe your duty to Allah, and give up what remains (due to you) from usury, if you are believers. But if you do (it) not, then you have waged a war against Allah and His messenger. But if you repent, then you shall have your principal; [In this way,] you do not oppress anyone, or be subject to oppression.”

  • A description of religious tax and a fifth of the net income and other financial rights and procedure of distribution and consumption in the cause of God, stressing the term “in the cause of God”.
  • Raising the issue of temperance and moderation in life and in the administration of social and individual For instance, in Surah Forqan verse 67 the Qur’an reads: “And those who, when they spend, are neither prodigal nor parsimonious, but between these is a just temperance.”
  • Raising the issue of interest free loan or money loaned without
  • Laying stress on consultation in political, social and economic affairs of society and enjoyment of others’
  • Support for human rights and the rights of the deprived and oppressed people, women, orphans and other weak layers of society as well as the rights of members and organs of society.
  • Negation of any form of domination seeking and insurgence in the realm of economics, politics and negation of arrogance, egotism, selfishness, impetuosity, conceit and undue negation of luxury, tendency towards the worldly pleasures, extravagance and – Support for the rights of animals, plants and environment.
  • Sympathy for the downtrodden and weak people in the society and helping them.
  • Trusteeship even regarding disbelievers.
  • Helping the downtrodden and oppressed
  • Rendering service to people and struggle for their liberation from the domination of others, and oppression of tyrants, and presenting the theory of a liberating
  • Negation of any form of – ‘Adl in judgment and arbitration.
  • Above all, observing ‘adl by the government over the society and seeking ‘adl and pleading for ‘adl for the oppressed
  • Stressing payment of full rights in contracts and proscription of shortchange, Take the following Qur’anic verses: “Woe to defrauders,””Woe to every slandering traducer, who has gathered wealth (of this world) and has arranged it.” The term mutaffafin in the first verse is derived from the root Taff; which precisely means shortchange in terms of measure, weight and scale. It is a special technical term for failing to observe ‘adl and qist in dealings concerned with weight and measure or scale and the like.
  • Denunciation of amassing property and wealth: “They who hoard up gold and silver and spend it not in the way of Allah, to them give tidings of a painful “
  • Prohibition of misappropriation of other’s belongings unfairly: “And eat not up your property among yourselves in vanity”
  • Resistance in the course of the right and truth: “So continue then in the right “
  • Not appealing to arrogant powers in arbitrations and judgments: “How they would go for judgment (in their disputes) to false deities when they have been ordered to abjure them? Satan would mislead them to “
  • Observing ‘adl in measure and weight and, generally speaking, in transactions: ”And diminish not the goods of the people, and do not make mischief in the earth, working “
  • The question of lex talionis and ‘adl in it: “And We prescribed for them therein: The life for the “
  • Bearing just testimony based on qist.
  • Observing ‘adl in treating the enemy: “And let not hatred of a people incite you not to act equitably; act equitably, that is nearer to piety, and be careful of (your duty to) God.”
  • ‘Adl in writing documents and contracts and correspondence: “And let a scribe write it down between you with “
  • Banning capital sins, evils, indecent acts such as homicide, larceny,
  • Prohibiting the devouring of the property of orphans: “Lo! Those who devour the wealth of orphans wrongfully, they do but swallow fire into their bellies, and they will be exposed to burning “
  • Prohibiting the assisting and abetting the oppressors and tendency towards them: “And incline not toward those who do wrong lest the Fire touch “
  • Breaking one’s promise and infraction of what God has commanded people to associate: “And those who break the covenant of Allah after having plighted their word thereto, and who cut asunder what Allah has commanded to be joined, and who work corruption in the earth, theirs shall be the curse, and theirs the Evil “
  • Interdicting corruption in the earth: “And those who work corruption in the earth, theirs shall be the curse, and theirs the Evil “
  • – Forbidding dis-ingenuousness, treason, bribery, suht: “It is not for any Prophet to deceive (mankind), whoso deceives will bring his deceit with him on the Day of Resurrection. Then every soul will be paid in full what it has earned; and they will not be wronged.”


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