Concepts and Theories of ‘Adl’ in Islam

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


Part One: ‘Adl in the Holy Qur’an

  • Survey of Qur’anic verses on ‘adl and qist
  • Survey of the Qur’anic concept of ‘adl and qist
  • Further study of ‘adl in the Qur’an


 In the Qur’anic perspective, ‘adl enjoys an intrinsic value. Health and security in all matters are attached to ‘adl. In this Revealed Book ‘adl is perceived as a fundamental and essential principle on which the truth of existence has been constructed, according to which the working of the universe is fulfilled and based on which pronouncement of Revealed Books and religious laws are accomplished. From the Qur’anic viewpoint, ‘adl is both the essence and source of existence and existence has come into being on the basis of and in accordance with it.1 Also, the loftiest goal of the world, man and religions is to attain ‘‘adl and actualize it in the society and within man’s soul.2 For this reason, God has emphatically ordered all human beings, particularly the people of faith, to be upholders of ‘adl and qist.

In the Qur’anic viewpoint and thought, ‘adl is not merely an abstract concept; it is rather a real notion rooted in existence and in man’s primordial nature. It is, therefore, a real and essential, and not a conventional, conception, because commanding a merely abstract and conventional order in general, all-encompassing and perpetual and in all dimensions of individual and collective existence would be meaningless and devoid of value. However, God has stressed unceasing struggle for ‘adl and its realization in the whole gamut of human life. “Surely, Allah enjoins ‘adl and kindness.” Among God’s attributes one is that He loves the equitable: “Surely, Allah loves the equitable.”

The Qur’an is itself the book of ‘adl and qist. It is, on the one hand, founded on ‘adl and, on the other, for the materialization of ‘adl and qist in human society. In general, ‘adl is the extrinsic and intrinsic aspect of the Qur’an. As put by Imam Khomeini “One dimension of the Qur’an aims to eliminate oppression among human beings and introduce social ‘adl among mankind. If we, those who consider themselves to be followers of the Qur’an and the world Muslims strive to expand this dimension of the Qur’an – the dimension relating to the dispensation of Islamic ‘adl – in the world, then it will become a world acquiring the Qur’an’s external appearance .”

From the viewpoint of the Qur’an, ‘adl is one of the Attributes of God and has different dimensions such as ‘adl in the creation of creatures, endowing them with talents, enabling creatures to accomplish their perfection based on their natural dispositions, management and administration of the world of existence, legislation and enunciation of the laws required by the individual and society; ‘adl in the afterlife is, attending to, measuring and evaluating man’s deeds on a scale.

Divine ‘adl is an Attribute of God. While being real, perfect and absolute, it is one of the principles of creation. Accordingly, it is calculated as one of the fundamental principles in the life of the individual and society. This is the meaning of belief in divine ‘‘adl.

Belief in God’s ‘adl signifies belief in ‘adl anywhere and anytime; that is, seeking ‘adl not only in philosophy but also in sociology.7

On the other hand, the Qur’an views ‘adl as a human and social quality rooted in human primordial nature, which means that in man’s nature and creation is ingrained a tendency towards ‘adl and ‘adl-seeking and an aversion for oppression, tyranny, in injustice and discrimination. This is a fact warranted by man in his inner nature even though preoccupation with superficial fools and worldly matters keep him in ignorance. The Qur’an does not recall man to something beyond his human existence, intellect and nature. If Qur’an calls man to ‘adl, it is ‘adl that inheres in him.

First Discourse

Study of Qur’anic Verses on ‘Adl and Qist

 The Holy Qur’an uses two important terms of ‘adl and qist to explain the notion of ‘adl. The term ‘adl and its derivatives and the term qist and its derivatives have been applied in the Qur’an respectively on 28 and 25 occasions. The term ‘adl denotes different meanings in the Qur’an as follows:

1- Ransom, retribution, equal or equivalent to something. In this part one can refer to verses 48 and 123 of Surah (chapter) Baqarah as well as verse 70 of Surah An’am and verse 95 of Surah Al- Ma’ideh. The first two verses stress judgment on the Day of Resurrection based on the performance of the soul and refusing to call someone to account for someone else and non- acceptance of ‘adl and retribution. The third verse touches on the absence of ‘adl and retribution on Judgment Day against those whom the worldly life has deceived and who have taken religion as a plaything. The fourth verse raises ‘adl as retribution and equivalent of expiation and religiously prohibited seasonal expiation. (P. 108 and 109).

  • ‘adl in the sense of behavior which has been In this part:
  1. Verse 90 of Surah An-Nahl heeds the command of God to ‘adl and benevolence as well
  2. Verse 76 of the above Surah gives order for ‘adl and acting accordingly which is the very “straight path” and the man possessing this quality is preferred to the individual lacking in this quality (who is dumb and impotent and a burden on others).
  3. Verse 15 of, Surah ash-Shura calls the prophet’s mission to aim at the realization of ‘adl among
  4. Verses 3 and 129 of Surah An-Nisa’ treats observance of ‘adl in family life and among
  5. Verse 8 of Surah al-Ma’ideh underscores observance of ‘adl even in case of enmity and considers it to be closer to piety.
  6. Verse 152 of Surah al-An’am recommends just words and deeds regardless of whether they in one’s favor or loss or those of relations as well as loyalty to
  • – As a basis and foundation of behavior and judgments as well as quality and even exclusive to
  1. Verse 82 of Surah Baqarah advises on ‘adl in writing and signing a
  2. Verse 58 of Surah an-Nisa’ commands observance of ‘‘adl by the government, in judgment and in jurisdiction among
  3. Verse 9 of Surah Hujurat recommend s efforts for establishing peace based on ‘adl.
  4. Verse 95 of Surah al-Ma’ideh speaks about the necessity of jurisdiction of the possessors of ‘‘adl in
  5. Verse 106 of the above Surah talks about the necessity of owners in will and 4 – Existential, philosophical, command and general ‘adl in two aspects:
  6. Creation of the world of existence is based on ‘adl.
  7. ‘adl and moderation in human existence (verses 7 and 8 of Surah Infitar and 115 of al-An’am).

Summing up the verses on qist

In general, the survey of the verses on qist guided us on five main meanings of the term.

  • Qist as basis and foundation of existence that embodies divinity of the Creator; that is, His essential eternity or self-existence is manifest in rising to establish ‘adl or qist. Therefore, qist is the basis of creation and token of the fact that the Creator is living and 9 As put by Ayatullah Taliqani:

Qist means placing everything in its own place and station and calling on those with talents and rewarding them gifts in proportion; rising up for qist is a manifestation of the quality of self- existence and eternity … His Oneness, and essential life and eternity is manifest in rising up for qist, integrating and granting life and perfection to all big and small and visible and invisible ingredients, setting up each within its own limit, in harmony with, preservation of and assistance each other. Whatever they possess from this force, radiance, essential properties and gravity interact with each other on the scale of qist and truth. Human life takes form by rising up for qist and endures, perfects and encompasses dignity and wisdom.

  • Qist as a basis and foundation of society and its affairs:12 Here, perhaps it can be said that qist has an abstract sense with real and objective basis and foundation in the As the first sense stresses, validity and abstraction of the rules of qist are based on reality that coordinates the society with the world. The validity of qist in this sense is like that of the human society in the world of existence and composes human beings whose validity is based on reality.

From these two meanings it is understood that qist is a criterion in the world of society and human beings.

And, through intuitive and instinctive thought universal unity and qist are understood and establish qist for the harmony of society or the world.As an example one can cite an uprising on the basis of qist in the sense that people stage an uprising and revolution on the basis of qist or people may rise and revolt for the realization of qist. Surah al-Hadid, verse 25 reads: “Surely We sent Our messengers with clear proofs, and revealed to them the Book and the Balance, that mankind may observe the right measure.” Here, an uprising and a revolution have been maintained as legitimate and competent, stressing its realization based on qist. Another inference can be made from this verse. An uprising for qist signifies an uprising for the dispensation of qist. In this case, qist is a goal and an uprising is staged to achieve it.

Also Surah An-Nisa, verse 135 reads: “O you who believe! Be you staunch in ‘idalat, witnesses for Allah, even though it be against yourselves or (your) parents or (your) kindred, whether (the case be of) a rich man or a poor man, for Allah is nearer to both (than you are).” In this verse, too, an uprising based on qist or for setting up qist has been underscored. The verse can also be expressive of the fact that an uprising for martyrdom for the sake of God should be accomplished on the basis of qist and in martyrdom one should not digress from the criterion of qist. Verse 127 of Surah AnNisa’ reads: “And that you should deal towards orphans with equity.”

  • Qist in the sense of action that is realizable and that can find expression: therefore, it is recommended and people should rise and revolt for it, as it is among the principles of the mission of prophets and their important goals and Here, also considering the literal meaning of qist, it can be said that qist is a share that everyone has in the circle of his existence inside the society. Perhaps it can be said that an equitable society is a society in which everyone can obtain his real share from every aspect. In verses dealing with this subject, God calls for the realization of qist and its implementation in the form of a command or order. Here, also, qist is either taken as a public order and perpetual matter enjoined by God or it is meant that God commands except on the basis of qist. It has been put forth as one of the features of superior and competent human beings, and opposition to them and their murder is like opposition to divine prophets and their murder. Therefore, enjoining qist, which by itself, is a meritorious act and opposition to enjoiner means opposition to the divine prophets and therefore opposition to God, who is the embodiment of real qist and the equitable.
  • Qist as a quality that belongs to the individual and to the society and its affairs and society:

In this sense also the equitable is the one who observes the real rights and share of oneself and everyone, and deals with all on the basis of ‘adl, and is the distributor of existing blessings based on one’s right. In contrast to this is the qasit meaning one who spoils the rights of others, oneself and God, deflecting from qist. Verses 282 of Surah Baqarah and verse 5 of Surah Ahzab read as follows: “O you who believe! When you contract a debt for a fixed term, record it in writing; and let a scribe write it down between you with fairness.” And “Call them after their true fathers; that is more equitable in the sight of Allah.”

  • Qist is the ultimate and fundamental goal of the creation of the world, as noted in Surah al- Hadid verse 25: “Surely We sent Our messengers with clear proofs, and revealed with them the Book and the Balance, that mankind may observe the right ” Surah an-Nisa verse 135 there is an allusion to qist where it reads: “O, you who believe! Be you staunch in ‘idalat.” The term Qawam here is the hyperbolic form and expressive of the necessity of duration and perfection in rising for the realization of qist. To put it differently:

“Obviously, by permanent and all-out uprising for ‘adl is not meant physical standing, climbing or dismounting. Every individual and society that respects ‘adl is in a state of uprising and every true uprising with a logical purpose for the dispensation of ‘adl is the same as ‘adl. Reflection on ‘adl is a type of uprising for ‘adl, as thinking about life is a supreme manifestation of ‘adl. For this reason, the Holy Qur’an does not say Qaem, rather it says Qawam, which is the hyperbolic form of its concept. Qist and ‘adl refer to the necessity of duration of the uprising and their all-out nature, not being temporary and unilateral.

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