The Humble I

Knowing, Doing, Becoming

The Goal of the Shari‘ah is Justice, Not Equality

IN SPEAKING OF JUSTICE, many well-intended Muslims are unconsciously secularised. For their discourse about justice (Ar. ‘adl, qist) is so often scarred by failing to grasp its Quranic essence: ‘To put a thing in its rightful place.’1 Which is to say, justice is to give things their proper due – at the due time, the due place, and in due measure.

This requires possessing knowledge about the value and measure of things, as Islam assigns to them, so as to give them their due. ‘Hence,’ Ibn al-Qayyim wrote, ‘knowledge and justice are the root of every good, while injustice and ignorance are the root of every evil.’2

The Quranic insistence on justice can be found in many verses, like: God commands you to render back things held in trust to their rightful owners, and if you judge between people, that you judge justly. [Q.4:58] And also: O you who believe! Be upright for justice, witnesses to God, even if it be against yourselves, or parents, or relatives; and wether it be against rich or poor. [Q.4:135]

But talking more from a marketable take on Islam than a textual, well-studied one, they mistakenly equate justice (‘adl) with equality (musawa). This though isn’t really Islam’s story. No doubt, there are areas of overlap between the two. But the Qur’an is couched in the language of justice, not equality. To describe Islam as ‘egalitarian’, or to claim it advocates equality isn’t just reductionist, the concepts are also not very meaningful. While some verses of the Qur’an do have an egalitarian temper to them, many others insist on difference, distinction and divine disparity.

While speaking about the disbelievers who harm and transgress against their own souls due to their disbelief, the Qur’an asks: Is he who is a believer like he who transgresses? They are not equal. [Q.32:18]

We also read: Not equal are the people of the Fire and the people of the Garden. It is the people of the Garden that are the [true] winners. [Q.59:20]

Then there are verses which speak to gender roles, functions and natures: And the male is not like the female. [Q.3:36]

Or as Islam legally requires men to financially maintain family and households, while women do not have any such duty, there’s this verse: God thus commands you concerning [the division of inheritance for] your children: to the male a share equal to that of two females. [Q.4:11]

All this is to say that the Qur’an speaks of justice, not the nebulous social construct of equality. It’s when we veer away from using the vocabulary of the Qur’an, using instead ill-informed substitutes, that distortions or deviations creep in to corrupt the Quranic message. Of all the modern voices guilty of conflating justice with equality, feminism takes first prize.

To conclude: highlighting the core nature of the shari‘ah, Imam Ibn al-Qayyim says that justice is its essential feature. He wrote: ‘Indeed, [God] transcendent is He, has clarified in the paths He legislates that its purpose is: to establish justice among His servants and equity between people. Thus any path by which justice and equity are drawn out is part of the religion, and can never be in opposition to it.’3

Elsewhere he says: ‘The shari‘ah is based on and built on wisdom and [achieving] public welfare, in this life and in the next. It is justice in its entirety, mercy in its entirety, welfare in its entirety, and wisdom in its entirety. Any issue which departs from justice to injustice, or mercy to its opposite, or public welfare to corruption, or wisdom to folly can’t be part of the shari‘ah, even if it is claimed to be so due to some interpretation.’4

1. Al-Raghib, Mufradat Alfaz al-Qur’an (Beirut: Dar al-Qalam, 2002), 537.

2. Madarij al-Salikin (Riyadh: Dar Taybah, 2008), 4:556.

3. Al-Turuq al-Hukmiyyah (Makkah: Dar ‘Alam al-Fawa’id, 2007), 31.

4. I‘lam al-Muwaqqi‘in (Riyadh: Dar Ibn al-Jawzi, 2002), 4:337.

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5 thoughts on “The Goal of the Shari‘ah is Justice, Not Equality

  1. Mr Mohammed Hanif on said:


    This does raise the question of what jusrice is and whether their is a Qur’anic definition or does the Qur’an leave it to be determined by contest. And what would be the “proper place” for things in widely differing contexts.

    • Abu Aaliyah on said:

      Salams Mr Mohammed. Thank you for your question. Knowing what the “proper place” should be is determined by:

      (i) our fiqh teaching
      (ii) in the absence of any clear ruling from our fiqh tradition, or from any qualified scholar, to fear Allah as best as we can and do that which reflects piety, goodness and justice as shaped by Quranic teachings and prophetic norms.

      Revelation and religious guidance is precisely there to help us navigate such issues.

  2. Observer on said:

    There was a time a prisoner could not be incarcerated due to lack of facilities eg a criminal in a tent will escape and who would supply the water and food in a nomadic environment. So the “chopping” was appropriate then, nowadays we can have concrete prisons, etc. 1400 years of Quran and the arab is still a camel, bwahahahaha !!!

    • Abu Aaliyah on said:

      Observer, I hate to be the one to rain on your parade, but your observations are actually flawed. The idea that the Prophet, peace be upon him, or most of his followers or “companions” were living in tents, like bedouins, not only contradicts the Qur’an itself – We only sent before you men to whom We reveal, from the people of the towns. [Q.12:109] – it shows a deep lack of history too.

      People in and before the prophetic era lived in brick and mud buildings, possessed the technology to produce iron, bronze and metal shields, weapons, shackles, spears and swords; and supply of food was usually abundant in the cosmopolitan trading city of Makkah and the oasis city-state of Madinah. Prisons, forts, storehouses, etc. with brick walls were a part of the features of seventh century Arabian civilisation.To suggest otherwise is simply untrue; and thus your reasoning about cutting off hands is … flimsy, and built on lazy reasoning and false stereotypes.

      And yet on top of that, you also thought to mock Arabs based on your faulty reasons and their presumed backwardness! Valid and constructive criticism of any person or people is, no doubt, part of our religion: mocking people is not. And this in a post whose theme is justice! It perhaps could even be said: ‘People in glass houses …’

      We ask Allah’s forgiveness, and that He be kind to us in our learning, understanding and speech about others.

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