Divine Justice (Al-Adl) is the belief that God is Just and does not commit any act of injustice towards any human beings.

It is one of the Five Pillars of Faith in Shi'a Islam.

The belief means that God does not punish people who have obeyed and worshipped him, and does not reward people who have disobeyed Him. This is because injustice is a result of ignorance and the lack of wisdom, all of which cannot be true of God, the Most Knowledgeable, the Most Powerful and the Most Wise.

God has given humans the ability to differentiate good from evil, which in the Qur'an is referred to as 'fitra'.

Humans are born with this ability, and even if a human does not follow a religion, he or she is able to understand that kindness is good and cruelty is evil. Humans also have the ability to choose their actions, so they can do good deeds or evil deeds.

The Justice of God can be proven by the fact that He has given mankind the ability to know good from evil and the ability to choose between them.

Divine Justice (Al-Adl) is the belief that God is Just and does not commit any act of injustice towards any human beings.

It is one of the Five Pillars of Faith in Shi’a Islam.

Muslim scholars have defined justice as placing everything in its rightful place and not exceeding the limits. The belief in God’s justice means that He does not punish people who have obeyed and worshipped Him, and does punish those who have disobeyed Him. This belief is in contrast to the opinion of other theological schools in Islam such as the Asha'irah that state that God does not need to be Just, as whatever he does is good.

Shi‘a use verses from the Qur’an to demonstrate that He has attributed justice to Himself and has bound His actions by that justice, such as:

“Allah bears witness that there is no god but He, and (so do) the angels and those possessed of knowledge, maintaining His creation with justice; there is no God but He, the Mighty, the Wise.”[1]

A further verse explains what God's justice is:

“And we do not lay on any soul a burden except to the extent of its ability, and with us is a book which speaks the truth, and they shall not be dealt with unjustly.”[2]

Some Muslims argue that humankind cannot recognise good and evil independently, which is why they believe that everything that Allah does is good and he does not need to be Just. Shi‘a theologians have responded to this argument by stating that humankind, does in fact have the ability to recognize good from evil independently, as mentioned in the Qur’an:

“And pointed out to him the two conspicuous ways ( of good and evil)”,[3]

This refers to the distinct paths of good and evil that God has created humans with the ability to recognise. Additionally, Shi‘a theologians argue that without the independent capacity to recognise good and evil, right from wrong, humans would not be able to recognise that the revelation of God was good and right. 

The discussion regarding the justice of God is very closely linked to the discussion of free will and predetermination. The essential question is:

Do humans have free will to act according to their desires or has God predetermined their actions?

This is an important question because it forms the foundation upon which the belief in God’s justice is founded. If humans do not have a choice with regards to their actions, how can it be right that they will stand accountable for those actions on the Day of Judgment? The Shi‘a believe that humans have free will that does not override the will and power of God, which is known as the position between the two (free will and predetermination), owing to the Hadith of Imam Ja‘far al-Sadiq (a.s) in which he states:

“Neither compulsion (jabr) nor complete freedom (tafwid): rather, something between the two.”

Therefore, given that God has bestowed humans with the ability to know right from wrong independently, and given them the ability to make a choice between the two, He must be Just, as there would be no reason for him to do so otherwise.   

[1] Qur’an 3:18.

[2] Qur’an 23:62.

[3] Qur’an 90:10.

The scales of justice, a judge's hammer and a set of scriptures, aligned next to a quote from the Qur’an about the Judgement Day which uses the imagery of scales.

The belief in divine justice is the second Pillar of Faith in Shi‘a Islam.

Justice denotes fairness in placing everything in its rightful place, and not exceeding the limits; the opposite of which is injustice.

The Shi‘a hold that God is Just, owing to the abhorrent nature of injustice and the logical requirement for the creator to be Just. Scholastic theologians explain that in principle, oppression and injustice are always consequences of one of the following possibilities: ignorance, incapability and need or immorality due to imprudence. [1] Further, theologians assert that these factors cannot logically have anything to do with the Divine nature of Allah (s.w.t).

Therefore, they conclude that intellect/reason proves that Allah (s.w.t) is Just due to the essential beauty of justice and the inherent abhorrent nature of injustice.

How the Qur’an Describes God

In the Qur’an, God attributes justice to Himself in a number of verses such as:

“Allah bears witness that there is no god but He, and (so do) the angels and those possessed of knowledge, maintaining His creation with justice; there is no god but He, the Mighty, the Wise.”[2]

Another verse in which God attributes justice to Himself is:

“And We do not lay on any soul a burden except to the extent of its ability, and with Us is a book which speaks the truth, and they shall not be dealt with unjustly.”[3]

In this verse, the first section alludes to God's justice in the legislation of laws and the appointment of responsibility, and the second refers to His justice in allocating reward and punishment.

However, in relation to the issue of God's justice, there are questions regarding the human perception of justice, and their concept of good and evil. The point of contention with regards to this topic is whether human intellect is able to independently perceive and judge between perfection and deficiency, good and evil. One argument reserves this capability for the Creator, hence, believing that what He deems to be good is good, and what he deems to be evil is evil.

The Ash‘arites argue that human intellect is incapable of discriminating between good and evil actions, and they assert that the distinction between good and evil can only be made on the basis of divine revelation. [4] However, the Shi‘a believe that one can discriminate between good and evil through intellect/reason, as Allah (s.w.t) has said in the Qur'an:

“And pointed out to him the two conspicuous ways (of good and evil).”[5]

The verse indicates that Allah (s.w.t) has shown humankind the way of goodness and the way of evil, so that he may choose. In addition to this verse, it is difficult to deny that regardless of one’s background and religious beliefs, or lack thereof, one is capable of grasping the beauty of kindness and honesty and the repugnance of deceit and cruelty. Further illustrating their point, Shi‘a theologians argue that if human intellect did not have the capacity to distinguish between good and evil, there would be no basis upon which to trust the law-giver and assume he was telling the truth.

Free Will and Predetermination

Another topic that obstructs the path towards the assertion of Divine Justice is the disagreement surrounding free will and predetermination. The Muslim Shi'a scholars contend that there is logical and textual evidence supporting the view that humans have free will in their actions. However, this freedom does not mean complete independence from God’s will and power; rather that a human possesses free will within the limitations imposed upon him by God’s will and all encompassing power.

Mu’tazilite View

The Mu‘tazilites hold that humans have free will and complete independence from God’s will and power. They justify this belief with two points:

1)    The influence of God’s will and power over the actions of humans is against divine wisdom, as this would be coercive and unjust, and consequently cannot be attributed to God.

2)    Secondly, the occurrence of two different wills and two different powers in regard to one matter, namely the action of the human, is impossible.[6]

Shi‘a theologians responded to this opinion by arguing that there is no contradiction between the wisdom of God and the notion that all of creation is in the realm of His will and power, including the actions of humans. Denying this would undermine God’s power and ability over everything, which is a claim that cannot be accepted. Further, the impossibility of two wills and powers occurring simultaneously in regard to one action would be a correct assumption if both wills and powers were absolute in their ability to achieve the action. However, this cannot be claimed as the will of a human is subject to the will of God, owing to his/her  lack of ability in relation to the will of God, and never does the will of a possible contingent existent go against that of a necessary existent.[7]

Ash’arite View

The Ash‘arites, in contrast, adopt a view opposite to the Mu‘tazilite opinion, as they believe that man is predetermined by God, in so far as his actions. Man has no say in the matter or free will, as the actions of humans are in reality the actions God has brought into effect through those humans. They explain this by stating that God’s will encompasses everything and nothing in the universe is outside the realm of God’s will, as he has said in the Qur’an:

“…surely Allah does what He pleases.”[8]

Owing to this absolute nature of God’s power, the Ash‘arites argue that a human is not capable of implementing his will, he is merely a vessel moved by Divine will and power. They add however, that although the action is that of Allah (s.w.t), the Kasb, or acquisition, is that of the human. However, they differ in explaining Kasb, as some perceive it to be the nature of the action, good or bad, and others depict it as the determination of a human in causing the action to happen and Allah creating the action.[9]

Shi’a Interpretation

As mentioned earlier, the Shi‘a believe that a human has free will in his actions in a manner that does not encroach upon the Divine will and ability. They argue that both free will and divine will are logically possible. They explain that all humans determine that there is a difference between actions that are caused by intention and purpose, such as descending from a flight of stairs to reach the lower level, and actions that are not, such as falling down a flight of stairs due to error or external circumstances. A person is able to refrain from the first action; however he is unable to do so with the second action. Thus, if all of mans actions were without freedom, there would be no difference between the two kinds of actions mentioned above. Owing to the logical difference between two such actions, it can be understood that humans have free will.

In addition, if a human were not responsible for his actions due to the absence of free will, then God would have done him an injustice by imposing duties upon him, as the human lacks the free will to carry out those duties but must do so anyway. Further, God would be completely unjust to if He were to create the evil actions of humans then punish them thereafter. Therefore, a human logically must have the capacity of free will over his actions. Adding to the argument, God is the only necessary existent and everything else are merely possible existents. Accordingly, the possible existent cannot come into existence without acquiring existence from the necessary. On this basis, human actions, which are possible, cannot come into existence independently of the necessary existent. 

This opinion is called “the position between the two.”[10] This is the position between free will and compulsion.

The Shi‘a have also used a number of verses from the Qur’an to support their belief in “the position between the two.” Similar to the Ash‘arites, the Shi‘a use verse (22:18) to prove that all things occur owing to God’s will. In addition, they use the following verses to prove that humans have free will in their own actions:

“And the soul and Him Who made it perfect, Then He inspired it to understand what is right and wrong for it; He will indeed be successful who purifies it, And he will indeed fail who corrupts it.”[11]

The above verse illustrates that it would be futile to inspire a soul with the knowledge of what is right and what is wrong, if it did not have the capability to choose between right and wrong freely.

Furthermore, Shi‘a theologians refer to the following verse to illustrate their point:

“Whoever does good, it is for his own soul, and whoever does evil, it is against it; and your Lord is not in the least unjust to the servants.”[12]

They conclude that if a human did not have free will, then this verse would not have ascribed the responsibility of actions, whether good or evil, to humans. Thus they contend that the verse discards the opinion of predetermination.

Finally, to prove that human action is subject both to free will and the will of God, Shi‘a theologians use the following verse, which illustrates that the action is in reality due to both the free will of man and the will of God:

“So you did not slay them, but it was Allah Who slew them, and you did not smite when you smote (the enemy), but it was Allah Who smote, and that He might confer upon the believers a good gift from Himself; surely Allah is Hearing, Knowing.”[13]

Bibliography

Al-‘AmilI, HasanMakkI, Bidayat al-Ma‘rifa (Najaf,1992)

Al-Mufid, Mohammed b. al-Nuʿman, Tashih al-iʿtiqad (Tabriz, 1951)

Al-Mufid, Mohammed b. al-Nuʿman, Awaʼil al-maqalat (Tehran, 1993)

Al-Hilli, Hassan b. al-Mutahhar, kashf al-murad fi sharah tajrid al-iʿtiqad (Qum, 2004)

 Al-Hilli, Hassan b. al-Mutahhar, al-bab al-hadiʿashar (Tehran, 2006)

 Al-Mudhaffar, Mohammed Ridā, ʿaqaʼid al-imamiyyah (Najaf, 2004)



[1]Ja‘farSobhani, trans & edit by Reza Shah-Kazemi, Doctrines of Shi‘i Islam: A Compendium of Imami Beliefs and Practices, I.B. Tauris, London, 2001, p. 48.

[2] Qur’an 3:18.

[3] Qur’an 23:62.

[4] al-‘Amili, HasanMakkI, Bidayat al-Ma‘rifa, Mu’asasat Baqīyat Allah, Najaf, 1992, p. 139.

[5] Qur’an 90:10.

[6] Muḍaffār, MuḥammadRiẓa,‘Aqā’id al-Imamiyya, Imam Ali Foundation, Qum, 1996, p. 268.

[7] al-‘Amili, HasanMakki, Bidayat al-Ma‘rifa, Mu’asasat Baqīyat Allah, Najaf, 1992, p. 152.

[8] Qur’ān 22:18

[9] al-‘Amili, HasanMakki, Bidayat al-Ma‘rifa, Mu’asasat Baqīyat Allah, Najaf, 1992, p. 153.

[10] Ibid

[11] Qur’an 91:7-9.

[12] Qur’an 41:46.

[13] Qur’an 8:17.

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