The Qur’an emphatically ordains: “Surely, Allah enjoins justice and kindness.” (16:90)

Two related terms used more than two dozen times in the Qur’an are Adl = Justice and Qist = Equity. Both are forms of justice and although they are often used interchangeably, there is a clear distinction between the two. Adl is Universal Justice whereas Qist is Particular Justice. This article will focus on the application of universal justice and why Allah (swt) links it to kindness.

Justice in the overall sense is simply defined as “Giving every holder of rights their due under Divine Law” so unjust becomes transgressing or withholding the rights of others. Universal justice is incumbent on all beings from Allah, through His Prophets and Imams, to all of humankind.


Among the 99 asmaa-ul-husna of Allah are two attributes of Adl = The Just and Muqsit = The Equitable. Allah is, in the highest sense, justice itself.


The Qur’an declares that the overriding responsibility of the Prophet is to establish a community whose guiding principles would be justice and equity (57:25). Imam Ali (a) explains that “justice is the foundation on which the world rests.” Human society is made up of threads that tie people together. When justice prevails, relationships between people flourish but when it does not, threads unravel and society disintegrates.


Justice and equity continued to be the cornerstone of the teachings of all Imams. Imam Ali set the most stringent standard: “It would be unjust for me to snatch even a single grain of barley from the mouth of a lowly creature like an ant.” During the reign of the khulafah and in the succeeding centuries, injustice and inequity have become so rampant that when the Twelfth Imam returns, the Prophetic tradition states that “he will fill the earth with equity and justice as it was filled with oppression and tyranny.”


Justice is so dear to Allah that He has blessed human beings with two graces. Firstly, he has endowed us with innate sense of justice, that is, the tendency toward justice is rooted in our primordial nature (fitrah) (30:30). However, it is gradually dulled and silenced with repeated acts of injustice. Secondly, He promises us a higher spiritual status, “Be just and equitable, that is nearer to piety” (5:8). Islam is a comprehensive religion so justice and equity should pervade all spheres of human life – social, economic, legal, political and even ecological.

Justice Coupled with Kindness

This link is mentioned in the verse cited above (Adl wal Ihsan). Ihsan means going a step beyond justice. Allah orders us to overlook and forgive the mistakes of others as ihsan wins hearts of people and ties them closely together.  An apt analogy is described in Tafsir-e-Namunah. Each organ of the body has a role to play; it does what it should for the body to function properly. This is giving it what is due, justice. Sometimes, an organ cannot give what it should; other organs pitch in to make up. This is going beyond justice, it is ihsan.