Islamic Laws

Analytical Definition of Justice

Analytical Definition of Justice

By: Ayatullah Abdullah Javadi Amuli
You have frequently heard that justice means “putting things in their right place.” Some have presumed that this definition is replete with ambiguity for it is a general axiom whose purports are not quite clear. However, it must be noted that a definition becomes ambiguous when the totality of it is questioned. However, if a definition has no shortcomings in this respect, it is not ambiguous although its purports may not be clear. To decipher the purports, one must refer to the source, which is responsible for adjusting them.
When a lawyer intends to know justice, he must be aware in recognizing its purports. To this end, one must understand the phenomena, and the place of the phenomena in the universe; one must also know how to put each phenomenon in its place. If like everyone else involved with justice a lawyer takes the three steps mentioned above, he can adjust that general axiom to clear purports.
After all, one must be aware that justice is not hypostatized although it is an evaluative concept. The implication is not that justice does not really exist in the universe, but fabricated by human mind. Like all other evaluative concepts, justice is derived from the universe and abstracted from genetic affairs.
It is appropriate now to give an instance at this juncture. When some people gather together with the intention of undertaking something purposeful and organized, their situation may be interpreted as a manifestation of a living human person. A human person has a head (the center to command the limbs) and limbs (the parts of taking command, each of which has a particular function.) With this choice and abstraction, one can choose among them one as the head to lead others and the rest of the limbs as parts engaged in a particular function. With this choice, the terms head and the members come into being. This is true for justice. In the universe, each phenomenon is in its place and busy with a task appropriate to its situation.
This harmony and proportion bespeak the justice of creation. One abstracts this from genetic affairs and with this choice, any time each member of the community the instance of which was given earlier performs his function, the situation is regarded as being just. Although justice is an evaluative concept, it runs within the stream of existence; however, in evaluative issues, the concept is a hypostatized one and in genetic affairs, a real concept.
With this in mind, it becomes evident that justice is not a concept replete with literal ambiguities. It cannot be said that justice in the creation of God holds a particular sense or that the human justice is different. It must not be imagined that social and political justice have two distinctive meanings. In addition, it cannot be accepted that these have difference of meanings.
The truth is that justice is a spiritual ambiguity and holds the same meaning in all this. The difference of purport never agrees with the conceptual unity. To clarify this point, one can consider science. Science is of different kinds such as hypostatized sciences or real sciences; immediate or intuitive knowledge; or the knowledge, which is identical to nature and the one going beyond it. These differences come from the difference of purports rather than that of concept. In fact, knowledge is not a sheer concept. However, in different cases, it has different manifestations. In other words, knowledge is a spiritual ambiguity. The same case is true for justice.
Understanding and Feeling Justice
At times this question comes up: how can one feel justice? Can one understand justice with tangible and experienced signs? If not, how can one understand justice in real life or in the realm beyond the human mind?
First, it must be said that justice is not of the perceptual concepts to have perceptual signs. One cannot experiment justice in the laboratory. Imam ‘Ali (A.S.) states, “Truth is not of the experimental signs through which one can distinguish between right and wrong.” 1
However, this does not mean that one cannot distinguish between just and unjust. To understand right and just is not confined to sense and experiment. This Imam ‘Ali (A.S.) has shown us. The eminent Imam has stated in one of his letters, “Those who reside in my government, and joined the Umayids, saw and heard justice and placed it in their hearts, but did not accept it.”2
From this pithy statement, it is perceived that Imam Ali had treated in his time in a way that people could understand justice. In other words, a just government can introduce justice to people by showing the evidences of justice. By virtue of this reason, on the basis of a statement by the same venerable Imam, the best servants of God are those who can make understood justice by their deeds. “The nearest servants to the Lord are those who are more truthful than others though to their detriment, and stick to truth more than others, though there might be harm in it.”3
Although it is hard to be adorned with justice and truth, it is the best way possible to introduce it.
Basically, the politician who can be the representative of justice with his foresight shall prosper. Hence, reason is no other than justice. In defining the sage, Imam ‘Ali has given the same statement as for justice. It was asked of Imam: “Define the wise man for us.” The Imam said, “The wise man is he who puts everything in its right place.” Then the Imam was asked, “who is ignorant?” the Imam replied, “the same thing I said about the wise man.”4
This means that the reverse image of the wise man mirrors the ignorant. Definitions of this type, which are sometimes observed in the sayings of the innocent Imams, are polemic definitions, albeit of the superior polemic. In this type of definition, an affair is not clarified by genus or differentia but by its likes. In the definition cited above, the same polemic method is used. Of course, the Imams have defined concepts by genus and differentia elsewhere.
With attention to the function of justice in policy making, one can perceive why justice is a better concept for some rulers. For instance, Imam Ali in response to a question said, “Justice puts things in their right places and puts them in categories; justice coordinates the public policy and gives benefit to those who are forgiven: so justice is nobler and superior.”5
In other words, from charity, one can benefit in time of tumult but what should be done by a ruler or a policy maker is justice. In view of what was said, justice is like reason and practical wisdom.
Now that our discussion has diverted to this point, it deserves note that one of the secrets of the needs of man for innocent Imams lies in this very fact. If they are not innocent, how can one choose among the numerous evidences something as justice? If the innocent Imam does not show justice within the matrix of evidences, how can one recognize justice? As understood by what Imam ‘Ali said, one can understand the right with utter simplicity.
However, when applying the truth, who but the innocent Imams can exercise the truth and offer it to people? “The truth in description is of great expanse but in practice, it is of the narrowest realm.”6
Nobody censors Plato, Aristotle or other sages as to why they have not presented a practical instance of their ideals?! They are scholars who do not have chastity in practice although they have sublime knowledge. However, the society expects an innocent Imam to present a practical instance of right and justice and truth so they may not fail to understand the truth. And if it is not so, how can one understand those general concepts?
Explaining Justice within the Realm of Human Powers
As was mentioned earlier, there are many things to say about right and justice. Some scholars have embarked upon describing corporeal qualities and human powers. Based on their experiences, observations, testata, and those of others, they have concluded that human powers may be classified under three categories. And although they are not unrelated to each other, the boundary of each one of them is separate from that of the other.
The first category is the intellectual and scientific power of man. The second category consists of the power of attraction. And the third category is the power of dispelling. Based on this division, the human powers do not go beyond these three categories for each one of the human behaviors is of two kinds; either they are associated with intellect and perception which is related to the first category or with conduct which belongs to the second and third categories.
Each one of these powers has three stages: moderateness (tafrit), middle or immoderacy. The intellect is sometimes within the realm of moderateness. In this state, the individual is slow. Sometimes, this power is in the stage of immoderacy, which renders one sharp. If this power is in the middle stage, it means that the individual has intellectual balance and understands each affair properly; neither does he delay in understanding nor does he go beyond what is necessary, that is he does not beat about the bush.
This state of immoderacy, that is precocious understanding and untimely wandering of the mind is called jurbuzah. As a slow person does not reach anywhere, the person with jurhuzah does not achieve success. However, the one whose intellectual power is balanced, merely accepts rational affairs, champions it and does not wash his hands off it so easily. The one who possesses such a power (and in this respect), he is in a state of justice and intermediacy is called a sage. And this central kernel is called theosophy which apart from absolute science is juxtaposed with theology an Gnosticism.
Now let us speak about the second category, that is attraction. This power can also have one of these three states. Sometimes man strives to achieve his aspiration and inclines towards it with greed. This state is called shirah. Sometimes he procrastinates in reaching his aspiration, which is called khumul. However, if the power of attraction is in a state of equity, it is called iffat (chastity.) Of course, this method of naming is of the instinctive affairs.
These three states are respectively called hirs (greed), tabdhir (extravagance), and sikhavat (generosity) in financial affairs. Thus, the central kernel of power of attraction is generosity and chastity. If someone achieves this central kernel, he may give away all his wealth, this act being called generosity, not extravagance.
To ascertain what is generosity or extravagance deserves special alertness. Especially to ascertain this, one has to accord special attention to the stages of this state and the relation of every individual to those states. For instance, there are many stages for generosity and each individual has one of these states. It is evident that ascertaining that central kernel plays an essential role in legal and moral perceptions.
In the third category, that is the power of dispelling, the case is the same. Sometimes an individual wishes to obliterate all the affairs he considers unpleasant. This state is called tahawwur (audacity). And sometimes he keeps silent in the face of tyranny and finds himself hand tied in dispelling the misfortunes of life. This state of moderateness is called jubn (cowardice). However, sometimes the individual adopts a middle manner and observes equity. This state is called shuja ‘at (courage). Here as in the second category, the states are different. Someone may have a lot of courage and some other person a little of it; at any rate, he is in the same central kernel of the power of dispelling.
It is good for the individual to be in these three central kernels, that is theosophy, generosity, chastity and courage as someone who walks on a straight path and avoids walking in the bypasses. When man is in the main path, he shall definitely have different speeds. The one who is in the path should have different speeds as his situation necessitates. Therefore, equity does not mean stability or equality, but on the same path, going with speed is like equity. In this way, our leaders are the innocent Imams who manifest real equity with their conducts. If someone wishes to distinguish between the boundary of immoderacy and middle and move with balance along the path, they have to walk in the ways of those eminent Imams.
In view of what was said, justice is the outcome of the balance of the three human powers and can never be counted as an independent identity. The one who walks in the main path, is called just. If someone is in the middle of two powers, this means what is used in philosophy and major jurisprudence.
However, in minor jurisprudence, this does not have the same meaning; the just one is he who puts aside the prohibited and does the obligatory affairs. For instance, a person may not be courageous but minor jurisprudence regards him as being just whereas philosophy and major jurisprudence do not consider him so. Therefore, it must be noted that what we stated concerning the meaning of justice, is derived from the sayings of the sages and is common among them.
Of course, there have been and are people who reject this categorization and gives such criticisms: it is not obvious that every affair may have middle or immoderacy. Also, extravagance cannot be beyond the realm of justice. However in view of what was stated, it became evident that what they criticize does not hold any similarity with sayings of the sages, but fabricated by their minds.
The great sages, those who lived before Islam or before it, were all the followers of the Abrahamic prophets and these criticisms are not true about their sayings. As you observed, in the eyes of the sages, as soon as man steps into the main path, speeding up or walking slowly does not oppose to justice. And sometimes walking with speed is good. Before stepping into this path, the rule of “the best of affairs is the middle” is prevalent. However, after it, sometimes “Hasten then to precede each other in everything good” (Surah al-Baqarah 2:148; & Surah al-Maidah 5:48)
appears. All these are conditional upon the fact that man gets lesson from the evidences of justices as manifested in the sayings and conducts of the innocent Imams and distinguish his way from them so he may not fall into the pitfall of miseries and substitute immoderacy and middle with justice.
Justice is All-Pervasive
All human beings, no matter what language, tradition or culture they have, long for and love justice. That is why the Holy Qur’an has introduced the essence of everyone as being truth and justice.
“The Lord created you and bade you to justice.” (Surah al-Infitar 82:7)
This justice in creation manifested itself in the way that God bestowed upon the universe whatever it required for existence and gave it whatever it needed to achieve its end: “Our Lord is He who created everything and then guided it.” (Surah Taha 20:50)
So, justice and equity are located within the existential structure of everything and all creations have the essence of justice. By essence, no one goes beyond the realm of justice unless they assist the anti-essence factors. The Lord, who is in control of everything, has placed the straight path before the Cosmos and all creatures by nature strive for this straight path.
“There is no living creature but He holdeth it in His control by its forelock. Verily my Lord is on the Right path.” (Surah Hud 11:56)
By virtue of this reason, the Holy Qur’an bids everyone to uphold justice: “O ye who believe! Do stand firmly with justice. Witnesses for God’s sake.” (Surah an-Nisa 4:135; Surah al-Maidah 5:8)
Here, the Holy Qur’an talks about qawam not qaim. This indicates the difficulty of upholding justice. Man should uphold justice through experience so he may reach from qa’imiyyat to qawwamiyat. There is many a time when man is seized with doubts concerning upholding justice. If someone overcomes these doubts and upholds justice, then he shall be the upholder of justice. It is through this process which man becomes impelled to ignore his personal benefits and avoids kinship in the way of justice. Here, for the sake of kinship, man ignores the truth.
“When ye speak, be just, though it be against a kinsman.” (Surah al-An’am 6:152)
Here is why revenge does not become an excuse for tyranny.
“And let not hatred of a people incite you not to act equitably.” (Surah al-Maidah 5:8 & 2)
Hence the Holy Qur’an enjoins man not to use friendship as a way of immoderacy and enemy as a way of ignoring. This is the best way possible to avoid blindness arising from greed and animosity.
As everyone strives for justice, the Holy Qur’an bids everyone to justice. In his letter to Malik, Imam ‘Ali (A.S.) wrote, “Do not tyrannize over people like a voracious wolf, for people are of two kinds: either they are your brethren or your equal in creation.”7
This command of Imam Ali (A.S.) embodies all the teachings of the Holy Qur’an which bids the holy Prophet to uphold justice towards the non­Muslims. For instance, every time the people of the book find legal differences, and step into a Muslim court, the Prophet is given authority to either solve their problem himself or send them to the court of the people of the book.
“If they come unto thee judge between them or turn aside from them: and if thou turneth aside from them, then never shall they harm thee in any way, if thou judge, judge thou between them with equity; verily God loveth those who deal equitable.” (Surah al-Maidah 5:42)
The very same Qur’anic principle is prevalent in our jurisprudence and well indicates that the Holy Qur’an values all-pervasive justice.
Justice: One of the Goals of the Prophetic Missions
Th Holy Qur’an states that upholding justice is one of the goals of prophetic missions. However, it must be noted that the Holy Qur’an states this along with two major principles. Firstly, the Holy Qur’an regards the Cosmos as being on the axis of justice – we shall treat this later – secondly, the upholding of justice is considered as the intermediate mission of the prophets, not their ultimate goal: Thus, on the axis of truth, justice is not located in the beginning to be considered as the beginning nor is it located in the end to be regarded as the ultimate goal.
As to justice being one of the goals of the prophetic missions, the Holy Qur’an states, “Indeed sent We our apostles and clear proofs and sent We down with them the Book and the scale that people may establish themselves in justice.” (Surah al-Hadid 57:25)
However, it must be noted that the talk has been diverted here after some processes. Prior to this, the Holy Qur’an considered God as the upholder of justice and introduced the angels as the witnesses to the oneness of the just Lord, “God is witness that there is no God save Him and the angels and men of learning (too are witness) maintaining His creation in justice, there is no God save Him, the Almighty, the Wise.” (Surah Aale Imran 3:18)
In this verse, the oneness of God is united with the justice of creation. In other words, as God is the upholder of justice, it shows the oneness of God, for if this origin was organized before this, the harmony, order, and justice would leave the cosmos and everything would decide its own fate. Then, the law and justice did not manifest themselves so that God founded His work upon it, but justice is begotten by His work: and He is the Heart of justice. As the scholars see this justice, they testify to the oneness of God. This means that justice is not located at the beginning of that line.
On the other hand, justice is not the ultimate goal of the prophets. The Holy Qur’an regards for middle men justice as the goal of prophetic mission. However, for the seekers the main goal is that they should tear the dark veils and penetrate into the world of light.
“This is a Scripture We have revealed unto thee that thereby thou mayst bring forth mankind from darkness unto light.” (Surah Ibrahim 14:1)
There is a big difference between a just man and a luminous man. The just man upholds justice for he regards it as his own duty; but the luminous man is himself the source of justice and justice is manifested by him. One can understand this difference in the comparison between the mujtahids and ordinary men. An ordinary man tries to create within himself ijtihad through study; but as to those who have attained to the degree of ijtihad, the qualities of ijtihad are manifested within their thoughts and souls, the same qualities others attempt to create within them.
What was said becomes manifest in the question and answer of the holy Prophet. The Great Prophet was asked, “Although you are infallible, why are you so humble before God?” The Prophet answered, “Should I not be a grateful servant of God?” This means that the holy Prophet did not show humbleness in fear of divine punishment, but that he was humble before God because he had the sense of gratefulness.
Therefore, justice is a goal for those who are in the middle of the path. He, who attains light, does not consider a goal the upholding of justice but he is the personification of justice. Concerning such a person, the Holy Qur’an states, “And set for him a light wherein he walketh among men.” (Surah al-An’am 6:122)
Whereas the people in the middle of the path try to reach through justice a light by which they can live with people.
Justice Runs through the Entire Universe
One of the sweetest fruits of Islamic thinking is that justice is not confined to one or several creatures but runs through and with the entire universe, even the Exalted Nature of the Almighty. It is appropriate to quote an example from the Holy Qur’an. In the Sura of Kahf (Cave), there is a mention of two gardens, which are both lush and green and bear many fruits. The Holy Qur’an states in this regard, “Each of the gardens gave its fruit and withheld naught thereof.” (Surah al-Kahf 18:33)
It must not be imagined that the use of the word “withheld” is metaphorical. It is neither metaphorical in word nor in transmission; it is neither intellectual metaphor nor is it literal metaphor.
The garden is indeed just. The idea is that it perfonns its duty in the cosmos. All other creatures are founded upon justice like these two gardens. However, the beings endowed with intellect are bound to be genetically just and religiously responsible . It is everyone’s task to accept justice. Even the angels and perfect men are bound to perform this duty. Despite the fact that the angels are free from sins, they shall be chastised if they shirk their responsibility.
“And one of them who should say: Lo! I am a God beside Him, that one We should repay with hell.” (Surah al-Ambiya 21:29)
Even the great Prophet of Islam – who is the most perfect man – is bound to this genetic and religious duty. On the one hand, he is located within the realm of existence and is born and dies like everyone else and on the other hand, he is bound to uphold justice like everyone else, “If thou ascribe a partner to Allah, thy work will fail and thou indeed wilt be among the losers.” (Surah az-Zumar 39:65)
So, whatever exists in the world, is bound to uphold justice and that justice runs through the universe. Now this question comes up: if so, is the Lord bound to this must? The answer is that the Lord is just and never tyrannizes: however, there is a substantial difference between the acceptance of justice on the part of God and on the part of others. About any creature but God, we say, “He deserves justice.” But about God, we say, “Justice should be meted out by God.” The idea is that God never tyrannizes, it does not mean that He should uphold justice and should not tyrannize.
The Lord, unlike other beings, is not confined to the realm of musts. And no superior system may impose anything on Him. Whatever God does is pure justice, for He is pure perfection. And every must, justice springs from Him. The same proof that demonstrates the truth of God, shows His qualities and then evaluates His actions on the basis of these qualities. Therefore, God and existence are all the upholders of justice.
This justice running through the entire universe shall never cease to be. For instance, Some people believe that the lack of justice arises from the social deprivations. As people are deprived, they are thirsty for justice: and if their deprivations are gone, there is no more need for justice. This is extremely wrong for they have stated that justice is not only the goal but also the duty of every creature in the universe. This duty should be done under any circumstances.
Besides, justice and deprivation have two different relationships with each other. Sometimes this relationship is based upon precaution and sometimes upon dispelling. Sometimes, justice is meant to combat the existing deprivations with the present situation. But this does not cause the other duty, justice to be forgotten which involves creating a background and escape from the society and the aloofness of the society from ills. Anytime the superior society is inflicted with a misfortune. it struggles against it through justice to eliminate it. And any time it does not have any deprivation, it strives to eliminate the ills by upholding justice. Therefore, it is everyone’s duty to uphold and champion justice and justice constantly runs through the warps and wefts of the society.
The Union of Justice and Moral Issues
It must be noted here that although the materialistic schools have accepted the relationship between legal and moral issues, this bond is considered to be confined to nature and material. However, in the Islamic thinking, this bond is firmer in the Hereafter. At any rate, in this part, we shall deal with the relationship between justice, love, equality. and charity.
Let us begin with the concept of love. Do love and feeling leave no room for justice? If the members of any society love each other, will there be any talk of justice? Those who give a negative answer to this question, have stated that any time there is any mention of love, the tyranny is not obliterated but everyone tries to give his rights to others. For instance in a family brimming with love and affection, everyone gives his financial benefit to others with utter enthusiasm and risks their own comfort for the comfort of others. In such a family, there is never any talk of justice. Now if we round our society on the basis of love and charity, we shall not need to talk about justice.
The answer is that love is a moral value which although it has union with rights, it has a different realm. On a longitudinal axis, rights come first and then morality. If someone succeeds in respecting the moral issues, he shall then step into the realm of moral affairs. The Holy Qur’an constantly reminds us of this sequence. Firstly, it bids us all to justice and then to good works.
“Allah bids to justice and good-doing.” (Surah an-Nahl 16:90)
If we look at the relationship between love and justice from this angle, the status of each of them is clarified and there will be no room to bring up the previously mentioned discussion.
Now it is the time to study the relationship between justice and equality.
This engaging slogan has long been common that the laws should be done equally towards people. This slogan has constantly drawn the oppressed people and has been used as an instrument by the policy makers and the tricksters. But the truth is that there is difference between justice and equality. To explain this difference, we had better choose a star from the sky of Imam ‘Ali’s words.
During his reign, a group went to him and said, “Why do you distribute the common wealth equally among people?” They thought that if the Imam gave more to the powerful group of the society, they would protect him. However, the great imam answered, “Do you want me to win victory at the price of tyranny?”8
To understand this, one must know that in the Islamic thinking properties are of different kinds to three of which we shall refer. One group of properties should be distributed equally among people. The second group should be distributed differently among people. The third group should be distributed among some people.
Equality runs in the society where everyone performs their duty shoulder by shoulder. For instance, the booty should be distributed equally among those who have fought side by side. However, if among them are some who have taken greater pains, they shall have more booty. Thus, if some people have shirked responsibility during the war, they will not benefit from the booty. As you see the three different type of distribution are seen in the three instances given above which include equality, difference and allocation.
With this explanation it becomes evident that Imam Ali believes the common wealth to belong to the first category and believes it to belong to all members of the society and considered equality in the distribution of it. Now once again observe his answer, “Do you want me to win victory at the price of tyranny?” This answer embodies some lessons.
The first lesson is that the end does not justify the means. To achieve victory – even if the victorious ruler is Imam Ali, one cannot choose an inappropriate path to violate the truth. Imam Husayn repeats the same thing when he says, “If someone tries to reach his goal through sin, he shall lose way before everyone else and plunge into pitfall.”9
Sin can never be a way towards victory but it is a bypass.
“But they will meet deception.” (Surah Maryam 19:59)
The lesson we get from the sayings of Imam Ali. “Indeed it is not proper to bestow one’s wealth upon those who do not deserve it. This raises the status of the one who bestows but debases him in the Hereafter. That is, it endears him among people but puts him to shame before God. He who squanders his wealth and bestows it upon those who do not deserve, God will make them ungrateful and he will not win their friendship. Thus, if some day something awful happens to him and he happens to need them, they will be among the most censorious friends.”10
So in distributing properties, one does not have to be too extravagant or too generous. Tabdhir means spreading the seeds in a place like a heath from which there will be no fruit. Apart from this minor syllogism, he propounds the major syllogism. “He who puts wealth in an inappropriate place, he shall be endeared by people but will be humbled before God.”
From this syllogism, it is concluded that he who squanders his wealth will be put to shame before God. This is the outcome of the first lesson. The first lesson was this; that from tyranny one cannot attain his end. Now the manifestation of the same truth can be observed. A ruler might be held dear through tyranny by powerful people, but he will be humbled before God and if one day he takes recourse to these powerful people, he shall realize that they are the worst friends. And they will save him from solitude. The secret lies in this that the cosmos is governed by God and if God does not will, man will not be dear in the eyes of people even if he shows great generosity.
The same leader who so firmly manifests equality, elsewhere shows that justice does not equal equality. As was said earlier, there are different ways to bestow one’s wealth. Now, an instance shall be given concerning the funnction of the Imam. One of his disciples came to him and asked for some part of the booty. Although he was a friend of the Imam, the Imam stated: “Indeed, this is not yours but the property of the Muslims and the fruit of their swords. If you had participated like everyone else in this battle, you would have some. However, if it is not so, none of the booty shall reach you.”11 As you see, allocating wealth here is to those who have had a part in gaining it and there will not remain a chance for propounding the slogan of equality.
In the end, it must be said that the slogan of equality is equal to truth and justice when there is talk of the wealth of the first group. Yes, everyone is equal before the law but the law of equality is not equal for everyone. It is not in harmony with intellect and equity that the people with intellect and diverse physical and spiritual interests and benefits to have equal laws. It cannot be accepted that the members of the society shall be rewarded equally, given the amount of pain they take. Hence, equality is not equal to justice and cannot be replaced by it although it might not seem pleasant to some people.
Here, it is good to quote Mohaqeq Tusi, “There must be two bases for every writing and saying; they must be understood by the common folk and the elite alike.” Those who chanted the slogan of equality and justice and drew people behind them, did they not think that speaking of a classless society before the scholars, would entail so many criticisms?
Now let us see how justice is unified with charity. Firstly, it must be admitted that in the Islamic thinking, there are two aspects for charity; one is moral, the other being legal. Its moral aspect manifests itself when man cooperates with others and assists them in good works. However, the legal aspect of charity which is our concern is manifested when there is the question of the basic needs of man. That a Muslim should answer the basic needs of the needy is not among the jurisprudential or moral issues for the verses touching it descended in Mecca; and we know most of the Meccan verses did not involve jurisprudential issues. One of such verse is this: “Give the kinsman his due, and the needy and the wayfarer.” (Surah al-Isra 17:26)
Although some believe that this verse is descended in Medina, there is no doubt that the other verse concerning this matter is Meccan: “Those in whose wealth is a right known for the beggar and the outcast.” (Surah al-Ma’arij 70:24-25)
From this verse it is concluded that God, in the very beginning days of advent of Islam, has considered a right for the poor which is divine and should be respected. The one who gives this right should not think that he has done it. He should know that it belongs to the poor: not a right alms-giving (zakat), attonement (kaffiirah), khums (one fifth of one’s income) and other jurisprudential payments. Even another verse which was descended in Mecca before the aforementioned verse speaking about alms, deals with this kind of payment and not jurisprudential one: “Prosperous are the believers who … at the almsgiving are active.” (Surah al-Mu’minun 23:1-4)
This means that anyone endowed with genius-whether intellectual economic etc. benefits as far as his power allows. But he who does not have such genius, if he obtains what he deserves and then falls into shortcoming, the powerful people are bound to pay him the divinely recognized rights. The secret of this matter lies in this: that the Lord has bestowed genius upon some groups to test them and he who has provided his divinely recognized rights will become victorious in this test. If some people do not do this, they are not among the worshippers and the Almighty God thus states about them, “Have they not traveled in the land and seen the nature of the consequence for those who were before them? They were stronger than these in power, and they dug the earth and built upon it more than these have built. Messengers of their own came unto them with clear proofs (of Allah’s sovereignty). Sure Allah wronged them not, but they did wrong themselves.” (Surah ar-Rum 30:9)
This is a great lesson so that we may not forget that if we do not pay divinely recognized rights, our children will suffer deprivation and grief. And is there any wise man who wishes to fall into depravity? All parents after death are aware of the fate of their children and gladden with their joy and grieve with their sorrow. Then, the powerful groups should observe charity as a legal duty not a moral one so that they may not share in the sorrow of their children.
“And let those fear (in their behavior towards orphans) who if they left behind them weak offspring would be afraid for them. So let them mind their duty and speak justly.” (Surah an-Nisa 4:9)
Thus, the superior aspect of charity is its legal aspect which is in complete harmony with justice. It must never be supposed that the paying of religious taxes such as khums (one fifth levy), zakat (religious tax), and kaffarah (atonement), is the only duty of the Muslim in eliminating social needs. The Lord esteems the geniuses and talents and has bidden everyone to benefit as much as he can; and He has also bound the supervisor of the common wealth to answer the needs of those who have less genius.
1. Nahj al-Balaghah, letter 53, p.141, part 123
2. Ibid., letter 70, p.148
3. Sharh-i Ghurar wa Durar, vol. 2, p.448
4. Nahj al- Balaghah, Maxim 235, p.171
5. Ibid., Maxim 437, p.189
6. Ibid., Sermon 216, p.105, part 2.
7. Nahj al-Balaghah, letter 53, p.137, part 8.
8. Nahj al-Balaghah, sermon 126, p.56
9. Kafi, Vol.2, p.373, narration no.3
10. Nahj al-Balaghah, Sermon 126, p.57
11. Nahj al-Balaghah, Maxim 232, p.112

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