Surah 4 (Al- Nisa/Women): 135

O you who believe, be upholders of justice – witnesses for Allah, even though against (the interest of) your selves, your parents, and your kinsmen.

One may be rich or poor, Allah is better caretaker of both.

So do not follow desires, lest you should swerve. If you twist or avoid (the evidence), then, Allah is all-aware of what you do.

[‘The Interpretation of the Meanings of the Noble Qur’an in the English Language’, 2007, Mufti Muhammad Taqi Usmani, former judge of Federal Shariat Court, Pakistan (Deobandi)]


The Qur’an uses two terms for ‘justice’– ‘qist’ (literally ‘a portion’, suggesting a due share) and ‘’adl’ (literally ‘flat, even or well-balanced, as seen in the proper position of the saddlebags on each side of the camel or the load on its hump’ . These two terms appear to be used in the Qur’an virtually interchangeably, including in their application to God.

{6.115}: ‘The Word of thy Lord is fulfilled in truth and justice (‘adl)‘,


{3.18}: ‘God bears witness that there is no god but He, as do the angels and possessors of knowledge, upholding justice (qist)’.


Some verses refer to the announcer of the Qur’an as sitting in judgment upon disputes that are brought to him:

{5.42-43}: ‘If they come to thee then judge between them or turn away from them … But if thou judgest, judge between them with justice.’

{5.48}: ‘… So judge between them in accordance with what God has sent down and follow not their caprices away from the truth that has come not thee…’

{42.15}: ‘Follow not their caprices and say: ‘I believe in that which God has sent down from a Book, and I have been commanded to establish judgment amongst you …’,’

{49.9} urges that where two parties among the believers fight, believers should ‘make peace between them with justice and act equitably’ for ‘God loves the just’. Other verses cite ‘God loves the just’ as promoting a virtue to be exercised by people more generally than in judicially proceedings or dispute resolution, such as {5.42} and:

{60.8}God does not forbid you with regard to those who did not fight you on account of religion and did not expel you from your homes, from treating them righteously and being just towards them.

Truly God loves the just.

A hadith presents this verse as God’s reply to a request by Asma bint Abu Bakr, a sister of Muhammad’s wife Aisha, for permission to receive a visit at Yathrib from her unbelieving mother with gifts, although the use of the words ‘righteously‘ and ‘just’ does not really fit this explanation .

Also {57.25} in which God talks of having ‘sent down the Book and the Balance that the people would uphold justice’,  {5.8} and {16.90}.
The Qur’an links justice to truth, {39.69} and {45.22}, and contrasts it time and again with the word ‘hawā’, which might be rendered as ‘caprice’ (per The Study Qur’an and Arberry), ‘desires’ (Haleem) or ‘passing whims’ (Ahmad Ali), but has a literal meaning of ‘to drop, fall, sink or collapse’ and appears chosen to create the impression of man unable to keep his footing when left to his own devices. At various points, justice is expressed as the avoidance of the ‘caprices’ of falsely guided others: those who call upon a party other than God, {6.56}, those who deny God’s signs, {6.150}, those who ‘reject some of (the Book)’, {13.36-37} and ‘those who know not’, {45.18}. The specific caprices of Jews and Christians are condemned, ‘in accordance with what God has sent down’, {5.48-49}, ‘after knowledge has come to thee’, {2.120 & 145}. In these verses, a familiar theme asserts itself once again. Quranic justice like Quranic morality, lies in complete obedience to God’s revealed instructions and the abandonment of human judgment where this conflicts with it. Believers are urged to ‘follow not your caprice that you may act justly’, {4.135}. To do otherwise is to be ‘one who takes caprice as his god’, {45.23}. Quranic justice, as per {4.58}: ‘If you judge between men do so with justice. Excellent indeed is the instruction God gives you’, is the justice of the uniform application of strict rules.


Justice, as it is understood in modern secular society, might be analysed as involving at least three elements: natural justice (that an individual or tribunal should approach a dispute with impartiality and fairness), the requirements of the rule of law (so that in order to be capable of fair application, a rule must be prospective, discoverable, clear and universally applicable) and the principle of ‘just desserts’: that, so far as possible, a person should only suffer a sanction that is proportionate to their actual misconduct.


The requirement of natural justice is expressed clearly in {4.135}, produced above, and the bribing of judges is expressly forbidden in {2.188}. However, the legal provisions of the Qur’an contain many provisions that would be considered manifestly unjust by modern standards, including:

  • draconian punishments, 〈66.〉, 〈67.〉 and 〈71.〉, that are expressed in terms that do not permit a judge to discriminate between degrees of culpability nor make allowance for extenuating circumstances,


  • the system of qisas 〈72.〉 which will often permit a person of means to escape the corporal or capital punishment that would be exacted upon a poorer person,


  • inequality of rights between:
    • believers and unbelievers, stated as a principle – ‘not equal are…the blind and the seeing … the living and the dead’, {35.19-22}, similarly {13.16}; ‘are those who know and those who know not equal?’, {39.9} – and expressed in the lack of legal recognition of an unbelievers general right to life in 〈73.〉

and also, by implication, the lack of equal (or possibly any) rights for homosexuals 〈68.〉, and also:


  • the rules of evidence that a ‘half value’ be given to a woman’s witness 〈78.〉 and that a person is to be whipped for making an accusation of sexual impropriety without having four witnesses in support (other than a husband accusing his wife) 〈67.〉 both of which are themselves capricious.


Some see in the Qur’an’s mandating of fair trading and honouring of trusts 〈80.〉, obligatory and discretionary almsgiving, 〈54.〉 and 〈82.〉, and obligations to respect the privacy and reputation of others, a great leap towards individual rights and social justice contrasted with the preceding clan-based ‘time of ignorance’. The desert warlord is now sometimes portrayed as a social justice warrior, in the words of Linda Sarsour: ‘a human rights activist, a racial justice activist an environmental justice activist an animal rights activist , a feminist in his own right who uplifted the women in his community’.


The extent to which the Qur’an’s regime mighty be considered a reform of the pre-Islamic mores in Arabia, is impossible to fairly assess given the uncertainty over the Qur’an’s historical context 〈1.〉 and geographical setting 〈2.〉. However, it is a matter of fact that rules on family law, inheritance and the definition and punishment of crimes, are extremely rudimentary and haphazard contrasted with the extensive Corpus Juris Civilis promulgated throughout the Byzantine Empire by the emperor Justinian a hundred years earlier, or the contemporary Sassanian legal code Mādayān ī Hazār Dādestān (‘The Book of a Thousand Judgments’). Nor does the Qur’an ever express the idea of justice as a grand ideal that would justify deviation from the strict application of its explicit provisions. On the contrary, Quranic references to justice – to people’s ‘due share’ or the dispassionate assessment of their rights – are consistently and explicitly linked with the rigid adherence to God’s straight path, as set out in the Quran, over man’s inherently wayward intuition.