The problem of justice as one of God's attributes has
had its own distinct history. Various schools of thought
in Islam have held different views on the subject,
interpreting it in accordance with their own distinctive
Some Sunnis who follow the views of the theologian
Abu'l Hasan Ash'ari do not believe in God's justice as a
matter of faith, and they deny that justice is
accomplished by the divine acts.
In their view, however, God treats a certain person,
and whatever punishment or reward He gives him,
irrespective of what he might appear to deserve, will
represent justice and absolute good, even though it might
appear unjust when measured by human standards.
These Ash'aris, thus, distinguish God's attribute of
justice from His acts and they, therefore, regard as just
whatever can be attributed to God. If He rewards the
virtuous and punishes the sinful, this is justice, but so
would be the reverse; it would still be in the broad
sphere of His justice.
Their claim that the very terms "justice"
and "injustice" are meaningless when applied to
God is no doubt intended to elevate God's most sacred
essence to the position of the highest transcendence. But
no thoughtful person will regard these superficial and
inadequate notions as having anything to do with God's
transcendence. In fact, they involve a denial of order in
the world, of the principle of causality both in the
general order of the world and in the conduct and deeds
of individual men.
The followers of al-Ash'ari believe, moreover, that
the bright lamp of the intellect is extinguished whenever
it is confronted with the perceptions and problems of
religion, that it is unable to benefit man or light up
This claim conforms neither to the teachings of the
Quran nor to the content of the sunnah. The Quran
considers disregard for the intellect to be a form of
misguidance and repeatedly summons men to reflection and
meditation in order to learn divine knowledge and
religious beliefs. Those who fail to benefit from this
bright lamp within them are compared to the animals. The
Quran says: "The worst of creatures in the sight
of God are those persons who are deaf and dumb and do not
The Prophet of Islam says: "God has assigned two
guides to man: one external to him, the messengers of
God, and the other internal, his own power of thought.
* * * * *
The Mutazilites and Shi'ast and in opposition to
al-Ash'ari and his school. Out of all the attributes of
God, they have selected justice to be a principle of
their creed. Relying on both transmitted and rational
proofs, they have also refuted and rejected as
incompatible with the principle of justice, the doctrines
of the unmediated effect of divine destiny and the
predetermination of man's acts.
They believe that justice is the basis of God's acts,
both in the ordering of the universe and in the
establishing of laws. Just as human acts can be weighed
according to the criteria of good and bad, the acts of
the Creator are also subject to the same criteria. Since
the logic of reason determines that justice is inherently
praiseworthy and injustice inherently reprehensible, an
object of worship whose characteristics include infinite
intelligence and spirit, will never undertake an act that
reason regards as impermissible.
When we say that God is just, it means that His
all-knowing and creative essence does nothing that is
contrary to wisdom and benefit. The concept of wisdom,
when applied to the Creator, does not mean that He
chooses the best means for attaining His goals or
remedying His deficiencies, for it is only man who is
called on to move from deficiency toward perfection.
God's concern is to make beings emerge from deficiency
and impel them toward perfection and the aims inherent in
their own essences. God's wisdom consists of this, that
He first implants a form of His favor within each
phenomenon, and then, after bestowing existence upon it,
impels it toward the perfection of its capacities through
a further exercise of His generosity.
Justice has, then, an extensive meaning, which
naturally includes the avoidance of oppression and all
foolish acts. Imam Ja'far as-Sadiq, peace be upon him,
says in explanation of God's justice:
"Justice in the case of God means that you should
not ascribe anything to God that if you were to do it
would cause you to be blamed and reproached."
With man, oppression and all the forms of corrupt
activity in which he engages, derive, without doubt, from
ignorance and lack of awareness and need coupled with
innate lowliness; sometimes, too, they are the reflection
of hatred and enmity, which leap forth from man's inner
being like a spark.
Numerous are those people who are disgusted with their
own oppressiveness and corruption. Nonetheless, because
of ignorance about the final outcome of their deeds, they
continue, from time to time, to act with injustice and
pollute themselves with all kinds of shameful, corrupt
Sometimes man feels that he needs something that he
does not have the resources or ability to acquire. This
is the root cause of many evils. The feeling of need,
hunger and greed, the prevalence in ma n of a desire to
harm or dominate-all these are factors leading to
Under their influence, man loses the reins of
self-control. He concentrates all his efforts on
fulfilling his desires and violating all ethical
restrictions, he starts squeezing the throats of the
The unique essence of God, that infinite being, is
free of all such tendencies and limitations, for nothing
is hidden from His knowledge without bound, and it is
inconceivable that He should suffer from impotence
vis-a-vis anything-He, the Pre-Eternal One Whose eternal
rays bestow life and sustenance on all things and Who
assures their movement, variety and development.
A subtle essence that comprehends all the degrees of
perfection stands in no need of anything so that its
absence might induce anxiety in Him when He conceives a
desire for it His power and capacity are without any
doubt, unlimited and they do not fall short of anything
so that He might then be led to deviate from the path of
justice and transgress against someone, or take vengeance
in order to quieten his heart or undertake some
inappropriate and illsided act.
None of the motivations for unjust behavior can be
found in God, and, indeed, the very concepts of
oppression and injustice are inapplicable to a being
Whose generosity and mercy embrace all things an d the
sanctity o f Whose essence is clearly manifest throughout
The Quran repeatedly negates all idea of injustice by
God, considering Him in His sanctity utterly removed from
all unworthy acts. It says: "God never considers
it permissible to act unjustly toward His servants; it is
rather men who commit oppression and injustice."(10:44)
In this verse, God dissociates Himself from all notion
of injustice, something repugnant to men, and, instead,
attributes it to them.
In addition, how is it possible that God should call
on men to establish justice and equity while at the same
time staining His own hands with unrighteous deeds? The
Quran says: "God commands men to act with justice
and virtue and enjoins upon them generosity to kinsfolk.
He forbids them evil deeds and oppression. He admonishes
you out of His mercy, so that you may accept His
Islam values justice so highly that if one group of
Muslims wish to deviate from the path of justice and
start engaging in oppression, they must be repressed,
even if this involves war. This is the command of the
Quran: "If two parties of believers fight with
each other, make peace between them. If one of them has
committed aggression against the other, then make war on
the aggressor until he returns to observance of God's
command. Once he has so returned, then reconcile them and
make peace in utter justice. Certainly God loves the
The interesting point that emerges from this verse is
that the mediator is strictly instructed to make sure,
when bringing about reconciliation, that the dispute is
settled in accordance with justice, without showing
lenience to the aggressor. It may happen, in cases where
war has been started for aggressive purposes, that a
mediator tries to end the dispute by insisting on
leniency and the overlooking of faults, and, ultimately,
persuades one of the parties to renounce its claim in
favor of the other. This lenient approach, although
legitimate in itself, may reinforce the spirit of
aggressiveness existing in those who gained by starting
the war. It is, in fact, conventional to satisfy the
aggressor in such cases by granting him some concession.
Although the voluntary renunciation of one's claim is
a desirable act in itself, it will, under such
circumstances, have an undesirable effect on the
mentality of the aggressor. The aim of Islam is to uproot
force and injustice from Islamic society and to assure
its members that no one can gain anything by aggression
* * * * *
If we look at the order of creation, we can see that a
vast and comprehensive equilibrium prevails among all
physical phenomena. This is evident in the regularity of
the atoms, the haste of the electrons, the rotation of
the planets, and the movements of all bodies. It is
visible in the mineral and vegetable realms, in the
precise relations that exist among the organs of a living
being, in the balance among the inner components of the
atom, in the equilibrium among the vast heavenly bodies
and their finely calculated forces of attraction. All
these forms of balance and equilibrium, together with the
other precise laws that science is still seeking to
explore, bear witness to the existence of an undeniable
order in the universe, one which is confirmed by
Our veracious Prophet has expressed this universal
justice and comprehensive equilibrium-the fact that
nothing is irregular or out of place-in this concise and
eloquent statement: "It is true equilibrium and
symmetry that maintain the earth and the heavens."
The Quran attributes the following words to Moses,
peace be upon him and our Prophet: "Our God is
the one who endowed all things with the needful and then
guided them for the continuation of their
In this short sentence, Moses expounds to the Pharaoh
the manner in which the world was created together with
its orderliness and beauty, which are among God's signs.
His aim was to save him from his erroneous thoughts and
help him perceive the existence of a just and divinely
instituted order in the universe.
One of the norms ruling ineluctably over nature is,
therefore, order and justice, and all things, by virtue
of their subordination to the norms and laws of nature,
are engaged in the process of evolution toward perfection
that is specific to each of them. Any deviation from this
universal pattern of order and the relations founded upon
it would result in confusion and chaos.
Whenever some irregularity occurs in nature, phenomena
themselves evince a reaction, and inward or outward
factors emerge to remove the barriers to development and
re-establish the order needed to continue on the path to
When the body is attacked by microbes and other
factors of ill ness, white globules begin to neutralize
them, in accordance with ineluctable norm. Whatever
medicine may be prescribed is an external factor aiding
the white globules in their task of neutralization and
re-establishing equilibrium in the body.
Finally, it is impossible that God, Whose love is
infinite and Who unstintingly grants His favors to His
servants, should perform the slightest unjust or
inappropriate act. This is, indeed, what the Quran
proclaims: "It is God Who has made the earth a
place of abode for you, Who has raised the heavens,
created you in the best of forms, and given you delicious
and pleasing foods as sustenance. This is God, your
The question o f God's justice involves certain
problems, such as the existence of disasters, loss and
evil in the natural order, and inequalities in the social
order. This question arouses, in fact, a whole storm of
questions and objections in the minds of many people. The
problems they face are so fundamental that what start out
as doubts and hesitations, ultimately become an
Such people ask how it is possible that in a world
created on the basis of intelligence and wisdom, so much
suffering, pain and evil should prevail; that the world
should be subjected constantly to the successive blows of
hardship and misfortune, with loss and deficiency always
in the ascendant.
Why is it that in various parts of the world,
terrible, overwhelming events assault mankind, resulting
in untold loss and destruction? Why is one person ugly
and another beautiful, one healthy and another sick? Why
are all men not created equal, and does not their
inequality point to an absence of justice in the
Justice in the order of things depends on its being
free of oppression, discrimination and disaster, or the
absence from it of all defect, sickness, and poverty;
this, they say, alone would result in perfection and
* * * * *
We must begin by admitting that our evaluation of the
affairs of the universe does not permit us to penetrate
the ultimate depths of phenomena; it is inadequate for
the analysis of the ends and purposes of things.
Our initial understanding of unpleasant events and
disasters is bound to be superficial; we are not prepared
to recognize any truth lying beyond our initial
impression. We cannot, at the outset, delineate the
ultimate aims of those events, and we, therefore, regard
them as signs of injustice. Our feelings become aroused
and lead us into the most illogical analyses.
But if we reflect more profoundly, we will see that
this one-sided evaluation of events we label injustice
comes from making our interests or those of people to
whom we are directly or indirectly related, our criterion
and yardstick. Whatever secures our interests is good,
and whatever harms us is bad. In other words, our
judgment of good and bad is based on a short-eyed
perception, narrow horizons of thought, and a lack of
precise knowledge concerning the norms of creation.
Is our existence the only issue involved in every
occurrence? Can we make our own profit and loss into the
criterion of good and evil? Our material world is
constantly engaged in producing change. Events that did
not exist today will occur tomorrow; some things will
disappear and others will take their place.
It is obvious that what is useful and beneficial for
some people today will cease to exist tomorrow. But for
us who are human beings and attached to our own existence
and the things of the world, the acquisition of things is
good and their loss is bad. But despite man and his
attachments, the changing nature of the world produces
constantly changing phenomena. If the world did not
comprehend the possibility of change, phenomena
themselves would not exist, and, therefore, there could
also be no question of good and evil.
In such a hypothetical, unchanging world there would
be neither loss and deficiency nor growth and
development, no contrast or differentiation, no variety
or multiplicity, no compounding or motion. In a world
without deficiency or loss, there would also be no human,
moral or social criteria, limits, or laws. Development
and change are the result of the motion and rotation of
the planets; if they ceased to exist, there would be no
earth, no moon and no sun, no day, no month and no year.
* * * * *
A somewhat comprehensive view of the world will permit
us to understand that what is harmful for us today, or
may be so in the future, is beneficial for others. The
world as a whole moves in the direction dictated by the
overall purpose of being and benefit of being;
individuals may suffer harm in this process, and it may
even be that mankind at large does not stand to benefit.
Were we able to plunge deeply enough into the ocean of
knowledge and turn the pages of its book replete with
mysteries with the finger of our understanding, the
ultimate purpose and outcome of all events and phenomena
would be revealed to us. However, our power of judgment
is not sufficiently comprehensive to deal with the
complex web that confronts us: we know neither the chain
of preceding causes that have produced the phenomena of
today, nor the chain of future effects those phenomena,
in turn, will produce.
If it were possible for us to look down from above on
the broad plain of the world, in such a way that we could
see all the positive and negative aspects of everything,
all the mysteries of everything occurring in the world;
if it were possible for us to evaluate the effects and
results of every event in history, past, present and
future and everything occurring between pre-eternity and
post-eternity, and, if this were possible for us, then we
might be able to say that the harm of a given event
outweighed its benefit and brand it as evil.
But does man have such comprehensive awareness of the
horizontal and vertical chains of causality? Can he
situate himself on the moving axis of the world?
Since we do not dispose of such an ability, since we
will never be able to traverse so infinite a distance,
however long be our stride; since we will never be able
to lift the veil from all these complexities and take
their due measure, it is best that we refrain from
one-sided and hasty judgments that are based on our own
short-sightedness. We should recognize that we must not
make our own benefit the sole criterion for judging this
vast universe. The relative observations we make within
the framework of the limited data at our disposal and the
specific conditions to which we are subject can never
furnish criteria for a definitive judgment.
Nature may often be working toward the fulfillment of
a particular goal that is unimaginable to man, given his
conventional circumstances. Why cannot it not be supposed
that unpleasant occurrences are the result of efforts
aimed at preparing the ground for a new phenomenon that
will be the instrument of God's will upon earth? It may
be that the conditions and circumstances of the age
necessitate such processes.
If all the changes and upheavals that terrify us did
not take place within a given plan and design and for the
sake of a specific aim, if they were to be extended
throughout time without producing any positive or
constructive result, there would be no trace on earth of
any living creature, including man.
Why should we accuse the world of injustice, of being
chaotic and unstable, simply because of a few exceptional
occurrences and phenomena in nature? Should we start
objecting because of a handful of unpleasantnessess,
major and minor, forgetting all the manifestations of
precision and wisdom, all the wonders we see in the world
and its creatures, that testify to the will and
intelligence of an exalted being?
Since man sees so much evidence of careful planning
throughout the universe, he must admit that the world is
a purposive whole, a process moving toward perfection.
Every phenomenon in it is subject to its own specific
criterion, and if a phenomenon appears inexplicable or
unjustifiable, this is because of man's shortsightedness.
Man must understand that in his finiteness, he lacks the
capacity to understand the aims of all phenomena and
their content; it is not that creation has any defect.
Our attitude to the bitter and unpleasant occurrences
of this world resemble the judgment made by a desert
dweller when he comes to the city and sees powerful
bulldozers destroying old buildings. He regards this
demolition as a foolish act of destruction, but is it
logical on his part to think that the demolition is
unplanned and purposeless? Of course not, because he sees
only the process of demolition, not the calculations and
plans of the architects and others involved.
As a certain scientist said: "Our state is like
that of children who watch a circus packing up and
preparing to move on. This is necessary for the circus to
go elsewhere and continue with its life of excitement,
but those short-sighted children see in the folding of
the tents and the comings and goings of men and animals
nothing but the dissolution and termination of the
* * * * *
If we look a little more deeply and imaginatively at
the misfortunes and disasters that plague man and
interpret them correctly, we will appreciate that in
reality, they are blessings, not disasters. A blessing
being a blessing, and a disaster being a disaster is de
pendent upon man's reaction to it; a single event may be
experienced quite differently by two different people.
Misfortune and pain are like an alarm warning man to
remedy his deficiencies and errors; they are like a
natural immune system or regulatory mechanism inherent in
If wealth leads to self-indulgence and
pleasure-seeking, it is a misfortune and a disaster, and
if poverty and deprivation lead to the refinement and
development of the human soul, they are a blessing. Thus,
wealth cannot be counted as absolute good fortune nor
poverty as absolute misfortune. A similar rule covers
whatever natural gifts man may possess.
Nations who are confronted by various hostile forces
and compelled to struggle for their survival are
strengthened thereby. Once we regard effort and struggle
to be a positive and constructive endeavor, we cannot
overlook the role played by hardships in developing man's
inner resources and impelling him to progress.
People who are not obliged to struggle and who live in
an environment free of all contradiction will easily be
immersed by material prosperity in their pleasures and
How often it happens that someone willingly endures
hardship and pain for the sake of a great goal! Were it
not for that hardship and pain, the goal might not appear
so desirable to him! A smooth path along which one
advances blindly and mechanically is not conducive to
development and growth, and a human effort from which the
element of conscious will has been removed cannot produce
a fundamental change in man.
Struggle and contradiction are like a scourge
impelling man forward. Solid objects are shattered by the
pressure of repeated blows, but men are formed and
tempered by the hardships they endure. They throw
themselves into the ocean to learn how to swim, and it is
in the furnace of crisis that genius emerges.
Untrammeled self-indulgence, love of the world,
unrestricted pleasure-seeking, heedlessness of higher
goals-all these Me indications of misguidance and lack of
awareness. In fact, the most wretched of men are those
who have grown up in the midst of luxury and comfort, who
have never experienced the hardships of life or tasted
its bitter days along with the sweet: the sun of their
lives rises and sets within, unnoticed by anyone else.
Following one's inclinations and adhering to one's
desires is in compatible with firmness and elevation of
spirit, with purposeful effort and striving.
Pleasure-seeking and corruption, on the one hand, and
strength of will and purposiveness, on the other,
represent two contrary inclinations in man. Since neither
can be negated or affirmed to the exclusion of the other,
one must strive constantly to reduce the desire for
pleasure and strengthen the opposing force within one.
Those who have been raised in luxury, who have never
tasted the bitter and sweet days of the world, who have
always enjoyed prosperity and never endured hunger-they
can never appreciate the taste of delicious food nor the
joy of life as a whole and they are incapable of truly
appreciating beauty. The pleasures of life can be truly
enjoyed only by those who have experienced hardship and
failure in their lives, who have the capacity to absorb
difficulty and to endure those hardships that lie in wait
along every step of man's path.
Material and spiritual ease become precious to man
only after experiencing the ups and downs of life and the
pressure of its unpleasant incidents.
Once man is preoccupied with his material life, all
dimensions of his existence are enchained, and he loses
aspiration and motion. Inevitably, he will also neglect
his eternal life and inward purification. As long as
desire casts its shadow on his being and his soul is
ensnared by darkness, he will be like a speck tossed
around on the waves of matter. He will seek refuge in
anything but God. He therefore needs something to awaken
him and induce maturity in his thoughts, to remind him of
the transitoriness of this ephemeral world and help him
attain the ultimate aim of all heavenly teachings-the
freedom for the soul from all the obstacles and carriers
that prevent man from attaining lofty perfection.
The training and refinement of the self is not to be
had cheaply; it requires the renunciation of various
pleasures and enjoyments, and the process of cutting
loose from them is bitter and difficult.
It is true that such exertions will be for the sake of
purifying man's inner being and allowing his latent
capacities to appear. Nonetheless, patient abstention
from sin and pleasure-seeking is always bitter to man's
taste and it is only through obstinate resistance to
lower impulses that he can fulfill his mission of
breaking down the barriers that confront him and thus
ascend to the realm of higher values.
Those who are drunk on the arrogance of power and
success and who have totally forgotten humane ethics
because of the seduction of their soul and their senses
will sometimes find, in various corners of the world,
that the occurrence of unpleasant events makes them open
to fundamental changes and developments that tear away
from them the veils of forgetfulness. They may even be
guided to a path leading to some degree of moral
perfection and a future more fruitful than their present
They are people in whom misfortune has induced a profound
Considering the harmful effects of neglectfulness and
the intoxication of arrogance, on the one hand, and the
numerous moral lessons taught by misfortune, on the
other, it can be said that failure and misfortune are
relative insofar as they contain great blessings; they
contribute fruitfully to the building of man's awareness
Hardship is, then, the preliminary to higher, more
advanced states of being; it prepares man for the
recompense that awaits him, and from his response to it,
it becomes apparent whether he has attained the lofty
degree of sincerity and devotion or is sunk in decay.
The Quran says: "We have created man in the
embrace of hardship." (90:4) Or, again: "We
test you with fear, hunger, the loss of wealth and
possessions, death, and the loss of the fruits of your
toil . Give glad tidings to those who struggle manfully
on this path that those who say when afflicted with
calamity and pain, 'We are from God and to Him we return
on our path to perfection,'-that it is they who receive
kindness and mercy from their Lord together with their
suffering, and they it is who are truly guided."(2:155-57)
Without doubt, God could have created a world without
hardship, pain and misfortune, but that would have meant
His depriving man of freedom and choice; he would have
been let loose in the world as a creature without will or
the power of decision, just like any other creature
lacking perception and awareness, formed exclusively by
nature and totally obedient to it. Would he then have
deserved the name of man?
Having paid the heavy price of losing all his innate
capacities and freedom, his most precious resource, would
he have advanced toward perfection, or decayed and
declined? Would no t the world, too, have lost all
goodness and beauty, these being comprehensible only in
terms of their opposites?
It is plain that the power to distinguish and
discriminate makes possible the existence of good and
evil, of beauty and ugliness. By giving man the
inestimable blessing of freedom and the ability to
choose, God, whose wisdom is manifest throughout
creation, wished to display fully His ability to create
phenomena bearing witness to His wisdom and power.
He placed within man's being the possibility of doing
both good and evil, and although He compels him to do
neither, He always expects him to do good. God does not
approve of evil; it is righteous conduct that meets with
His approval and, in exchange for which He provides
abundant, unimaginable reward. God warns man against
following the path of evil and threatens him with
punishment and torment if he does so.
Thus, by using the power of choice that God has
bestowed on him, man can act as he should, conforming
both to divine guidance and to his own conscience.
But, if occasionally his foot should slip and he
should commit some sin, the path remains open for him to
return to purity and light, to God's favor and mercy.
This is in itself a further manifestation of God's
generosity and all-embracing justice, one more of the
blessings He bestows on His servants.
Were God to give immediate reward to the virtuous for
their righteous conduct and acts, they would not in any
way be superior to the corrupt and the sinful. And if the
evil in thought and in deed were to be always met with
instant punishment and retribution, virtue and purity
would not enjoy any superiority in this world to vice and
* * * * *
The principle of contradiction, is, in fact, the basis
of the created world; it is what enables matter to change
and evolve so that God's grace flows through the world.
Were matter not to take on different shapes as a result
of its encounter with various beings and were being
unable to accommodate new forms within itself, the
differentiation and advancement of being would be
impossible. A stable and unchanging world would resemble
stagnant capital that produces no profit For creation,
change is the capital that brings about profit It is, of
course, possible that the investment of a certain portion
of capital should result in loss, but the constant motion
of matter as a whole definitely results in profit The
contradiction that takes place in the forms of matter
results in the advancement of the order of being toward
There is some question as to whether evil exists in
the world in the real sense of the word. If we look
carefully, we will see that the evil of things is not a
true attribute; it is a relative one.
Firearms in the hands of my enemy are an evil for me,
and firearms in my hands are an evil for my enemy.
Setting aside me and my enemy, firearms are in themselves
neither good nor bad.
The course of nature can be said to be mathematical;
that is, its system has been established in such a way as
no t to answer all of our needs. We, however, wish to
fulfill all our uncountless desires without encountering
the least hindrance, and the forces of nature do not
answer the limitless wishes we cherish, wishes which are
in any event worthless from the point of view of our
essential nature. Nature pays no attention to our desires
and refuses to submit to our wants. So when we encounter
unpleasantness in our lives, we become unjustifiably
upset and we term the causes of our discomfort as
If someone wants to light his lamp when there is no
oil in it, he will not start sighing and complaining or
curse the whole universe!
Creation is constantly advancing toward a clear goal,
through unceasing effort and striving. Specific causes
determine each step it takes, and the changes and
development it undergoes are not designed to meet men's
approval or satisfy their desires.
It should be accepted that some of the occurrences of
this world will not correspond to our wishes, and we
ought not to regard as injustice things we experience as
Ali, peace be upon him, the Commander of the Faithful,
describes the world as an abode of hardship, but
nonetheless a good place for the one who knows it
properly. Although he encountered himself all kinds of
hardship and unpleasantness, he constantly drew men's
attention to the absolute justice of God.
Another important point which must not be overlooked
is that good and evil do not represent two mutually
exclusive categories or series in the order of creation.
Goodness is identical with being, and evil is identical
with non-being; wherever being makes its appearance,
non-existence is also implied.
When we speak of poverty, indigence, ignorance or
disease we should not imagine that they have separate
realities: poverty is simply not having wealth, ignorance
is the absence of knowledge, and disease is the loss of
health. Wealth and knowledge are realities, but poverty
is nothing other than the emptiness of the hand and the
pocket, and ignorance, the absence of knowledge. Hence
poverty and ignorance have no tangible reality; they are
defined through the non-existence of other things.
The same is the case with calamities and misfortunes
that we regard as evil and the source of suffering. They,
too, are a kind of loss or non-being, and are evil only
in the sense that they result in the destruction or
non-existence of something other than themselves. Apart
from this, nothing, insofar as it exists, can in any way
be called evil or ugly.
If calamities did not entail sickness and death, the
loss and ruin of certain creatures, thus preventing their
capacities from unfolding, they would not be bad. It is
the loss and ruin arising from misfortunes that is
inherently bad. Whatever exists in the world is good;
evil pertains to non-being, and since non-being does not
form a category independent of being, it has not been
created and does not exist.
Being and non-being are like the sun and its shadow.
When a body is turned to the sun, it casts a shadow. What
is a shadow? The shadow has not been created by anything;
it consists simply of the sun not shining in a given
place because of the existence of an obstacle; it has no
source or origin of its own.
Things have a real existence by virtue of having been
created without reference to things other than them; in
this sense, they are not evil. For a worldview derived
from belief in God, the world is equivalent to good.
Everything is inherently good; if it is evil, it is so
only in a relative sense and in connection with things
other than itself .The existence of every thing is unreal
for other than it self, and untouched by creation.
The malarial mosquito is not evil in itself. If it is
described as such, it is because it is harmful to man and
causes disease. That which is created is the existence of
a thing in and of itself, which is a true existence;
speculative or conditional existence has no place in the
order of being and is not real. We cannot, therefore, ask
why God has created relative or conditional existence.
Conditional or abstract entities are inseparable from the
real entities that give rise to them; they are their
inevitable concomitants and do not partake of their
being. One cannot then speak of conditional entities
having been created.
That which is real must necessarily derive its being
from the Creator. Only those things and attributes are
real that exist outside the mind. Relative attributes are
created by the mind and have no existence outside it so
one cannot go looking for the creator.
Furthermore, that which has the potential to exist is
the world as a whole, with all the objects it contains
and the attributes that are inseparable from it; the
world represents an indivisible unit. From the vantage
point of God's wisdom, either the world must exist on the
pattern that is peculiar to it, or it cannot exist at
A world without order or lacking the principle of
causality, a world where good and evil were not separate
from each other, would be an impossibility and a fantasy.
It is not possible to suppose that one part of the world
should exist and another should not. Creation is a whole,
like the form and figure of man, and its parts are
inseparable from each other.
God is absolutely free of all need, and one
consequence of this is that He freely bestows being, like
a generous man whose largess expects no return, or like a
skilled artist who is constantly busy with the creation
of new forms. Such abundant generosity and creativity
define the essence of the Lord Whose signs are manifest
and evident in every phenomenon.
Suppose that the owner of a factory employs both
skilled and unskilled workers to operate and administer
his factory. When it is time to pay their wages, he pays
the skilled and qualified workers, whose job is at a
higher level, more than the unskilled workers. Now, is
this difference in wages just or unjust? Is the factory
owner acting equitably or inequitably?
Doubtless there is a difference involved here, but we
cannot call it discrimination. Justice does not require
the factory owner to pay unskilled workers the same as
skilled workers. It means rather that he should give to
each category what it deserves. Such a rule will clearly
delineate the comparative value of each job and
contribute to the welfare of the workplace.
To make distinctions in such cases is an eloquent and
practical form of justice; not to do so would be
equivalent to oppression, discrimination and injustice;
it would be the result of an inadequate appreciation of
the relative value of things in their differentiation.
When we look at the world as a whole and analyze its
various parts, we see that each part has its own special
position and function and is clothed in the qualities
that are suitable to it. In the light of this
realization, we can understand the necessity of
vicissitudes in human life, of light and darkness, of
success and failure, for maintaining the general
equilibrium of the world.
If the world were to be uniform, without variation or
difference, the varied and multiple species of being
would not exist. It is precisely in this abundant variety
and multiplicity that do exist that we see the splendor
and magnificence of the world. Our judgment of things
will be logical, correct, and acceptable when we take
into consideration the equilibrium prevailing in the
universe and the interrelations that beneficially bind
its various parts to each other, not when we examine the
part in isolation form the whole.
The order of creation is based on equilibrium, on
receptivities and capacities; what is firmly established
in creation is differentiation, not discrimination. This
observation makes it possible for us to examine the
matter more objectively and specifically. Discrimination
means making a difference among objects possessing the
same receptivities and existing under the same
Differentiation means making a difference among
capacities that are unequal and not subject to the same
It will be erroneous if we say that it would be better
for everything in the world to be uniform and
undifferentiated, for all the motion, activity and lively
interchange we see in the world is made possible by
Man has various ways of perceiving and experiencing
beauty, once there is a contrast between ugliness and
beauty. The attraction exerted by beauty is, in a sense,
the reflection of ugliness and its power to repel.
In the same way, if man were not tested and tried in
life, piety and virtue would have no value, and there
would be no reason to refine one's soul and nothing from
which to restrain one's desires.
If a whole canvas is covered in a uniform way, we
cannot speak of it being a picture; it is the variation
of color and detail that displays the skill of the
In order for the identity of a thing to be known, it
is essential that it be differentiated from other things,
for the measure by which things or persons are recognized
is the outer or inner differences they have with each
* * * * *
One of the wonders of creation is the variation in the
capacities and gifts with which beings are endowed. In
order to ensure the continuance of social life, creation
has given each individual a particular set of tastes and
capacities, the interplay of which ensures the order of
society; each individual meets some of the needs of
society and contributes to solving some of its problems.
The natural difference of individuals with respect to
capacity causes them to need each other. Everyone takes
on some of the tasks of society according to his own
taste and capacity, and the social life secured in that
way makes it possible for man to progress and advance.
Let us take a building or an airplane as an example.
Each of them has numerous separate parts, complex and
detailed components that differ greatly from each other
in size and form, this difference deriving from the
responsibility that each component has toward the whole.
Were this difference not to exist in the structure of
the airplane, it would no longer be an airplane but a
compound of assorted metals. If differentiation is a sign
of true justice in the airplane, it must also be an
indication of divine justice among all the creatures of
the world including man.
In addition, we must be aware that differentiation
among beings is innate to their essence. God does not
create everything with a separate and discrete exercise
of His will; His will is not exercised individually. The
entire world from beginning to end came into being with a
single exercise of His will; it was this that enabled
creatures in their infinite multiplicity to come into
There is, then, a specific law and order that
regulates all the dimensions of creation. Within the
frame work of causality, it as signs a particular rank
and position to everything. God's will to create and
regulate the world is equivalent to His willing order in
There are definite philosophical proofs in support of
this proposition, and it is also expounded in the Quran: "We
created everything with a certain quantity and limit; Our
act is but one, like the blink of an eye."(54:49-50)
It would be wrong to imagine that the differentiation
and relations established by God in His creation are the
same as the conventional relations existing in human
society. God's connection with His creatures is not a
mere convention or perceptual matter; it is a connection
deriving from the very act of creation. The order that He
has placed in all things is the result of His creating
it. Every being receives from God the amount of
perfection and beauty it is able to receive.
If there were no particular order regulating the
world, any being might, in the course of its motions,
give rise to any other being, and cause and effect might
switch places. But it must be understood that the
essential interrelations among things are fixed and
necessary; the station and property bestowed on a thing
adheres inseparably to it, whatever rank and degree of
existence it may have. No phenomenon can go beyond the
degree that has been fixed for it and occupy the degree
of another being. Differentiation is a concomitant of the
degrees of being' assigning to them differing amounts of
weakness and strength, deficiency and perfection.
It would be discrimination if two phenomena had the
same capacity to receive perfection but it was given only
to one of them and denied to the other. The degrees of
being that exist in the order of creation cannot be
compared with the conventional ranks of human society.
They are real, not conventional, and not transferable.
For example, men and animals cannot change places with
each other in the same way that individuals can change
the posts and positions they occupy in society.
The relationship connecting each cause with its effect
and each effect with its cause derives from the very
essences of the cause and effect respectively. If
something is a cause, it is so because of some property
that is inseparable from it, and if something is an
effect, it is so because of a quality inherent in it,
which is nothing other than the mode of its being.
There is, then, an essential and profound order that
links all phenomena, and the degree of each phenomenon
within the order is identical with its essence' Insofar
as differentiation relates to a deficiency indwelling in
the essence, it is not discrimination, because the
effusion of God's bounty is not enough for a reality to
come into being; the receptivity of the vessel destined
to receive the bounty is also necessary. It is for this
reason that certain beings suffer deprivation and do not
attain higher degrees; it is impossible that a thing
acquire the capacity for being or some other perfection
and that God not grant it to it.
The case of numerals is exactly similar each number
has its own fixed place. Two comes after one and cannot
change places with it. If we change the place of a
number, we will have changed its essence at the same
It is clear, then, that all phenomena possess fixed
ranks and modalities and are subordinate to a series of
stable and immutable laws. Divine law naturally does not
form a separate created entity, but an abstract concept
deduced from the manner in which things are seen to
exist. That which has external existence consists of the
levels and degrees of being, on the one hand, and the
system of cause and effect, on the other. Nothing occurs
outside of this system, which is none other than the
divine norm mentioned by the Quran: "You will
never find any change in the divine norm."(35:43)
* * * * *
The order of creation is based on a series of laws
inherent in its essence. The place of every phenomenon
within it is clearly defined, and the existence of the
various levels and degrees of existence is a necessary
consequence of the systematic nature of creation, which
inevitably gives rise to variety and differentiation.
Variation and differentiation have not themselves been
created; they are the inseparable attributes of all
phenomena. Every particle in the universe has received
whatever it had the potential to receive; no injustice or
discrimination has been visited upon it, and the
perfection of the universe-resembling a multiplication
table in its precise and immutable ordering-has thereby
Materialists who regard the existence of variation and
differentiation in the natural order as evidence of
oppression and injustice and imagine that the world is
not ruled by justice will inevitably experience life as
difficult, unpleasant, and wearying.
The hasty judgment of the materialist confronted by
hardship and difficulty is like the verdict of a child
watching a gardener pruning the healthy, green branches
of a tree in the spring. Unaware of the purpose and
significance of the pruning, the child will think the
gardener a destructive and ignorant person.
If all the bounties of the world were placed at the
disposal of the materialist, he would still not be
content For once the world is seen to be aimless and
based on injustice, it is meaningless for man to seek
justice, and in a world that is lacking an aim, it is
absurd for man to set himself one.
If the origin and destiny of man are as the
materialists depict them, such that he is a grass that
grows of itself and then disappears, then man must be the
most wretched of creatures. For he would be living in a
world with which he lacks all affinity, compatibility and
harmony. Thought, feeling and emotion would cause him
distress, being nothing more than a cruel joke played on
him by nature to increase his misery and wretchedness and
augment his suffering.
Were a man of initiative and genius to devote himself
to the service of humanity, what benefit would it hold
for him? Posthumous commemorations and honorings,
ceremonies held at his tomb, would not benefit him in the
slightest; they would serve only to maintain a hollow
legend, because the person in question would have been
nothing more than a form assembled by nature for its
amusement as a plaything for a few days before being
turned into a handful of dust.
If we look at the fate of the majority of people who
are constantly struggling with various kinds of sorrow,
anxiety, deprivation and failure, the picture grows still
more bleak. With such a view of human life, the only
paradise materialism has to offer man is a hell of terror
and pain. The materialist position that man lacks freedom
and choice makes of him an even more wretched creature.
The mono-dimensional worldview of materialism would
have it that man is like an automaton, with the mechanism
and dynamism of its cells operated by nature. Can human
intelligence and instinct-not to mention the realities of
existence-accept such a banal and petty interpretation of
man, his life and his destiny?
Were this interpretation to be true, man would be as
incapable of experiencing happiness as a child's doll.
Placed in such a situation, man would be compelled to
make of his own passions and inclinations the foundation
of morality and the yardstick of value, to judge all
things according to personal profit and loss. He would do
his utmost to destroy every obstacle in his path and
loosen all restraints on his carnal desires. Were he to
act otherwise, he would be regarded as backward and
Anyone who possesses the slightest amount of insight,
and judges the matter in a disinterested and
dispassionate way, will regard these short-sighted and
fantastic notions as valid, however much they be decked
out in philosophical and scientific sophistry.
A man with a religious worldview regards the world as
an orderly system possessing consciousness, will,
perception and aim. The supreme justice-dispensing
intelligence of God rules over the universe and every
particle of being and watches over all actions and deeds.
A religious man, therefore, feels a sense of
responsibility vis-a-vis the consciousness that rules
over the world, and knows that a world created and
administered by God is necessarily a world of unity,
harmony and good. He understands that contradiction and
evil have an epiphenomenal existence and play a
fundamental role in the achievement of good and the
emergence of unity and harmony.
Furthermore, according to this worldview which
sketches out broad horizons for man, life is not
restricted to this world, and even the life of this world
is not restricted to material well-being or freedom from
effort and pain. The believer in religion will see the
world as a path that must be traversed, as a place of
testing, as an arena of effort. In it, the righteousness
of men's deeds is tested. At the beginning of the next
life, the good and the evil in the thoughts, beliefs, and
actions of men will be measured in the most accurate of
balances. God's justice will be revealed in its true
aspect, and whatever deprivation man may have suffered in
this world, whether material or otherwise, it will be
made up to him.
In the light of his destiny that awaits man, and given
the essential nullity of the goods of the material world,
man orients his conscious striving exclusively to God.
His aim becomes to live for Him and to die for Him. The
vicissitudes of this world no longer claim his attention.
He sees ephemeral things for what they are, and he allows
nothing to seduce his heart. For he knows that the forces
of seduction would cause his humanity to wither and draw
him down into the whirlpool of materialistic misguidance.
* * * * *
In conclusion, we would add that even apart from the
question of receptivity, the existence of difference in
the world does not imply injustice. Oppression and
injustice mean that someone is subjected to
discrimination although he has a claim equal to that of
someone else. But beings do not have any
"claim" on God nor did they ever, so if some
things enjoy superiority over others this cannot count as
We have nothing of ourselves: each breath and each
heartbeat, each thought and idea that passes through our
mind, are taken from a stock that we do not own and have
done nothing to build up. That stock is a gift from God,
bestowed on us at the moment of birth.
Once we understand that whatever we have is nothing
but a divine gift, it will become apparent that the
differences among the gifts He gives men are based on His
wisdom but have nothing to do with either justice or
injustice, because there was no question of any merit or
claim on our part.
This finite and temporary life is a gift to us, a
present from the Creator. He has absolute discretion in
deciding the type and quantity of the gift that He gives,
and we have no claim upon Him.