God enjoins justice (and right judgment in all matters)... (An-Nahl 16:90)

إِنَّ اللَّهَ يَأْمُرُ بِالْعَدْلِ وَالْإِحْسَانِ وَإِيتَاءِ ذِي الْقُرْبَىٰ وَيَنْهَىٰ عَنِ الْفَحْشَاءِ وَالْمُنكَرِ وَالْبَغْيِ ۚ يَعِظُكُمْ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَذَكَّرُونَ
God enjoins justice (and right judgment in all matters), and devotion to doing good and excellence in worship, and generosity towards relatives, and He forbids you indecency, wickedness, and vile conduct (all offenses against the Religion, life, personal property, chastity, and health of mind and body). He exhorts you (repeatedly) so that you may reflect and be mindful! (An-Nahl 16:90)

This verse is a comprehensive Divine declaration containing six basic principles, three positive and three negative ones:

“Justice” (‘adl), which is the first principle enjoined in this verse, is in-deed a vitally important discipline in Islam. There are scholars who consid-er it among the four fundamentals of Islam.[1] Used in the Qur’ān and Sunnah sometimes in the meaning of worship and sometimes in the meaning of justice, the word ‘adl has, in fact, a very broad range of meanings. For example, although it is used in the verse under discussion to mean “justice, right conduct, and balance,” “devotion to doing good and ex-cellence in the worship” and “generosity towards relatives” can also be en-compassed by the concept of ‘adl. In any case, if “justice” in the meaning of worship of and servanthood to God is not established in an individual or a society, then, to expect the other virtues from such an individual or society is in vain.

Indeed, ihsān, or “devotion to good and excellence in worship,” which is the second divine command in this verse, is not possible without “justice.” Furthermore, ihsān in the meaning of “worshipping God as if seeing Him,” as it is stated in a hadīth,[2] can never be put into practice without the existence of “justice.” Likewise, without it, the third principle of “generosity towards relatives” is not practicable.

Ihsān means, as mentioned above, “worshipping God as if seeing Him.” However, feelings, emotions and thoughts should be based on a sound, firm belief, and belief should deepen and expand by practicing Is-lamic commands and prohibitions so that one can attain this degree of ex-cellence, and it can yield what is expected from it.

“Generosity” (ītā’) towards relatives and even towards everybody in a broader sense means broadening the circle of those to whom we do good so that as many people as possible may acquire “devotion to doing good and excellence in worship.” When we analyze the meaning of the verse from a general perspective it becomes clear that, “justice” is the basis of “excellence in worship and devotion to good,” which is in turn the origin of “generosity” towards others.

As for the negative principles or certain basic prohibitions in the verse, what is mentioned first is “indecency” (fahshā’). It may have been given priority because “indecency” is the starting point or marsh of all vice with respect of both individuals and society. As it is widely known and ac-cepted, in the societies where indecency and illicit sexual relationships are prevalent, all other evils appear one after the other, and eventually they lead the society to ruin. Thus, “indecency” should never be regarded as un-important.

“Wickedness” (munkar) means doing religiously prohibited things in public. From another perspective, it means rebelling against universal truths, which is rejected in every nation and religion.

“Vile conduct” (baghy) is an aggression offense. This vice shows it-self in different forms in individual and collective life. It has a broad mean-ing from one’s wronging oneself, rebellion against one’s parents, revolting against the lawful authority, and causing disorder in the society to rejecting belief in and obedience to God.

The same relationship that exists between “justice,” “devotion to good and excellence in worship,” and “generosity to the relatives” exists between “indecency,” “wickedness,” and “vile conduct.” Just as “justice” is the basis of the other two virtues, “indecency” is the origin of the other two vices mentioned. We should nevertheless point out that according to the Hanafī School of Law, the conjunction “and” (wa) between both the three virtues and the three vices does not show an order of arrangement. Therefore, it is not necessarily the case that “justice” generates the other two virtues, nor does it mean that “indecency” is the origin of the succeed-ing two vices. However, according to the Shāfi‘ī School of Law, the conjunction “and” (wa) denotes purposeful succession and therefore shows a cause-and-effect relationship between the virtues and between the vices mentioned.

To conclude, as ‘Abdullāh ibn Mas’ūd, one of the Companions of the Prophet, pointed out, the verse under discussion has such a comprehensive meaning that it almost contains all virtues and vices due to the broad meanings of the concepts used.[3] Truly, only volumes of books could explain this verse.

[1] These fundamentals of Islam are God’s existence and Oneness, the Prophethood, the bodily Resurrection, and finally justice, or worship. (Tr.)
[2] Bukhārī, Īmān, 37; Muslim, Īmān, 57.
[3] Qurtubī, al-Jāmiu li Ahkāmi’l-Qur’ān, 10/165; Ibn Kathīr, Tafsīru’l-Qur’āni’l-Azīm, 4/60.

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