Story No. 232 – Which is superior: Justice or Generosity? Concept of justice in Islam

Justice is the master of virtues and the course to peace. Islam has glorified justice and encouraged it through numerous texts of the Noble Qur’an and the Sunna:


In the Noble Qur’an, Allah (SWT) summarizes the factuality of the public justice by saying:


“Allah commands (people) to maintain justice, kindness, and proper relations with their relatives. He forbids them to commit indecency, sin, and rebellion. Allah gives you advice so that perhaps you will take heed.” (An-Nahl, 16:90)


Imam Jafar as Sadiq (as) said: “Justice is more delicious than honey, softer than butter, and more sweet-smelling than musk.”


The sound souls are created on the nature of the love for justice and hate for wronging. Over the existence on this earth, all human beings agreed unanimously, despite their different trends and courses, on glorifying justice. Furthermore, they have gone on praising its virtues and dedicating themselves to the doing of justice. It is then the secret of the existence of nations and the symbol of virtues. Only was it because the loss of justice, the great powers collapsed and the glorious civilizations reduced to rubble.


Amir ul-Mu’minin (as) depicted the course of the social justice so briefly and eloquently:


“My son, make yourself the measure for dealings between you and others. Thus, you should desire for others what you desire for yourself and hate for others what you hate for yourself. Do not oppress as you do not like to be oppressed. Do good to others, as you would like good to be done to you. Regard bad for yourself whatever you regard bad for others. Accept that (treatment) from others, which you would like others to accept from you. Do not talk about what you do not know even though what you know be very little. Do not say to others what you do not like to be said to you.”


Terminologically, injustice is to put a thing in an inappropriate place. Polytheism, hence, is grave injustice, because it is replaced with monotheism. Conventionally, injustice stands for the seizure of rights, and the words and deeds of hostility against others, such as revilement, backbiting, confiscation of property, crimes of beating or murder, and the like forms of wrongdoings.


Injustice, however, is one of the bad characteristics that are deep-rooted in most of the mentalities. All over history, humankind suffered various kinds of tragedies that made life seem depressing. It therefore is the comprehensive of sins, source of evils, and incentive of corruption. Allah (SWT) says in the Noble Qur’an:


“The unjust will certainly have no happiness.” (Al Anaam, 6:21)


“Allah does not guide the unjust.” (Al Anaam, 6:144)


“Allah does not love the unjust.” (Al-e-Imran, 3:57)


“We destroyed certain generations who lived before you because of their injustice.” (Yunus, 10:13)


“The unjust will face a painful punishment.” (Ibrahim, 14:22)


“Do not think that Allah is unaware of what the unjust people do.” (Ibrahim, 14:42)


Amir ul-Mu’minin (as) said: “By Allah (SWT), even if I am given all the domains of the seven (stars) with all that exists under the skies in order that I may disobey Allah (SWT) to the extent of snatching one grain of barley from an Ant, I would not do it. For me, your world is lighter than the leaf in the mouth of a locust that is chewing it. What has Ali to do with bounties that will pass away and pleasures that will not last?”


Generosity is the opposite of stinginess. It stands for offering money, food, or any other lawful gaining out of one’s free will. It is in fact the worthiest nature. As a sign of the unprecedented virtue of generosity is that you see every precious and appreciable thing is described as generous. For example, Allah (SWT) says in Noble Qur’an:


“This is a generous Quran.” (Al Waqia, 56:77)


Imam Jafar as Sadiq (as) related that Prophet Muhammad (saw) said: “The generous is close to Allah (SWT), close to people, and close to Paradise. The stingy is remote from Allah (SWT), remote from people, and close to Hell.”


Stinginess stands for the abstention from giving in situations of generosity. It is the opposite of generosity and among the mean features that cause humility, hatred, and disgrace. Islam has censured and warned the Muslims strongly against stinginess:


“It is you who are asked to spend for the cause of Allah, but some of you behave in a niggardly way. Whoever behaves miserly does so against his own soul. Allah is Self-sufficient and you are poor.” (Muhammad, 47:38)


Which is superior: Justice or Generosity?”The stingy ones who try to make others stingy or those who hide the favors that Allah has bestowed on them. We have prepared a humiliating torment for the disbelievers.” (An Nisa, 4:37)


Imam Ali, Abu Turab (as) said: “I wonder at the mentality of a miser, fearing poverty he takes to stinginess and thus hastily pushes himself headlong into a state of want and destitution, he madly desires plenty and ease, but throws it away without understanding. In this world he, of his own free will, leads the life of a beggar and in the next world he will have to submit an account like the rich.”


Imam Jafar as Sadiq (as) narrated on the authority of his fathers that Amir ul-Mu’minin (as) once heard a man saying that stinginess is less forgivable than wronging. The Imam commented: “No, this is a lie. A wrong man may repent, seek Allah’s forgiveness, and correct his mistakes. But when one behaves in a stingy mood, he will not defray the Zakat and almsgiving, will not regard his relatives, will not receive the guests hospitably, and will not spend his fortune in the cause of Allah (SWT) and in the fields of charity. Paradise is forbidden for the stingy.”


Now, here the question is about two human qualities. Man has always detested oppression and injustice and has also held in high regard acts of kindliness and benevolence performed without the hope of reward or return. Apparently the answer to the above question seems both obvious and easy: generosity is superior to justice, for what is justice except observance of the rights of others and avoiding violating them; but a generous man willingly foregoes his own right in favour of another person. The just man does not transgress the rights of others or he safeguards their rights from being violated. But the generous man sacrifices his own right for another’s sake. Therefore, generosity must be superior to justice.


In truth, the above reasoning appears to be quite valid when we estimate their worth from the viewpoint of individual morality and generosity, more than justice, seems to be the sign of human perfection and the nobleness of the human soul. But Imam Ali ibn Abu Talib’s (as) reply is contrary to the above answer. Imam Ali ibn Abu Talib (as) gives two reasons for superiority of justice over generosity.


Firstly he (as) says: Justice puts things in their proper place and generosity diverts them from their (natural) direction.


For, the meaning of justice is that the natural deservedness of everybody must be taken into consideration; everyone should be given his due according to his work, ability and qualifications. Society is comparable to a machine whose every part has a proper place and function.


It is true that generosity is a quality of great worth from the point of view that the generous man donates to another what legitimately belongs to himself, but we must note that it is an unnatural occurrence. It may be compared to a body one of whose organs is malfunctioning, and its other healthy organs and members temporarily redirect their activity to the recovery of the suffering organ. From the point of view of society, it would be far more preferable if the society did not possess such sick members at all, so that the healthy organs and members may completely devote their activities and energies to the general growth and perfection of society, instead of being absorbed with helping and assisting of some particular member.


To return to Imam Ali ibn Abu Talib’s (as) reply, the other reason he (as) gives for preferring justice to generosity is this: Justice is the general caretaker, whereas generosity is a particular reliever.


That is, justice is like a general law which is applicable to the management of all the affairs of society. Its benefit is universal and all-embracing; it is the highway which serves all and everyone. But generosity is something exceptional and limited, which cannot be always relied upon. Basically, if generosity were to become a general rule, it would no longer be regarded as such. Deriving his conclusion, Imam Ali ibn Abu Talib (as) says: Consequently, justice is the nobler of the two and possesses the greater merit.


As is known, during his caliphate, Uthman ibn Affan put a portion of the public property of the Muslims at the disposal of his kinsmen and friends. After the death of Uthman ibn Affan, Imam Ali ibn Abu Talib (as) assumed power. Imam Ali ibn Abu Talib (as) was advised by some to overlook whatever injustices had occurred in the past and to do nothing about them, confining his efforts to what would befall from then on during his own caliphate. But to this his reply was: A long standing right does not become invalid!


Then he exclaimed: By God, even if I find that by such misappropriated money women have been married or slave maids have been bought, I would reclaim it and have it returned to the public treasury, because:


There is a wide scope and room in the dispensation of justice. [Justice is vast enough to include and envelop everyone;] he who [being of a diseased temperament] finds restriction and hardship in justice should know that the path of injustice and oppression is harder and even more restricted.


Justice, according to this conception, is a barrier and limit to be observed, respected, and believed in by every person. All should be content to remain within its limits. But if its limits are broken and violated, and the belief in it and respect for it are lost, human greed and lust, being insatiable by nature, would not stop at any limit; the further man advances on this interminable journey of greed and lust, the greater becomes his dissatisfaction.