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Justice walks hand in hand with Fairness. In the Qur’anic worldview, they are similar, but not the same. Fairness (Arabic: ʿadl), a rational balance based on reason. Justice (Arabic: qisṭ), equitability. Allah is often referred to as “the Fair” (al-ʿadl), and this epithet references a well-known attribute of Allah in the Islamic tradition. But this word as a name does not appear in the Qur’an itself. Rather, it is Justice that is directly equated to Allah’s universal being. We see this by comparing the following two verses:

يَـٰٓأَيُّہَا ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُواْ كُونُواْ قَوَّامِينَ بِٱلۡقِسۡطِ شُہَدَآءَ لِلَّهِ 

O you who were secure! Be responsible for equitability, witnesses towards Allah. (4:135)

 

يَـٰٓأَيُّہَا ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُواْ كُونُواْ قَوَّامِينَ لِلَّهِ شُہَدَآءَ بِٱلۡقِسۡطِ‌ۖ 

O you who were secure! Be responsible towards Allah, witnesses for equitability. (5:8)

We can see here that the verses are identical except that the words “justice” and “Allah” have changed places. This shows us that they are equivalent. Allah (the universal laws) and justice are one. The universe is governed by a drive to share equally amongst all creation. As such, we see verse 25 from Chapter al-Hadid (57), which begins: 

لَقَدۡ أَرۡسَلۡنَا رُسُلَنَا بِٱلۡبَيِّنَـٰتِ وَأَنزَلۡنَا مَعَهُمُ ٱلۡكِتَـٰبَ وَٱلۡمِيزَانَ لِيَقُومَ ٱلنَّاسُ بِٱلۡقِسۡطِ‌ۖ  (٢٥)

25. Truly, We certainly sent Our messengers with the clear proofs, and We descended with them the Book and the Balance, that people may establish equitability.

This verse describes one purpose of the revelation: to encourage people to establish and uphold justice, an equal sharing of resources, etymologically speaking. Although people often use religion or the Qur’anic revelation as a justification for sowing discord, fighting amongst each other, and governing over people even to the point of taking away certain rights, these choices are not consistent with the purpose of revelation. One excellent example of the intention of divine inspiration comes from the story of Moses. Allah sent Moses to the Pharaoh, not to punish him in Allah’s name, but to speak gently to him and convince him to end the oppression of a people, and give them the same fairness and rights that Pharoah’s people were enjoying. As long as the enslaved people were oppressed, there could not be peace in that land.

The same is true today. As long as our world does not operate with justice as a universal principle, then natural and financial resources will not be equally distributed amongst all people. When powers that be take away resources from others, they create animosity, fear, and unrest, because people feel that the situation is not fair. To achieve world peace, we must choose to live our lives “responsible for justice.”


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Chapter al-Ahzab

59. O you Ascended Master! Tell your peers, and your newly formed ones, and the less advanced of the ones who are secure, they draw near to themselves of what they attract. That is closer, so they are known and not harmed. And Allah was Forgiving and Merciful.


We are more than just ourselves. As individuals, through our actions we represent entire categories or groups of people. Consider the police: if one officer makes a grievous error in judgment in the line of duty, is this not often said to reflect poorly on the force as a whole? On the flip side, do we not have resource officers stationed in public schools in part to encourage children to view the police as accessible and kindly community helpers? How we behave, whether on or off the job, gives observers an impression of the profession or community we represent. As such, we must be determined to not only behave in accordance with the utmost standards of professionalism and high moral character, but we must also take care to surround ourselves with others dedicated to a similar goal. Otherwise, we risk tainting outsiders’ impressions of the groups we represent (be them professional, religious, social, or otherwise), and we also risk absorbing negative influence that detracts us from making progress in our development towards higher states of being.


Have you ever been a teenager, or raised a teenager? Consider the parental advice to mind the company you keep. My mother used to tell me, “tell me who your friends are, and I’ll tell you who you are.” What social environment would you prefer for yourself or your children: one defined by laziness, disrespect, dishonesty, and self-absorption, or one that fosters industrious responsibility, compassion and loyalty, generosity and integrity? Surrounding ourselves with high-quality people helps ensure that we remain on-track to be and become high-quality people ourselves.


This verse from Chapter al-Ahzab calls to Muhammad as an ascended master, a high-character individual, now leading the nascent Muslim community. It asks him to reach out to other people, beginning with his closest peers supporting his mission and expanding to include newcomers to Islam and all those who are less advanced in secure understanding and faith in the message he was bringing to humanity, to remind them to “draw near to themselves of what they attract.” In other words, people should be mindful of what energy they want to bring into their lives, and keep company accordingly. Then, their social environment will enhance the resonance of their intentions.


Regardless of your milieu, of course, the most important work you can do to ensure your spiritual success is to work on your own self, on your own being level. Once you dedicate your heart to purifying yourself of ego’s natural pull towards fear, selfishness, greed, anger, and so on, and set the feet of your spirit on a straight path towards harmony with the universe, you will be able to “do the right thing” automatically. Nothing will be able to distract you from your mission to live in a pure state of the highest order, and “submit in peaceful submission” to this ordered flow of the universe (see Chapter al-Ahzab, verse 56). As physicist and consciousness researcher Tom Campbell puts it, we must “lower our entropy.” Reducing the chaos within ourselves purifies our being and our actions, which then leads our existence to have a purifying effect in our community.


When we are well, we act well. When we act well, our example (perhaps in addition to our direct guidance) encourages those around us to behave in a similar way. Others observe our collective beautiful presence, and cultivate a positive impression of the communities we represent. So whether you are a soccer player, an engineer, a dentist, a housewife, a student, a musician, a person of faith, an employee in any field–no matter your individual identities, strive to be a high-order individual, and surround yourself with a high-quality community to amplify your efforts. We will all be better for it.

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When I used to run a banquet and event hall, many customers took advantage of our in-house catering. Over the years, I baked thousands of biscotti, baklava, butter cookies, and more. After so much practice, I still know these recipes by heart. If one day I should meet a customer with a dairy allergy, I would need to replace the butter with something more suitable. But swapping butter for a plant-based spread would change the percentage of liquid and fat in the recipe, so I may have to compensate by adjusting other ingredients. In the end, I’m sure we could come up with a scrumptious treat, but it would be different than the original.


So it goes with reworking the translation of the Qur’an. Once a change is made, I must ask myself, what does this imply for the remainder of the verse? for the remainder of the chapter? for how this theme presents itself throughout the text? It is a delicate process executed with the help of many reference materials. But, it is so exciting. Some of the changes I am seeing have major domino effects on how we can understand the Qur’an’s messages and directives.


Perhaps it is because I am currently focusing on this topic, but I feel that one of the most significant points of transition between the conventional and the new is the area of relationships in society, specifically gender roles. As we saw in last week’s post, the Qur’an does not specifically discuss men and women. Instead, we are talking about different categories of people in society or in a community. Eliminating the idea of gender and replacing it with this fresh concept of “more advanced” versus “less developed” (be it in areas of knowledge, skill, faith, etc.) demands that we rexamine critically controversial verses such as Chapter al-Nisa’ verse 34, commonly referred to as “the wife-beating verse,” as well as others conventionally understood to treat issues of inheritance, modest dress, domestic responsibilities, and more. Now that we’ve swapped out the butter—what other ingredients need modification to uphold the recipe’s integrity?


As a matter of course, I propose we stop at nothing and no word to reveal the most beautiful message we can. Every word and grammatical construct must be carefully considered, so that the final product is as true to its nature as it can be. After all, “even if” it’s vegan and gluten-free, a cookie remains a delicious dessert. In some ways, it may even be healthier than its conventional counterpart.


I look forward to sharing more freshly-baked translations of the Qur’an with you soon.

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