إِنَّ اللَّهَ يَأْمُرُ بِالْعَدْلِ وَالْإِحْسَانِ
Indeed, Allah enjoins justice and kindness.
(Sūrat al-Nahl, No.16, Āyat 90)
This verse, known as the Āyat al-Ihsān, outlines qualities required for the well-being of a community. The first two qualities that Allah ‘azza wajall orders believers to have justice and kindness. Both are required for smooth relationships and for settling the differences that will inevitably creep up between people. A society that lacks these qualities will find it difficult to manage the interactions between its members. The Prophet (s) has said: All of taqwā has been encapsulated in the words of the Almighty ‘Indeed Allah enjoins justice and kindness …’ (Tafsīr Nūr al-Thaqalayn, 3:178)
Justice and kindness are two different qualities, one building on the other. Justice is the foundation and puts all things in the right place. It enables fairness and equity between people. People have their rights given to them. But justice alone is not enough for a warm and functioning society. It is necessary but basic. Society needs more than justice. It needs kindness and grace, a going beyond justice to show love and concern for one another. Ihsān cements the bonds between people and makes them feel secure and loved.
The difference between justice and kindness can be understood through a couple of analogies:
– When passengers board a bus, it is the right of every passenger on the bus to take a seat as they come in. When everyone has their seats, an elderly person comes and must stand as there are no more seats available. It is not unfair if no-one gets up to give up their seat to him. That is justice. But if someone gets up and offers a seat to the elderly person, it is an example of Ihsān. The person is going beyond justice. He practises kindness and grace, giving up his own comfort for the sake of someone who needs it more than he does. The Ihsan creates a warmth in the passenger community and strengthen bonds between them. Justice alone cannot do that.
– Each organ in the human body has a duty assigned to it. Each performs its duty, and the body can function well. But when one organ is afflicted with some disease or injury and is not able to do its duty, the other organs pitch in. The body continues to function due to the Ihsān of the other organs. There is justice and ihsān going on within us too.
Amīrul Mu’minīn Imam Ali ‘alayhis salām showed us examples of both justice and Ihsān in his dealings with people, especially when it came to assigning the wealth of public treasury. He refused to be unjust even to the smallest degree. He says: By Allah, I would rather pass a night in wakefulness on the thorns of as-sa’dan (a plant having sharp prickles) or be driven in chains as a prisoner than meet Allah and His Messenger on the Day of Judgement as an oppressor over any person or a usurper of anything out of worldly wealth . . . By Allah, 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 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. (Nahjul Balāghah, Sermon 223)
Once an old man by the name of Āsim bin Maytham came to Imam Ali (a) while he was dividing the money from Baytul māl. He asked for a larger share due to his old age and weakness. Imam Ali (a) explained to him that the money was not his own. He hadn’t earned it or inherited it. It was a trust that had been placed in his hands and he had to assign it justly. But then Imam showed kindness to him by asking his companions if there was anyone who would be able to help the old man from their own wealth. Imam did not ignore the pleas of the old man. He treated him justly but then went beyond justice to show Ihsān in a manner which was not unfair. (Manāqib Āli bin Abī Tālib, v.2, p.110, per ensani.ir/fa/article/137995)
As we commemorate the death anniversaries of the Holy Prophet (s) and Imam al-Ridhā (a) this week, let us remember the emphasis of the Ma‘sūmīn (a) on justice and kindness. They practised it in their lives and showed us that both these qualities are essential in the quest for perfection.
Sources: al-Huwayzī, Tafsīr Nūr al-Thaqalayn; ensani.ir/fa/article/137995; https://www.al-islam.org/nahjul-balagha-part-1-sermons/