The following is something I wrote about a year back while reflecting on Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad “Forgiveness and Justice: meditations on some hadiths”
Forgiveness and Rahmah is the best argument against people who think justice means, just-us. There’s a connectedness there in all our actions, even being connected with Allah- like, if a Muslim forgives someone else and shows clemency and mercy, than Allah looks upon that person’s action and says, “I am more merciful than my servant. I am the most merciful of the merciful” and then shows even more generosity in forgiving that person and making things easy for him. Allah commands us to adl’ wal ihsan- justice and excellence (forgiveness/mercy/clemency/compassion) because I think, it is more fitting of God’s Majesty, and perhaps more beloved to Him, to be associated with that mercy, more than simple mechanical justice.
I think just about everything in Islam has this in it: God wants us to be something more than just a creature (like the horn/hornless animals) demanding it’s “human rights,” (the allusion is intentional), to just demand justice with a sense of privilege and entitlement, he wants us to be worthy of Jannah, and that is why He pushes us to Islam, to tazkiya, to ihsan, “God only desires good for mankind,” and “Allah has no intention of oppressing the universe” (Surah Ale Imran) and “He who purifies himself has succeeded” (Sura al-‘Ala). And to purify oneself is to come to know oneself- weaknesses, tendencies, and fragility of life. Maulana Rumi says this is why there are difficulties, so that God can call man with a title of merit, of virtue, and rightly do so. So that perhaps, we won’t feel like a bunch of free-loaders, leechers, and scam artists entering Jannah, we’ll feel worthy of it, like the martyr/saint mentioned in the hadith, who has earned his place.
“For those who believe not in the Hereafter is an evil description, and for Allah is the highest description. And He is the Almighty, the All-wise.” (An-Nahl 16:60)) We will feel like we belong there and see something of ourselves, our actions, the vision of good, in that blessed place. I think in that, we come to actually know God. Otherwise, its like what Shaykh Hamza Yusuf said, “the sign of the righteous is they are grateful and love those who do good to them while the sign of the hypocrite is to hate the person who does good to them.” We don’t come to God as someone asking for welfare or unemployment payments, but as the king that Adam once was in Jannah. We’ll be back at our place once again. So, I think in a sense, it comes back full circle- if Allah is to show His mercy, so should we. His mercy to us is contingent upon our performance/merciful nature- like the hadith, man la yarham la yurham, that whoever does not show mercy, will not be shown mercy. Maybe that is why it remains a mystery as to the status of nonbelievers, believers, and the tension between justice and forgiveness remains in Islam, and in a ghayb, because its a work in progress that is unravelling with our existence; that if we ultimately fail to recognize God, and to recognize the goodness emanating from Him, than we fail to recognize ourselves and are doomed to hellfire, wherein we continue to remain ignorant, questioning and lamenting our sins, how we failed and where now is God’s mercy and hope? There is a possibility not simply of the chance of God’s “soft-heartedness” overpowering His wrath, but of also man’s soft-heartedness overpowering his wrath, towards himself, others and by extension, God. And that can have a deciding factor in the justice Allah serves.
In this way, justice and mercy becomes connected to fate and free-will- whether what is written in the Lawh al-Mahfuz is changed, how much is changed, as a work in progress (“In a book, that ONLY the purified can touch,” Quran) and what it will ultimately come to mean on Yawmul qiyamah. Questions of free-will/destiny are reified when in fact, they are more of a mechanism/condition that allow for man to work, and yet be protected/insured by God. What if Justice and Destiny are not a dichotomy, but rather one in the same? “Is it these poor believers that Allah has favored from amongst us? Does not Allah know best those who are grateful?” (Anam, 6:53) “Had Allah known any good in them, He would’ve made them listen.” (Anfal, 8:23)
There is divine mercy insofar as we are capable in our meek condition of seeing it and witnessing it, upon a continuum, everything beyond that to us seems like justice, when in fact it may really be mercy.
“The Sentence that comes from Me cannot be changed” (Qaf 50:29) But God is also All-Knowing and so the finality of it all, rests with Him, all that is with us is the temporary present, the escaping moment to grab the valuable good deeds, before the house of our existence collapses.
God’s Messenger, upon him be peace, said: ‘I smile because of two men from
my nation, who shall kneel in the presence of the Lord of Power. One of them
says: ‘O my Lord, grant me retaliation for the wrong which my brother did to
me.’ And God says: ‘Give your brother that in which he was wronged.’ ‘O
Lord,’ he says, ‘none of my righteous works remain.’ Then God the Exalted
says to the man who made the demand: ‘What shall you do with your brother,
seeing that none of his righteous works remain?’ And he replies: ‘O my Lord!
Let him bear some of my burdens in my stead!’ And God’s Messenger wept, as
he said: ‘Truly, that shall be a fearsome Day, a Day when men have need of
others to bear their burdens.’ Then he said: ‘God shall say to one who made
the request: ‘Lift up your head, and look to the Gardens.’ This he does, and he
says: ‘O my Lord! I see high cities of silver, and golden palaces wreathed about
with pearls. For which Prophet shall they be, or which saint or martyr?’
And he said: ‘They belong to whomsoever pays me their price.’ ‘O my Lord,’ he
says, ‘And who possesses such a price?’ ‘You possess it,’ he replies. ‘And what
might it be?’ he asks, and He says: ‘Your forgiveness of your brother.’ ‘O my
Lord!’ he says, ‘I have forgiven him!’ Then God the Exalted says: ‘Take your
brother’s hand and bring him into Heaven.’ Then God’s Messenger recited His
word: ‘Fear God, and make reconciliation among yourselves.’ (Qur’an 8:1)
26 al-Hakim al-Nïsaburi, al-Mustadrak ‘ala al-sahihayn (Hyderabad, Da’irat al-Ma‘arif al-
‘Uthmaniyye, 1915), IV, 576. (From Abdul Hakim Murad’s essay, “Forgiveness and Justice“)
Perhaps the best way to summarize the question then is that the real question of justice/mercy lies with us, not with Allah. “What! Can there be a doubt about Allah?” (Ibrahim 40:10) Do we want to be constrained by Justice or liberated by it or do we want to be constrained by Mercy or liberated by it? Or at the end of it, will we just become frustrated with human justice and give up and simply want God to decide because He is the only One capable of deciding?
Subhana kallahumma wa bihamdika ash-haduana la illaha illa ant astaghfiruka wa atubu ilayk, ameen.