The Islamic faith is formulated by the declaration of two facts, i.e. that there is no god (i.e. no one worthy of worship) but God (Allah) and that Muhammad is His messenger. Muslims believe that Allah is ONE. He has no partner or children. He is the Beginning and He is the End. He is Omnipotent, Omniscient and Omnipresent. The Qur’an says that He is closer to man than his jugular vein, but He cannot be seen by eyes or encompassed by human intellect. In a supplication, Imam Ali says:

Oh God, verily I ask Thee by Thy Name, in the name of Allah, the All-merciful, the All- compassionate, O the Possessor of Majesty and Splendour, the Living, the Self- subsistent, the Eternal, there is no God other than Thee.

Divine Justice: Among divine attributes the Shi‘a put a great emphasis on justice. Of course, all Muslims believe that God is just (‘ādil), in that God never commits any injustice towards His servants, and He never oppresses anyone. This fact is clearly expressed by the Qur’an:

God is not in the least unjust to the servants. (3:182 & 8:51 & 22:10)
Your Lord is not in the least unjust to the servants. (41:46)
I am not in the least unjust to the servants. (50:29)
Surely God does not do injustice to the weight of an atom. (4:40)
Surely God does not do any injustice to people, but people are unjust to themselves. (10:44)1

In addition to the importance of divine justice in itself, the other reason for the emphasis on this doctrine by the Shi‘a is that there has been a controversy about this issue among the Muslim theologians. The Ash‘arites, a group of Sunni theologians, believe that there is no objective criteria for morally right or wrong acts. Good means what God performs or whatever is commanded by God. Therefore, God’s acts and commands are good and just by definition. They believe that if God had asked us to tell lies, telling lies would have become good and if God were to send the pious people to hell that would be just. Of course, they believe that God never does such acts, not because they are wrong in themselves, but because in practice He has said that those acts are wrong. The Ash‘arites also believe that human beings do not have free-will and it is God who creates their acts without them having any role therein. They are only receptacles of divine acts.

The Shi‘a and some other Sunni theologians, such as the Mu‘tazilites, believe that good and bad, and right and wrong are objective, and that there are rational criteria for moral judgements. In other words, they believe in intrinsic goodness and badness. They believe that in reality there is a difference between, say, justice and oppression and it is not arbitrary that God has commanded us to be just and not to oppress anyone, even our enemies. They also believe that human beings are free and responsible for their acts. Of course, the Mu‘tazilites believe in tafwīḍ, i.e. that God has handed over His authority over human voluntary acts to them and they have complete control over their acts. But the Shi‘a believe that although determinism (jabr) is wrong and against divine justice, and that human beings are free, their freedom and power is limited, and God has an overall authority upon their acts. This fact is expressed in the well- known formulation of Imam Ja‘far al-Sadiq:

There is no compulsion (jabr), nor is there absolute delegation of power (tafwīḍ), but the real position is between the two extremes.2

Due to the ultimate importance of this subject for any value system, the Shi‘a have always stressed the doctrine of divine justice and have frequently introduced it along with tawhīd (divine unity), prophethood, Imamate (divine leadership) and Resurrection as one of the five Principles of the Faith (Usūl al-Madhhab) in contrast to tawhīd, prophethood and resurrection which count as the three Principles of Religion (Usūl al-Dīn), which are shared by all Muslims.

This emphasis on the issue of divine justice has not been limited to the theoretical aspect of Shi‘i Islam. Indeed, the Shi‘a see the issue of justice as a fundamental aspect of Islam, and they have always called for the implementation of the principle of justice on the social level as well.


1 There are many more verses in the Qur’an affirming divine justice.

2 Al-Saduq, Muhammad b. Ali b. Husayn b. Babawayh, Al-Tawhid (Qum: Jamā ‘at al-Mudarrisin), p. 362.

Discovering Shi’i Islam Mohammad Ali Shomali 9th Edition