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Justice, Binarity and the Adalet-i Mahzâ (Absolute Justice): The Case Study of Said Nursi
Dr. Hasan HORKUC, University of Durham, The UK
Does absolute justice exist or not? It may be argued that where absolute justice is impossible to realise, it is only reasonable to expect that the concept of partial or relative justice be invoked. Nursi defines justice as either absolute and relative, or positive and negative. In this paper we explore the binary nature of Nursi’s approach to justice, with the aim of elucidating those areas of his thought which have not hitherto been researched. Particular focus will be on the implications of human free will for the concept of justice, both in its ‘relative’ and ‘absolute’ state. The paper raises questions about the possibility of absolute justice. Hypothesis is held that absolute justice takes place in time. It shows itself as the inner moral development of the human being, society and the state.
It may be argued that where absolute justice is impossible to realise, it is only reasonable to expect that the concept of partial or relative justice be invoked. Nursi defines justice as either absolute and relative, or positive and negative. In this paper we explore the binary nature of Nursi’s approach to justice, with the aim of elucidating those areas of his thought which have not hitherto been researched. Particular focus will be on the implications of human free will for the concept of justice, both in its ‘relative’ and ‘absolute’ state.
I will also consider whether justice is binary or not. When I ask ‘‘is justice binary?’’ I am asking ‘‘is everything within the scope of justice either absolute or relative or negative or positive or just or unjust or both?’’ The question of the binarity of justice is vast, and it needs to be explored from various angles. I think that there is a point in asking this question in the most general form. Focusing on binarity may help sharpen our understanding of existing theories of justice at the very least, it will force us to re-arrange our prejudices and will give us greater understanding of the concept of justice itself. I shall not be able to tackle the question of the binarity of justice in all of its manifestations. I shall focus on the question of the binarity of justice as it is affected by the free-will problem, mainly from the point of view of absolute and relative justice. First I shall present in outline my conclusions on free-will-related justice. Then we shall see what these conclusions teach us about the binarity of justice. However after having said all these, the subject in hand is too vast that it needs careful analyses in a more formulated and planned study. By unravelling the various threads of Nursi’s discourse on justice, this paper hopes to provide a tentative answer to this question and, in so doing, throw light on the issue of freewill and the valorisation of human actions. Finally, the main aim of this paper is to raise questions and attention to the subject in hand.
Justice has been thought, primarily, the morally right assignment of good and bad things (including wealth, power, reward, respect and punishment); alternatively, it has been thought the virtue of a person who expresses or acts for that right assignment. Either actions are just because a just person does them, or a person is just because they do just things. This is the classical definition which follows Aristotle in considering justice as one of the virtues of a good person.
Justice can be divided into two broad types. Distributive justice is concerned with the proper distribution of good things - wealth, power, reward, respect - between different people. So, for instance, egalitarianism is a theory of distributive justice which says that the proper distribution of wealth (and perhaps other goods) is an equal distribution: no-one in the relevant group should have more or less than anyone else in that group. Retributive justice is concerned with the proper response to wrongdoing. So, for instance, the lex talionis (law of retaliation) is a theory of retributive justice which says that the proper punishment is equal to the wrong suffered: "life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe."
Justice is one of the fundamental concepts in Nursi’s discourse. He states that the fundamental aims of the Quran and its essential elements are fourfold: divine unity (al-tawhid), prophethood (al-nubuwwa), the resurrection of the dead (al-hashr) and justice (al-adala).
Before we progress any further, I would like to emphasise that our focus is neither metaethical nor epistemic. We shall not be concerned with the question of the ontological basis of justice, nor with how we can know what is just. For the sake of this discussion we assume that the notion of justice makes sense, and we bracket the question of how we can discern the just, asking whether the basic structure of justice is binary. Likewise, we shall simply assume that justice pertains to human beings.
There are various spheres in which as we know justice functions. This is important for our topic, because the litmus test of binarity may be differently affected in the different spheres. It is a definitional problem that we have to address this first. When we talk about justice whether we talk God’s absolute justice towards His creatures or the absolute justice reflected in human beings or the relative justice towards his fellow beings and other creatures that he shares the universe with. As Nursi states that the purpose of this life is that we must display the works of the manifestations of Allah’s Names and exhibit their marvels before the eyes of creatures. In this paper we take justice as the reflection of Divine name of Just (al-Adl) as appears to us is free-will-related justice and try to understand how this is reflected in Nursi’s writings.
Nursi points to our attention that one should take into account what terminology he uses. What this means is if we talk about the universe as being the reflection of divine names and attributes he categorises attributes as being Cemali and Celali. So, if one does not take into account this division of terminology may make many mistakes. That is to say that Nursi relates the name of Rahman to particularly this life as in the most perfect form attributed in distributive justice whereas the name of Rahim is reflected and attributed in the hereafter as in the most perfect form represents itself in retributive justice. Rahman represents itself in distributive sense whereas rahim represents itself in retributive sense.
While talking about the notion of justice it is also important to note that according to Nursi the purposes for the existence and the results of the being of all things relate to the following three categories. The first and the most exalted pertains to the Creator. The first purpose of all things is to proclaim, by means of their life and existence, the miracles of power and the traces of artistry of the Maker and display them to the gaze of the Glorious Monarch.
The second purpose of all existence and the result of all being pertains to conscious creation. Everything is like a truth-displaying missive, an artistic poem, or a wise word of the Glorious Maker, offered to the gaze of angels and jinn, of men and animals, and desiring to be read by them. It is an object for the contemplation and instruction of every conscious being that looks upon it.
The third purpose of all existence and result of all being pertains to the soul of the thing itself.
The notion of justice ultimately remains contentless and incapable of providing practical and legal prescriptions without one’s substantive account of human nature, an account specifying both the proper moral ends that humans should strive for and the anthropological limits of human perfectibility.
Man came to this world to be perfected by means of knowledge and supplication. In regard to his nature and abilities, everything is tied to knowledge. And the foundation, source, light and spirit of all true knowledge is knowledge of God, and its essence and basis is belief in God.
According to Nursi, there are numerous purposes for the existence of everything, and numerous results flow from its being. These are not restricted to this world. Man’s desires are everlasting and cannot be satisfied with anything in this world.
Religion, however, with its universal principles, can satisfy man’s desires, which stretch to eternity. The need of people for religion is, Nursi thought, greater than their material needs, which consist of their livelihoods.
Allah (CC) has deposited three powers in man’s body for co-existence of body and spirit and however, due to the mystery of competition Allah has placed no innate limitation on these powers.
The first: the power animal appetites to attract benefits (sehvet). The second: the power of savage passion to repulse harmful and destructive things. (gazab) The third: the power of angelic intellect to distinguish between benefit and harm. (melekeyi akliyye)
He did however limit them through the religion, for it prohibits excess (ifrat), and deficiency (tafrit) and enjoins the middle way (vasat).
He states that “Know that the Straight Path is justice, consisting of the blending and summary of wisdom (hikma), chastity (iffa), and courage (shaja’a), which are the mean or middle way of the three degrees of man’s three powers.
Nursi emphasised the importance of prevailing moral and spiritual needs to maintain the balance and justice. Nevertheless, for Nursi the Qur’an is primarily a means of placing restraints on the dangerous appetites of man:
The aims of the Quran are to provide a barrier against the appetites of man (Hevesat-i Nefsaniye) thus encouraging him to engage in higher pursuits, giving satisfaction to his higher aspirations and directing him towards the achievements of human perfection.
In this regard it is worth mentioning some of the moral values Nursi discusses. Nursi’s emphasis on the different moral values underwent change, but they mainly consisted of the following. Throughout the Risale-i Nur, among the issues mentioned most frequently in relation to the Islamic ethics are: sincerity (defined by Nursi as the most important principle in works pertaining to the hereafter), love (stated by Nursi as the way of our society is love for love and enmity towards enmity), and brotherhood. He speaks of strengthening love between Muslims and of “routing the soldiers of hostility”. Among the other oft-repeated issues Nursi dealt with are taqwa and respect. In response to the decline in moral standards, Nursi urged the adoption of the Qur’anic concept of taqwa, fear of God or piety, as the basis of actions in the face of corruption and destruction. Elsewhere, he defines taqwa as “the avoiding of sins and what is forbidden, and acting within the sphere of obligatory good works”, and said that those who fulfilled their obligations and did not commit serious sins would be saved. Nursi, in many places in his writings, emphasises the significance of taqwa as the greatest strength appertaining in social life:
And so, after sincerity (ihlas), our greatest strength at such a time in the face of these fearsome events is, in accordance with the principle of ‘sharing the works of the hereafter’, for each of us to write good deeds into ‘the righteous-act books’ of the others with our pens, and with our tongues, to send reinforcements and assistance to the ‘forts’ of the others’ taqwa.
In this regard, he thought that will, mind, emotion, and the subtle inner faculties which he thought constitute the four elements of the conscience and the four faculties of the spirit, each has an ultimate aim. The ultimate aim of the will is worship of God; that of the mind is knowledge of God; that of the emotions is love of God; and that of the inner faculties is the vision of God. He believed that perfect worship, known as taqwa, comprises all four elements: Islamic injunctions correct these and direct them towards their ultimate goals.
Nursi deals with the question of man’s perfecting of his abilities and, on the other hand, with the shortness of his life which serves as a counterbalance to his countless desires and appetites. As regards sensual pleasures, according to Nursi man may sink to a level a hundred times lower than the animals. He therefore was of the opinion that those who wish to be eternally happy, in this world and the next, should take as their guide the instruction of the Prophet Muhammad, within the bounds of belief. Nursi here is appealing on a psychological level.
What can be derived from this is that the straight path is the justice, and that is moderation and middle way. He explains this middle way or moderation as "the iman-i tahkik," that is gained through reflective thought and other elements of Rislae-i Nur method on the divine works in the cosmos and manifestations of divine names play role in this frame.
What Nursi believed was the balance in one’s life and then in society, and then in nation and even in the universe. This balance and harmony represent the justice in one’s understanding.
He also believed that the truths of the Divine Shari‘a have preserved the balance between the laws of creation related to this world and the hereafter. He discusses, despite all the terrible clashes and upheavals of the past, the truths of Shari‘a have preserved the balance between the laws of creation, and therefore have not spoilt the relationships necessary for the bonding of society. However it should be mentioned here that Nursi’s usage of the term “Shari‘a” mostly refers in its mystical cues: the Divine laws of creation.
Nursi, and Binary Nature of Justice
According to Nursi there are two varieties of justice, one affirmative, and the other negative. The positive variety consists in giving the deserving his right. This form of justice exists throughout the world in the most obvious fashion, because, it observably bestows, in accordance with special balances and particular criteria, all the objects of desire requested by everything from its Glorious Creator with the tongue of innate capacity, the language of natural need, the speech of necessity, and all the requirements of life and existence. This variety of justice is, then, as certain as life and existence itself. In the classical terminology what this equals to is distributive justice as explained above. The other variety of justice, the negative or in our terminology retributive justice, consists in chastising the unjust; it gives wrongdoers their due by way of requittal and punishment. This type of justice is not fully manifest in this world, even though there are countless signs and indications that permit us to sense its true nature. For example, all the chastising blows and punitive lashes that have descended on all rebellious peoples, from the Ad and Thamud to those of the present age, show definitely that an exalted justice dominates the world. Now we will analyse what Nursi means by the above statement and try to resolve the binary nature of justice.
Attributing moral worth to a person for his action requires that his action follow from what he is, morally (his reasons-based choices or the like). The action cannot, for instance, be produced by a random occurrence and count morally, for then it is the random occurrence that makes the crucial moral difference. We might think that two different things can equally follow from a person, but which one actually does follow from his, say, a decision to steal or not to steal, again cannot be random but needs to follow from what he is, morally. But what a person is, morally, cannot be under his control. We might think that such control is possible if he creates himself, but then it is the early self that creates a later self, leading to vicious infinite regress. This, however, is not the end of the story. There is a large element of injustice even in many ordinary practices that are defensible in terms of compatibilist justice.
Let’s first concentrate on one example Nursi gives us in his famous treatise on Divine Determining and free will. I will adapt the example and add a few things to clarify classical approach to the issue and difference of Nursian approach. In this treatise he talks about a man who has fired the riffle to kill. Let’s say our man whom we are considering came from a well-to-do family, and we may be inclined to say that he has had every opportunity to ‘‘turn out well.’’ He does not lack intelligence, is sane, identified with the life he chose to live, was free of inner or outer compulsion to act, and the like. Still, he has committed some highly unpleasant crime: cheating many people out of their life savings. He has done so for the sake of the money, although he was not in acute financial need. And finally he kills someone over some money issue. Eventually, he has been caught and given a long and harsh prison sentence. Now, even in such a case classical theorists will approach the issue that may not arouse our sympathies, and which is almost a paradigm of compatibilist suitability for the attribution of moral responsibility and for the assertion of the ‘‘lack of victimization,’’ the criminal can in a way be seen as a victim of injustice. It is perhaps sufficient that the condition people end up in be very bad, however much this might have resulted from their (compatibilistically free) choices, for us to see them as victims in an important sense. Commonplace discussions of the ‘‘perennially unfortunate’’ murderer who had a hard life before committing a crime (that is, hard apart from being caught) are often misleading. For such cases commonly combine features giving rise to both compatibilist and incompatibilist intuitions of injustice. In our case, we need have no pity for the person before the crime, so if he is punished only ultimate-level, hard-determinist injustice is at stake. I have purposely chosen an example where our intuitions might rebel, and many would be inclined to deny any moral difficulty in punishing our criminal. He has had all the choice one could want, knew the consequences, and chose freely. After all, had he gone on to live freely on the spoils of his crime no one would have considered him a victim. Even in such a case, the conclusion seems irrefutable that, since we have no libertarian free will, great suffering itself suffices to make one a victim of injustice. Even if our criminal significantly shaped his own identity he could not, in a non-libertarian account, have created the original ‘‘he’’ that formed his later self (an original ‘‘he’’ that could not have created his later self differently). If he suffers on account of whatever he is, he is a victim simply by being. Again, this does not eliminate the difference between his being a victim and the way in which he victimized his victims, or show that it could not be morally proper from the compatibilist perspective to punish him. Indeed, we might be required to maintain the moral order along compatibilist lines and punish him, as we ought not to do, in the light of the core conception, had he acted out of kleptomania or as a result of a brain tumor. But his status as a victim ought not to be denied. Compatibilistically justified institutions of retributive justice create grave injustice on the harddeterminist level.
According to Nursi, Divine Determining and the power of choice are aspects of a belief pertaining to state and conscience which show the final limits of Islam and belief; they are not theoretical and do not pertain to knowledge. Divine Determining and the power of choice are at the final degrees of belief and Islam; the former has been included among the matters of belief to save the soul from pride, and the latter, to make it admit to its responsibility.
According to Nursi, as the Qur’an states, man is totally responsible for his evils, for it is he who wants the evils. Therefore our man is responsible for what he has done. As for evils, he states, it is man’s soul that wants them, either through capacity or through choice. However, it is Almighty God Who creates the evils through a Divine law which comprises numerous benefits. Both request and reply, reason and cause, are from God. Man only comes to have them through supplication, belief, consciousness, and consent. That is to say, the cause and the request are from the soul, so that it is the soul which is responsible, while it is Almighty God Who creates the evils and brings them into existence, and since they have other results and fruits which are good, they are good.
It is for the above reason that the ‘acquisition’ (kasb) of evil, that is, the desire for evil, is evil, but the creation of evil is not evil. A lazy man who receives damage from rain, which comprises many instances of good, may not say that the rain is not mercy. Yes, together with a minor evil in its creation are numerous instances of good. To abandon that good for a minor evil becomes a greater evil. Therefore, a minor evil becomes like good. There is no evil or ugliness in Divine creation. They rather pertain to His servant’s wish and to his capacity.
In response to a question of “How is Divine Determining compatible with the power of choice?” Nursi hints us his understanding of compatibilism.
Allah (CC) has given man a power of choice of unknown nature which would be the means of reward and punishment for him. To know the nature of beings is one thing; to know they exist is something different. There are many things which although their existence is self-evident, we do not know their true nature... The power of choice may be included among these. Everything is not restricted to what we know; our not knowing them does not prove the things we do not know do not exist.
Also Nursi emphasises that Divine Determining has a connection with cause and effect. That is, this effect will occur through this cause. In which case, it may not be said that “Since so-and-so’s death is determined at such-and-such a time, what fault has the man who fired the rifle through his own choice, for if he had not fired it, the other still would have died?” Question: Why may it not be said?
And the Answer he provides us:
Because Divine Determining specified that so-and-so’s death would occur through the man’s rifle. If you suppose that he did not fire the rifle, then you are supposing that Divine Determining had no connection with it, so with what would you decree his death? If you imagine cause and effect to be separate like the Jabariyya, or you deny Divine Determining like the Mu‘tazila, you leave the Sunni School and join the heretics. We people of truth say: “If he had not fired the rifle, we do not know if he would have died.” The Jabariyya say: “If he had not fired it, he still would have died.” While the Mu‘tazila say: “If he had not fired it, he would not have died.”
Let’s leave this example here and give another example before we concentrate on binarity. The second example I will give is the Case of the Man Who Envied Ibni Sina. Imagine a man who wishes all his life to be a great architect. He always lived in a small town but nevertheless had both the time and training to develop his architecting talents, which, alas, remain quite mediocre. On retirement, this man goes to the Istanbul, is confronted with the wonderful arts of Ibni Sina at first hand, and is overcome with envy and a sense of injustice. The classical argument will be that there is a sense in which the difference between this man and Ibni Sina seems unfair and unjust. Neither man is responsible for it or gave his consent. It is an arbitrary, brute fact, not following from any ethical decision-making process. Our man feels unfortunate, and the state he is in is hardly his fault, so how can we say that it is not unfair and unjust? He did not create arts like Ibni Sina, hence does not deserve the latter’s acclaim, but after all our man does not deserve to be thus not deserving. In terms of the core conception this is clear, but I hope that it will be found intuitively plausible irrespective of this specific theoretical commitment. On the other hand, we are unlikely to be very impressed by this man’s cry of injustice. This is no doubt due in part to considerations unrelated to justice: for example, when confronting the wealth that Ibni Sina has provided us, any concern with injustice seems irrelevant we are happy in terms of beneficence or ‘‘life’’ that it happened that such a man as Ibni Sina existed. Any person, who truly values art, we might also feel, will not wonder why he or she is not an Ibni Sina but be happy instead that Ibni Sina existed. But even in terms of justice, the envious man’s claim on our attention is weak. The ‘‘baseline’’ of desert certainly does not lie at the point where anyone (or anyone wanting to be an architect) is as talented as Ibni Sina. Hardly anyone throughout human history has been so, it is such an exceptional event that no one can say that he or she has not received the justice due to a human being merely because he or she has been ‘‘deprived’’ of the talents of Ibni Sina. There seem to be a number of options. First, we can discount the whole matter as not one of justice, since no human agency is responsible for the man’s comparative lack of talent. According to this option, injustice occurs only when one agent has wronged another, and (bracketing God) no one has wronged our man. This position, however, goes against the intuitive force of the core conception. It is hard to see why lack of control and responsibility, and the ensuing arbitrariness, suddenly cease to have any moral weight when we leave the sphere of blame and punishment. Similarly for any attempt to distinguish injustice from unfairness: this cannot be motivated from within a core conception- based perspective, for the absence of free-will-based justification for one’s comparatively bad state, for example, means that this state is not only unfair but also unjust. Second, assuming that the matter is one of justice, it can still be understood as a case of morally insignificant injustice. It is unjust that this man lacks the talents of Ibni Sina, but it is not a significant injustice. A third way of understanding things would be to say that the situation is neither just nor unjust. It is not just that our man does not have the talents of Ibni Sina (he does not deserve not to, it is sheer luck, after all), but neither is it an injustice. There is simply a ‘‘limbo.’’ Consider the matter of personal attractiveness and love. If a woman chooses not to dance with you because you lack charm and are a bad dancer, it would probably not help matters were you to explain that in fact it is not up to you, that you cannot be otherwise, and hence that it is unjust if she does not dance with you. It can hardly be said that she (or anyone else) is morally obliged to dance with you. And in more general terms, it is commonly allowed that one may be not loved for factors not up to one, factors of which it cannot be said that it is just that one does not posses them, such as one’s basic traits of personality (indeed, no reasons need be given for love or lack of love). As we know well, much more can happen to people that is not a result of their free choice, and hence is not within their control and cannot be just in terms of the core conception. People who become severely ill through no fault of their own, or are laid off after years of work in massive company work-force reductions, or lose close relatives in car accidents, are only a few among many possible examples. While we sometimes speak of ‘‘metaphysical’’ injustice in such cases, more often we want to distinguish the unfortunate from the victims of injustice. The distinction is crucial in determining the proper attitudes of the victims and of others. People who have been dealt a bad card by nature or circumstances may not have been treated unjustly by anyone, although they have been unfortunate. The difficulty, however, is that (like utilitarianism) free-will-based justice may judge states of affairs and not only treatment by humans. According to the core-conception many situations we would traditionally classify as (mere?) misfortunes are properly deemed unjust, for they lack justification in terms of free choice. We saw various cases where people may want to put up complaints in terms of justice. Even where a claim for injustice is unlikely to be taken seriously, the idea that some injustice is involved cannot be easily dismissed. We may not have much sympathy with the Man Who Envied Ibni Sina, and we may want to dismiss his claim that he suffers from injustice, but it is not so easy to do so. The interpretation according to which the injustice is insignificant is plausible, but this is not a dismissal of injustice. Insignificant injustice remains injustice. And an alternative interpretation making use of the notion of ‘‘limbo,’’ a state where matters are neither just nor unjust, is also difficult to accept. There is something in the notion of justice that wants to recognize the grievance even in unlikely cases, like that of our artist. And since I have purposely taken a most unpersuasive example, such a result is significant. When we broadened the consideration of such common-life matters and asked about situations where people are not loved, or are harmed through no fault of their own, we saw that it is even harder to disclaim that some injustice seems to exist in many such instances.
According to Nursi, Divine Determining is both exempt from evil, mistake, fault and ugliness with regard to results and fruits. That is to say, with regard to origin and end, source and branch, cause and results, Divine Determining and creation are exempt from evil, ugliness, and tyranny. He believed that that all virtues and perfections return to existence and that the basis of all rebellion, calamities, and defects is non-existence and hence existence is pure good and non-existence, pure evil. Since non-existence is pure evil, circumstances that either result in non-existence or give an inkling of it, also comprise evil. Therefore, life, the most brilliant light of existence, proceeding through different circumstances, finds strength; it encounters varying situations and is purified; it takes on numerous qualities and produces the desired results, and enters many stages and displays comprehensively the impresses of the Bestower of Life’s Names. Therefore none of these varying situations and stages create injustice. It is due to this fact that certain things happen to living creatures in the form of griefs, calamities, difficulties, and tribulations whereby the lights of existence are renewed in their lives, and the darkness of non-existence draws distant and their lives are purified. For arrest, repose, silence, idleness, rest, and monotony are all, both in quality and as conditions, non-existence. Even the greatest pleasure is reduced to nothing by monotony.
Since life displays the impresses of the Most Beautiful Names, everything that happens to it is good. For example, an extremely rich and infinitely skilful person who is proficient in many crafts, for an hour and in return for a wage, clothes a miserable wretch in a bejewelled, artistically fashioned garment. This garment he made in order to make the miserable man act as a model and to display the works of his art and his extensive wealth. He works the garment on the man, gives it various forms, and alters it. In order to display every variety of his art, he cuts it, changes it, and lengthens and shortens it. Can the poor man receiving the wage be justified if he says to the person: “You are giving me trouble. You are making me bow down and stand up. By cutting and shortening this garment which makes me more beautiful, you are spoiling my beauty”? Does he have the right to tell him: “You are acting unkindly and unfairly”? Thus, like him, in order to display the impresses of His Most Beautiful Names, the All-Glorious Maker, the Peerless Creator, alters within numerous circumstances the garment of existence He clothes on living creatures, bejewelled with senses and subtle faculties like eyes, ears, the reason, and the heart. He changes it within very many situations. Among these are circumstances in the form of suffering and calamity which show the meanings of some of His Names, and the rays of mercy within flashes of wisdom, and the subtle instances of beauty within those rays of mercy.
Now, just as an example, we shall explain one of the innumerable degrees of the Names of All-Just, All-Wise, Truth, and All-Merciful. If you wish to see the Names of All-Merciful and Compassionate, and Truth within wisdom and justice to the utmost extent, consider the following comparison.
Let us suppose there is an army in which there are four hundred different sections. And the uniforms that each section prefers are different, the provisions that please them, the weapons they will carry with ease and the medicines to cure their particular ills are all different. Furthermore, rather than being separated into squads and companies, they are all intermingled. If the peerless and single king, then, out of perfect compassion and solicitude, wonderful power, miraculous all-embracing knowledge and extraordinary justice and wisdom, without confusing or forgetting any of them were himself, in person, without helper, to give all of them their completely different though appropriate uniforms, provisions, medicines and weapons, would you not see what a powerful, solicitous, just and generous personage that king was. Because, if there were individuals from ten nations in one battalion, it would be extremely difficult to clothe and equip them all differently. Whatever people they were from they would of necessity have to be fitted out in the same way. Similarly, if you wish to see the manifestation of the Names of Truth and All-Merciful and Compassionate within the justice and wisdom of God Almighty, look at the plant and animal armies comprising four hundred thousand magnificent nations with their tents pitched on the face of the earth in springtime. For those groups and sections are all one within the other. And the uniform of each one is different, and the provisions, weapons, way of life, drill and demobilization are all different. Furthermore, they do not have the power to provide for those needs and the tongues to ask for those wishes. So, watch and see the titles of Truth, All-Merciful, Provider, Compassionate and Generous together with order and equilibrium within the sphere of wisdom and justice. See how, without confusing, obscuring or forgetting any of them, He sustains, regulates and administers them all. Could another hand, therefore, interfere in a matter performed with such amazing and all-encompassing order and balance? What, apart from the One Who is Single and Unique, Absolutely Wise, and Powerful over all things, could even stretch out its hand towards this art, this organizing, this sustaining, this administering? What cause could interfere?
It is important to differentiate the two very different ideas of binarity that have emerged out of these examples. First, we have what can be called the ‘inclusive binarity of justice’, the idea that matters ‘can’ be ‘both’ just and unjust. Justice is not binary in the sense of ‘‘either/or,’’ for ‘‘both’’ is also a possibility. The formula then is ‘‘either/and’’ that is, matters are either just, or unjust, or both. The whole weight of evidence surveyed attests to the prevalence of inclusive binarity, from the Case of the Fortunate Criminal onward. Quite simply, matters could be both just and unjust at the same time and in closely related aspects. Recall the Case of the Fortunate Criminal: the proper description of the case was that his incarceration is fully just in compatibilist terms but unjust in ultimate hard-determinist terms, and both ‘perspectives are part of justice’. Second, we have what can be called the idea of ‘exhaustive binarity’, that matters cannot be ‘neither’ just ‘nor’ unjust. In other words, matters ‘must’ be either just, or unjust, or both. While the focus in the first conclusion is on what happens within the just-unjust possibilities (that is, that a matter can be both), in the second conclusion we exclude anything else from within the scope of justice. Here a decision on binarity is more difficult. In the Case of the Man Who Envied Ibni Sina, for example, we saw the attraction of a ‘‘limbo’’ option, to the effect that this man’s state was neither just nor unjust. Nevertheless, and particularly to the extent that we do want to put this case under the core conception of justice, we saw that the very notion of justice seemed to pull in the direction of (exhaustive) binarity, so that we were inclined to say that this man’s state was in some sense unjust (albeit not importantly so). A similar conclusion emerged within distributive justice, given strong egalitarian and choice requiring positions.
Nursi and the Adaleti Mahza (Absolute Justice)
Nursi also divides justice as being mahza (absolute) and izafi (relative) to that we will dedicate the following part.
The justice of God differs in no respect from His attribute as seen among his rational creatures; except that His justice must be perfect while theirs is imperfect, and his must be impartial, while theirs is partial. These differences, however, exist in the exercise of absolute justice. They arise from the limited knowledge, reason, and perception of right and wrong among men, and from the extent to which they naturally yield to their prejudices and passions. In the all perfect being, however, justice has none of these deficiencies, and must be exercised according to its strictest nature, and in every conceivable form of perfection. To all, therefore, he must deal out the most absolute justice, whatever they deserve, only what they deserve, and the full measure of their deserts. However, this is out of the subject in hand. Inasmuch as the justice of God may be considered as it exists in himself, or as it is manifested towards his creatures, a distinction has been made in it as viewed in these aspects, into the absolute and relative justice of God as reflected in humans. By absolute justice what we mean is that rectitude of the divine nature, in consequence of which God is infinitely righteous in himself. This rectitude is essential to him. To this form of justice is often applied the name of rectoral justice, inasmuch as it is justice exercised by His rational beings, a ruler, in the form of government, and by means of laws etc.
Many people would disagree that absolute justice exists. Thus they argue that one cannot derive the greater and perfect from the lesser and imperfect, also they argue that the idea of absolute justice is the ideas of different cultures and times. That is why the idea of justice varies greatly from one culture to the next. The argument used to disprove the above statements will stem from the relationship of order to justice.
Culture and justice have always gone hand in hand. A person who lived in the Middle Ages thought it to be perfectly just to cut off the hand of a thief. In modern times we consider ourselves more civilised, and put people in jail or fine them for stealing. As time and culture changed, so does perception of absolute justice.
If absolute justice itself is the realization of rights, it may be reasonable to suppose that partial or relative justice would be the realization of partial rights... having the categorematic meaning, presumably, of "some rights" or "some of these rights”, rather than the syncategorematic meaning "a part or several parts of each right". So if the two main rights with which we started (existence and return) were to be viewed as being indeed made up of component parts, partial justice would in this view presumably mean the fulfilment of as many parts on one side as would allow for the fulfilment of parts on the other. But what exactly these “parts” could be, we may ask. Surely, they would either be rights themselves (as we assumed, given our preferred interpretation) or they would not be rights. If they are rights, then with respect to any one of them which may come into conflict with another right (e.g the repatriation of a single individual or family to a home or space now belonging to a new occupant) the same question could then be asked of how can partial justice in this instance be realized, leading us back to the question with which we began, and to the need for further parsing. And if they are not rights themselves, then how could the realisation or fulfilment of however many parts of them that one can imagine be viewed as a partial realization of justice? So, it could be concluded that even partial justice cannot be realized. The same rule could be applied to the proper response or punishment to wrongdoing. So, absolute justice is particularly difficult in this sense to attain and realisation for instance, as explained above the lex talionis (law of retaliation) which says that the proper punishment is equal to the wrong suffered: "life for life, eye for eye" may sometimes not represent the justice in absolute sense.
Avoiding such a conclusion and returning once again to our world it might be claimed -at the other end of the spectrum of this viewpoint- that the function of justice lies precisely in its ability to "throw false claimants out", or to determine which of two right claims is genuine, rather than being a law in a world where no such claimants exist in the first place. But even this, though admittedly a function which has proven to have some success, for example in law courts, would seem to be a tall order to require of justice: According to our requirement now it would have to decide in favour of one of them, and against the other. Surely, however, whichever side justice comes down on, the judgement would be highly contentious! That is why a fair balance or compromise is felt to be more appropriate in this kind of situation, one which takes us back to partial or relative justice, and the underlying dilemmas we faced.
We find a similar approach in Nursi’s philosophy that two kinds of justice as well as of worlds contrasted in Nursi’s philosophy: world of the absolute justice of God, and world of human justice. The world of human justice is somewhere according to Nursi is a reflection where man tries to read and experience the names and attributes of his Creature. The strongest, rule-based justice is to be exercised in the world of human beings. This kind of justice must be based on the principles of speculative rationality alone. We find the hint of this in Muhakemat he speaks about the interpretation.
In an early work, entitled Muhakemat (Reasonings), Nursi paid a lot of attention to the importance of reason, saying “If the speculative and transmitted sciences conflict, the speculative sciences should be taken as basic and the transmitted sciences interpreted.” This means that if revelation appears to conflict with reason then reason should be taken as the basis and revelation should be interpreted, but in such a case, according to him reason must be genuine. In describing “degrees of the mind,” he says: “First is imagining, then conception, then reasoned thought.” He thought reasoning across religious boundaries was possible. The nature and implications of reasoning inevitably become prominent in his discourse. For him, Islam considers everything through reason and thought. Attaining to ‘belief by affirmation’ or verification is tied to the condition of using reason; he sees reasoned thought and investigation as a precondition of affirmation, and belief without reason as “bigotry.” He declares man to be “unbiased in using his reason” and defends freedom of thought against objections such as, “the more I use my reason, the more doubts I have; it’s better not to think too much.” He emphasised the importance of reason, and the power of free choice. He believed reason would find a way for the realisation of the absolute justice in both sense. But, as said before, Nursi’s philosophy of knowledge leads him to be watchful of the serious limitations and dangers of relying solely on reason. Reason alone has human limitations: he recommended “opening the door to reason, but not taking the will from it.” He states that “the revealed truth is reasonable, but reason on its own cannot attain it.” Religion based only on reason or emotion cannot reach God, he thought; it only leads to an embodying of God, or claiming partnership with Him, or materialism. On the other hand religion without reason is according to him fruitless and lacking.
According to Nursi theoretical or relative matters do not require causes through which, for their existence, necessity would intervene and nullify the will and power of choice. Rather, if the cause of the theoretical matters acquires the weight of preference, the theoretical matter may become actual and existent. In which case, at that juncture, it may be abandoned.
In Nursi’s understanding persons are not virtual, but actual. For instance, Nursi maintained the view that it was a barbaric principle of present-day society that for the sake of society an individual might be sacrificed, or that for the sake of a nation a society’s rights might be dispensed with. According to Nursi, the absolute justice of the Qur’an does not spill the life and blood of an innocent, even for the whole of humanity. The two are the same, in the view both of the Divine Power and of justice. But through self-interest, man becomes such that he will destroy everything that forms an obstacle to his ambition, even the world if he can, and will wipe out mankind. It is clear that Nursi’s main concern was man, not society. This makes man actual rather than virtual. In addition, even though some of Nursi’s ideas may have their own holistic dimension, this is not the case where society is concerned.
The pure justice of the Qur’an does not spill the life and blood of an innocent, even for the whole of humanity. The two are the same both in the view of Divine Power, and in the view of justice. But through self-interest man becomes such that he will destroy everything that forms an obstacle to his ambition, even the world if he can, and he will wipe out mankind.
Absolute justice and relative justice may be explained like this: according to the allusive meaning of the verse,
If any one slew a person -unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land- it would be as if he slew the whole people,
The rights of an innocent man cannot be cancelled for the sake of all the people. A single individual may not be sacrificed for the good of all. In the view of Almighty God’s compassion, right is right, there is no difference between great and small. The small may not be annulled for the great. Without his consent, the life and rights of an individual may not be sacrificed for the good of the community. If he consents to sacrifice them in the name of patriotism, that is a different matter. As for relative justice, a particular is sacrificed for the good of the universal; the rights of an individual are not considered in the face of the community. A sort of relative justice is attempted to be applied as the lesser of two evils. But if it is possible to apply pure justice, to attempt to apply relative justice is wrong. It may not be attempted.
In one of his early writings Nursi clears the subject and states that it is not possible to exercise the absolute justice in retributive sense, because it is not possible to experience all the aspects of justice related to the person and society, partial and absolute aspects. However he states it is also possible that absolute justice can be exercised in distributive sense related to community.
Now, I would like to give you a few examples to which some extent Nursi, in his life-time, tried to exercise the absolute justice in both sense. Michel states “Writing during one of the most tragic periods in the history of Anatolia, Said Nursi could not ignore the reality of the deaths of so many innocent persons. It is to his great credit that he rose above sectarian loyalty to address the question of innocent Christians as well as Muslims who fell victim to the times. “Even if those innocent people were unbelievers,” he stated, “In return for the tribulations they suffered due to that worldly disaster, they have such a reward from the treasury of Divine mercy that if the veil of the Unseen were to open, a great manifestation of mercy would be apparent in relation to them and they would declare, ‘O Lord, thanks be to You! All praise belongs to God.’”
Also, as we all know that one of the best examples is that Nursi in the time of First World War did not kill the Armenian children. In return to the turbulences of the war, Armenian militias were killing the Ottoman’s in the eastern front, where Nursi together with his students formed a militia under the command of Ottoman military and warred against these Armenian militias and Russians. However, when they captured Armenian children, Nursi forbid his militia to kill or torture these kids. Instead, he commanded for them to be released and sent back to their families. It is recorded that after this event the Armenian militias responded the same way and said that since Said does not kill our children we stop killing Ottoman children. Another example can be given here that Nursi practises absolute justice to some extent is we know when he was faced baseless claims and faced many allegations by the public prosecutors in more than one occasion, he first curses on the prosecutor but when he realises the person has got daughter or a family he changes his mind and does not curse on the men. Also we know that suicide is strictly forbidden in Islam, it is haram and a reason mentioned for one’s going to hell. As an Islamic scholar Nursi knew about this, however as we know in a few places of his Risale he mentions that because of the torture, difficulties and calamities he received from some officials, he stated if my religion did not forbid the suicide Said would have been in the grave by now. That shows how terrible sometimes he was treated but in return when he was thinking of cursing on those people that is the only thing he could have done in return to the treatment what he received, because of the families of public prosecutors he declined cursing on them, showed compassion and mercy to the some extent. I am sure we can give many other examples from his life but we will cut it short it here.
Let us review some possibilities that we have encountered. First, we saw that something can be both just and unjust. If our initial interpretation of binarity were as ‘‘either/or’’ then justice would not be binary in this sense. Second, we saw the possibility of arguing for the claim that something might be in some sense within the scope of justice, that it makes sense to apply notions of justice and injustice to it, and nevertheless be ‘neither’ just nor unjust. Where exactly that ‘‘thing’’ will be located is a difficult matter for this proposal (calling it an instance of ‘limbo’’ is not, after all, very informative). On the other hand, we saw that there was an inherent tension between the notion of justice and these two ‘‘binarity-disturbing’’ positions. Justice calls for decision as to a moral verdict, and it does not live well with ‘‘yes-and-no’’ verdicts. Similarly, justice is imperialistic, it spreads its gaze on the whole sphere of its concern and as it were does not know what to do with any idea to the effect that there is a sphere of ‘‘limbo’’ between the just and unjust. These two tensions are, however, very different. Or so they seem to me. With the first, justice needs to become more sophisticated and accommodate the conclusion that something may be both just and unjust at the same time. This endangers our simplistic tendency to use ‘‘unjust’ as an action term calling for immediate relief, but we should modify our understanding of justice on this point. No radical conceptual difficulties seem to be lying in that direction, which appears, indeed, to be the one that a sophisticated understanding of justice must incorporate. Justice, then, can be inclusively binary. As to whether something (affecting the interests of humans) may be neither just nor unjust, matters are more complex. We can perhaps make sense of the idea that certain matters are not the concern of justice although they affect humans (we saw various ways of attempting such ‘‘justice-constraining’’ options when we considered distributive justice). But within the scope of justice, that is, within the scope of what we called the internal question, it does seem that justice is binary. The idea of a ‘‘limbo’’ of the neither just nor unjust is conceptually dubious for justice. The justness or unjustness need not be morally important in a particular case, or nothing should be done about it although it is morally important, but there is in principle a reply in terms of justice. Justice, in other words, would seem to be also exhaustively binary.
By advocating a middle way, Nursi raised a voice of reasonable compatibilism. By viewing one person as having numerous personalities, all of which display different qualities, he accepted diversity of understanding the truth, and from religiosity to ethnicism, from moderation to salvation, he was neither absolutist nor relativist, he was also neither compatibilist nor incompatibilist. However, for him, this plurality and binarity does not necessarily mean unjust, but for him justice means the necessity to promote universal life. He never abandoned moderation and fairness. To the some degree the manifestations of the Divine Names in the various realms and worlds of the universe, and their diversity represent the absolute justice.
Nursi's approach to justice though not primarily social but aimed in second place at strengthening society through the reconstruction of the human and Muslim individual’s understanding of justice, is positive and outward-looking, and forward-looking, rather than inward-looking and retiring. Nursi advocated training the soul with compassion so as to be able to perform comprehensive justice.