Answered by Shaykh Abdullah Anik Misra
What does this hadith mean when it says, “Allah Almighty said: O My servants, I have forbidden injustice for Myself…”? Does this mean Allah is capable of injustice? A secondary question is that sometimes people say Allah could do whatever he wanted to us, and it wouldn’t be unjust since he is our creator. So then, what does Allah’s justice mean then?
In the Name of Allah, Most Merciful and Compassionate
This statement is part of a longer hadith narrated by Imam Muslim and included in the collection of Forty Hadiths by Imam al-Nawawi. This means that it is considered one of the most axial hadiths in Islam. It is narrated in full at the end of this answer.
The divine statement “I have forbidden injustice for Myself” means that injustice is impossible or absurd to be ascribed to Allah because He is the All-Knowing creator of morality and justice in the first place and has nothing to be compared to. It also means it would not be befitting for the perfection of Allah to do injustice. In the next part of the hadith, Allah also forbids injustice for His creation. [‘Id, Sharh al-Arba’in al-Nawawiyya]
Therefore, injustice is unbefitting for Allah rationally-speaking [‘aqlan], while it is unbefitting for His creation legally-speaking [shar‘an].
Can’t Allah Do Whatever He Wants, Even Injustice?
Allah is not comparable to created beings, nor can anything be ascribed to Him, which violates the concept of His transcendence and perfection. Injustice is such a violation.
However, we do not say that Allah is “incapable” of justice because that wording implies a deficiency or inability – rather, it is a rational impossibility. The very understanding of injustice here [Ar. zulm] is that it is an act that is out of harmony with what Allah has commanded – literally, transgressing a limit or using the rights of someone else wrongly. This is why it is absurd to propose that Allah can do something that is described as conflicting with His own command or violating someone else’s right because He is the Owner of everything. [Ibn al-Mulaqqin, Al-Mu‘in; Nawawi, Sharh Matn al-Arba’in]
The benefit of this is to know that anything that Allah has decreed and commanded will never be unjust and to put this doubt out of our minds. Also, on a practical level, to never invoke Allah in supplication for something unjust to happen to your enemy -Allah will not accept it because He has forbidden injustice on Himself. (Ibid)
Abu Dharr Al-Ghafari reports that from that which the Prophet (peace be upon him) narrated to him from his Lord (Mighty and Majestic) is Allah’s saying:
“O My servants! I have forbidden oppression for Myself, and I have made it forbidden amongst you, so do not oppress one another.
O My servants, all of you are astray except those whom I have guided, so seek guidance from Me and I shall guide you. O My servants, all of you are hungry except those whom I have fed, so seek food from Me and I shall feed you. O My servants, all of you are naked except those whom I have clothed, so seek clothing from Me and I shall clothe you.
O My servants, you commit sins by day and by night, and I forgive all sins, so seek forgiveness from Me and I shall forgive you. O My servants, you will not attain harming Me so as to harm Me, and you will not attain benefitting Me so as to benefit Me.
O My servants, if the first of you and the last of you, and the humans of you and the jinn of you, were all as pious as the most pious heart of any individual amongst you, then this would not increase My Kingdom an iota.
O My servants, if the first of you and the last of you, and the humans of you and the jinn of you, were all as wicked as the most wicked heart of any individual amongst you, then this would not decrease My Kingdom an iota.
O My servants, if the first of you and the last of you, and the humans of you and the jinn of you, were all to stand together in one place and ask of Me, and I were to give everyone what he requested, then that would not decrease what I Possess, except what is decreased of the ocean when a needle is dipped into it.
O My servants, it is but your deeds that I account for you, and then recompense you for. So he who finds good, let him praise Allah, and he who finds other than that, let him blame no one but himself.” [Muslim]
[Shaykh] Abdullah Anik Misra
Checked and Approved by Shaykh Abdul-Rahim Reasat
Shaykh Abdullah Misra was born in Toronto, Canada, in 1983. His family hails from India, and he was raised in the Hindu tradition. He embraced Islam in 2001 while at the University of Toronto, from where he completed a Bachelor of Business Administration. He then traveled overseas in 2005 to study the Arabic language and Islamic sciences in Tarim, Yemen, for some time, as well as Darul Uloom in Trinidad, West Indies. He spent 12 years in Amman, Jordan, where he focused on Islamic Law, Theology, Hadith Sciences, Prophetic Biography, and Islamic Spirituality while also working at the Qasid Arabic Institute as Director of Programs. He holds a BA in Islamic Studies (Alimiyya, Darul Uloom) and authorization in the six authentic books of Hadith and is currently pursuing specialized training in issuing Islamic legal verdicts (ifta’). He holds a certificate in Counselling and often works with new Muslims and those struggling with religious OCD. He is an instructor and researcher in Sacred Law and Theology with the SeekersGuidance The Global Islamic Seminary. Currently, He resides in the Greater Toronto Area with his wife and children. His personal interests include Indian history, comparative religion, English singing, and poetry.