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Social Justice from the Viewpoint of Ayatollah Khamenei

Social justice has always been a concern for human beings. This is probably because human beings have realized from the beginning that justice is the key to overcome and resolve many of the crises, he/she has been suffering from.

The following op-ed article, attempts to investigate the notion of social justice in the view of Ayatollah Khamenei:


According to Imam Khamenei, justice is a natural, eternal concern that has existed in human beings throughout history in such a way that a sense of need for justice has been common in people from the beginning of history until today. In particular intellectuals, philosophers and sages have always been asked to discuss and theorize about justice and social justice.[1] However, the role of religion is exceptional, because justice is one of the important goals of the Islamic social system and one of the strategic, valued concepts of divine religions. This is because if justice is ensured, human rights and human dignity will also be ensured and human beings will be guaranteed their rights and freedom.[2] Accordingly, the following op-ed deals with the importance of social justice in society and the role of the people in the realization of justice.

Justice, a prerequisite for human growth and transcendence

Imam Khamenei said, “In the realm of social life, what has been described as being the goal of sending the Holy Prophet of Islam to invite people to God is social justice,[3] ‘so that mankind may maintain justice (qist).’”[4] According to Imam Khamenei, the literal meaning of the word justice is putting everything in its place, without exaggeration and without going to extremes.[5] But the Arabic word “qist” is justice in social relations. This is what is called “social justice” today. Of course, “qist” means justice should be divided into a form of social justice.[6] On the other hand, it is in an environment of justice and qist that human beings can grow, gain lofty, human qualities, and reach to human perfection. Qist and justice are a necessary prelude to the ultimate perfection of humanity.[7] Thus, the goal of the prophets in the realm of social life is a prelude to the attainment of the same goal that exists in the realm of an individual’s life. This means internal transformation, improving oneself and becoming a decent human being.[8]

Establishing a political system is necessary for attaining justice

In Imam Khamenei’s political philosophy, the formation of a government is not the goal. Rather, the formation of a government is a means to an end, which is the rule of religion. And one of the important goals of religion is the realization of social justice.[9] He believes that without power, social justice cannot be achieved. Social justice is not achieved by giving advice and counsel, entreating and pleading. Is it possible to achieve social justice and to eliminate discrimination and oppression in society and the world without power?[10] That is why immediately after stating “so that mankind may maintain justice,” God, the Exalted, says, “and We sent down Iron, in which there is great might.”[11] Thus, in addition to speaking in the language of invitation, the prophets oppose and fight the agents of power that are equipped with weapons and also the corrupt tyrants and power-seekers.”[12] Elsewhere, he considers the meaning of “so that mankind may maintain justice” to be the life of human beings in a just system in which human beings have the opportunity to develop and excel. He also states that the purpose of sending iron is for defending basic values.[13] Imam Khomeini, the founder of Islamic Revolution of Iran, also believed in that “and We sent down Iron, in which there is great might” means if an individual or a group wishes to destroy a society, if they wish to destroy a government that is a government of justice, if we speak to them bringing proofs but they do not listen, and if we speak using rational criteria but they do not listen, they should be dealt with severely.[14] Elsewhere, the term “great might” (ba’s) refers to intensity of action, strictness and the exercise of power.[15]

The role of people in the realization of social justice

Undoubtedly, one of the educational goals of the prophets is for people to grow and excel, and then for them to administer justice. Therefore, Imam Khamenei considers justice to be one of the characteristics of an Islamic society. He believes that if there is no justice in society, the Islamic society should provide it.[16] Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi, a Shia Islamic scholar, also believed that following the activities of the divine prophets, the people could reach a stage of growth where they themselves would seek to establish justice so that there would no longer be a need for the prophets to administer justice in society by force. Of course, this method can be used by those who are encouraged to establish justice by the divine instructions, the Holy Book and the divine law. However, there are some who are not affected by these and they transgress against all of them because they are following their own whims and desires to achieve their own interests. These people can and should be forced to accept justice by legal requirements, part of which is the criminal law of Islam. That is why this verse from the Qur’an says, “We sent down Iron, in which there is great might.”[17]

Ayatollah Murteza Motahari, a Shia Islamic scholar, also believed that human beings need justice and that it is only the prophets who can provide this need. Therefore, the Qur’an states that if the prophets had not been sent, there would have been no justice in human life. Nonetheless, since it is not by force, the means—or the Holy Book and “the divine law”—have been given to human beings for them to manage and regulate life themselves.[18] Ayatollah Motahari said elsewhere that this verse does not say that people are given justice. Instead it says that with the guidance provided by God and the prophets, these can be agents for achieving justice.[19]

In a detailed discussion, Allamah Tabatabai, the great Shia philosopher and Quran exegete, cited the verse, “Indeed Allah enjoins justice and kindness and generosity towards relatives,”[20] and said that the command to administer justice in this verse is a command about social justice. He believes that justice in this verse means a social justice such that each member of society is treated as he/she deserves and is placed where he/she deserves. This is a matter that each person in society is obliged to carry out in the sense that God, the Almighty, commands each member of the community to bring about justice. What is required is for this to be a collective responsibility, so that both individuals and society–which is managed by the state–are responsible to obey the divine command.[21]

Individual justice is the root and prelude to social justice

According to Imam Khamenei, “In every human being, one’s personal, internal justice is the support for collective justice, and this is an area where social justice is greatly influenced. It is impossible for anyone who does not have piety within himself and in his personal actions and who suffers from selfish desires and evil whims to claim that he can administer justice in society.”[22] Elsewhere he says, “Although the comprehensive administration of justice depends on these prerequisites, the mere existence of these prerequisites does not bring the administration of justice. We may have the prerequisites but still suffer from injustice. We must beware of this. What ensures justice is determined, God-fearing men and women. If this exists, with the help of varied, good, modern devices we can establish complete justice. If this determination is lacking or undermined, none of these governmental organizations will be able to administer justice by themselves. On the contrary, such organizations will prepare the way for injustice.”[23] He supports his viewpoint by saying, “The establishment of justice, both globally–in the way that the successor of the prophets will establish it—and in all parts of the world, requires that just people and righteous, justice-seeking human beings hold power and speak to the oppressors in the language of power.”[24]

That is why the importance of self-improvement and inner purification of individuals in Islam has made Islamic thinkers believe that individual justice is an introduction to any change, including social justice. Fair-minded individuals are familiar with all the dimensions, components and characteristics of justice and observe all of them in their actions, speech and behavior. They seek their rights and are well acquainted with both their own rights and the rights of others. They act according to the law and try to create a balance and equality in society in order to create a society free from discrimination and unjust privileges. All those who hold official governmental positions in the Islamic government must be just. Of course, the people’s levels vary from person to person.


In Ayatollah Khamenei’s view, justice has a special, pivotal importance with particular features. He has repeatedly quoted verse number 25 of Chapter al-Hadid (Iron), which states that the sending down of divine books and prophets was for the realization of qist and justice in various societies. He also considers self-edification to be the highest goal in the sending of the prophets. Furthermore, he believes the establishment of justice and the formation of a government to be the prelude to the achievement of human excellence and growth. Therefore, everything is an introduction to edification and purification. In his opinion, the establishment of justice is ensured if human beings grow to become the executors of justice themselves. This requires self-edification and the moral purification of the masses of the people, and especially that of the country’s officials.



[1] Ayatollah Khamenei’s speech at the second “Strategic Thoughts Forum.” [May 17, 2011]

[2] Ayatollah Khamenei’s Friday Prayer sermon. [Nov. 14, 2003]

[3] Ayatollah Khamenei’s speech in meeting with officials. [Jan. 21, 1993]

[4] Holy Qur’an, 57:25.

[5] Ayatollah Khamenei’s speech in meeting with government officials. [Nov. 10, 2004]

[6] Ayatollah Khamenei’s speech in meeting with government officials. [Mar. 21, 1992]

[7] Ayatollah Khamenei’s speech in meeting with police commanders and personnel. [July 16, 1997]

[8] Ayatollah Khamenei’s speech in meeting with government officials. [Mar. 21, 1992]

[9] Abdul-Hussein Khosro-Panah, Ayatollah Khamenei’s Worldview, p. 1,211.

[10] Ayatollah Khamenei’s speech in meeting with government officials. [Dec. 9, 1996]

[11] Holy Qur’an, 57:25.

[12] Ayatollah Khamenei’s speech in meeting with people from various social backgrounds on the occasion of the 15th of Sha’ban. [Oct. 22, 2002]

[13] Sayyid Ali Khamenei, The General Pattern of Islamic Thought in the Qur’an, p. 389.

[14] Sayyid Ruhollah Musavi Khomeini, Imam’s Sahifah, p. 206.

[15] Ayatollah Nasser Makarem Shirazi, Examples in the Interpretation of God’s Book, vol. 18.

[16] Ayatollah Khamenei’s speech in meeting with government officials. [Dec. 31, 1992]

[17] Muhammad Taqi Misbah Yazdi, Paths and Guidance, p. 136.

[18] Murteza Mutahari, Prophethood, p. 55.

[19] Murteza Mutahari, A Critique of Marxism, p. 324.

[20]  Holy Qur’an, 16:90.

[21] Sayyid Muhammad Hussein Tabatabai, A Translation of Tafsir al-Mizan, vol. 12, pp. 478-479.

[22] Ayatollah Khamenei’s Friday Prayer sermon. [Mar. 16, 2001]

[23] Ayatollah Khamenei’s speech in meeting with heads and officials of the Judiciary Branch. [June 28, 2009]

[24] Ayatollah Khamenei’s speech in meeting with people from various social backgrounds on the occasion of the 15th of Sha’ban. [Oct. 22, 2002]


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