Braque Hesselink: Qur’anic Institutions in Islamic Society

In Islamic society, ethics are not simply a contrived social construct. They embody an aspect of the Divine—as such, those who adhere to the Qur’an’s teachings are not simply being held accountable by worldly authorities, but by God. Social virtues possess sacred value in Islamic communities, giving them a cosmic significance that elevates them above the more secular philosophies on morality in contemporary Western cultures. Qur’anic injunctions have driven the institutionalization of social virtues, helping to build these lasting communities. By emphasizing the inherent importance of justice and forgiveness in our relationships with one another, the Qur’an has provided us with the ethical tools to create enduring societies.

The institutionalization of justice in Islamic communities has been fostered by a range of Qur’anic injunctions, stressing the importance of our conduct in building lawful relations with each other. The significance of contracts in the Qur’an, and their role as the foundation of Islamic Law, provides an example of how Qur’anic injunctions have helped to institutionalize Islamic justice. The Qur’an describes the pious as “those who fulfill [the] covenants [that] they pledge,” and warns that “[God] will impose blame upon [those who break] what [they] intended of oaths.”[1] I believe that this injunction suggests that contracts possess a spiritual weight, emphasizing the importance of maintaining just relations with others as an aspect of individual piety. The Qur’an further states that those “who [uphold their] covenants” will “attain salvation,” again emphasizing the significance of preserving contracts and the importance of moral behaviour both spiritually and societally.[2] The institutionalization of Islamic justice has also been fostered by Qur’anic injunctions advocating the implementation of democratic government. In particular, the Qur’an instructs followers to adopt Shūrā, a type of Arabic assembly where “the will of the people can be expressed by representation.”[3] With an emphasis on both individual and communal relationships, these injunctions promote the institutionalization of justice in building strong communities.

Qur’anic injunctions also act as a tool to avert crises and halt violent disputes; “retributive justice,” for example, is used to reconcile the feelings of both victim and wrongdoer, and make the offender acknowledge his or her moral obligations in society.[4] Retributive justice is not meant to simply propagate a cycle of “eye for an eye” violence, as the term might suggest. Rather, as the Qur’an states, “the law of fair retribution is a source of life,” elaborating that, “by adhering to [it, the victim] may be restrained from desiring the death of those who [commit] murder and instead be content with compensation.”[5] This idea of Islamic justice being used to avert violent behavior, and maintain peaceful communities, extends to Qur’anic injunctions governing acts of war. The Qur’an states that, when a conflict arises, followers should “fight in the way of God against those who fight [them], but begin not hostilities. [For] God does not love those who transgress.”[6] The Qur’an strictly forbids unprovoked violence, warning that “no harm to human life is warranted if the religious-moral goals are unclear.”[7] I believe that the clarity of these injunctions, and their indisputable admonition of violence, has helped to institutionalize Islamic justice by setting clear precedents against conflict. These injunctions serve to avert crises and deter acts of violence in order to maintain peaceful societies.

While justice serves as the foundation of morality in the Qur’an, forgiveness is a virtue that is elevated above it in the eyes of God. Qur’anic injunctions express the importance of reconciliation in creating enduring communities; one of the most notable examples is Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca, which all Muslims are required to make. The purpose of Hajj is to reconcile conflicts with those that a person has wronged, and ask forgiveness in order to absolve the sins accumulated over a lifetime.[8] Hajj has institutionalized reconciliation as a way to better oneself and improve one’s relationships, emphasizing the importance of forgiveness in enriching both worldly and spiritual bonds. The Qur’an stresses the importance of reconciliation as a tool to overcome conflicts. It states that “if you set aside [your] grievances,” then “thereupon the one whom between [you there] is enmity [will become] as though he was a devoted friend.”[9] The concept of “transforming enmity [into] friendship” goes beyond retributive justice, as it allows for the fostering of new relationships, rather than simply resolving conflicts between victims and offenders. I believe that forgiveness is so highly-regarded in Islam because it is the ultimate act of empathy towards another being. Forgiveness is an inherent aspect of the relationship between humanity and the Divine; as Sura 110 instructs, “recite the praise of your lord and say God forgive [us]. [For God is] always forgiving.”[10] Through God’s forgiveness, humanity is able to continue its existence, despite our many faults. Similarly, our relationships with one another can only be maintained if we are able to forgive each other for our transgressions. These Qur’anic injunctions express the necessity of forgiveness in building strong communities, and have led to the institutionalization of reconciliation in Islamic society.

Through these injunctions, the Qur’an has expressed the importance of forgiveness and justice in building stable communities. Qur’anic injunctions have helped to institutionalize these social virtues by showing that ethical behaviour has sacred weight—morality is not merely a construct created by humans, but an aspect of the Divine. Just as these virtues have allowed humans to exist on Earth, by the grace of God, so too must we act justly and be capable of forgiving one another, to maintain our relationships in society.



Rahman, Fazlur. Major Themes of the Qur’an. 2nd ed. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2009.

Sachedina, Abdulaziz. The Islamic Roots of Democratic Pluralism. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Sells, Michael. Approaching the Qur’an: The Early Revelations. 2nd ed. Oregon: White Cloud Press, 2007.


I have adhered to the Honor Code in this assignment

Braque Hesselink

[1] From class notes.

[2] From class notes.

[3] Fazlur Rahman, Major Themes of the Qur’an (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2009), 43.

[4] Abdulaziz Sachedina, The Islamic Roots of Democratic Pluralism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), 112.

[5] Sachedina, 112.

[6] Sachedina, 114.

[7] Sachedina, 119.

[8] From class notes.

[9] From class notes.

[10] Michael Sells, Approaching the Qur’an: The Early Revelations (Oregon: White Cloud Press, 2007), 130.