Who are the just?

A man who cultivates his garden, as Voltaire wished.
He who is grateful for the existence of music.
He who takes pleasure in tracing a root of a word.
Two servants playing, in a café in the South,
a silent game of chess.
The potter, contemplating a colour and a form.
The typographer who sets this page well,
although it may not please him.
A woman and a man, who read the last tercets
of a certain canto.
He who strokes a sleeping animal.
He who justifies, or wishes to, a wrong done him.
He who is grateful for the existence of a Stevenson.
He who prefers others to be right.
These people, who don’t know one another, are saving the world.

Cultivating the garden

Esperanza is the name of one of the 36 Just people who are occupied with saving the world in their own way. She joined the Sufi community of Pir Kamal who is better known as the Master of the Supreme Name. Esperanza inherited from her father the quality of modesty. She was able to learn essential things from everything that took place in her surroundings. That’s why she was attracted by the wisdom of Pir Kamal.

Esperanza lived in our world without really being noticed. Her modesty made her as if invisible. The really remarkable talent she demonstrated, manifested itself during the Sufi dance in the halqa of Pir Kamal. She became so enthusiastic during the raqs and uttered such ecstatic shouts during this dance that the murids of Pir Kamal took offence with her presence.

That’s why she was no longer allowed to participate in the Sufi dance and got more or less banished to the shed of the gardeners. After digging seedling holes in the earth of the garden, after pounding tree stakes into its ground, after dropping fertilizer pellets into each hole, Esperanza together with the gardeners placed the seedlings into each hole. She now only danced in the garden. Later on, when her identity got revealed, she was called the ‘Dancer of Divinity’.

Seven years passed in this way. Pir Kamal then intuitively received a message from the Highest Assembly that one of the Just was to be found among the members of his community. He questioned everyone: the scholars, the devotees, those who were ill, the gardeners, but to no avail. Esperanza had left in time. Shortly afterwards statements of witnesses became known telling about Esperanza’s healing qualities, her dances in the night, and her cultivating the garden as Voltaire wished.

Pir Kamal was feeling very sorry that he had not recognized her. He sent out search parties but they failed to locate her. They reported that Esperanza was seen crossing wastelands, performing the most diverse kinds of labour in cities, preaching to the people, but only when forced by the Highest Assembly, and being a healer of wounds, both physical and spiritual. Esperanza disappears in this story only to return at the very end.

Tracing the root of a word

What is justice? Who are the just? Justice (‘adl with the root ‘+d+l) implies according to a Chishti Sufi “putting a thing in its proper place”. Al-Jurjani defines al-‘adl [root ‘+d + l] i.e. justice in a number of ways. He also connects it with ‘adala that is to say with fairness [or equity – isti’dal] and rectitude [istiqama]. It is an inclination [mayl] towards the True [al-Haqq, God].  Next to definitions of philologists [nahwiyun] and Islamic jurists [fuqaha’] he states about justice that it implies a balanced [mutawassit] behaviour.

The ‘science of the balance’ [‘ilm al-mizan] comprises a number of aspects and varies according to the subject to which it is applied. Nushirwan, a Persian king, who has been called the Just, was not ‘just’ in the eyes of everyone, although he still has been one of the best Persian kings in history. He, like every ruler, had to make decisions and that implied that some were satisfied therewith, while others were considering these to be unjust. Think of the decision in modern times to give priority to the giving of houses to refugees from war zones. How to balance this with the interests of the local people, who for years are on the waiting list for houses?

Jabir ibn Hayyan would, however, say that the ‘science of the balance’ would include more worlds than the simplified example of how to be just in modern times. He states that there are also several balances, i.e. for measuring the Intellect, the Soul of the World, Nature, Form, the Celestial Spheres, the stars, the four natural qualities, the animal world, the vegetable world, the mineral world and lastly there is the balance of letters, “which is the most perfect of all” [Henri Corbin: Temple and Contemplation; p. 55].

Few political rulers combine outward and inward authority, so many of them would not be open or even aware of such concepts. At the most, modern rulers know a little bit concerning exact sciences and their scientific advisers may reduce all data of human knowledge to a system of quantity and measure. The idea of an equilibrium of things and that of divine equity [‘adl] is far from their consciousness.

In Sufism, the balance signifies, according to Corbin [p. 57], the equilibrium between Light and Darkness.

Two servants playing chess

One is the servant of the white king, while the other plays for the dark force. The purpose of the game is to checkmate the other party. The word checkmate has been derived from the Persian Shah Mah, meaning the death of the king. The ultimate goal is survival [see part 3 below]. To return to Borges, here are parts of his poem about chess:

In their solemn corner, the players move
The slow pieces. The board detains them
Until the dawn in its severe world
In which two colours hate each other.

Once the players have finally left,
Once time has devoured them,
Surely the ritual will not have ended.

In the orient this very war flared up
Whose amphitheater today is the earth entire.
Like the other, this game is infinite.

The player also is a prisoner
(The saying is Omar’s) of another board
Of black nights and of white days.

God moves the player, and he, the piece.
Which god behind God begets the plot
Of dust and time and dream and agonies?

The symbolic meaning of white and dark returns in a story written by Stevenson who is mentioned at the end of Borges’ poem shown in the beginning. I mean the Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. These two are the two sides of our personality: The part we’re conscious of in the light of our everyday activities and the dark part hidden in our ‘shadow’. Justice – giving each thing the proper attention – now implies acknowledging our 2 sides in order to achieve a unified personality.

Saving the world

Borges states that the Just are “these people who don’t know one another, are saving the world”. It is said by the Sufis that the end of the world will not come as long as at least one person is remembering God by means of the dhikr-Allah.

Richard Osinga opens his novel about the Just by telling a Jewish legend that the end of the world will not come as long as one of the Just is still among the living. Meir of Rothenburg wrote about the Lamed Waw [the letter L has both in Arabic and in Hebrew the value of 30, while the W has the value of 6]. According to him there are 36 Just people who are saving the world from final destruction.

It is said that that women and men are among the Just. They belong to different religious backgrounds. The positive, quite ordinary acts of people like you and me can contribute to the work of the Just, whose number thus can grow from 36 to 360, etc. Our cultivating our own garden, our appreciation for music, our stroking the fur of our cat, our justifying a wrong done to us, may be simple examples of such acts. You may however say that justice should be the outcome of the work of professionals, like judges.

Justifying a wrong

Shaykh ad-ad-Darqawi has been reflecting about the injustice he faced from other people. He, however, changed his opinion:

“By Allah, I used to think that it was people who despised me, thought me a fool, belittle me, demeaned me, abased me, considered me ignorant, and failed to recognize my worth. When Allâh opened my inner eye and illuminated my secret by His generosity and open-handedness, then I found that my nafs was the one doing that to me and no one else. I found that my self was the one doing that to me, and no one else. I found a large number of Qur’anic signs which indicate this.

Allah Almighty says, “Allah never changes a people’s state unless they change what is in themselves,” “Allah does not wrong people in any way; rather it is people who wrong themselves,” “Whatever evil befalls you, comes from yourself,” etc. When I recognized this, I saw that one doing the injustice was myself, and I did not see it as coming from my fellow men. This was so much the case that when someone came to complain to me about anyone, we saw that the injustice only originated from himself. We did not see it coming from any other direction”.

You may have met people who tell you about the injustice they have experienced. They would like to meet one of the Just. When formulating things in Sufi terms there is the ghawth, who is the recourse, because people in pain seek him or her out. As for the just, here is what André Schwarz-Bart says about them:

“Rivers of blood have flowed, columns of smoke have obscured the sky, but surviving all these dooms, the tradition has remained inviolate down to our own time. According to it, the world reposes upon thirty-six just men […] indistinguishable from simple mortals; often they are unaware of their station. But if just one of them were lacking, the sufferings of mankind would poison even the souls of the newborn, and humanity would suffocate with a single cry.” He adds that “they are the hearts of the world multiplied, and into them, as into one receptacle, pour all our griefs.”

What is justice? Shah Wali Allah in his Hujjat Allah al-Baligha considers it as one of the four cardinal virtues. He describes that when a prophet is active to make the people to establish justice that whoever tries to spread this light and make a path for it among the people will be shown mercy. When justice is consolidated in a person, a cooperation is engendered between him and the highest angels. He adds elsewhere in his masterpiece that those prepared for the caliphate of the prophets are those who worship God, may He be exalted, through the virtue of justice.

The above mentioned “recourse” is able to see the big picture and is an instrument for al-‘Adl, the Just One, so that everything gets its proper place. How about justice at our level? A certain Chishti pir advises that in order to emulate the quality of al-‘Adl, you should firstly submit yourself to the will of Allah. You should submit yourself voluntarily and should bear no grudge, and you should take whatever comes to you as best for you. Secondly you should be just in your words, deeds and dealings with the people. You should not assume feelings or thoughts of superiority. Thirdly you should be moderate in everything. Moderation is the keynote of success.

They don’t know each other

Let’s deal with the justice of a number of people: An unknown judge, Nushirwan, Jamshid, Harun ar-Rashid and shaykh as-Suhrawardi. Esperanza appears to have disappeared.

In the following story a judge sets things right:

A merchant having fifty rolls of cotton goods, stopped his car to buy some flowers in a garden centre where a large stone Buddha was standing. When he returned to his car his goods had disappeared. He immediately reported the matter to the police. A judge named opened the court to investigate. “That stone Buddha must have stolen the goods”, concluded the judge. “He is supposed to care for the welfare of the people but he has failed to perform his holy duty. Arrest him.” The police arrested the stone Buddha and carried it into the court.

A noisy crowd followed the statue; curious to learn what kind of a sentence the judge was about to impose. When the judge appeared on the bench he rebuked the boisterous audience. “What right have you people to appear before the court laughing and joking in this manner? You are in contempt of court and subject to a fine and imprisonment.”

The people hastened to apologize. “I shall have to impose a heavy fine on you”, said the judge, “but I will remit it provided each one of you brings one roll, of cotton goods to the court within three days. Anyone failing to do this will be arrested.”

One of the rolls of cloth, which the people brought, was quickly recognized by the merchant as his own, and thus the thief was easily discovered. The merchant recovered his goods, and the other cotton rolls were returned to the people.

The Shahnamah – the Persian Book of Kings – by Ferdawsi, mentions several kings who try to be just. One of them, when assuming the ivory throne in Baghdad gave this address:

“In this world my treasure is justice, and the world prospers through my efforts and good fortune. No one can take this treasure from me, since evil comes to those who do evil; if the world’s God approves of my actions, he will not begrudge me mastery of this dark earth. From end to end the world is in my keeping, and my way is the path of justice[…].”

Shaykh Sa’di mentions Nushirwan, one of these legendary just kings, in his Rose Garden:
“One of the kings of Khorasan had a vision in a dream of Sultan Mahmud, one hundred years after his death. His who person appeared to have been dissolved and turned to dust, except his eyes, which were revolving in their orbits and looking about. All the sages were unable to give an interpretation, except a dervish who made his salutation and said: “He is still looking amazed how his kingdom belongs to others.”

Shaykh Sa’di then presents some lines mentioning Nushirwan, whose justice is still remembered although he passed away a long time ago:

زنده است نام فرخ نوشیروان عدل

The blessed name of Nushirwan still for justice stands,
Although much time passed since he vanished from the land.
O what’s-your-name, do good, and make the most of life,
Before the cry goes up that what’s-his-name’s no more.

Was there justice in the land during the rule of Khusraw I? He gained the title of Nushirwan [the addition Anushak-ruban means ‘of immortal soul’]. This Persian king was called dadgar – the Just one – during after and the Sasanian period in Iran. Shaykh Sa’di, as we’ve seen, has given this ruler his approval.

Jamshid is mentioned among the first kings in the Shahnamah. His true name was Jam, for shid is an adjective meaning ‘shining’. He was the owner of a seven-ringed cup [jam] wherewith he could observe the universe. Was this his means to be just? Jamshid was a happy ruler, in whose legendary reign there was no sickness or death or wickedness or hunger or thirst. “Men multiplied” – according to Clement Huart in his Ancient Persia and Iranian Civilization [p. 206] – “so that the earth had to be increased to three times its former size.”

After expansion contraction followed, like winter was coming at the end of the series of The Game of Thrones: Ahura-Mazda announced to Jamshid the approach of a terrible winter. One explanation is that Jamshid’s good fortune made him proud. He may have been a king who tried to dispense justice, but he started to think he was God and demanded to be paid divine honours. The Shahnamah makes it clear in Dick Davis translation that he lost everything:

Jamshid observed the world and saw none there
Whose greatness or whose splendour could compare
With his; and he who had known God became
Ungrateful, proud, forgetful of God’s name.

Jamshid’s days were darkened and his world-illuminating splendour dimmed.

When we leave the mist of legendary accounts and turn for instance to the Sassanid dynasty [starting 224 C.E.] then by etiquette, the king remained hidden, inaccessible and invisible even to the highest dignitaries of his court [Clement Huart p. 145]. Between the sovereign and his household hung a curtain, concealing him from view. This curtain of course also veiled the king. How to be just in these circumstances?

Harun ar-Rashid [d. 809 C.E.] had a different approach. His title ar-Rashid means the Rightly-guided one, but in a somewhat more free translation it implies the Just, the Upright one. He went out at night, disguised as a dervish, to mix with the population in Baghdad in order to get acquainted with their ups and downs and thus to be a just ruler. When making his nightly excursions he was attended by Ja’afar, his Wazir, and by Masrur his ‘Sworder of Vengeance’.

Shaykh al-Ishraq Suhrawardi tried to be the counsellor of a philosopher and perhaps even to be the power behind the throne:

“Should it happen that in some period there be a philosopher proficient in both intuitive philosophy and discursive philosophy, he will be the ruler by right and the vicegerent of God […].”
“The godly leader may indeed rule openly, or he may be hidden – the one whom the multitude call ‘the Pole’. He will have authority even if he is in the deepest obscurity. When the government is in his hands, the age will be enlightened, but if the age is without divine rule, darkness will be triumphant.”

That shaykh Suhrawardi’s ambitions included political power is confirmed by a story preserved by Ibn Khallikan about shaykh Sayfuddin al-Amidi who said: “I met as-Suhrawardi in Aleppo. He said to me: ‘Without doubt I’ll rule the earth’.

I said to him: ‘But how will that be?’
He said: ‘I had a dream in which I drank the water of the sea’.
I said: ‘Perhaps this means the fame of knowledge and what is connected with that’. But I saw that he did not turn away from what he had thought, and I realized that he had much knowledge and little prudence”.


The Just happen to be in the right place at the right time. This is not something self-chosen. In the case of Adele she never aspired to work in China, but when we meet her in this story she is the consul of Libya in China. Her true first name is ‘Adil. This is a male name because her father wished to have a boy as his child, but in the diplomatic community ‘Adil is known as Adele. She was a hardworking woman inspired by a quote from Voltaire about taking little rest when cultivating your garden.

When in Xinjiang, she was approached by Uyghur wishing to escape the police-state that China has become. She wrote out visa for them for entering Esperanza, the Spanish enclave in Libya. By means of a complicated escape route via Siberia and Japan, the refugees were supposed to reach the Spanish enclave. Adele needed the assistance of the Russian, Japanese and Spanish ambassadors to make all this possible. The most difficult to convince ambassador was Evo Ebrard from Spain. He, however, accepted to help, after being reminded of a famous Spanish proverb:

Si se pierde la esperanza, ¡entonces se pierde todo!

Thirty-six thousand refugees reached Esperanza safely. One of them selected the following line from the Book of G-Quan to be put on a monument in the centre of Esperanza:

Greater than the death of flesh
Is the death of hope,
The death of dreams.