the Veracious (May God be pleased with all of them), called the Event of the Camel, was a struggle between pure justice and relative justice. It was as follows:
‘Ali took pure justice as his guiding principle and in his judgement of the Law proceeded on that basis, as was the case in the time of the Caliphs Abu Bakr and ‘Umar. Those who opposed him said that previously the purity of Islam had permitted pure justice, but since with the passage of time various peoples whose Islam was weak had joined Islamic society, to apply pure justice was extremely difficult. For this reason, their judgement of the Law was based on relative justice, known as the lesser of two evils. Dispute over interpretation of the Law led to war. Since the interpretations had been purely for God’s sake and for the benefit of Islam, and war had broken out because of interpretation of the Law, we may surely say that both those who killed and those who were killed won Paradise, and both acted rightfully. ‘Ali’s interpretation was accurate, just as those who opposed him were in error, but they still did not deserve punishment. For if a person makes a correct interpretation, he gains two rewards, but if he fails to do this he still earns one reward, the reward for making an interpretation, which is a form of worship. He is forgiven his error. A learned person who was widely known amongst us and whose pronouncements were authoritative wrote in Kurdish: “Don’t gossip about the war between the Companions, for both killer and killed were destined for Paradise.”
Pure justice and relative justice may be explained as follows: 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,(5:32)
the rights of an innocent man cannot be cancelled for the sake of all the people. An 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 disregarded in the face of the community. The attempt is made to apply a sort of relative justice as the lesser of two evils. But if it is possible to apply pure justice, to apply relative justice is wrong and may not be undertaken.
Thus, Imam ‘Ali (May God be pleased with him) judged it possible to