One of the Imams was once asked, “What proof is there for the contingency of the world?” The Imam replied, “Behold the egg; it consists of two liquids from which both male and female chicks of various types develop. This is proof of the createdness of the world.”1 The reply seems to have convinced the questioner, for he remained silent. However, how does this reply prove the contingency of the world?
The egg’s composition of two distinct liquids and the generation of male and female chicks of various types from it indicate a higher cause. One cannot consider the numerous forms and shapes of this world, which produce so many tantalizing effects, illusory as the skeptics do. They are real: realities with distinct essences and properties. The orderly and intricate system that governs the interrelation of these realities leaves no doubt that their existence is not fortuitous and without a higher cause; they are realities contingent on a higher cause.
As the differences between the existents of this world are real, they cannot be attributed to simple and homogeneous matter. To try to salvage this hypothesis by proposing that the disparate forms may have come about by a difference in composition or motion of simple matter is in vain, for then the question will be, from where did the difference in composition and motion come? Thus, we have no choice but to conclude that the inherent dissimilarity of the various forms and shapes is due to a higher cause that transcends materiality and the material world.
The egg is no exception. Its complex combination and numerous properties evince its contingency on a higher cause. This truth holds true for all the existents and phenomena of the world, for they are all shaped out of prime matter, which is in its essence in need of a form, a shape. Thus, the entire material world with its expansive system is contingent on a higher cause.
Is there any other verse in addition to Surah al-Ahzab 33:40 that expresses the Noble Prophet’s finality and superiority in comparison to the other prophets?
In addition to the verse you have mentioned:
“…He is the Apostle of God and the Seal of the Prophets…”2
there are others that proclaim the universality and perpetuality of the message of Islam. The following are some examples:
وَأُوحِيَ إِلَيَّ هَٰذَا الْقُرْآنُ لِأُنْذِرَكُمْ بِهِ وَمَنْ بَلَغَ ۚ
“…And this Qur’an has been revealed to me that I may warn thereby you and whomever it may reach…”3
وَإِنَّهُ لَكِتَابٌ عَزِيزٌ لَا يَأْتِيهِ الْبَاطِلُ مِنْ بَيْنِ يَدَيْهِ وَلَا مِنْ خَلْفِهِ ۖ
“…Indeed it is an august Book: falsehood cannot approach it, neither from before it nor from behind it…”4
The claim to perpetuality of a religion would be meaningless without the finality of the bringer of the religion.
Furthermore, the following verses that aver the Qur’an’s superiority to other revealed books also imply the Noble Prophet’s superiority, for the Noble Qur’an is the Prophet’s message, and a prophet’s merit is determined by his message
وَنَزَّلْنَا عَلَيْكَ الْكِتَابَ تِبْيَانًا لِكُلِّ شَيْءٍ
“…We have sent down the Book to you as a clarification of all things…”5
وَآتَيْنَاهُ الْإِنْجِيلَ فِيهِ هُدًى وَنُورٌ وَمُصَدِّقًا لِمَا بَيْنَ يَدَيْهِ مِنَ التَّوْرَاةِ وَهُدًى وَمَوْعِظَةً لِلْمُتَّقِينَ
“We have sent down to you the Book with the truth, confirming what was before it of the Book and as a guardian over it…”6
شَرَعَ لَكُمْ مِنَ الدِّينِ مَا وَصَّىٰ بِهِ نُوحًا وَالَّذِي أَوْحَيْنَا إِلَيْكَ وَمَا وَصَّيْنَا بِهِ إِبْرَاهِيمَ وَمُوسَىٰ وَعِيسَىٰ ۖ
“He has prescribed for you the religion which He had enjoined upon Noah and which We have also revealed to you, and which We had enjoined upon Abraham, Moses, and Jesus…”7
In his “Al-Tawhid”, Majlisi, describing the qualities of the fellows of Divine Unity, narrates the following hadith from the Noble Prophet:
“And verily the fellows of Divine Unity intercede [on behalf of others], and their intercession is heeded.”8
Please explain for whom do the fellows of Divine Unity intercede? Clearly, they do not intercede for the polytheists; the monotheists, as affirmers of Divine Unity, are themselves fellows of Divine Unity. So then for whom do they intercede?
The above hadith may be construed in one of two ways. First, the “fellows of Divine Unity” may refer exclusively to the highest elite of the monotheists, the Gnostics.9 Second, the phrase may be understood to include all monotheists. In the latter case, those interceded for will be the masses of unbelievers (who constitute the majority of humankind), the “intellectually destitute,” those concerning whom God, the Exalted, says
وَآخَرُونَ مُرْجَوْنَ لِأَمْرِ اللَّهِ إِمَّا يُعَذِّبُهُمْ وَإِمَّا يَتُوبُ عَلَيْهِمْ ۗ وَاللَّهُ عَلِيمٌ حَكِيمٌ
“There are others waiting God’s edict: He shall either punish them or turn to them clemently…”10
In my previous correspondences, I inquired regarding Islam’s approval of the continuation of the practice of slavery. You had replied in summary and for a more thorough answer had referred me to volume six of your “Al-Tafsir al-Mizan”. But I did not find my answer there.
Let me repeat my question. In the early years of Islam, due to certain circumstances, slavery was condoned. But then, considering that the progress of human reason would one day compel him to renounce the enslavement of human beings by other human beings as inhuman and irrational, why was it allowed to endure?
If the reason for sanctioning the subjugation of infidels in captivity was to reform their souls in the Muslim community, then why were their children, although Muslim confined to bondage? To reply that Islam had at the same time established a variety of measures to facilitate their freedom would not justify its sanctioning of slavery in the first place and its subjecting many of the slave’s religious matters to his master’s discretion.
You write that you did not find your answer in volume six of “Al-Tafsir al-Mizan”; that the progressive human mind condemns slavery, which is to rob a human being of freedom; that slavery is not rational; that if Islam sanctioned the subjugation of the infidels to reform their souls in the Muslim society, for what sin were their children sentenced to the same plight in spite of their embracing Islam? To reply that Islam had established certain measures to facilitate their freedom is insufficient, for the main problem lies in sanctioning slavery in the first place. Evidently, the discussion I referred to in “Al-Tafsir al-Mizan” was not read with due attention. Thus, it seems necessary that I repeat the explanation.
To begin with, the human being, although endowed with the faculty of volition and thus a free creature, can never pursue his liberty uninhibited. As a social creature he is at all times bound by laws that are enacted to ensure the society’s wellbeing and as such he cannot enjoy unrestrained freedom. Therefore, human liberty is always confined within the framework of laws and regulations.
In other words, human freedom is partial not absolute. Common people in a society are not free in abiding by the laws of that society. In addition to this universal restriction on freedom, there are certain circumstances that to a large extent curtail personal freedom. The insane, the mentally incompetent [safih], and children may not exercise even the partial freedom that sane and competent adults enjoy. In the same vein, a society’s enemies and criminals are perforce deprived of their liberty.
The next issue to deal with is what bondage denotes, regardless of what word we may employ in designating it. Bondage denotes depriving an individual of freedom in making decisions and carrying them out. Obviously, the will and action of one so bound are considered the possession of another. This is the meaning of the slave trade that was so prevalent in previous times.
In pre-Islamic times, an individual could be enthralled in one of four ways: 1) the guardian of a family was entitled to sell his children into bondage, 2) a man could give his wife to another man either as a lease or as a gift, 3) the ruler of a people considered it his right to enslave at will whomever he desired (it was for this reason that kings were often referred to as “possessors of slaves”), 4) in times of war, soldiers of the vanquished army were at the mercy of the victorious party, who could enslave the enemy combatants, free them, or slay them.
Of the four ways, Islam abolished the first three by delimiting the rights of the parents and the husband and by advocating the spread of a just Islamic government. The fourth way, however, it sanctioned, for it would have been against human nature to do otherwise. No individual in his right mind would remain silent in facing an enemy intent upon effacing his identity and desecrating what he holds sacred. Similarly, he would not, after gaining victory, let his enemy free. He would, rather, subject his enemy to captivity (another name for bondage) unless exceptional circumstances or factors call for pardon.
This has been the dictate of human nature from time immemorial and will remain so as long as human nature remains unchanged. Thus, your claim that it is against reason for one human being to subjugate another is only correct in the case of the first three ways of enslavement, as was just explicated.
You have also said that the modern human mind deplores slavery. This statement, although you may have not consciously intended so, implies that the modern world—i.e., the West—condemns undermining individual liberty, which might be supported by the fact that 80 years ago11 and only after many a struggle a universal abolition of slavery was proclaimed, thus ostensibly removing this stigma from the face of humankind.
In doing so, the modern world held all other nations—including the Muslim nations, whose religion, it perceived, condoned slavery—beholden to it. One must, however, consider more carefully the extent to which the “humane” governments of the modern world have actually respected this universal abolition of slavery in practice.
It is true that the first two forms of slavery (i.e., selling one’s children or wife), which were prevalent in Africa and some other parts of the world, have been effectively abolished (of course, 12 centuries after Islam declared them illegitimate), but have the modern governments in question put an end to the third form, which Islam abolished along with the first two? Are not the millions of Asian and African people who have been suffering under Western imperialism for centuries, robbed of their independence and the fruits of their toil, in effect slaves of the modern governments? The only difference is the reluctance to employ the word ‘slavery’. But in point of fact, the harm pre modern slaveholders inflicted on individuals, the modern governments inflict on entire nations.
After the end of World War II, Western imperialist powers slowly granted liberty and independence to a number of their colonies whom they patronizingly deemed politically matured. But that only proved that they claimed liberty their prerogative (to say nothing of the reality of this ostensible liberty, which was merely a new name for the same bondage disguised in a different shape, as the brand of servitude with which these modern states had smeared the face of the oppressed would not easily be erased, not even if the water of the seven seas were consumed), depriving of independence the so-called barbarous and backward nations, treating them as slaves who must, as long as they exist, serve their masters, the standard-bearers of modern civilization.
Moreover, what path have these modern states pursued vis-à-vis the fourth form of slavery—to divest of freedom prisoners of war? This question may be answered by looking at the situation that followed the Second World War. The Allied Forces, after subduing their enemies and forcing them into an unconditional surrender, poured into the enemies’ countries, appropriating whatever they deemed useful of the enemies’ heavy industry.
They captured of the enemy all those whom they thought useful and killed at will those they thought dangerous, enforcing their domination on the defeated nations in every respect they perceived necessary.
Today, 20 years since the end of the war, there is no indication that the subdued nations would enjoy total freedom in the near future. The problem of East Germany still persists, and German scientists are still being held in the Soviet Union against their will.
The Allied Forces did not limit their retributive measures to the adult and the able-bodied; they subjected the enemies’ children, including those born after the war, to the same bondage their parents were made to suffer. The fact that the adults fought the war did not relieve the children’s plight.
Their purported logic in such treatment was defending their very existence and safeguarding their future. The enemy cannot be forgiven right when it lays down its arms and yields to unconditional surrender, and its children cannot be exonerated, for subsequent generations are inextricably tied to their predecessors unless extraordinary circumstances sever such ties. This logic has been with human societies since time immemorial. It is the logic that still persists and will definitely endure, for it is unreasonable to pardon, out of pity, an enemy intent on one’s destruction.
In this light, Islam has also endorsed this natural human treatment vis-à-vis prisoner of war, resolving with courtesy, honesty, and kindness what secular governments achieve ruthlessly and unscrupulously through political stratagems. Thus, Islam is correct in sanctioning the captivity of hostile infidels, in its refusal to absolve them on the basis of their alleged conversion to Islam, and in its subjecting the children to the status of their parents, while at the same time providing for their comfort and facilitating their freedom with all possible means.
Among the most troubling questions for educated believers is that of human creation. The Noble Qur’an expressly names Adam as the progenitor of the human race, emphasizing his creation from clay, whereas anthropologists, after years of research, have offered a variety of explanations regarding this question, none of which are compatible with the Qur’anic theory. The scientists’ views are based on many years of research on human and animal species. We hope you may enlighten us regarding this question.
Adam and his wife being the progenitors of the existing human race is an issue stated in the Qur’an in unequivocal terms and as such cannot be construed in any figurative way unless there be definitive proof to the contrary.12 The scientific views provided in regard to the question of the origin of the human race (such as human evolution from fish or monkeys) are merely theories that are meant for scientific purposes.
The most such theories can establish is that the existing human being is more perfect than his hypothetical origin, but this is alien to the question of the one’s evolution from the other, which is what the evolutionary theorists claim.13 But let me also add that the scientific theory that the human species has been around for millions of years is in no way at odds with the principal tenets of Islam.
Moreover, the fact that certain fossils belonging to millions of years back resemble the skeleton of the existing human being is no proof that they both belong to the same race. It is possible that Earth has passed through many cycles, each cycle having a distinct human race that became extinct at the end of that specific duration, being replaced after some time with another race of humanity. This hypothesis is corroborated by some hadiths that indicate that the existing human race constitutes the eighth human cycle on Earth.
The Difference between the Science of Psychology [‘Ilm Al-Nafs] and Spiritual Self-Knowledge [Ma‘Rifah Al-Nafs]
Please explain the difference between psychology [‘ilm al-nafs] and spiritual self-knowledge [ma‘rifat al-nafs].
Psychology is commonly used in reference to the specific science that deals with the mind, its properties, and its related issues, whereas self-knowledge refers to actually comprehending the reality of the soul through immediate spiritual vision. Psychology is rooted in mental perception, self-knowledge in spiritual witnessing.
Is self-knowledge the spiritual witnessing of the soul divested of matter and form or does it denote something else? In any case, please clarify the meaning of “self-knowledge,” which Qur’anic verses and hadiths so often exhort the believers to achieve.
Self-knowledge refers to the spiritual witnessing of the soul divested of matter, not of matter and form, for the spirit is the form. But ultimately, the purpose of self-knowledge, as mentioned in many hadiths, is to attain knowledge of the Lord.
Sayyid ‘Abd Allah Shubbar, in his “Masabih al-Anwar”, enumerates twelve different interpretations of the well-known hadith, “Whosoever acquires self-knowledge will indeed know his Lord.”14 Can you please shed light on this topic by explaining the relation between self-knowledge and knowledge of God?
Of the twelve interpretations you alluded to, none, if I remember correctly, approach the true meaning of the hadith. Only the one that employs the concept of existential indigence may be said to shed light on the exoteric meaning of the hadith. From the point of view of existential indigence, since the soul is an existent whose existential cause is the Exalted Truth, before Him it can have no claim to any degree of independence, for whatever it possesses belongs to Him. Therefore, one cannot look into one’s soul, which so strongly reflects the image of God and not see Him at the same time.
There are numerous hadiths in “Usul al-Kafi” and “Basa’ir al-Darajat” regarding the creation of the Pure Imams and their luminous station. Some of these state that they were the first creatures God created. Moreover, from a number of other hadiths, including “Al-Ziyarah al-Jami‘ah”, one may infer that the Imams are the “Names of God” [asma’ Allah], the “Face of God” [wajh Allah], he “Hand of God” [yad Allah], and the “Beside God” [janb Allah].
Considering such hadiths (especially in light of the Master of the Faithful’s assertion, “To gain luminous knowledge of me is to gain knowledge of God”), can it be concluded that the true meaning of knowing God and meeting Him (topics that recur in the Qur’an and the hadiths) is actually acquiring knowledge of the Infallibles? Please expound how these hadiths may be reconciled with those that explicitly point to direct knowledge of God?
The Luminous Station of the Imams is their station of perfection, which is the highest possible state of human perfection. Their being the “Names of God”, the “Face of God”, the “Hand of God”, and the “Beside God” is one of the profound mysteries of Divine Unity whose thorough exposition is beyond the scope of this letter.
What can be said in summary (and only by recourse to philosophical terminology) is that the Imams are the perfect manifestations of the Divine Names and Attributes. They are invested with Universal Authority [wilayah al-kulliyyah] and are the conduits of Divine effusion [fayd]. As such, to know them would be to know God, inviolable is His Name.
In his “Risalah Liqa’iyyah” (A Treatise on Meeting God), Mirza Jawad Aqa Maliki Tabrizi elucidates that contemplation on self-knowledge is the key to gaining knowledge of the Lord. Taking into account the fact that the soul is an immaterial being, the question arises, can mental contemplation fathom immaterial beings? If possible, please explain in clearer terms what the honorable author of the alluded book intends.
Thought can penetrate the realm of immateriality just as it encompasses the realm of materiality. You may refer to books of philosophy, the chapter on immaterial existents, to obtain a fuller understanding of questions related to the immaterial realm. However, the meaning of thought in this context (i.e., spiritual perfection through introspection and self-knowledge) differs from the common acceptation. What is intended here is to retire to a quiet and secluded spot, close one’s eyes, and focus on one’s form as though looking into a mirror, dispelling any other thought that may spoil the mind, solely focusing on one’s form.
There are two points in “Risalah Liqa’iyyah” that I find troubling. The first is on the subject of contemplation to achieve self-knowledge, where the honorable author writes, “The contemplator at times engages in examining his self and at other times the world until it finally dawns upon him that the world he knows is nothing but himself and that the world is not an external one; rather, the worlds he is acquainted with are all united with himself.”15 What is the meaning of this passage? The second question relates to the passage that follows the abovementioned: “He [i.e., the contemplator] must then dispel any other thought from his heart and meditate on nothingness.” What do dispelling all thoughts and reflecting on nothingness actually mean?
The first passage you quoted points to the fact, which is substantiated by rational proof and which one must constantly remind oneself of, that what one comprehends of oneself and the world around him, he comprehends within himself. He does not grasp the external world as such. And to dispel all imaginary thoughts is to dismiss them in the attempt to exclusively focus by the eye of one’s heart on one’s form, and to contemplate nothingness is to remember the unreality, and, in essence, the nothingness of oneself.
Is it possible for non-Shi‘ahs and, more generally, non-Muslims to attain to the spiritual station of self-knowledge through acts of worship and spiritual practices ordained by their respective religions? If possible, then obviously it would follow that they are also capable of acquiring true knowledge of God, thereby reaching the final end of the sacred religion of Islam, namely tawhid. This in turn would mean that one may attain to the final goal of spiritual perfection without having to traverse the path of Islam. Is this a valid assumption?
Although some scholars hold it possible, it goes against the literal reading of the Qur’an and the Sunnah16, unless one assumes the spiritual seeker in question as “intellectually destitute” in regard to the preliminary stages of the spiritual journey.17
What is intended by “remembering God,” which the Qur’an so frequently exhorts the believers to maintain? Is it keeping the friends [awliya’] of God and His blessings in mind? Please clarify this question.
The meaning of remembrance [dhikr] is clear, and to remember God is, at its lowest stage, to have Him in mind in what we decide to do and decide not to do, thus conforming our behavior to His will. In its higher meaning, it is to view oneself at all times before God and, higher still, to see God before oneself, of course in a manner appropriate to His Sacred Essence.
If the philosophic principle that an object lacking a quality cannot bestow on others what it lacks be universally and invariably true, then how does God bestow materiality on objects while He lacks it?
The principle that one cannot bestow on others what one lacks is a philosophic one, which allows of no exception. According to this principle, every cause must encompass all the existential qualities of its effect. However, as is elaborated in books of philosophy in the chapter on ja‘l (causation), it is solely its existence that the effect receives from its cause, not its essence.
Thus the qualities that the cause bestows on the effect are existential ones. The effect’s essence, however, the cause does not possess nor is it anything related to the cause’s existentiation. In this light, what God—inviolable is His Name—bestows on material existents is their positive existential qualities. Materiality is an aspect of their essence, and God is neither limited by any particular essence nor does He forge essence.18
Is the world, from the Islamic perspective, in a state of flux?
Change and evolution in the elements of this world is obvious and indubitable. The Qur’an thus expresses this truth:
مَا خَلَقْنَا السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضَ وَمَا بَيْنَهُمَا إِلَّا بِالْحَقِّ وَأَجَلٍ مُسَمًّى
“We did not create the heavens and the earth and whatever is between them except with the truth and for a specified term…”19
There are numerous verses to the same effect, underscoring the truth that every phenomenon in this world possesses a distinct set of qualities and pursues a particular end, which is its perfection, and that it has a fixed point of termination, the actualization of which triggers its dissolution and disintegration into its component elements.
Does change and evolution in this world follow certain immutable principles? Or are the principles themselves also subject to change?
From the Qur’anic point of view, the order that rules the cosmos and the laws that the elements of creation follow spring from the immutable and universal Divine Norm:
فَهَلْ يَنْظُرُونَ إِلَّا سُنَّتَ الْأَوَّلِينَ ۚ فَلَنْ تَجِدَ لِسُنَّتِ اللَّهِ تَبْدِيلًا ۖ وَلَنْ تَجِدَ لِسُنَّتِ اللَّهِ تَحْوِيلًا
“…You will never find any change in God’s Norm, and you will never find any revision in God’s Norm.”20
إِنَّ رَبِّي عَلَىٰ صِرَاطٍ مُسْتَقِيمٍ
“Indeed my Lord is on a straight path.”21
Has the cosmos always proceeded on a path toward perfection? According to the science of physics, the first atom, a hydrogen atom, was born around 10 billion years ago. Before that point, the world was a maelstrom of gas-like material. The elements of the cosmos grew progressively more complex and dense until galaxies were formed, one of which included the solar system, which Earth inhabited. Earth has itself undergone four stages: solidification, emergence of life, evolution of life-forms, and the advent of the human being.
The verses cited in answer to the previous question also hold the answer to this question. The world has had and will have, as long as it exists, a special trajectory and a certain order, directing it on its path of perfection toward its determined end.
However, the assumed figure of cosmic life cannot be accurate, for the phenomenon of time is a continuous quantity that is a concomitant of motion. Thus, every motion has its own distinct time. The conventional time we, the occupants of Earth, are familiar with, is measured by the length of day and night, for it is a unit noticeable by all people, and as such we measure according to this unit our particular events.
Priority and posteriority are categories relevant, only, when the parts of one extension of time are measured in relation to each other and as such are not applicable to events beyond that particular extension of time. Therefore, to measure the life of the world in relation to the cyclic motion of Earth is inaccurate.
Does each new stage of cosmic evolution institute new laws that did not exist previously (such as laws pertaining to chemical substances that came into existence after the appearance of compound matter or laws pertaining to life-forms that came into existence after the appearance of life)?
Of course, with every new development new laws emerge that previously had no application. This, however, does not violate the governing Divine Norm, as God Himself asserts in His Book:
مَا نَنْسَخْ مِنْ آيَةٍ أَوْ نُنْسِهَا نَأْتِ بِخَيْرٍ مِنْهَا أَوْ مِثْلِهَا ۗ أَلَمْ تَعْلَمْ أَنَّ اللَّهَ عَلَىٰ كُلِّ شَيْءٍ قَدِيرٌ
“For any sign that We abrogate or remove from memories, We bring another which is better than it, or similar to it…”22
And regarding the expansion of the world He says,
وَالسَّمَاءَ بَنَيْنَاهَا بِأَيْدٍ وَإِنَّا لَمُوسِعُونَ
“We have built the sky with might, and indeed it is We who are its expanders.”23
Is conflict the agent responsible for development in the world, encompassing the tiny atom and the complex human life alike?
What can be deduced from Qur’anic verses that describe the creation of things is that the agent of development, which permeates all things from the tiny atom to the complex human being, is the natural and inherent progressive motion of each creature. Regarding human creation, for instance, the Qur’an explains:
الَّذِي أَحْسَنَ كُلَّ شَيْءٍ خَلَقَهُ ۖ وَبَدَأَ خَلْقَ الْإِنْسَانِ مِنْ طِينٍ
ثُمَّ جَعَلَ نَسْلَهُ مِنْ سُلَالَةٍ مِنْ مَاءٍ مَهِينٍ
ثُمَّ سَوَّاهُ وَنَفَخَ فِيهِ مِنْ رُوحِهِ ۖ وَجَعَلَ لَكُمُ السَّمْعَ وَالْأَبْصَارَ وَالْأَفْئِدَةَ ۚ قَلِيلًا مَا تَشْكُرُونَ
“[God…] perfected everything that He created, and commenced man’s creation from clay. Then He made his progeny from an extract of a base fluid. Then He proportioned him and breathed into him of His Spirit, and made for you the hearing, the sight, and the hearts…”24
There are numerous verses in the Qur’an that touch on the topic of development in relation to human beings and other creatures. And in a number of verses the ultimate end of this trajectory is identified as meeting God, the Exalted:
يَا أَيُّهَا الْإِنْسَانُ إِنَّكَ كَادِحٌ إِلَىٰ رَبِّكَ كَدْحًا فَمُلَاقِيهِ
“O man! You are laboring toward you Lord laboriously, and you will encounter Him.”25
وَلِلَّهِ مُلْكُ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ ۖ وَإِلَى اللَّهِ الْمَصِيرُ
“To God belongs the kingdom of the heavens and the earth, and toward God is the destination.”26
The Qur’an further asserts that the origin of existence is God, and it is to Him that all creatures return in perfection:
اللَّهُ يَبْدَأُ الْخَلْقَ ثُمَّ يُعِيدُهُ ثُمَّ إِلَيْهِ تُرْجَعُونَ
“God originates the creation, then He will bring it back, then you will be brought back to Him.”27
What are the main factors responsible for the progress of human societies?
From the Islamic viewpoint, the human being is an immortal creature, not extinguished by death. His eternal felicity, which is his existential perfection, rests on faith and righteous conduct. These two constitute his true growth and spiritual advancement:
إِلَّا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَعَمِلُوا الصَّالِحَاتِ وَتَوَاصَوْا بِالْحَقِّ وَتَوَاصَوْا بِالصَّبْرِ
“Indeed man is at a loss, except those who have faith and do righteous deeds…”28
In other words, it is the acknowledgment of the true beliefs (which elevates one nearer to God) and the performance of righteous deeds (which fortifies one’s beliefs) that are the main factors of human progress:
إِلَيْهِ يَصْعَدُ الْكَلِمُ الطَّيِّبُ وَالْعَمَلُ الصَّالِحُ يَرْفَعُهُ ۚ
“…To Him ascends the good word, and righteous conduct elevates it…”29
Is human progress limited to scientific advancement or does it include other fields as well?
From the Islamic viewpoint, the perfection of the perfect human being is in his very existence. It affects every related field and all his existential properties, and it is accompanied by knowledge. Qur’anic verses articulate the highest state of human perfection at length; one such verse is the following:
لَهُمْ مَا يَشَاءُونَ فِيهَا وَلَدَيْنَا مَزِيدٌ
“There they will have whatever they wish, and with Us there is yet more.”30
The verses we have cited in these discussions should suffice to prove the point (although my ill health prevented me from expanding on the meaning of the cited verses). For a better understanding of the connection of the cited verses you may refer to “Al-Tafsir al-Mizan”.
What rational proof, other than imkan-i ashraf (the doctrine of the possibility of the more noble31), is there for the existence of immaterial beings?
One may consult Avicenna’s books, for he did not espouse this doctrine. Moreover, there are other possible ways for proving the existence of immaterial beings (here, immaterial being denotes an existent whose action as well as essence is immaterial).
For instance, one may argue that the first existent issued from the Infinite Truth must be immaterial as it is fully actualized in its perfection, for to have any potential perfection—thus being material and comprising matter and form—would mean that its parts would be ontically prior to the whole, and as such its matter and form would be issued prior to the whole, but this is at odds with the initial assumption that the existent be the first issued from the Infinite Truth.32
Another way would be to employ the immateriality of the mind’s cognitive perceptions, which has been philosophically demonstrated, to prove the immateriality of the soul and in turn the soul’s efficient cause.
Is there any rational proof for the termination of prophethood [khatm al-nubuwwah]?
In logic, in the chapter on rational demonstration [burhan], it is demonstrated that rational reasoning cannot render particular conclusions. Thus, particular prophethood33 cannot be deduced by any rational reasoning, whereas general prophethood34 may be. Nonetheless, one may reason that since the purpose of prophethood is to perfect and guide human beings, it takes on different forms (hence, the plurality of Divine Dispensations) corresponding to the progressive development of humankind, each successive form presenting a more perfect degree that supercedes its predecessor.
However, as the human being is obviously not infinite in his capacity to achieve perfection, no matter how numerous the perfections he is capable of attaining, there is a point where he will cease to go further. Naturally, the particular Divine Dispensation that encompasses this climax of human perfection would be the termination of prophethood and as such would endure as the binding law of God until the Day of Judgment.
The Noble Qur’an, the heavenly book of the sacred religion of Islam, explicitly testifies that Prophet Muhammad is the Seal of the Prophets and that the Qur’an is the final indissoluble book of God:
مَا كَانَ مُحَمَّدٌ أَبَا أَحَدٍ مِنْ رِجَالِكُمْ وَلَٰكِنْ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ وَخَاتَمَ النَّبِيِّينَ ۗ
“… [Muhammad] is the apostle of God and the Seal of the Prophets…”35
وَإِنَّهُ لَكِتَابٌ عَزِيزٌ لَا يَأْتِيهِ الْبَاطِلُ مِنْ بَيْنِ يَدَيْهِ وَلَا مِنْ خَلْفِهِ ۖ تَنْزِيلٌ مِنْ حَكِيمٍ حَمِيدٍ
“…Indeed [the Qur’an] is an august book: falsehood cannot approach it, neither from before it not from behind it, a gradually sent down revelation from One All-wise, All-laudable.”36
Hence, Prophet Muhammad being the Seal of the Prophets and the Qur’an the Seal of all Divine Dispensations is thus demonstrated.
An additional point that the above explanation clarifies is that the termination of prophethood in no way implies that the human being has reached a point of intellectual sufficiency where he is no longer in need of Divine Dispensation, for in such a case the manifold instructions of Islam would be in vain.
Distinguishing ‘idalah (Uprightness)37 from ‘ismah (Infallibility)
What is the distinction between “idalah” and “ismah” in prophets who, unlike angels, are susceptible to anger and lust?
‘Idalah is the state of mind that empowers one to refrain from committing the major sins and repeating the minor sins but is not strong enough to prevent the isolated commission of minor sins. ‘Ismah, on the other hand, is the state of mind that renders one immune from committing any sin whatsoever, whether major or minor.
This state of mind, according to Qur’anic verses, is of the nature of knowledge—the knowledge of the awfulness of sin—the possession of which makes the commission of sin impossible. It may be likened to one’s knowledge that a liquid is lethally poisonous, which would definitely prevent one from drinking that liquid. Thus, with ‘idalah one may sin but not with ‘ismah.
The grounds for the doctrine of the absolute infallibility of prophets, one of the unquestionable tenets of the Shi‘ah faith, cannot include such mundane matters as a simple chitchat with one’s wife, for instance. But assuming that the prophets are inerrant even in such matters, the state of ‘idalah would be sufficient to explain it.
Thus, even if there is sufficient evidence for this doctrine, it would only serve to prove infallibility solely in the scope of the duties that pertain to the Divine ministry—i.e., being immune from error and negligence in passing the Divine Dispensation to the people—but not in regard to other sins. Furthermore, what is the reason for this insistence on proving this doctrine? Would the prophethood of an ‘adil38—but not infallible—prophet entail any adverse consequences?
Based on the rational argument that proves the necessity of general prophethood, the guidance of humankind is part of the order of creation, of reality. As there is no possibility of error and contravention in reality, the contents of Revelation, emanating from the wellspring of Divine Knowledge, reach humankind intact. Hence, the prophet, as the conduit of Revelation, is immune from error and perfidy in receiving the Revelation, preserving it, and conveying it to the people. This requires that he be infallible in his speech and conduct, as conduct is also a means of guidance.
It can, therefore, be concluded that the prophet is untouched by sin, whether minor or major, in speech and conduct, prior to and following his ministry, for each of these states affects the conveyance of the articles of faith, and as sin is meaningless beyond these states, the prophet’s infallibility is proven. This topic, however, has other dimensions for which you may refer to the third volume of “Al-Tafsir al-Mizan”, “Shi‘ah dar Islam” [The Shi‘ah in Islam]39, or “Risalah Wahy wa Shu‘ur-i Marmuz” [A Treatise on Revelation, the Mysterious Intelligence].
Islamic philosophers state that the perfect human being is he who has actualized “all that is generally possible for him.” And all Muslims unanimously agree that Muhammad was either the only perfect man or in the ranks of the perfect men. Considering this truth, what could be the purpose of uttering the prayer “[O God] elevate [Muhammad’s] status” in tashahhud?
The above prayer and similarly salawat40 are prayers to God whose acceptance by Him is certain. They are actually expressions of one’s satisfaction at God’s special favor to His messenger and beloved, Muhammad.
May God’s peace and blessings be upon you. Your second letter was received. I must express my most sincere gratitude for your blessings. In regard to the answers to your questions, you say that they are incomplete. Apparently, you did not consider the answers duly.
You write, “We desire the proof for immaterial beings for the guidance of corrupted youths who deny the existence of God and any supernatural being, whereas the provided answer presupposes God’s existence.”
The Question in hand is a philosophical one that has been demonstrated in many ways. The answer that I gave in the letter was based on the immateriality of our mental perceptions, which lack the general properties of matter—i.e., changeability and subjection to time and space. The second premise it to demonstrate the immateriality of the human soul by pointing out that one descries one’s self as an unchanging entity and that the immaterial mental perceptions come into existence through the soul.
Once this is proven, we may then continue to prove the immateriality of the efficient cause of the human soul by arguing that a cause must of necessity be existentially superior to its effect; material existence is existentially inferior to immaterial existence. This argument is a sound rational demonstration, in no way contingent on the presupposition of God’s existence. However, as you intend the answer for persons without advance education in philosophy, it must be rendered in an easier fashion, more acceptable to the general public.
You write, “The rational argument you have offered in the letter for the termination of prophethood is sufficiently cogent, but the cited Qur’anic verses are incapable of proving the point, for if there were to be a final religion after Islam, it would be a truth that would approach the present religion, whereas the verse in question (41:41-42) indicates that ‘falsehood cannot approach it’ [which leaves open the possibility of truth—that is, another Divine religion—approaching it, hence Islam not being the final Divine Dispensation].” The answer is, “falsehood” in the verse in question refers to any false statement, incompatible with the final religion of Islam, that may find its way into the Qur’an, and as such the verse does not imply, in any way, the possibility of another true Divine religion.
You write, “Tashri‘41 requires nothing more than conveying God’s message without contravention or error, which may be accomplished by simply an ‘adil messenger. Thus infallibility is not a necessary quality for a prophet. What is enweaved in the reality of the cosmic reality [takwin] is the Divine Dispensation and its conveyance, not the details of life. As such trivialities of life as the Prophet’s chitchat with his wife do not fall within the scope of Divine Dispensation; the Prophets’ infallibility in relation to such trivialities cannot be demonstrated by recourse to the cosmic reality [takwin].”
What is meant by “reality” is the realm of origination [ijad] and ontic existence. To acknowledge that the human being’s existence is willed by God, one must also accept that his existential properties—including his cosmic purpose and the way he must traverse to attain to that purpose (which must be indicated by God Himself, hence Revelation and prophethood)—are all incorporated by the cosmic reality [takwin].
Thus, it would be unreasonable to claim that Divine Dispensation alone is part of the cosmic reality, excluding the details of human existence and the practical need for preaching the Divine Dispensation42 from the matrix of cosmic reality and relegating them to the position of conventional and contractual issues43.
To thus dissociate Divine Dispensation from the practical need to convey it is analogous to arguing that the human need for food is a reality while the particular instances of food consumption (e.g., “I need to eat rice” “Let me have some soup”) are illusions of the human mind. It is similarly unreasonable to contend that, although a prophet’s speech and conduct are factors that contribute to guidance, yet the quality of ‘idalah is sufficient to render a prophet an exemplar for the guidance of humankind. For, ‘idalah leaves open the possibility of committing minor or even major sins.
You further state, “It would not be injurious to the guidance of humankind if a prophet, in the secrecy of his home, backbites about others in chatting with his wife.” This is most astonishing. Is not the prophet’s wife one of the people whom should be guided? Or, would you differentiate between a major sin when committed secretly in the presence of one or two of one’s confidants and when committed publicly?
In a word, to consider the quality of ‘idalah, in lieu of infallibility, sufficient for a prophet would be to accept the possibility that a prophet may commit minor or even major sins in his speech or conduct, which is to say that he is vulnerable to violating the sanctity of his ministry in every matter of faith. This is at odds with the truth that the position of prophethood springs from the very reality of the cosmic order.
You write, “The prayer ‘[O God] elevate [the Prophet’s] status’ uttered during tashahhud unequivocally indicates the Prophet’s deficiency, which the prayer is intended to ameliorate. [Thus, the explanation furnished above to the effect that such prayers are only an expression of our heartfelt happiness for the Prophet’s spiritual perfection is unfounded.]” But I again reiterate that God has bestowed on the Noble Prophet the highest perfection possible for a contingent being [i.e., any being other than God]. Nevertheless, this bestowal in no way limits His omnipotence, for He is capable of taking away, at will, what He has bestowed:
قُلْ فَمَنْ يَمْلِكُ مِنَ اللَّهِ شَيْئًا إِنْ أَرَادَ أَنْ يُهْلِكَ الْمَسِيحَ ابْنَ مَرْيَمَ وَأُمَّهُ وَمَنْ فِي الْأَرْضِ جَمِيعًا ۗ
“…Say, ‘Who can avail anything against God should He wish to destroy the Messiah, son of Mary, and his mother, and everyone upon the earth…’”44
Hence, one may say that the prayer in question is to ask for the continuation of this Divine effusion. Prayer, even when in relation to a determined truth, is appropriate. Thus, it is true that the prayer in question is unequivocal regarding the Prophet’s imperfection; nevertheless, the imperfection at issue is the existential indigence inherent in all contingent beings.
Greek philosophy was introduced to the Muslim World several centuries after the advent of Islam through Arabic translations. What was the purpose of this translation campaign? Was it merely to acquaint Muslims with new sciences or was it a pretext for preventing Muslims from benefiting from the knowledge of the Ahl al-Bayt, the true guardians of Revelation?
Metaphysics was one of the many fields of knowledge—including such other sciences as logic, natural sciences, mathematics, medicine—that were introduced to Muslims from the Hellenic World through Arabic translations of Greek and Syrian works. Thus, whereas in the 1st century A.H. the caliphs of the time strictly forbade the writing of anything other than the verses of the Qur’an (including Prophetic hadiths and Qur’anic exposition) in the following centuries, as recorded in books of history, close to two hundred books, covering every science of the time were translated into Arabic.
This was done purportedly with the intention of strengthening the Muslim nation and actualizing the Islamic ideals, in line with the Qur’an’s emphasis on intellectuality and its encouragement to study all aspects of God’s creation in the heaven and on the earth, regarding other animals as well as the human being.
This is not, however, to deny that the contemporary rulers would seize every opportunity to damage the Ahl al-Bayt’s status within the Muslim nation so as to deprive Muslims of the Divine knowledge of the Ahl al-Bayt. In this light, it may be correct to say that the translation of Greek philosophy into Arabic was undertaken for the purpose of isolating the Ahl al-Bayt. But does this unjustifiable intention of the rulers of the time and their exploitation of the translation of Greek works of philosophy make engagement in metaphysical discussions a vanity? Is this historical reality a legitimate reason for us to refrain from dwelling on such discussions?
Philosophy includes a variety of discussions that lead to proving the existence of the Omnipotent Designer, the Necessary Existent, His Unity, as well as the other Divine Attributes. It also deals with other such related topics as the doctrines of prophethood and Resurrection. These are questions that constitute what we term the “pillars of faith,” which must be rationally demonstrated in order to secure the credibility of the contents of the Qur’an and the Sunnah.
Otherwise, to seek to prove the credibility of the Qur’an and the Sunnah based on their own claims would be erroneous as it would constitute a circular argument. It is for this reason that where the Qur’an and the Sunnah deal with the principles of faith—such as God’s existence and His Unity and Lordship—they furnish rational arguments.
Does Islam (in the broad sense, which encompasses the “sunnah” of the Infallibles) contain what Greek philosophy brought to the Muslim World? If it does, then what need is there for such a philosophy. If, however, it does not, then it is an imperfect religion that is in need of Greek philosophy.
Islamic sources—the contents of the Qur’an and the Sunnah—encompass all the elements necessary for the guidance of humankind, both in doctrine and in practice. Some of these elements find expression in detail and some are presented in brief. This is due to the fact that Islam addresses all people from all walks of life—the scholar and the layperson, the perceptive and the not-so-perceptive, the city-dweller and the country-dweller, man and woman. To embrace all people, Islam employs a language that is comprehensible to all so that all people could benefit from it in accordance with their varying intellectual capacities.
To benefit at a higher level from doctrines so presented, so as to arrive at truths fathomable only to the more elevated minds, one would obviously have to arrange them in a certain order and to coin terms critical to this intellectual endeavor. In this light, although the Qur’an and the Sunnah do provide metaphysical principles, there is still the need for establishing an independent science that would treat of these doctrines at a higher level.
This holds true not only in respect to philosophy but also to every other Islamic science. A good example in this regard is the science of theology, whose main elements are to be found in the Qur’an and the Sunnah; nevertheless, it has been arranged as a distinct field of knowledge.
Moreover, you claim that if the Qur’an and the Sunnah lack some metaphysical topic, it would mean that Islam is deficient and in need of Greek philosophy. This, however, is an incorrect assumption. The incorrectness of this assumption may be demonstrated by considering the case of logic. Not even a single doctrine can be deduced without the application of the rules of logic, none of which are to be found in the Qur’an and the Sunnah.
Also, in regard to the practical rules of faith, not one question may be dwelt on without recourse to the science of usul, although there is no trace of this vast science in the Qur’an and the Sunnah. The solution to this problem lies in the fact that the relation of logic to Islamic doctrine and that of the science of usul to questions of jurisprudence is one of method. To apply a particular method to a body of data is fundamentally different from adding something to it.
Owing to the persistence of Shi‘ah scholars in furthering the rational sciences, Islamic philosophy reached its climax in the age of Mulla Sadra. A question that comes to mind in this regard is, do the concepts that Mulla Sadra developed in “Asfar” and in other books have their roots in the Qur’an and the Sunnah or are they concepts external to but concordant with Islam?
In saying that Islamic philosophy reached a climax in the thought of Mulla Sadra, we mean that in comparison to prior developments of philosophy, it stands out at a much higher level and that it is more conducive to fathoming the True Knowledge. It should not, however, be inferred that Sadrian works on metaphysics—“Asfar”, “Manzumah”, and the like—reflect the truth flawlessly and without any error. Like any other book, they may contain errors in their contents. One should at all times seek sound rational arguments without any concern for famous names.
The Relation between the Thought of Muslim Philosophers and Sages and Islamic Doctrine45
If philosophy reflects the teachings of the Qur’an and the hadiths—which no doubt surpass the former in soundness and comprehensiveness—then why seek the teachings of the philosophers and sages?
When we say that there is no difference between philosophy and the essence of the Qur’an and the Sunnah, we mean that philosophy rephrases the fundamental doctrines of the Truth—which are expressed in the Qur’an and the Sunnah in a simple and generally understandable fashion—in the format of discursive reasoning, employing the specialized vernacular of philosophers. Hence, what distinguishes the two is that one is generally comprehensible whereas the other is expressed in a specialized language.
There are certain hadiths recorded in “Bihar al-Anwar” and “Hadiqah al-Shi‘ah” that condemn philosophers, especially those of the “End of Time”. To whom do such hadiths refer, and what do they mean?
The hadiths in question, which number no more than two or three (whose authenticity is questionable), denounce philosophers and not philosophy per se, just as there are similar hadiths that condemn Muslim jurists of the “End of Time,” not the science of jurisprudence as such. There are also hadiths that criticize the Muslims and the readers of the Qur’an46 who will come at the “End of Time” without, obviously, detracting in any way from the value of Islam and the Qur’an.
Moreover, to consider these hadiths directed at philosophy per se would in effect be an attack on the Qur’an and the Sunnah, for, as mentioned above, philosophy dwells on the same topics, the only difference being that it presents them in the form of rational reasoning and without the burden of obligation. Let me also add that it is unreasonable to dismiss definitive apodictic reasoning in favor of dubitable reports?
In studying the history of Islam, one finds that the followers of Imam ‘Ali were of two temperaments from the point of view of social involvement. There were those who abandoned the turbulence of social upheavals to remain in seclusion, dedicating their life solely to reforming and purifying their soul. Uways al-Qarani and Kumayl were such figures. Of these men, some were martyred at the hands of the tyrants of the time and some lived a spiritual life until God embraced them at their natural death.
On the other hand, there were those followers of ‘Ali—prominent among them Malik al-Ashtar—who took up an active role in the public events of the time. This difference in attitude has also found manifestation in recent history. Men like Mulla Husayn Hamadani and his pupils pursued the first lifestyle, whereas such scholars as Muhammad Husayn Kashif al-Ghita’ engaged in a more social life. The question that this comparison raises is: should spiritual purification be sought in the midst of society or in a reclusive and isolated lifestyle? Which of the two methods is preferable and more effective in advancing the cause of Islam?
What we can say with certainty based on the Qur’an and the Sunnah is that the objective of worship in Islam is to advance in the stages of Divine Knowledge and to attain sincerity in worshipping God. This journey requires that we sever all attachments except our attachment to Him—inviolable is His Name. This is the path of perfection that Islam sets forth. It is so valuable that to succeed in attaining to even the lowest stages of this journey is a praiseworthy achievement.
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا اتَّقُوا اللَّهَ حَقَّ تُقَاتِهِ
“…Be wary of God with the wariness due to Him…”47
فَفِرُّوا إِلَى اللَّهِ ۖ إِنِّي لَكُمْ مِنْهُ نَذِيرٌ مُبِينٌ
“So flee toward God. Indeed I am a manifest Warner to you from Him.”48
However, it must be pointed out that Islam is a social religion that rejects monasticism and isolation. It exhorts the believers to engage in spiritual purification, to strengthen their faith, and to enhance their knowledge of God, all in the midst of the society, while interacting with other people.
This was the approach that the devout Muslims of the early period of Islam—who had the privilege of living at the time of the Noble Imams and of receiving their guidance—embraced. Salman al-Farsi—who according to the Master of the Faithful possessed a very high degree of faith—is a good example; he was the governor of Mada’in for several years. Uways al-Qarani, the exemplar of Islamic piety, was martyred in the Battle of Siffin, fighting for the Master of the Faithful.
Considering that God’s existence—Magnificent and Exalted is He—is infinite and that it pervades all space, even prior to the creation of the finite universe, how then did the universe come about? Was the universe created within the limits of God’s existence? That would be impossible. If, however, the universe was created beyond the limits of His Most Sacred Existence, it would be detached from Him; this would also be impossible. Another alternative that may be put forth—in Him do we seek refuge—is that His Existence is one and the same with other existents? But this entails the blasphemous theory of monism. So, the question is, how did God create the universe without it coming into conflict with His Sacred Existence?
Well, in the first place, the question is flawed. The question begins by assuming that God’s infinitude is a matter of space. It must be noted; however, that prior to creation of matter, there was no space. Second, the questioner incorrectly interprets God’s infinitude to mean that He is a limitless body, that He is composed of an infinitely large body that occupies all space, leaving no room for others. God’s Sacred Existence, however, transcends corporeality, materiality, and material dimensions.
Thus, space and time are meaningless in relation to His existence; He does not have an inside or an outside; neither is He within anything nor is He external to anything. Such relative concepts are properties of matter, and hence God’s creatures are not contained within Him, are not external to Him, and are not identical with Him. He is their Creator, and they His creatures.
Moreover, in describing God’s existence as infinite, we mean that it is not contingent on any prior condition. And in saying that He is with His creatures, we mean that His knowledge, power, and will encompass the cosmos, not that He shares the same space with them.
In the story of Prophet Abraham we are taught that God conferred the status of imamate on him (who was already a prophet) only after “completing the terms” and succeeding in all the tests He set before him. How is the status of imamate superior to prophethood? And granted that it is superior, then why is there consensus among all Muslims that the Prophet was more elevated in status than ‘Ali?
When God said to Abraham,
قَالَ إِنِّي جَاعِلُكَ لِلنَّاسِ إِمَامًا
“…I am making you the Imam of mankind…”49
he was already a prophet—one of the “Ulu al-‘Azm”50. He had brought for humankind a new book and a new Divine Law from God. This means that when God conferred on him the position of imamate, he had already been entrusted with the duty of guiding and preaching to humankind. Moreover, in His Book, God in several instances describes an “imam” as one who is responsible for the guidance of humankind.
وَجَعَلْنَاهُمْ أَئِمَّةً يَهْدُونَ بِأَمْرِنَا
“…We made them Imams who guide by Our command…”51
Juxtaposing the above two points, it becomes clear that the guidance that an imam is responsible for is different from that for which a prophet is responsible. The guidance that is the responsibility of a prophet is to preach and to exhort people to embrace the true faith. That is, it is a prophet’s duty to shed light on the true path of guidance. The duty of an imam, on the other hand, is to shepherd humankind toward the True Destination.
Thus, in addition to explicating the doctrines and practices of faith, an imam is in charge of correcting the conduct of the believers. He oversees the spiritual growth of the believers and directs their deeds in the way of God so that their actions would lead to the desirable end.
This interpretation of an imam’s status is supported by a number of Islamic tenets. Shi‘ahs believe that the record of the conduct of all believers is submitted to the Imam of the Time on a number of occasions; that the Imam is present at the death of all people; that the Imams hand out the records of conduct to people on the Day of Judgment; and that they are the yardsticks according to which the conduct of all others is measured.
Moreover, according to Shi‘ah belief, the universe would cease to exist in the absence of an imam. All this proves that the Prophet was also the imam of his time. And as the Prophet was entrusted with three simultaneous ministries—nubuwwah52, risalah53, and imamah—his rank was above that of ‘Ali. This is definitively attested to by the consensus of all Muslims.
Some say that all creatures derive from the wellspring of God’s existence, and thus the entirety of the cosmos, viewed in this unitive light, is God. But how could this be true considering the variety of creatures we observe?
The rational arguments that substantiate the existence of the Creator, describe the universe as His “action” and Him as the agent of this action. Without doubt, an action is not identical with its agent; otherwise, it would require that a thing exist prior to its coming into existence,54 which is impossible. Hence, the universe is distinct from God, and thus to say “the entirety of the cosmos viewed in this unitive light is God” is incorrect.
Some are of the opinion that what we see—trees, stones, people, etc.—is only an illusion. Our existence is also just an illusion. Can you please address this problem?
To say that what we see and hear is an illusion is self-defeating, for then this proposition would itself be an illusion and thus devoid of any value. Those who make such claims are either insane or maliciously spreading corrupt thoughts through deceitful sophistry. No one, in his right mind, would doubt the reality of the world. Even those who claim this world an illusion do not abide by their claim in practice; they pursue orderly lives; when hungry and thirsty, the idea that the world is an illusion does not dissuade them from seeking water and bread.
Atheists argue that assuming that this world is in fact real, what place does God hold? Does He reside in between the objects of this world? What is your reply to such skepticism?
As was explained above, such claims are at odds with rational reasoning and lack any logical ground.
Some say, “We have reached the conclusion that we [the things of this world] are the substance of God’s existence, and thus to say, ‘God has created us ex nihilo’ is meaningless. He is nothing other than existence [which takes the shape of the existents that populate our world]. There is no other meaningful interpretation for the concept of God. The various and changing forms we see around us constitute God.” What is your response?
What you have quoted is an unfounded claim, an irrational contention. Whatever they may say is good only for them and must not worry others. Such baseless claims carry no weight.
Some Sufis are of the opinion that the pronoun in the verse,
هُوَ الْأَوَّلُ وَالْآخِرُ
“He is the First and the Last.”55
refers to ‘Ali. A number of hadiths recorded by ‘Allamah Majlisi in the eighth volume of “Bihar al-Anwar” supports this reading. This complicates the problem, for to repudiate the Sufis’ interpretation would be to doubt the authenticity of the hadiths in question. But the truth is that there are many similar pronouns in the Qur’an whose antecedent is undoubtedly God:
فَهُوَ يَهْدِينِ …
“…It is He who guides me.”56
فَهُوَ يَشْفِينِ …
“…It is He who cures me.”57
وَهُوَ الَّذِي فِي السَّمَاءِ إِلَٰهٌ وَفِي الْأَرْضِ إِلَٰهٌ ۚ وَهُوَ الْحَكِيمُ الْعَلِيمُ
“It is He who is God in the sky, and God on the earth; and He is the All-wise, the All-knowing.”58
وَأَنَّ اللَّهَ هُوَ الْعَلِيُّ الْكَبِيرُ …
“…He is the All-exalted, the All-great.”59
الْحَيِّ الَّذِي لَا يَمُوتُ.…
“…The Living One who does not die…”60
There are many such pronouns in the Qur’an whose context indicates that they refer to God. So how can we determine whether the antecedent in the verse the Sufis cite is ‘Ali or God?
The hadiths that ‘Allamah Majlisi narrates assert that ‘Ali is the first and the last. What this means is clarified by another hadith that says that ‘Ali was the first person to embrace Muhammad’s faith and the last to depart him (he buried the Prophet’s sacred body). But leaving these hadiths aside, the verse in question (57:3) seems to be indicating God, Who has always been and will always be.
وَأَنَّ إِلَىٰ رَبِّكَ الْمُنْتَهَىٰ
“Indeed toward your Lord is the journey.”61
Let me, with all due respect, ask you a question that occurred to me after reading the chapter entitled, “A Philosophic Discussion” that appears in volume 15 of “Al-Tafsir al-Mizan”, pp. 149-150. There you state that in the creation of contingent beings, God is a “partial cause.”62 But how is this conceivable in light of the Qur’an’s assertion that
لَيْسَ كَمِثْلِهِ شَيْءٌ ۖ
“…Nothing is like Him…”63
Your question refers to the philosophic discussion presented in volume 15, pp. 149-150, of “Al-Tafsir al-Mizan”, where I have offered two viewpoints regarding God’s agency in creating contingent beings. According to the first viewpoint, God is a partial cause, whereas the second viewpoint acknowledges God as the complete cause. These two viewpoints are not, as might be assumed, in opposition to one another; only the second one is more accurate and better formulated.
The first viewpoint observes the phenomena of this world in their outward appearance. When viewing this world prima facie, there is an evident multiplicity and separation among phenomena. Of the phenomena of this world, some are existentially prior to others. This reality is the foundation of the universal principle of causality.
According to this principle every contingent being is in need of a cause that, if contingent, in turn needs a higher cause. This chain continues until it reaches the Essentially Necessary Existent, God, who is Self-sufficient. He is the source from which all contingent beings issue, whether directly (in the case of the First Emanation) or indirectly. From this perspective, God is a partial cause—one component of the efficient cause—vis-à-vis His indirect effects. This is the superficial viewpoint.
From the second viewpoint, all contingent beings are bound together by an ontic dependency that is the result of the principle of causality. Thus, they form an organic whole, and God is the complete cause of this whole. This line of reasoning is based on the truth that the creation of the first contingent being—the First Emanation—is equivalent to the origination of all contingent beings, as elucidated in “Al-Tafsir al-Mizan”.
Without doubt, the second viewpoint is grounded on a firmer foundation. Nevertheless, it should be pointed out that to consider God a partial cause does not contradict the Qur’an’s assertion that “…Nothing is like Him…” for to ascribe causality to contingent beings as conduits for Divine effusion, which He Himself has established, does not imply that they are analogous in causality to Him. God’s agency is essential and independent whereas theirs is accidental and dependent.
This also applies to other attributes of perfection64—e.g., powerful, living, knowing, hearing, seeing—whose attribution to contingent beings does not constitute polytheism. The attributes of perfection that exist within the realm of contingent beings are engendered and effused by the Necessary Existent and so depend on Him. God, however, possesses the attributes of perfection as the Essentially Independent and Self-Sufficient Being.
It may be objected that the ascription of causality to God’s creatures runs against the Qur’anic verse,
هَلْ مِنْ خَالِقٍ غَيْرُ اللَّهِ…
“…Is there any creator other than God…”65
This, however, is not correct. What is intended by this verse is that God is independent in His creation, creating the world without recourse to any other agent, whereas other “creators” are in need of Him. This latter understanding is verified by the Qur’an itself where it confirms that there are other “creators” beside God. Among the verses to this effect are the following:
فَتَبَارَكَ اللَّهُ أَحْسَنُ الْخَالِقِينَ
“So blessed is God, the best of creators.”66
وَإِذْ تَخْلُقُ مِنَ الطِّينِ كَهَيْئَةِ الطَّيْرِ بِإِذْنِي فَتَنْفُخُ فِيهَا فَتَكُونُ طَيْرًا بِإِذْنِي
“…And when you [i.e., Jesus Christ] would create from clay the form of a bird, with My leave, and you would breathe into it and it would become a bird, with my leave…”67
This reading is further corroborated by the Qur’an where it alludes to the universal principle of causality
وَبَدَأَ خَلْقَ الْإِنْسَانِ مِنْ طِينٍ
ثُمَّ جَعَلَ نَسْلَهُ مِنْ سُلَالَةٍ مِنْ مَاءٍ مَهِينٍ
“…And commenced man’s creation from clay. Then He made his progeny from an extract of base fluid.”68
خَلَقَكُمْ مِنْ نَفْسٍ وَاحِدَةٍ وَخَلَقَ مِنْهَا زَوْجَهَا وَبَثَّ مِنْهُمَا رِجَالًا كَثِيرًا وَنِسَاءً ۚ
“… [God] created you from a single soul, and created its mate from it, and, from the two of them, scattered numerous men and women…”69
(It should be noted that the absolute negation of causality from contingent beings and reserving it exclusively for God is a notion held by Ash‘ari theologians—a notion they cannot substantiate.)
Origination of Matter Preceded by Temporal Non-Existence [‘Adam Zamani]70
On what grounds are matter’s essential eternity [qidam dhati] negated?
The term essential eternity applies to an existent that is free of the limitations of a delimited essence. It is impossible for such an existence to experience nonexistence, and consequently it is not susceptible to change in its essence, properties, or states. Obviously, matter does not fit this description. So, apparently your question is actually regarding temporal eternity [qidam zamani] not essential eternity.71 So, the question may be rephrased more accurately in this way: was there a time when matter (composed of atoms) did not exist? The answer is positive.
As demonstrated in physics, atom can be transformed into energy and vice versa.
Atom is composed of concentrated particles of energy, and as such atom is preceded by nonexistence. Based on this scientific fact, there must be a common material from which both matter and energy derive, whose sole property is receptivity to form, which gives it actuality. And since it is implausible that the form-giver (i.e., the agent that bestows form and actuality on the common material, that is, prime matter) be the prime matter in question, there must of necessity be an existent transcending matter, to which matter is indebted for its form and actualization. Thus, the sensible world of existence is the activity of an eternal, immutable, and transcendent agent, that is, God—inviolable is His Name.72
In the world we inhabit, evil is all-pervasive; the human and the brute alike oppress the weak to the most extreme limits. We have all witnessed the awful scene of a weaker animal falling prey to the stronger predacious animal, which ends the life of the innocent prey in a most brutal fashion. Moreover, there is the question of those oppressed without an oppressor, such as children who come to this world with a congenital disability.
Before giving an answer, I would like to draw your attention to an introductory point. The order of creation has been founded on the principle of cause and effect; the cosmos is governed by existential principles—not by sentiment—that allow of no exception. For instance, the property of fire is that it burns whatever it comes in contact with, be it the dress of a prophet or the attire of a tyrant. Carnivorous animals perish if deprived of meat, thus they must prey on other animals. This is what the order of creation has embedded in their biological construction, and so they are not guilty on account of this behavior, just as conscientious human beings eat meat without being oppressed by any sense of guilt.
As has been elucidated elsewhere, injustice in the sense of encroaching on the rights of others or of discrimination in enforcing established rules exists solely in the context of human society. As such, natural disasters do not constitute injustice. They may be referred to as adversity [sharr]. It should, however, be borne in mind that a natural disaster is an adversity in relation to the injured party, but in relation to the cause of the disaster, it is a good, for it is the natural effect of its cause. The disability of a six-month-old infant is an adversity, a deprivation (not injustice) caused by certain natural factors. The hardship that a dog inflicts on a cat is an inevitable adversity, not an injustice. Thus, the cat inflicts the same on a mouse.
Injustice is meaningful only in the context of human society. The human being has innumerable needs (owing to his various natural faculties and his freewill), many of which he cannot satisfy individually. For this reason, human beings come together to form societies. But for the preservation of social life, there must be a body of binding regulations that would secure, if complied with, the interests of the constituent individuals. (These interests vary, of course, depending on the social position of each individual.) In the framework of these regulations certain inalienable rights are defined for every individual.
These rights must be honored; their violation is by law forbidden. It is the violation of these contractual rights that constitutes injustice. So injustice is to violate another’s rights: the unpleasant effects of natural elements—effects that have been arranged by the order of creation—are adversities not injustice. But in addition to natural elements, there are also instances in the context of human society that violation of an individual’s rights is not injustice.
Curtailing an individual’s rights to uphold an important truth is an adversity for the affected individual but not injustice. Similarly, the punishment inflicted on a criminal, though unpleasant for him, is just—
فَمَنِ اعْتَدَىٰ عَلَيْكُمْ فَاعْتَدُوا عَلَيْهِ بِمِثْلِ مَا اعْتَدَىٰ عَلَيْكُمْ ۚ
“…So should anyone aggress against you, assail him in the manner he assailed you…”73
In your letter,74 you [i.e., the questioner] write, “A certain gentleman told me that a smaller animal devoured by a larger animal actually attains to a higher degree of perfection, for the flesh of the weaker animal has become part of the stronger animal. But what sort of perfection does cat meat obtains by becoming dog meat?” The concept you criticize is based on a legitimate philosophic concept, namely substantial motion [harikat jawhari]. It is, however, a sophisticated concept whose exposition is beyond the scope of a letter such as this.
You further state, “It is argued that God is the Owner of all things: all belongs to Him, and He has the right to do with what is His as He pleases. I realize this as well, but the issue is that the Qur’an expressly avers that God does not act unjustly.” The correct explanation of this problem is as follows:
Everything in the world, including all the attributes of perfection, belongs indisputably to God. All that we enjoy, from the most insignificant to the most cherished, are blessings He has bestowed on us. He bestows these blessings without any merit on our part.
There is no greater power that could coerce Him into doing something or restrain Him from doing something. All the rights we assume for ourselves have actually been established by God. In this light, God cannot be held accountable for the adversities that befall His creatures:
وَيَفْعَلُ اللَّهُ مَا يَشَاءُ
“…God does whatever He wishes…”75
For, these adversities do not constitute injustice in the first place. (As such, it would be flawed to think that these adversities are unjust, God being exonerated because of His status.) In other words, the pleasant things we enjoy are favors He bestows on us out of His mercy and the hardships we encounter are the suspension of these favors:
مَا يَفْتَحِ اللَّهُ لِلنَّاسِ مِنْ رَحْمَةٍ فَلَا مُمْسِكَ لَهَا ۖ وَمَا يُمْسِكْ فَلَا مُرْسِلَ لَهُ مِنْ بَعْدِهِ ۚ
“Whatever mercy God unfolds for the people no one can withhold; and whatever He withholds no one can release, except Him…”76
Of course, should He confer a right on a creature, it would be an act of injustice for Him to deprive that creature of that right without a legitimate reason, and He, being Immaculate, would not commit such an injustice. For instance, to make the human being capable of attaining to felicity as the purpose of his life and existence and to promise him eternal life in Paradise and then to arbitrarily sentence him to eternal chastisement would constitute an injustice that God would not commit. In cases where human beings are condemned to eternal chastisement, it is due to their own disobedience:
إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَا يَظْلِمُ النَّاسَ شَيْئًا وَلَٰكِنَّ النَّاسَ أَنْفُسَهُمْ يَظْلِمُونَ
“Indeed God does not wrong people in the least; rather it is people who wrong themselves.”77
فَالْيَوْمَ لَا تُظْلَمُ نَفْسٌ شَيْئًا وَلَا تُجْزَوْنَ إِلَّا مَا كُنْتُمْ تَعْمَلُونَ
“Today no one will be done any injustice, nor will you be requited except for what you used to do.”78
You further state, “They [i.e., the advocates of the doctrine of Divine justice] argue that it is the people themselves that are to blame, but what guilt could a six-month-old infant be accountable for? If his parents are guilty, why should he pay the price? If you counter that the infant will be compensated in the Hereafter, will there also be compensation for the bird that a hunter shoots down?”
It is a matter of fact that in certain cases a child is afflicted with an adversity on account of his parents’ guilt. But in such cases, the child’s affliction is in effect the manifestation of the parents’ guilt, not its punishment. As regards compensation to hunted animals, the Qur’an explicitly states that animals will also be resurrected:
وَمَا مِنْ دَابَّةٍ فِي الْأَرْضِ وَلَا طَائِرٍ يَطِيرُ بِجَنَاحَيْهِ إِلَّا أُمَمٌ أَمْثَالُكُمْ ۚ مَا فَرَّطْنَا فِي الْكِتَابِ مِنْ شَيْءٍ ۚ ثُمَّ إِلَىٰ رَبِّهِمْ يُحْشَرُونَ
“There is no animal on land, nor a bird that flies with its wings, but they are communities like you. We have not omitted anything from the Book. Then they will be mustered toward their Lord.”79
The Qur’an does not provide the details of their resurrection, but some hadiths state that on the Day of Judgment, God will punish horned animals for harming hornless animals. The conclusion that one draws from studying the Qur’an and the Sunnah is that there is wisdom in every phenomenon that occurs in the cosmos, whether we be aware of it or not.
In the end, you say, “The essence of my concern and the cause for my distress is that there is injustice in this world, which goes largely without requital. I am afraid that this would continue into the next world, that harmed animals would not be avenged. More fundamentally, it is wrong that there is injustice at all.”
First of all, let me reiterate that most of the examples you cite are adversities not injustice, and requital is meaningful only in reference to injustice. The adversities that exist in this world have a purpose in the matrix of the order of creation. This purpose may relate to the entire system as an organic whole or to a specific part of it. But where there really is injustice, where a creature’s right is violated, it will definitely be avenged; if not in this world then, as guaranteed by the Qur’an, in the Hereafter:
لَا ظُلْمَ الْيَوْمَ
“…There will be no injustice today…”80
إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَا يُخْلِفُ الْمِيعَادَ
—“…God does not break His promise.”81
From the scientific point of view, there is no doubt that after death the human body decomposes, through a variety of natural processes, into nitrate and nitrogen, a part of this material being absorbed into the soil. These materials are then assimilated by plants, which are in turn consumed by human beings. The vegetables that people eat are converted by the body into new cells. The question is, when humans are resurrected, how will the deficiency of the bodies of former individuals be restored? If they are to be provided with the material that originally formed their bodies, then the bodies of the subsequent humans will be left deficient, and if those materials are to remain in the bodies of the subsequent individuals, then the bodies of former individuals will be left deficient.
One should take note that science has also proven that the cells of the human body constantly undergo deterioration and change in the span of human life. So much so that every few years, the entire cells of the human body, from head to toe, are renewed, not a single cell remaining from the previous group. Nonetheless, the human individual remains the same, not affected in any way by the rapid change his body undergoes.
To put this in clearer terms, a fifty-year-old, for instance, realizes very clearly that he is the same person as he was as an adolescent and a child; the same person has aged. The reality to which he refers as “I” (and which we term “self”) has not changed. It is for this reason that if one commits a crime at a young age, he may be prosecuted for it in his later years.
Thus human individuality is actualized by one’s soul, not one’s body. The loss of a portion of one’s bodily material does not alter one’s identity. On the Day of Judgment, to whatever body the soul is reattached (whether it is his own body that has undergone change and been restored with new material or an entirely different body), it will be seen exactly as his worldly body, and he will be the same individual.
“Those whom they invoke besides Him have no power of intercession, except those who are witness to the truth and who know.” (Surah al-Zukhruf 43:86)
“…None shall speak except whom the All-beneficent permits and who says what is right.” (Surah al-Naba’ 78:38)