Chapter 9: The Importance Of Knowledge In Decision-Making

In our previous discussions we came to the conclusion that human beings are not the same; some are good and highly respected because of their own decisions and deeds and some are bad and worse than animals, again because of their own decisions and deeds. The last topic, “Free-will”, was selected in order to reject all the excuses expressed by unsuccessful people who want to shift the responsibility completely to others or to the society or the environment or the like.

In the present discussion we want to understand those factors which bear on our decision-making or will. We may divide them into three categories:

a) knowledge.

b) desires and inclinations.

c) power and ability.

If something is unknown to me and I do not have any information at all about it, I can never decide to do it. Let's consider a simple example. Suppose you want to buy a certain book. What kinds of knowledge do you need?

I) You should know your need. What kind of book do you need?

II) You should know your desire and favourite style of writing.

III) You should know and consider your background in that aspect or realm. How much do you know about that subject? To what extent you can proceed with the subject? If you are a student of high school, you may not make use of book which are written for experts on math or physics.

IV) You should know where to find and buy books.

V) You should know the content, the style, the writer and the price of the book which you want to select and buy.

If you have complete knowledge but you do not have any desire to read or have books, you will not decide to buy. Thus, the importance of the second factor is clear. Also the importance of power is clear. if you feel that you cannot do something you will not decide to do it. All actions require some kinds of power. Now let us turn to our own case.

On the way to perfection human beings are equipped with desire. All have some degree of self-love, so they desire and make efforts for their well-being, for a better future. Yet, they often make mistakes in deciding what is really better for them. Human beings also have power to follow the path to perfection. Yet, they are different in the amount of power they have spiritually, mentally and physically. For example, some can understand facts or decide what to do much better than others. Some can resist sin much easier than other people. Some are very respected and honourable and are not attracted to temporary material interests easily. Some are very healthy in their bodies so they engage in more voluntary fasting to obtain greater spiritual rewards.

All these differences are natural. Indeed, they are necessary demands of this material universe. But we should know that according to Islam, rewards or punishments and their amount are and will be decided in consideration of man's power and abilities. if someone has really no power to understand or to act according to Islamic rules, he is excused and Allah is most generous towards him. This group are very small in number. Most of people are wise enough and also sufficiently able to understand and follow the right path toward their perfection, although they actually possess different amounts of power and ability. Allah, the Wise, takes these differences into His consideration. He expects more of those who are given more talents or abilities than others. Generally one of the principles in His judgement is:

أفضل الاعمال أهمزهة

It means the most precious deed is the most difficult one. If a person needs more time to learn how to pray or to memorise verses of the Glorious Qur'an, his rewards will be greater and Allah will help him more.

Thus, human beings generally have no difficulty in power and desire or inclination which are needed in every decision and.. action. But what do you think of the third factor, knowledge? Most difficulties arise from a lack of knowledge, from ignorance. Now let's see which kinds of knowledge we need in our journey towards His pleasure.

Here is a list of facts which we should know:

I) We should know ourselves. How are we created? Why? What are our needs? What are our real desires or motives? What are our faculties and abilities? Are there any tasks or duties for us?

II) What is our present situation? Under what conditions do we live? How is our life in this universe? Is it the only life that we have? Is there any eternal life for us? What good or bad qualities do we have?

III) What is the best position for us? What values and goods can we acquire? What is a perfect man like?

IV) What are the results of our deeds? What is the effect of this single decision or even intention on our fate? Generally, how can we transit from the present situation to the favoured and ideal one?

We can summarise these necessary kinds of knowledge as:
• knowing our origin,

• knowing our present,

• knowing our nature,

• knowing their interactions.

There is a famous tradition from Imam Ali (‘a) which is closely related to this discussion. Imam Ali (‘a) said:

رحم الله امرأ عرف من أين وفي أين وإلى أين

“May God have mercy on the person who has knowledge of where he come from, where he is now, and where he will be.”1

Thus, every person needs to know his origin, his present, and his future. Having acquired this knowledge one can behave and manage his life properly. Otherwise he cannot plan for his life because he has not acquired the necessary knowledge for deciding his goals and his way of life. For example, if I did not believe in the Hereafter and eternal life, my goal might be something to be obtained in this world. Or if I did not believe in the relationship between my actions and my happiness on the Day of Judgement, I would not care about my actions. If I believed that I was created through chance and not by Allah, the Wise, I would lose my hope in His help and mercy and would lose my confidence.

Therefore we will speak of the following subjects successively:

a) Our origin

b) Our present

c) Our future

d) The Ultimate goal

e) How to reach our goal.

  • 1. Al-Asfar al-Aqliyat al-Arbi'ah, Vol. 8, p. 355.