Lesson Eight: The Shia (2)

In this lesson we shall discuss in brief some Shia theories in the context ofkalaam , of the sort that are common between Muslim scholastic theologians.

During the discussion of the Mu’tazilte School, we have already mentioned that they maintain that their beliefs are based on five fundamentals, i.e. monotheism, justice, promise and threat, the middle position and enjoining what is good and forbidding what is evil. We have also said that what distinguishes these fundamentals from other ones they uphold is the fact that they are unique to them, and thus set them apart from other schools of thought. We should, therefore, not be deluded that they represent the fundamentals of their faith and the rest represent the branches.

Similarly, Shia scholars, and not their Imams (a.s.), stated the five fundamentals of Shiism, namely, monotheism, justice, prophethood, imamate, and resurrection.

It is widely recognized that these are the fundamentals of religion and what comes next is of the branches. In this respect, a question begs for an answer, i.e. if what is meant by the fundamentals of religion are those that are sufficient to be upheld by man in order to be Muslim, then would believing in monotheism and prophethood alone suffice? What verifies this is the implication of the testimony of faith (ash-Shahadatain ), [i.e. the two-part statement of: I bear witness that there is no god but Allah, and that Mohammad is the Messenger of Allah]. The second part of this declaration of faith relates to the prophethood of our master Mohammad (s.a.w.), the Seal of Prophets, in particular. As regards the prophethood of the other prophets, it is outside the remit of the declaration of faith. And yet, the reality is that what constitutes part of the fundamentals of religion and thereby warrant believing in is the prophethood of all God’s prophets.

However, if fundamentals of religion imply, from an Islamic perspective, those ones that are of belief and faith, to the exclusion of practical acts of worship, there remain other matters that merit believing in, such as the angels:

“The Messenger believed in what had been revealed to him from his Lord, as do the men of faith, each one (of them) believed in Allah, His angels, His books, and His Messengers..” (2/285)

Again, what sets the Divine Attribute of Justice apart from the other Attributes, such as Omniscience, Omnipotence, Life, Hearing, etc. to warrant a place among other articles of faith? If believing in God’s Attributes is fundamental, it then follows that one has to believe in all the Attributes. If it is not the case, no other Attribute should be left out.

The crux of the matter is that the reasons for choosing these fundamentals are that they are regarded as fundamentals worthy of advocating in the view of Islam. On the other hand, they represent one of the distinct features of the [Shia] School of Thought. However, Islam has validated the fundamentals of monotheism, justice, and prophethood, and thus upholding them is considered one of Islam’s goals. As for the fundamental of justice, it is distinctively Shia.

That is, although Justice is not different from the other Attributes, nor is it one of the objectives of the faith, yet it represents the Shia’s special vision of Islam.

With Shia, two features characterize Justice, in that it falls within the domain of the articles of the faith and clearly defines the boundaries of their distinctive School of Thought.

Going back to the belief in the angels, which is predetermined in the Holy Qur’an, why did it not feature among the five fundamentals? The answer to this question is that those five fundamentals of belief fall within the objectives of Islam, in that the Prophet (s.a.w.) called on people to embrace them and that his noble mission was contingent on this belief. As for believing in the angels and all necessities of religion, such as prayer and fast, they are not among the goals of the Prophetic Message. Nevertheless, they go hand in hand with it. In other words, this belief is deemed a prerequisite to believing in prophethood, and not among its aims.

Should we consider the fundamental of Imamate from social and political perspectives, i.e. power and leadership, it is like Justice, i.e. it does not come under the umbrella of matters of faith. However, if we view it in moral terms, where the Imam is dubbed as “Hujjat Ullah – the Proof of God” and “Khalifat Ullah – the Representative, or Caliph, of God”, and the moral relationship between every Muslim and sensible men at all times are considered a forgone conclusion, Imamate would become part of the articles of faith.

Now, we give belowkalaam doctrines relating to the Shia, in addition to the five fundamentals:

1. Monotheism:

Which is one of the five fundamentals endorsed by both the Mu’tazilites and the Ash’arites. It is worth noting that the monotheism in which the Mutazilites believe, and which is unique to their School, is the Unity of the Attributes that the Ash’arites rejected. As for the type of monotheism in which the Ash’arites believe, it is the Unity of Actions, which the Mu’tazilites refuted.

We have already mentioned that there is unanimity on both Unity of the Essence and Unity of worship, and thus they do not feature in this discussion.

In addition to Unity of the Essence and Unity of worship, the brand of monotheism to which the Shia subscribe is the one, which consists of Unity of the Attributes and Unity of the Actions. However, with them, Unity of the Attributes is different from that advocated by the Mu’tazilites. Similarly, their type of belief in the Unity of Actions is unlike that upheld by the Ash’arites.

According to the Mu’tazilites, Unity of the Attributes means that the Divine Essence is devoid of any Attribute. With the Shia, Unity of the Attributes means that the Attributes are the very Essence, i.e. they are indivisible.

For more details, you can consult the Shia works of philosophy andkalaam (scholastic theology).

As held by the Shia, Unity of the Actions is different from that espoused by the Ash’arites, as they deny the influence of any being, apart from God, in that they say that the Originator of acts of worship is God, and that man is not capable of commissioning his own actions and embarking on them. This type of belief entails pure compulsion (jabr ). However, it has been disproved with sufficient evidence. Unity of actions, as advocated by the Shia, means that the law of causality is original. That is, each and every effect, which is dependent on a cause that is close to it, is simultaneously existential by the Absolute Truth (Thatul Haqq), [i.e. God]. The two are symmetrical not asymmetrical (or contradictory).

2. Justice:

Both the Shia and the Mu’tazilites agree on the fundamental of Justice. This means that God emanates, is merciful, gracious and causes affliction in accordance with intrinsic merits. The world of beings (creation), which is contingent upon emanation (faydh ), mercy, affliction, grace, reward and punishment, has been based on a meticulous system. The Asha’rite deny this fundamental and the system that goes with it. They maintain that upholding Justice, in this sense, entails the infringement upon the Thatul Haqq, or God, and this, they add, goes against the grain of Him being the All-poweful (Qahiryya mutlaqah ).

3. Freewill and choice:

The Shia’s belief in this precept is more or less similar to that espoused by the Mu’tazilites. According to the latter, freewill is akin totafweedh (delegation, or empowerment), i.e. man is left to his own devices, that is, independent of the Divine Will. Obviously, this, as we have already made clear, is impossible.

With the Shia, freewill means that God created man with freewill. However, in his existence and other affairs – the domain of actions included, man, as is the case with the other creation, is dependent upon the Thatul Haqq, drawing on His Will and Providence.

Accordingly, freewill with the Shia is a middle position between the compulsion of the Ash’arites and the empowerment of the Mu’tzilites. This belief is contained in a famoushadith related from the Imams (a.s.), “It is neitherjabr (compulsion) nortafweedh (delegation), but a position between the two”. This tenet is a branch of the fundamental of Justice.

4. Inherent good and repugnance:

The Mu’tazilites are of the opinion that actions, in themselves, may be good or bad (repugnant). Justice, for instance, is good in itself, whereas injustice is repugnant in itself. Thus, a sensible person is the one who embarks on actions that are good and keeps away from those that are repugnant. And since God is Wise, His wisdom necessitates that He commissions actions that are good; He is incapable of doing bad things. Therefore, the requirements of good/repugnant things (actions) are something and God’s Wisdom is something else. That is why it is said that it is incumbent on God to carry out certain actions, whereas He is incapable of doing some other things that are repugnant.

The Ash’arites are diametrically opposed to this idea, in that they reject the intrinsic goodness or repugnance of things; they also reject what is incumbent and not so on God.

Some Shia theologians were influenced by the Mu’tazilite line of thinking and accepted their argument. Others got bogged down with the intricacies of thought, and although accepted the case for inherent goodness and repugnance of things, yet they did not consider it applicable to the Divine.

5. Graciousness and opting for what is in the best interest of man:

The Ash’arites and the Mu’tazilites engaged one another in debate about God’s Grace, meaning that He always opts for what is in the best interest of man (intikhabul aslah). That is, does this system have prevalence in the universe? The Mu’tazilites maintain that Grace (lutf ), as an obligation or duty [towards man], is incumbent on God, whereas the Ash’arites reject this assertion.

It goes without saying that the principle of Graciousness, or Kindness, (lutf ) branches out from the two fundamentals of Justice and rational good and repugnant (alhusn wal qubh al ‘aqliyyain ). Some Shia scholastic theologians took this principle on board, and yet dismissed the idea of “God is obligated to be gracious to His creation” as manifestly wrong. They also have discussions about the claim, “God always opts for what is in the best interest of man”, which we cannot dwell on in this study.

6. Originality of the intellect, its independence and authoritativeness:

The Shia have said that the human mind is imaginative, authoritative and independent more so than the Mu’tazilites. In the reports from the Infallibles (a.s.), there are many references to the intellect being described as the messenger within as opposed to the Prophet (s.a.w.) being the manifest messenger. In Shia jurisprudence, reason, or intellect, is one of the four principles, or tools, of deducing religious rulings.

7. The aim behind God’s Actions:

The Ash’arites deny this principle. They argue that “intents and purposes” are the exclusive preserve of man, or similar creations. Allah is far above (munazzah ) these things, because, they hasten to add that, if it is like this, God would appear as though He were coerced to do such actions.

The Shia subscribe to this Mu’tazilite doctrine, and yet they differentiate between the objective of the action and the intent of the doer. What is inconceivable is that God becomes an objective in Himself in His Actions. As for the objective that relates to the created, it does not detract, in any way, from the loftiness of [God’s] Essence, its Perfection, and Independence.

8. Bada’, or change of mind, of the Divine Action is acceptable:

As it is acceptable for God to abrogate the laws, it is acceptable for Him to change His Mind.

[However, when the word bada’ is used in relation to God, it means to express. That is, there are certain commandments, which come into force according to expediency for the time being only and thereafter the same are abrogated or some new commandments take their place. When the word bada’ is used in relation to man, it is said that after taking a decision to do something, he decides to abandon it. This change of mind is due to man’s inability to understand as to what is good for him or may be it is due to his repenting of his past actions. Bada’, in this sense is impossible in the case of God because He is free from ignorance and defect. Thus, the Shia do not attribute this meaning of bada to God].

For further reading on this topic, you may consult the books of philosophy, such as the work, “Kitabul Asfar al-Arba’a – The Four-volume Book”, by Sadrul Mata’aliheen.

9. Seeing God: The Mu’tazilites vehemently deny this question.

They believe that man reaches the stage of believing in God per se. And this is a matter for man’s conscience and intellect, which are the only two paths that lead to certitude in the existence of God, and the latter is the highest point of faith. God cannot be physically seen in any manner. The proof on this is this Qur’anic verse:

“No vision can grasp Him, but His grasp is over all vision; He is subtle well-aware”. (6/103).

As regards the Ash’arites, they are adamant that God can be seen, but only on the Day of Judgement. Their proof on this is contained in some reports and Qur’anic verses, such as these ones:

“Some faces, that Day, will beam (in brightness and beauty); - Looking towards their Lord..” (75/22-23).

As for the Shia, they maintain that it is absolutely impossible to see God by way of physical eyesight, neither in this world nor in the next. They further argue that the highest point of faith is not achieved only through rational and conscious conviction. Rational certitude is the knowledge of certainty (ilmul yaqeen ); above it in order is conscious certainty (al yaqeenul qalbi ), which is the very, or absolute, certitude (ainul yaqeen ); that is, perceiving God by heart. God Almighty cannot be seen by physical vision; rather by the heart. Imam Ali (a.s.) was asked, “Did you see your Lord? He replied: I do not worship a Lord that I cannot see. Neither eyes nor vision can see Him. The hearts see Him by virtue of the certainties of faith”. Some Imams (a.s.) were asked, “Did the Messenger of God see his Lord in his ascension to the seventh heaven (Mi’raaj )? They answered: Not with the eye but by the heart”. The experts attribute this tenet to the Shia.

10. The belief of the godless:

In this issue, which has already been repeated on a number of occasions in this study, the Shia agree with the opinion of the Ash’arites on it, unlike the Kharijites who maintain that the godless is deemed unbeliever (kafir) and the Mu’tazilites who came up with the idea of “the middle position”.

11. The infallibility of the Prophets and the Imams:

Among the beliefs of the Shia, which are distinctly Shia, is their belief that the Prophets and the Imams are infallible, i.e. they are incapable of committing any vile deed, be it serious or petty.

12. Forgiveness and intercession:

The Shia disagree with the Mu’tazilites in their rigid belief that if the wrongdoer dies without repenting for his misdeeds, he is denied forgiveness and intercession. The Mu’tazilites are also at odds with the Ash’arites as regards random forgiveness.