Part Iii: Islamic Beliefs From the Shiites Point of View
CHAPTER IV ON THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD
The World Seen from the Point of View of Being and Reality ; The Necessity of God
Consciousness and perception, which are intertwined with man's very being, make evident by their very nature the existence of God as well as the world. For, contrary to those who express doubt about their own existence and everything else and consider the world as illusion and fantasy, we know that a human being at the moment of his coming into existence, when he is already conscious and possesses perception, discovers himself and the world. That is to say, he has no doubt that "He exists and things other than he exist." As long as man is man this comprehension and knowledge exist in him and cannot be doubted, nor do they undergo any change.
The perception of this reality and existence which man affirms through his intelligence, in opposition to the views of the sophist and skeptic, is immutable and can never be proven false. That is to say, the claim of the sophist and the skeptic which negates reality can never be true, because of man's very existence. There is within the immense world of existence a permanent and abiding reality which pervades it and which reveals itself to the intelligence.
Yet each of the phenomena of this world which possesses the reality that we discover as conscious and perceiving human beings loses its reality sooner or later and becomes nonexistent. From this fact itself it is evident that the visible world and its parts are not the essence of reality (which can never be obliterated or destroyed). Rather, they rely upon a permanent Reality through which they gain reality and by means of which they enter into existence. As long as they are connected and attached to it they possess existence and as soon as they are cut off from it they become nonexistent. We call this Immutable Reality, which is imperishable (that is, the Necessary Being), God.
Another Point of View Concerning the Relation Between Man and the Universe
The path chosen in the previous section to prove the existence of God is a very simple and evident one which man treads with his God-given nature and intelligence without any complication. Yet, for the majority of people, because of their continuous preoccupation with material things and their being drowned in the pleasures of the senses, it has become very difficult to return to their God-given, simple, primordial, and untainted nature. That is why Islam, which describes itself as universal, and which believes all people to be equal in religion, has made it possible for such people to find another way to prove the existence of God. It seeks to speak to them and to make God known to them by means of the very path through which they have turned away from their simple, primordial nature.
The Holy Quran instructs the multitude of men in the knowledge of God through different ways. Most of all, it draws their attention to the creation of the world and the order which reigns over it. It invites men to contemplate the "horizons" and "their own souls," for man in his few days of earthly life, no matter what path he chooses or what state he loses himself in, will never step outside the world of creation and the order which reigns over it. His intelligence and power of comprehension cannot overlook the marvelous scenes of heaven and earth which he observes.
This vast world of existence which stretches before our eyes is, as we know, in its parts and as a whole continuously in the process of change and transformation. At each moment it manifests itself in a new and unprecedented form. It becomes actualized under the influences of laws which know no exception. From the farthest galaxies to the smallest particles which form the parts of this world, each part of creation possesses an inward order and runs its course in a most amazing manner under laws which do not admit any exceptions. The world extends its domain of activity from the lowest to the most perfect state and reaches its own goal of perfection.
Above these particular orders stand more universal orders and finally the total cosmic order which brings together the countless parts of the universe and relates the more particular orders with each other, and which in its continuous course accepts no exceptions and permits no breaches.
The order of creation is such that if, for example, it places a man upon the earth, it constitutes him in such a way that he can live in harmony with his environment. It arranges the environment in such a way that it raises him like a loving nurse. The sun, the moon, the stars, water and earth, the night and the day, the seasons of the year, the clouds, wind and rain, the treasures beneath the earth and on its surface, in other words all the forces of nature, use their energy and resources in providing well-being and peace of mind for him. Such a relation and harmony can be discovered among all phenomena and also between man and his neighbors near and far, as well as within man's own habitat.
Such a continuity and harmony can also be observed within the internal structure of every phenomenon in the world. If creation has given man bread, it has also given him feet to seek it, hands to grasp it, a mouth to eat it, and teeth to chew it. It has related man through a series of means, which are connected with each other like the links of a chain, to the final goal envisaged for this creature, which is subsistence and perfection.
Many men of science have no doubt that the countless relations among things which they have discovered as a result of several thousand years of effort are but humble samples and a foretaste of the secrets of creation and their myriad ramifications. Each new discovery declares to man the existence of an endless number of unknown elements. Could anyone say that this vast world of existence, all of the parts of which either separately or in unity and interconnection bear witness to an infinite knowledge and power, need not have a creator and cold have come into being without reason and cause? Or could it be said of these particular and universal domains or order and equilibrium, and finally of this total cosmic order which through innumerable interrelations has made the world a single unit running its course according to laws which know no exceptions, that all this has occurred without plan and only through accident and chance? Or could anyone say that each of the phenomena and domains in the cosmos has chosen for itself, before coming into being? Or could anyone claim that this world, which is a single unit and which possesses complete unity, harmony and the interconnection of parts, could be the result of multiple and different commands issuing from different sources?
Obviously, an intelligent man, who relates every event and phenomenon to a cause, and who sometimes spends long periods in investigation and efforts to gain knowledge of a cause that is unknown to him, will never accept the possibility of a world existing without a Being as its cause. Such a person, who by observing a few bricks placed upon one another in an orderly manner considers them to be the effect of an agent possessing knowledge and power and who denies the possibility of chance and accident in the putting of the bricks together and therefore concludes that a plan and purpose must have existed beforehand, will not regard the cosmic order as being the result of an accident or the play of chance.
A deeper awareness of the order reigning in the world is enough to show that the world, along with the order reigning over it, is the creation of an omnipotent Creator who has brought it into being through His limitless knowledge and power and who directs it toward an end. All the partial causes which bring about individual events in the world ultimately end in Him. They are in every way under His dominance and are guided by His wisdom. Everything that exists is in need of Him, while He has need of nothing and does not depend on any causes or conditions. God, the Exalted, says, "Lo! in the heavens and the earth are portents for believers. And in your creation, and all the beasts that He scattereth in the earth, are portents for a folk whose faith is sure. And the difference of night and day and the provision that Allah sendeth down from the sky and thereby quickeneth the earth after her death, and the ordering of the winds, are portents for a people who have sense. These are portents of Allah which we recite unto thee (Muhammad) with truth. Then in what fact, after Allah and His portents, will they believe?" (Quran, XLV, 3-6).
Every reality in this world which we can possibly imagine is a limited reality, that is, one whose actualization depends upon certain necessary causes and conditions. If these do not exist that reality cannot exist in the world. Every reality has a boundary beyond which it cannot extend its existence. Only God is such that He has no limit or boundary, for His reality is absolute and He exists in His Infinity no matter how we try to conceive of Him. His Being does not depend upon and is not in need of any causes or conditions. It is clear that in the case of something limitless we cannot conceive of multiplicity, for any supposedly second reality will be other than the first, as a result of which each would be limited and bound and would set a boundary to the reality of the other. For example, if we consider a limitless volume we cannot conceive another limitless volume alongside it. And if we do suppose another, it will be the same as the first. Therefore, God is one and has no partner.
We have already mentioned the Bedouin who approached Ali in the middle of the fighting during the Battle of the Camel and asked if he asserted that God was one. In answer Ali said, "To say that God is one has four meanings: Two of those meanings are false and two correct. As for the two incorrect meanings, one is that one should say 'God is one' and be thinking of number and counting. This meaning is false because that which has no second cannot enter into the category of number. Do you not see that those who said that God is the third of a trinity [i.e., the Christians] fell into infidelity? Another meaning is to say that so and so is one of this people, namely a species of this genus or a member of this species. This meaning is also not correct when applied to God, for it implies likening something to God and God is above all likeness. "As for the two meanings which are correct when applied to God, one is that it should be said that God is one in the sense that there is no likeness unto Him among things. God possesses such uniqueness. And one is to say that God is one in the sense that there is no multiplicity or division conceivable in Him, neither outwardly nor in the mind nor in the imagination. God possesses such a unity." (Bihar al-anwar, vol. II, p. 65) Ali has also said, "To know God is to know His Oneness." (Bihar al-anwar, vol. II, p. 186) This means that the Being of God is unlimited and infinite suffices to prove His Oneness, for to conceive a second for the Infinite is impossible. There is therefore no need of any other proofs, although there exist many others.
The Divine Essence and Qualities
If we analyze the nature of a human being, we see that he has an essence which is his individual humanity and also qualities through which his essence is known, such as the quality of being born in such a land, or being the son of such a person, or being learned and capable, or tall and handsome; or he possesses the contrary of these qualities. Some of these qualities, like the first and second, can never be separated from the essence, and others, like being learned or capable, have the possibility or separation and alternation. Yet all are different from the essence and at the same time different from each other.
This point, namely the difference between the essence and qualities and between the qualities themselves, is the best proof that an essence that has qualities, and a quality that makes known an essence, are both limited and finite. For if the essence were limitless and infinite it would encompass the qualities as well, and also the qualities would include each other, and as a result all would become one. For example, the essence of man would be the same as capability and also capability the same as knowledge; height and beauty would be the same; and all of these would possess the same meaning.
From this example it is clear that the Divine Essence cannot be conceived to have qualities in the sense that human beings have qualities. A quality can come about only through setting limits and the Divine Essence transcends all limitations (even the limitation of this transcendence which in reality is a quality).
The Meaning of the Divine Qualities
In the world of creation we are aware of many perfections which appear in the form of qualities. These are positive qualities which, wherever they appear, make the object of which they are the quality more perfect and increase its ontological value, as can be seen clearly in the comparison between the live being such as man and a lifeless one such as a stone. Doubtless God has created and bestowed these perfections upon creatures; if He had not possessed them in their fullness Himself He could not have bestowed them upon others and perfected others through them. Therefore, if we follow the judgment of sound reasoning we must conclude that God, the Creator, has knowledge, power, and every other real perfection. Furthermore, as has already been mentioned, the marks of His knowledge and power and, as a result, the marks of life are seen in the order of the cosmos.
But because the Divine Essence is limitless and infinite these perfections which are shown to be His Qualities are in reality the same His Essence and one with each other. The difference observed between the Essence and the Qualities and at the same time between the Qualities themselves is only on the plane of concepts. Essentially there is but one Reality involved which is one and indivisible.
In order to avoid the inadmissible error of limiting the Essence through attributing qualities to it or denying the principle of perfection in it, Islam has commanded its followers to preserve a just balance between affirmation and negation. It has ordered them to believe that God has knowledge but not like the knowledge of others. He has power but not like the power of others. He hears but not with ears. He sees but not with eyes like those of men, and so on.
Further Explanation Concerning Qualities
Qualities in general are of two types : qualities of perfection, and qualities of imperfection. Qualities of perfection, as mentioned above, are of a positive nature and give higher ontological value and greater ontological effect to the object that they qualify. This is clear from the comparison between a live, knowing and capable being and a dead being which lacks knowledge and capability. Qualities of imperfection are the reverse of such qualities. When we analyze these imperfect qualities we see that they are negative and show a lack of perfection, such as ignorance, impatience, ugliness, illness, and the like. Therefore, it can be said that the negation of the quality of imperfection is the quality of perfection. For example, the negation of ignorance is knowledge and the negation of impotence is power and capability.
For this reason the Holy Quran has related each positive quality directly to God and negated every quality of imperfection from Him, attributing the negation of such imperfections to Him, as He says: "He is the knower, the Omnipotent," or He says, "He is the Alive" or "Neither slumber nor sleep overtaketh Him," or "Know that ye cannot frustrate Allah."
The point that must never be forgotten is that God, the Most Exalted, is Absolute Reality without any limit or boundary. Therefore, a positive quality attributed to Him will not possess any limitation. He is not material and corporeal or limited to space and time. While possessing all positive qualities He is beyond every quality and state which belongs to creatures. Every quality which in reality belongs to Him is purified from the notion of limitedness, as He says, "Nought is as His likeness." (Quran, XLII, 11)
Qualities of Action
In addition, qualities are also divided into qualities of essence and qualities of action. A quality sometimes depends only on the qualified itself, such as life, knowledge and power, which depend on the person of a living, knowing and capable human being. We can conceive of man in himself possessing these qualities without taking into consideration any other factor.
At other times a quality does not depend only on the qualified in itself, but, in order to qualify, it also requires the existence of something external as in the case of writing, conservation, desire, and the like. A person can be a writer if he possesses ink, pen, and paper, and he can converse when there is someone with whom to speak. In the same way he can desire when there is an object of desire. The sole existence of man is not sufficient to bring these qualities into existence.
From this analysis it becomes clear that the Divine Qualities which are the same as God's Essence, as already pointed out, are only of the first kind. As for the second kind, whose actualization depends upon an external factor, they cannot be considered as Qualities of the Essence and the same as the Essence, for all that is other than God is created by Him and so, being situated in the created order, comes after Him.
Qualities that pertain to God after the act of creation such as creator, omnipotent, giver of life, giver of death, sustainer, etc., are not the same as His Essence but are additional to it; they are Qualities of Action. By Quality of Action is meant that after the actualization of an act the meaning of a quality is understood from that act, not from the Essence (that performs the act), such as "Creator", which is conceived after the act of creation has taken place. From the creation is understood the quality of God as Creator. That quality depends upon creation, not upon the sacred Essence of God, the Most Exalted, Himself, so that the Essence does not change from one state to another with the appearance of that quality. Shi'ism considers the two qualities of will (iradah) and speech (kalam) in their literal meaning as Qualities of Action (will meaning wanting something and speech meaning conveying a meaning through an expression). Most of the Sunni theologians consider them as implying knowledge and thereby take them to be Qualities of Essence.
Destiny and Providence
The law of causality reigns throughout the world of existence without any breach or exception. According to this law each phenomenon in this world depends for its coming into being upon causes and conditions which make its actualization possible. If all of these causes, which are called the complete cause (the sufficient and necessary cause), are actualized, the coming into being of that phenomenon, or the assumed effect, becomes determined and necessary. And assuming the lack of all or some of these causes, the actualization of the phenomenon is impossible. Investigation and analysis of this thesis will clarify this point for us.
(1) If we compare a phenomenon (or effect) with the whole, complete (or sufficient) cause, and also with the parts of the complete cause, its relation to the complete cause is based on necessity and relation to each of the parts of the complete cause (which are called incomplete or partial causes) is one of possibility and lack of complete determinism. These causes provide the effect only with the possibility of existence, not with its necessity.
The world of existence, in its totality, therefore, is governed throughout by necessity because each of its parts has a necessary connection with its complete cause by the very fact of coming into being. Its structure is composed of a series of necessary and certain events. Yet, the character of possibility is preserved in its parts if we consider each part separately and in itself in the phenomena which are related and connected to partial causes which are other than their complete cause.
The Holy Quran in its teachings has called this reign of necessity Divine Destiny (qada'), for this necessity issues from that Source that gives existence to the world and is therefore a command (hukm) and "Divine Decree" that is certain and is impossible to breach or disobey. It is based on justice and accepts no exception or discrimination. God Almighty says, "His verily is all creation and commandment" (Quran, VII, 54), and "When He decreeth [qada] a thing, He saith unto it only: Be! and it is" (Quran, II, 117), and also "(When) Allah doometh there is none that can postpone His doom [hukm]" (Quran, XIII, 41). (2) Each part of the cause provides the appropriate measure and "model" for the effect, and the coming into being of the effect is in accordance with the totality of the measures determined for it by the complete cause. For example, the causes that make respiration possible for man do not cause respiration in the absolute and unconditioned sense ; rather they send a determined amount of the air around the mouth and nose through the respiratory channel to the area of the lungs in a determined time and with a determined shape. Likewise, the causes of man's vision (including man himself) do not bring into being vision as such without limits or conditions, but rather a vision which, through the means and organs provided, is limited and measured for men in every respect. This truth is to be found without exception in all the phenomena of the world and all the events that occur in it.
The Holy Quran has called this aspect the truth "Providence" (qadar) and has related it to God Almighty who is the origin of creation, as has been said, "And there is not a thing but with Us are the stores thereof. And we send it not down save in appointed measure [qadar]" (Quran, XV, 21).
In the same way that according to Divine Destiny the existence of each phenomenon and even which occurs in the cosmic order is necessary and cannot be avoided, so also according to Providence each phenomenon and event that occurs will never trespass or disobey in the least degree the measure which God has provided for it.
Man and Free Will
The action which man performs is one of the phenomena of the world of creation and its appearance depends, completely, like other phenomena in the world, upon its cause. And since man in a part of the world of creation and has an ontological relation with other parts of the cosmos, we cannot accept the premise that other parts should not have an effect upon his actions.
For example, when a man takes a bite of bread he needs not only the instruments of his hands, feet, mouth as well as knowledge, power and will, but also the existence of the bread in the external world, its availability, the lack of obstacles and other temporal and spatial conditions. If any of these causes were not actualized, the action would not be possible. Conversely, with the actualization of all of them (the complete cause) the occurrence of the action becomes completely necessary. The necessity of the action in relation to all of the parts of the complete cause is not contradictory to the possibility of the relation of the action with respect to man, who is one of the parts of the complete cause. Man has the possibility or free will (ikhtiyar) to perform the act. The necessity existing in the relation between the action and all of the parts of the cause does not mean that the relation of the action to some of the parts of the cause, of which man is one, should also be that of necessity and determination.
Man's simple and untainted comprehension also confirms this point of view, for we see that people through their God-given nature and intelligence distinguish between such things as eating, drinking, coming and going on the one hand, and on the other, such things as health and illness, age and youth or the height of the body. The first group, which is directly related to man's will, is considered to be performed according to the free choice of the individual so that people command and prohibit them and blame or condemn them. But concerning the second group man has no duty and is not under any Divine command because he cannot exercise a free choice over them. At the beginning of Islam among the Sunnis there were two schools that were concerned with the theological aspects of human action. One group, holding the view that human action is the result of the unbreakable will of God, considered man to be determined in his actions and held human free will to be devoid of any value and sense. The other group believed man to be independent in his actions, which did not depend upon the Divine will and were outside of the command of Providence (qadar).
But according to the instruction of the Household of the Prophet, which is also in conformity with the literal instructions of the Quran, man is free (mukhtar) in his actions but not independent (mustaqill). Rather, God the Almighty through free will has willed the act. According to our previous analysis, God the Exalted has willed and made necessary the act through all of the parts of the complete cause, of which one is the will and free choice of man. As a result of this kind of Divine will, the action is necessary but in it man has also free will, that is, the action is necessary with respect to all the parts of its cause, and possible and free in choice with respect to one of those parts which is man. The sixth Imam - upon whom be peace - has said, "It is neither determination nor free will but something between the two."
The fifth and sixth Imams said that "God loves His creation so much that He will not force it to commit sin and then punish it. And God is so powerful that whatever He commands comes to be." Also the sixth Imam has said, "God is so generous that He does not make it a duty for men to do what is not in their power. He is so powerful that nothing comes into being in His kingdom which He does not will." (This is an allusion to the two schools of predestination and free will.) (Bihar al-anwar, vol. III, pp. 5, 6, 15)