The Nahj Al-balaghah and the Notions of Kalam
The Nahj al-balaghah, while it ascribes all the Attributes of perfection to God, the Exalted, negates any separation of these Attributes from His Essence and does not consider them as an appendage of Divine Essence. On the other hand, the Ash'arites, as we know, consider the Divine Attributes to be additional to Essence and the Mu'tazilites negate all Attributes.
The Ash'arite believes in Separation [of the Attributes from the Essence] The Mu'tazilite speaks of subservience [of the Attributes to the Essence].
This has led some to imagine that the discourses found in the Nahj al-balaghah on this topic are fabrications of a later period under the influence of Mu'tazilite views; whereas, anyone with some insight can readily perceive that the Attributes negated by the Nahj al-balaghah with respect to Divine Essence are qualities of imperfection and limitation; for the Divine Essence, being infinite and limitless, necessitates identity of the Attributes with the Essence, not negation of the Attributes as professed by the Mu'tazilites. Had the Mu'tazilites reached such a notion they would never have negated the Divine Attributes considering them subservient to the Essence.
The same is true of the views on the createdness or temporality (huduth) of the Quran in the sermon 184. One may, possibly, imagine that these passages of the Nahj al-balaghah relate to the latter heated controversies among the Islamic theologians (mutakallimun) regarding the eternity (qidam) or temporality (huduth) of the Holy Quran, and which might have been added to the Nahj al-balaghah during the latter centuries. However, a little reflection will reveal that the discourses of the Nahj al-balaghah related to this issue have nothing to do with the debate on the Quran being either created or uncreated,
which was a meaningless controversy, but relates to the creative command (amr takwini), and Will of the Almighty. 'Ali ('a) says that God's Will and His command represent Divine Acts and, therefore, are hadith and posterior to the Essence; for if the command and Will were co-eternal and identical with His Essence,
they will have, necessarily, to be considered His associates and equals. 'Ali ('a) says: When He decrees the creation of a thing, He says to it, "Be", and it assumes existence; but not through an audible voice which strikes the ear or a cry that can be heard. Indeed the speech of God, glory be to Him, is but His created Act, which did not exist before [it came into existence]. Had it (Divine speech) been itself eternal, it would be another god besides Him. (Sermon 186)
In addition, there are other musnad traditions on this subject related from 'Ali ('a), only some of which have been collected in the Nahj al-balaghah, and can be traced back to his time. On this basis, there is no room for doubting their genuineness. If any superficial resemblance is observed between the statements made by 'Ali ('a) and some views held by the Mu'tazilah, the probability to be allowed in this connection is that some of his ideas were adopted by the Mu'tazilah.
The controversies of the Muslim theologians (mutakallimun), both the Shi'ah and the Sunni, the Asha'irah as well as the Mu'tazilah, generally revolved around the doctrine of rational basis of ethical judgement concerning good and evil (al-husn wa al-qubh al-'aqliyyan).
This doctrine which is not other than a practical principle operating in human society, is considered by the mutakallimun to be also applicable to the Divine sphere and govern the laws of creation; but we find no trace of it in the Nahj al-balaghah, similarly there is no sign of it in the Quran. Had the ideas and beliefs of the mutakallimun found their way into the Nahj al-balaghah, first of all the traces of this doctrine should have been found in that book.
The Nahj al-balaghah and Philosophical Concepts
Some others, on coming across certain words such as 'existence' (wujud), 'non-existence' ('adam), 'temporality' (huduth) and 'pre-eternity' (qidam), and so on in the Nahj al-balaghah, have been led to assume that these terms entered the Muslim intellectual world under the influence of Greek philosophy and were inserted, unintentionally or intentionally, into the discourses of 'Ali ('a). If those who advocate this view had gone deeper into the meanings of these words, they would not have paid heed to such a hypothesis. The method and approach adopted in the arguments of the Nahj al-balaghah is completely different from that of the philosophers who lived before al-Sayyid al- Radi or during his time, or even those born many centuries after the compilation of the Nahj al-balalghah .
Presently, we shall not discuss the metaphysics of Greek or Alexandrian (Neo-Platonic) philosophy, but shall confine ourselves to the metaphysical views propounded by al-Farabi, Ibn Sina and Khwajah Nasir al-Din al-Tusi. Undoubtedly Muslim philosophers brought new problems into philosophy under the influence of Islamic teachings which did not exist before, and in addition to them, introduced radically original ways of demonstration and inference to explain and argue their point with regard to some other problems. Nevertheless, what we learn from the Nahj al-balaghah is obviously different from this approach.
My teacher, 'Allamah Tabataba'i, in the preface to his discourse on the traditions of Islamic scholarship, writes:
These statements help in resolving a number of problems in the theological philosophy. Apart from the fact that Muslims were not acquainted with these notions and they were incomprehensible to the Arabs, basically there is no trace of them in the writings and statements of pre-Islamic philosophers whose books were translated into Arabic, and, similarly, they do not appear in the works of Muslim philosophers, Arab or Persian. These problems remained obscure and unintelligible, and every commentator discussed them according to his own conjecture,
until the eleventh century of the Hijrah (17th century A.D.). Only then they were properly understood for the first time- namely, the problem of the True Unity (al-wahdat al-haqqah) of the Necessary Being (wajib al-wujud) (a non-numerical unity); the problem that the proof of the existence of the Necessary Being is identical with the proof of His Unity (since the Necessary Being is Absolute Existence, Him Being implies His Unity); the problem that the Necessary Existent is the known-in-His-Essence (ma'lum bil dhat); that the Necessary Being is known directly without the need of an intermediary, and that the reality of every thing else is known through the Necessary Being, not vice versa ... [^7]
The arguments of the early Muslim philosophers like al-Farabi, Ibn Sina and Khwajah Nasir al-Din al-Tusi, such as the discussions on the Divine Essence and Attributes, such as Unity, Simplicity (basatah), Self-Sufficiency, Knowledge, Power, Will, Providence, and so on, revolve around the conception of the necessity of existence (wujub al-wujud), from which all of them are derived, and the necessity of existence itself is deduced indirectly. In this fashion it is demonstrated that the existence of all possible existents (mumkinat) cannot be explained without assuming the existence of the Necessary Being.
Although the argument used for proving the truth of this cannot be called demonstration per impossible (burhan khulf) in view of its indirect mode of inference, it resembles burhan khulf and hence it fails to provide completely satisfactory demonstration, for it does not explain the necessity of existence of the Necessary Being. Ibn Sina in his al-'Isharat claims that he has succeeded in discovering "the Why?" (lima) of it and hence chooses to call his argument "burhan al-siddiqin" (burhan limmi, i.e. causal proof). However, the latter philosophers considered his exposition of "the Why?" (lima) as insufficient.
In the Nahj al-balaghah, necessity of existence is never used to explain the existence of the possible beings (mumkinat). That on which this book relies for this purpose is the real criterion of the necessity of existence, that is, the absolute reality and pure being of the Divine Essence. 'Allamah Tabataba'i,
in the above-mentioned work, while explaining a hadith of 'Ali ('a) found in al-Tawhid of al-Shaykh al-Saduq, says: The basis of our discussion rests upon the principle that Divine Being is a reality that does not accept any limits or restrictions whatsoever. Because, God, the Most Exalted, is Absolute Reality from Whom is derived the existence of all other beings within the ontological limits and characteristics peculiar to themselves, and their existence depends on that of the Absolute Being. [^8]
In the Nahj al-balaghah the very basis of all discussions on Divine Essence rests on the position that God is Absolute and Infinite Being, which transcends all limits and finitude. No point of space or time, nor any thing is devoid of Him. He is with everything, yet no thing is with Him. Since He is the Absolute, and the Infinite, He transcends all time, number, limit and proximity (all kinds of quiddities). That is, time and space, number and limit are applicable to a lower stage i.e. stage of Divine Acts and creation. Everything is from Him and returns unto Him. He is the First of the first and the Last of the last. He precedes everything and succeeds everything.
This is the idea that forms the axis of all discourses of the Nahj al-balaghah, and of which there is no trace in the works of al-Farabi, Ibn Sina, Ibn Rushd, al-Ghazali, and Khwajah Nasir al-Din al-Tusi.
As pointed out by 'Allamah Tabataba'i, these profound discussions of theology proper (ilahiyyat bil-ma'na al-'akhass) are based on a series of inter-related problems which have been posited in metaphysics (al-'umur al-'ammah). [^9] An elaborate discussion of those theological problems and their relevant issues mentioned above is outside the scope of our present discussion.
There are two reasons for rejecting the claims that the theological discussions of the Nahj al-balaghah were inventions of later writers familiar with philosophical notions. Firstly, the kind of problems discussed in the Nahj al-balaghah were not at all raised by any philosopher till the time of al-Sayyid al-Radi, the compiler of the Nahj al-balaghah.
That the Unity of the Necessary Being is not of the numerical kind and that Divine Essence precedes number; that the existence of the Necessary Being implies Its Unity; the simple reality of the Necessary Being; His immanence and other such notions were not known to philosophy during or before al-Sayyid al-Radi's times. Secondly, the axes of arguments presented in this book are altogether different from the axes of philosophical discussions which have been prevalent throughout history until the present day.