A Shi'ite Encyclopedia (chapter 9)

Why Believe in God

The Shiats say: Man is obliged by his reason to know God, and to obey His commands. In other words, necessity of religion is proved, first of all, by reason. Sunni scholars say it is necessary to believe in Allah, but not on the account of reason.

It is necessary because Allah has ordered us to know Him. According to the Shi'ite point of view, this type of proof creates vicious circle. Believe in God. why? Because God has ordered it. But we do not know who God is. Why should we obey Him?


The Shiats say: God cannot give us a command beyond our strength, because it is wrong rationally (La Yokalleffollaho nafsan illa vosaaha). Some Sunni scholars do not agree with it.


Are our actions really ours? Or we are just a tool in the hands of Allah! Shia scholars say:

"Taqdir means that, Allah possesses foreknowledge of human action, but He does not compel anybody to act in any particular way" Shi'i reference: Shi'ite Creed (al-Itqadat al-Imamiyyah), by Shaykh Saduq The above quote gives evidence to the fact that according to Shia, human has option either to obey God's rules, or disobey. To make it clear, it should be explained here, that man's conditions or actions are of two kinds

(i) Those actions about which he can be advised, ordered, praised or blamed. Such actions are within his power and are dependent upon his will.

(ii) Such conditions about which he cannot be praised or blamed, like life, death, etc. Such conditions are outside of his sphere of will or power.

For example, we can advise a patient to consult this or that doctor and remain under his treatment; but we can not advise him to become cured. Why this difference? Because getting treatment is under his power, but getting cured is not in his power. It is something which comes from Allah.

Freedom of action is a gift of Allah. He has given us power, freedom, strength, limbs, wisdom and everything with which we do any work.

Therefore, we are not independent of Allah, because our freedom is not only given but even sustained by Him. However our actions are not compelled by God, because He, after His showing us the right and wrong ways, and after His encouraging us to do right, has left us to our own free will. If we go wrong, it is our own choice. Shaykh Saduq stated:

"Our belief in this respect is what has been taught by Imam Jafar al- Sadiq (the sixth successor/grandson of Prophet): There is no compulsion (by God) and no relinquishing the authority (of God); but a condition between these two conditions.

Then Imam was asked: How is it? He said: Suppose you see a man intending to commit a sin; and you forbade him; but he did not listen to you; and you left him; and he did commit that sin. Now when he did not pay attention to you and you left him, nobody can say that you ordered him or allowed him to sin."

Shi'i reference: Shi'ite Creed (al-Itqadat al-Imamiyyah), by Shaykh Saduq In other words, we believe that God has given us power and will and then has left us free to do what we like. At the same time, He has taught us through prophets, what is right and what is wrong. Now, as He is Omniscient, He knows what will be our actions in different times of our life.

But this knowledge does not make Him responsible for our actions more than a meteorologist can be responsible for cyclones and storms, if his forecasts comes true. True forecasts are the result, not the cause of the impending event. The Sunni scholars on the other hand say that Allah is the Creator of all of our acts:

"No act of any individual, even though it is done purely for his benefit is independent of the will of Allah for its existence; and there does not occur in either in physical or extra terrestrial world the wink of an eye, the hint of a thought, or the most sudden glance, except by the decree of Allah...of His power, desire and will.

This includes evil and good, benefit and hurt, success and failure, sin and righteousness, obedience and disobedience, and polytheism or belief."

Sunni reference: al-Ghazali (as quoted in Shia of India, p43)


Based upon their belief of LUTF (Grace), the Shiats believe that it is incumbent upon Allah to send prophets and their successors in this world to put people on right path. The Sunni scholars say that it is not incumbent upon Allah, because they do not accept necessity of Grace.


The Shiats and Sunnis in first instance, and then the Sunnis among themselves, disagree about the theory of ISMAH (sinlessness; protection) of the prophets. What is our conception of sinlessness? It is the Grace of Allah which helps a person to refrain from sins, without effecting in any way his will and power.

A MASUM (sinless person) has power to commit sins; but he does not even think about sins because his spiritual standard is so high that such inferior things do not enter his mind.

The Sunni scholars do not speak with one voice in this subject:

  1. They first differ about the point when sinlessness of prophets begins. Some Sunnis say it is after the declaration of prophet-hood; others say that it is since childhood.

  2. The scope of sinlessness before declaration of prophet-hood: Some Sunni scholars say that it covers all sins; the majority say that they are protected from KUFR (infidelity) only.

  3. The scope of sinlessness after declaration of prophet-hood: It is agreed that the prophets do not tell lie after prophet-hood. But what about other sins? Some Sunni scholars say that they commit other sins either intentionally or unintentionally; but the majority say that they could commit it unintentionally, but not intentionally.

  4. The minor sins: Some Sunni scholars say it was possible for prophets to commit minor sins, even intentionally. But that they were protected from such minor sins which might have degraded them in the eyes of people.

The Shia point of view about sinlessness is that all the prophets were sinless and infallible; they did not commit any sin, whether capital or minor, and whether intentionally or unintentionally; and that they were sinless from the beginning of their life till their last breath. About the prophets, Shaykh Saduq wrote:

"Their word is the word of God, their order is the order of God, their forbidding is the forbidding by God ... And that the Chiefs of the prophets are five, and they are (called) 'Ulul-Azm' and they are Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad (be blessings of Allah upon them all) and that Muhammad is their Chief and best of all."


Shiats say that Imam must be appointed by God; that appointment may be known through the declaration of the Prophet or the preceding Imam. The Sunni scholars say that Imam (or Caliph, as they prefer to say) can be either elected, or nominated by the preceding Caliph, or selected by a committee, or may gain the power through a military coup (as was in the case of Muawiyah).

Shia scholars say that Imam must be sinless. The Sunni scholars (including Mutazilites) say that sinlessness is not a condition for leadership. Even if he is tyrant and sunk in sins (like in the case of Yazid, or Today's King Fahd), the majority of the scholars from the shools of Hanbali, Shafi'i, and Maliki discourage people to rise against that Caliph. They think that they should be presevered.

Shiats say that Imam must possess above all such qualities as knowledge, bravery, justice, wisdom, piety, love of God etc. The Sunni scholars say it is not necessary. A person inferior in these qualities may be elected in preference to a person having all these qualities of superior degree.

Shiats say that Ali was appointed by Allah to be the successor of the Prophet, and that the Prophet declared it on several occasions. More than one hundred of those occasions are recorded in the history. The Sunni scholars believe that the Prophet did not appoint anybody to be his successor. This is despite the fact that there are many traditions in the six authentic Sunni collections which support this assignment.