Decree and destiny as the first philosophical and theological discussion in Islam and among shi’ah

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The philosophical revival, care accorded to the study of philosophy and resorting to it have been more characteristic Shi’ite circles than of the adherents of other Islamic schools of thought. This comes as no surprise, for their Imam, Ali ibn Talib, was the first in Islam to speak in philosophical terms. He discussed matters pertaining to the universe in a philosophical and discursive manner. Ibn Abi’l –Hadid has said:

As for theosophy and dealing with matters of divinity, it was not as Arab art. Northing of the sort had been circulated among their distinguished figures or those of lower ranks. This art was the exclusive preserve of Greece whose sages were its only expounders. The first one among Arabs to deal with it was Ali. That is why you find exquisite discussions on unity and justice related from him scattered among his sermons and axioms. You cannot find among the word of the Companions or the second generation of Muslims [ tabi’un] a single word of this kind, they neither thought of it, nor did they understand it even if they were to be taught. (Nahj al-balaghah, 2;128)

Decree as the first theological and philosophical discussion
The first philosophical discussions in Islam which could be traced back to the lifetime of the Prophet is that of decree (qadar) which reached serious proportions in the first half of the first century of the hijrah.

In a number of passages, the Qur’an announced that Allah has decreed certain things of His servants that are made absolute. The Prophet confirmed the question of decree and destiny in his saying. Among his most famous words on “decree” is: “The Pen has gone dry as of the creation. Your Lord has finished with men as to who will go to paradise and who will go to hell fire” (al- Jazari n. d.). Since the Companions of the Prophet were not at ease in understanding the issue of decree, he said:

There is not a single soul without it being decreed by Allah for a place in either heaven or hell, and decreed to be either happy or unhappy. A man then retorted, “O Messenger of Allah! Are not we better off if we were to stick to our tot and forsake our work?” The Messenger of God replied “Nay, work. Everything is made easy. As for the happy ones, their course of action shall be facilitated towards the people of happiness. As regards the unhappy ones, their actions shall be within easy reach in the direction of wretchedness.

Persuading people into asking questions by Imam Ali
Imam Ali was the first to answer questions of a philosophical and theological nature which were lingering in the minds of the people. He used to people ask him. One day, he addressed the people thus: “O Men! Ask me before you miss me. I am more conversant with the gateways of heaven then those of earth” (Nahj al-balaghah, 3: 215). None among the Companions or the ulama dared to make such a statement except Ali ibn Abu talib, who in the sermon quoted above said, “Our affair is difficult and perceived as such. No one can shoulder it save men whose hearts Allah has tried with resilience in faith. Our talk can be comprehended only by those with truthful intentions and sedate reflective minds.”

Ali is the first to prove human choice in actions, through the belief in decree and destiny. Historians have recorded that when Ali returned from the Battle of Siffin , an elderly man asked him, “Tell us about our expedition in Sham [Syria]. Was it according to Allah’s decree and destiny?” Ali replied, “Was do not set a foot nor do we descend on a valley [wadi] except with Allah’s decree and destiny.” The elderly man commented, “I trust in Allah for my toil. I do not contemplate any reward.”

Ali said, Woe to you! You take it as a final and unavoidable destiny
[according to which we are bound to act]. If it were there would have been no question of reward and punishment and there would have been no sense in Allah‘s promises and warnings. [On the other hand] Allah, the Glorified, has ordered His servants to act by free will and has cautioned them against [evil-doing]. He has placed easy obligations on them, not heavy ones. He has them much [reward]in return for little [action]. He is disobeyed not because He is overpowered. He is obeyed but not under duress. He did not send prophets just for pleasure. (Nahj al-balaghah:78)

The questions of decree and destiny and Shi’ah philosophers and Mutakellimun
Imamite Shi’ite philosophers have shown great interest in the question of decree and destiny and examined it thoroughly. They have no rivals amongst the ulama of other Islamic schools of thought. It would suffice to mention the valuable works of the philosophers Sadr al- Din Shirazi in his commentary o Usul al- kafi, his treatise on decree and destiny and his monumental work, al-Asfar. We should also allude to a number of theologians , exegetes and philosophers who excelled in these disciplines during the eleventh /seventeenth to do fourteenth / twentieth century such as Mulla Muhsin Fayd Kashani (d.1093/1680) and Abd Allah Zunuzi , and among contemporaries the philosophers and exegete Allamah Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Tabataba’I in his Qur’anic commentary al-Mizan and his philosophers work Nihayat al- hikmah.


History of Islamic philosophy – seyyed Hossein Nasr- pages:136to138


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