Free Will in Ismaili Shi’ism and Free Will in Twelver Shi’ism — By Amaana

Dioscorides_lentil_Materia Medica of Dioscorides Iraq or Syria 1229

Editor’s Note: Two articles are presented here for ease of comparison.

Free Will in Ismaili Shi’ism

By Farhad Daftary and Faquir M. Hunzai

Free will versus predestination was an important theological debate, with political implications, in Muslim society dating back to Omayyad times. The Ismaʿilis adopted an intermediate position in this debate and eventually accommodated the relevant issues within their theological doctrines. At one extreme, a variety of Islamic movements and schools of thought espoused the predestinarian view, initially designated as Jabrīya, holding that man’s deeds as well as good and evil resulted from God’s decrees and pre-ordination. At the other extreme, there were those, originally designated as Qadarīya by their opponents, who recognized the freedom of human will and the individual’s moral responsibility for his deeds. Both the Jabrīya and the Qadarīya based their arguments on verses from the Koran that supported their views. By early ʿAbbasid times, the Moʿtazilites took over the Qadarite belief in human free will and argued that man can establish the truths of religion on the basis of reason, without any need of divine guidance. In other words, they held that God in the Islamic revelation had shown the believers the “right path” for attaining salvation and reward in paradise, and had then left it to man to determine rationally what was good or evil. Thus, man’s ultimate destiny as a rational and free agent depended on himself. However, the majority of Sunni traditionalists, representing the mainstream of Muslim thought, eventually rejected Qadarism and adopted a form of predestinarianism as propounded by Ashʿarism.



The Ismaʿili dāʿīs and authors of the Fatimid period further elaborated the earlier Imami views on the debate in question in their complex metaphysical systems of thought, holding that both the Jabrite and the Qadarite positions were rooted in a misunderstanding of the Koran and, indeed, the immutable spiritual truths (ḥaqāʾeq) of religion. By emphasizing a fundamental distinction between the exoteric (ẓāher) and the hidden esoteric (bāṭen) dimensions of religion, the Ismaʿilis from early on argued that these religious truths, concealed in the bāṭen, transcend human reason. As a result, man solely by his own efforts could never comprehend these truths and rationally choose the “right path” to salvation, even though he is endowed with the gift of the intellect and is free to make certain choices. According to Ismaʿili Shiʿite theology, the knowledge of the religious truths (ḥaqāʾeq) is available only to those infallible (maʿṣūm) authorities who are “firmly versed in knowledge” (al-rāseḵūn fi’l-ʿelm); they alone truly understand the real meaning of the Koran and the commandments and prohibitions of the sacred law of Islam (šarīʿa) and can, thus, act as trustworthy guides, interpreting through taʾwīl or esoteric exegesis the true spiritual message of the Islamic revelation (Qāżī Noʿmān, Daʿāʾem, I, pp. 22-24; Kermānī, fols. 134, 144-45; Moʾayyad fi’l-Dīn Šīrāzī, I, pp. 276, 452-53; Nāṣer-e Ḵosrow, Wajh-e dīn, pp. 11-14; Walker, 1996, pp. 26-83; de Smet, pp. 350-77). (…)

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Free Will in Twelver Shi’ism

By Daniel Gimaret

Dioscorides_astragalus_Illustration from De Materia Medica of Dioscorides Baghdad 1224

On the question of free will, the whole view of the Imams amounts to a famous saying by Imam Jaʿfar al-Ṣādeq (d. 148/765): lā jabr wa lā tafwīż wa lāken amr bayn amrayn “neither complete constraint nor complete freedom but something in between” (Kolaynī I, p. 160, Hadith no.13; Ebn Bābawayh, 1387, p. 362 sec. 8 , Madelung, 1970, p. 18, footnote 1). The saying could be interpreted in different ways. It could be read in a way conforming to the Muʿtazilite thesis that human beings have real freedom to act (lā jabr) but this does not, morally speaking, give them a license to do as they please (la tafwīzµ); for God has fixed rules and allowed certain things and forbidden others.This was the position adopted by Shaikh Mofīd (Šarhá, pp. 201 ff.), and before him, according to Moḥammad-Bāqer Majlesī (V, pp. 23.6 ff., 72.17 ff.), by Imam Abū Moḥammad Ḥasan b. ʿAlī ʿAskarī (q.v.). This appears to be Jaʿfar al-Ṣādeq’s own preferred gloss on his comment, for when he was asked what the “something in between” was, he replied, “Suppose you come across a man about to commit a crime, you try to dissuade him but he does not desist. You let him do it, and he commits the crime. Now it is not because he did not listen to you and you did not manage to dissuade him that you are the person who ordered him to commit the crime” (Ebn Bābaway, tr. Fyzee, p. 33). As quoted in another Hadith, Jaʿfar al-Ṣādeq appears even more explicit: “If God had granted full authority to mankind (law fawważa elayhem), he would not have bridled them with commands and interdictions” (Kolaynī, I, p. 159, sec. 11). It would seem implausible, however, that this would have been, at the beginning, the intended sense of the dictum in question; for, as Ašʿarī explained (p. 41.4-5), the real intention of the supporters of this formula was to range themselves against both the Muʿtazilites (regarded as followers of the doctrine of tafwīzµ) and the Jahmites (advocates of jabr).

It was a matter of defining a doctrine of the golden mean between these two contradictory views, not a simple and self-evident proposition. According to some accounts, when asked to elucidate the problem, Jaʿfar al-Ṣādeq would resort to evasive answers (Kolaynī, I, p. 159, sections 8-11) going as far as saying to his interlocutor, with a wave of his hand indicating his perplexity, “Were I to answer that question, I might commit a blasphemy,”(Ebn Bābawayh, 1387, p. 363, sec. 11). It would be true to say that the very manner in which Jaʿfar al-Ṣādeq enunciated these two conflicting theses lacked clarity. At times, he apparently took jabr to mean that God could “compel mankind to trespass” and yet punish them afterwards for it (Kolaynī, I, p. 159, secs. 8-9, 11; Ebn Bābawayh, 1387, p. 360, secs. 5-6), and at other times that God “was capable of imposing upon them things beyond their capability” (Kolaynī, I, p. 160, sec. 14; cf. also Ebn Bābawayh, 1387, p. 362, sec. 9) both instances negating divine justice. As for tafwīż, that would imply either that things could happen here on earth without His wish (Kolaynī, I, p. 158, sec. 6; p. 159, sec. 9; p.160, sec. 14) or that the transgressions of mankind did not depend on His might (al-maʿāṣī be-ḡayre qowwate’llāh, ibid., p. 158, sec. 6) both cases denying or limiting His absolute sovereignty (solṭān). (…)

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