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The Doctrine of al-Tawhid

Beginning with tawhid it has various kinds and levels: al-tawhid al-dhati (Unity of the Essence), al-tawhid al-sifati (Unity of the Attributes, i.e., with the Essence), al-tawhid al-'af'ali (Unity of the Acts), al-tawhid al-'ibadi (monotheism in worship). 

Al-Tawhid al-dhati: It means that the Divine Essence is one and unique; it does not have a like or match. All other beings are God's creations and inferior to Him in station and in degree of perfection. In fact, they cannot be compared with Him. The idea of al-tawhid al-dhati is made clear by the following two [Qur'anic] verses: 

Nothing is like Him. (42:11)   He does not have a match [whatsoever]. (112:4)

AI-Tawhid al-sifati: It means that the Divine Attributes such as Knowledge, Power, Life, Will, Perception, Hearing, Vision, etc. are not realities separate from God's Essence. They are identical with the Essence, in the sense that the Divine Essence is such that the Attributes are true of It, or is such that It manifests these Attributes. 

Al-Tawhid al-'af'ali: It means that all beings, or rather all acts [even human acts] exist by the Will of God, and are in some way willed by His sacred Essence. 

Al-Tawhid al-'ibadi: It means that except God no other being deserves worship and devotion. Worship of anything besides God is shirk and puts the worshipper outside the limits of Islamic tawhid or monotheism. 

In a sense al-tawhid al-'ibadi (tawhid in worship) is different from other kinds of tawhidi, because the first three relate to God and this kind relates to the creatures. In other words, the Unity of Divine Essence, His Uniqueness and the identity of the Essence and Attributes, the unity of the origin of everything - all of them are matters which relate to God. But tawhid in worship, i.e. the necessity of worshipping the One God, relates to the behaviour of the creatures. But in reality, tawhid in worship is also related to God, because it means Uniqueness of God as the only deserving object of worship, and that He is in truth the One Deity Worthy of Worship. The statement "la ilaha illallah" encompasses all aspects of tawhid, although its first signification is monotheism in worship. 

Al-tawhid al-dhati and al-tawhid al-'ibadi are part of the basic doctrines of Islam. It means that if there is a shortcoming in one's belief in these two principles, it would put one outside the pale of Islam. No Muslim has opposed these two basic beliefs. 

Lately, the Wahhabis, who are the followers of Muhammad ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab, who was a follower of Ibn Taymiyyah, a Hanbali from Syria, have claimed that some common beliefs of the Muslims such as one in intercession (shafa'ah) and some of their practices such as invoking the assistance of the prophets (A) and holy saints (R) are opposed to the doctrine of al-tawhid al-'ibadi. But these are not considered by other Muslims to conflict with al-tawhid al-'ibadi. The point of difference between the Wahhabis and other Muslims is not whether any one besides God - such as the prophets or saints - is worthy of worship. There is no debate that anyone except God cannot be worshipped. The debate is about whether invoking of intercession and assistance can be considered a form of worship or not. Therefore, the difference is only secondary, not a primary one. Islamic scholars have rejected the viewpoint of the Wahhabis in elaborate, well-reasoned answers. 

Al-tawhid al-sifati (the Unity of Divine Essence and Attributes) is a point of debate between the Mu'tazilah and the Asha'irah. The latter deny it while the former affirm it. Al-tawhid al-'af'ali is also another point of difference between them, with the difference, however, that the matter is reverse; i.e. the Asha'irah affirm it and the Mu'tazilah deny it. 

When the Mu'tazilah call themselves "ahl al-tawhid", and count it among their doctrines, thereby they mean by it al-tawhid al-sifati, not al-tawhid al-dhati, nor al-tawhid al-'ibadi (which are not disputed), nor al-tawhid al-'af'ali. Because, firstly, al-tawhid al-'af'ali is negated by them, and, secondly, they expound their own viewpoint about it under the doctrine of justice, their second article. 

The Asha'irah and the Mu'tazilah formed two radically opposed camps on the issues of al-tawhid al-sifati and al-tawhid al-'af'ali. To repeat, the Mu'tazilah affirm al-tawhid al-sifati and reject al-tawhid al-'af'ali, while the Ash'arite position is the reverse. Each of them have advanced arguments in support of their positions. We shall discuss the Shi'ite position regarding these two aspects of tawhid in the related chapter. 

The Doctrine of Divine Justice: 

In the preceding lecture I have mentioned the five fundamental Mu'tazilite principles, and explained the first issue, i.e. their doctrine of tawhid. Here we shall take up their doctrine of Divine Justice. 

Of course, it is evident that none of the Islamic sects denied justice as one of the Divine Attributes. No one has ever claimed that God is not just. The difference between the Mu'tazilah and their opponents is about the interpretation of Justice. The Asha'irah interpret it in such a way that it is equivalent, in the view of the Mu'tazilah, to a denial of the Attribute of Justice. Otherwise, the Asha'irah are not at all willing to be considered the opponents of justice. 

The Mu'tazilah believe that some acts are essentially 'just' and some intrinsically 'unjust.' For instance, rewarding the obedient and punishing the sinners is justice; and that God is Just, i.e. He rewards the obedient and punishes the sinners, and it is impossible for Him to act otherwise. Rewarding the sinners and punishing the obedient is essentially and intrinsically unjust, and it is impossible for God to do such a thing. Similarly, compelling His creatures to commit sin, or creating them without any power of free will, then creating the sinful acts at their hands, and then punishing them on account of those sins - this is injustice, an ugly thing for God to do; it is unjustifiable and unGodly. But the Asha'irah believe that no act is intrinsically or essentially just or unjust. Justice is essentially whatever God does. If, supposedly, God were to punish the obedient and reward the sinners, it would be as just. Similarly, if God creates His creatures without any will, power or freedom of action, then if He causes them to commit sins and then punishes them for that - it is not essential injustice. If we suppose that God acts in this manner, it is justice: 

Whatever that Khusrow does is sweet (shirin).

For the same reason that the Mu'tazilah emphasize justice, they deny al-tawhid al-'af'ali. They say that al-tawhid al-'af'ali implies that God, not the human beings, is the maker of human deeds. Since it is known that man attains reward and punishment in the Hereafter, if God is the creator of human actions and yet punishes them for their evil deeds - which not they, but God Himself has brought about - that would be injustice (zulm) and contrary to Divine Justice. Accordingly, the Mu'tazilah consider al-tawhid al-'af'ali to be contrary to the doctrine of justice. 

Also, thereby, the Mu'tazilah believe in human freedom and free will and are its staunch defenders, contrary to the Asha'irah who deny human freedom and free will. 

Under the doctrine of justice - in the sense that some deeds are inherently just and some inherently unjust, and that human reason dictates that justice is good and must be practised, whereas injustice is evil and must be abstained from - they advance another general doctrine, which is more comprehensive, that is the principle that "beauty" (husn) and "ugliness" (qubh), (good and evil), are inherent properties of acts. For instance, truthfulness, trustworthiness, chastity and God-fearing are intrinsically good qualities, and falsehood, treachery, indecency, neglectfulness, etc. are intrinsically evil. Therefore, deeds in essence, before God may judge them, possess inherent goodness or evil (husn or qubh). 

Hereupon, they arrive at another doctrine about reason: human reason can independently judge (or perceive) the good or evil in things. It means that the good or evil of some deeds can be judged by human reason independently of the commands of the Shari'ah. The Asha'irah are against this view too. 

The belief in the inherent good or evil of acts and the capacity of reason to judge them, upheld by the Mu'tazilah and rejected by the Asha'irah, brought many other problems in its wake, some of which are related to theology, some to human predicament; such as, whether the Divine Acts, or rather, the creation of things is with a purpose or not. The Mu'tazilah claimed that absence of a purpose in the creation is "qabih" (an ugly thing) and so rationally impossible. How about a duty which is beyond one's power to fulfil? Is it possible that God may saddle someone with a duty which is over and above his capacity? The Mu'tazilah consideied this, too, as "qabih", and so impossible. 

Is it within the power of a believer (mu'min) to turn apostate? Does the infidel (kafir) have any power over his own infidelity (kufr)? The answer of the Mu'tazilah is in the affirmative; for if the believer and the infidel had no power over their belief and infidelity, it would be wrong (qabih) to award and punish them. The Asha'irah rejected all these Mu'tazilite doctrines and held opposite views. 

Retribution (al-wa'd wa al-wa'id): 

"Wa'd" means promising award and "wa'id" means threat of punishment. The Mu'tazilah believe that God does not break His own promises (all Muslims unanimously accept this) or forego His threats, as stated by the Qur'anic verse regarding Divine promise: 

Indeed God does not break the promise. (13:31)

Accordingly (the Mu'tazilah say), all threats addressed to the sinners and the wicked such as the punishments declared for an oppressor, a liar or a wine imbiber, will all be carried out without fail, except when the sinner repents before death. Therefore, pardon without repentance is not possible. 

From the viewpoint of the Mu'tazilah, pardon without repentance implies failure to carry out the threats (wa'id), and such an act, like breaking of promise (khulf al-wa'd),is "qabih", and so impossible. Thus the Mu'tazilite beliefs regarding Divine retribution and Divine forgiveness are interrelated, and both arise from their belief in inherent good and evil of deeds determinable by reason. 

Manzilah Bayna al-Manzilatayn: 

The Mu'tazilite belief in this matter emerged in the wake of two opposite beliefs in the Muslim world about the faith ('iman) or infidelity (kufr) of the fasiq. For the first time the Khawarij maintained that committing of any of the capital sins (kaba'ir) was contrary to faith ('iman) and equal to infidelity. Therefore, the perpetrator of a major sin is a kafir. 

As we know, the Khawarij emerged after the incident of arbitration (tahkim) during the Battle of Siffin about the year 37/657-58 during the caliphate of Amir al-Mu'minin 'Ali (A). As the Nahj al-Balaghah tells us, Amir al-Mu'minin (A) argued with them on this issue and refuted their viewpoint by numerous arguments. The Khawarij, even after 'Ali (A), were against the caliphs of the period, and staunchly espoused the cause of al-'amr bi al-ma'ruf wa al-nahy 'an al-munkar, denouncing others for their evil and calling them apostates and infidels. Since most of the caliphs indulged in the capital sins, they were naturally regarded as infidels by the Khawarij. Accordingly, they were adversaries of the current politics. 

Another group which emerged (or was produced by the hands of vested political interests) was that of the Murji'ah, whose position with regard to the effect of capital sins was precisely opposite to that of the Khawarij. They held that faith and belief is a matter of the heart. One should remain a Muslim if one's faith - which is an inner affair of the heart - were intact, evil deeds cannot do any harm. Faith compensates all wickedness. 

The opinions of the Murji'ah were to the benefit of the rulers, and tended to cause the people to regard their wickedness and indecencies as unimportant, or to consider them, despite their destructive character, as men worthy of paradise. The Murji'ah stated in unequivocal terms, "The respectability of the station of the ruler is secure, no matter how much he may sin. Obedience to him is obligatory and prayers performed in his leadership are correct." The tyrannical caliphs, therefore, backed them. For the Murji'ah, sin and wickedness, no matter how serious, do not harm one's faith; the perpetrator of the major sins is a mu'min, not a kafir. 

The Mu'tazilah took a middle path in this matter. They maintained that the perpetrator of a major sin is neither a mu'min, nor he is a kafir, but occupies a position between those two extremes. This middle state was termed by the Mu'tazilah "manzilah bayna al-manzilatayn." 

It is said that the first to express this belief was Wasil ibn 'Ata', a pupil of al-Hasan al-Basri. One day Wasil was sitting with his teacher, who was asked his opinion about the difference between the Khawarij and the Murji'ah on this issue. Before al-Hasan could say anything, Wasil declared: "In my opinion the perpetrator of the major sins is a fasiq, not a kafir." After this, he left the company, or as is also said, was expelled by al-Hasan al-Basri - and parting his way started propagating his own views. His pupil and brother-in-law 'Amr ibn 'Ubayd also joined him. At this point Hasan declared, "'I'tazala 'anna", i.e. "He [Wasil] has departed from us." According to another version, the people began to say of Wasil and 'Amr "'I'tazala qawl al-'ummah", i.e. "they have departed from the doctrines held by the ummah," inventing a third path. 

Al-'Amr bi al-Ma'ruf wa al-Nahy 'an al-Munkar: 

Al-'amr bi al-ma'ruf wa al-nahy 'an al-munkar is an essential Islamic duty, unanimously accepted by all Muslims. The difference occurs only in the limits and conditions related to it. 

For instance, the Khawarij believed in it without any limits and conditions whatsoever. They believed that this twofold duty must be performed in all circumstances. For example, when others believed in the conditions of probability of effectiveness (of al-ma'ruf) and absence of any dangerous consequences as necessary for this obligation to be applicable, the Khawarij did not believe in any such restrictions. Some believed that it is sufficient to fulfil the duty of al-'amr wa al-nahy by the heart and the tongue i e one should support al-ma'ruf and oppose al-munkar in his heart and use his tongue to speak out for al-ma'ruf and against al-munkar. But the Khawarij considered it incumbent to take up arms and to unsheathe one's sword for the sake of fulfilling this duty. 

As against them there was a group which considered al-'amr wa al-nahy to be subject to the above conditions, and, moreover, did not go beyond the confines of the heart and the tongue for its sake. Ahmad ibn Hanbal is counted among them. According to this group,a bloody uprising for the sake of struggling against unlawful activities is not permissible. 

The Mu'tazilah accepted the conditions for al-'amr wa al-nahy, but, not limiting it to the heart and the tongue, maintained that if the unlawful practices become common, or if the state is oppressive and unjust, it is obligatory for Muslims to rise in armed revolt. 

Thus the belief special to the Mu'tazilah in regard to al-'amr bi al-ma'ruf wa al-nahy 'an al-munkar - contrary to the stand of the Ahl al-Hadith and the Ahl al-Sunnah - is belief in the necessity to rise up in arms to confront corruption. The Khawarij too shared this view, with the difference pointed out above. 

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