(Draft Article) Discussion with a non-Muslim about Allah and Injustice as per Qur’anic Verse 6.131, with an addendum

(Please read the notice concerning our draft articles)

By MuslimAnswers.net Team[1]

بِسْمِ اللَّـهِ الرَّحْمَـٰنِ الرَّحِيم

In this article, we are going to discuss a question brought up by a non-Muslim with respect to Allah the Exalted and the possibility of hypothetically attributing injustice to Allah. The origin of this discussion was that the non-Muslim took offense to certain injunctions to Islam and said that a wise God could never order such things (such as for example, expansionist warfare).

The discussion soon turned to whether it could be said that Allah can be unjust to humans but chooses not to be unjust, or whether acting unjustly towards the Creation is intrinsically inapplicable to Allah. The reason for this is that if the former case were correct, we as humans would be able to independently deduce the goodness of all the laws of Islam (even before knowing what the revelation says, which in the case of discussions with non-Muslims means we would have to “rationally prove” the goodness of say, Islamic expansionist warfare), while in the latter case, we would have to submit to the fact that there may be hidden wisdom behind laws which may seem unpalatable to us at the beginning, since it is inherently impossible to attribute injustice to Allah.

Noting that most of the questions and its associated answers rely on Qur’anic Verses and the interpretations of such Verses, we can start with the first question posed to us in this regard: 

Question: What do the Muslims make then of the following Verse:

ذٰلِكَ أَن لَّمْ يَكُنْ رَّبُّكَ مُهْلِكَ ٱلْقُرَىٰ بِظُلْمٍ وَأَهْلُهَا غَٰفِلُونَ

This is because your Lord would not destroy towns unjustly while their people were negligent.[2]

Is it not clear in here that the Verse refers to the possibility of Allah acting unjustly, but choosing not to do so?

 Answer: To begin with it has to be said that the understanding of the Quran is not a job for every human being. The Quran is not meant to be interpreted even by the lay Arab, who knows what the Quran is saying in terms of language, but yet does not possess the rest of the sciences needed for interpretation. In fact, the “theological bias” of knowing the correct Islamic beliefs has to be there for a job as monumental as trying to interpret the Quran, or otherwise the person will fall at the very first step. [Let it be known that the “theological bias” is nothing other than the correct understanding of the Qur’an and the Islamic beliefs as transmitted from the time of the Prophet down to our times. So it is not an irrational “bias”, but rather that portion of learning which is necessary in order to understand the totality of Islam].   

From our part, we are also not trying to give an interpretation of the Verse in question, but rather we are simply presenting what has already been written about this Verse by those who are already experts in the field and who have left their works for us, thus showing that many of the exegesists knew that the Verse referred to the injustice on part of the people, and did not refer to the possibility of Allah having a chance to act unjustly but choosing not to do so. (The few translations one can see down of Quranic Verses were in some cases just done by us in order to let the person follow the order of the original Tafsir, not as an attempt to say that the translation is correct).

We have taken the interpretations from the altafsir.com site and for this purpose there should be no problems in taking from this site… since we are not trying to find the authenticity of the various Tafsirs, but simply presenting them as they are in order to show that the interpretation that the injustice is of the people and not of Allah (and that it is not even a correct possibility), is the interpretation given by so many of the exegesists of the past and present. With respect to some of the translations that have been put forward that seem to indicate that the “injustice” is of Allah, this is also answered below, but if anyone wishes to find out more about this, they can contact the translators that are currently alive (like Aisha Bewley[3]) and ask them what their translation implies as far as belief sciences are concerned… from our side there is no need to ask this, since (1) this grammatical arrangement has been discussed in the interpretations and how it does not refer to the possibility of “injustice” to be attributed to Allah and (2) the basics of belief in Islam are known, and there is no need to ask about something to a person whom one knows follows proper Islamic beliefs[4].

Let us also mention that the exegesists would mostly concentrate on refuting those who at least orally claimed to be Muslims. However, this is not seen to be a problem when refuting outright non-Muslims, since our explanations would mostly be the same, whether these explanations were through Islamic primary sources or through purely rational dialectics.

 Having said this, some of the interpretations for this Verse are as follows:

1. As-Suyuti and al-Mahali (RA), Tafsir al-Jalalayn[5]

That, sending of the messengers, is because (an, [phonetically] lightened, with the lām [of li-annahu] implied, thus [read as] li-annahu, ‘because’) your Lord would never destroy the towns through injustice, on their part, while their inhabitants were heedless, not having had any Messenger to make [things] clear to them.

2. Jami’ al-Bayan fi Tafsir al-Quran, at-Tabari[6]

أي بشرك من أشرك، وكُفْر من كفر من أهلها، كما قال لقمان: إنَّ الشَّرْكَ لَظُلْمٌ عَظِيمٌ

That is, [i.e. the injustice refers to] of the joining in partners of Allah among those who join partners with Allah, and of disbelief among those who disbelieve from among its people, as Luqman said: “Verily, Shirk is a great wrongdoing. “ (referring to the Ayah in Surah Luqman).

After pointing out the (linguistically possible) second meaning (that Allah would be unjust if He were to punish them in this manner), at-Tabari comments by saying:

وأولى القولين بالصواب عندي القول الأوّل، أن يكون معناه: أن لم يكن ليهلكهم بشركهم دون إرسال الرسل إليهم والإعذار بينه وبينهم

The first of the two sayings is more correct in my view, so the meaning is: That He would not destroy them due to their partnering (others with Allah) without sending of a Messenger and that (in the wicked man’s viewpoint) there may be no excuse between Him and them.

3. Mafatih al-Ghayb, Fakhirudeen ar-Razi[7]

وأما قوله: { بِظُلْمٍ } ففيه وجهان: الأول: أن يكون المعنى، وما كان ربك مهلك القرى بسبب ظلم أقدموا عليه. والثاني: أن يكون المراد وما كان ربك مهلك القرى ظلماً عليهم، وهو كقوله:

{ وَمَا كَانَ رَبُّكَ لِيُهْلِكَ ٱلْقُرَىٰ بِظُلْمٍ وَأَهْلُهَا مُصْلِحُونَ }

[هود: 117] في سورة هود. فعلى الوجه الأول يكون الظلم فعلاً للكفار، وعلى الثاني يكون عائداً إلى فعل الله تعالى، والوجه الأول أليق بقولنا، لأن القول الثاني يوهم أنه تعالى لو أهلكهم قبل بعثة الرسل كان ظالماً، وليس الأمر عندنا كذلك، لأنه تعالى يحكم ما يشاء، ويفعل ما يريد، ولا اعتراض عليه لأحد في شيء من أفعاله

وأما أصحابنا فمن فسر الآية بهذا الوجه الثاني قال: إنه تعالى لو فعل ذلك لم يكن ظالماً لكنه يكون في صورة الظالم فيما بينا، فوصف بكونه ظالماً مجازاً، وتمام الكلام في هذين القولين مذكور في سورة هود عند قوله: { بِظُلْمٍ وَأَهْلُهَا مُصْلِحُونَ }.

As for His saying “with Thulm (injustice)” there are two possibilities, it could be that the meaning is, that your Lord would not destroy the peoples due to the injustice they have produced. And the second is: That the meaning is, that your Lord would never destroy a people as an injustice from His part to them, similar to His saying: “And your Lord would not have destroyed the cities unjustly while their people were reformers.” (Hud: 117) in Surah Hud. For in the first case the injustice is the action of the disbelievers, while in the second this is attributed to Allah the Exalted, and the first possibility is our saying, since the second saying is a deluded thought that if (Allah), the Exalted, were to destroy them before sending a Messenger He would be unjust, and for us the matter is not like that, for (Allah) the Exalted judges as He wills, and does what He wants, and it is not possible for anyone to take Him to task for any of His actions…

And those from among our people who may have interpreted the Verse with the second meaning, they said: He, Exalted be He, if He were to do this He would not be unjust but He would be in the form of an unjust being in what is apparent, so the attribution of injustice is metaphorical, and the totality of this discussion about these two sayings is mentioned in Surah Hud under (the interpretation) of the saying: “unjustly while their people were reformers.”

4. Jami’ Li Ahkam al-Quran, al-Qurtubi[8]

أي إنما فعلنا هذا بهم لأني لم أكن أهلك القرى بظلمهم؛ أي بشركهم قبل إرسال الرسل إليهم فيقولوا ما جاءنا من بشير ولا نذير. وقيل: لم أكن أهلك القرى بشرك من أشرك منهم؛ فهو مثل:

{ وَلاَ تَزِرُ وَازِرَةٌ وِزْرَ أُخْرَىٰ }

[الأنعام: 164]. ولو أهلكهم قبل بعثة الرسل فله أن يفعل ما يريد.

That is, we do this to them because we would not destroy the people due to their wrongdoings, that is, due to their polytheism before sending Messengers to them (or they would say): “”There came not to us any bringer of good tidings or a warner.”” And it is said: He would not destroy the people due to the polytheism of the polytheists amongst them, and this is similar to the saying: “and no bearer of burden shall bear the burden of another” (al-Anam: 164). And if He were to destroy them before sending of Messengers then it is His prerogative to do what He wills.

5. Tafsir Quran al-Karim, Ibn Kathir[9]

إنما أعذرنا إلى الثقلين بإرسال الرسل وإنزال الكتب؛ لئلا يؤاخذ أحد بظلمه، وهو لم تبلغه دعوة، ولكن أعذرنا إلى الأمم، وما عذنبا أحداً إلا بعد إرسال الرسل إليهم

Verily, We have excused the two heavy species (jinns and mankind) until the sending of the Messengers and the revelation of the books, so that He would not take anyone due to his wrongdoing while there is no divulgation of the invitation (to Islam), but We have excused the peoples, and We do not punish anyone until after the sending of the Messengers to them.

After presenting the view of at-Tabari above, Ibn Kathir says:

ثم شرع يرجح الوجه الأول، ولا شك أنه أقوى، والله أعلم.

“Then he (at-Tabari) preferred the first option (the option where the injustice is attributed to the people), and there is no doubt that this is the stronger (opinion), and Allah knows best”.

6. Anwar at-Tanzil Wa Asrar at-Ta’wil, Al-Baydhawi[10]

لأن الشأن لم يكن ربك مهلك أهل القرى بسبب ظلم فعلوه، أو ملتبسين بظلم

For the manner of carrying out the affairs is that your Lord will not destroy the people due to the injustice they have committed, or their uncertainty about injustice (what constitutes injustice and what does not)

7. Muharar al-Wajiz, Ibn ‘Atiyah[11]

يتوجه فيه معنيان، أحدهما أن الله عز وجل لم يكن ليهلك المدن دون نذارة، فيكون ظلماً لهم إذا لم ينذرهم، والله ليس بظلام للعبيد، والآخر أن الله عز وجل لم يهلك أهل القرى بظلم إذ ظلموا دون أن ينذرهم، وهذا هو البين القويّ

There are two possible meanings for this: One of them is that Allah the Majestic and Sublime would not destroy the cities without sending a warning, for in that case He would be unjust if He did not warn them, and Allah does not wrong His slaves, and the other one is that Allah the Majestic and Sublime would not destroy the people of the towns due to the wrongdoing they do without warning them (sending them a Messenger), and this is the strong elucidation (strong interpretation about this matter).

8. Zad al-Masir, Ibn al-Jawzi[12]

قال الزجاج: ذلك الذي قصصنا عليك من أمر الرسل، وأمر عذاب من كذب، لأنه لم يكن ربك مهلك القرى بظلم، أي: لا يهلككم حتى يبعث إليهم رسولاً. قال ابن عباس: «بظلم» أي: بشرك { وأهلها غافلون } لم يأتهم رسول.

Az-Zujjaj said: This is what had been related to you about the affairs of the Messengers, and the matter of the punishment for those who reject (the Message), for your Lord would not destroy the town due to injustice, that is: He would not destroy them until He sent them a Messenger. Ibn ‘Abbas said: “Injustice” means polytheism (Shirk) “while their people were heedless” (that is) a Messenger had not been sent to them.

9. Tafsir al-Quran, Ibn Abdus-Salam[13]

{ بِظُلْمٍ } في إهلاكهم، أو لا يهلكهم بظلمهم إلا أن يخرجهم عن الغفلة بالإنذار.

“Due to injustice” in their destruction, that is He would not destroy them due to the injustice (they are committing) until they are brought out of their ignorance with a warning (that is, a Messenger warning them of the consequences of disbelief).

10. Lubab at-Tawil fi Ma’ani at-Tanzil, Al-Khazin[14]

{ مهلك القرى بظلم } قال الكلبي: معناه لم يكن ليهلكهم بذنوبهم من قبل أن يأتيهم الرسل فتنهاهم فإن رجعوا وإلا أتاهم العذاب، وهذا قول جمهور المفسرين قال الفراء: يجوز أن يكون المعنى لم يكن ليهلكهم بظلم منه { وأهلها غافلون } أي: وهم غافلون فعلى قول الجمهور: يكون الظلم فعلاً للكفار وهو شركهم وذنوبهم التي عملوها، وعلى قول الفراء: إنه لو أهلكهم قبل بعثة الرسل لكان ظالماً والله عز وجل يتعالى عن الظلم.

والقول الأول: أصح، لأنه تعالى يفعل ما يشاء ويحكم ما يريد لا اعتراض لأحد عليه في شيء من أفعاله، غير أنه أخبر أنه لا يعذب قبل بعثة الرسل ولو فعل ذلك لم يكن ظلماً منه

“(He would) destroy the peoples because of their injustice” Al-Kalbi said: The meaning of this is that He will not destroy them due to their sins before Messengers are brought to them so that they may inform them and if they return (then they will be saved) and if not the punishment will come to them. And this is the saying of the majority of the exegesists, But al-Fara’ said: It is possible that the meaning is that He would not destroy them due to an injustice from Him “while their people were heedless” that is: and they were heedless. So for the majority their saying is : The injustice is the action of the disbeliever, and this is their associating partners with Allah and the sins that they commit, and according to the saying of al-Fara’: If he were to destroy them before sending Messengers He would be unjust, and Allah the Majestic and Sublime is hallowed above (committing) injustice. And the first saying is more correct, for Allah the Exalted does what He wills, and judges according to what He wills, and He is not judged by anyone over anything that He does from among His actions, but (the issue in here is that) He has informed us that He will not punish (the peoples) before sending Messengers and if He had done so (i.e if He had punished them without sending Messengers) it would not have been an injustice from His part.

11. Al-Bahr al-Muhit, Abu Hayan[15]

ويحتمل أن يكون مضافاً إلى القرى أي ظالمة دون أن ينذرهم وهذا معنى قول القشيري أي لا يهلكهم بذنوبهم ما لم يبعث إليهم الرسل وهذا الوجه أليق لأن الأول يوهم أنه تعالى لو آخذهم قبل بعثة الرسل كان ظالماً وليس الأمر كذلك عندنا لأنه تعالى يحكم ما يشاء ويفعل ما يريد، وعند المعتزلة لو أهلكهم وهم غافلون لم ينتهوا بكتاب ولا رسول لكان ظالماً وهو متعال عن الظلم وعن كل قبيح. وقيل: { بظلم } بشرك من أشرك منهم فهو مثل

{ ولا تزر وازرة وزر أخرى }

[فاطر: 18]. وقال الماتريدي: أي لم يكن يهلكهم بظلم أنفسهم إهلاك استئصال وتعذيب لا بعد تقدم وعيد أو سؤالهم العذاب، ولا يهلكهم مع الغفلة عن الظلم والعصيان لأنه يجوز له ذلك بل سنته هكذا لئلا يقولوا: لولا أرسلت إلينا وكل ذلك فضل منه ورحمة.

And it is possible that it (the word “Thulm” (injustice)) is referring back to the people, that is (they are punished while they are) unjust without them being warned and this meaning was the saying of al-Qashairi that is, He would not destroy them on account of their sins until He had not sent a Messenger to them , and this possibility is the one that is appropriate, for the first one would wrongly mean that He (Allah) the Exalted, if He were to take them (punish them) before bringing a Messenger to them He would be unjust, and the matter is not like this with us, for He Exalted be He, judges whatever He wills and does whatever He wants, and according to the Mu’tazila if he were to destroy them while they were ignorant, without sending neither a book nor a Prophet He would be unjust and it is impossible for Him to be attributed with injustice or with any ugly characteristic. And it is said : “due to injustice” due to associating partners with Allah among those who associate, and this is like the saying:

And no bearer of burdens will bear the burden of another. (Fatir: 18). (Abu Mansur) al-Maturidi said: That is, He will not destroy them due to their own injustice with a total destruction, nor after presenting the threat or their questioning the punishment. And He will not destroy them while they are in ignorance about (what is) injustice and disobedience, since this is allowed for Him but His Way is like this (of not punishing people while they do not know the rules and regulations). For otherwise they would say: Why did you not send us (Messengers), and all of this (i.e. not punishing them) is a favor and mercy for Him. 

12. Jawahir al-Hisan fi Tafsir al-Qur’an,Al-Tha`alibi[16]

{ بِظُلْمٍ }: يحتمل معنيين

أحدهما: أنه لم يكُنْ سبحانه لِيُهْلِكَهم دون نِذَارة، فيكون ظُلْماً لهم، واللَّه تعالَىٰ ليس بظلاَّم للعبيد.

والآخر: أنَّ اللَّه عزَّ وجلَّ لم يُهْلِكْهم بظلمٍ واقعٍ منهم دون أنْ ينذرهم، وهذا هو البيِّن القويُّ، وذكر الطبري (رحمه اللَّه) التأويلين.

“With injustice” has two possible meanings. The first one: That He would not destroy them without giving them a warning, (otherwise) it would be an injustice upon them, and Allah the Exalted is not unjust to the (His) slaves.

And the other: That Allah, the Majestic and Sublime would not destroy them due to the injustice they are steeped in without warning them, an this is the strong interpretations, and at-Tabari (Rahimahu Allah) mentioned both of these interpretations.

13. Nitham Ad-Durur fi Tanasub al-Ayat wa Suar, Al-Biqa’i[17]

{ القرى بظلم } أي بسبب ظلم ارتكبوه { وأهلها غافلون * } أي غريقون في الغفلة عما يجب عليهم مما لا تستقل به عقولهم

“The peoples due to injustice” that is, due to the injustice they have committed “While their people are ignorant” that is, they are drowning in ignorance of what is obligatory upon them of what cannot be (independently known) through their minds.

14. Tafsir Muqatil bin Sulayman[18]

{ { بِظُلْمٍ } بغير ذنب فى الدنيا، { وَأَهْلُهَا غَافِلُونَ } [آية: 131] عن العذاب حتى يبعث فى أمها رسولاً ينذرهم بالعذاب حجة عليهم.

“Due to injustice” (due to) their sins in this world, “while their people are ignorant” about the punishment until a Messenger has been sent to its (the town’s) center to warn them about the punishment, as an evidence against them.

15. Al Kashf wal Bayan, Tha’libi[19]

ذٰلِكَ أَن لَّمْ يَكُنْ رَّبُّكَ مُهْلِكَ ٱلْقُرَىٰ بِظُلْمٍ } أي بشرك من أشرك { وَأَهْلُهَا غَافِلُونَ } حتى يبعث إليهم رسلاً ينذرونهم.

“That is because your Lord would not destroy a people unjustly”, that is due to the polytheism (associating partners with Allah) of those who are polytheists “while their people are ignorant” until a Messenger has been sent to them in order to warn them.

16. At-Tashil li ‘Ulum at-Tanzil, Ibn Jizi al-Gharnati[20]

{ بِظُلْمٍ } فيه وجهان: أحدهما أن الله لم يكن ليهلك القرى دون بعث الرسل إليهم، فيكون إهلاكهم ظلماً إذ لم ينذرهم، فهو كقوله:

{ وَمَا كُنَّا مُعَذِّبِينَ حَتَّىٰ نَبْعَثَ رَسُولاً }

[الإسراء: 15]، والآخر: أن الله لا يهلك القرى بظلمهم إذا ظلموا، دون أن ينذرهم، ففاعل الظلم على هذا أهل القرى وغفلتهم عدم إنذارهم، حكى الوجهين ابن عطية والزمخشري:، والوجه الأول صحيح على مذهب المعتزلة، ولا يصح على مذهب أهل السنة، لأن الله لو أهلك عباده بغير ذنب: لم يكن ظالماً عندهم.

“due to injustice” there are two possibilities: The first one is that Allah would not destroy the towns without sending of Messengers to them, (for in that case) his destruction would be injustice if He has not warned them, and this is like the saying: “and it is not Our way to punish (anyone) unless We send a Messenger.” (Surah al-Isra: 15). And the other one: That verily Allah does not punish the people due to their injustices when they commit them, without warning them, so the one who does injustice in this (possible interpretation) are the people of the town, and their ignorance is their not having been warned, and both of these possibilities have been mentioned by Ibn ‘Atiyah and Zamakhshari. And the first possibility is correct for the Mu’tazilah, but it is not correct for the Ahl Sunnah, since if Allah had destroyed His slaves without warning them He would not have been unjust to them.

17. Tafsir al-Kabir, At-Tabarani[21]

{ بِظُلْمٍ } أي بشركِهم وذنوبهم { وَأَهْلُهَا غَٰفِلُونَ } عن الأمرِ والنَّهْيِ وتبليغِ الرُّسُلِ؛ أي لم يكن يُهْلِكُهُمْ بذنوبهم قَبْلَ أن يأتيَهم رسولٌ يُبَيِّنُ لَهم. وينهاهُم عمَّا هم عليهِ من المعصيةِ، فإن رجَعُوا وإلا عذبَهم اللهُ.

“due to injustice” that is due to their idolatry and their sins, “while the people were ignorant” as to the obligations and prohibitions and the message of the Messengers, that is, He would not destroy them before sending a Messenger that would make things clear to them, and prohibiting them from the evils, so either they go back (repent and do good deeds) otherwise Allah punishes them.

18. Ruh al-Bayan fi Tafsir al-Qur’an, Isma’il Haqi[22]

{ { لم يكن ربك مهلك القرى بظلم } اى بسبب ظلم منها { واهلها غافلون } لم يرسل اليهم رسول يبين لهم.

“Your Lord would not destroy a people unjustly” that is, due to the injustice from it (the town, or more specifically the people of the town), “while their people are ignorant” Messengers have not been sent to them to clarify things for them.

19. Taysir at-Tafsir, Al-Qutan[23]

{ ذٰلِكَ أَن لَّمْ يَكُنْ رَّبُّكَ مُهْلِكَ ٱلْقُرَىٰ بِظُلْمٍ وَأَهْلُهَا غَافِلُونَ }.

وهذا من رحمة ربنا تعالى بنا جميعا، فهو لا يؤاخذ الناس حتى على الشِرك والكفر حتى يرسل اليهم الرسل، كما بين ذلك في عدد من الآيات منها:

{رُّسُلاً مُّبَشِّرِينَ وَمُنذِرِينَ لِئَلاَّ يَكُونَ لِلنَّاسِ عَلَى ٱللَّهِ حُجَّةٌ بَعْدَ ٱلرُّسُلِ }.

فالله سبحانه لايهلك القرى بظلمهم وأهلها غافلون عن الحق، بل ينبهُهُم على يدِ رُسله أولاً، فإن تمادَوا نالوا جزاءهم.

وعلاوة على ان هذه الآيات تصوّر رحمة الله بالانسان وفضله عليه، فإنها أيضاً تقرر ان العقل والمدارك وحدها لا تكفي، ولا تعصم من الضلال، ما لم تساندْها العقيدة ويَضبطْها الدين.

“That (Allah sends messengers) is because your Lord is not to destroy any towns on account of any wrongdoing, while their people are unaware.”

And this is from the Mercy of our Lord the Exalted for all of us, that He does not punish/destroy the people even if they are on polytheism and disbelief until He has sent a Messenger to them, as He has clarified in many Verses, amongst them: “Messengers giving good tidings and warning, so that people may have no plea against Allah after the Messengers (have come).”

So Allah, Exalted be He, does not destroy the people due to the injustices they are committing while their people are ignorant of the truth, rather He elucidates things by means of a Messenger first, but if they persist (in what they are doing), then their due is given to them.

In addition to the fact that this Verse shows the Mercy and favors of Allah upon the people, it also establishes that intelligence and mental faculties alone are not enough, and they do not protect from deviation, if it is not assisted by belief and curbed by the Din (religion).

20. Sha’rawi[24] (transcription of Muhammad Mutawali ash-Shi’rawi’s speeches on the interpretation of the Qur’an)

أن الله لا يهلكهم بسبب ظلم وقع منهم إلا بعد ذلك البلاغ.

Verily Allah does not destroy (the people) due to the injustices they are in except after this elucidation (i.e. the sending of the Messengers)

21. Wasit fi Tafsir Quran al-Karim, Tantawi[25]

والمعنى: ذلك الذى ذكرناه لك يا محمد من إتيان الرسل يقصون على الأمم آيات الله، سببه أن ربك لم يكن من شأنه ولا من سننه فى تربية خلقه أن يهلك القرى من أجل أى ظلم فعلوه قبل أن ينبهوا على بطلانه

The meaning is: That which has been related to you of the (sending) of the Prophets who related the Verses of Allah to the nations, the reason for this is that it is neither in His custom nor way in treating His Creation to destroy the habitations due to any injustice done by them before they are warned about its incorrectness.

Further objections after the above interpretations to the Verses were presented:

Objection: I must question the strength of the ‘arguments’ of these scholars, largely because they aren’t arguments; they’re assertions. They’re assertions that are based on nothing more than their understanding of Islamic theology. They mention the position of the Mu’tazilah, acknowledging their (‘linguistically possible’) reading of the ayat, acknowledging their different theological perspective, but no refutation of this position is offered, only the statement that it is not consonant with the theology of Ahlus Sunnah wal Jamaa’ah, and thus it is false. But then, who defined the Sunni theology and determined that it was correct? And is it really in agreement with what the author of the Qur’an intended by these verses? 

Response: Basically, this issue revolves around the question of whether Allah creates the evil actions of people. Thus, there is one group of people who hold that if Allah were to create the evil actions of people and then punish them in Hellfire, this would be an injustice upon such people- and they read Verses such as 6:131 with this understanding.

There are a number of lengthy refutations concerning such an understanding, even though they are generally not found in such a lengthy format in the interpretations of the Qur’an, or the exegesist may have mentioned different relevant points while interpreting different Verses of the Qur’an. Let us also mention that Sunni theology is not an orphan science that was concocted based on the whims of people who came many centuries after the Prophet . Rather, if one does proper research on this issue, he will know that the first ones to advance “rational theological arguments” were the Companions ‘Ali bin Abi Talib and ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Umar (Radhia Allahu Anhuma), in their refutations of the Khawarij and the Qadariyya – coincidentally, the Mu’tazila adopted the Qadariyya’s viewpoint that the human was totally independent to the point of creating his own actions. There are also a number of Ahadith reported directly from the Prophet which show that he knew of the fallacy of infinite regress, and that he specifically addressed the issue of Allah creating all the people’s actions. Of course, it is not our aim to bring all of these narrations out here, but the readers should know that such matters were addressed during the Prophet’s time itself.

There may be confusion from certain circles due to the fact that the very deep expositions and argumentations occurred quite some time after the Prophet’s passing from this world, but that is only because there was a need for lengthier discussions whenever wrong ideas cropped up. This is only natural, since the basis of correct belief was established at the beginning of Islam, but this could also be expanded as the needs arose. Even today, if some new false religion comes up with its own claims, the scholars of Islam can draw on their previous knowledge to refute such claims, but it does not mean that the lengthy refutation and expositions are something totally new in Islam.   

We also need to say in here that the position of those who hold Mu’tazili or similar views on this topic drove them to the assertion that Allah creates only the good deeds of the people, but that the evil deeds of the people are actually created by the people themselves (since for them if Allah creates evil this is injustice from His part), a position that is logically untenable, since it reduces Allah to being only one of among billions of “creators”. Or among some people we have seen ourselves, such an ideology drove them to the assertion that Allah comes to know about the sins of the people only after they have committed them, which is again an impossibility since it alludes to Allah as a being with sequential knowledge that increases over time, and that His Knowledge of a certain thing is only merely possible and not absolutely necessary[26], and that He has to be given this knowledge by another being other than Himself.

Objection: The Qur’an is the source of theology itself. You can’t judge what the Qur’an is saying except by way of what it itself says. You can know all you want about ‘uloom al-Qur’an’ but if your approach to understanding the book is obscured, from the outset, by an ideological perspective that is ultimately not derived from the Qur’an, then you’re imposing your beliefs onto the Qur’an, and not understanding it as it was intended. If you approach it with an ideological bias then your reading of it will inevitably be obscured. That is, I contend, what your scholars have done.

They have taken their reverential predisposition of Allah and the Qur’an and asserted that Allah is incapable of injustice just because to acknowledge that possibility of his being unjust is itself irreverent, and therefore impermissible.

Response: The interpretation of the Qur’an is not merely “what it says itself”. Even here, we could discuss the Verses of the Qur’an which clearly show that Allah creates every thing and every event, so we would not be taking any outside source as the basis for theology.

Anyway, in all cases presented, for this and for all other Verses of the Qur’an, the interpretations give the grammatical basis for reaching the position they have, meaning it is not a deviated proposition at all to maintain that such is the meaning of the Verse based only on the rules of the language in both grammar and meanings of words. And with respect to the claim of our scholars being “biased”, this is nothing other than the teachings of the Prophet with respect to the matters of Allah’s Will and Power as they relate to His creating bodies and incidents within the Universe[27], and the fact that they relate to absolutely every thing and every event which occur in the Universe. If someone wishes to call this a “bias”, they should remember that this so-called “bias” is coming from the original teachings of Islam, and not from an arbitrary outside source. 

All in all, the matter comes down to the fact that “Thulm” in the language refers to putting something in a place other than where it belongs. And this is clearly impossible to attribute to Allah, since He is the creator of all places, things, time frames, and locations, and of the interaction between all of these. And there is no reason why the Universe or the creatures within the Universe have to be necessarily characterized with certain specific intensities in their dimensions at any given time-frame- whether these are visible dimensions such as length and color, or more subtle traits such as pain and pleasure [or whether it is even necessary for them to be endowed with pain and pleasure]. That is, the created things themselves do not have any inherent quality which demands that they be at a certain place or possess a certain amount of pleasure at a certain time and possess a specific amount of pleasure in the next time frame, etc. The only thing which is absolutely necessary for incidents and things is that they have a beginning in time, and that they have the dimensions necessary for them to be part of the n-dimensional world they are part of.

This is the same argument that is used for saying that the people are not intrinsically entitled to Paradise (since there is nothing in their nature themselves which predisposes them to this), or that people are not intrinsically entitled to an eternity of pleasure without any pain.

Any discussion that is to lead any fruit would have to concentrate on Allah’s Ownership of people, not on people’s conception that they are “intrinsically entitled” for pleasure and good sensations to be created within their bodies and minds. We contend that this claim which rests on intrinsical entitlement only shows the arrogance of the ones forwarding this position, and is in total opposition to the humility one is to show towards Allah the Exalted in order to achieve true happiness in this life and in the Hereafter.

Objection: But in summary, even your own scholars admit that it is a possible reading of the verse, grammatically speaking, if not doctrinally. And I made a number of other contentions as to why my reading was the more correct, stating that it was corroborated by Q. 26:208-9, as well as other reasons. It seems that your contention may be reduced to a simple appeal to authority, but it doesn’t really have any solid reasons in its favour, none that you or those scholars have produced, as far as I can see. Like I said, they’re just asserting the correctness of their position on the basis of their theological bias, a bias which, I would argue, is not rooted in the Qur’an itself but in their own predisposition towards it.

Response: Let us mention again that there are a huge number of grammatically possible readings for hundreds of Verses of the Qur’an which are rejected doctrinally, and this is nothing strange whatsoever. If there is a possible meaning for a word or a possible grammatical setup which disagrees with Islamic doctrine (if the term “Islamic doctrine” is not liked in this case, we can say the “sound mind” instead) it is to be rejected. If one looks into the Tafsirs one will find many of such possibilities being rejected, especially given the fact that the possible meanings for words in Arabic are much more than they are in English, as are the grammatical possibilities.

Only a few scholars were named who made interpretations of this Verse, but if one were to ask every single Islamic scholar about the relationship between this Verse and the fundamentals of Islamic belief, they would answer it in the same manner. The issue of Mu’tazilis or Shias who see the matter differently can be addressed at a separate place, but one has to know that the interpretation given is not strange at all given the basic rules of the language, as well as what the scholars of Islam learned about the basics of belief, a knowledge that was passed down from the Prophet down to us.

The issue related to Verse 26:208-209 can be dealt with in a number of ways. The Verse itself says:

{وَمَآ أَهْلَكْنَا مِن قَرْيَةٍ إِلاَّ لَهَا مُنذِرُونَ } * { ذِكْرَىٰ وَمَا كُنَّا ظَالِمِينَ }

In this Verse the translation is something along the lines of: “And We did not destroy any city except that it had warners. As a reminder; and never have We been unjust.”

If we were to take the general translation as our base, this would not be a problem, since the issue then would be as described by Allamah Alusi in his Tafsir (Ruh al-Ma’ani), where he mentions that it is not Allah’s mode of interacting with the creation that He would destroy someone without warning him first, or that He would punish those who had not committed any injustice, in such a way that the (simple apparent human) wisdom would see Allah in the form of an oppressor.[28] Of course, here the stress is on the “apparent form” of an oppressor rather than actual oppression, since this has already been determined to be impossible to attribute to Allah.

The discussion was basically cut off at this point, since we were concentrating on the one or two Verses that were brought up by our opponent.

Addendum to the above discussion

Here, what we have is basically an addendum to the discussion we had above. We did not wish to bring forth all the arguments and counterarguments related to other Verses that have been used as a basis of discussion between the Ahl us Sunnah and other deviant groups, since the discussion began with respect to Verse 6:131 and mostly remained within the confines of that Verse.

However, since it could be claimed by certain people that there are other Verses of the Qur’an which lend credence to the assertion that Allah can act unjustly towards His creation but decides from His own Will not to act in this manner, we thought it would be good to go through some of these arguments and counterarguments which surround such Verses, so that all readers would know that the opponents of the Ahl us Sunnah (whether from those who claim Islam or who do not claim Islam at all) do not stand on a firm ground with respect to their objections. 

What we will do is concentrate on only two Verses of the Qur’an, numbers 3:108 and 4:40. The reason is that most of the objections we can find from the deviant sects can be found in the interpretations of these two Verses, and likewise the answers to such objections can be seen when considering some of the deeper discussions surrounding these two Verses[29]. If any of our readers brings to our attention an objection which is not directly connected to what has been brought up regarding these two Verses, then such objections can be entertained in the future.

Also, first we will show the answers from the scholars as per their Tafsirs, and if there are any points that may seem unclear or that may not have been addressed, we will try to explain them to the best of our ability[30].

Now, Verse 3:108 says (the translation of which is):

These are the verses of Allah . We recite them to you, [O Muhammad], in truth; and Allah wants no injustice to the worlds.

We will start by showing the arguments and its refutation as presented in Imam ar-Razi’s interpretation ‘Mafatiih al-Ghayb’. We will pick up their arguments from what was said by one of the topmost scholars of the Mu’tazila, al-Jubai, who said:

This Verse is an evidence showing that He (Allah) the Exalted does not want anything that is ugly, not in His actions nor in the actions of His servants, and He does not do anything of this sort. Its elucidation is: that injustice (would be) either originated from Allah the Exalted, or from the servant himself. And with respect to its origination from the servant, it is either that he has been unjust to himself – this being due to his turning towards the sins- or through someone else being unjust to him. Thus, the types of injustice are these three[31], and Allah’s saying: ‘And Allah does not want injustice for the worlds’ comes in the context of negation. Thus, it is necessary that (Allah) does not want anything that is injustice, whether this (injustice) originates from Him or originates from other than Him, and thus it is established that this Verse shows that He does not wish for any of these three types (of injustice). And once this is established, it is necessary that He would not do anything (related to) any of these types, and it would necessitate that He would not do injustice at all (i.e. Himself) and it would also necessitate that He would not be the doer (i.e. the Creator of) the actions of His servants, for from the generality of their actions is their injustice towards themselves and the injustice of one to the other.

And verily, we say: This Verse shows that (Allah) the Exalted is not the doer of injustice at all, for it shows that He does not want anything of it, and if He was the doer of anything from these types of injustice, He would have been desirous towards it, and this is (i.e. has been shown to be) false.

They[32] say: It is conclusively proven then by means of this Verse that Allah the Exalted is not the doer of injustice, and is not the doer (i.e. Creator) of the actions of the servants, and He is not desirous (i.e. does not Will) the ugly things from any of the actions of the servants.

Then they say: (Allah) the Exalted praises Himself that He does not desire this, and praise is only appropriate if it is possible for Him to do that (and if) it is correct for Him to be (hypothetically) desirous of this. So this Verse shows that Allah is capable of injustice.

And at this stage they rejoice and say: This one Verse totally encompasses the fundamentals of the Mu’tazila with respect to the matters of ‘Adl (Justice), and then they say: and when (Allah) the Exalted mentions that He does not wish injustice and does not do injustice, He says after that: ‘To Allah belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth. And to Allah will [all] matters be returned.’ And this Verse is mentioned after what was before for two reasons:

First, that when (Allah) the Exalted mentioned that He does not want injustice and ugliness, he proved through this that the doer of ugliness does this ugly thing either due to ignorance, or weakness, or need, and all of this is impossible with respect to Allah, since He is the owner of everything that is in the Heavens and in the Earth, and this Ownership negates ignorance, weakness, and need. And if the truth of these attributes is negated with respect to (Allah) the Exalted, then it is also negated that He is the doer of ugly things.

Second, that when Allah the Exalted mentioned that He does not want injustice in one of the possible manners, it is possible for the person to say that we witness the existence of injustice in the world, so if its occurrence is not concomitant with His Will, then it is in contradiction to His Will, and this case would necessitate His being weak, incapable, and overpowered, and this is impossible.

So Allah answered this by His saying: ‘To Allah belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth’, that is, that Allah the Exalted is capable of stopping the injustice of the unjust through compulsion and force, and when He is capable of doing so, then He is no longer incapable and weak.

For (the truth of the matter is that) Allah wishes them to leave the sin by their own choice and will, so that through this they will be rightful recipients of the recompense, for if they had been forced to leave the sins then the use of this (i.e. of the system of reward and punishment) would be negated…

This is basically the summary of the Mu’tazila’s argument surrounding this Verse, and it may be that these objections are raised from another angle, when they say: what is intended from Allah’s saying: “And Allah wants no injustice to the worlds” is that either He does not want to do injustice to them, or that He does not want them to do injustice to each other. If it is the first option, then this is incorrect according to your sect (referring to the Ahl us Sunnah), for according to you if Allah were to punish the innocent person with the harshest punishment He would not be unjust, but He would rather be just. This is because (according to your belief– that is, the Ahl us Sunnah) injustice is to act in the property of another, and Allah acts in His own property, and in this way it is impossible for Him to be unjust; and if the interpretation is like this, then the Verse cannot be taken to mean that He does not want to do injustice to the Creation[33].

And if you (again referring to the Ahl us Sunnah) take the Verse to mean that He does not want some of His servants to commit injustice to each other, then this is also not possible according to you, for all of this (i.e. the actions of the servants) is through His Will and Origination according to what you say. So this shows that according to your sect it is not possible to take the Verse with a correct interpretation.

And the answer (of the Ahl us Sunnah) is: why would it not be possible for us to say that the meaning indeed is that he does not will to do injustice to any of the Creation?

As for the saying that according to your sect (the Ahl us Sunnah) injustice is impossible and this would prevent the glorification we see in the Qur’an (i.e. Allah glorifying Himself that He does not want injustice for the worlds), we say that the response is in two parts:

First, Allah praises Himself when He says: ‘Neither drowsiness overtakes Him nor sleep.’ (Qur’an 2:255) And also when He says: ‘it is He who feeds and is not fed’ (Qur’an 6:14) and this glorification of Himself does not necessitate the (hypothetical possibility) of Him sleeping or eating, and likewise is the case in this Verse.

Second, that if Allah were to punish the one who is not deserving of punishment, it would not be an injustice from His part, but it would be in the “shape” of injustice, and it is possible for the name of one thing that is apparent to the other one to be given to the second thing, such as Allah’s statement ‘And the retribution for an evil act is an evil one like it’ (Qur’an 42:40) and similar statements like these are plentiful in the Qur’an, and this is the end of our discussion regarding this matter.[34] 

Likewise, we find in the Ruh al-Ma’ani Tafisr that:

The negation of something does not necessitate its (logical) probability (of occurrence)[35]. There are cases where the intrinsically impossible things have been negated, such as in Allah’s saying: ‘He neither begets nor is born’ (Qur’an 112:3)[36].

We also find answers coming from a slightly different angle when the next Verse [number 3:109] is taken into account [which reads (in the translation): ‘To Allah belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth. And to Allah will [all] matters be returned.’], as when Shaykh ash-Shi’rawi mentioned many reasons why a human being might be inclined to do injustice to people, such as arresting others without any reason or based on fake evidence, and concluded this by saying that[37]:

…‘and Allah wants no injustice to the worlds.’ Because injustice does not come from anything except to attain goodness (for one’s self) without reason, or to make evil (befall someone) without them having committed a crime, and Allah is far exalted above this, and that is why we find that Allah confirms that He is free from any need of the creation, and that He is the King of the entire Universe, so He says: ‘To Allah belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth.’

Moreover, a few more of the discussions with the Mu’tazila can be found in this next Verse, as we see in the following interpretation from ar-Razi’s Tafsir:

Our companions (i.e. the scholars of the Ahl us Sunnah) use the saying ‘and to Allah belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth’ to demonstrate that Allah is the Creator of the actions of the servants; they say that there is no doubt that the actions of the servants are from among the generalities of what is in the heavens and earth, so it necessitates their being His (Creation) by means of His saying ‘ and to Allah belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth’. And indeed our saying is correct: That if these have been created by Him, then this Verse is evidence that He is the Creator of the servants’ actions.

Al-Jubai answered this by saying that His saying ‘to Allah’ (lillah) is an attribution of property (i.e. of objects in the Universe) not an attribution of actions, do you not see that it is said: ‘This building is of so-and-so, and it is seen that it is his property, not that it is his action’. And likewise, the purport of this Verse is for Allah to exalt Himself and to praise His own Godhood, and it is not permissible for Him to praise Himself if He were to attribute lewdness and ugliness to Himself; also, His saying ‘whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth’ encompasses whatever is enveloped in the Heavens and the Earth, and these are from the characteristics of bodies, and not from the qualities of actions, which are accidents (i.e. incidents).

But our group answered that this attribution is an attribution on action, the proof of this being that the one who has power over the ugly and good will not choose the good over the ugly except if there is something in his heart which pushes him towards the good. But if this reasoning is used with Allah’s Creation it will lead to an infinite regress. And if the efficaciousness lies in the combination of (created) power and motivation, and it is also established that this power and motivation are created by Allah, then it is established that the action of the servant is connected to Allah’s Creating and Bringing into existence, by means of the reasons required by the action[38].

Next, we can move to Verse 4:40, the translation of which is:

Indeed, Allah does not do injustice, [even] as much as an atom’s weight; while if there is a good deed, He multiplies it and gives from Himself a great reward.

In here we see some of the same general discussions as we had seen with respect to the previous Verse. Thus, ‘Allamah al-Alusi mentions that:

The Mu’tazila used this Verse as a proof that injustice is possible in Allah’s Self, except that He does not do it due to an impossibility imposed by His Wisdom, not an impossibility (connected to) His Power. This is so because (they say) that Allah has praised Himself for leaving it, and there is no praise for leaving something ugly that is not connected to one’s Power, do you not see that the eyes are not praised for leaving adultery?

However, this is refuted by pointing out the saying of Allah the Exalted: “Slumber does not overtake Him, nor does Sleep” (al-Baqarah: 255). Thus, He has mentioned it in a context of praise even though sleep is not possible to be (hypothetically) attributed to Him.

In the book “Al-Kashf” it is mentioned: this is not conceivable (to be attributed to Him) since it is a praise of the non-existence of a deficiency in His Holy Self and it is like our saying: The Creator, Exalted and High be He, is not a body nor an accident. And with respect to what our natures are, it (would be) praise for leaving the action, and leaving the praised is possible when there is a choice.

Thus, it is possible for the denier[39] not to accept that Allah the Exalted has praised Himself due to leaving (the unjust act), (but) rather (to take it) from the view of the evidence for a weakness (whose non-existence is being praised), because necessary existence makes it impossible for injustice to be attributed (to the Necessary Existent).

The verification of this is that in their sect’s (i.e. for the Mu’tazila) ideology it is possible for Him to place something in other than its correct place in His (Nature). And they say that His Power encompasses all possibilities but Wisdom, which they define as the bringing forth of the possibility in a wise manner and as the hindrances may necessitate, (is what makes this impossible). Due to this they say: The Wise does not do anything other than good among the possibilities except if there is a motivating need, and the One who is free of all needs is also above doing ugly things.

To this we say: Him, Exalted be His Name, does not decrease from the reward nor does he increase to the punishment, based on his Predestined Decree, and if going against this is impossible due to its being a weakness impossible in Godhood and the plenitude of Richness, then with this notion it is correct to name it “Injustice”, even though it is not possible to imagine the truth of injustice coming from Him due to His being the Absolute King.

Thus, increasing and decreasing are possible in and of themselves, and breaking the promise is impossible in itself, and it is not necessary that since the breaking of the promise is impossible in itself in relation to the Necessary Existent – Exalted and Hallowed be He- that it be related in the same manner (to the increase and decrease mentioned above).

This is similar to what we established in the issue of burdening (someone) with the impossible in that Allah notifying us of the impossibility of belief of the importune person and the necessity of truthfulness of this notification does not exit him from being under the obligation (of having faith and doing good deeds), but rather establishes His Power over this person. So keep this in mind, since it is important[40].

In his ‘Mafatiih al-Ghyab’, Ar-Raazi says:

The Mu’tazila said that this Verse is an evidence showing that Allah is able to do injustice, since He praises Himself for having left it, and the one who praises (a being) for leaving an ugly thing, such a praise cannot be correct except if He is able to do this act. Do you not see that it is not correct to praise an invalid person for not having gone out in the night to steal?

The answer to this is … and He praises Himself to the effect that eyes do not comprehend Him, while this is not taken by the Mu’tazila as evidence that it is possible for the eyes to comprehend Him.

In another section, Ar-Razi mentions[41]:

The Mu’tazila said: This Verse is evidence showing that the servant (hypothetically) deserves rewards for His obedience and that if Allah does not reward him, then He has acted unjustly towards the servant.

This is because Allah has clarified in this Verse that if He does not reward them for their deeds He would do injustice to them and this is not correct (to have come in the Qur’an) except if they were deserving of rewards for their actions.

The answer to this is that Allah promised them the reward for these deeds, and if He had not rewarded them for it that would only be in the apparent form of injustice, and for this reason the word “Thulm” (injustice) has been used. And that which shows that injustice is in reality impossible for Allah, is that injustice is tied to ignorance and need in your (i.e. Mu’tazila) estimation, and these are impossible to be attributed to Allah, and the requirements of an impossibility are themselves impossible, and (in this way we know that) the impossible is not capacitated (i.e. cannot do anything).

Likewise, injustice is tied to acting in the property of another without right, and the Truth (Allah), Exalted be He, does not act except in His own kingdom, and this makes His being unjust an impossibility.

Moreover, the unjust one is not a deity, and a Being’s existence is not correct except if its necessary qualities are correct (and existent); for if injustice had been hypothetically possible for Him, it would have been possible for His Godhood to elapse, and in such a case the “Godhood” characteristic would need an (outside) specifier and causing agent, and this is impossible unto Allah the Exalted.

In another location, ar-Raazi mentions that:

Al-Jubai said: A big sin lays to waste the reward for all obedience, and there is no loss of punishment from anything (i.e. good deeds do not make the punishment go away). However, his son Abu Hashim said: Yes, it may be lost (i.e. the punishment may go away due to the performance of good deeds).

And know that this situation is in fact a great proof for our side for our saying that the loss (of reward due to big sins) is a false statement.

This is because we say: If there were to be a loss of that reward, it is either incumbent that there is a similar loss in the punishment, or that there is no loss, and both of these possibilities are untrue. Thus, the saying of loss (of reward) is false.

So we say that it is not possible for there to be a (mechanical-like) loss of one side by the other, for if the reason for the non-existence of each one [either rewards or punishments] is the existence of the other, then if their non-existence is tied to each other, then their existence is also tied to each other. This would be (a logical) necessity (since in that case) the cause cannot exist without the effect, and in such a situation that would be impossible.

And what we say is: It is not possible for the sinfulness to (mechanically) cause the (rewards of) obedience to be lost, and likewise sins are not (automatically) lost by obedience, because such obedience does not really benefit the servant at all, not in gaining reward, nor in pushing the punishment aside. In fact this would be injustice, and this would contradict Allah’s saying: “Verily, Allah does not do injustice of the weight of the (smallest possible) particle”.

And when it is established that the two sides are in error, then it is established that the saying of loss [of good or bad deeds and their rewards due to the carrying out of its opposite] as the Mu’tazila say is false.

Yet another issue mentioned by Imam ar-Razi is as follows:

The Mu’tazila say: This Verse is an evidence that Allah is not the Creator of the actions of the servants, for in the generality of these actions there is injustice of one to the other, and if the originator of this injustice is Allah the Exalted then the unjust one is Allah the Exalted, and likewise if He had created the injustice in the unjust person, and this unjust person had no independent power to attain this injustice before it came into being, nor to repel it once it came into being, and then Allah said to the one who has this condition: “Why did you do this injustice?”, and then punishes him for it, then this is the exact definition of injustice, and the Verse is an evidence that Allah the Exalted is exalted above injustice.

And the answer is: The disagreement concerning knowledge and motivation is ongoing and has no limit, and we mentioned that the evidences of the Mu’tazila even if they are numerous, all of them come back to one thing, and that is the persistence in the issues of praise and dispraise, (in addition to) reward and punishment. And the question in these matters is set, and this is the disagreement concerning knowledge and motivation, so whenever they return to these arguments we return with these questions.

Here there is the mention of the disagreement between “knowledge” and “cause/motivation”. What is basically meant is that there would be unsolvable contradictions in the knowledge of Allah and in His Power if one were to take the Mu’tazili view. For some more discussion about this matter, we can consider the following, taken from the following link[42]:

Ar-Razi mentioned that whoever Allah knows from eternity that He will not believe, his believing would indicate the reversal of the knowledge of Allah to ignorance, and the adherence to an impossibility is impossible itself.

The Mu’tazila answered in two ways. One of them was the way of Abi ‘Ali and Abi Haashim and Abdul Jabbar who said:

It is wrong to say that His Knowledge would turn into ignorance, and it is also wrong to say that it would not turn to ignorance, so it is incumbent to take both views.

Ar-Raazi answered by saying: If what is meant is that both mutually exclusive and contradictory positions are false at the same time then this is not maintained by any sane person.

If what they mean is that one of them is true but we do not know about it, it is enough of a refutation for this to consider that knowledge of a non-existent thing does not come except with its real non-existence. If existence were to become coupled with it, that would be a combination of existence and non-existence, and it is not possible for our minds to accept anything more obvious that this (i.e. that existence and non-existence are not the same thing, and that likewise Allah’s absolute Knowledge about the truth of something cannot be linked to two opposites).

And the second is the way of al-Ka’bi and this is what Abil Hasan al-Basri chose as well, which is that:

 Knowledge follows that which is known, thus if you determined that the truth from the servant is faith, then you know that what is known to Allah in pre-Eternity was knowledge of this faith, and when you determined that it was disbelief instead of belief, then you will have come to know that what Allah knew in Pre-Eternity was knowledge of disbelief rather than belief, so this is a determination of one type of knowledge over the other type, not a change in knowledge.

Ar-Razi answered this by saying: This is the extreme of weakness, because if we did not know that Allah the Exalted knew from pre-Eternity about the existence or non-existence of faith, then we would know that knowledge of one of these two types of matters was there, and that even now it (the knowledge) is also present. For if this occurs to knowledge of one of the two contradictions, this other disjunctive (item of knowledge) would necessitate the combination of contradictions, and if we were to say that this knowledge does not remain, this would be an admission of the alteration of knowledge into ignorance.

And with respect to “independent motivation” (for acts)

Imam Ar-Raazi says: Effective ability towards belief and disbelief does not predominate [i.e. one does not predominate over the other] except with a causing agent, and this agent cannot be directly linked to another agent from among the creation, since this would lead to an infinite regress; nay, but it must end at an agent that is effectuated directly by Allah’s act of creating.

And the effectualization of the action follows the conglomeration of the power and the cause/motivation:

-If it is obligatory, then it necessitates compulsion, and the servant has no independent origination in terms of doing or leaving an action.

-If it is not obligatory, it is possible that sometimes the action occurs and that sometimes it does not, and this effectualization of the action [even in this case] is not from the servant himself, but it is rather due to coincidence, and this is nothing other than compulsion.

Thus, the Mu’tazili (even in this second case) establishes compulsion, even though he himself does not notice the truth of the matter.

Even though many of the points above are clear enough, we thought it would be good to recap the important points above, since there are some arguments from our side which may have become obfuscated due to the depth of the discussion and the difficulties in making a smooth translation[43]. Thus, what we see is that:

1. Allah the Exalted praises Himself for not suffering from sleep or hunger, even though these matters are intrinsically impossible to be attributed to Him. This also extends to the fact that Allah does not beget as mentioned in many parts of the Qur’an. In all of these cases, what is being done is that Allah is praising the non-existence of a weakness in Him, not the actual leaving of the acts of sleeping, becoming hungry, begetting children, and so forth.

Also, an item from the Mu’tazilis belief is used against them, in that Allah informs us in the Qur’an that eyes do not comprehend Him, yet this is not taken by the Mu’tazilis as a proof that it is possible for humans to see Him. Had the Mu’tazilis consistently applied this alleged Usool[44] to all Qur’anic Ayahs, this would have forced them to accept the possibility of seeing Allah in the Hereafter as a sound theological position [which is something which they in fact deny].

2. Also, it is mentioned that “injustice” is there only in its “apparent form”, but not in its reality, just as was explained by Allamah Alusi with respect to Verses 26:208-209 shown above.

An example is provided to partially understand how “Injustice” is used figuratively in this Verse. We see that increasing the punishment of someone, or decreasing in the reward is hypothetically possible upon Allah in and of themselves. However, Allah has informed us of His Predestined Decree, and breaking of a promise is intrinsically impossible to be attributed to Allah[45]. So only in this sense can the term “injustice” in this and related Ayahs be understood.

This is further clarified by saying that it is akin to Allah legally burdening someone with the contingently impossible, in that the fact that Allah has informed us that a certain person will go to Hellfire does not preclude that person’s obligation to follow the truth. This is classically used in the example of Abu Lahab, in that Allah informed mankind in the Qur’an that he would go to Hellfire even though Abu Lahab was still alive and (hypothetically) had the chance to enter Islam. However, what Allah was informing mankind was that Abu Lahab would be incapacitated from accepting Islam, which even so did not remove his legal responsibility to follow the truth (this also gets into the topics of the miraculous nature of the Qur’an in that it foretold of future events exactly as they would occur, but this is something outside the scope of this article).

3. When we consider Verse 3:109, it serves to emphasize the Sunnis’ point, since it shows that Allah is free of all needs and of the Universe itself, so the question of injustice does not arise even hypothetically. This is so since injustice is only done in order to gain an advantage for one’s self (either in the material or emotional realms), but none of this can possibly apply to Allah.

As an extension of this, it is mentioned that necessary existence (which is only attributable to Allah) entails the impossibility of injustice, since the converse of this would imply the possibility of need and weakness with Allah, which is impossible (since in that case there would be a need for an outside entity to specify what needs and strengths (this being we have mistakenly called) “Allah” possesses, and this is a contradiction in terms). 

4. When Verse 3:109 is considered from another angle, we see that the belonging referred to in this Verse is with respect to both the persons and the deeds committed by them. The proof of this is that if were assumed that the actions of the servant were created by themselves, then this would lead to an infinite regress, which is something impossible. The only other option is that the actions of the servants are brought about by Allah Himself.

[In brief, the reason why this supposition would lead to an infinite regress is that whenever someone commits an act there is a preference of one choice over a number of other choices. This choice is obviously a contingently existent matter, since it was originated and did not exist in pre-eternity. But by definition, every contingent existent or conglomeration of contingent existents needs a preferrer to specify its contingent characteristics. If this preferrer is said to be another “contingent existent” or a set of “contingent existents”, then this has only moved the “hoped-for” solution one step back, without actually solving the problem.

Of course, this would only lead to an infinite regress, since for any iteration we would move the “hoped-for” solution one step back without solving the problem at all.

Then we would come to know that the weakness in all of this exercise was supposing that a contingent existent could have any true, effective “Power of Creation”. Thus, we are forced to retrace our steps until we settle on the fact that “Power of Creation” does not exist except for Allah the Exalted[46]]

5. A page is taken from the Mu’tazilites arguments, in that they say that injustice is tied to ignorance and need according to them. But according to all, ignorance and need are intrinsically impossible to be attributed to Allah. And if the requirements for something are in the realm of the intrinsically impossible, then we know that this something is also intrinsically impossible.

While it is true that the Ahl us Sunnah concentrate more on Allah’s Total Ownership of the Universe and how this goes against the idea of the contingent possibility of injustice with respect to Allah, even from the Mu’tazilite disputations concerning need and ignorance it would be known that attribution of hypothetical injustice to Allah is also impossible.

6. Another issue discussed is that of why a “karma-like” cancellation of good deeds by bad ones in not logically necessary. This is because the deeds in and of themselves are not the true reason why one enters into Paradise or Hellfire, but rather the true reason is Allah’s choice as to whether place someone is Paradise or Hellfire.

Another angle in this is the one connected to the relationship between the claim that servants create their own actions with the claim that big evil deeds mechanically lay waste to all good actions. This issue comes up for the following reason:

If the non-existence of good deeds (insofar as rewards/punishments are concerned) is the consequence of bad deeds having been committed, these bad deeds themselves need to be a consequence of some other motivating factor. The (now-nonexistent) good deeds cannot be the real reason for these bad deeds to have come into existence, since the former have no effective power – and even if it were assumed that they still had effective power, this would only lead to a logical circularity, which is not acceptable. At the end we would be left with the untenable position of an infinite regress, which would force us again to admit that Allah the Exalted is the one who chooses the true value of any deed, and that the deeds in and of themselves have no effective power to cancel any other deeds.

7.  Finally, the issue of Allah’s Knowledge and Power are brought up from another important angle, when the “disagreement between knowledge and motivation” is considered.

a. First, we have the issue of Allah’s Knowledge. What is happening is that the Mu’tazila group accepts that Allah’s Knowledge encompasses all past, present, and future events, while saying that the servants in fact create/originate their own deeds and that they are absolutely free in this regard. So this leads to the following contradiction:

If Allah knows from Pre-eternity that “servant A” will never believe, then this is a sort of “forcing him” to disbelieve, since as far as Allah’s Knowledge is concerned, this disbelief of “servant A” is an unchangeable truth. But if they say that this is not an “unchangeable truth” and that “servant A”  may in fact believe, then this means that Allah’s Knowledge may in fact be ignorance, and this is nothing other than weakness and need which cannot possibly be attributed to Allah[47].

The Mu’tazilites tried to answer this issue in two ways: One, by applying a principle of non-commitment (neither “ignorance” nor “non-ignorance”), and the other by giving primacy to the observation of the people in determining what Allah’s Absolute Knowledge is. However, the problems with these answers are as follows:

(i) The first case is problematic for two reasons: If what is meant is a true combination of opposites that do not admit any other possibilities (as an application of the law of the excluded middle), this is something that no one adheres to.

If what is meant is that we just do not know if Allah’s Knowledge will turn into ignorance or not (and that as such we should keep silent on this matter), then this is again a claim from their side that the possibility of ignorance to befall Allah is true (and we are simply claiming that we do not know is that possibility is effectuated or not), but this position does not solve any issues.

(ii) The second case is problematic because it is not really addressing the root problem; it is only saying that we as humans may determine the faith or disbelief of a person, and then say that Allah knew of that person’s faith or disbelief in pre-eternity.

In this case, if we did not know that Allah knew from Pre-Eternity about the existence or non-existence of faith (in this person), what we would know is that the knowledge of one of the two (either faith or disbelief) was there, and that such is the case even now and into the future also (since Allah’s Knowledge is unchanging).

Now, if this occurs with one of the two (either faith or disbelief), the possibility of the other one would imply a combination of contradictions, and this would be nothing other than the alteration of knowledge into ignorance.

Here, the Mu’tazila’s insistence on the absolute independence of the servants to create his own deeds is used to say that a determining of change in the faith of the servant would be impossible, since it would at the very end imply a change in Allah’s Knowledge.

b. Next, we have the issue of “motivating factors”. In fact, this was mostly dealt with above, especially under point number 4, but in here some of the arguments are presented with a slightly different articulation. Thus, it is said that:

(i) The action cannot be from the absolute free will of the servant (as we already noted above).

(ii) If it is from Allah, then the fact that the action is effectuated, necessitates “compulsion”, since that action needs a power to bring it into being.

(iii) Even if we were to imagine for a moment that effectuation is not directly tied to action (i.e.., there is no intrinsic need for a power to bring this action into being), this would be nothing other than leaving this action to “chance”. And “chance” would mean that mere “coincidence” has “overpowering sway” over whether the act comes into being,a nd in this case also it is a type of “compulsion” totally outside the servant’s independent control ans choice.

This is why it was said that whichever way the Mu’tazili tries to run away from the issue, he cannot avoid but to accept the reality of “compulsion” in this case.

[As an aside, if it is asked as to how it can be said that we have “free will” when we do any action, we say that it is a “created free will”, where the term “free will” means that the servant does not feel that he is forced to act in a certain way. However, this “feeling of freedom” does not preclude the fact that Allah has created the action and that Allah has also created the “feelings of freedom” in the minds of the servant.

Finally, as we can infer from the above discussion, Allah has independently decreed that only the “free” actions of the servants are subject to judgment, reward, and punishment, and that actions committed under “duress” are not judged. However, this is not an intrinsic necessity connected to the type of deeds themselves].

With this, we come to the end of our discussion concerning Allah and the possibility of hypothetically attributing injustice to Him. We hope that the readers have benefited from this discussion, and we will expand this work if the need arises.

However, for now this is how the discussion stands, and our final supplication is that Allah guides all those who are sincerely looking for true guidance, and that He makes us die as Muslims. Amin.

[1] The majority of this article is taken from a series of posts we made on the sunniforum.com site (the discussion itself began on this link, even though we did not join at the beginning of the discussion), along with some relevant additional material.

[2] We are using this translation attributed to M.H. Shakir. Even though we have very serious reservations concerning the belief of the person who undertook this translation-as the version available online seems to be from a well known Twever Shia publisher- we are placing it here since this and other very similar translations are the ones used by our opponents when discussing with us.

Of course, many of the orthodox Sunni translations will not present the Verse like this. For example, Mufti Taqi Usmani renders it as: “That (Allah sends messengers) is because your Lord is not to destroy any towns on account of any wrongdoing, whiletheir people are unaware.”

But the differences in the translation stem from the completely different understanding of the Sunnis as opposed to heretics concerning the question of what is Allah’s nature, and what is possible and impossible to attribute to Allah. This is a topic for a separate discussion, although we have briefly touched upon it in our article: Twelver Shiaism and the origin of actions.

We have also heard that the Shakr translation is basically the same as that produced by the Qadiani Muhammad Ali. We do not know the truth behind this claim, but if it is indeed true, then it cannot at all be used as an evidence when discussing with Sunnis, since we consider Qadianis as non-Muslims.

[3] Bewley was brought up because her translation apparently points towards the hypothetical “injustice” being from Allah.

[4] If we were to hypothetically suppose that a translator such as Bewley does not follow proper Islamic belief on this matter, even then it would not change the truth of the belief itself, since belief matters are not an issue of Taqlid (following the rulings of someone else on a matter where the evidences may be apparently ambiguous or contradictory), but rather are matters of rational certainty, where the Mujtahid (high-level scholar) is not excused if he makes a wrong decision, nor is the Muqallid (lay follower) excused if he follows this wrong opinion.

[26] Since in the view of such people, Allah did not possess knowledge about something, and this became known to Him only after the occurrence of a certain event, in this case the sin of the human.

[27] That is, the totality of all created things.

[29] If someone asks as to why

[30] But do note that such explanations from our side will need scholarly approval in order to be considered “sound”.

[31] That is, (according to al-Jubai) either Allah is the originator of injustice, the person himself is the one who originates injustice, or some other person is the originator of this injustice.

[32] i.e. the Mu’tazila

[33] That is, it cannot be taken on its literal meaning.

[35] In Islamic theology, we would call this category a contingent impossibility- anything which is possible in the mind’s eye, but which has been declared impossible due to the textual revelation, such as Abu Lahab or Fir’awn going to Paradise. The other category is the intrinsic impossibility, which is impossible even if we did not have the revelation to guide us, such as the impossibility of there being multiple ‘gods’. Thus, Allamah al-Alusi is pointing out that Allah acting unjustly is not a contingent impossibility, but rather it is an intrinsic impossibility.

[39] Even though the word “denier” may seem to bring up negative connotations, in fact it simply means in here the “denier” of the wrong interpretation.

[41] All of these quotations from ar-Raazi’s Tafsir come from: (http://altafsir.com/Tafasir.asp?tMadhNo=1&tTafsirNo=4&tSoraNo=4&tAyahNo=40&tDisplay=yes&UserProfile=0&LanguageId=1) onwards. The order of the objections and their rebuttals have been changed in some cases.

[43] We beg the forgiveness of our readers if there is something that is still unclear below, or if there is something wrong in the below explanations, and we will ask ‘Ulama concerning our explanations whenever the opportunity presents itself.

[44] Fundamental basis for deriving rulings and beliefs

[45] The unmentioned point is that Allah informing us of His Decree is a Promise of Allah, and whichever way the matter is worded, it is intrinsically impossible for Allah’s Decree to be anything other than what He has informed us or for Him to break His Promise. This also gets into the issue of Allah’s Knowledge, and that had “breaking a Promise” been possible for Allah, this would have entailed the possibility of Allah being ignorant of the future, which is impossible.

[46] We hope that by the Mercy of Allah we will be able to shortly give a more detailed explanation about this matter. It is a critically important issue, and is one that in fact separates Islamic cosmology from that of any other religion or ideology.

[47] Someone may ask that if it is an “unchangeable truth” as far as Allah’s Knowledge is concerned, does this not also render Allah incapable of having free choice? We say that comparing the actions of the servant to the actions of Allah is an ontological mistake, since Allah does not “do actions” in a sequential order like the creation, so the issue of a “prior knowledge” constraining “future actions” does not arise as far as Allah the Exalted in concerned.