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An Islamic Theodicy

An Islamic Theodicy

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Published by: Norwegian79 on Jun 21, 2012
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In one strategy to render the noncoincidence of God's generative and

legislative wills plausible, Ibn Taymiyya differentiates between

willing to do

something oneself (generative) and willing that someone else do something

(legislative). A full instance of this occurs in Minhaj. 149 The shaykh sets out

several examples from human affairs. He explains that someone may advise an

advisee what will profit the advisee. However, this advisor may not help the

advisee carry out what he commands because it

would not be to his own benefit.

This is like

someone who advises another to marry a certain woman but does not

marry her himself 150 Additionally, Ibn Taymiyya notes that someone may choose

not to help another do what he commands because it would entail harm to himself.

As an example, he cites the quranic story of the one who came running to warn

Moses to flee. "He told Moses, `A crowd is

conspiring to kill you. Leave! I am

an advisor to you' (Q. 28: 20). It was to his benefit to command Moses to leave

but not to help him in that. Indeed, if he had helped him, his people would have

harmed him. "151 In another example, someone-apparently a king, although the

shaykh does not specify-may realize that it would be to the benefit of one of his


subjects to learn the ways of power. Furthermore, this king might command him

to do what would benefit the latter. However, the king himself will not help his

subject lest he

rise up as an enemy against the king's son. 152

Conversely, one issuing

commands will also help in cases that are to his

benefit. Ibn Taymiyya gives several examples: "The king's command to his army

to do whatever upholds his sovereignty, the master's command to his servant to

do whatever benefits his property, and a person's command to his associate to do

whatever benefits their shared affair, etc. "153 Someone may also be motivated by

an interest in gaining reward from God for commanding another to do right and

then helping that other person obey. '54

All of these examples fail to convince because they are premised on the one

commanded having libertarian freedom. This is, of course, not the case for Ibn

Taymiyya because he maintains that things only exist by virtue of God's creation

and generation. It is thus well that the shaykh explains that his examples from the

realm of creatures are not necessarily applicable to God but that they serve to

show what might possibly be the case. He argues that if it is possible that wise

creatures command for the benefit of another but do

not help out of consideration

for their own benefit and wise purpose, then this is

a fortiori

possible for God. '55

God commands unbelievers what would benefit them if they did it, but He does

not always help them obey on account of His wise purpose in not creating that. '56

Through His command and prohibition, God informed Pharaoh and AbCü Lahab

what would profit and benefit them, but He chose not to help them perform those

acts because it would have been detrimental to His own wise purpose and


benefit. 157

Ibn Taymiyya does

not suggest how this might have been detrimental

to God.

In the passage from Minhäj just summarized, the benefit of God clearly

overrides the benefit of particular creatures. Ibn Taymiyya affirms that God has

the right to praise in everything that He creates and commands even though some

people suffer harm through what He creates in His wise purpose. 158

Although the

shaykh says very little in Minhäj about the benefit that God is seeking, he does

give some indication of God's wise purposes in creating harm, and these are of

benefit to properly responding human beings as well. The illness

and oppression

that God creates lead to invocation of God, humility,

repentance from sins,

expiation of offenses, softening of the heart, and the removal of pride and enmity.

These things are not gained through justice even though justice is also of benefit

to humans. Ibn Taymiyya ends this remark in Minhüj by saying that it is not

given to humans to know the details of God's wise purposes. 159

A similar example of Ibn Taymiyya's distinction between will as

commanding another and will as helping another occurs several pages later in

Minhüj. Here the focus is on God's freedom from foolishness

rather than on His

personal benefit. The Shi9i theologian al-Hilli charges that someone (i. e. the

Sunni God) who commands what he does not will and wills what he prohibits is

foolish. Ibn Taymiyya says that this is

not so. A doctor who commands a sick

person to take medicine does

not have to help his patient take it, and advisors in

matters of business and agriculture do not have to follow their own advice.

Conversely, an advisor may tell an advisee not to do what the advisor himself is

doing because it would be harmful to the advisee. Here, the shaykh notes that a


snake handler is not foolish to prohibit his

son from handling a snake. Likewise, a

swimmer tells someone who cannot swim not to swim, and a king who goes out to


prohibits women from

going out with him. Upon mentioning these

examples, Ibn Taymiyya immediately

notes that it is not possible to find an

example or similitude that is applicable to God in every respect since there is

nothing like Him. Rather, the point is to show that it is within the realm of

possibility that God commands what He does not will, whereas the Multazilis

think this to be necessarily foolish. 160

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