Introduction to 'Ilm-al-Kalam
Martyr Murtada Mutahhari
9. 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 interprets 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 believes 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 emphasizes 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 considers al-tawhid al-‘af’ali to be contrary to the doctrine of justice.
Also, thereby, the Mu’tazilah believes in human freedom and free will and is 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 practiced, 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 fulfill? Is it possible that God may saddle someone with a duty which is over and above his capacity? The Mu’tazilah considered 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.