Shīʿa Islam: History and Doctrines / Ayatullāh Jaʿfar Subḥānī
Badāʾ (lit. ‘appearance’) is a Shīʿa doctrine rooted in the Qur’an and the tradtions of the Prophet. It is similar abrogation (naskh) and both stem from the same source. However, the difference is that abrogation pertains to legislation, meaning that a divine command is issued at one time and nullified at another. Such an instruction was temporary at its inception and not eternal, although it may appear so. God, the Creator of the world, restricts such laws from the very beginning. On the other hand, Badāʾ is related to creation. For instance, someone is destined to die on a specific day but he is spared after giving alms to the poor. This person was initially destined to die, but his fate changes after his act of alms-giving. However, this should not be understood as a change in the divine knowledge.
According to the Shīʿa, badāʾ means that a person’s destiny can change according to God’s will; a bad outcome can be averted by a good deed, while a good outcome can be altered as the result of a bad one. This doctrine means that mankind is not held hostage to fate – rather every human being can change his destiny. Consider the example of a foolish young man who is drug addict and drinker of alcohol; everyone knows what his future will be if he continues on this path. But he can change his future through piety and prayer. Equally, someone otherwise destined to end up in Hell because of his sins can repent and benefit from God’s mercy. Something bad might have been destined to befall someone, but a simple donation changes the conditions and thus changes their fate. The term badāʾ could be interpreted as transforming one fate and one possible future into another different one.
Islamic exegetes have interpreted the Qur’anic verse ‘Allah effaces and confirms whatever He wishes and with Him is the Mother Book’ (Q13:39) differently. To that effect, the Prophet says: ‘Donations and good deeds change the fate of mankind because their primary fate is not their final one; it is contingent on their deeds. This means mankind can change their first fate into a second one.’
The fact is that badāʾ is highlighted in the Qur’an and traditions. Now let us consider the meaning badāʾ: A former member of the Assembly of Experts wrote: ‘In 1980 we were drafting the Constitution of the Islamic Republic. A Sunnī scholar from southeast Iran was present there. From time to time, we discussed religious issues. He called into question the Shīʿa belief in badāʾ. I asked him: ‘Doesn’t badāʾ mean that a person can change his fate through good deeds and charity?’ He thought this was my personal view and asked to see a book written by Shīʿa where they have interpreted it thus. I had to borrow Awāʾil al-Maqalāt and Taṣḥīḥ al-ʿItiqād, both authored by Shaykh al-Mufīd, and from the library of Chihilsutūn Mosque and give it him to study. Several days later, having studied the book, he told me: ‘If badāʾ is what is mentioned in these two books then all Sunnī scholars believe in it too!’
Differences on this issue mainly stem from differing interpretations of particular terms; if scholars came together and discussed these issues, they would see that the differences are minor and Islamic unity could be manifested in a better way.
To further familiarize ourselves with the concept of badāʾ, we will review some Qur’anic verses and prophetic traditions.
God’s knowledge of events
Philosophical arguments and Qur’anic verses testify to the fact that God is eternally aware of everything happening in this world and that nothing remains hidden from Him. ‘Nothing is indeed hidden from Allah in the heavens or the earth.’ (Q3:5) Therefore, any unexpected event that occurs is interpreted as a case of badāʾ for human beings. But for God, there is nothing unexpected because there is nothing unknown. ‘Our Lord! Indeed You know whatever we hide and whatever we disclose, and nothing is hidden from Allah in the heavens or the earth.’ (Q14:38) God is cognizant of everything in the minds and spirits of mankind, no matter if they reveal it or hide it. ‘Whether you disclose anything or hide it, Allah indeed knows all things.’ (Q33:54) Hiding and concealing only apply to finite beings but God is infinite and nothing can be concealed from him. In other words, every phenomenon owes its existence to the existence of God; a single moment of disconnection between a phenomenon and God will result in its non-existence. Imam al-Kāẓim says: ‘God knew all things before their creation exactly as He knew them after their creation.’ (Kulaynī, Kāfī, 1/107)
The verses and traditions about the extent of God’s knowledge and His omniscience are far too numerous to be exhaustively presented here. However, what is clear is that those who interpret badāʾ as something hidden becoming apparent to God are totally mistaken and are defaming the Shīʿa. It is surprising to hear al-Fakhr al-Rāzī, who lived in Rayy, a city of numerous Shīʿa scholars, offer his own misinterpretation of badāʾ! He claims: ‘the Shīʿa believe that God changes his mind from time to time’ and then rejects this concept on the grounds that change in the knowledge of God are impossible as God is endowed with omniscience. (Fakhr al-Rāzī, Tafsīr, 4/216)
Rāzī most probably received his views from the interpretations of anti-Shīʿa figures. In particular, Balkhī is a likely source for Rāzī’s misconception. (Ṭūsī, Tibyān, 1/13) After Balkhī, Abū al-Ḥasan al-Ashʿarī himself also insisted on this misinterpretation (Maqālāt al-Islāmiyyīn, 107). However, the Shīʿa have never held such an understanding and have historically been stringent in their conception of God as utterly transcendent and without flaw (tanzīh). On the other hand, as an Ash’arite, Rāzī treats God’s knowledge as a separate entity to God himself, declaring it unchanging, while Shīʿa theologians identify God’s knowledge with His essence and say that any change to God’s essence is impossible.
Qur’anic verses and prophetic traditions indicate that God has never abandoned creation and the entire universe is under His control in each passing moment. This is unlike those who imagine that the act of creation is finished – the Qur’an notes that creation is still under way: ‘The Jews say, ‘Allah’s hand is tied up.’ Tied up be their hands, and cursed be they for what they say! Rather, His hands are wide open: He bestows as He wishes.’ (Q5:64)
For those like the Jews described in this verse, a person’s fate is unalterable and a single fate is imposed on each person at his birth. They believe that mankind can never change his fate no matter what he does. They mean that even God Himself could not change the fate for his creatures. On the other hand, Islam says mankind can change his fate through their deeds and there are numerous verses to that effect:
‘He has guardian angels, to his front and his rear, who guard him by Allah’s command. Indeed Allah does not change a people’s lot, unless they change what is in their souls. And when Allah wishes to visit ill on a people, there is nothing that can avert it, and they have no protector besides Him.’ (Q13:11)
‘That is because Allah never changes a blessing that He has bestowed on a people unless they change what is in their own souls, and Allah is all-hearing, all-knowing’ (Q8:53)
‘If the people of the towns had been faithful and Godwary, We would have opened to them blessings from the heaven and the earth. But they denied; so We seized them because of what they used to earn.’ (Q7:96)
‘And had he not been one of those who celebrate Allah’s glory, he would have surely remained in its belly till the day they will be resurrected. Then We cast him on a bare shore, and he was sick. So We made a gourd plant grow above him.’ (Q37:143-146)
Jonah had been destined to remain in the stomach of the fish until the Day of Judgment, but he changed his own fate through good deeds; he praised God and as a result he was freed. This verse and other verses in the Qur’an show that mankind can change their fate from good to bad and vice versa. The verses on this subject are too many to be discussed here. Those who like to go further into details can refer to these verses: Q65:3, Q14:7, Q21:76, 83, Q10:98)
Changing one’s fate through deeds
There are narrations showing that mankind can change their destiny. There are too many traditions on this subject to fully discuss all their details here, so we will restrict ourselves to only the most significant ones.
Giving charity, maintaining ties with relatives, kindness to one’s parents, repentance, forgiveness and thanksgiving are amongst the good deeds that could change someone’s fate for the better and save them from danger or grief; they also grant longevity and wealth, and invite rainfall. In the meantime, bad deeds that will have negative impacts on one’s fate include jealousy, bad temper, cutting off relatives, mistreatment of parents and ungratefulness. Therefore, no fixed destiny has been defined for anyone and a person’s fate can always change as a result of his or her deeds.
The effect of giving charity
Imam al-Riḍā, the eighth Imam, quotes his forefathers as saying: ‘Start your day with giving alms because calamities could never cross the wall of charity.’
The effect of praying for God’s forgiveness
Imam ʿAlī, the first Shīʿa Imam, says: ‘Repent a lot so that your wealth will increase.’
The effect of prayers
Imam al-Sādiq says: ‘Prayers repel destiny and if a believer commits a sin he will be deprived of his sustenance.’
The Shīʿa are not the only one to have such narrations. Sunnī traditionists have narrated similar phrases. Jalāl al-Dīn Suyūṭī has collected these narrations in his Durr al-Manthūr. (Durr al-Manthūr, 4/66)
Jalāl al-Dīn Suyūṭī quotes Ibn Masʿūd as saying that everyone reciting the following prayers will see his sustenance increase:
‘O God to whom everyone is indebted and who is indebted to no one. O God, master of greatness and generosity, O master of benediction. There is not god but You. You provide sanctuary to those who seek refuge in you and you allay fears. If You have written wretchedness for me in the Mother Book then erase it and write for me felicity. And if you have written poverty for me, then erase my deprivation and make easy my sustenance, and write my name among the happy and successful ones. For you have said in your Book revealed: ‘Allah effaces and confirms whatever He wishes and with Him is the Mother Book.’’ (Ibid)
Now we have seen that badāʾ is a warning to sinners that they should never think that their fate will not change because of having committed a sin, and understood the Qur’anic notion of badāʾ that good deeds particularly repentance can change our fate, we can appreciate the value of this saying from Imam Bāqir and Imam al-Sādiq: ‘God, the Almighty, has not been worshipped by anything like He has through badāʾ.’ (Majlisī>, Biḥār, 4/107)
The doctrine of badāʾ demonstrates the power and greatness of God. If a sinner changes the conditions of his life, then his fate will change to be harmonious with those conditions; to deny badāʾ is to underestimate the power of God.
Hishām b. Sālim narrates from Imam al-Sādiq: ‘God has not been magnified by the likeness of badāʾ.’ (Ibid)
Again, Imam al-Sādiq says: ‘If people knew how they will be recompensed for belief in badāʾ, they would never be fed up with talking about it.’ (Ṣadūq, Tawḥīd)
Now we are fully acquainted with the reality of badāʾ, we can focus on proofs for it and how the Prophets and the Imams have used this concept.
Positively affirming badāʾ
God is aware of everything that happens – past, present and future – in the world. Besides His intrinsic knowledge which forms His identity, there are two other manifestations of this divine knowledge:
First is the Guarded Tablet (lawḥ maḥfūẓ). The Qur’an describes it as follows: ‘Rather it is a glorious Qur’an, in a preserved tablet.’ (Q85:21-22) In another verse, God says: ‘No affliction visits the earth or yourselves but it is in a Book before We bring it about – that is indeed easy for Allah’ (Q57:22) Everything that happens in this world is reflected in the Guarded Tablet and it only happens as it has been described therein. In other words, the Guarded Tablet is identical with the entified reality of the world.
The second manifestation of the divine knowledge is the Tablet of Erasure and Confirmation (lawḥ maḥw wa ithbāt); every destiny is reflected on this slate before being materialized and sometimes another fate replaces the first one. In any case, both are instructed by God. The first fate belongs to the period of inaction when mankind does not repent or give donations but when he gives donation and repents he will meet a different fate which will replace the first one on the slate.
In other words, any phenomenon in this world occurs due to a series of events and causes which may number in the thousands. If we attribute a phenomenon to questionable causes, nothing will be definite then. In that event, the Prophets and the Imams who are worthy of reading the Tablet of Erasure and Confirmation understand the objective of each phenomenon and they report it. But when their reports contradict reality, we say badāʾ has occurred, which means that the Prophet or Imam has seen the original fate without being aware of the second one. However, the Prophet has still been honest in his reporting. Now we can provide some examples of such reports, mentioned in the Qur’an, which did not materialize.
Badāʾ in the sacrifice of Ishmael
The Qur’an recounts the story of Ishmael as follows:
‘So We gave him the good news of a forbearing son. When he was old enough to assist in his endeavour, he said, ‘My son! I see in a dream that I am sacrificing you. See what you think.’ He said, ‘Father! Do whatever you have been commanded. If Allah wishes, you will find me to be patient.’ So when they had both submitted [to Allah’s will], and he had laid him down on his forehead, We called out to him, ‘O Abraham! You have indeed fulfilled the vision! Thus indeed do We reward the virtuous! This was indeed a manifest test.’’ (Q37:101-106)
The phrase ‘I am sacrificing you’ indicates that Abraham had been ordered to slaughter his own son in his dream and that this order had come from God. But just before Ishmael was to be sacrificed, the conditions changed and another order given to Abraham. In the same part of the sūra, we read: ‘Then We ransomed him with a great sacrifice.’ (Q37:107) In his dream, Abraham had seen the instructions on the Tablet of Erasure and reported them faithfully, but he was not aware of the change of fate for his son. The slaughter of Ishmael was cancelled and another replaced it.
The Prophet Jonah invited his kin to monotheism for a long time without success. Finally, he warned them of a divine punishment should they reject him. Three days passed and nothing happened. Exegetes say that badāʾ occurred in that context, but not in the sense that God changed his mind. It happened because Jonah was aware of what was inscribed on the Tablet of Erasure, but this divine punishment was contingent on the refusal of people to obey to him and their refusal to repent. To that effect, the Qur’an says:
‘Why has there not been any town that might believe, so that its belief might benefit it, except the people of Jonah? When they believed, We removed from them the punishment of disgrace in the life of this world, and We provided for them for a while.’ (Q10:98)
The question here is why were Jonah’s people were spared punishment while others were not? One significant reason might be the sincerity of their repentance; other peoples might have repented only out of fear of punishment without any real intention to change their ways. But Jonah’s people were sincere in their repentance, their belief in Jonah was true and they changed their ways for the better.
Therefore, Jonah’s warning of punishment was completely true. People rushed to the desert when they saw the signs of punishment and took their children and cattle away. They even separated mothers from children and dressed threadbare clothes in a bid to show their humility before God. Divine blessing was bestowed upon them. In this case, badāʾ occurred because the punishment was lifted before its completion, which was conditioned on their continued refusal and disbelief. However, when the conditions were no longer met, the punishment was halted.
Moses’ Thirty Nights
Moses told his tribe: ‘I will be away from you for thirty nights because my God has summoned me to a meeting and instructed me to name Aaron as my deputy.’ But then, after thirty nights, God added ten more. Two issues are at stake here; either Moses stayed at this meeting for only for thirty nights or Moses remained there for forty. Due to his connection with the Tablet of Erasure and Confirmation, Moses was aware of his 30-night nocturnal stay and he announced it. But he did not know that his stay will be extended by another ten nights. This fact has been highlighted in the Qur’an as follows:
‘And We made an appointment with Moses for thirty nights, and completed them with ten [more]; thus the tryst of his Lord was completed in forty nights. And Moses said to Aaron, his brother, ‘Be my successor among my people, and set things right and do not follow the way of the agents of corruption.’’ (Q7:142)
Therefore, we can use the term badāʾ for when the thirty nights were extended to forty. Moses initial report was apparently correct but the conditions had not been fulfilled and therefore it changed into 40.
Based on the above Qur’anic verses, it becomes clear that any destiny could be altered, and that sometimes what the messengers of God report to people does not materialize because of a change in circumstances. In that case, the concept of badāʾ is a good explanation for why this happens. God is well aware that the initial destiny would come to pass and that another would replace it, but from the point of view of ordinary people, this is badāʾ.
‘When the faithless plotted against you to take you captive, or to kill or expel you. They plotted and Allah devised, and Allah is the best of devisers.’ (Q8:30)
God refers to His job of neutralizing their conspiracies as ‘devising’.
Badāʾ in the Traditions
Islamic narrations are filled with accounts of Badāʾ similar to those mentioned in the Qur’an. Here are some examples:
The Prophet Jesus encountered a procession taking a bride to her new husband’s home. He asked what the convoy was doing. He was told that a girl was being carried to her husband’s house. The prophet said: ‘Today, she is getting married, but tomorrow she will be mourned.’ Someone asked how come. Jesus said the bride would die that night. However, the following day, the bride was reported to be still alive. Jesus was asked to explain. He went straight to the bride’s house and asked her what good deed she had done. ‘I did nothing but donating food to a poor man who used to knock at our door every Thursday night. I did the same last night.’ Jesus asked her to stand up. A snake was sleeping beneath the mattress of the bride. ‘Due to your good deed, you were spared this scourge.’ (Biḥār al-Anwār, 4/94)
Kulaynī narrates from Imam al-Sādiq (a.s) that the Prophet (s.a.w.a) was sitting somewhere. A Jew from Medina passed him by. Instead of saying the usual greeting of: ‘Peace be upon you’, he spoke in a dialect in which the words also meant ‘Death to you.’ In response, the Prophet said: ‘Upon you.’ The Prophet and his Companions then spoke and the Prophet said a black snake would bite this man on the neck and he will die. The man went away and collected firewood to carry on his back. The Prophet told him to lay down the firewood and a black snake could be seen holding a piece of wood with its teeth. The Prophet asked the Jew what good deed he had done and the Jew replied that he had done nothing important but giving a loaf of bread as charity. The prophet said God spared him death because of his charity. Then the Prophet said charity repels away ill-fated deaths.
Whatever we read in these two narrations is a reflection of the same principle that was operating in the verses. The reports the Prophet and Jesus gave were totally accurate because they had observed everything inscribed on the Tablet. But they were unaware of the acts of charity which changed the circumstances. In such cases, badāʾ is the best description and has two senses: Mankind interprets God’s will from their own viewpoint or this term is used because of harmony with other cases.
Ṣadūq has quoted Imam al-Sādiq as saying: ‘God gave the Prophet Adam the names of his successors and their longevities. David’s longevity was 40 years old. Adam asked God why David’s lifetime was so short while his was long. He offered to give 30 years of his age to David. God accepted. Adam said: I donate 30 years of my life to David. God added 30 years to David’s lifetime. (Biḥār al-Anwār, 4/102)
In the first report, David’s lifetime was 40 years and that was accurate. But it could vary due to his own actions or those of others. Adam made a sacrifice and so a second destiny took shape.
Now, it becomes easier to understand the meaning of the following verse: ‘Allah effaces and confirms whatever He wishes and with Him is the Mother Book.’ (Q13:39)
God tasked one of his messengers with telling a king of his time that on a specific date he will die. After hearing this news, the king raised his hands and asked God to give him a reprieve so that he could raise his child. This prophet was then told that 15 years had been added to the king’s lifetime. (Biḥār al-Anwār, 4/121)
ʿAmr b. Ḥumq, a faithful disciple of Imam ʿAlī, went to visit the Imam after he was injured. The Imam said: ‘I will leave you soon.’ And then he repeated thrice that that year will be the year of catastrophes. ʿAmr asked the Imam if there was any hope of averting this, but the Imam did not reply. When Umm Kulthūm cried loudly the Imam regained consciousness. ʿAmr repeated his question and the Imam replied: ‘God will erase whatever He wants and confirm whatever he wants.’ (Biḥār al-Anwār, 4/119)
In all these cases, the Prophets and the Imams spoke and acted according to the principle of badāʾ. Now figures like Rāzī and Balkhī should be asked why they level accusations against Shi’ism. Why do they claim that the Prophets and the Imams used to justify their wrong predictions? We have narrated five accounts. Is there any sign of doubt? When did the Prophets and the Imams make promises and then justify their wrong projections? In the story of ʿAmr, the Imam said an opening would be possible in seventy years. The Imam recited the verse ‘God eliminates whatever he wants’ and then mentions the number. It meant that pressure might be relaxed.
The conclusion is that badāʾ is nothing more than the fact that fate can change as a consequence of a single good or bad deed. In its most technical sense, it means that a Prophet or Imam might foretell an event, but then it does not happen for the reasons explained in the narrations. Badāʾ has never been a tool in the hands of the Prophets and the Imams to justify wrong or false reports. But in the meantime, badāʾ has rarely been used as evidence.
Some important points
When an instance of badāʾ occurs, the initial prediction does not materialize, just as when the Jonah’s people were spared punishment, the bride did not die the night of her marriage, and the Jew was not bitten by the snake. However, the second report does not deny the first report and does not imply that the first report has been wrong. The second report makes clear that the first report would have materialized had certain conditions not been met. Jonah’s people observed signs of punishment, and the Jew and the bride both saw a snake in their proximity.
Badāʾ mainly applies to individual issues and cases – it never targets general instructions. For instance, the Prophethood of the Prophet and his foretelling of future events were amongst miracles to which badāʾ did not apply. The advent of Imam al-Mahdī (a.f) and the signs of his reappearance are fixed realities that will never change. Therefore, if Jesus had announced the coming of a prophet named Aḥmad, it would come to pass without any change. Badāʾ does not apply to fundamental issues of the religion. That is why we mentioned that badāʾ is limited to personal issues.
As we mentioned earlier, badāʾ is attributed to God only metaphorically and is justified by the figurative application of words like ‘devising’ to God in the Qur’an, and because we are speaking about God’s will from the perspective of a human being. Otherwise, one should not say that God has caused badāʾ (i.e. ‘changed his mind’), rather they should instead say that God has caused badāʾ to occur for people.
This is not a merely semantic discussion. If you accept the reality of badāʾ, you are free to interpret it as you wish. But if our Imams use the formula ‘God caused badāʾ’ then this is because of their adherence and obedience to the Prophet. The irony is that those who deny badāʾ and are afraid of the phrase ‘God caused Badāʾ’ have quoted aḥādīth to this effect from the Prophet in their own books. Now, we present the summary of a story narrated in Bukhārī’s Ṣaḥīḥ book.
Three Israelites were suffering from three different rare diseases; one was suffering from leprosy, one from baldness and the third one was blind. God decided to test them. He sent an angel to the one suffering from leprosy, who asked him: ‘What do you like the most?’ He replied: ‘Good colour and healthy skin. People consider me unclean and keep away from me.’ The angel rubbed him and his wish came true. Then he asked him: ‘What wealth do you like the most?’ The man said: ‘A camel or a cow.’ The angel granted him a she-camel that was ready to give birth and said: ‘God will bestow wealth upon you.’
Then the angel went to bald man and asked him the same questions. He said he wanted thick hair to become handsome again. The angel rubbed his head and his hair grew. Regarding wealth, he asked for a cow and a pregnant cow was given to him to become rich.
The angel then went to the blind man and asked him what he liked the most. He asked for sight. The angel touched his eyes and he could see again. He was asked what wealth he preferred to have. He asked for a sheep. The angel gave him a pregnant sheep and left. The trio soon saw their lands filled with camels, cows and sheep.
After some time, the angel, disguised as a pleasant man, went to the former leper and said: ‘I’m a poor man who has nothing in the world. After God, only you can help me. I adjure you by God, who has given you your health and your wealth, to help me.’ But the former leper told him: ‘I’m heavily indebted and cannot help you.’
The angel said: ‘I know you quite well. You were suffering from leprosy and you were poor. God gave you health and wealth. If you are lying you will return to your previous conditions.’ Suddenly, his leprosy returned.
The angel then went to the formerly bald man and repeated the same conversation with him. He too resorted to lying and so the angel cursed him and his disease returned.
But when the angel went to the former blind man and expressed his request, the man thanked God and said: ‘I was blind and God healed me. I was poor and God enriched me. You can take whatever you want.’ The angel said: ‘This is all yours. I only came to test you. God is happy with you, but he was displeased with the other two.’ (Ṣaḥīḥ Bukhārī, 4/208)
This story is a perfect example of badāʾ and allows one to say that ‘God caused badāʾ’.
The first instance indicating that the former patients would live in a blessed state forever more, but there was a condition set for them. They were required to help the poor. Two did not meet the condition and they got ill again. But the third person fulfilled the required condition and more blessings were granted to him.