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Good and Evil

Blog Post 53

June 29, 2022


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In Fundamentals of Islamic Thought: God, Man and the Universe (1985), Ayatullah Murtadha Mutahhari (1) writes: “If there are certain inequalities in society, if some are rich and have wealth by the shiploads at their disposal, while others are destitute and in despair on oceans of affliction, the divine decree is not responsible. Man, free, empowered, and responsible, bears the blame for these inequalities.” (pp. 127-128)


Put like this, it's easy to understand.

So why all the confusion, misinterpretation and outright illogical attitudes, theories and beliefs about good and evil? (In this article, Ayatullah Mutahhari and I are using the word “evil” as in the opposite of good; in other words, bad.)

If we agree that Allah Subhanahu wa ta’ala is The All-Wise and The All-Just,

then we must agree that the system of being in the universe

and our world is “the best and most fitting of systems.” (p. 120)

Allah in His Wisdom “requires that perfection should exist in place of defect,

good in place of evil, beauty in place of ugliness, and utility in place of inutility.” (p. 120)

So then why all the defects, evil, ugliness and inutility in the world? Why are there congenital defects, disasters, plagues, ignorance, poverty, injustices and weaknesses in the world? Isn’t it true that “it is unjust to bring a being into existence, give it to taste of the pleasure of existence, and then send it to the realm of oblivion”? (p. 120)

To resolve these difficulties, Ayatullah Mutahhari lays out ten principles for the reader to think about:

1.Allah Subhanahu wa ta’ala is not “Wise” the way we are or can be. He does not work “from defect to perfection.” His work does not mean that He chooses the best goals and means to arrive at His goals.

Allah’s “work is to bring beings to their highest attainments,

to the apogee of their being. His work is creation, which itself means

bringing things to the attainment of existence (from nonexistence),

directing and perfecting them, and impelling them toward their

attainments and well-being, which is another kind of effulgence (2)

and work of bringing to perfection.” (p. 121)

We must not compare Allah Subhanahu wa ta’ala to human beings. We ask, “What is the use and wisdom of such-and-such a created thing?” When we do this, we are “thinking of God as like a creature that seeks in its actions to employ available creatures and beings to its own ends.” (p. 121) Allah does not act like human beings. “The meaning of divine wisdom is that His act, not His selfhood, has an end, that the wisdom of each creature is an end inherent within it, and that God is impelling it toward its essential end.” (p. 122) If we bear this in mind always, we can find the answers to these questions, inshallah.

2.Allah Subhanahu wa ta’ala created a divine system in the whole universe which includes an “inviolable priority and causality” among beings and creatures. “No being can exceed or avoid its own particular rank and occupy the rank of another being.” Within the ranks, there are “degrees and stations, differences and discrepancies from the standpoints of defect or perfection and of vigor or weakness.”

But these differences and discrepancies are not discriminations.

“Discrimination exists when two beings have the capacity

for the same specific degree or perfection and it is granted one

and withheld from the other.” (p. 122)

3. We use “artificial and derivative bonds” in our work, such as in building a house with “brick, clay, cement and iron that have no essential connection with one another.” We are “part of this system” and must use “the existing, created powers, forces and properties of things, within determinate limits.” (p. 122) We “are limited to inducing a motion, a superficial motion at that, not an organic one, in an existing thing.” But Allah Subhanahu wa ta’ala “is the Creative Agent…the Creator of things, with all their faculties, powers, properties, and traits.” (p. 123)

For example, Allah created fire with the property of combustion.

We use fire “when it is advantageous to” us and prevent it

when it is harmful to us. If we “see that the existence of fire

is necessary, useful, and consistent with wisdom,

one must consider its total role in the system of the universe,

not some particular role it has in some narrow circumstance

in regard to some individual and personal motive.” (p. 123)

“In the case of divine wisdom, the end must be taken to be the end of the act, not the end of the agent.” Allah’s Subhanahu wa ta’ala Wisdom means “His creating the best possible system to bring beings to their ends…The ends of divine acts are universal, not particular. The end of the creation of fire is combustion in general, not some particular instance of combustion that might prove useful to some individual or some other particular instance that might prove harmful to another.” (p. 123)

4. Human beings must have the capacity to act. If someone does not have this capacity, it may be the cause of not attaining the satisfaction of their needs and desires. If someone does not have the capacity to act, it may be due to ignorance and/or weakness.

These deficiencies can be caused by an abuse of the system

and/or one’s relationship with Allah. (p. 123)

5. Allah Subhanahu wa ta’ala “is the Necessary in Essence, He is the Necessary Being in every respect…

It is impossible that a being should find the capacity for existence

but fail to be filled with His effulgence and so grow impoverished.” (p. 124)

6. Evils are “either in the category of nonbeing (ignorance, weakness, and poverty) or…the category of being, but derive their evilness from the fact that they become sources of nonbeing (earthquakes, microbes, floods, hailstorms, and the like). The evil of beings that become sources of nonbeing arises from their existence incidental and relative to other beings, not from their intrinsic existence.

That is, whatever is evil is not evil in and of itself

but for something else.” (p. 124)

7. “Goods and evils do not form two separate and independent ranks…Evils are…attributes of goods.

The root of evils that belong to the category of nonbeing

is the lack of capacity of the subject…

The root of evils that do not belong to the category of nonbeing

is their inseparability from goods.” (p. 124)

8. “No evil is absolute.

Deprivation and nonbeing are in their turn

the antecedents of beings, goods, and attainments.

Evils in their turn are the thresholds and steps of evolution.

Thus a good lies hidden in every evil, and a being is hidden in every nonbeing.” (p. 124)

9. “The universe of being, in functioning according to

a universal cause-and-effect system, operates

according to laws and norms.

The Noble Qur’an affirms this point explicitly.” (p. 125)

10. “The universe has a universal and inviolable system [and] it is an indivisible unity in its essence…The whole creation forms a unity like that of a body with its members. Therefore,

not only are evils and nonbeing inseparable from goods and being,

but all the parts of the universe, in composing a unity

and a single manifestation (jilwa),

are inseparable from one another.” (p. 125)

“The universe exists with a determinate,” universal and immutable system. Goods and beings are inseparable from evils and nonbeing. To imagine they are separable “is no more than sheer fantasy and absurd illusion.” “The whole universe…[is] an interdependent unity, not one part in the absence of another.” (p. 125)

Ayatullah Mutahhari concludes this section:

“These principles, if rightly assimilated, reduce all

the uncertainties and problems of far-reaching wisdom

and perfect divine justice to the level of a phantasm.” (p. 125)


(Our intention is to continue this discussion on good and evil in a future blog post(s), inshallah.)



(1)Ayatullah Murtadha Mutahhari was born on February 2, 1920, in Fariman, Iran, and was martyred on May 1, 1979 in Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran. He played a major role in reawakening the Islamic consciousness in the people of Iran, guiding and participating in the Islamic Revolution of Iran and the newly formed Islamic government, and as an intellectual Muslim thinker, teacher and writer.

(2)Effulgence is defined as radiant splendour, brilliance; like a flash of lightning shining into the heart. It is often used in the phrase, “the effulgence of God’s Glory,” in which Christians say it means Jesus (Prophet Isa), peace be upon him. Effulgence is a term used by Mulla Sadra in philosophical discussions which means the result of Allah’s Subhanahu wa ta’ala Self-Reflection (reflecting on Himself). (Rahman, F., 1975, pp. 84-86)


Mutahhari, Ayatullah Murtadha. (1985). Fundamentals of Islamic Thought: God, Man and the Universe. Trans. by R. Campbell. Berkley, CA: Mizan Press. Accessible from @

Rahman, Fazlur. (1975). The Philosophy of Mulla Sadra (Sadr al-Din al-Shirazi). Albany, NY: State University of New York Press. Accessed from