Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Bada' - Change in Divine Destiny & Decree

Written by Afzal Sumar   
Wednesday, 27 December 2006 16:56

Bada- Change In Divine Destiny And Decree

Introduction and Definition

The word Bada means to “appear”, as described by the famous lexicographer Ibn Manzur, and he gives an example of this meaning, “as when one says, ‘there appeared to me in this matter (Bada li) a different opinion.”[1] Most Muslim scholars agree with this meaning. Other meanings have also been suggested; however all of them share the same connotation as the meaning “to appear”. For example it has also been defined as “emergence”[2], “to become manifest,” “to seem good”,[3] or to mean “occurrence,” which is how Sheikh Tusi defines it.[4] Seyyid Al-Khui writes that “the meaning of Bada is derived from ‘ibda’ (bringing about) – that is ‘izhar’ (disclosing, manifesting a reality.)[5]

This word has been used in the Quran six times[6] and as M.J.Mcdermott very interestingly points out, that the one to whom the new information “appears” or “becomes manifest” in these verses where the word ‘Bada’ is used is never Allah![7] Thus we may say that Bada means a disclosure of new information not known before which leads to a change in opinion.

This concept poses no problem when used in relation to ordinary human beings, for ordinary people do not possess knowledge of the unseen or infinite knowledge and therefore new information “appears” to them as it unfolds, however this concept, (which has been used to explain the non-occurrence of prophesied events) creates a lot of problems when used in relation to Allah and the knowledge of infallible beings. This issue has been controversial in the past exactly because traditions exist in which the concept has been used in relation to Allah where the content of the tradition seems to imply a change taking place in the knowledge of Allah, such as the tradition attributed to Imam Sadiq ( a.s.) where he says, “ nothing ever occurred anew to God ( maa Bada li-llahi Badaun) like what occurred to Him in the case of my son (or ancestor) Ismail…..”[8], or the tradition reported by Abu Basir wherein he relates that the sixth Imam told him how Allah ordered the Prophet to turn away from the Quraish [9] for He intended to punish the inhabitants of the earth, “ but then it appeared otherwise to Him ( Bada li-llahi) and mercy came down….”[10], or the tradition reported in Sunni literature of how Allah wished to test the bald, leper and blind men, which tradition starts as follows, “ it so appeared to God

( Bada li-llahi) that He should inflict a trial upon three men….”[11]

The problem is that;

A) If this concept is used in relation to Allah to mean that new information occurs to him then it implies a deficiency in the Infinite knowledge of Allah which is unacceptable in light of Muslim theology, however if the concept of Bada is rejected, in the sense that no new information is possible to occur in the world of creation as no change occurs, thereby implying the complete predestination of the acts of men, then it nullifies the significance and positive effects of supplication, repentance and free-will which can bring about changes in the lives and destinies of men and which also inspire hope. It also implies a limitation to the power of Allah meaning that once He decrees something then He has no power to change it for nothing new occurs, an issue for which the Jews were heavily criticised. The Quran says in sura al-Maida, verse 64, “The Jews say, ‘the hand of God is tied, shackled shall be their hands….. his hands are wide outstretched.” Moreover a host of Quranic verses state that Allah is continuously creating and changing things in this world.[12] Also scores of traditions exist in Muslim literature which encourages “the giving of charity, doing of good to parents and performing pious acts for such deeds change misfortune into good fortune, prolong life and prevent bad death.”[13] Or the tradition reported from I.Baqir (A.S.) where he says that respecting the ties of kinship purifies wealth, protects against adversity, renders one’s reckoning easy and pushes death further away.[14] All these verses and traditions clearly say that God continuously carries out changes, but do all these verses and traditions mean that when a person prays to Allah or seeks his forgiveness or spends in charity then that these events “ occur” anew to Allah due to which He lengthens life or bestows benefit?!

B) Furthermore if this concept is applied to the knowledge of the infallibles to mean that their knowledge of the unseen can undergo a change then it puts to doubt their divine status and their claim to being in contact with Allah.

How does one reconcile the dichotomy in point one and how does one explain the problem mentioned in point two? Fortunately the Imams from the family of the Prophet have explained and clarified this theological dilemma for us.

The Crucial Argument

To understand and solve this problem we shall examine three types of knowledge.

1) First is the knowledge that belongs to Allah exclusively which He does not share with anyone. This is known variously as Al-Lawh al-Mahfudh- the Preserved Tablet, Ummul Kitab- the Mother of the Book as well as Ilm Makhzun. This is the infinite knowledge of Allah. Certainly Bada does not occur in this knowledge, rather Bada or “new knowledge” ensues from this infinite knowledge as explained by the Imams.

Imam Sadiq (a.s.) says, “Allah posses two kinds of knowledge. Knowledge that is guarded about which no one knows except Him. From this knowledge originates al-Bada and secondly knowledge that He has taught to His angels, messengers and Prophets and which we know.”[15]

Imam Reza (a.s.) said to Suleiman al-Marwazi, “It has been related from my father that he heard his father say ‘Allah possesses two kinds of knowledge, one is the guarded, hidden knowledge known to no one except Him. From that comes Al-Bada. The other is the kind which He has taught His angels and Prophets…..’[16]

2) Second is the knowledge that Allah reveals to His angels and Prophets. The contents of this knowledge are definitely going to pass and therefore entertain no change. The difference between this knowledge and the first one is that while Bada originates from the former, no Bada originates from the latter.[17] This knowledge is known as Al-Qada al-Mahtum.

Imam Reza (a.s) told Suleiman al- Marwazi, ‘Ali (as) used to say “Knowledge is of two kinds. Knowledge that God has taught His angels and Prophets, and what He taught His angels and Prophets will occur. He shall not belie Himself or His angels or His Prophets. And knowledge that is hidden with Him, of which He informed none of His creatures. He shall cause to pass that of it which He wills, and hold back that which He wills, and effaces of it what He wills, and confirm what He wills.”[18]

The above two types of knowledge are the ones described in the Encyclopaedia of Islam in the article written by Ignaz Goldziher.

3) The third type of knowledge is that which is communicated by Allah to His angels and Prophets but which is conditional as far as the knowledge of the angels’ and the Prophets is concerned. It is conditional because of the fact that Allah discloses that information only partially while the complete knowledge is with Him. This type of knowledge is known as Al-Qada al-Mawquf[19] or Al-Lawh Mahw wa Ithbat[20] (the Tablet of Erasure and Confirmation.)

So Abdallah ibn Maskan reports from Imam Baqir, Imam Sadiq and Imam Kazim (as) in connection with the explanation of the verse; “Therein every wise bidding is determined as bidding from Us. (Q 44: 4):

‘This means that God predetermines everything whether truthful or false, and all that will happen that year, and it is for Him to will it or change it. He hastens what He wills and delays what He wills in matters connected with preordained death, sustenance, calamities, accidents and illnesses, increasing them or decreasing them as He wills….” [21]

It is reported from both the first Imam Ali ( as) as well as the fourth imam that they said

(in the words of I Ali (as)) “But for one verse in the Quran, I would have related to you all that has occurred, is occurring and is bound to occur until the Day of Judgement. And that verse is this, ‘God effaces and establishes what He wills…..” (Q 13:39).[22]

Examples abound in the Quran regarding this third type of knowledge where partial information is revealed to the Prophets and then the rest of the information is revealed subsequently to complete the picture (so to speak.)

An example is the case of the Prophet Moses and the story of his receiving the Tawrat. He was asked to go to Mount Sinai and fast for thirty nights in preparation for receiving the Tawrat. On the thirtieth day he brushed his teeth in preparation for meeting Allah, however Allah, disapproving his act of brushing the teeth asked him to fast for ten more days. Obviously Allah in His Infinite knowledge knew that Musa would come after brushing his teeth and would be asked to fast for ten more days, but Musa did not know this for he did not possess the complete knowledge. Therefore the change occurred in Musa’s knowledge not in the knowledge of Allah. Bada therefore ensued from Allah and took place in Musa’s knowledge.[23]

Regarding this episode as narrated in the Quran, when Allah refers to His own knowledge He describes the whole period of forty nights together;

“When We made an appointment with Musa for forty nights then you (Israelites) took the image of the calf for your God after he left you and thus you transgressed.” (Q 2:51)

And when He refers to Musa’s knowledge He mentions thirty days and ten days separately.

“And We made an appointment with Musa for thirty nights; and We completed it with ten more, thus was completed the term of His Lord forty nights.” Q 7: 142.

And the reason why Allah caused Bada to occur (or the reason why He disclosed partial knowledge) was to test the Israelite’s faith, who left the worship of Allah and followed the Samiri and started worshipping the calf just because Musa was delayed for some days.

“Said God to Musa, ‘Verily We have tested thy people in thy absence and the Samiri had led them astray…….” Q 20: 85 – 88.

Similar is the case of the dream which Prophet Abraham saw where he was commanded to slaughter his son Ismail which was meant to be a test, which test Abraham passed with flying colours unlike the Israelites who failed in their test. However it was only partial future knowledge that was shown to Abraham when he saw himself slaughtering his son, for the complete picture was withheld from him where instead of Ismail a sheep was killed.[24]

The Prophet of Islam we are told, predicted the death of a Jewish man by means of snake bite. But this was averted because the man had two cakes, one of which he ate and the other he fed to a poor man. The Prophet commented, “Charity averts an evil death of a man from a man.”[25]

Similar examples can be seen from the Imam’s lives apart from the traditions stated above.

Amr bin Humq reports; ‘I went to visit the Commander of the Faithful when he was struck on the head. At that he told me, “O Amr I will be leaving you all.” Then he added, “In the year seventy there will descend a calamity….” I said, “……would there be comfort after the year seventy?” He replied, “Yes, O Amr! Indeed after calamity there is comfort.” And then he went on to mention the verse “God effaces….”[26]

Later a disciple of the fifth imam, Abu Hamza Thumali recalled this tradition and said “seventy years have passed and yet the Shiites have not yet seen the prosperity.” The Imam replied, “God had previously ordained a time for this matter, in the seventieth year. But when Hussein was killed, God’s wrath raged against the inhabitants of the earth. He therefore delayed it for one hundred and forty years. We then informed you about it, but you proclaimed it abroad and removed the veil of secrecy. Thus, God has delayed it indefinitely and did not inform us of its time.” The Imam then recited, “God effaces and confirms whatever He wills……” [27]

Unfortunately Ignaz Goldziher neither mentions nor explains this third type of knowledge or decree.

After having had considered the three different types of knowledge it is clear that Bada does not take place in God’s knowledge, rather it emanates from His infinite knowledge and that Bada only takes place in the knowledge of the creatures of God. New knowledge only “appears” to the creatures of God who have finite knowledge.

Imam Sadiq (as) said: “ he who asserts that Allah the Mighty and Glorious does something new which He did not know before – from him I disassociate myself. And he who asserts that Allah after doing something repents concerning it – then he, in our opinion is a denier of Allah the Great.”[28]

Mansoor bin Hazin one of the disciples of the sixth imam asked him, “Is there anything today which was not in God’s knowledge yesterday?” The Imam answered, “No, God shall disgrace anyone who says such a thing.” The man asked further, “Do you then consider that anything that was or will be till the day of judgement is in God’s knowledge?” “Yes, before He created creation,” replied the Imam.[29]

And the sixth Imam said “Nothing appears otherwise to God (ma Bada lillahi fi shay) but that it was in His knowledge before it so appeared to Him.”[30]

Indeed even the changes that take place as a result of the free-will of men are known to Allah though He does not coerce them. And so in a tradition attributed to the sixth Imam it is argued that even the prayers of the man of faith by which divine decree may be altered are themselves recorded in the Mother of the Book and decreed for him.[31]

These teachings of the Imams very cleverly preserve the notion of the omniscience of Allah and at the same time it gives a place to human free-will to determine his destiny by either doing good acts like repentance, being charitable, maintaining kinship, supplications, etc or doing the opposite and spoiling his destiny, because future destinies can be changed through Bada, which means a new appearance in the knowledge of the angels responsible for the acts of men as well as the knowledge of Prophets and men, however the actions of men carried out through free-will are entirely known to Allah though He does not coerce them. By being able to bring forward or delay events (which actually means disclosing the requisite information or not disclosing them, or disclosing them partially) the omnipotence of Allah is also preserved.

The concept of Bada has many benefits.

-It helps in the test of individuals as in the case of the Prophet Abraham and Ismail as well as the Israelites.

-It gives hope to the servants of Allah regarding their future.

- As the angels and the Prophets can never be sure that the plan of events as told to them is final, they constantly seek the guidance from Allah. The Prophet of Islam was advised to pray: “O My Lord increase me in knowledge.” (Q 20: 114).[32]

As for the second problem, one needs to understand that the Prophets and the Imams and the angels are after all creatures of Allah, not independent of Him, rather dependent on Him for their knowledge. He may choose to disclose the full information or not. The fact that their knowledge can be increased and decreased proves that they do not share in Divine Godhead rather it proves their creatureliness.

As for the traditions which speak of Bada occurring to Allah (Bada li- llah), these may be understood in light of the tradition quoted above where the sixth Imam says that

“Nothing appears otherwise to Allah (maa Bada li-llahi shay an) but that it was in His knowledge before it so appeared to Him.” This explanation seems the best to me. Taking into account also the observation made by McDermott that the word “ Bada” when used in the Quran has never been applied to Allah’s knowledge, which accords with the imam’s teachings, it would be futile to consider any other meaning.

But one may also consider the explanation offered by Shaykh Tusi which is ingenious by any standards! He first says that Bada means “Dhahara” – to become manifest. Then he says,

‘The Arabs say, “A good deed occurred to so and so (Bada li fulan)..... just as they say “these things appeared from so an so ( Bada min fulan), making the “ laam” stand in its place. So the meaning of the Imaamites saying, - Bada li-llahi fi kadha- is….- dhahara minhu- appeared from Him.” [33]

What he is trying to say is that –Bada li-llahi fi kadha –should actually be read as – Bada min-allahi fi kadha., thereby meaning that Bada did not occur to Allah rather Bada occurred from Allah.

Before I conclude this essay, a short note on the historical origins of this concept will not be out of place. It is maintained that the first person to introduce this idea of Bada was Mukhtar or Abdullah ibn Nawf who belonged to Mukhtar’s movement. This doctrine then became a part of the Shiite Kaysaniyya. The report goes that when Mukhtar had to fight the superior forces of Musab bin Zubayr, he ( or Abdulla bin Nawf) announced that Allah had revealed to him that victory was certain to occur in his favour. However when the alleged prediction proved false by his defeat, he ( or Abdulla bin Nawf) said, referring to sura 13 verse 39, that something had intervened (Bada lahu) which had made God change his mind.[34] Though the explanation put forward by Mukhtar was politically motivated to save face, and while the wording does suggest a change taking place in the knowledge of Allah due to a new circumstance which Allah allegedly knew not previously, the verse of the Quran invoked to explain this change was certainly correct, as we see that Ali (a.s) also used this verse to show that changes in the future can take place, though while Mukhtar used this verse to mean a change in the knowledge of God, Ali (a.s) used it to mean a potential change in the knowledge of the unseen of the Imams.


In the end when all is said and done, an impartial researcher will have to admit that Bada is not a purely Shiite concept rather it is a universal Muslim concept as the traditions cited above prove, for we have traditions implying this concept in sunni hadith literature too.[35] Indeed the concept of Bada is akin to the doctrine of naskh (abrogation of legislation) which is recognised by the Sunnis.

As Seyyid al-Damad wrote in the eleventh century Hijra, “Al-Bada is to creation as Al-Naskh is to law. As commandments and religious laws are abrogated, creation can also be changed.”[36]

However I agree with Dr Mahmoud Ayoub who goes a step further and says that Bada is not even a purely Islamic concept rather it is a universal religious concept to which all those religious traditions lay claim to which teach that man possesses free-will and can change his destiny if he so wishes. As he writes, “It is an expression of hope for those who pray, ‘forgive us our trespasses’ and ‘guide us on the right path,’ that God will answer their prayers. It is an affirmation of faith that ‘God’s will be done on earth’ as it is done in the rest of His vast creation. It has been a source of solace for the pious in times of trouble and an impetus for the believers to live better lives before God and with their fellow human beings,”[37]


1) Al-Khui, A. ( 2000). The Prolegomena to the Quran. Iran: Ansariyan Publications.

2) Ayoub, M. (1986). Divine Pre-ordination and Human Hope: A Study of the Concept of Bada in Imamai Shii Tradition. Journal of the American Oriental Society. Vol 106. P 623-632.

3) Goldziher, I. (2001). Bada. Encyclopaedia of Islam. (CD ROM).

4) McDermott, M.J. (1978). The Theology of Shaykh Mufid. Beirut: Dar-el-Mashreq Editeurs.

5) Mussawi, H. ( 1996). The Shia: Their Origins and Beliefs. Beirut: Al-Ghadeer Center for Islamic Studies.

6) Sachedina, A. ( 1981). Islamic Messianism. United States of America: State University of New York Press.

7) Subhani, J. (2003). Doctrines of Shii Islam. Iran: Imam Sadeq Institute.

8) Shaykh Saduq (Ibn Babwayhi). (1982). A Shiite Creed, Trans A.A.A. Fyzee. Iran: WOFIS.

9) Rizvi, S. S A. ( 1992). The Justice of God. (4th Edition). Tanzania: Bilal Muslim Mission of Tanzania.

[1] Cited in Ayoub, 1986, pg 624

[2] EI

[3] McDermott 1978, pg 329

[4] Cited in Sachedina 1981, pg155.

[5] Khui 2000, pg 259

[6] Though its derived verb forms have been used many times.

[7] Quran, 45:33, 6:28, 39:47, 39:48, 12:35, and 60:4

[8] McDermott 1978, pg 335

[9] Quran. 51:54)

[10] Ayoub 1986, pg 629.

[11] Ayoub1986, pg 624

[12] Quran 2: 106, 55:29, 6:2, 37: 102-107, 21:84 and many more.

[13] Cited in Subhani 2003, pg 161

[14] Cited in Subhani 2003, pg 161

[15] Khui 2000, pg 256

[16] Khui 2000, pg 256

[17] Khui 2000, pg 256

[18] Khui 2000, pg 256

[19] Khui 2000, pg 257

[20] Rizwi 1992, pg 47

[21] Khui 2000, pg 257

[22] Khui 2000, pg 257

[23] Rizvi 1992, pg 52

[24] Rizvi 1992, pg 50-53

[25] Cited in Ayoub 1986, pg 631

[26] Khui 2000, pg 260

[27] Cited in Ayoub 1986, pg 631

[28] Saduq 1982, pg 41

[29] Ayoub 1986, pg 628

[30] Ayoub 1986, pg 627

[31] Ayoub 1986, pg 630

[32] Rizvi 1992, pg 54-55.

[33] Saduq 1982, pg 337

[34] EI.

[35] Cited in Ayoub 1986, pg 632

[36] Cited in Mussawi 1996, pg81

[37] Ayoub 1986, pg 632

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