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The Incapable and the Powerless

The Incapable and the Powerless

 The scholars of Islām make use of two terms; they say that some people are “powerless” (musta°Ä`afÄ«n) or are “awaiting the command of God” (murjawn li-`amrillāh).  “Powerless” refers to the unfortunate and unable; “those awaiting the command of God” denotes people whose affairs and status are to be regarded as being with God and in His hands; God Himself shall deal with them as His wisdom and mercy dictate.  Both terms have been taken from the Qur’ān.

In Sūratul Nisā, verses 97- 99, we read:

 Ø¥ÙÙ†Ù‘ÙŽ الَّذِينَ تَوَفٌّاهُمُ الْمَلآئِكَةُ ظٌالِمِي أَنْفُسِهِمْ قٌالُوا فِيمَ كُنتُمْ قٌالُوا كُنٌّا مُسْتَضْعَفِينَ فِي الأَرْضِ قٌالُوا أَلَمْ تَكُنْ أَرْضُ اللٌّهِ وٌاسِعَةً فَتُهٌاجِرُوا فِيهٌا فَأُوْلٌـئِكَ مَأْوٌاهُمْ جَهَنَّمُ وَسٌاءَتْ مَصِيرًا إِلاَّ الْمُسْتَضْعَفِينَ مِنَ الرِّجٌالِ وَالنِّسٌاءِ وَالْوِلْدٌانِ لاٌ يَسْتَطِيعُونَ حِيلَةً وَلاٌ يَهْتَدُونَ سَبِيلاً فَأُوْلٌـئِكَ عَسَى اللٌّهُ أَنْ يَعْفُوَ عَنْهُمْ وَكٌانَ اللٌّهُ عَفُوًّا غَفُورًا

 “And those whose souls the Angels take while they are oppressive to themselves; they say, ‘What state were you in?’ They say, ‘We were weak in the land.’ They say, ‘Was not God’s earth wide, that you may migrate in it?’ So the abode of those people is Hell, and evil an abode it is, except the powerless among the men, women, and children who neither have access to any means nor are guided to any way; so perhaps God may pardon them, and God is Ever-Forgiving, Ever-Pardoning.”

 In the first verse, mention is made of the interrogation of some people by the Divine appointees (in the grave).  The Angels ask them, “What state were you in, in the world?”  They forward the excuse: “We were unfortunate, our means were inadequate (and we were unable change our state).” The Angels will say, “You were not powerless, since God’s earth was spacious and you could have migrated from your homeland and gone to an area where you had greater opportunity; thus you are culpable and deserving of punishment.”

 In the second verse, the state of some people is mentioned who are truly powerless; whether they be men, women, or children.  These are people who had no means and no way out.

 In the third verse, the Qur’ān gives tidings and hope that God may show forgiveness towards the second group.

 In his commentary of the Qur’ān, al-MÄ«zān, our most esteemed teacher, `Allāmah Ťabā’Å¥abā’Ä« , has this to say regarding these very verses: “God considers ignorance of religion and every form of preventing the establishment of the signs of religion to be oppression, and Divine forgiveness does not encompass this.  However, an exception has been made for the powerless who did not have the ability to move and change the environment.  The exception has been mentioned in such a way that it is not exclusive to when powerlessness takes this form.  Just as it is possible for the source of powerlessness to be an inability to change the environment, it is possible for it to be because a person’s mind is not aware of the truth, and thus remains deprived of the truth.”[78]

 Many traditions have been narrated in which those people who, for various reasons have remained incapable, have been counted among the “powerless.”[79]

 In verse 106 of SÅ«ratul Tawbah (9), God says:

  ÙˆÙŽ ءٌاخِرُونَ مُرْجُونَ لِأَمْرِ اللٌّهِ إِمٌّا يُعَذِّبُهُمْ ÙˆÙŽ إِمٌَا يَتُوبُ عَلَيْهِمْ ÙˆÙŽ اللٌّهُ عَلِيمٌ حَكِيمٌ

 “And others who are awaiting the command of God, He will either punish them or He will forgive them; and God is Knowing, Wise.”

 The term murjawn li-`amrillāh (those awaiting God’s command) has been taken from this verse.

 It has been narrated that Imām Muhammad Ibn `AlÄ« al-Bāqir (as) said about this verse: “Verily there was a people in the early era of Islām who were once polytheists and committed grave misdeeds; they killed Hamzah and Ja`far and people like them from among the Muslims.  Later, they became Muslims, abandoning polytheism for monotheism, but faith did not find its way into their hearts for them to be counted among the believers and become deserving of Heaven, while at the same time they had forsaken denial and obstinacy, which was the cause of their being (deserving of) punishment.  They were neither believers, nor unbelievers and deniers; these then are the murjawn li-`amrillāh, whose affair is referred to God.”[80]

 In another tradition, it has been narrated that Ĥumrān Ibn A`yan  said, “I asked Imām Ja`far Ibn Muhammad as-Ŝādiq (as) about the powerless.” He replied, “They are neither of the believers nor of the unbelievers; they are the ones whose affair is referred to God’s command.”[81]

Though the purport of the verse regarding those whose affair is referred to God’s command is that one should say only that their affair is with God, still, from the tone of the verse regarding the powerless, a hint of Divine forgiveness and pardon can be deduced.

 What is understood in total is that those people who in some way were incapable and are not blameworthy, will not be punished by God.

 In al-KāfÄ«, there is a tradition from Hamzah Ibn Ťayyār  who narrated that Imām Ja`far Ibn Muhammad as-Ŝādiq (as) said: “People are of six groups, and in the end are of three groups: the party of faith, the party of unbelief, and the party of deviation.  These groups come into being from God’s promise and warning regarding Heaven and Hell.  (That is, people are divided into these groups according to their standing with respect to these promises and warnings.) Those six groups are the believers, the unbelievers, the powerless, those referred to God’s command, those who confess their sin and have mixed good deeds with evil deeds, and the people of the heights (a`rāf).”[82]

 Also in al-KāfÄ«, it is narrated from Zurārah  that he said: “I visited Imām Muhammad Ibn `AlÄ« al-Bāqir (as) with my brother Ĥumrān, or with my other brother BukahÄ«r.  I said to the Imām, ‘We measure people with a measuring tape: Whoever is a ShÄ«`a like ourselves, whether among the descendants of `AlÄ« or otherwise, we forge a bond of friendship with him (as a Muslim and one who will achieve salvation), and whoever is opposed to our creed, we dissociate from him (as a misguided person and one who will not achieve salvation).’”

The Imām said, “Zurārah! God’s word is more truthful than yours; if what you say is correct, then what about God’s words where He says, ‘Except the powerless among the men, women, and children who find no way out nor find a path?’ What about those who are referred to God’s command?  What about those regarding whom God says, ‘They mixed good deeds and other, evil deeds?’ What happened to the people of the heights?  Who, then, are the ones whose hearts are to be inclined?”

 Ä¤ammād , in his narration of this event from Zurārah , narrates that he said, “At this point the Imām and I began to argue.  Both of us raised our voices, such that those outside the house heard us.”

 Jamāl Ibn Darrāj  narrates from Zurārah  in this event that the Imām said, “Zurārah! [God has made it] incumbent upon Himself that He take the misguided (not the unbelievers and deniers) to Heaven.”[83]

 Also in al-KāfÄ« it is narrated from Imām MÅ«sā Ibn Ja`far al-Kādhim (as) that he said: “`AlÄ« (as) is a gate among the gates of guidance; whoever enters from this gate is a believer, and whoever exits from it is a unbeliever; and one who neither enters from it nor exits from it is among the party whose affair is referred to God.”

 In this tradition, the Imām clearly mentions a party who are neither among the people of faith, submission, and salvation, nor among the people of denial and annihilation.[84]

 Also in al-KāfÄ«, it is narrated from Imām Ja`far Ibn Muhammad as-Ŝādiq (as):

 Ù„َوْ أَنَّ الْعِبٌادَ إِذٌا جَهَلُوا وَقَفُوا وَلو لَمَْ يَجْحَدُوا، لَمْ يَكْفُرُوا

 “If only people, when they are ignorant, pause and don’t reject, they will not be unbelievers.”[85]

 If one ponders upon the traditions which have come down from the pure Imāms (as) and most of which have been collected in the sections “Kitāb al-Ĥujjah” and “Kitāb al-Īmān wa al-Kufr” in al-KāfÄ«, he or she will realize that the Imām’s (as) position was that whatever [punishment] befalls a person is because truth was presented to him or her, and he or she showed prejudice or obstinacy towards it, or at the very least was in a position where he or she should have researched and searched, but didn’t do so. 

 And as for people who, out of incapacity of understanding and perception, or because of other reasons, are in a position where they are not in denial or negligent in researching, they are not counted among the deniers and adversaries.  They are counted among the powerless and those referred to God’s command.  And it is understood from the traditions that the pure Imams (as) view many people to be of this category.

In al-KāfÄ«, in the section “Kitāb al-Ĥujjah,” Shaykh KulaynÄ«  narrates several traditions to the effect that:

 ÙƒÙÙ„ُّ مَنْ دٌانَ اللٌّهَ عَزَّ وَّجَلَّ بِعِبٌادَةِ يَجْهَدْ فِيهٌا نَفْسَهُ وَلاٌ إِمٌامَ لَهُ مِنَ اللٌّهِ فَسَعْيِهِ غَيْرَ مَقْبُولٍ

 “Whoever obeys God with an act of worship in which he exhausts himself, but doesn’t have an Imām appointed by God, his effort is not accepted.”[86]

Or that:

 Ù„اٌ يَقْبَلَ اللٌّهُ أَعْمٌالَ الْعِبٌادَ إِلاَّ بِمَعْرِفَتِهِ

 “God does not accept the actions of His servants without recognition of him (the Imām).”[87]

 At the same time, in that same “Kitāb al-Ĥujjah” of al-KāfÄ« it is narrated from Imām Ja`far Ibn Muhammad as-Ŝādiq (as):

 Ù…َنْ عَرَفَنٌا كٌانَ مُؤْمِناً، وَمَنْ أَنْكَرَنٌا كٌانَ كٌافِراً، وَمَنْ لَمْ يَعْرِفْنٌا وَلَمْ يَنْكِرْنٌا كٌانَ ضٌالاً حَتَّى رجع إِلـى الْهُدى الَّذِي افْتَرَضَ اللٌّهُ عَلَيْهِ مِنْ طٌاعَتِنٌا، فَإِنْ يَمُتْ عَلى ضَلاٌلَتِهِ يَفْعَلُ اللٌّهُ مٌا يَشٌاءُ

 “Whoever recognizes us is a believer, and whoever denies us is an unbeliever, and whoever neither recognizes nor denies us is misguided until he or she returns to the guidance of our obedience which God enjoined upon him or her.  So if he or she dies in the state of misguidedness, God shall do what He pleases.”[88]

 Muhammad Ibn Muslim  says: “I was with Imām as-Ŝādiq (as).  I was seated to his left, and Zurārah to his right.  AbÅ« Baŝir entered and asked, “What do you say about a person who has doubts about God?” The Imam replied, “He is a unbeliever.” “What do you say about a person who has doubts about the Messenger of God?” “He is an unbeliever.” At this point the Imām turned towards Zurārah and said, “Verily, such a person is a unbeliever if he or she denies and shows obstinacy.”[89]

 Also in al-KāfÄ«, KulaynÄ«  narrates that Hāshim Ibn al-BarÄ«d (Ŝāhib al-BarÄ«d)  said: “Muhammad Ibn Muslim, Abul Khaťťāb, and I were together in one place.  Abul Khaťťāb asked, “What is your belief regarding one who doesn’t know the affair of Imāmate?” I said, “In my view he or she is a unbeliever.” Abul Khaťťāb said, “As long as the evidence is not complete for him or her, he or she is not a unbeliever; if the evidence is complete and still he or she doesn’t recognize it, then he or she is a unbeliever.” Muhammad Ibn Muslim said, “Glory be to God! If he or she doesn’t recognize the Imām and doesn’t show obstinacy or denial, how can he or she be considered an unbeliever?  No, one who doesn’t know, if he doesn’t show denial, is not an unbeliever.” Thus, the three of us had three opposing beliefs.

“When the Ĥajj season came, I went for Ĥajj and went to Imām as-Ŝādiq (as).  I told him of the discussion between the three of us and asked the Imam his view.  The Imām replied, “I will reply to this question when the other two are also present.  I and the three of you shall meet tonight in Minā near the middle Jamarah.”

“That night, the three of us went there.  The Imām, leaning on a cushion, began questioning us.”

“What do you say about the servants, womenfolk, and members of your own families?  Do they not bear witness to the unity of God?”

I replied, “Yes.”

“Do they not bear witness to the prophecy of the Messenger?”


“Do they recognize the Imāmate and wilāyah (Divinely-appointed authority) like yourselves?”


“So what is their position in your view?”

“My view is that whoever does not recognize the Imām is an unbeliever.”

“Glory be to God! Haven’t you seen the people of the streets and markets?  Haven’t you seen the water-bearers?”

“Yes, I have seen and I see them.”

“Do they not pray?  Do they not fast?  Do they not perform Ĥajj?  Do they not bear witness to the unity of God and the prophethood of the Messenger?”


“Well, do they recognize the Imām as you do?”


“So what is their condition?”

“My view is that whoever doesn’t recognize the Imām is a unbeliever.”

“Glory be to God! Do you not see the state of the Ka’bah and the circumambulation of these people?  Don’t you see how the people of Yemen cling to the curtains of the Ka’bah?”


“Don’t they profess monotheism and believe in the Messenger?  Don’t they pray, fast, and perform Ĥajj?”


“Well, do they recognize the Imām as you do?”


“What is your belief about them?”

“In my view, whoever doesn’t recognize the Imām is an unbeliever.”

“Glory be to God! This belief is the belief of the Khārijites.”

At that point the Imām said, “Now, do you wish me to inform you of the truth?”

Hāshim, who in the words of the late Faydh al-KāshānÄ« , knew that the Imām’s view was in opposition to his own belief, said, “No.”

The Imām said, “It is very bad for you to say something of your own accord that you have not heard from us.”

Hāshim later said to the others: “I presumed that the Imām affirmed the view of Muhammad Ibn Muslim and wished to bring us to his view.”[90]

 In al-KāfÄ«, after this tradition, Shaykh KulaynÄ«  narrates the well-known tradition of the discussion of Zurārah  with Imām Muhammad Ibn `AlÄ« al-Bāqir (as) in this regard, which is a detailed discussion.

In al-KāfÄ« at the end of “Kitāb al-Īmān wa al-Kufr,” there is a chapter entitled, “No action causes harm with belief, and no action brings benefit with unbelief.”[91]

 But the traditions that have come under this heading do not affirm this heading.  The following tradition is among them:

Ya`qÅ«b Ibn Shu`ayb  said, I asked Imām Ja`far Ibn Muhammad as-Ŝādiq (as):

 Ù‡ÙŽÙ„Ù’ لِأَحَدٍ عَلى مَا عَمِلَ ثَوٌابٌ عَلى اللٌّهِ مُوْجِبٌ إِلاَّ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ؟ قَالَ: لاَ

 “Does anyone aside from the believers have a definite reward from God?” He replied, “No.”[92]

 The purport of this tradition is that God has given a promise of reward to none but the believers, and without doubt He will fulfil His promise.  However, aside from the believers, God has not given any promise for Him to have to fulfil of necessity.  And since He has not given any promise, it is up to Him Himself to reward or not to reward.

With this explanation, the Imām wishes to convey that the non-Believers are counted with the powerless and those whose affair is referred to God’s command in terms of whether God will reward them or not; it must be said that their affair is with God, for Him to reward or not to.

 At the end of this chapter of al-KāfÄ« there are some traditions which we will mention later under the heading, “The Sins of Muslims.”

 Of course, the relevant traditions are not limited to those mentioned here; there are other traditions as well.  Our deduction from all of these traditions is what we have mentioned above.  If someone deduces something else and doesn’t affirm our view, he or she may explain his or her view with its evidence, and perhaps we can benefit from it as well.

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