One of the interesting and valuable subject matters discussed in the Holy Qur’an is the divine precedent. By “precedent” we mean the way that God takes in order to manage the world, or, in other words, they are the rules which, through divine order, preside over the world. In fact, they are equivalent to the Divine Will that gives the universe its special order. Considering that man in this world is ruled by these precedents, he must be familiar with them so as to attain his real perfection.
In general, the divine precedents can be classified into two groups: The potential precedents and the actual precedents. The potential precedents are those precedents whose realization is dependent on man’s will, his deeds, thoughts and motives; in other words, their authorities are dependent on a certain condition or conditions. The actual precedents, on the other hand, have external existence and man’s will, deeds or thoughts generally have no role in their authorities. Nor are they dependent on any condition. This article is an attempt to explain briefly both kinds of precedents with the help of the Qur’anic verses and Prophetic traditions. We hope that it will be of great help to and a light in the way of the seekers after truth.
I. The Potential Precedents
1. The Precedent of Respite
As mentioned in the introduction, the potential precedents are those precedents whose fulfillment is dependent on man’s will and deeds. That is, they are not realized unless man provides their cause or causes. One of these divine precedents is that of respite, that is, if man follows the way of falsehood and error and refrain from submission to the divine decree, God will give him a respite and add to the span of his life so that he may sink further in sin and disobedience and, consequently, he may endure a painful chastisement on the Day of Judgment. In the Holy Qur’an many verses corroborate this issue, some of which are the following.
“Let the faithless not suppose that the respite that We grant them is good for their souls: We give them respite only that they may increase in sin, and there is a humiliating punishment for them.”1
Another verse announces that:
﴾Apostles were certainly derided before you. But then I gave respite to those who were faithless, then I seized them; so how was my retribution?﴿2
As can be understood from these verses, the precedent of respite especially concerns those who follow the way of disbelief and mock the divine signs. The Holy Qur’an, on another occasion, explains this divine precedent in the following words:
﴾So leave me with those who deny this discourse. We will draw them imperceptibly [into ruin], whence they do not know. I will grant them respite, for My devising is indeed sure.﴿3
2. The precedent of Bringing Gradually into Ruin
Another divine precedent is bringing gradually into ruin. It means if man turns to sin and disobedience and denies himself the light of guidance, God will gradually and imperceptibly indulge him in worldly blessings so that he may sink in those favours and pleasures, gradually take distance from spirituality, and forget the meanness of his actions. Concerning those who have taken the way of disbelief, the Holy Qur’an says:
﴾As for those who deny Our signs, We will draw them imperceptibly [into ruin], whence they do not know﴿4. It also states:
“Do you see, should We let them enjoy for some years, then there comes to them what they have been promised, of what avail to them will be that which they were given to enjoy?”5
On another occasion it explains this precedent in this way:
“As for him who is faithless, I will provide him [too] for a short time, then I will shove him toward punishment of the fire, and it is an evil destination.”6
On this basis, the signs of bringing gradually into ruin and the authority of this precedent over man are ingratitude to divine blessings, employing them in the way of evil and sin, and interest in and love of worldly pleasures in such a way as to make are forget God and spirituality.
3. The Precedent of Enticement and Fascination
One of the divine precedents is the precedent of enticement and fascination. This precedent is indeed one of the internal punishments of misguided and false people. The precedent of Fascination means if man walks in the way of recalcitrance and takes distance from his divine nature, then his deeds, thoughts, speech and works will appear beautiful to him, and he will see his bad deed good and his good deed bad. In consequence he will be interested in his bad works and will lose the opportunity of repentance, for repentance and turning to God is dependent on estimating his works and thoughts as they are. He who sees his deeds and thoughts beautiful will not abandon them.
In the Holy Qur’an there are many verses about enticement and fascination to some of which we may refer here. The Holy Qur’an sometimes speaks of the act of fascination in general terms and in a passive voice:
﴾Is he who was lifeless, then We gave him life and provided him with a light by which he walks among the people, like one who dwells in a manifold darkness which he cannot leave? To the faithless is thus presented as decorous what they have been doing.﴿7
Sometimes the Holy Qur’an, however, ascribes it to Satan:
﴾By Allah, We have certainly sent [apostles] to nations before you. But Satan made their deeds seem decorous to them.﴿8
But it sometimes attributes the act of enticement to the human soul; in the story of Yusuf, when he was cast into the well by his brothers, Jacob told his sons of their wrong-doing:
﴾Rather, your souls have made a matter seem decorous to you. Yet patience is graceful.﴿9
However, considering that the real cause, directly or indirectly, of all the events in the world is God and that all things occur according to the divine decree, the Holy Qur’an finally attributes it to God:
﴾As for those who do not believe in the Hereafter, We have mad their deeds seem decorous to them, and so they are bewildered.﴿10
In some verses the Holy Qur’an describes the precedent of allurement as the punishment of misguided people; that is, the adornment of certain things is thought to be the punishment of those who follow the way of falsehood:
A. Sin and Evil Deed. Man, by his divine nature, recognizes good and evil and sees good deeds beautiful and evil deeds ugly. But sometimes man is punished by his evil deeds and begins to see his evil deeds good and beautiful:
﴾To the faithless is thus presented as decorous what they have been doing.﴿11
B. Tricks and Deception. Man may think of an activity that is against the truth and God’s pleasure; it is a Satanic thought but for the perpetrator it seems good. The Holy Qur’an also says:
﴾Rather, their scheming is presented as decorous to the faithless, and they have been barred from the [right] way.﴿12
C. Wrong Thought and Idea: A misguided man may sometimes have an idea which is wrong and does not correspond with reality. But he counts it as good or even excellent. In this regard the Holy Qur’an says:
﴾Rather you thought the Apostle and the faithful will not return to their folk ever, and that was made to seem decorous to your hearts, and you entertained evil thoughts, and you were a ruined lot.﴿13
D. Worldly Life: Sometimes the pleasures of this world which are usually accompanied by pain and trouble are adorned for the deluded man, and he is so fascinated by them that he is ready to sacrifice all the divine ideals for them. The holy Qur’an states:
﴾Worldly life has been glamorized for the faithless, and they ridicule the faithful. But those who are Godwary shall be above them on the Day of Resurrection.﴿14
4. The Precedent of Awarding This or the Other World
One of the divine precedents is that man is left free to choose between the material and spiritual, this world and the Hereafter, and he is given what he wishes. However, this does not mean man should choose either of the two and he has no portion of the one he has not chosen; rather, man is need of this and the other world, the material and the spiritual. He should enjoy the worldly blessings but this world and material things should not turn to be his aim or ideals; he should enjoy this world but should not sink in it or make it his destiny. Indeed we cannot call a person who experiences the pleasures of this world properly a worldly person, unlike the person who makes this world his aim and ideal and is engrossed in this material and earthly world and does not move upward towards spiritual and human perfections. The righteous, on the other hand, are those who besides enjoying this world and its pleasures appropriately do not stick their heart to it, but intend higher and more elevated aims, and make the pleasures of this world a means to attain higher perfections. If a person travels in the path that leads to the Hereafter, God will definitely let him experience the worldly pleasures as much as necessary. But if a person looks for these joys only and stops seeking the Hereafter, God will give him only this world. This is one of the divine precedent, concerning which the Holy Qur’an states:
﴾Whoever desires the tillage of the Hereafter, We will enhance for him his tillage, and whoever desires the tillage of the world, We will give it to him, but he will have no share in the Hereafter.﴿15. It further adds:
﴾Whoever desires this transitory life, We expedite for him therein whatever We wish, for whomever We desire. Then We appoint hell for him, to enter it, blameful and spurned. Whoever desires the Hereafter and strives for it with an endeavour worthy of it, should he be faithful, the endeavour of such will be well-appreciated.﴿16
There are many instances of this law, namely assigning this world to its seekers, in the Holy Qur’an such as the story of Nimrod, Pharaoh, and Shaddad.
5. The Precedent of the Domination of the Wicked
One of the divine precedent which is exercised as a punishment of the wicked is the domination of the evildoers and the oppressors. Just as God assigns a righteous leader for those who follow the way of piety and belief, so He too appoints the oppressors and the unjust to rule those who fall in the way of corruption, destruction and rebellion, as a punishment for their deeds and the evil path they have chosen.
Of course, appointing the oppressors as rulers of those people does not mean that God either issatisfied with the deeds of those evildoers or wants them to act unfairly, or rather, it means God will not avert oppression from the oppressed, leaving them to themselves. For warding off oppression and injustice is one of the bounties of Allah, and as those people no longer deserve divine mercy, they have deprived themselves from this reward.
Historical events clearly show that this precedent has sometimes been applied and has made some people meet the retribution of their deeds. The crimes of al-Hajjaj ibn Yusuf al-Thaqafi were the result of the corruption of the people of Iraq and their digression from the path of the immaculate and Infallible Household of the Prophet, peace be upon them. The story of Bukht al-Nasr (Nebuchadnezzar), which is mentioned in the Holy Qur’an, is another example of the domination of the evildoers and the unjust. A mighty king, he sent a huge army to the Israelites, and consequently ruined their cities, demolished the Farthest Mosque, burned the Torah and the books of the Prophets, and perpetrated such a massacre of people that only a little number of them, mainly women, children and the weak, were left and whom he took in captivity.
The Holy Qur’an in Sura Al-Isra, verses 4 to 7 refers to this point and then declares:
﴾If you do good, you will do good to your [own] souls, and if you do evil, it will be [evil] for them.﴿17 That is, if an oppressor such Bukht al-Nasr rules people, kills and humiliates them, it is due to their own deeds. Among the sins that lead to the dominance of the evildoers is abandoning the two great divine obligations, namely ﴾bidding the good and forbidding the evil.﴿
6. The Precedent of Purification
According to this law, everybody who once followed the way of ignorance and error comes to himself and returns to his true self and intends to turn to God, God will purify and cleanse him from all the spiritual impurities accumulated by sin and will lead him to the straight path.
There are many verses in the Holy Qur’an relating to the precedent of repentance and purification, and these can be divided into seven groups.
The first group: The verses that state that God accepts the repentance of those who have made mistakes in the past:
﴾But whoever repents after his wrongdoing, and reforms, then Allah shall accept his repentance.”18
The second group: The verses that discuss the repentance of the believers and that God will include them in His mercy:
﴾Should two among you commit it, chastise them both; but if they repent and reform, let them alone. Indeed Allah is all-clement, all-merciful.﴿19
The third group: The verses that declare that God accepts the repentance of the people of the Book and the disbelievers:
﴾Had the people of the Book believed and been Godwary, We would surely have absolved them of their misdeeds.﴿20
The fourth group: The verses that indicate that God accepts the repentance of the hypocrites:
﴾Had they, when they wronged themselves, come to you and pleaded Allah for forgiveness, and the Apostle had pleaded for forgiveness for them, they would have surely found Allah all-clement, all- merciful.﴿21
The fifth group: The verses which show that God even accepts the repentance of the atheists:
﴾It will be said, ‘Invoke your partners!’ So they will invoke them, but they will not respond to them, and they will sight the punishment, wishing they had followed guidance. The day He will call out to them and say, ‘What response did you give to the apostles?’ The news that day shall be blocked out for them, so they will not question one another. As for him who repents and develops faith and acts righteously, maybe he will be among the felicitous.﴿22
The sixth group: The verses which introduce God as the forgiver who accepts every repentance:
﴾It is He Who accepts the repentance of His servants, and excuses their misdeeds.﴿23
The seventh group: The verses that state that even the repentance of the apostates is accepted.
﴾How shall Allah guide a people who have disbelieved after their faith and [after] bearing witness that the Apostle is true, and [after] manifest proofs had come to them? Allah does not guide the wrongdoing lot. Their requital is that there shall be upon them the curse of Allah, the angels, and all mankind. They will remain in it [forever], and their punishment shall not be lightened, nor will they be granted any respite, except such as repent after that and make amends, for Allah is all- forgiving, all-merciful.﴿24
The Holy Qur’an explains this precedent in this way:
﴾O you who have faith! Repent to Allah with sincere repentance! Maybe your Lord will absolve you of your misdeeds.﴿25
It also says:
﴾But whoever repents after his wrongdoing, and reforms, then Allah shall accept his repentance. Indeed Allah is all-forgiving, all-merciful.﴿26
The important point about repentance and purification is that God not only accepts the repentance of those who turn to Him and forgives their sins but also transforms their misdeeds into virtues:
﴾Those who repent, attain faith, and act righteously; for such, Allah will replace their misdeeds with good deeds.﴿27
7. The Precedent of the Victory of Truth over Falsehood
The victory of truth and its people over falsehood and its followers is one of the predominant precedent of the universe. According to this precedent if some individuals or a community really follow the way of truth and consequently fall in conflict with the people of falsehood, God will destroy the people of falsehood and give them victory. For falsehood is indeed like the foam on the surface of water which apparently shows it is enduring but in reality it is perishing, and according to the precedent of history it will lead its way to destruction. The Holy Qur’an explains this precedent in the following way:
﴾So that He may confirm the truth and bring falsehood to naught, though the guilty should be averse.﴿28 It also says:
﴾Rather We hurl the truth against falsehood, and it crushes its head, and behold, falsehood vanishes!﴿29
Of course, piety and devotion are necessary requirements for the people of truth so that they can win over the followers of falsehood. If the people of truth really profess piety, act justly, fulfill their obligations, and have good divine intentions, the universe will come to their help, and the unseen aids will assist them and in different ways they will be aided by God. If, in some cases, the people of truth have been defeated, then it is definitely due to their weakness or weaknesses, or, in proportion to their defeat, they must have ignored some of their duties.
Evidently the victory of the people of truth is not necessarily related to the military aspect; sometimes they might suffer military defeat but at the same time they may gain intellectual or ideological victory. As might be seen in the uprising of Imam Hussein, peace be upon him, although
he did not apparently triumph in military terms, he realized the final intellectual victory. As well, all the people of truth were triumphant. Now all the free people of the world know Imam Hussein as a victorious noble man. Whatever form the conflict of the people of truth with the people of falsehood takes the victory pertains to truth. No matter whether the conflict is military, ideological or political, if the people of truth act according to their duty, they will win victory. It is the precedent of God that the people of truth will win over falsehood in all fields:
“Certainly Our decree has gone beforehand in favour of Our servants, the apostles, that they will indeed receive [Allah’s] help, and indeed Our hosts will be the victors.”30
One of the examples of the victory of truth over falsehood is the triumph of Islamic system over all other schools and religions as is declared by the Holy Qur’an:
﴾It is He Who has sent His Apostle with the guidance and the religion of truth, that He may make it prevail over all religions though the polytheists should be averse.﴿31 It adds further
﴾They desire to put out the light of Allah with their mouths, but Allah shall perfect His light though faithless should be averse.﴿32 In Sura al-Shura we also read:
“And Allah will efface the falsehood and confirm the truth with His words.﴿33
II. The Actual Precedents
1. The Precedent of the Dominance of the Divine Will
One of the divine precedents is, the dominance and authority of the divine will over all other wills. It means that when the divine will applies to a matter no other will can oppose it; rather all other wills, without man’s knowledge, will be frustrated. This precedent is so dominant that sometimes the divine will is fulfilled through the enemies, and the statement that “the enemy will be the cause of good if God wills” is absolutely true. The Holy Qur’an states:
﴾Should Allah visit you with some distress, there is no one to remove it except Him; and should He desire any good for you, none can stand in the way of His grace: He grants it to whomever He wishes of His servants, and He is the All-forgiving, the All-merciful.﴿34
One instance of this precedent is the conservation of the Holy Qur’an from the vicissitudes of events and corruption of the enemies of Islam. As the divine will intends that man should at all times have a guide and therefore the Holy Qur’an has been sent to the Holy Prophet of Islam, God has determined to safeguard this Divine Book forever. Though the enemies of Islam have always schemed to destroy it, they could not succeed, for the divine will desires that this life-giving Book should always be enlightening, and be the guide to the seekers after truth. God says:
﴾Indeed We have sent down the Reminder, and indeed We will preserve it.﴿35
Also, the Holy Qur’an concerning the dominance of the divine will over other wills states:
﴾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.﴿36
The supremacy of the divine will is realised and manifested in different ways, some of which are as follows:
1. Frustrating the Apparent Causes. When God wills something that exceeds the apparent causes, the material causes lose their effects. For example, when the divine will determines to preserve the life of Ibrahim, peace be upon him, though it is the nature of fire to burn the body it loses its effect and Ibrahim has not been burnt. Or when Ibrahim, peace be upon him, decides to slaughter Ismael, though it is the nature of the knife to cut and wound, because the divine will has intended to safeguard Ismael’s life, the knife loses its effect, that is cutting.
2. Doing Something through Uncommon Ways. The divine will is sometimes fulfilled through uncommon ways, for when the divine will applies to a matter it should not necessarily be executed through natural causes. It can also be carried out through unnatural or unfamiliar ways (this being another law), such as the pregnancy of Maryam in an unnatural way, or Ibrahim, peace be upon him, having his son Ismael at the age of 86 and Isaac at 100, or the People of the Cave who slept for 309 years in the cave without suffering the slightest physical injury.
3. The Futility of the Solutions. Sometimes when the divine will applies to a matter all the solutions and the plans of the intellect break down and are frustrated, and sometimes the same will which is supposed to oppose the divine will becomes the executor of God’s will. A clear example of this truth is the story of Musa, peace be upon him. The will of God intended to deliver the Israelites from the oppression and wrongdoing of Pharaoh and his followers and make Musa their leader. In order for Pharaoh to secure his position he ordered all the male children to be killed and in this way shed the blood of many children so that Musa would not live. However, as the divine will decided on the delivery and the ascendancy of the Israelites, Musa was brought up by Pharaoh himself and in his very palace, assumed later the leadership of the community and brought the tyrants to the ground of debasement and annihilation. The story of Musa, peace be upon him, which is related in Sura al-Qasas, shows that when God’s will applies to a matter all the plans and solutions of the opponents will be frustrated and God makes his will triumph over all things.
2. The Precedent of Testing Man
The precedent of testing is another instance. God tests man in different ways, for example by inflicting him with different miseries and problems, so that if he is of the people of perfection and has the spiritual aptitude he may reach perfection, and if he is not he should have no argument or excuse against God.
Contrary to the understanding of common people, the purpose of the test of God is not His ensuing knowledge of the righteous and the unrighteous, the true believer and the hypocrite, or rather, the main aim of testing is besides showing the nature of the individual to himself and sometimes to others, that man by travelling the path of patience and submission can come out triumphant and in consequence achieve the human spiritual perfection:
“You will surely be tested in your possessions and your souls, and you will surely hear from those who were given the book before you and from the polytheists much affront; but if you are patient and Godwary, that is indeed the steadiest of courses.”37
Many verses in the Holy Qur’an show it is the divine will that man in the path of his life should be tested in different ways, and only those will attain the higher ranks of perfection who come out of these tests triumphant such as Ibrahim, Yusuf and Musa. After being tested in different ways, they came out successful and unharmed and thus were qualified for prophethood and leadership.
All the Prophets of God were such that unless they passed the different stages of the divine tests successfully they would not attain the position of Prophecy, leadership or guidance. The Holy Qur’an states:
﴾Do the people suppose that they will be left off because they say ‘We have faith,’ and they will not be tested? Certainly We tested those who were before them. So Allah shall surely ascertain those who are truthful, and He shall surely ascertain the liars.﴿38
It further announces that:
﴾We will surely test you with a measure of fear and hunger and a loss of wealth, lives, and fruits; and give good news to the patient.﴿39
Of course God’s testing is not restricted to hardships or withholding the bounties. Sometimes man is tested by these very bounties. He is also examined by illness or good health, poverty or prosperity, praise or blame. The Qur’an states:
﴾And We tested them with good and bad [times] so that they may come back.﴿40
3. The Precedent of Reward and Punishment
The precedent of reward and punishment, which is required by divine justice and wisdom, is another instance. According to this law, God in the eternal world and the everlasting abode will reward or punish the deeds and thoughts of man. Many verses in the Holy Qur’an show that God will make the faithful and the righteous enter the eternal paradise and confer on them blessings above the material pleasures. He will reward the righteous with the eight-gate paradise where there are flowing streams. Their faces will be joyful looking at the divine mercy. They will have a very happy life and they will experience no trouble, pain, exhaustion, death or old age. Whenever they desire something it will immediately be present before them. There will be no insecurity in paradise, or rather, pure security reigns. There is an abode of peace and a house of peace, and the angels of God come to them from every gate to greet them. There is no sin or nonsense or absurdity. Its weather is mild and there is no coldness or heat.
Beneath its green trees, rivers of honey, milk and pure water flow and for the people of paradise there are Hoaries who were never touched by men or Jinn. These Hoaries have not come to mind and in their tents they sit waiting for their husbands. Besides, there are intellectual joys such as love of God, pleasure of God, and happiness in the presence of one’s conscience and the divine Prophets and leaders:
“Allah has promised the faithful, men and women, gardens with streams running in them, to remain in them [forever], and good dwellings in the Gardens of Eden. Yet Allah’s pleasure is greater [than all these].”41
For those who follow the way of falsity, however, and deny themselves of the light of belief and devotion and tread the path of polytheism, disbelief and hypocrisy to the end of their life there is fire and hell of seven gates.
According to the verses of the Holy Qur’an, the lowest place of hell belongs to the hypocrites. The people of hell will hear from a considerable distance the heart-rending cry of hell, which shows the hell is in tumult and commotion. Certain creatures in hell carry out whatever they are ordered to do. The people of hell moan and cry in fire, and the fire of hell never becomes cold. There are some who will eternally be chastised in the fire of hell, while some others after passing some stages will come out of it.
Moreover, besides fire a shade of black smoke hovers above the heads, and hell is located in such a close place that no one escape his doom. The fire of hell burns what is inside and what is outside.
The clothes of its people are made of fire and their heads are pounded by iron spikes. Their food is something like dry thorn which neither fattens them nor satisfies their hunger. More importantly is their spiritual pain which results from their shame before God, the Prophets, the saints, and the people from the former and later generation:
“Allah has promised the hypocrites, men and women, and the faithless, the Fire of hell, to remain in it [forever]. That suffices them. Allah has cursed them, and there is a lasting punishment for them.”42
4. The Precedent of Ease after Hardship
The precedent of ease and comfort after difficulty and hardship is another instance of God’s predominance over the universe. According to this law, after enduring some stages of hardship, man will surely reach the stage of ease and comfort.
Sweet and ripe fruits grow on a tree if it passes through certain stages and for sometime endures the burning heat of the sun and stands the wind and the events. Erudition is also the result of years of study and scholarship, championship is the result of many years of hardworking and exercise etc. In the system of creation only after suffering and traversing difficulty there will come ease and prosperity. Unless man passes the stage of difficulty in every action, he will not reach the stage of comfort or prosperity and this is one of the precedent presiding over the universe. Addressing the Holy Prophet of Islam Allah states:
“Indeed ease accompanies hardship. Indeed ease accompanies hardship.”43
In relation to the verses prior to this verse, by the verse ﴾indeed ease accompanies hardship﴿ the Qur’an has tried to explain this point that if we have raised your name, if we have glorified your religion, if we have lifted the heavy load from your shoulder, if we have made our people obedient to you, if we have made your religion eternal and everlasting, it is because you have endured the stages of hardship, you have showed patience and perseverance against injury and annoyance for the sake of God, and in firm steps have crossed the winding straits of Prophecy; so it is our precedent that after hardship there should be ease and comfort. On another occasion the Holy Qur’an explains this divine law:
﴾Allah will bring about ease after hardship.﴿44
1- 3: 178
2- 13: 32
3- 68: 44-45
4- 7: 182
5- 26: 205-207
6- 2: 126
7- 6: 123
8- 16: 63
9- 12: 18
10- 27: 4
11- 6: 122
12- 13: 33
13- 48: 12
14- 2: 212
15- 42: 20
16- 17: 18-19
17- 17: 7
18- 5: 39
19- 4: 16
20- 5: 65
21- 4: 62
22- 28: 64-67
23- 42: 25
24- 3: 86-89
25- 66: 8
26- 5: 39
27- 25: 70
28- 8: 8
29- 21: 8
30- 37: 171-173
31- 9: 33
32- 61: 8
33- 42: 24
34- 10: 107
35- 15: 9
36- 13: 11
37- 3: 186
38- 29: 2-3
39- 2: 155
40- 7: 168
41- 9: 72
42- 9: 68
43- 94: 5-6
44- 65: 7