Book Review: Zulhaqem Zulkifli on ‘On Divine Wisdom and the Problem of Evil’

The classical Islamic scholar, theologian, and jurist, Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya, writes on God’s divine wisdom (he calls it “dazzling wisdom”) and uses it to answer the classic problem of evil question. He argues that there is no absolute evil and that things are not evil in-and-of-themselves. Instead, there is relative evil, and that things seen as evil from one viewpoint may not be evil from the other. Furthermore, he argues that evil is a means and not an end which may lead to a greater good that is more beloved to God and the servants and that evil is a privation of good or qualities that would cause it to be perfect. For instance, the privation of knowledge and justice leads to ignorance and injustice. The quality of evil cannot be ascribed to God although He allows it to happen and more importantly, that is only in accordance to His divine knowledge and wisdom. Furthermore, His 99 names and attributes prevents such associations. The concept of free will and predestination is also explored as he talks about the two types of decrees of God – His ontological (kawni) decree and His religious (dini) decree. So the question arises – does He like the evil that men commit even though He is the one that decreed it? The answer is even though He may have decreed ontologically, He abhors it religiously. This also implies that just because something has been ordained, one still has the free will to change one’s self. The logic (and paradox of predetermination vis-a-vis free will) of this is rather obscure, and it is here we take the leap of faith and understand that His divine wisdom is indeed dazzling and ineffable. 

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