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Is piety good in itself, or is it good because God commands it? Or put another way,
are things good or evil in their own right, or are they good or evil simply because God
so decreed them? This seemingly innocuous matter has presented difficulty for
theists ever since Plato posed a similar question to Euthyphro during their well-known
courthouse dialogue around 399 BC. The question is a µdilemma¶ because however
the theist answers, problems arise for theism. There is little explicit reference to the
matter in the Islamic literature, yet it seems that a cogent solution may be inferred
from the Risale-i Nur ± the 6000 page Quranic commentary by Bediuzzaman Said
Nursi.[1] This brief article will aim to elucidate that solution.


If the theist were to hold to the first horn of Euthyphro¶s dilemma ± that things are
good or evil inherently ± she would need to deal with the ensuing problem for Divine
omnipotence. In Islam, Allah (God) is held to be absolute and All-Powerful. He is
known to possess Absolute Will (   ), to be the Ultimate Reality (
and to be perfectly Just ( ). But if things are inherently good or evil, how does one
maintain that God is absolute? For inherency would seem to suggest that good and
evil exist as some ultimate truths, above and external to God, which even He is bound
to abide by if He is to act justly. God¶s Will and Power might thereby be constrained.
Yet this would be problematic for the Islamic conception of Allah as the All-
Powerful, Ultimate Reality.

If the theist were to hold to the second horn of the dilemma ± that good and evil are
purely by God¶s decree ± she would need to deal with the implication that God is not
just at all, but purely arbitrary. He may just as easily have decreed that unjustified
murder, torture and lying are actually good, not evil. But our very strong intuition is
that these things really are bad. So how then, are we to understand God¶s justice? Is
His justice arbitrary, thus not justice at all? Or is His justice beyond all human
comprehension? (Beers, p.4, 2010.)


Ôuslim scholars have very largely held to Divine voluntarism ± that Allah is utterly
free to act as He pleases, that He is not bound to act in accordance with any external
truths, since no such truths exist, and that therefore, good and evil are purely by His
decree. This is the view of a virtual ³who¶s who´ of Islamic scholarship, including no
lesser authorities than al-Ashari, al-Ghazali, Ibn Rushd, and Ibn Hazm, among others
(Beers, pp.13-14, 2010). Al-Ashari for example, states:

³We hold that good and evil are by Allah¶s decision and determination.´ (al-Ashari,
cited in Beers, p.12, 2010.)

And elsewhere:
³Then lying is evil only because Allah declared it to be evil? Certainly. And if He
declared it to be good, it would be good; and if He commanded it, no one could
gainsay Him.´ (al-Ashari, cited in Beers, p.13, 2010.)

Imam-i Ghazali agrees as follows:

³We confess that the decision concerning good and evil wholly depends on Allah.
For whoever should say that the decision regarding good and evil depends upon
another than Allah would thereby be guilty of unbelief regarding Allah, and his
confession of the unity of Allah would become invalid.´ (Ghazali, A. cited in Faris,
N. 1999.)

And further:

³«He is free to impose unbearable obligations and to punish the innocent, while
taking into consideration that which is salutary is not obligatory upon Him«´
(Ghazali, A. cited in Faris, N. 1999.)

Western commentators such as Beers complain that the works of Ghazali  go no
further than stating this position of voluntarism, without dealing with the ensuing
problem of arbitrariness. Yet a closer look at the Islamic literature, particularly the
Risale-i Nur, provides a compelling answer.



Quran, 16:90.

When assessing the cogency of the Ôuslim position here, it is important to understand
first what good, evil and justice !" mean in the Islamic context. Defining these
from the outset has the purpose of avoiding the many straw-man objections that might
be raised against the position, based on simple equivocations of these key terms.


Goodness, in the Risale-i Nur schema, may be seen as being one and the same as
µbeing¶ or µexistence¶ (Ôermer, 2004). That which pertains to µexistence¶ is pure
good, while that which pertains to non-existence is evil. (Nursi, S. pp.89-90, 1998.)
How is this so? Said Nursi notes in various parts of the Risale-i Nur, including the
Eleventh Word and Thirty-First Word, that Allah possesses Absolute Beauty and
Perfection (Î and  ) in all His Names and attributes. Absolute Beauty and
Perfection, taken together, may be seen as the very essence of goodness and are loved
for their own sake:

As evidenced by ³«the testimony of His works, the Ôaker of the world possesses
infinite beauty and perfection. The two of them, both beauty and perfection, are loved
for themselves. Since this is so, the Possessor of that beauty and perfection has an
infinite love for them, and His infinite love is manifested in many different ways in
His works of art. He loves His works of art because He sees His beauty and perfection
within them.´ (Nursi, p. 599, 2008.)

Now, since Allah¶s existence is the Highest Truth and Reality, denoted by His Name
 , and since He possesses Absolute Beauty and Perfection as part of His
very Essence or #$, all that exists is pure goodness. Thus, µgood¶ becomes
convertible with µexistence¶, and µexistence¶ amounts to Allah (Ôermer, 2004). From
the perspective of us created beings, µgood¶ actions and behaviors are those which
accord with and properly reflect the Names and attributes of Allah, Who is goodness
itself. As will be discussed below, one can know what behavior reflects Allah¶s
Names, simply by referring to His decrees. The key point that should be noted here is
that µgoodness¶ does not exist as some external truth that is independent of Allah.
Goodness is rooted in His very Essence or #$.

Since Allah is pure goodness, there is no real evil in His creation. Evil should rather
be seen as the absence or privation of good. Colin Turner puts it as follows:

³In the Nursian schema, then, evil is a lack of good, and its µcreation¶ by God is
metaphorical: That which is deemed evil is only apparently so, and it is evil simply
by dint of the wish and will of the human individual who has abused his free-will by
desiring it.´ (Turner, 2010.)

For the human actor then, the commission of evil is nothing more than a failure to
properly reflect the Names and attributes of Allah in the choices they make. While
from Allah¶s perspective, nothing He does or creates is actually evil. Things that
seem bad R, really veil pure goodness, as follows:

³Nursi describes evil, imperfections and ugliness as a unit of measurement that shows
the degrees of good and beauty and hence augments and multiplies their realities. Evil
is therefore indirectly good. Ôoreover, the non-existence of ugliness, which conceals
numerous instances of beauty, is not a single, but a manifold ugliness. For then,
beauty would be of only one sort; its numerous degrees would remain hidden. Beauty
and perfection belong to the Creator alone, and hence they are one. However, in
creation the degrees of beauty and perfection unfold through the intervention in them
of ugliness and imperfection, just as high and low degrees of heat proceed from the
admixture of coldness. Ôinor instances of imperfection, ugliness, and harm result in
or show up universal instances of perfection and beauty, and universal benefits. This
means that the creation of evils, imperfections and ugliness is not evil because its
consequences are good.´ [2] (Ôermer, 2004.)

Thus, things in Allah¶s creation that superficially appear ugly or imperfect are
actually necessary so that man, a finite being, can understand the infinite beauty of
Allah. This being the case, it is actually the absence of this metaphorical evil that
would be evil, not its metaphorical µpresence¶. Because man is a finite, temporal
being with limited capacity, he is unable to comprehend the absolute beauty of Allah
all at once. He needs to see things in degrees, over infinite time. He commences this
exercise here, in this finite realm, but continues it forever in the Afterlife ".
This notion of limited beings needing to see things in degrees, in order to begin
comprehending the absolute attributes of God, is also relevant to the concept of
justice, or µ, in Islam.


X  % & %' &()*
 +(   Quran 15:21.

The term justice, in the English vernacular, connotes things such as fairness,
reasonableness and morally right behaviour. It brings to mind notions of equity and
impartiality. It can also refer to such things as appropriateness, correct measure and
being fitting and suitable. In Islam, justice ± !± is derived from Allah¶s Name
of !  (Just). Allah¶s !, viewed holistically, certainly encompasses all of the
ideas mentioned above. Yet depending on the context, some connotations will be
more relevant than others. From the perspective of the relationship between Allah
and His creation, ! should properly be understood as the creation and
placement of things in their rightful place, in correct measure and in the right
proportion. Ôore specifically, Allah¶s  generates differentiation and degrees in
things, by creating them in complementary pairs of opposites, with the proper
balance, and in the right measure and proportion. Allah µcreates¶ darkness to make
light known, cold to make heat known, and metaphorical ugliness to make beauty
known.[3] Nursi notes throughout the Risale-i Nur that !  always operates in tandem
 ± Allah¶s Name of Ôost Wise ± for what the rightful place, measure and
proportion is, always depends on His wisdom (Turner, 2010).

Since Allah¶s justice always operates in tandem with His wisdom, it is useful to
examine briefly what His wisdom is, in so far as the creation of the Universe is
concerned. As already noted, Allah loves the beauty and perfection of His own
Names and attributes. Thus, He wishes to see manifestations of His beauty with His
own discerning eye. And being a Ôerciful and Compassionate Being, He also wishes
for others to see it. He therefore creates the Universe, which manifests all His Names,
and numerous varieties of conscious beings, who observe those manifestations. Ôan
is one such species of being ± others include the  and numerous forms of angels
and spirit beings. Since man, in particular, is a limited being, he cannot comprehend
the absoluteness of Allah¶s Names all at once. He needs to see things in degrees and
through differentiation. And it is Allah¶s ! ± His creating things in balanced
and proportionate pairs of complementary opposites ± that creates this differentiation.
Thus, ! literally makes existence known. (Turner, 2010.)

„    "

Nursi¶s foregoing ontology of µserves to elevate Allah¶s Name of !  to the
position of an  , ± a Greatest Name ± in the Risale-i Nurschema. As such, he
sees  as being manifested more greatly in the present realm than some other
Names. (Nursi, S. pp. 396-408, 1999.) Since ! creates the differentiation and
degrees in things that makes µexistence¶ known, it has a central role in serving the
wisdom in the creation of the universe. (Turner, 2010.)

The concept of ! and its generation of differentiation and degrees, also applies
to the creation of good and µmetaphorical¶ evil. For instance, Allah creates numerous
kinds of illnesses, of varying severity, so as to make known in degrees, His absolute
Name of º ± The Healer. In relation to human actions in particular, !
operates to create a whole spectrum of behaviors which are, by His decree, either
good or bad, to varying extents. Always working with together with , it has
the function of enabling man to be examined, impelling him to strive, overcome
temptation and endure difficulty. This striving is the µmechanism of progress¶ for the
spiritual growth that man must attain, to be able to reflect and appreciate ever-higher
levels Divine Beauty. (Nursi, S. p. 108, 1999.)

There is a further, and perhaps more significant reason, why Allah¶s decrees are not
arbitrary. Things are decreed good or evil, on the basis of the Divine Names.[4]
!  operates to create a range of actions or behaviors that free-willed beings
might engage in, which represent, to varying degrees, either a reflection or departure
from the beauty of those Names. Actions which reflect His Names are decreed good,
while those which represent a departure from His Names are decreed evil. But the
creation of these evil actions is not evil, for it serves an indispensible role ± it creates
varying degrees of imperfection, which makes known the beauty of good actions.
Something like theft is decreed evil, since is represents a departure from µ , while
lying is forbidden because it is a departure from Haqq, and so on. At the other end of
the spectrum, giving alms is good because it reflects - (Ôerciful), while
gaining knowledge is good because it reflects !  (All-Knowing). The
responsibility of man, if he is to act with !, is to acknowledge that whatever
good he does is rightly attributable to Allah, since the goodness of his actions is
grounded in the beauty of Allah¶s Names. As Nursi says, ³In reality, the beauty and
perfection in things pertain to the Divine Names and are their impresses and
manifestations.´ (Nursi, p.334, 1998.)

Given Nursi¶s above ontology of !, one may see that Allah¶s decrees are never
arbitrary. They are rather made with ! and  to achieve His purposes in
creating the universe in the first place. Nor are they dependent upon some
transcendent notions of good and bad ± they are rather rooted in the Divine Names
and Essence.


The Ôuslim position on the ontology of good, evil and Divine justice has always been
one of voluntarism ± that good and evil are purely by God¶s decree, and that whatever
He decrees is perfectly just. This view has served to avoid offending the omnipotence
of God. But at the same time, it has risked devaluing Divine justice by turning it into
something arbitrary. Yet Divine justice or ! ± properly understood as being
Allah¶s creation and placement of things in their rightful place, in correct measure and
proportion, to achieve differentiation and create degrees in things ± always operates
together with , to achieve the Divine purposes in the creation of the universe.
It is therefore not arbitrary, but purpose driven. Further, the decision concerning good
and evil does not depend on any independently existing notions of piety, for no such
notions exist. Good and evil rather depend on Allah Names, since goodness is
grounded in the Divine Essence. Evil on the other hand, is merely the privation of
good and thus has only an insubstantial existence. It amounts simply to a departure,
by free-willed beings, from the beauty and perfection of the Divine Names.

Note [1] This is not to say that a solution to the dilemma might not be found, implicitly, in the works of
previous Ôuslim scholars. This article simply aims to show that a solution can be seen quite clearly in
the Risale-i Nur, given its sharper focus on Allah¶s Name of µAdl.

Note [2] Note that the µcreation¶ of evil is not a creation in the positive sense. It is a creation in the
negative sense, in that it comes into metaphorical being as a logical result of the privation of µgood¶.
An example that might clarify this is that of darkness being µcreated¶ by the removal of light. Darkness
does not exist in any real or independent sense; it is merely the lack of light. Thus, it has no need of
being created in the positive sense, in the same way that light does. So the term µcreated¶ is used here
merely for linguistic convenience.

Note [3] Again, the term µcreate¶ here is used for linguistic convenience, since darkness, cold and
ugliness do not require to be positively created ± they are merely the absence of light, heat and beauty

Note [4] An objection that might be raised here is this: If Allah¶s decrees depend on His Names, is He
not   to decree certain things good, and others bad? And if He is, doesn¶t this limit His Power?
One possible way of dealing with this is to simply underline the difference between  to
act, and  to act. Allah possesses   (Absolute Will), meaning He is never compelled to
act is any particular way. Thus, one might say that He is not compelled to act in accordance with His
own Names even (contrary to what some Ôu¶tazilites thought). If He does act in accordance with His
Names, it is only because He freely chooses to do so.

Alternatively, and perhaps preferably, one might take the position that it is meaningless to ask whether
or not Allah  act contrary to His Names. For it amounts to asking, ³Can Allah be not-Allah?´ This
is an incoherent question for if Allah could be not-Allah, He would cease to be the subject of the
question that is being asked. Thus, the question amounts to a meaningless philosophical trick, much
like the question, ³Can God create a rock He can¶t lift?´ Again here, as soon as there exists a rock that
cannot be lifted by the referent in the question, the referent ceases to be the Being that was being
spoken about in the first place, and   

#$$ $    "
%&& # 

The Thirtieth Flash (on Allah¶s Greatest Names) ± The Flashes

The Twenty-Sixth Word on Divine Determining ± The Words Collection
The Eleventh Word ± The Words Collection


Beers, T.
| R (2010)
Viewed 23 April, 2011

Brown, D.
³Islamic Ethics in Comparative Perspective´
./ +01222234 R5666
Faris, N.
.7  7
Sh. Ôuhammad Publishers, Lahore, 1999
Viewed 23 April, 2011

Ôermer, Y.
³Bediuzzaman Said Nursi's Scriptural Approach to the Problem of Evil´
.Î ºR - 0 85Î 4998

Nursi, S.
Translated from the Turkish 1  by Vahide, S.
Sözler Neşriyat A.Ş., Istanbul, 1999.

Nursi, S.
Translated from the Turkish / by Vahide, S.
Sözler Neşriyat A.Ş., Istanbul, 1998.

Nursi, S.
Translated from the Turkish º by Vahide, S.
Sözler Neşriyat A.Ş., Istanbul, 1998.

Nursi, S.
Translated from the Turkish º ,by Vahide, S.
Sözler Neşriyat A.Ş., Istanbul, 2008.

Turner, C.
³Bediuzzaman and the Concept of ; :
Towards a Nursian Ontology of Divine Justice´
Î ºº<= 4959"RR>>8?>=4