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Tadbir in the Quran







Tuesday May 5, 2009


God commands, and at His creative behest, things come into being and events take place.


WE HAVE had some occasions before to briefly argue that the term tadbir is one of the major Arabic terms meaning administration, management, or governance (see Ikim Views of Oct 28 and Dec 23 last year).


This has also been duly recognised by a number of studies carried out in modern times, such as Muhammad al-Buraey in his Administrative Development: an Islamic Perspective (London: KPI, 1985); Wan Mohd Nor Wan Daud in his Malay work Penjelasan Budaya Ilmu (Kuala Lumpur: Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, 1991); Yassine Essid in his in-depth study of the origins of Islamic Economic Thought aptly titled A Critique of the Origins of Islamic Economic Thought (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1995); and most recently, Scott Kugle in his Introduction to The Book of Illumination (Louisville: Fons Vitae, 2005), his translation of Kitab al-Tanwir fi Isqat al-Tadbir, a work by Ibn ‘Ata’illah al-Iskandari, the great Muslim scholar of late 13th Century Cairo.


Although the term tadbir itself is not used in the Quran, the present tense of its verbal form, yudabbir, is repeated four times – in Yunus (10): 3 and 31; al-Ra‘d (13): 2; and al-Sajadah (32): 5.


In all of such occasions, the verb is accompanied by the term al-amr and refers to a particular type of Divine Act.


We therefore read yudabbir al-amr, whose meaning, for want of an exact English equivalent, is “He (that is, Allah) governs the affairs”.


The word amr in Arabic, apart from connoting “a command or a decree”, may also mean “an affair, an entity, an event, or a state”.


Both meanings, though apparently distinct, are indeed closely related, at least insofar as the Islamic cosmological scheme is concerned.


For God commands, and at His creative Behest, things come into being and events take place.


The expression yudabbir al-amr in the aforementioned cases is also mentioned alongside the facts of creation, whether celestial or terrestrial.


Among the Arabic terms used for the act of creating in those instances is khalaqa, whose infinitive, khalq, may mean either “to create something in a form which has no precedence” or “to predetermine, to ordain, or to give measure (al-taqdir)”.


One may therefore infer, on justified grounds, that not only does Allah bring all the creatures and events into existence according to a comprehensive design predetermined in His Perfect Knowledge, but He also generously sustains and governs all of them.


The erudite theologian, jurist and commentator of the Quran, Imam Fakhr al-Din al-Razi (d. 604 A.H.), in commenting on one of those four Quranic verses, said: “Yudabbir al-amr (literally ‘Allah governs the affairs’) means that Allah decrees and foreordains according to the requirement of wisdom and He also does that which is done by one whose act is always appropriate and who attends to the ends and outcomes of affairs such that nothing unbecoming would ever come into existence.”


Similarly, the traditionist-theologian Imam al-Bayhaqi (d. 458 A.H.), in his Kitab al-I‘tiqad wa al-Hidayah ila Sabil al-Rashad, explains


that Allah as The Governor is both omniscient – including His knowing the end and outcome of each and every thing – and omnipotent, involving His deciding in accordance with His Knowledge and His acting just as He decides.


In fact, Shah Waliyullah (1703-1762), the well-known Muslim scholar of Delhi, in his famous work, Hujjat Allah al-Balighah, argued that with regard to the bringing into being of the world, tadbir is the last in the order of the three intimately-related Divine Attributes; the other two being ibda‘ and khalq.


Such being the case, one quite often comes across renowned luminaries – like the famous Ibn ‘Ata’illah al-Iskandari (d. 1309) in his Kitab al-Hikam as well as Kitab al-Tanwir fi Isqat al-Tadbir – admonishing people to be confident in, as well as preferring, Divine Governance in all matters, and to not be deluded by the apparent sufficiency of one’s own governance.


The Divine Governance of the entire cosmos is indeed His Pattern of Recurrent Acts (Sunnatullah), which is all-inclusive, appearing partly in the modes of cause-effect correlation and of the rise and decline of nations and civilizations in the theatre of history, holding sway not only over the physical domain but also over the ethico-spiritual realm, regulating not only socio-political life but also individual and family lives.

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