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Divine Want

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Mashīyya, or divine want or desire (Arabic: مَشیّت), is a term that commonly applies to God and human beings. When used for God, it is said to mean the creation of things, and when used for human beings, it is said to mean want and desire.

There are disagreements over the divine want among scholars. Some take it to be an attribute of action, some take it to be an attribute of the essence, and others take it to be an effect of God's knowledge and power.

There are two kinds of divine want: generative (takwini) and legislative (tashri'i).

The divine want and the human want have been distinguished in a variety of respects, including the former being unaided, unconditional, and unlimited. On the Shiite view, the human free will is taken to be vertical to the divine will, as is implied by the well-known hadith, "there is no jabr (determinism), nor tafwid (unrestrained delegation of things to humans). Instead, there is something in between".

The Notion

"Mashiyya" is said to refer to want (desire), God's want, and the desire for something to the extent that one wants it. It is said to be a term that commonly applies to God and human beings in such a way that in the case of God it is said to mean the creation of things and in the case of human beings it is said to mean want and desire.

The human want is believed to go through stages from an attention to something, an imagination, and then a desire for it. When the want is formed, then the will and decision will follow. However, the divine want does not need to go through these stages, because He has knowledge by presence.

Mashiyya or divine want is regarded as the first manifestation of contingent beings from the origin of existence, by which other manifestations of being appear.

The word, "mashiyya", does not itself appear in the Qur'an. However, its cognates do appear, such as "shā'" (desired, as past tense) and "yashā'" (desires, as present tense), appear over two hundred times with regard to both God and human beings. Moreover, the notion of mashiyya appears in numerous hadiths sometimes as synonymous with creation and want, and sometimes in other meanings.

Different from Volition

Some people take "mashiyya" (want) and "irada" (will) to be synonymous, but others distinguish between them in that the former is to just want something, but the latter is to move towards something, that is, taking an action to achieve it. Thus, sometimes something is wanted (or desired), without being willed. Thus, mashiyya is thought of as a weaker form of will, which is further from doing an action, while will is a stronger form of mashiyya, which is proximate to doing the action. In other words, will is conceived as a variant of mashiyya and posterior to it, since the latter is at the stage of knowledge, and the former is at the stage of action.

The Nature of Divine Want

Want and will are regarded as divine attributes as implied by many Quranic verses, in which God's domination over all phenomena in the world are emphasized and all events therein are said to come from the divine want. According to some hadiths, the divine want is posterior to His knowledge. It is in fact an effect of His knowledge. On these hadiths, first there is knowledge, and then the divine want, and then respectively the divine will and predestination.

The divine want is believed to be a controversial issue among exegetes of the Qur'an, theologians, and philosophers. It is discussed under relevant Quranic verses, such as those concerning the predestination of human beings, their free will. Different views have been proposed with regard to the nature of the divine want and whether it is an attribute of the essence or an attribute of actions, and whether it is pre-eternal (qadim) or created in time (hādith).

  • Allama Tabataba'i identifies will and want, taking both to be attributes of actions. He believes that the talk about God's want or will to do something amounts to saying that God knows what is advantageous overall and provides the means for its existence. Thus, God is not characterized as mashiyya or want in the way He is characterized as His attributes of essence, such as Knowledge and Power, because His Essence is exalted from any changes.
  • Some scholars take the divine want to be an implication of His Knowledge and Power. That is, God has knowledge by presence about everything, advantages and disadvantages, and the best world (al-nizam al-ahsan), and with His Omnipotence, He has full freedom in what He wants to do. God's Omnipotence demands that He does things that are good and advantageous. Otherwise, it would imply imperfections in His Essence.
  • Mulla Sadra discusses the divine want under the divine Power. He believes that the divine want is identical to the divine Power, that is, there is one existence for God's Knowledge, Power, Will, Want, and other attributes. Mulla Sadra argues that God's attributes are not additional to His Essence, since otherwise there would be composition within His Essence, and he also believes that the distinction among God's attributes is only conceptual. On the basis of these two principles, he argues that God's attributes, such as Knowledge, Power, and Want are identical to His Essence, that is, God's existence is the same thing as the existence of these attributes.

Kinds of Divine Want

Based on certain hadiths, the divine want has been classified into takwini (generative) and tashri'i (legislative).

  • Generative want: It is taken to be a stage of divine actions, which has to do with the existence of all things and events in the world. At this stage, God creates things based on His Knowledge, Wisdom, and their advantages. Since this stage of the want is identical to God and originates from His Power, it is not possible to act against it, and thus there is no free will for human beings here. Quranic verses such as the verse twenty seven of the Qur'an 3 and the verse thirty five of the Qur'an 16 are cited as evidence for this kind of divine want.
  • Legislative want: This kind of the divine want is concerned with human's volitional actions, thus it belongs to actions that have a role in the realization of the human happiness and perfection. On this view, God informs people of what is advantageous or disadvantageous to them by sending prophets (a). However, He does not force people to do or to abandon what He wants. Thus, it is possible to act against this kind of want. The verse three of the Qur'an 76 is cited as evidence for this kind of divine want.
  • Sometimes the want is taken to be generative only, and the divine will is what is taken to be of two types: generative and legislative. On this view, the term, "mashiyya", in the Qur'an mostly applies to the creation, and rarely is it used with respect to legislation (tashri').

Difference between Divine and Human Wants

The human want and the divine want are distinguished in a variety of respects, including the latter being unaided, unconditional, and unlimited, unlike the former.

  • Unaided: For human beings to want something, they need to have imaginations, desires, and decisions to implement their desires, and most importantly the divine permission, while God's want does not need any of these, because of His domination and knowledge. This feature of the divine will is allegedly supported by the verse ninety eight of the Qur'an 20, and the verse eighty two of the Qur'an 36.
  • Unconditional and unlimited: The divine want is regarded as an effect of God's Knowledge and Power, and since human beings enjoy limited knowledge and power, their want is likewise limited. Verses twenty three and twenty four of the Qur'an 18 are cited as evidence for this. However, God's Knowledge and Power are unlimited, and thus His want is likewise unlimited.

Relationship between Divine Want and Human Volition

On the Shiite outlook, and as implied by the hadith according to which "there is no jabr (determinism), nor tafwid (unrestrained delegation of things to humans). Instead, there is something in between", the human volition is said to be correlated with his power. Thus, on the one hand, the human being does not enjoy absolute volition, because his power is limited, and if he could obtain whatever he willed and wanted, then he would have the divine power, but this implies polytheism.

On the other hand, the human being is not merely determined to do things, because in this case, there would be no point in him having divine obligations, rewards and punishments. Thus, the world is created on the basis of something in between, that is, the human knowledge, power, freedom, and want come from God and are vertical to His will. God has bestowed a power in human beings with which they are able to act and make final decisions in doing or refraining from doing things. However, this power is limited in certain respects. It cannot go beyond the capacities of the human existence. Thus, since human actions require preparatory grounds which are provided by God. Thus, the implications can be attributed to both God and to the person who does the action.

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