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Pre-eternity and Creation in Time

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Pre-eternity and Creation in Time (Arabic: الحدوث والقدم) is one of the issues in Islamic theology which concern to the beginning of the universe. The question about the start point of the universe; i.e. whether our world is temporal or eternal, is of a great significance in Islamic Theology and philosophy.

Temporal creation indicates a temporal world, created by God in time, thus presupposing a void time before the creation; however, the temporal eternity or eternity in time, rejects the notion of the void time and holds that the world had existed ever since.


Pre-eternity of the world is an old issue which has been a matter of controversy among Muslim theologians and philosophers. This topic is mostly related or regarded as an opening to several theological and philosophical discussions, like that of: the reality of the matter, substance and its accidents, necessity and contingency, motion and stillness, time and space, etc. Also, the several discussions about God and the first philosophy start with this issue; and there is no discussion but to ground its principles, at least partially, in the outcome of this debate.

To the point that most theologians hold the belief in temporal creation as an integral part to the faith. The concern for this particular issue has given it a distinctive form in its own right, which tends to prove the temporality of the world as such, rather than its creation by God. Also as a result of the given attention, the issue of the world's pre-eternity has come to be regarded by theologians as a shift point from natural sciences to metaphysics.

Lexicology and Terminology

The word Huduth (Arabic: حُدوث) in Arabic means: coming to being after nonexistence; on the contrary, Qidam (Arabic: قِدَم) means: being without any preceding nonexistence. Relatively, the theological use of these words is much the same as their lexical sense. However, theologians have offered different definitions for these terms. As for temporal some suggest that it is used for anything that has come to existence after a state of nonexistence or the existence of something else; others disregard the previous stage and believe the term signifies the quality of having a starting point. Some also has defined the word temporal as anything that comes after the eternal being.

Also there have been suggested different definitions for the word: al-qadim (eternal). According to one definition, eternal is used to describe a being with no particular start point. However, al-Juwayni believes such definition lacks precision and accuracy. Al-Amidi, has defined eternal as something that has an independent and primary existence in itself and not caused by something else.

Some theologians, namely a group of Mu'tazila restrict the usage of the word: al-qadim (eternal) to God.

As consequences of this debate, several other controversial topics came up in the history of Islamic theology and philosophy, like the question whether or not the Qur'an or attributes of God are eternal.

Main Views

Pertaining to the issue of pre-eternity and temporality, five main views have been presented:

  • Most of Muslim, Jew, Christian and Magus theologians: both the substance and the accidents of the matter are temporal.
  • Some Philosophers including Aristotle, also the alleged view of ancient materialists: both the substance and the accidents of matter are eternal.
  • The Substance of the matter is eternal while its accidents are temporal. This is close to the opinion of some Mu'tazila who believe in eternal five modes. Also in Islamic sources, this view has been ascribed to most of pre-Socratic philosophers who considered water, fire, air, or the like as the primary arche of the universe. Also philosophers who believed in Hyle and Form, or light and darkness, and the like, as the origins of the material objects, are credited with this view.
  • Galen and, allegedly, Maimonides, who believe that no firm ground can be obtained in this debate.

In Shi'a Hadiths

There are expressions about World's temporality and refutation of its pre-eternity in the traditions narrated from the Ahl al-Bayt (a).

As an instance, it's been narrated by al-Shaykh al-Saduq in his al-Tawhid that a man asked Imam al-Rida (a) about the proof for the World's temporality, in the reply, the Imam pointed to the man's temporality as an evidence for the temporality of the world. Also in an answer to Ibn Abi l-'Awja's question about temporality of the World, Imam al-Sadiq (a) considers change and decay in the world as signs of its temporality.

Arguments for the Temporality

Theologians have classified the arguments for temporality into two main categories, via affirmation and via refutation. In the first class, the arguments directly prove the temporality of the world, while the arguments of the second class, prove such a state for the universe by showing the impossibility of its independent pre-eternity.