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Shia Islam

Badāʾ' (Arabic: بَداء) is a terminology in kalam, meaning that God reveals to people something other than what they thought would happen. However, when bada' is used about people, it refers to their changing their decisions.

There are several verses of the Qur'an concerning this notion and some of its instances. In some hadiths, belief in bada' has been said to be along with the real knowledge of tawhid (monotheism), without which God cannot be truly known. In Shiite resources of hadith, details of bada' have been talked about; for example, in al-Kafi there is a separate section about bada' including 16 hadiths.

Literal and Terminological Meanings

Bada' has two literal meanings: appearance or emergence, and occurrence of a thought or an opinion.[1]

When someone has made a decision to do something, but before doing it one comes to know that there is a harm or threat consequent upon that act, and so one changes one's mind; In such a case we say that a bada' has occurred, since the person did not know all the facts about the act in question; otherwise, one would not have decided to do it. It is obvious that the change of mind arises from ignorance of the facts. Therefore, it is legitimate to use the word "bada'" about human beings, but such a use is illegitimate with respect to God.[2] Also, people might say that a bada' occurred for someone in this act to mean that the goodness of that act became obvious to one (though it was not obvious before). The word is also used in the case of omissions.

The word "bada'" is used about God without implying any change of mind out of ignorance or weakness, and thus bada' as a Shiite belief means that God reveals for people facts that were hidden from them such that they expected otherwise.[3]

In the Qur'an

In the Qur'an, there are several verses concerning the notion of bada' and its instances; for example, "Allah makes to pass away and establishes what he pleases" (Quran 13:39); in a commentary on this verse, Imam al-Sadiq (a) says: "is not it the case that Allah makes to pass away what is established, and establishes what has passed away?"[4]

In Hadiths

In Shiite resources, there are many hadiths from the Prophet Muhammad (s) and Imams (a) that approve bada' and take belief in bada' to be a sort of worship for God and one of the highest forms of obeisance for God.[5]

Imam al-Sadiq (a) said, "None of the prophets became prophets until they admitted five characteristics for God: bada', providence, prostration (sujud), divinity, and His obedience."[6] In another hadith from Imam al-Sadiq (a), we read, "No bada' occurs for God except that it is already in His knowledge."

Moreover, the belief in bada' is greatly emphasized, so much so that it has been regarded as a sign of true faith in God.

According to a hadith, "God is not worshiped with any deed as He is worshiped with [the belief in] bada'."[7] Imam al-Sadiq (a) is also reported to have said, "If people knew what reward is reserved for the belief in bada', they would never get bored with discussing it."

Challenging the Doctrine of Bada'

The belief in bada' has been widely discussed and challenged in non-Shiite Muslim theological and exegetical works, which have accused the Shi'a of inventing it.

Relation with the Divine Knowledge

The main objection against the belief in bada' is that it entails change in God's knowledge. In response to that, some Imami scholars, have differentiated between two types of divine knowledge:

  1. Essential knowledge, which is eternal and no change occurs in it, and
  2. Aactual knowledge, which is identical with God's actions.

The second type is created in time and is changeable, and bada' occurs only in this type. There is no bada' in God's essential knowledge; God even knows that bada' will take place. Bada' does not entail any change in God's essence—knowing about a change is different from the change itself. Imam al-Sadiq (a) says in this regard, "No bada' occurs for God but it has already been in God's knowledge. Bada' does not occur for God out of ignorance."

Relation with God's Eternal Will

Some non-Shiite scholars regard the belief in bada' contrary to the belief in God's eternal will. In defense of their belief, Shiite scholars have explained that God's eternal will (qada') has three types:

  • Necessary qada', known only to God. There is no bada' in this type, because it entails change in God's knowledge, which is impossible.
  • Necessary qada', which God reveals to the angels, prophets, or imams, and they inform people of it. No bada' occurs in this type of qada' either, because it casts doubt upon the honesty of the prophets or the imams in the eyes of people.
  • Contingent qada', in which God decrees something, but makes its occurrence contingent on His will. It is in this type of qada' that bada' takes place.


The necessary knowledge and decrees of God, referred to by such terms as the Preserved Tablet (al-lawh al-mahfuz), the Reserved Knowledge (al-ilm al-makhzun), and the Mother Book (umm al-kitab), are unchangeable and fall outside the domain of bada'. God pre-eternally knows all things and the relationships between them, and nothing is outside His knowledge.

What is inferred from the teachings of the Infallibles (a) is that, considering the verse "Allah effaces and confirms whatever He wishes and with Him is the Mother Book" (13:39), there are two books in relation to the affairs of the world: the book in which the decrees can change if God wills so (the Book of Effacing and Confirming "mahw wa ithbat", which contains, e.g., the changes in people's destinies as a result of their good or bad deeds), and the book in which the decrees are fixed and unchangeable (the "Preserved Tablet" or the "Mother Book").

In Sunni Sources

Although some Sunni scholars have rejected the doctrine of bada' and criticized the Shi'a for it, the same doctrine, albeit not with the same name, has been affirmed in their sources.

Al-Bukhari, for instance, reports, in his Sahih, on the authority of Abu Hurayra that the Prophet (s) said, "There were three people among the Israelites who were afflicted with three diseases, vitiligo, deafness, and blindness. It occurred to God to test them…" Ibn Hajar comments on this hadith that "The phrase ‘it occurred to God' means that God pre-eternally knew but then He revealed his knowledge, not that something was hidden from God and then He discovered it, because such a thing is impossible for God." In his commentary on Quran 39:42, Ibn Abi Hatam also quotes a hadith from Ibn Abbas, according to which, "God makes people to die; if it occurred to God to take a soul, He would do so and the person dies; or He postpones the death until a specified time and returns the soul to its place". Al-Haythami, too, quotes in his Majma' al-zawa'id in the section on "The Sun's Rising from Where It Sets" (Tulu' al-shams min maghribiha) a hadith related to bada'.

Effects of the Belief

Shiite scholars have mentioned several doctrinal and practical fruits for the belief in bada', including the establishment of the absolute power of God. Moreover, the doctrine of bada' provides an explanation for the difference between the Creator and the creation (including the prophets and imams), because bada' occurs only in the divine knowledge that is hidden from the others. Finally, the belief in bada' repudiates determinism and strengthens the spirit of endeavor, since the person who believes that his destiny can change strives to work toward making a better future for oneself. Such a person will have more hope in God and in the fulfillment of his prayers.


  1. Ṭurayḥī, Majma' al-baḥrayn, vol. 1, p. 41.
  2. Ṭurayḥī, Majma' al-baḥrayn, vol. 1, p. 41; Mufīd, Taṣḥīḥ al-i'tiqād, p. 67.
  3. Mufīd, Taṣḥīḥ al-i'tiqād, p. 65; Ṭabāṭabāyī, al-Mīzān, vol. 11, p. 381.
  4. Kulayni, al-Kafi, vol.1 p.146
  5. Kulayni, al-Kafi, vol.1 p.146-148; Tusi, al-Ghayba, vol.1 p.428; Majlisi, Bihar al-anwar, vol.4 p.107-108
  6. Kulayni, al-Kafi, vol.1 p.148
  7. Kulayni, al-Kafi, vol.1 p.146


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