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Imam al-Rida's Debate on Monotheism

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This article is an introduction to the Imam al-Rida's Debate on Monotheism; to read its text see text:Imam al-Rida's Debate on Monotheism.

Imam al-Rida’s debate concerning monotheism is a hadith in which Imam al-Rida (a) debates with a person who denies God’s existence. In this hadith, Imam al-Rida (a) presents three arguments for God’s existence, replying to objections raised by his atheist interlocutor.

A Brief Report of the Debate

In the debate on monotheism, Imam al-Rida (a) debates with a person who denies God’s existence. Early in the dialogue, Imam al-Rida (a) presents an argument for the rationality of the belief in God. His atheist interlocutor does not respond to this argument, and instead raises various objections to God’s existence. In his replies to these objections, Imam al-Rida (a) presents two additional arguments for God’s existence as well. According to the narrator of the debate, in the end the interlocutor comes to believe in God.

Imam al-Rida’s Arguments for God’s Existence

In this debate, Imam al-Rida (a) presents three arguments for God’s existence: one at the beginning of the debate and two in his replies to the objections raised by the atheist interlocutor. Here are outlines of those arguments:

  • If there were no god, then after death, believers and disbelievers would be in the same situation, but if there is a god, disbelievers go to the Hell and believers go to the Heaven.
  • When we reflect upon our bodies, we see that we cannot reduce anything from it, nor can we add anything to it. Moreover, pleasures and displeasures occur to us, which we do not have the ability to avoid or to gain. From this it follows that the edifice of the body has a builder.
  • The rotation of the skies, the emergence of clouds and winds, and the motion of the sun, the moon, and stars, and other overwhelming signs are evidence that there is someone who has built these.

Objections by the Atheist and Imam al-Rida’s Replies

In Imam al-Rida’s debate about monotheism, the person who denied God’s existence raised objections to each of the Imam’s arguments for God’s existence, to which the Imam replied. For instance, he asked: If God exists, then how does He exist? Where is He? Since when has He been? If He exists, then why is He invisible? Moreover, he objected that if God is All-hearing and All-seeing, then it follows that He has ears and eyes.

Imam al-Rida (a) replied that God is the creator of qualities and places, hence He is not in any places and no qualities might occur to Him. Moreover, there was no time at which He did not exist. Therefore, it makes no sense to ask at what time God came to existence. The reason why God is invisible is that, first, this marks a difference between the creator and its creatures, and second, God is too great to be seen with physical eyes or to be grasped by reason or imagination.

God’s hearing or seeing is not analogous to seeing or hearing in creatures, and hence, it does not require ears or eyes. Rather, God is All-hearing in the sense that He knows every sound in the sky and the earth, whether it is big or small. Moreover, He is All-seeing in that He sees everything, even the footsteps of a black ant on a black stone in a pitch dark night.

Sources of the Debate

Imam al-Rida’s debate about monotheism was cited by early Shi'a scholars of hadith, such as al-Kulayni (d. 329/940-1) in his al-Kafi, and al-Shaykh al-Saduq in his al-Tawhid and 'Uyun akhbar al-Rida (a). The hadith also appears in al-Ihtijaj by Ahmad al-Tabrisi (alive in the sixth/twelfth century). Al-Kulayni’s hadith is shorter than the others; indeed, it is almost half of the other accounts. In Bihar al-anwar, the hadith appears as quoted from ʿUyun akhbar al-Rida (a) and al-Tawhid by al-Shaykh al-Saduq.

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