Istidrāj (Arabic: الإستدراج, literally: graduality) or imla' or imhal (both literally meaning: allowing time), or "gradual destruction" is a divine tradition of indulging sinners in His blessings and their oblivion of asking for His forgiveness before He gradually punishes and destroys them. Some exegetes take "istidraj" to also mean the power to do extraordinary things. Qur'anic verses and hadiths from Imams of the Shia characterize istidraj as being a time or opportunity allowed for people to ask for God's forgiveness, which they have wasted. Factors leading to istidraj include the denial of divine signs, disbelief, and oblivion of God's warnings. Istidraj is said to have effects such as refusal by the Prophet (s), deprival of God's grace and blessings, indulgence in sins, and one's efforts being rendered worthless.
To remain immune from, and preclude the occurrence of, the tradition of istidraj, certain practices are recommended such as faith and piety, praise of God and remembrance of God's blessings, review of life events of past people and divine traditions, self-observance, and self-reckoning.
The word "istidraj" is a Qur'anic term said to mean the gradual approach of something. It counts as a divine tradition referring to gradual approach of disbelievers, polytheists, and wrongdoers to divine punishment and destruction as a consequence of their persistence on sins and oblivion of asking God for forgiveness while they were also oblivious of the coming punishment. The tradition is enforced only after stages of God's guidance and testing, on the one hand, and people's denial and refusal, on the other
Some exegetes interpret the notion of istidraj as applied to sinners as follows: God's postment of His punishment is not a sign of His powerlessness, and the profusion of blessings is not a sign of their proximity to God. Instead, the blessings are preparatory for God's gradually approaching punishment. God indulges them in His blessings and allow them some time. He then makes them suffer a humiliating punishment.
Some scholars note that the wisdom behind istidraj is to reveal the true morals and interiors of polytheists and disbelievers to others.
"Imla'" and "Imhal" as Synonymous with "Istidraj"
The concept of istidraj is also mentioned in the Qur'an as "imhal" and "imla'", that is, allowing time to disbelievers or postponing their punishment. In other Quranic verses, sinners' enjoyment of divine blessings and their oblivion of the remembrance of God have to do with the tradition of istidraj.
Istidraj is divided into individual and social types.
Individual istidraj consists in one's failure to properly use divine blessings or one's waste of such blessings which gradually lead the person to loss and entitlement for punishment. Verses of Sura al-'Asr, the verse 20 of Sura Shura, and the verse 91 of Sura al-An'am which refer to the human loss and oblivion in life also point to this tradition.
The Qur'an points out some factors leading to istidraj punishments:
- Denial of divine signs: the verse 182 of Sura al-A'raf refers to people who deny divine signs, and then promises to punish them with istidraj.
- Disbelief: the verse 32 of Sura al-Ra'd promises to punish disbelievers with istidraj.
- Oblivion of divine messages and warnings: according to the verse 44 of Sura al-An'am, God will provide material pleasures for those oblivious to divine messages and warnings, and when they indulge in those pleasures, God will suddenly punish them.
There are two cases of istidraj as pointed out by scholars and exegetes:
Increase in Blessings
One case of istidraj is for God to increase the material blessings of sinners and make them forget to ask for His forgiveness, and will gradually make them close to His punishment. It frequently appears in hadiths. For example, the Prophet (s) said: "when a servant does whatever he wishes and God gives him what he wishes, while the servant persists on his sins, then that would be an istidraj for him."
It is believed by some exegetes that certain extraordinary actions that can be done by sinners are also cases of istidraj. They take these extraordinary actions to come from Satanic powers given to sinners with the permission of God.
Quranic verses enumerate effects and consequences of suffering from istidraj. They include them being refused by the Prophet of Islam (s), their efforts in this world and the afterlife being rendered worthless, them being insulted and humiliated by God, being deprived of divine grace and blessings, their indulgence in sins, painful death, and humiliating divine punishments.
Immunity from Istidraj
Ways have been recommended to remain immune from the tradition of istidraj or to prevent it. They include faith and piety, praising and remembering divine blessings, study of life events of past people as well as divine traditions, and self-observance and self-reckoning.
Imam al-Sadiq's (a) explanation of istidraj:
"When a servant commits a sin, yet he enjoys a profusion of blessings, where the blessings prevent him from asking for God's forgiveness, [then that is istidraj] and he will be taken unawares in a way that he could not think of."
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- Maʿmūrī, Barrasī-yi istidrāj dar Qurʾān wa mīrāth-i tafsīrī, p. 103.
- Ṭabāṭabāʾī, al-Mīzān , vol. 8, 346.
- See: Makārim Shīrāzī, Tafsīr-i nimūna, vol. 7, pp. 33-34.
- Makārim Shīrāzī, Tafsīr-i nimūna, vol. 7, p. 32.