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Principle of Lutf

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The principle of lutf (Arabic: قاعدة اللطف, literally: divine grace) is a principle in theology to the effect that God should do things by which the duty-bound person becomes close to obedience of God and avoids sins, without this divine grace having an impact on the person’s power or making the action compulsory. The majority of Mu'tazilite and Imami theologians have endorsed the principle, while Ash'arite theologians have rejected it. Imami theologians draw upon the principle in providing rational proofs for many Islamic beliefs, such as the requirement that God should legislate religious duties, send prophets, appoint Imams, and the like. Some Imami jurists have deployed the principle to establish the validity of consensus (ijmaʿ).

The Notion

The principle of lutf (or divine grace) states that God should do everything that helps people become close to obedience of God or avoid sins, such as legislation of religious duties and sending the prophets, through which people are introduced to their religious obligations. In Islamic theology, being latif (graceful) is divine attribute of action, which means that He does things by which the duty-bound person becomes close to obedience of God and avoids sins, without the grace having an impact on the person’s power or making the action compulsory.

In Quranic verses and hadiths, God’s gracefulness has other meanings as well, including God’s penetrating knowledge, the impossibility of perceiving God and rejection of His corporeality, God’s innermost essence being incomprehensible, the subtlety of divine creation and plans, and benefaction and generosity.

Kinds of Lutf

In the literature, there are two kinds of divine grace (or lutf): muhassil (obtaining) and muqarrib (closeness). Muhassil grace is what should be done in order for the obedience of God to obtain; that is, without it, one cannot serve God, while muqarrib grace just brings the person close to obedience of God.

Proponents and Opponents

Muslim theologians disagree over the principle of lutf. Mu'tazilite and Imami theologians endorse the principle of lutf by adducing rational and textual evidence, while Ash'arite theologians oppose the principle, raise objections against it, and believe that God is not required to do any grace.

Rational Evidence for the Principle of Lutf

Rational evidence for the principle of divine grace is grounded in God’s attribute of wisdom. The argument is that a wise person does not defeat his own purposes; that is, he does not do something that contradicts his goals. Accordingly, if God wants humans to obey Him, He should prepare the ground for such obedience. The argument runs as follows:

  • God is all-wise.
  • A wise person does not defeat his purpose.
  • God wants people to obey Him.
  • People’s obedience of God is impossible without divine grace (lutf).
  • To charge people with obligations without any grace defeats the purposes.
  • Therefore, grace is required for God.

The Ashʿarite Objection

Ashʿarite theologians believe that the requirement of grace for God implies that God is governed by reason, while God is the absolute governor who is not governed by anything else. Proponents of the principle of grace reply by saying that the requirement of lutf does not mean that God has the duty to have grace. Rather, it is to say that human reason grasps the necessity of grace on the part of God by inferring from God’s own attributes, such as knowledge, wisdom, and justice.

Theological Functions

The principle of lutf (or divine grace) has a variety of instances and functions in Islamic theology. Advocates of the principle take the following as instances of the principle:

  • Legislation of religious duties: religious duties (such as the prohibition of injustice and obligation of the prayer) count as instances of lutf or divine grace in that they bring people close to compliance with their rational duties (such as badness of injustice or goodness of gratitude toward God).
  • Sending the prophets: it is necessary for God to send prophets as a matter of His grace over people, since it is through the prophets that people can have access to their religious duties and come close to the accomplishment of their rational duties and the goals of the creation.
  • Infallibility of the prophets: people would tend to avoid the prophets if they saw any sins and misdeeds done by the prophets. However, with their infallibility and purity, they come close to their obedience.
  • Appointment of an infallible Imam: Imami theologians agree that it is necessary for God to appoint an infallible Imam, since it would bring them close to obedience of God and avoidance of sins.
  • Promise of divine rewards and punishments: it is necessary for God to promise rewards and punishments for actions, since it is in this way that people tend to be led to good characters and compliance with religious duties.
  • Appointment of a jurist guardian (al-wali al-faqih): according to Imam Khomeini and 'Abd Allah Jawadi Amuli, a Shiite theologian and jurist, God’s wisdom and grace demand that people should not be deprived of the guardianship of competent people in the period of Occultation. For this reason, in this period, He has appointed qualified jurists as deputies of Imam al-Mahdi (a) and guardians of the Islamic community.

Application in the Principles of Jurisprudence

A number of scholars in the principles of jurisprudence, including al-Sayyid al-Murtada, al-Shaykh al-Tusi, and al-Karajuki, have made recourse to the principle of lutf to establish the validity of consensus (ijmaʿ). They argue that if scholars agree over a false ruling, then the Infallible Imam has the duty to prevent the consensus out of the grace, and when there is no view against the consensus, it becomes evident that the Infallible Imam agrees with the ruling. Accordingly, consensus over a ruling implies the Infallible Imam’s agreement.

Nevertheless, some scholars, including al-Shaykh al-Ansari, Muhammad Husayn al-Na'ini, and Akhund Khurasani, reject the argument.

Bibliography

In addition to works of theology and principles of jurisprudence, the principle of lutf is discussed independently as well, including in the following:

  • Barrasi-yi tatbiqi-yi qaʿida-yi lutf dar imamiyya wa-amuza-yi fayd dar masihiyyat-i catolic (A comparative study of the principle of grace in the Imamiyya and the doctrine of grace in Catholic Christianity) by Hasan Dinpanah. The author concludes that although both lutf in the Imamiyya and grace in Christianity lead to people’s avoidance of sins and to their salvation, but they are fundamentally different in their principles and presuppositions. The book was published in 2017 by Imam Khomeini Education and Research Institute in 370 pages.
  • Qa'ida-yi lutf wa-ithbat-i wujūd-i Imam-i hayy (The principle of lutf and a proof for the existence of a living Imam) by Mahdi Yusufiyan. The book addresses the principle of lutf and its functions in proving the existence of an Imam and Imamate. It was published in 2016 by the publications of the Center of Mahdawiyya affiliated by the Seminary of Qom in 210 pages.

References

  • The material for this article is mainly taken from قاعده لطف in Farsi WikiShia.