EVIL, wickedness, harm, ill fortune.

i. In Ancient Iranian Religions.

ii. In Shiʿism.


In the eminently dualistic Zoroastrian religion the need to defeat evil was emphasized, and it was not by chance that Ahriman (q.v.) was one of the prototypes of the enemy (see DUALISM). In the ancient Iranian religious world evil was a fact, a condition of existence, as is apparent not only in so-called “orthodox Zoro astrianism” but also in Zurvanism and the various mystery religions and gnostic tendencies connected with it, notably Mithraism and Manicheism. The problem of evil was thus omnipresent, and the solutions to it took as many forms as the conceptions of dualism developed throughout ancient Iranian history. The earliest was apparently that of Zoroaster, which served as the basis for all subsequent elaborations.

The most characteristic and original trait of Zoroaster’s thought was his specific conception of dualism, in which evil was omnipresent (Henning, pp. 45 ff.). In the seventeen chapters of the Yasna that consitute the five Gathas there is continual reference to the evil that must be combated and destroyed. Gathic language is particularly rich in expressions for the various manifestations of moral, physical, and ritual evil. The adjective aka- “wicked” is most commonly used, in opposition to vohu- “good,” sometimes in an absolute sense (e.g., Y. 30.3: vahiiō akəmcā “the best and the wickedest,” vahiiah- “better” being the comparative of vohu-, though an elliptical use of the adjective to modify an implicit noun cannot be ruled out; cf. Kellens, 1987, p. 258 n. 6; Kellens and Pirart, I, p. 27, where, however, the conclusions are unconvincing). For aka- and vohu- the respective comparatives and superlatives aš´iiah-, acišta- and vahiiah-, vahišta- were also used. By analogy aṇgra- “maleficent” is opposed to spəṇta- “beneficent” and its comparative spāniiah- (Y. 45.2). Aṇgra-, referring to mainiiu- “spirit,” is also found in the Avestan version of the name Ahriman: Aṇgra/Aŋra Mainyu. It is significant that aka- and aṇgra- are almost synonymous in the Gathas (e.g., Y. 32.5: aka-mainiiu-). A neuter noun aṇgriia- “malevolence” was derived from the adjective aṇgra- (Y. 48.10; Kellens and Pirart, III, p. 225).

A great variety of nouns are also used to express a wide range of moral, physical, and ritual evils: the masculine aēšəma- “fury,” ąsta- “misfortune,” duuafša- “torment,” marəka- “destruction,” mərəiθiiu- “deadly nature”; the feminine ajiiāiti- “nonlife,” asrušti- “disobedience,” āθri- “disaster,” ə̄nāxšti- “rivalry,” tarəmaiti- “scorn,” dušiti- “bad dwelling,” dužjiiāiti- “bad life,” pairimaiti- “negligence”; and the neuter aēnah- “violence,” ā.dəbaoman- “illusion,” təuuiš- “brutality,” iδiiejah- “danger,” duuaēšah- “hostility,” rašah- “decay.”

The feminine druj (q.v.) “falsehood” is unique in its opposition to the neuter aṧa- (q.v.) “truth.” The corresponding Old Persian word is the masculine drauga-, which recurs in Darius’ inscriptions at Bisotūn (q.v.; DB I l. 34, IV ll. 34, 37, 43) and Persepolis (DPd ll. 17, 20), together with the verb draug- “to lie” (Av. draog-), with connotations similar to those of the Gathic forms, though loaded with political significance (“lie” as rebellion against the authority of the legitimate sovereign). In the Gathas druj- also engendered the adjective drəguuaṇt- “owner of falsehood,” designating all beings who choose druj- over aṧa-. As druj- was opposed to aṧa-, so drəguuaṇt- (Younger Av. druuaṇt-, Pahl. druwand) was opposed to aṧā/ăuuan-, and it is significant that drəguuaṇt- appears to have been an Iranian invention, whereas Avestan aṧauuan- and Old Persian artāvan- were derived from Indo-Iranian *ṛtāvan- (cf. Vedic ṛtāˊvan-). In fact, drəguuaṇt- probably was an innovation by Zoroaster himself: The term came to mean every “lying, false, morally wrong” creature and even influenced the meaning of aṧauuan-, which became an adjective “generally denoting what is morally right” (Gershevitch, p. 156). The opposition between aṧa- and druj- and between aṧauuan- and drəguuaṇt-/druuaṇt- was therefore of Indo-Iranian origin but reflected a typically Iranian development that can certainly be attributed to Zoroaster’s teaching. This development was determined by the pervasive dualistic conception of the conflict between good and evil. The Iranian opposition of aṧa- and druj-, notions correlated with the daytime and night skies respectively (Kellens, 1989, p. 77; idem, 1991, pp. 44 ff.), was more fundamental and systematic than the Vedic opposition of ṛtá- and drúh-, which did not form the basis of an ethical dualism (for a different conclusion by Kellens, who does not acknowledge an ethical dualism in the Gathas, see Kellens and Pirart, I, pp. 26 f.). Its specific significance in Iran was in fact owing to the conception of the two mainiiu-, who make their respective choices between good and evil (Y. 30.3; see, e.g., Boyce, pp. 73 ff.).

The idea of the choice between good and evil (for a masterly study, see Lommel, pp. 156 ff.) was at the heart of Zoroastrianism throughout its entire historical development. More or less emphasis and different theoretical foundations were attributed to it, depending upon the historical period and the influences absorbed through contact with foreign cultures and other religious and philosophical doctrines. It has been less vital and less emphasized among the Parsis, owing mainly to the antidualistic polemics of Muslims and Christians (cf. Dhalla, pp. 46 ff., 155 ff., 247 ff., 337 ff.), but the fact that it is present in the Gathas (Y. 30.5,6; 31.10; 32.2, 12; 43.16; 46.3; 51.18) is evidence that Zoroaster’s thought represented an original and coherent development. The lament of the Soul of the Cow (gə̄uš uruuan-; Y. 29), which probably also had metaphorical significance and has been interpreted in various ways (Cameron; Insler, pp. 134 ff.; Schmidt), seems to be an allegory in which a living creature asks to be spared pain and the fury of the wicked through the care of a kindly shepherd who is truly able to protect it.

Zoroaster’s solution to the problem of evil was profoundly original. While, on one hand, he promised the owners of Ašáa the final triumph of good over evil in an eschatological expectation consistent with a doctrine requiring rigor and commitment from the faithful (Henning, p. 48; see ESCHATOLOGY i), on the other, he provided a logical explanation for the existence of evil, whether through the idea of choice (for a paradigm, see Y. 30.3-5) or through the specific conception of two existences or states of being. The Zoroastrian conception is based on the idea of the two mainiiu- as two principles of equal power, defined as “twins” (Y. 30.3: yə̄mā) and conceived as “two eternal abstract Powers, Good and Evil, both of which manifested themselves not only in mental and spiritual phenomena, but also in the material things of this world” (Henning, p. 45). Evil, like good, is a spiritual or mental power, a mainiiu- that is wicked because of the choice made. Like good, evil manifests itself in material existence, but, whereas the good mainiiu- is manifest in its very creation, the wicked mainiiu- is present through foul and violent aggression. In spiritual existence the powers of good and evil are equal, for each is author of its own creation, but in material existence evil can only insinuate itself, contaminating and violating it.

This doctrine of the two existences is of Gathic origin. Zoroaster distinguished between a spiritual existence of thought or mind (ahu-mananhō or ahu- manahiia-; in the Younger Avesta mainiiauua-, referring to sti- “existence”) and a material, corporeal existence (astuuaṇt- “bony,” in the Younger Avesta also gaēiθia- or gaēθiia- “vital, material”). By its very nature the good mainiiu- is a promoter of life, whereas the wicked mainiiu- is destructive and intrinsically alien to creation of life in material existence. The good mainiiu- is thus the source of gaiia- “life,” the wicked mainiiu- of ajiiāiti- “nonlife.” In Yasna 30.4 ajiiāiti- must be interpreted as “impossibility of living” (Kellens and Pirart, I, p. 111) or “lack of vitality” (Humbach, I, p. 124), in accordance with the doctrine that evil is by its very nature sterile and incapable of transforming its creation into living or material existence. In the 9th-century Pahlavi texts Ahriman, unlike the creator Ohrmazd, is said to have no gētīg existence (Pahl.; Av. gaēiθiia-; cf. Shaked), not because he is not also a creator but because he is the author of an exclusively mēnōg (Pahl.; Av. mainiiauua-) creation. For Zoroastrianism, then, evil creation is ontologically confined to spiritual existence, from which, however, it can attack the material creation of Ohrmazd. Evil is not matter; rather, it insinuates itself into matter, contaminating it, perverting it, violating it. It is in this doctrinal connection that the daēuuas, manifestations of wicked thought favoring violence (aēnah-), incapable of choosing the good mainiiu- (Y. 32.3-4, 32.6; in the Younger Avesta demonic beings, counterparts of the beneficent entities), are defined in the Avesta as mainiiauua- but never like the yazatas as gaēθiia- (Gnoli, pp. 182 ff. n. 61).

According to the doctrine of the “mixing” (Pahl. gumēzišn) of the two spirits, variously attested in Pahlavi literature, evil mixes with good in spiritual existence and erupts into material existence through an “assault” (ēbgat), moving from the abyss (zofr-pāyag) and from the infinite obscurity (asar tārīgīh) in which it dwells, animated by destructive lust for (zadār kāmīh) and envy (arešk) of Ohrmazd’s creation (Bd., chap. I). Nevertheless, even in Ohrmazd’s creation there are genuine maleficent creatures like the xrafstra- (possibly “wild, monstrous,” though the etymology is uncertain; Pahl. xrafstar) that are harmful to living beings. They belong to the ranks of those who choose Druj, and they include the priests and specialists in sacred matters connected with the cults of the daēuuas:in the Gathas usij-, karapan- ,and kəuui- (cf. Yt. 10.34). Herodotus (1.140) reported that the magi customarily killed ants, snakes, and other creeping and flying things. A doctrinal development apparent in the Pahlavi texts provided a logical explanation for the presence of these creatures of Ahriman in creation, recognizing their material existence (gētīg) only in a form (kālbod) that would be shattered and destroyed, as would the forms of sorcerers (ǰādūgān; Av. yātu-) and witches (parīgān; Av. pairikā-; Mēnōg ī xrad 57.15, 27; cf. Dēnkard 7.4, 63). The xrafstars were thus also part of a creation that was not truly gētīg in nature and owed its origin to a maleficent spiritual power. In the evolution of this doctrine elements of a vast imaginary world of demons, which pervaded the folklore and survived after the Islamization of Persia (cf. Christensen, pp. 60 ff.), may have been harmonized with the philosophical premises of Zoroastrian teaching.

The universe of evil includes the daēuuas and Aŋra Mainyu, the daēuua- par excellence (daēuuanąm daēuuō: Vd. XIX, 1, 43; daēuuanąm draojištō: Yt. 3, 13), in the Younger Avesta said to be creator of everything opposed to Ahura Mazdā’s creation. Like Aŋra Mainyu, these daēuuas live in the north and thrive in darkness. They are true male demons, and the drujes are their female companions. The Zoroastrian pandemonium is extremely rich: L. H. Gray (Foundations, pp. 175-219) was able to count sixty-four demonic beings, and Arthur Christensen (1941) attempted to reconstruct the various levels of tradition. One almost constant characteristic of these male and female demons is their symmetrical contraposition to beings of good creation, in a pandemonium corresponding to a no less meticulously ordered pantheon. The ancient divinities repudiated by Zoroaster, the equivalents of such Indian gods as Indra, Saurva, and Nåŋhaiθya (opposed respectively to the Ameṧa Spəṇtas Ašáa, Xšaθra, and Ārmaiti), seem partly to personify negative forces in relation to morality, the cult, and the prescriptions dictated by the norms of purity of the natural elements. Thus Aēšma, who appeared already in the Gathas, is presented as a violent and cruel force in animal sacrifices, Apaoša as a daēuua- of drought and the rival of Tištrya (the star Sirius), Astō.viδātu- as a daēuua- of death, Bušyąstā as a druj- who induces morning indolence, Nasu as a druj- who corrupts corpses, and so on.

On the whole the Pahlavi texts reflect the demonology of the Avesta, sometimes enriched with new figures or figures endowed with new powers, like Āz (Av. āzi-) “greed, lust,” who also had cosmic significance in Manicheism (cf. Zaehner, 1955b, pp. 113 ff.), or Jēh (Av. jahī-), the prostitute (cf. Widengren, 1967). Other maleficent beings include dragons and snakes (Av. aži-) like Aži Dahāka in the Avesta and monsters like Gandarəwa and Snāviδka. Dēws and parīgs mate with human beings, producing harmful animals or inferior races like the blacks (Bd., p. 108 ll. 8-15), born of the union between a woman and a dēw and of a man and a parīg, or else they assume attractive forms, like the Avestan pairikā- Xnąθaiti, who seduced the hero Kərəsāspa (cf. Christensen, pp. 17 ff., 33, 53).

Evil in its various manifestations was an almost constant obsession in Zoroastrianism and ancient Iranian religions in general, exercising an influence even beyond the natural boundaries of the Iranian world. The idea of evil as a spiritual power that preceded and transcended creation was probably present in the Mithraic mysteries, in which a deus Arimanius was known (Duchesne-Guillemin; Zaehner, 1955a, pp. 237-43; cf. Turcan, p. 62), and was certainly vital in Zurvanism (Nyberg, 1929; idem, 1931; Zaehner, 1955b; idem, 1961; Widengren 1968, pp. 244 ff., 314 ff.) and even in Manicheism, which, as has been shrewdly observed (Puech, p. 142), remained faithful to this fundamental Zoroastrian doctrine because evil appeared as a principle preceding and transcending the drama of earthly existence. This doctrine also conditioned the Zoroastrian incorporation of astrology, in which an “Ahrimanian” character was attributed to the planets (Zaehner, 1955b, pp. 158 ff.; Panaino, pp. 64-79).

At times when dualism was of minor importance in Zoroastrianism, attention to the concept of evil was equally perfunctory, but, when, as in the 9th century C.E., it was understood as the distinctive and original nature of the good religion, evil was also recognized in all its power. Both the idea that evil must represent an autonomous power, rather than a good creator, and the idea that its nature is outside material creation were clearly and coherently reformulated. In the Škand-gumānīg wizār it is repeatedly maintained, in refutation of the arguments of atheists, materialists, Muslims, Christians, and Manicheans, that evil cannot come from good or good from evil, that the enemy preceded material creation and that his “assault” came after it, and that truth and falsehood are derived from two distinct principles (Menasce, pp. 98 f., 108 f., 154 f.); in other Pahlavi texts the fact that Ahriman has no material creation is repeated several times.



M. Boyce, Zoroastrianism: Its Antiquity and Constant Vigour, Columbia Lectures on Iranian Studies 7, Costa Mesa, Calif., 1992.

G. G. Cameron, “Zoroaster the Herdsman,” Indo-Iranian Journal 10, 1968, pp. 261-81.

A. Christensen, Essai sur la démonologie iranienne, Copenhagen, 1941.

M. N. Dhalla, Zoroastrian Theology from the Earliest Times to the Present Day, New York, 1914; repr. New York, 1972.

J. Duchesne-Guillemin, “Ahriman et le dieu suprême dans les mystères de Mithra,” Numen 2, 1955, pp. 190-95.

I. Gershevitch, The Avestan Hymn to Mithra, Cambridge, 1959.

G. Gnoli, “Osservazioni sulla dottrina mazdaica della creazione,” AIUON, N.S. 13, 1962, pp. 163-93.

W. B. Henning, Zoroaster: Politician or Witch-Doctor?, London, 1951.

H. Humbach, The Gāthās of Zarathushtra and the Other Old Avestan Texts, 2 vols., Heidelberg, 1991.

S. Insler, The Gāthās of Zarathustra, Acta Iranica 8, Tehran and Liège, 1975.

J. Kellens, “Characters of Ancient Mazdaism,” History and Anthropology 3, 1987, pp. 239-62.

Idem, “Huttes cosmiques en Iran,” MSS 60, 1989, pp. 65-78.

Idem, Zoroastre et l’Avesta ancien: Quatre leçons au Collège de France, Paris, 1991. Idem and E. Pirart, Les textes vieil-avestiques, 3 vols., Wiesbaden, 1988-91.

H. Lommel, Die Religion Zarathustras nach dem Awesta dargestellt, Tübingen, 1930; repr. Hildesheim and New York, 1971.

P. J. de Menasce, Une apologétique mazdéenne du IXe siecle, Škand-Gumānīk Vičār, la solution décisive des doutes, Fribourg, 1945.

H. S. Nyberg, “Questions de cosmogonie et de cosmologie mazdéennes,” JA 214, 1929, pp. 193-310; 219, 1931, pp. 1-134, 193-244.

A. Panaino, Tištrya, Part II: The Iranian Myth of the Star Sirius, Rome, 1995.

H.-C. Puech, Sur le manichéisme et autres essais, Paris, 1979.

H.-P. Schmidt, Zarathustra’s Religion and His Pastoral Imagery, Leiden, 1976.

S. Shaked, “Some Notes on Ahreman, the Evil Spirit, and His Creation,” in E. E. Urbach, A. J. Z. Werblowsky, and C. Wirszubski, eds., Studies in Mysticism and Religion, Presented to Gershom G. Scholem . . ., Jerusalem, 1967, pp. 227-34.

R.-A. Turcan, Mithra et le mithriacisme, Paris, 1981.

G. Widengren, “Primordial Man and Prostitute. A Zervanite Motif in the Sassanid Avesta,” in E. E. Urbach, A. J. Z. Werblowsky, and C. Wirszubski, eds., Studies in Mysticism and Religion, Presented to Gershom G. Scholem . . ., Jerusalem, 1967, pp. 337-52.

Idem, Les religions de l’Iran, Paris, 1968.

R. C. Zaehner, “A Postscript to Zurvan,” BSOAS 17, 1955a, pp. 232-49.

Idem, Zurvan, a Zoroastrian Dilemma, Oxford, 1955b. Idem, The Dawn and Twilight of Zoroastrianism, London, 1961.

(Gherardo Gnoli)



the struggle against evil

Imami Shiʿites, more than any other group in Islam, have an overwhelming sense that evil is all-pervasive. This attitude to their surroundings, amply reinforced by historical events, was handed down from one generation to the next. The Shiʿite scholar Rażī-al-Dīn Ebn Ṭāwūs (q.v.) teaches his son: “The ascendancy of falsehood over truth is attested from the earliest times” (Ebn Ṭāwūs, p. 75). The cosmic dimensions of the struggle between the forces of good and evil come to the fore in a tradition ascribed to Jaʿfar Ṣādeq, the sixth Imam, which also appears in the instruction of his son, Imam Mūsā Kāẓem to Hešām b. al-Ḥakam. In this tradition, ʿaql (intelligence) and jahl (ignorance) are described as the first of God’s creations. ʿAql was created from light, and jahl from the briny ocean. Each was given seventy-five armies with which to confront the other as an opponent (żedd). The first of the armies of ʿaql is the army of good (ḵayr); the first of the armies of the jahl is the army of evil (šarr). Good is the assistant of ʿaql, and evil the assistant of jahl (Barqī, I, pp. 196-98; Kolīnī, I, pp. 20-23; Masʿūdī, pp. 9-11; Ebn Šoʿba, pp. 295-97; Ebn Bābūya, 1971, pp. 555-57; Amir-Moezzi, pp. 7-8; Crow, chap. 13).

The combat that began in the world of pre-existence continues in the world of human history. According to the Eṯbāt al-waṣīya (commonly ascribed to Masʿūdī), there have existed from the creation of Adam two domains of power: the domain of God, which is that of the legatees (waṣīs) and prophets, and the domain of Eblīs or Satan. Eblīs (q.v.) was the opponent of Adam, and this set the pattern for all future generations (Masʿūdī, pp. 14-15). The first fratricide thus assumes considerable significance: Cain murdered Abel because he resented Abel’s appointment as legatee and successor to Adam (ʿAyyāšī, I, p. 312; Āmolī, p. 25). In consequence, Abel’s successors—ultimately identical with the Shīʿa—are the wronged ones (maẓlūmūn), while Cain’s progeny become the evildoers (ẓālemūn; Āmolī, pp. 12-13). In order to safeguard their lives, Abel’s successors practise self-protection (taqīya) by concealing their beliefs and occasionally also themselves. The rationale for the practice of taqīya in the antediluvian world is identical to the one used by Shiʿite apologists in justifying ʿAlī’s inaction after Moḥammad’s death: the numerical superiority of the enemy. In this context the Koranic phrase, “The people were one nation” (2:213), is interpreted as meaning that they were one nation in error and unbelief (Kohlberg, 1980, pp. 47-48). Various pre-Islamic evildoers are seen as prefigurations of the enemies of the historical Shiʿa; they include the tyrant Bīwarāsb, who belonged to the progeny of Cain, and the Koranic Pharaoh and Hāmān. Ranged against them are the forerunners of the Shiʿa, aptly called Rāfeża (“those who reject evil”; Kohlberg, 1979).

In the Islamic era, the Imams led the community of believers. They are the source of all goodness, and all branches of goodness spring from them; conversely, their enemies are the source of all evil, and all branches of evil spring from them (Kolīnī, VIII, pp. 242-43). Evil is personified in those who deprived ʿAlī and the ahl al-bayt of their divinely given right to rule over the Muslim community. The wrongdoers include the first three caliphs, as well as most Omayyad and ʿAbbāsid rulers. Abū Bakr, ʿOmar, and ʿOṯmān are depicted as usurpers who acted against God’s command, introduced odious innovations (bedaʿ) and were only outwardly Muslims; they are referred to by various derogatory appellations, and their fate in the next world is described in horrifying detail. Imami traditions mention grades of evil: a Nāṣebī (anti-ʿAlid Sunni) is more evil (šarr) than someone who does not perform any religious duties (Kolīnī, VIII, p. 101); someone who fought against ʿAlī is worse than someone who fought against the Prophet, because those who fought ʿAlī acknowledged Islam and then rejected it, whereas those who fought the Prophet never acknowledged Islam (Kolīnī, VIII, p. 252); those who usurped ʿAlī’s rights are worse than (any other) unbelievers (Eṣfahānī, p. 198); the three most evil creatures are Abū Sofyān (who fought against Moḥammad), Moʿāwīa (who fought against ʿAlī) and Yazīd (who murdered Ḥosayn) (Kolīnī, VII, p. 234).

Imami exegetes find numerous allusions in the Koran to the Shiʿites and their enemies. According to one tradition, fully one quarter of the Koran deals with the Shiʿa, while another quarter deals with their enemies (ʿAyyāšī, I, p. 9; Forāt, pp. 1-2, 89). For example, the words al-faḥšāʾ wa’l-monkar wa’l-bāḡy (indecency, disreputable conduct and greed) (Koran 16:90) refer to Abū Bakr, ʿOmar and ʿOṯmān (ʿAyyāšī, II, p. 268); the word sayyeʾāt (evil deeds) refers to the Omayyads, or to the Omayyads and the first three caliphs (Eṣfahānī, p. 173); al-jebt wa’l-ṭāḡūt (Koran 4:51) are Abū Bakr and ʿOmar (Ṣaffār Qomī, p. 34), al-mofsedūn fi’l-arż (“those who cause corruption in the land”; Koran 38:28) are the first two caliphs and their supporters (Qomī, II, p. 234), and al-qāseṭūn (the deviators) (Koran 72:15) are Moʿāwīa and his followers (Qomī, II, p. 389; this last interpretation may well be based on ʿAlī’s utterance: “I have been ordered to fight the breakers of covenants, the deviators and the renegades,” referring to ʿAlī’s enemies at Baṣra, Ṣeffīn and Nahrawān respectively). In contrast, “the two seas” (Koran 55:19) are ʿAlī and Fāṭema, neither of whom is superior to the other, and “the pearl and coral” that come out of the two seas (Koran 55:22) are Ḥasan and Ḥosayn (Majlesī, 1956-74, XXIV, pp. 97-99 and the sources cited there). The Shiʿites and enemies to whom the Koran refers can only be identified by those who possess knowledge of the inner meaning (bāṭen) of the verses. At the same time Jaʿfar Ṣādeq, in a message to his disciple Mofaḍḍal b. ʿOmar Joʿfī, warns of the danger of disregarding the external meaning of such verses. This is the practice followed by the extremist Ḵaṭṭābīya: they argue that Koranic words or phrases which, in their outward sense, impose certain religious obligations and forbid certain sins, refer in their inner meaning to particular persons. The ignorant are bound by the outward sense, but those who know the inner meaning are not (Ṣaffār Qomī, pp. 526-36).

The correct attitude to be adopted towards evildoers and unbelievers is one of dissociation (barāʾa) and enmity (ʿadāwa). Dissociation from evildoers and its opposite, loyalty towards the imams (walāya), are portrayed as essential elements of the faith (Kohlberg, 1986, pp. 145-46). In practice, an accommodating attitude was often adopted towards those in power, even when they were regarded as usurpers; yet readiness to risk one’s life in the fight against oppression has also been a significant element of Shiʿite history.

The forces of evil will reach the height of their power during the period immediately preceding the return of the Mahdī. At that time morality will be perverted, religious duties neglected, and family ties severed. The Shiʿa will be put to severe tests in order to sift the true belivers from the rest. When the Mahdī arrives, he will lead the final battle against the evildoers and will wreak vengeance on those responsible for the deaths of Ḥosayn and of other members of the ahl al-bayt (Majlesī, 1956-74, LII, pp. 274, 304, 313). He will then “fill the earth with justice, as it has been filled with iniquity and injustice” (Amir-Moezzi, pp. 116-23, 127-28).


god and evil

Shiʿite scholars, like other Muslim savants, were preoccupied with the relationship between evil, free will, and God’s justice and omnipotence. Early Imami traditions reflect various attitudes to this subject. Some emphasize that God is the creator of both good and evil. He is said to have revealed to Moses in the Torah that He created goodness and gave it to those whom He loves and created evil and gave it to those to whom He wished to give it; the former will be happy, the latter are condemned to misery (Barqī, I, p. 283; Kolīnī, I, p. 154). According to Jaʿfar Ṣādeq, God will never hate him whom He created to be happy (saʿīd); when such a person does evil, God will hate that person’s action but will not hate that person. Conversely, God will never love him whom He created to be unhappy (šaqī); when such a person does good, God will love his action but will hate him (Barqī, I, p. 279; Kolīnī, I, pp. 152-53). When God wishes evil on a person, He causes a black mark to appear on his heart and sends a devil to lead him astray (Kolīnī, I, p. 166). Yet there are also traditions of a less deterministic character. According to one of them, man’s sinful acts come first, and it is only as a result of these acts that a black mark appears on his heart (Kolīnī, II, pp. 271, 273). God placed His power (qowwa) in man, and it is through this that man performs evil actions (ʿAyyāšī, I, p. 259; Kolīnī, I, p. 158). A moderately deterministic view was also espoused by Ebn Bābawayh (q.v.; d. 381/991), who equated divine will with divine foreknowledge: in other words, God’s will that some people should perform evil is His knowledge that they will do so (Ebn Bābawayh, 1899, p. 73 = tr. Fyzee, p. 33; McDermott, p. 344).

Later Imami and Zaydi theologians largely adopted Moʿtazilite notions about evil. They thus argued that the fundamental truths of religion can only be established by reason; that the nature of good and the nature of evil are fundamental truths; and that the nature of good and evil can therefore only be established by reason. God is just in the sense that He does not do any evil, though he is capable (qāder) of doing so (Mofīd, 1952b, p. 16; Karājakī, I, p. 241; Ṭūsī, 1986, p. 84; Ḥellī 1959, pp. 89-90). His actions are necessarily good since He knows evil for what it is and has no need to do it (Mortażā, III, p. 12; cf. Gimaret, 1988, p. 344). Some theologians, like ʿAllāma Ḥellī (q.v.), based their arguments on the theory that God can only act when both capability and motive (dāʿī) exist. A motive in regard to God is the knowledge that a certain act is good or beneficial; hence God has no motive to do evil (Ebn Mīṯam, pp. 111-12; Schmidtke, pp. 104-6, 112, 127). Traditions which refer to God creating evil were reinterpreted in line with Moʿtazilite tenets: it was argued, for example, that what God creates are only the means for doing evil (Majlesī, 1956-74, V, p. 161). In addition, a number of Koranic passages (e.g. 32:7, 67:3) were adduced as proof that God does not create evil (Ṭūsī, 1956-63, VIII, pp. 295-96, X, p. 59; Ṭabresī, XXI, p. 77, XXIX, p. 9). The Koran speaks of God creating sickness, famine and other calamities; yet these calamities—to which the Koran refers by terms such as żorr, šarr, sūʾ or moṣība—are not morally evil acts and the term “evil” may only be applied to them in a metaphorical sense (Mortażā, II, pp. 193-94; cf. Qomī, I, pp. 144-45; Majlesī, 1956-74, V, pp. 201-3; Gimaret, 1988, pp. 331-33).

Not only does God not create or do evil, He also rejects it and does not desire it. One reason for this is that God prohibits all evil acts (maʿāṣī), and such a prohibition only makes sense if the one who prohibits rejects that which he is prohibiting. God cannot desire evil and reject it at the same time, for this would be absurd (Karājakī, I, p. 113; Ṭūsī, 1986, pp. 89-90). Furthermore, to desire evil is itself evil, and since no evil issues from God, it cannot be the case that He desires it (Ḥellī, 1989-90, p. 60). In explaining how evil can occur against God’s will, Shiʿite scholars distinguished two kinds of divine will (mašīʾa or erāda): one which is invariably carried out and another which humankind is free either to follow or to reject. This distinction already appears in a tradition of Mūsā Kāẓem (Kolīnī, I, p. 151) and it is mentioned by Ašʿarī as a thesis of those who fused Moʿtazilite theology with Imami Shiʿite teachings (Ašʿarī, I, p. 116); it was also upheld by the Zaydi Imam Aḥmad Nāṣer (d. 322/934) (Nāṣer, pp. 179-83, 255-56) and by ʿAlam-al-Hodā Šarīf Mortażā (q.v.), who speaks of “a will that constrains” (erādat ejbār wa eḍṭerār) and “a will that puts to the test” (erādat balwā wa eḵtebār). God’s will that all men should believe and obey Him and refrain from evil acts is of the latter kind (Mortażā, II, pp. 229-30, 232-33). Such a distinction made it possible to argue that human beings are free to choose between good and evil—a position also adopted by the Ṭayyebī Ismaʿilis (Eṟbn al-Walīd, pp. 148, 168, 178). It also made it possible to accept traditions whose original meaning may have been deterministic, for example that good and evil only occur with God’s will (māšīʾa; Kolīnī, I, p. 150; cf. Reżā [attrib.], p. 411).



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(Etan Kohlberg)

Originally Published: December 15, 1998

Last Updated: January 20, 2012

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