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Free Will and Predestination in Early Islam.


By W. Montgomery Watt. Luzac, London,
1948. 15s.

James Robson

Scottish Journal of Theology / Volume 3 / Issue 04 / December 1950, pp 438 -


439
DOI: 10.1017/S003693060005780X, Published online: 02 February 2009

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James Robson (1950). Scottish Journal of Theology, 3, pp 438-439
doi:10.1017/S003693060005780X

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438 SCOTTISH JOURNAL OF THEOLOGY
much theological importance, as shedding light upon the current
Jewish exposition of scripture in the early centuries of our era.
How far the sense of scripture might, for example, be wrested by a
dogmatic tour deforce is apparent from the paraphrast's rendering of
Isaiah 52.13-53.12. Thus v. 10 (R.V. "yet it pleased the Lord to
bruise him: he hath put him to grief, etc.") receives the rendering:
"And it was the Lord's good pleasure to refine and to purify the
remnant of his people in order to cleanse their soul from sin: they
shall look upon the kingdom of their Anointed One (or, Messiah),
they shall multiply sons and'daughters." In the paraphrast's view
the Servant in this Servant-Song is the Messiah (cf. 52.13) but—
and for this reason—he is not a suffering servant. Therefore, with a
skill as astonishing as it seems perverse, the connexion between suf-
fering and the Servant is severed and the mention of suffering, sick-
ness and sorrow is given another reference. Thus "He was despised
and rejected of men; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief"
(v. 3) becomes: "Then shall the glory of all the kingdoms be des-
pised and come to an end; they shall be infirm and sick even as a
man of sorrows and as one destined for sickness."
O. S. RANKIN

Free Will and Predestination in Early Islam. By W. MONTGOMERY


WATT. Luzac, London, 1948. 15s.
IN this scholarly work Dr Watt has traced the development of
Muslim thought regarding free will and predestination up to the
early part of the fourth century of Islam. After an introductory
chapter on the sources he has used, he deals with the Qur'an and
Tradition, showing that Divine sovereignty and human responsi-
bility are both prominent in the Qur'an, whereas Tradition em-
phasises the predetermined character of man's life. He argues that
"the Traditions, though they mention God, at times tend to be
atheistic". This he attributes to the ideas current among the Arabs
and the surrounding peoples before the coming of Islam which
imperceptibly made their way into orthodox teaching. He there-
fore seeks to trace two interwoven strands: "(1) the contrast be-
tween the Qur'anic conception of Divine omnipotence and human
responsibility, and (2) the contrast between the religious and moral
attributes of pre-Islamic fatalism and the Qur'anic sense of creature-
liness or dependence on God."
Dr Watt argues that in the earliest instances the doctrine that
man has power of choice was linked with the conception of God's
righteousness, but that it later became associated with a rather
humanistic outlook. All-Ash'ari's opposition to this doctrine is
BOOK REVIEWS 439
shown to be "essentially religious and theistic in reaction to the
humanism of the Mu'tazila." Attention is drawn to the fact that
even the opponents of the doctrine that man has power of choice
recognised the distinction between voluntary acts and those done
under compulsion. "The great orthodox theologians of Islam were
never sheerly deterministic . . . (but )were trying to hold the balance
between two sides."
The chapter on the Mu'tazila, who have commonly been called
the rationalists of Islam, is particularly valuable. While the earlier
exponents of Mu'tazilite doctrine emphasised reason and man's
ability to earn the reward of Paradise by his own striving, a ten-
dency developed to acknowledge something of God's omnipotence
and man's weakness. When this point was reached, retrenchment
or advance was necessary. Some went back to rationalism and an
insistence on man's ability to earn salvation; al-Ash'ari advanced
to a recognition of God's ordering of the world.
The author discusses the views of men of different schools of
thought, from those who held that man has power over his actions
to those who held that man does not really act at all. He is a reli-
able guide through a maze of conflicting views which he has pre-
sented in a remarkably clear manner. This is an important work,
indispensable to all who wish to know something about Muslim
thought. And as Islam includes more than an eighth of the human
race, it is clearly desirable to understand something of what Mus-
lims think, and how they arrived at their religious doctrines.
JAMES ROBSON

Truth that Sings. By WILLIAM C. MACDONALD. James Clarke &


Co. Ltd. 6s.
IN the recently published translation of Karl Barth's lectures based
on the Apostles' Creed, delivered extempore to the students of Bonn
in 1946, these significant sentences occur in the chapter headed
Faith as Confession.
By the very nature of the Christian Church there is only one task, to
make the Confession heard in the sphere of the world.... Not now re-
peated in the language of Canaan, but in the quite sober, quite unedifying
language which is spoken "out there". There must be translation into the
language of the newspaper. We know (the) language of the pulpit and the
altar, which outside the area of the Church is as effectual as Chinese. Let
us beware of remaining stuck where we are and refusing to advance to
meet worldly attitudes.
For anyone who has to do with the business of preaching, these
words serve to remind us of a fundamental problem—a problem,