The fact that orthodox
Mohammedans looked askance at the Magians, or Zoroastrians, and especially
the priesthood, as being exponents of the doctrine of free will can
readily be shown, and it has a particular bearing on the subject. In fact,
within Islam itself, owing partially to Neo-Platonic and other influences,
the free-will tenet gave rise to internal heretical sects. Thus in the
religious and philosophic developments during the golden age of Islam in
the earlier 'Abbasic period (749-847 A.D.) we have the Muslim schismatic
factions of the Kadarites, or 'Partisans of Free Will,’ and their offshoot
the Mu‘tazilites, ‘Separatists, or Seceders' (referred to above), both of
which were fully tinctured with the doctrine of free determination as
opposed to the fatalistic predestination of the Koran.
The Kadarites, or
Kadariyya (from Arabic kadr, ‘power’), were known by that name
because they were exponents of the doctrine of man’s free will, and
Professor E. G. Browne makes a particular allusion to the spurious
Mohammedan tradition – al-Kadariyyatu Majau hadihi ‘L Ummati, ‘the
Partisans of Free Will are the Magians of this Church.
A similar citation may be quoted from the eleventh-century Arabic work of
al-Baghdadi (d. 1037) entitled Al-Fark bain al-Firak, in
which he says: ‘It is reported of the Prophet [i.e. Muhammad] that he
condemned the Kadarites [for their free-will doctrine], calling them the
Magians of this people.’
Mu‘tazilites, particularly mentioned in the Pahlavi tractate quoted above
(p. 232), were noted as recognizing man’s entire freedom of action,
and were therefore coupled with the Magians, as upholders of free will, in
a passage by Isfarii’ini (eleventh century A.D.) translated by Tholuck,
Ssufimm, p. 242, whose Latin version of the Arabic I here render,
preserving the older spelling --
Isfara’ini (cod. Ms p. 86). ‘The Prophet applied the name of Magians to
the upholders of free will, rightly enough. For the Magians ascribe a part
of the things decreed to the will of God, and a part to that of the Devil
(namely Ahriman); and if you are to believe them, the decrees of God come
to pass at one time, and at another time those of the Devil.’ (And he
adds:) ‘Herein, however, the Mutaselites (the disciples of W e 1 ben AttZi)
are more to blame than the Magians, because the latter [the Magians]
oppose the will of only a single person to the divine will, whereas the
former [the Mutaselites] attribute no less to the choice of every gnat and
flea than they do to the divine will.’
Although the statement
of Isfari’ini, strictly interpreted, is rather a polemic against the
dualism of the Zoroastrians, we can hardly doubt that the doctrine of
human free will was ascribed to them in the current Mohammedan view of the
eleventh and twelfth centuries, as evidenced by the traditional saying
testimony in the same tenor of traditional denouncement of the Magian
belief is found in a well-known Persian mystical work of the thirteenth
century A.D. This poetical Sufi composition, the Gulshan-i
‘Rose bed of Mystery,’ is by the noted Mohammedan mystic Mahmd Shabistari
(1250?-1320 A.D.). The Persian text with an English translation is
accessible in an excellent edition by E. H. Whinfield, from which I quote
the special passage denouncing free-will believers as ‘Magians (Fire
worshipers)’ and ‘Gabars’ -- both names being applied to the Zoroastrians.
‘Thence like Stan you
say “ Who is like unto me?“
Thence you say “ I myself have f r e e w i I 1 (md-ktiydr);
My body is the horse and my soul the rider,
The reins of the body are in the hand of the soul,
The entire direction thereof is given to me.”
Know you not that all this is the road of the Magiane (lit. Fire
All these lies and deception come from illusive existence? …
Ask of your own state what this free-will (kadr) is,
And thence know who
are the men of free will.
Every man whose faith
is other than predestination
Is according to the Prophet even as a Gueber.
Like as those Guebers
speak of Yezdan and Aherman,
So these ignorant
fools say “I” and “He.”’
Further research would
undoubtedly result in finding kindred passages in other writings on the
subject and thus add to the testimony already given.
In the meantime, however, it would be well, in connection with the general
question of the Zoroastrian doctrine of free will and the beginnings of
Muslim philosophy, to draw attention here to a fact which has not
previously been stressed by scholars.
In the early period of
Islam, during the latter part of the seventh century A.D., among
the pioneer Muslim schismatic maintaining the doctrine of free will was
Ma'bad al-Juhani, who died in 699 A.D. Some account of him is given in the
Arabic work of Makrizi (1364-1442 A.D.), which is commonly called Khitat,
'Survey.' A statement is there made that Ma'bad imbibed this doctrine from
Abii Yiinas Snsiiyh (Sansiiya, Sinbiiya, Sanbawaih -- or however the
manuscript variants of the name are to be read), who was certainly of
Persian origin. The particular statement in Makrizi's notice of Ma'bad's
attitude on the matter of free will and predestination (cf. Arab. kadr,
lit. 'power, decree') reads as follows –
Makrizi , Khigt, vol.
4, p. 181.
'Ma'bad took this doctrine [about kadr] from a man of the Asawirat named
Abii Yiinas Snsuyh (Sansiiya, Sinbiiya, Sanbawaih?)
who was called al-Aswari.'
In whatever manner the
name Snsuyh of this teacher of Ma'bad is to be read, it is certainly of
Persian origin, as scholars have noted.
The attribute Aswari, moreover, is a derivative from Persian aswar,
'horseman, knight, chevalier,' and was applicable also to the party called
Asawirat, who had come from Fars in Persia and settled in Basra after
having lived in Syria.
It should be remarked
here, furthermore, that this Abii Yiinas al-Aswari (without including
Snsiiyh in the name) is referred to still earlier by the siue of Ma'bad
al-Juhani, in connection with the free-will heresy, by al-Shahrastani
(1086-1153 A.D.), Book of the Religious and Philosophical Sects, part I,
Arabic text, p. 17, 1. 13; cf. German translation by Th. Haarbrucker, vol.
I, p. 25.
I have thus far been
unable to find anything more definite about Snsuyh or S(h)nbuyh in the
Oriental works which I have consulted, but others may be led to join in
the quest, because the matter is of interest in connection with the topic
in hand. This is all the more true because scholars have previously (and,
no doubt, rightly in the main) laid the chief emphasis on the side of
Christian and Neo-Platonic influence upon the heretical free-will movement
I am not a specialist in Muhammadan philosophy, and it may, therefore, be
hazardous to offer any conjecture on the subject; still, I should like at
least to draw the attention of those who may be working in that particular
line to the possibility of laying more stress on the influence of the
Zoroastrian doctrine of free will, which has been shown to have been
current in the atmosphere at the time.
and a Presumable Pahlavi Reference Pointing
To the Doctrine in Sasanian Times (226-651 A.D.)
For the sake of
greater completeness notice should be taken of two additional references
(though there may be more) that allude directly or indirectly to the
free-will tenet in Sasanian times (226-651 A.D.). The one is of major
importance, because it has claims to going back to a Pahlavi original,
though extant only in a Persian version. The other is of less significance
and is only incidental, but it is preserved in an old Syiac source.
We may take the latter
and less important first. There is a very general, incidental allusion to
free will in the brief philosophical introduction to a treatise on logic
by Paul the Persian, addressed to the Sasanian monarch Khusrau (I)
Anushirwan, who ruled 531-579 A.D. This scholar, who flourished at the
court of the greatest of the Sasanian Zoroastrian kings, was a Christian
who may have studied Greek philosophy in the schools of Nisibis and
Gundeshapur in the first half of the sixth century A.D. He is probably the
same as Paul of Basra, the Metropolitan of Nisibis (died 571 A.D.), and
hence is spoken of as being of the Dair-i Shahr, ‘Monastery of the City,’
meaning most probably the ecclesiastical headquarters at Nisibis.
For that reason he would have been acquainted with the metaphysical
discussions of the period. In the preface to his Syriac treatise on Logic,
when addressing King Khusrau on the province of philosophy, he says, in
the midst of a philosophic passage :-
‘There are some who
say that men are of free will (b’nai Khiri, lit. ‘children of the free’);
and there are others who contradict this.’
The whole context
shows that the writer has the free-will doctrine in mind; but too much
stress cannot be laid on so incidental an allusion, aside from the fact
that the words were addressed to a king who was a Zoroastrian by faith.
The second citation,
which will now be presented, is of importance because it purports to go
back to a Pahlavi original, if we accept the latter’s authenticity. This
passage is found in the alleged letter of the Zoroastrian high priest
Tansar, a renowned ecclesiastic at the court of the Sasanian king Ardashir
(226-241 A.D.), himself a Zoroastrian and the founder of the Sasanian
This epistle claims to
be a communication sent by Tansar, early in the third century A.D., to the
local Persian ruler of Tabaristan, in order to win his allegiance to the
new emperor Ardashir. The original document, which must have been written
in the current Pahlavi of the period, is no longer extant, and the Arabic
translation of it made by Ibn Mukaffa‘ (d. 757 A.D.) has also disappeared;
but a Persian rendering, made from the Arabic by Muhammad b. al-Hasan b.
Asfandiyar about the year 1210 A.D., has been preserved. We thus have the
document only at third hand from the alleged original, with the
possibility of an early missing link besides. Nevertheless, it has a
traditional value that must not be overlooked when giving it
The attention of
scholars was first prominently called to this epistle by James Darmesteter,
in his ‘Lettre de Tansar au roi de Tabaristan,’ in Journal Asiatique, 9.
serie, tome 3, pp. 185-250, 502- 555, Paris, 1894. In that particular
number of the journal an edition of the text of the Persian version was
issued by Ahmed-Bey Agaeff (a young Musulman student from the Caucasus who
was a pupil of Darmesteter at Paris in 1892), together with a French
translation, revised in 1893 by M. Ferte, of the French Consulate in
Teheran, and accompanied by notes from the hand of
whose editorial supervision the whole article appeared in 1894. It is
proper to add that there has been considerable skepticism on the part of
the Parsi scholars of Bombay, as well as others, in regard to accepting
the document as genuine;
and Darmesteter himself admitted that there may be certain interpolations
or additions in its present form;
but the particular passage on free will I here translate from the Persian,
giving it for what its traditional value may be, as stated above.
Tansar’s Letter, ofi.
cd. pp. 247-248, 553. ‘Know that whosoever renounces choice (talab, i.e.
and relies on fate and predestination (kada u kadr), debases and dishonors
himself; and that whosoever engages in free research (takapuy) and choice
(talab), denying fate and predestination, is ignorant and conceited. The
wise man should take the middle way between choice and predestination (talab
u kadr) and not be satisfied with one [alone]. For the reason that
predestination and choice are two bales of a traveler’s goods on the back
of his animal. If one of these two happens to be heavier and the other
lighter, the goods will fall to the ground, the animal’s back will be
broken, and the traveler will be embarrassed and fail to reach his
destination. But if the two bales are equal, the traveler will suffer no
embarrassment, his animal will be comfortable, and he will arrive at his
this simile, which serves to indicate the relations between individual
choice and predestination, an anecdote is added which describes the
misfortune that befell a king who resigned himself to fate alone. This
anecdote is regarded by Darmesteter (09. cit. pp. 189-190) as an
interpolation, and it may be so; but there seems to me to be no good
reason for believing that the basic paragraph on free *ll, which called it
forth, was not in the original source. Yet the late Professor L. H. Mills
regarded the whole passage on predestination and free will as belonging to
the Arabic period, and was inclined, like some of the Pard scholars
referred to above, to look askance at the antiquity of the entire epistle.
Modern Zoroastrianism and
The doctrine of free
will is a tenet still recognized by the Zoroastrians today, as certain of
the writings of their priests and laity well show.
It may justly be added, moreover, that although, owing to various changes
and vicissitudes, there remain in the world only a small number of
followers of the ancient creed of Zoroaster-about eleven thousand in
Persia and something over a hundred thousand in India-these two faithful
communities of Parsis and ’Gabars’ prove, by their high ethical standards
and their practice in life, how steadfastly they have maintained the
historic doctrine of their religion, which teaches man’s free choice
between right and wrong and which lays upon him the responsibility of
accounting for that choice in the life hereafter.
Enough has been shown,
I trust, by the material presented in this monograph, to justify the hope,
expressed at the outset, that students of philosophy and religion may be
led to give further consideration to the old Zoroastrian teachings on the
subject of free will as contained in the sacred books and literature of
the faith of the Prophet of Ancient Iran.
other references to this subject, consult E. G. Browne, Literary History
of Persia, I. 279-290, London and New York, 1902; D. B. Macdonald,
Development of Muslim Theology, p. 127-132, New York, 1903; Mm. K. C.
Seelye, Moslem schism.^ and Sects, p. 116-210, New York, 1920 (a
translation of al-Baghdadi’s account).
Hist. I. 282; H. Steiner, Die Mu‘taziliten, p. 28 and n. 3. Leipzig,
See Mrs. K. C.
Moslem Schisms and Sects,
Cf. R Dozy, Histoire & l’islamisme, tr. Chauvin, p. 205, Leyden-Paris,
1879; Browne, Lit. Hist. I. 287.
See F. A. D. Tholuck, Ssufismus, sive Theosophia Persarum Pantheistica,
p.242, Berlin, 1821. Concerning Wasil ibn ‘Ata (Wassel ben Atta), as
founder of the rationalistic school of the Mu‘tazilites, see C. Huart,
pp. 62,63, New York, 195; Browne, 09. Cit. I. 281.
See E. H. Whinfield,
Gulshan i Raq
the Mystic Rose Garen, London, 1880 (Persian text, p. 32, ll. 526-529;
Eng. transl. p. 53-54); cf. E. G. Browne,
under Tatar Dominion,
pp. 146-149, Cambridge, 1920.
Alluding to the
tradition (hadith) as to Koran, Sara 22. 17, referred to above.
example, that A. von Kremer, Kulturgeschichte des Orients, Vienna, 1877,
2. 413, observes that after Islam became established in Persia there was
opposition to the Mu'tazilite view of free will, giving rise to factions
as mentioned by Shahrastani, I. 89-94.
See Cairo edition of Makrizi, Khitat, vol. 4, p. 181, 11. 25-27, A.H. 1326
= A.D. 1908.
An edition of Makrizi older than the one just cited also reads Snsiiyh. S.
de Sacy, Religion des Druses, introd. p. x, Paris, 1838, gives 'Senbawaih,'
but observes (note 3) that the manuscripts are not in accord on the
orthography of the name, which he says is certainly a Persian name, of the
same category as 'Bowaih, Sibewaih'; he refers likewise to E. Pocock,
Specimen historie Arabum, ed. J. White, Oxford, 1806, 4. 213. Kremer,
Gesch. Streifjsuge, p. 9, n. I, gives the name as 'Senbujeh'; Browne, Lit.
Hist. Persia, I. 282, follows with 'Sinbiiya.' It may be noted indirectly
that a name 'Shunbawaih' or 'Shanbawaih' is found in adh-Dhahabi, el-Mechtabi,
ed. P. de Jong, p. 284, Leyden, 1881.
the references in
the preceding note.
Arabic-English Dictionary, 2. 757, S.V. al-khadarim, and 4. 1465, S.V.
Iswar. Uswar; moreover, al-Iswar is applied elsewhere (Dict. Muhit) to a
party of the Mu'tazilites.
Consult, for example, A. von Kremer, Kulturgeschichtliche Streifzuge auf
dem Gebiet des Islams, p. 7-9, Leipzig, 1873; H. Steiner, Die Mu'tasiliten,
p. 55-80, Leipzig, 1865; and compare Browne, Lit. Hist. Persia, I.
281-288, especially p. 288. See furthermore Max Horten, Dic. Philosophic
des Islam, p. 200-203, Munich, 1924, who, however, recognizes the Persian
influence likewise, pp. 30, 134.
The modern Shi‘ite doctrine on free will, current in Persia, is said to
follow in many respects that of the Mu‘tazilites (see Browne, Lit. Hist.
Pcrs. I. 283); compare further on this subject the extract from a Persian
manual on the ‘Beliefs of the Shi‘a’ (written before the middle of the
nineteenth century) as translated by Browne, Persian
Literature in Modern
386, cf. 381.
See J. P. N. Land, Anecdota Syriaca, vol. 4, Leyden, 1875, Scholia, p.
99-100; L. C. Casartelli, Philosophy
of the Mazdayasniun
Religion under the Sassanids,
pp. 1-2, 143; J. Labourt, Le Christianisme dans l’empire perse, p.
166-169, n. 3, Paris, 1904.
Pauli Persae Lugua, ed. Land, Anecdota Syriaca, vol. 4, fol. 56r (p. 2, 1.
18); tr. p. 3, l, I, where the phrase is rendered ‘sunt qui dicant homines
liberos esse voluntate’; cf. also Casartelli, philosophy of the
Mazdayasnian Religion, p. I.
For example, Darab D. P. Sanjana, Tansar’s Alleged Pahlavi Letter, from
the Standpoint of M. J. Darmesteter, p. 1-16, Leipzig (Harrassowitz),
1898; id., Observations on Darmesteter’s Theory regarding Tansar’s Letter,
p. 1-31, Leipzig, 1898; Jivanji J. Modi, ‘The Antiquity of the Avesta,’ in
Journ. Bombay Branch R. A. S. 19. 263-275, Bombay, 1896 (reprinted in the
same author’s Asiatic Paws, p. 111-123, Bombay, 195); L. H. Mills,
Zarathushtra, Philo, the Achaemenids, and Israel, pp. 21-26,6163, Chicago,
Darmesteter, op. cit. pp. 189-190.
Steingass, Pers. Dict. p. 817b, gives among other meanings for talab,
‘desiring, inquiry, search, quest’; the context above shows that it is
also equivalent to ‘free will,’ as opposed to Kadr, ‘fate,
predestination.’ Darmesteter-Agaeff, op. cit. in JA. 1894, p. 553, give
alternately ‘effort personnel, libre recherche, libre arbitre,’ when
translating into French, thus showing that the word talab indicates
Mills, op. cit, pp. xi, 61-67; and compare the articles by D. D. P.
Sanjara and by J. J. Madi referred to above in note 17.
Cf. Rustamji E. D. P. Sanjana, ZUY&W~&U and Zurdhushtrianism in the
Avesta, pp. 130, 150, 154, Leipzig, 1906; idem, The Parsi Book of Books,
the Zend-Avestu, pp. 208,216-217,250, Bombay [I925]: M. N. Dhalla;
Zoroastrian Theology, p. 24, New York, 1914; N. F. Bilimoria,
Zoroastrianism in the Light of Theosophy, pp. 172, 187, Bombay, 1899.
Compare also Part I, p 74, above.