« Forest Gump Effect » and Islamic Theology

In order to make clear what I mean by the “Forest Gump effect”, of which I am delighted to be the inventor, I will evoke a cult scene from one of my favorite films, « Forest Gump ».

One day out of despair, out of frustration, because of the suffering felt, Forest Gump, the hero of the film, decides to run.

A simple jogging would have been imaginable. But eventually, Forest Gump traveled around the United States by running for three years, two months and sixteen hours.

Other runners followed him, each projecting an intention on this particular attitude of Forest Gump and seeking to discover the message that such a man could have wanted to deliver.

One day, Forest Gump stops. Then the group following him, feverish, nervous, convinced that this singular man will deliver a unique message seem to expect from him a messianic revelation.

Eventually, Forest Gump just says these words :

« I’m pretty tired, I think I will go home now »

Taken aback and disappointed, one of the group members answers :

« Now what are we supposed to do  ?”

This question was asked by Muslims and theologians and they still ask themselves when they seek the meaning of the following verses:

Sura 14 verse 4: « And We have not sent a Messenger except with the language of his people, to enlighten them. Allah misleads whom He wills and guides whom He wills. And He is the Almighty, the Wise. »

Sura 13 verse 27: “Those who disbelieve say: “Why has not a miracle been sent down to him from his Lord?” Say: “Verily God misleads whom He wills and He guides to Him who repents »

To attempt an interpretation of these rather disarming verses, two postures are possible:

Either, we deem that these verses were dictated by God and are therefore eternally significant.

Either as the great Shiite theologian Mojtahed Shabestari asserts, we deem that the Koran « is a narration of the World and Muhammad is the narrator« .

« This narration is a form of interpretation and understanding, and according to what is proposed in the Koran, the prophet experiment and consider this interpretation possible due to divine assistance« 

and “One must admit the assumption which is not only intelligible but inevitable” according to which “the Quran is the prophetic word of a human being. »

So let’s review our two hypotheses:

Hypothesis A: These verses were dictated by God and are therefore eternally meaningful.

Logically, hypothesis A induces the concept of predestination.

Everything would have been written from all eternity. A bit like this immanent and implacable destiny (dahr) in which the Bedouins believed and that was then Islamized to take on a transcendent character.

Here, God being is seen as the sole producer of all that happens (accidents in the Aristotelian sense).

This raises the problem of individual responsibility.

Therefore, in order to reconcile the principle of divine omnipotence and the need not to deprive God’s creature of the responsibility for its acts, Ash Shâfi’î accommodated the idea of ​​a strict predestination, synonymous with the absence of free will, so that human being can retain at least partial responsibility for his actions.

According to the so-called « acquisition » theory, God remains the exclusive producer of all the acts and all the words of human beings, thus generating a stock of acts and words intended for the supply of the human being, the latter being “free” to acquire such and such an act, such and such a word in a pre-existing stock.

The creation of his actions and his words by the human being can thus continue to be denied to him.

Such a construction makes it possible to save the omnipotent character of God, while preserving for his creature a small dose of free will and responsibility.

This view was criticized by the Qadarites, Islamic theologians, who asserted the existence of free will and individual punishment. According to them, God could not be held responsible for the evil generated by his creature.

According to one of the greatest Muslim scholars, Al-Hassan al-Basri, believing that God was the cause of men’s insubordination made little sense, since it came down to his behavior towards his subjects as a malicious tyrant. (Tilman Nagel, “The History of Islamic Theology,” p. 38)

But let’s stop this development there. Because our purpose is not to do theology, but to demonstrate that if we consider these verses as a word dictated by God and eternally significant, this can only generate endless debates, which in reality will never be able to lead to a healthy design that does not generate cognitive dissonance.

Hypothesis B: These verses are verses that are either the personal production of Muhammad or an addition from tradition.

The hypothesis of an later addition by tradition will not be discussed here.

We will consider these verses to be the result of the establishment of a personal defense mechanism in Muhammad.

Here again, two sub-hypotheses can be accepted:

1°) First sub-hypothesis: These verses are really a production of Mohammed and must be deemed as such.

In this case, these verses of the Koran simply testify to the difficulties that Muhammad had in convincing his fellow men to accept the strict monotheism he professed.

It is possible that doubt settled in his mind, he wondered how men could remain insensitive to the divine intention.

Eager to find an answer, he contented himself with declaiming these verses.

Then that the tradition will saw these verses fit enough to suggest that the Lord had knowingly led astray a part of his people, reserving only for another the faith in the revelation.

Based on this idea, some men will generalized it and invented the concept of predestination.

Moreover, it is not without ulterior motives that the caliphs acquiesced to this ancient belief[1]. This theory could only delight them, since by brandishing the idea of ​​an implacable destiny pre-written by God, they could declare that they had come to power by the will of Allah[2].

2°) Second sub-hypothesis: It is really a production of Mohammed but which tradition wrongly considers as an eternally significant divine message.

This hypothesis provides the most perfect illustration of the Forest Gump effect, which consists in attributing to an unreflected word of circumstance an immutable and eternally significant character capable of producing effects never envisaged or desired by its inventor.

In the specific case of the production of these verses by Muhammad, to speak of the Forest Gump effect is to say this:

Although the intention of Mohammed (Mahomet), who simply sought to find good reasons explaining the non-rally of his audience to a speech which he considered powerful and bearer of truth, was not to produce a valid dogma for eternity, these verses have been held to be substantially and eternally significant and continue to this day to fuel debates around the question :

« Why would Allah decide to lead his creature astray? » »

Thus the Forest Gump effect is spread over time, helping to produce endless debates that would not have taken place if the status of these verses was defined differently meaning if these verses were just seen as the words of Muhammad.

[1]. Before the advent of Islam, the Bedouins believed in an implacable and immanent fate, the dahr.

[2]. If God is the creator of all the acts of men and of all events, the advent of a caliph is necessarily willed by God. Similarly, a caliph can no longer be deposed since his access to power is the result of divine will.

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