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Embodiment of Actions

Shi'a Beliefs
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Theology
Tawhid (Monotheism) Tawhid of EssenceTawhid in AttributesTawhid in ActionsTawhid in Worship
Other Beliefs TawassulShafa'aTabarruk
Divine Justice
Bada'Amr Bayn al-Amrayn
Prophethood
Infallibility'Ilm al-ghaybMu'jizaIntegrity of the Holy Qur'an
Imamate
InfallibilityWilaya'Ilm al-ghaybOccultation of Imam al-Mahdi (a) (Minor Occultation,Major Occultation) • Reappearance of Imam al-Mahdi (a)Raj'a
Resurrection
End TimeHereafterBarzakhEmbodiment of ActionsBodily ResurrectionAl-SiratTatayur al-KutubMizanHashr
Other Outstanding Beliefs
Ahl al-Bayt (a)The Fourteen InfalliblesTaqiyyaMarja'iyyaTawalliTabarri

Embodiment of Actions (Arabic:تَجَسُّمُ الأَعْمال), incarnation of actions or symbolization of actions is an expression in Islamic philosophy and theology meaning the embodiment of human actions in front of them on the Day of Judgment. It means that people's good deeds in this world will take form in the hereafter as heavenly blessings, while bad deeds will take form as fire, chains ,and different forms of punishment.

Since it is a good explanation of the relation between action and its reward, this teaching is very important in discussions regarding the hereafter and scholars of theology, philosophy and exegesis have always discussed it. Mulla Sadra was among the advocates of the embodiment of actions and al-'Allama al-Majlisi was among its critics. Although there are different views about embodiment of actions, but after Mulla Sadra could present better explanations about embodiment of actions, it was welcomed by a majority of scholars.

Contents

Meaning of the Embodiment of Actions

According to the principle of the embodiment of actions, reward and punishment of people's good or bad deeds is not something other than those deeds themselves and the deeds and their rewards are related in creation and an outside agent of punishment is non-existent; for example, if it has been said that the punishment for a sin is the hellfire, that fire is nothing separate from that sin, but it is rather the reality of that sin which will be embodied and appear as fire. Everything people do, whether good or bad has a form in this world and a form in the hereafter which is hidden in the essence of that action and on the Day of Resurrection, it will lost its form in this world and will appear in its form in the hereafter and causes happiness and pleasure or sadness and grief.

Beside the embodiment of actions, the issue of the embodiment of intentions or states of the soul have been discussed as well, which means that the true appearance of human being depends on those intentions, qualities and states of his soul. Therefore, although people are similar in form but they are different regarding spiritual appearance i.e. qualities and states.

Embodiment of Actions in the Qur'an and Hadiths

From Death to Resurection
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The concept of the embodiment of actions can be found in many verse of the Qur'an as well as in hadiths. In the glorious Qur'an, there are verses suggesting that on the Day of Judgment, anyone will see his actions themselves, such as:


"On that day, mankind will issue forth in various groups to be shown their deeds.* So whoever does an atom's weight of good will see it,* and whoever does an atom's weight of evil will see it. [1]


"The day when every soul will find present whatever good it has done" [2]

Of course there are other verses which suggest the legal nature (not in creation) of punishment and the existence of outside agents of punishment including:

"So that Allah may reward every soul for what it has earned. Indeed Allah is swift at reckoning. [3]


"If You punish them, they are indeed Your creatures; but if You forgive them, You are indeed the All-mighty, the All-wise." [4]

Also, in some hadiths, embodiment of actions has been explicitly mentioned; for example, the noble Prophet (s) addressed one of the companions:

"Surly, you will have companions buried with you in the grave. If it is honorable, it will make you honorable and if it is dishonorable, it will make you so. It will not be resurrected unless with you and you will not be resurrected unless with it. You will not be questioned unless with it, so make it honorable, because if it is worthy and good, you will love it and if it is unworthy and corrupt, you will just be afraid of it and it is your deed."

Also Imam al-Sadiq (a) said, "when God resurrects a believer from grave, a symbolical being comes out of the grave and goes before him. The believer tells him, "who are you?" he answers, "I am the happiness and joy you made in your brother. God created me to bring you good news."

In these two hadiths, appearing deeds in symbolical forms have been clearly stated.

Critics to Embodiment of Actions

These verses and narrations have made different opinions to be presented about rewards of actions. Some scholars considered verses in contradiction with embodiment as fundamental and interpreted the verses suggesting embodiment so that they do not have any contradiction with the verses in contradiction with embodiment; for example, in the verse mentioned from the Qur'an 99, most commentators, especially the early ones, interpreted "to be shown their deeds" as seeing the rewards of their deeds or the report of their actions, not their deeds themselves. Most early commentators supported this view. Some of these commentators including Fakhr al-Razi and al-Tabrisi defended this interpretation saying that, actions are accidental properties and they are not permanent and their return is impossible; thus, saying that actions themselves will be embodied is wrong.

Muhammad Baqir al-Majlisi was also among critics of the embodiment of actions. His justification is that the embodiment of actions is in contradiction with the belief in Bodily Resurrection. He disapproved al-Shaykh al-Baha'i's view and suggested that believing in the embodiment of actions will lead to denial of Islam. This opinion caused a serious reaction from the advocates of the embodiment of actions.

Advocates of the Embodiment of Actions

On the opposite side, most contemporary commentators and theologians have accepted the verses regarding the embodiment of actions as they are understood literally without any extra interpretation, including al-Shaykh al-Baha'i who did not consider reward for actions, a presumption in interpreting verse 6 of Sura al-Zilzal, and believed that actions themselves will be seen. He was among serious advocates of the embodiment of actions, and in this regard, refers to the mentioned verses and different narrations – which he says both supporters and critics have narrated. He says that the serpents and scorpions promised for the hell are the reprehensible actions, beliefs and morals which will be represented as such, while virgins and the green and as such are righteous acts, beliefs and morals and this difference in representations is due to the difference in gradation.

Before al-Shaykh al-Baha'i, this view had advocates among mystics including Rumi.

Mulla Sadra and Explanation of the Issue in Transcendental Philosophy

Using his principles in Transcendental Philosophy, Sadr al-Muta'allihin could propose better explanations about the embodiment of actions, so that after him, this belief received approval of the majority. He brought up issues such as the essential movement, corporal resurrection, unity of the intellectual and the intellect and presented a special intellectual framework and tried to make a rational explanation of the embodiment of actions.

According to Mulla Sadra, the same way material things influence the mind, mental things influence material things as well. The influence of material things on other material things and mental things are not the same; for example, wet things in contact with non-wet things make them wet, but when imagined, does not make imagination wet, but makes an imaginary form of itself there and when thought of, forms a general intellectual form in the mind. Thus, one reality can make different influences in different places. Moreover, a state like anger which is a mental state can be manifested outside in a materialistic form such as redness of the cheeks or rapid heartbeat. Thus, it is not impossible that this anger would be manifested as fire.

Humans' actions can turn into spiritual states and dispositions, i.e. it might be manifested in non-corporal form. In the hereafter too, the same spiritual states and dispositions can turn into that world forms.

After Mulla Sadra, this theory received many supporters including al-Fayd al-Kashani and Mulla Hadi Sabziwari. Among contemporary scholars, too, critics and advocates of this view have spoken.

However, some contemporary scholars believe that accepting the embodiment of actions has no contradiction with accepting the existence of punishments and rewards of legal nature, since some verses in the Qur'an (some examples of which were mentioned) appear to mean so and there is no problem in believing both.

See also

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References