BADĀʾ (Ar. appearance, emergence), as a theological term denotes a change of a divine decision or ruling in response to the emergence of new circumstances. It is upheld in Imami Shiʿite doctrine and rejected by most other Shiʿite and Sunni schools. The notion of badāʾ is said to have been put forward first by Moḵtār b. Abī ʿObayd Ṯaqafī when he predicted the victory of his supporters in a battle against Moṣʿab b. Zobayr in 67/686-87, claiming to have received a promise of God to that effect and, after their defeat, explained that God had changed His decision (badā lahū). In support of this explanation he quoted Koran 13:39: “God deletes whatever He wishes and confirms” (Ṭabarī, II, p. 732). Badāʾ became a theological doctrine of the Kaysānīya, the followers of Moḵtār, and was then, like other Kaysānī doctrines, adopted by the nascent Emāmīya. The religious importance of the doctrine was emphasized in various traditions transmitted from the imams, especially Moḥammad al-Bāqer and Jaʿfar al-Ṣādeq. They affirmed that “God is not worshipped (ʿabada), or glorified (ʿaẓẓama), through anything as He is through (belief in) badāʾ,” and that “if people knew what a reward there is for upholding badāʾ they would never tire of speaking about it.” Imam ʿAlī al-Reżā is quoted as stating that “God has never sent a prophet without the prohibition of wine and without his affirming badāʾ of God.” A practical application of badāʾ was given by Imam al-Ṣādeq when his son Esmāʿīl, who had been expected to succeed him, died before him. He is reported to have said: “God has never changed his decision (mā badā leʾllāh) as in the case of my son Esmāʿīl.” A variant of this tradition substituted “my father (abī)” for “my son (ebnī) Esmāʿīl,” thus referring to Abraham’s son Ishmael whom God decided to save after having commanded his father to sacrifice him. (See Majlesī, p. 107; Ebn Bābawayh, p. 275.)

Such traditions of the imams ensured that badāʾ remained a permanent Imami dogma though its precise significance has been subject to varying interpretations. Badāʾ was fully consistent with the early Imami kalām theology represented by Hešām b. Ḥakam (d. 179/795-96) and others who held that nothing could become subject to knowledge, either human or divine, before its existence. The emergence of new circumstances for God was thus reasonable, especially in respect to human acts. Constantly adjusting His decisions to the free choice of man, God, in their view, controlled the course of the world at any time without having predetermined it. Badāʾ became theologically problematical when divine foreknowledge of all future events was accepted. Some traditions of the imams affirmed that badāʾ, too, was known to God before it occurred. Imam al-Ṣādeq was quoted as stating: “God has never changed a decision (mā badā leʾllāh) about anything but that it was in His knowledge before He changed it” (Kolaynī). There was now the disturbing question whether God could inform man of a decision knowing that He would change it. Some traditions denied this suggesting that badāʾ could happen only in the hidden part of God’s knowledge. To Imam al-Bāqer is attributed the statement: “(God’s) knowledge is of two kinds: A knowledge that is stored (maḵzūn) with God of which He does not inform anyone of His creation, and a knowledge which He teaches His angels and Messengers (rosol). Whatever He teaches His angels and Messengers will happen; He will not turn Himself, His angels, and His Messengers into liars. But of the knowledge which is stored with Him, He may advance, postpone, and confirm whatever He wishes” (Kolaynī). This position was backed by a few Imami theologians. However, the prevalent position, upheld by Shaikh Abu Jaʿfar Ṭūsī (d. 460/1067), was that any information about future events given by God to His prophets and imams was conditional (moštaraṭ) unless it was stated to be definitely ordained (maḥtūm). This position was reflected in a tradition ascribed to Imam al-Ṣādeq: “God informed Moḥammad of everything that was since the existence of the world and that will be until the end of the world. He informed him of what is definitely ordained and declared everything else conditional (estaṯnā ʿalayhe fīmā sewāho)” (Kolaynī). On that basis Imami doctrine holds some of the signs announcing the advent of the Mahdī to be inevitable and others as subject to cancellation by God. A Koranic verse (6:2): “He fixed a (life’s) term (qażā ajalan) and a term is stated (mosamman) in His keeping” was interpreted as distinguishing between a definitely ordained and a deferrable (mawqūf) life span: Traditions described God as keeping a book of future events in which He deletes and confirms in response to prayers. Whatever is recorded in the Omm al-Ketāb (Koran 13:39), however, can never be changed. In the Night of al-Qadr in Ramażān, the imam is annually informed of all of God’s definite decisions for the coming year which had previously been conditional. (See Majlesī, pp. 102, 116-19.)

Imami theologians influenced by the Muʿtazilite concept of an immutable divine essence found it most difficult to accommodate the doctrine of badāʾ. They tended to associate it closely with nasḵ, abrogation of divine legislation, which was accepted by all Muslim theologians because of its foundation in the Koran. Ebn Bābawayh (d. 381/991) stresses that badāʾ did not imply a repentance (nadāma) of God. Anyone who admitted that God abrogated some of His laws in the best interest of His creatures and that He advanced or deferred the creation and annihilation of anything as He wished affirmed in fact badāʾ. Similarly Abū ʿAbd-Allāh Moḥammad Mofīd (d. 413/1022) identified badāʾ largely with nasḵ and maintained that any difference between his doctrine and that of all Muslims in this regard was only verbal. Admitting the ambiguity of the term badāʾ he emphasized that he used it only because it occurred in accepted traditions of the imams, just as he used the anthropomorphic expressions occurring there. Like the latter badāʾ was to be understood metaphorically in consonance with reason. In so far as badāʾ implied the appearance of something unexpected, it meant an event unexpected by man rather than God. It applied to the conditional (moštaraṭ) in God’s preordination. Šarīf Abu’l-Qāsem ʿAlī Mortażā (d. 436/1044) considered the badāʾ recognized by the Emāmīya as identical with nasḵ and repudiated any other concept of it. Later kalām works by Imami scholars inclining to Muʿtazilism generally ignored badāʾ.

The discussion of badāʾ was, however, resumed by the philosophical school of Isfahan in the Safavid age which tended to remove badāʾ from the essence of God locating its causes in the lower levels of the spiritual world. Mīr(-e) Dāmād (d. 1040/1630) held that badāʾ had the same function in temporal creation (takwīn) as had nasḵ in legislation (tašrīʿ). Badāʾ does not occur in the realm of Ordainment (qażāʾ) nor does it affect God, the pure spiritual beings (mofāreqāt), and the backside of the aeon (matn al-dahr) which envelops the whole world of existence. Rather it arises in the realm of Premeasurement (qadar) and affects the physical world of time and space. Just as nasḵ does not signify a cancellation (rafʿ), but rather a discontinuity, in the legislative process, badāʾ is a discontinuity in the creational process, not a cancellation or annulment. Mīr Dāmād’s view was partly adopted and developed by his disciple Mollā Ṣadrā (d. 1050/1641), who also confined badāʾ to the realm of qadar where, in contrast to the realm of qażāʾ, substantive change, an indeterminacy of God’s will, and possibility versus necessity prevail. More specifically badāʾ could result from the imperfect reflection of the divine omniscience in the lower heavenly soul from which the mind of prophets and imams receives its images. These images might change as a result of either changed conditions of the world or the rise of a new idea in the world soul. The resulting badāʾ or nasḵ could be loosely ascribed to God since the heavenly souls are servants perfectly obedient to Him (F. Rahman, The Philosophy of Mullā Ṣadrā, Albany, 1975, pp. 180-84). Imami scholars have continued to deal with the subject of badāʾ in special treatises until recent times (see al-Ḏarīʿa III, pp. 51-57).

Imami apologists of badāʾ generally held that Sunni Hadith and theology supported belief in it in substance and merely rejected the term. The Jews, however, were criticized for repudiating the notion of badāʾ itself and for considering nasḵ, the abrogation of divine laws, as a form of it. Traditions of the imams interpreted Koran 5:62: “The Jews say: The hand of God is fettered” as referring to their denial of badāʾ and their belief that God had finished with creation (qad faraḡa men al-amr) at the beginning of the world and does not bring forth anything new (see Majlesī).



Abu’l-Ḥosayn Ḵayyāṭ, Ketāb al-enteṣār, ed. H. S. Nyberg, Cairo, 1925, pp. 127-30.

Ḥasan b. Mūsā Nawbaḵtī, Feraq al-šīʿa, ed. H. Ritter, Istanbul, 1931, pp. 55, 62.

Ašʿarī, Maqālāt, pp. 36, 39, 221, 479, 491-92.

Abū Jaʿfar Moḥammad Kolaynī, al-Oṣūl men al-kāfī, ed. ʿAlī Akbar Ḡaffārī, Tehran, 1388/1968, I, pp. 146-49.

Ebn Bābawayh, Ketāb al-tawḥīd, ed. Moḥammad-Mahdī Ḵorsān, Najaf, 1386/1966, pp. 272-75.

Baḡdādī, Farq (Cairo1), pp. 35-37.

ʿAbd-al-Jabbār (correctly: Mānekdīm), Šarḥ al-oṣūl al-ḵamsa, ed. ʿAbd-al-Karīm ʿOṯmān, Cairo, 1384/1965, pp. 583-85.

Abu’l-Ḥosayn Baṣrī, al-Moʿtamad, ed. M. Hamidullah, Damascus, 1964, pp. 398-99.

Shaikh Abū Jaʿfar Moḥammad Ṭūsī, al-Ḡayba, Najaf, 1385/1965, pp. 363-65. Šahrestānī, p. 110.

Moḥammad-Bāqer Majlesī, Beḥār al-anwār, Tehran, 1376-1405/1957-85, IV, pp. 92-134.

W. Madelung, “Imāmism and Muʿtazilite Theology,” in Le shîʿisme imâmite, ed. T. Fahd, Paris, 1970, pp. 13-27.

Idem, “The Shiite and Khārijite Contribution to pre-Asḥʿarite Kalām,” in Islamic Philosophical Theology, ed. P. Morewedge, Albany, 1979, pp. 123-24.

J. van Ess, Frühe muʿtazilitische Häresiographie, Beirut, 1971, p. 64, Ar. text, p. 75.

M. J. McDermott, The Theology of al-Shaikh al-Mufīd, Beirut, 1978, pp. 302, 329-39, 392-93. See also EI2 I, pp. 850f. [Mahmoud Ayoub, “Divine Preordination and Human Hope. A Study of the Concept of Badāʾ in Imāmī Shīʿī Tradition,” JAOS 106/4, 1986, pp. 623-32.]

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(W. Madelung)

Originally Published: December 15, 1988

Last Updated: August 19, 2011

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Vol. III, Fasc. 4, pp. 354-355