What Is the Islamic Response to the Euthyphro Dilemma?

Answered by Shaykh Irshaad Sedick

Question

The root question of the Euthyphro dilemma is: Is an act good because God commands it, or does God command it because it is good? Are his acts arbitrary, or is he compelled to do it? (astaghfirullah)

Answer

In the Name of Allah, the Most Merciful and Compassionate. May Allah alleviate our difficulties and guide us to what pleases Him.

Actions are good or evil because Allah declared them to be so. Allah’s actions are according to His infinite Wisdom and Knowledge, and He can never be coerced.

Allah says: “He is not questioned about what He does, but they will be questioned.” [Quran, 21:23]

“…Say, Allah is the Creator of all things, and He is the One, the Prevailing (He who subdues doubts and false arguments with clear evidence and who subdues and imposes His will upon all creation.).” [Quran, 13:16]

Good and Evil, Intrinsic or Declared

There are three critical views about this issue. Mainstream Islam (Ahl Al-Sunna wa Al-Jama’a) is usually presented as an amalgamation of the Asha’ira and the Maturidiyya Schools of Theology. [Khinn, Al-ʿAqida Al-Islamiyya]

Three Schools, Three Views

The Asha‘ira– The law (ḥukm) of God cannot be known except via His Messengers and His books. Things and actions have no intrinsic goodness or evil. Good is only good because the Lawmaker (Shariʿ), which is God, says it is. The intellect usually follows Sacred Law in what it deems to be good or evil. [ibid.]

The Maturidiyya – The intellect may have the ability to detect goodness or evil independently, but humans are not duty-bound by the intellect, only by the revealed law. [ibid.]

The Rationalists (Mu’tazila) – The intellect may independently (without revealed law) discern good and evil in actions/deeds. The intellect can identify the effects of deeds and whether they harm or benefit and thus deduce whether a given act is good or bad. Humans are thus duty-bound by both revealed laws as well as their rational deductions. [ibid.]

I pray that this benefits and that Allah guides us all.

[Shaykh] Irshaad Sedick

Checked and Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani 

Shaykh Irshaad Sedick was raised in South Africa in a traditional Muslim family. He graduated from Dar al-Ulum al-Arabiyyah al-Islamiyyah in Strand, Western Cape, under the guidance of the late world-renowned scholar, Shaykh Taha Karaan. 

Shaykh Irshaad received Ijaza from many luminaries of the Islamic world, including Shaykh Taha Karaan, Mawlana Yusuf Karaan, and Mawlana Abdul Hafeez Makki, among others.

He is the author of the text “The Musnad of Ahmad ibn Hanbal: A Hujjah or not?” He has served as the Director of the Discover Islam Centre and Al Jeem Foundation. For the last five years till present, he has served as the Khatib of Masjid Ar-Rashideen, Mowbray, Cape Town.

Shaykh Irshaad has thirteen years of teaching experience at some of the leading Islamic institutes in Cape Town). He is currently building an Islamic online learning and media platform called ‘Isnad Academy’ and pursuing his Master’s degree in the study of Islam at the University of Johannesburg. He has a keen interest in healthy living and fitness.