Causes for difference in the features and
traits of people
Dhi`lib al-Yamami has related from Ahmad ibn Qutaybah, and he from
`Abdullah ibn Yazid and he from Malik ibn Dihyah who said, "We were with
Amir al-mu'minin when discussion arose about the differences of men (in
features and conduct) and then Amir al-mu'minin said":
They differ among themselves because
of the sources
of their clay (from which they have been created). This is because they
are either from saltish soil or sweet soil or from rugged earth or soft
earth. They, resemble each other on the basis of the affinity of their
soil and differ according to its difference.
Therefore, sometimes a person of handsome features is weak in
intelligence, a tall statured person is of low courage, a virtuous person
is ugly in appearance, a short statured person is far-sighted, a
good-natured person has an evil trait, a person of perplexed heart has
bewildering mind and a sharp-tongued person has a wakeful heart.
(l). Amir al-mu'minin has ascribed the differences
in features and characters of people to the differences in the clay from
which they are created and according to which their features are shaped
and the skeletons of their characters are formed. Therefore, to the extent
that their clay of origin is akin, their mental and imaginative tendencies
too will be similar and to the extent by which they differ, there will be
a difference in their inclinations and tendencies.
origins of a thing are meant those things on which its coming into
existence depends, but they should not be its cause. The word "tin" is the
plural of "tinah" which means origin or basis. Here "tinah" means semen
which after passing through various stages of development emerges in the
human shape. Its origin means those constituents from which those items
are created which help in the formation of semen.
by saltish, sweet, soft or hard soil the reference is to these elementary
constituents. Since those elementary constituents carry different
properties the semen growing out of them will also bear different
characteristics and propensities which will (eventually) show forth in the
differences in features and conduct of those borne in it.
Abi'l-Hadid has written (in Sharh Nahj al-balaghah, vol. 13, p. 19) that
"origins of tinah" implies those preservative factors which are different
in their properties as Plato and other philosophers have held. The reason
for calling them "origins of tinah" is that they serve as an asylum for
the human body and prevent the elements from diffusion.
as the existence of a thing hinges on its basis, in the same way the
existence of this body which is made up of elements depends on
preservative factors. So long as the preservative factor exists the body
is also safe from disruption and disintegration and the elements too are
immune to diffusion and dispersal. When it leaves the body the elements
also get dispersed.
According to this explanation Amir al-mu'minin's words would mean that
Allah has created different original factors among whom some are vicious
and some are virtuous, some are weak and some are strong, and every person
will act according to his original factor. If there is similarity in the
inclinations of two persons it is because their original factor are
similar, and if their tendencies differ it is because their original
factors do not have any similarity.
this conclusion is not correct because Amir al-mu'minin's words do not
only refer to differences in conduct and behaviour but also of features
and shape and the differences of features and shape cannot be the result
of differences in original factors.
any case, whether the original factors are the cause of differences in
features and conduct or the elementary constituents are the cause, these
words appear to lead to the negation of volition and to prove the
compulsion (of destiny) in human actions, because if man's capacity for
thinking and acting is dependent on "tinah" then he would be compelled to
behave himself in a fixed way on account of which he would neither deserve
praise for good acts nor be held blame worthy for bad habits.
this hypothesis is incorrect because it is well established that just as
Allah knows everything in creation after its coming into being, in the
same way He knew it before its creation. Thus, He knew what actions man
would perform of his free will and what he would leave.
Therefore, Allah gave him capacity to act according to his free will, and
created him from a suitable "tinah". This tinah is not the cause of his
actions so as to snatch away from him his free will but the meaning of
creating from suitable tinah is that Allah does not by force stand in
man's way but allows him to tread the path he wants to tread of his own