Echoes of Islam: Conceptions of Free Will in the Qur’an and War and Peace

Walter Comins-Richmond, Occidental College

This paper will examine the similarities between the concepts of historical movement in Islamic doctrine and the worldview of Lev Tolstoj as expressed in War and Peace. Although Tolstoj was well acquainted with both the Qur’an and the Ahadith of Prophet Muhammad, there has been very little work done in Western Scholarship on the relationship between Islam and the religious ideas of Tolstoj. This paper is the first step in what I hope will be a comprehensive study of this relationship.

Tolstoj’s historical model in War and Peace has been discussed elsewhere (Berlin 1953, Wasiolek 1986, and others), and this paper will employ these previous analyses to highlight the significant dimensions of Tolstoj’s ideas. For the present study, focus will be placed upon Tolstoj description of the process of history as a preordained series of causes and effects beyond the control of any individual, and his description of individuals, such as Napoleon, as nothing more than puppets who fulfill their roles involuntarily. Tolstoj’s conclusion that ultimately only God understands the logic and order to the progression of history, and that man’s duty to understand his lack of free will and submit to this order will likewise be outlined.

According to the Qur’an, human history serves a plan which Allah alone has created (Qur’an 11:107, 13:42, 22:14, 42:49, 70:41). This plan will be carried out regardless of any human opposition: if one person or nation fails Him, he will simply select another (Qur’an 3:144, 11:57, 12:68, 47:38 and elsewhere). Humans who recognize their impotence and accept the inevitability of Allah’s plan will prosper, while those who try to act against Allah’s plan or to deny its inevitability will be destroyed (Qur’an 6, 11, and elsewhere).

It is the goal of this paper to more fully examine the relationship between Islam and Tolstoj’s historical theories by identifying his earliest contacts with Islamic teleology and his ideas concerning it. In so doing, the paper will lay the groundwork for tracing the influence of Islamic doctrine in Tolstoj’s theories in subsequent work.