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Islam and Spiritualism ( 10 Jul 2022, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Muslim’s Fate In The Afterlife

By Moin Qazi, New Age Islam

11 July 2022

The Idea Of Divine Providence Also Known As The Divine Decree Or Predestination That Everything Has Already Been Decreed By The Creator From Eternity Has Troubled Theologians And Philosophers For Centuries

Main Points:

1.    Trusting in God’s plan is known as Tawakkul, a concept that shows up all over the Qur’an and hadith.

2.    Entire life of a Muslim constitutes a trial to determine his fate.   For him, death is the return of the soul to its creator, God.

3.    Man has within his ambit the power to decide the type of action he should perform.

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Tie the camel, trust in Allah, and go about your business.

This saying, as relayed by the scholar Al-Tirmidhi, is an ancient Arab phrase attributed to the prophet Mohammed who, when one day he saw a Bedouin leaving his camel without tethering it, questioned him as to why he was doing this. The Bedouin replied that he was placing his trust in Allah and had no need to tie the camel. The prophet Mohammed then replied, “Tie your camel and place your trust in Allah.”

Trusting in God’s plan is known as Tawakkul, a concept that shows up all over the Qur’an and hadith. For instance: “…And whoever relies upon Allah – then He is sufficient for him. Indeed, Allah will accomplish His purpose. Allah has already set for everything a [decreed] extent” (65:3). It is linked to the essence of the word “Islam,” literally translated into English as “submission,” submission to the will of God.

The entire life of a Muslim constitutes a trial to determine his fate.   For him, death is the return of the soul to its Creator, God, and the inevitability of death and the hereafter is never far from his consciousness. This serves to keep his actions attuned to God as he tries to live in preparedness for what is to come. For Muslims, the concept of death and the afterlife in Islam is derived from the holy Qur’an, the final revealed message from God.

The idea of divine providence also known as the divine decree or predestination that everything has already been decreed by the Creator from eternity has troubled theologians and philosophers for centuries. How can we reconcile the two contradictory facts that Allah has absolute power and sovereignty over all creation and that at the same time we are responsible for our actions? Are we forced to do what we door are our choices meaningful?

This question led to one of the earliest sectarian schisms in the Muslim community, between the Qadarites, who believed in absolute human free will (Allah has no control over us), and the Jabarites, who believed in absolute determinism and fatalism (we have no control over our actions). Each of these groups developed an extreme and misguided theology.

Not only was this question a sharp controversy in early Islamic history, but it has also been an important issue throughout history for both religious and secular reasons. 

The Qur’an and Sunnah take a middle path between the two historical extremes, upholding both the sovereignty of Allah and the responsibility of humankind. One faction debated that the fate of individuals was predestined and that right or wrong was already foretold by the revelation (that is to say, Qur’an). Arrayed against this orthodox sect were Muslim philosophers who championed the supremacy of reason. They argued that the individual was a free agent who enjoyed free will and that it is ‘reason’, not the revelation alone, that determines right or wrong.

Muslims believe that God decrees everything that happens in the cosmos. Some critical Western scholars contend that this doctrine leads to a kind of passive fatalism, but Islamic theologians strongly deny that qadar (divine will) negates a person’s freedom to act. It merely means that when some misfortune befalls us, we resign ourselves to it as something coming from God, instead of despairing.

The Qur'an contains many fatalistic passages as do many more hadith (statements and actions attributed to Muhammad) A Qur'anic sampling:

1.    Nor can a soul die except by God's leave, the term being fixed as by writing. (3:145)

2.    All people have a set term, and when the end of that term approaches, they can neither delay it by a single moment nor can they speed it up. (7:34)

3.    Nothing will happen to us except what God has decreed for us. (9:51)

4.    Those who believe, God will strengthen with a firm word, in this world and the hereafter; but the unjust he leads astray [in this world and the hereafter]. God does what he will. (14:27)

5.    God guides those He pleases to guide. (28:56)

6.    If We had willed it, We could have brought every soul its guidance. (32:13)

7.    God allows to stray whom He wills and guides whom He wills. (35:8)

8.    No misfortune can happen on earth or in your souls but is recorded in a book before We bring it into existence. (57:22)

This world is a preparation for the world hereafter, a journey to the destination of a more perfect and eternal world. When a man becomes fully convinced of his mission and purpose, the uncertainties of life would be resolved and the ebb and flow of happiness and misery would begin to appear as a natural cycle destined in the life of an individual.

This is where the role of fate (Taqdir) comes in. While declaring that every action of man is ordained by God, the Qur’an makes it clear that man has been given the power of reason whereby he can discern between right and wrong, and thus he alone shall have to bear the burden of his wrong acts.

“No soul shall labour but for itself, and no burdened one shall bear another’s a burden.” (Q2: 286).

“Whoever goes astray he himself bears the whole responsibility of wandering.” (Q10:109).

Imam Raghib Asfahani also says in his Mufradat al-Qur’an that when a human being is an actor (fail) of Taqdir, it has two senses; one is when one thinks and reflects with his/her intellect and then acts according to the result of such reflection, it is called Taqdir-iMahmood. The second is when a person thinks or acts according to selfish desire it is called taqdir-i-Mazmoom. Such an act cannot result in the good of others. Of the Taqdi-iI-Mazmoom Imam Raghib gives the example of verses 18-19 of Chapter 74. The Qur’an says, “Surely he reflected and determined. But may he be destroyed for how he determined.”

What the Qur’an intends to convey is that since man has been given the capacity to distinguish between good and evil and between the permitted path and the forbidden path, he alone has to account for his actions. In Sura Shams (Q:91 man was made with certain order and proportion to make him adaptable to the conditions of life in which he has to sustain himself. He has also been given the fullest understanding of what constitutes sin, immorality and impiety, and what makes up for nobility, truth and morality.

Although man has within his ambit the power to decide the type of action he should perform, the results of his actions are totally beyond his dictates. In the Qur’anic commandments, it is only God, the All-knowing and All-powerful, who will determine the result. The great Sufi, Al-Ghazali goes still further and says that every human action has a divine origin: that is, the capacities whereby actions are performed are not within the control of man and it is God’s decree alone that directs them to various goals. Al-Ghazali says: “No act of any individual, even though it be done purely for his benefit, is independent of the will of God for its existence.”

The concept of Taqdir (fate) has evoked a many-stranded response from theologians, but the mist which covers it has never been successfully lifted. A discussion on this aspect of Islamic philosophy has led to a welter of confusion which in many instances has led to the shaking of individual faith. But one hypothesis sounds both logical and convincing. It says that with the vast infinite knowledge at his command, God certainly has a foreknowledge of the destiny of man, and as life progresses the actions of men provide the impetus for the variations in the destiny already charted out in the mind of God. There are however theologians who firmly believe that Taqdir connotes the results, which are preordained for the various acts one may perform. For both good and evil acts, the results are already determined.

The great scholar Ameer Ali succinctly puts it: “The Prophet distinctly taught that we should, first of all, do whatever lies in our power and then leave the rest to God. We are apt to forget the first part of his precept and cling to its second part only which accords with our tropical laziness.” (The Spirit of Islam). He further quotes Caliph Ali: “O ye, servants of my Lord, fulfil the duties that are imposed on you, for in their neglect is abasements; your good works alone will render easy the road to death. Remember each sin increases the debt and makes the chain heavier. The message of mercy has come; the path of truth is clear, obey the command that has been laid on you; live in purity, work in piety and ask God to help you in every endeavour and to forgive your past transgressions. Say not that man is compelled, for that is the attribution of tyranny to God, nor say that man has absolute discretion rather we are furthered by his help and grace in our endeavours to act righteously, and we transgress because of our neglect (of his commands).”

Prophet Mohammad himself decreed that because of the finitude of our intelligence, we should seek solutions only to those issues which can be resolved by our finite mind in the light of divine guidance. This proclamation was however not to detract man from seeking knowledge, which continues to remain an important duty.

The doctrine of predestination thus finds a very practical approach in the hands of Islam. While decreeing that acts of man are governed by divine will, it admonishes man to put in his best effort and not to become a passive participant in the world, believing that what has already been preordained would have its course irrespective of his efforts.

The Qur’an repeatedly enjoins its followers that sufferings and afflictions are an essential means of judging the sincerity or otherwise of an individual’s claim to faith and establishing his spiritual rank. The Qur’an claims unequivocally: “Do men imagine that they will be left (at ease) because they say, we believe, and we will not be tested? Lo! We tested those who came before thee. Thus Allah knoweth those who are sincere and knoweth those who feign. (Q28:23) But, as is evident, from the various traditions, the degree of suffering or affliction to put an individual to test varies.

In the case of ordinary believers, the test is meant to cleanse them from sins and impurities. But for others, who have a larger role to play for God, the test takes severe forms. In the case of the prophets, the trial is to establish to the universe at large their competency and also to hone them for the high spiritual offices held by them as defenders of Allah’s religion, so that they can confidently face all challenges against the religion or its tenets.

What the Qur’an intends to convey is that an individual has been given the capacity to distinguish between good and evil and between the permitted path and the forbidden path, he alone has to account for his actions. In Sura Shams (Q:91), Allah makes it clear that man was made with certain order and proportion to make him adaptable to the conditions of life in which he has to sustain himself. He has also been given the fullest understanding of what constitutes sin, immorality and impiety, and what makes up for nobility, truth and morality.

Although man has the power to decide the type of action he should perform, the results of his actions are totally beyond his dictates. In the Qur’anic commandments, it is only God, the All-knowing and All-powerful, who will determine the result. The great Sufi, Al-Ghazali goes still further and says that every human action has a divine origin that is, the capacities whereby actions are performed are not within the control of man and it is God’s decree alone that directs them to various goals. Al-Ghazali says, “No act of any individual, even though it be done purely for his benefit, is independent of the will of God for its existence, and there does not occur in either the physical or the extra-terrestrial world the wink of an eye, the hint of thought, or the most sudden glance except by the decree of God, of his, desire and will. This includes evil and good, benefit and harm, success and failure, sin and righteousness, obedience and disobedience, polytheism and true belief.”

The story is told of a merchant in Muslim Spain who, when told that his ship had sunk with all his goods aboard, looked down for a moment before exclaiming, “Praise be to God!” Later a man came to tell him that the ship had been saved. Once again he looked down before exclaiming, “Praise be to God!” He was asked why he had looked down. “I wanted,” he said, “to be sure that my heart was untroubled.” Equanimity is a basic virtue in Islam. Here, perhaps, there is a clue to the reconciliation of the alternatives with which we are so often faced to take up arms against the injustice we have suffered or to accept it with resignation. The right choice can only be made if we detach ourselves from our emotions and all subjectivism.

William Shakespeare has put it very succinctly-

“Men at some time are masters of their fate:

The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,

But in ourselves that we are underlings.”

Julius Caesar, Act-I, Scene-II.

Malcolm Muggeridge says in his autobiography, “In all the larger shaping of a life, there is a plan already, into which one has no choice but to fit.”

We have to agree with Hamlet in Shakespeare’s immortal words-

“There’s a divinity that shapes our ends,

Rough-hew them how we will.”

A saner view would be to avoid excessive discussion on this sensitive aspect and strive to put in one’s best effort in every action and leave the results to God.   

Prophet Mohammad himself decreed that we should seek solutions only to those issues which can be resolved by our finite intelligence, and leave the rest to divinity. This proclamation was however not to detract man from seeking knowledge, which continues to remain an important duty. Ibn Khaldun makes a valid observation. He says that a balance used for weighing gold can certainly not be used for weighing a mountain. Similarly, the human mind has its limitations and it can satisfy our curiosity only to the extent of its cognitive ability.   The divine guidance of the Qur’an gives clear signs of those mysteries that cannot be comprehended by us and we have to accept this reality.  

The doctrine of predestination thus finds a very practical approach in the hands of Islam. While decreeing that acts of man are governed by divine will, it admonishes man to put in his best effort and not to become a passive participant in the world, believing that what has already been preordained would have its course irrespective of his efforts.

The Qur’an repeatedly enjoins its followers that sufferings and afflictions are an essential means of judging the sincerity or otherwise of an individual’s claim to faith and establishing his spiritual rank. The Qur’an claims unequivocally- “Do men imagine that they will be left (at ease) because they say, we believe, and we will not be tested? Lo! We tested those who came before thee. Thus Allah knoweth those who are sincere and knoweth those who feign. (Q28:23)

In the case of ordinary believers, the test is meant to cleanse them from sins and impurities. But for others, who have a larger role to play for God, the test takes severe forms. In the case of the prophets, the trial is to establish to the universe at large their competency and also to hone them for the high spiritual offices held by them as defenders of Allah’s religion, so that they can confidently face all challenges against the religion or its tenets.

God is The Reality, and to be a true Muslim means to believe in the reality of the Absolute and the dependence of all things on the Absolute. Religion, ought to be treated as something sui generic, something that cannot be described in scholarly technical terms and whose goal is not to tackle social and political problems but rather to guide humankind to a spiritual level on which all problems are seen, and thus eventually solved, through man’s faith in and reliance upon the eternal wisdom of the Creator–an idea difficult to understand, let alone to appreciate, for many modern people in whose worldview no room is left for transcendence; and for whom- religion might ‘become the handmaid of industry.’ For the Muslims, however, God the Absolute has destined everything according to His eternal wisdom–“He will not be questioned as to what He does.” (Q21:23) and “man chooses freely what God wills.”

These words remind the reader of the beautiful lines of the Indo-Muslim poet-philosopher Mohammad Iqbal, who tells a supplicant that even though his prayer might not change his destiny, it can change his own response by bringing him in touch with the Absolute Reality:

“Your prayer is that your destiny, be changed.

My prayer is that you, yourself be changed.”

This means that you accept willingly and lovingly whatever God has decreed.

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Moin Qazi is the author of the bestselling book, Village Diary of a Heretic Banker. He has worked in the development finance sector for almost four decades.


URL:    https://newageislam.com/islam-spiritualism/muslim-fate-afterlife/d/127455


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