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Islamic Ideology ( 16 Oct 2015, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Islamic Fatalism: Lifting the Shroud



By Moin Qazi, New Age Islam

17 October 2015

Na-Ahl Ko Hasil Hai Kabhi Quwwat-o-Jabroot

Hai Khwar Zamane Meinkabhi Johar-e-Zati

Shaid Koi Mantaq Ho Nihan Iss Ke Amal Mein

Taqdeer Nahin Tabe-e-Mantaq Nazar Ati

Haan, Aik Haqiqat Hai Ke Maloom Hai Sub Ko

Tareekh-e-Ummam Jis Ko Nahin Hum Se Chupati

‘Har Lehza Hai Qoumon Ke Amal Par Nazar Iss Ki

Burran Sift-e-Taeg-e-Do Paikar Nazar Iss Ki!’

Oft men who don’t deserve get might and main,

Anon a Person’s gifts un-graced remain

Perhaps some rules of Logic are concealed,

Mishaps that lie in wait are not revealed.

There is a fact that all of us can know,

World annals much light on this matter throw.

Fate keeps its eye on what the nations do,

Like two‐edged sword can riddle through and through.

-Muhammad Iqbal

(Zarb-e-Kaleem-016: Taqdeer)

The question of man's control over his destiny has been a topic of philosophical debate since ancient Greece. The dilemma goes like this: If humans have the ability to make decisions, this diminishes God's universal powers. But if God makes all decisions, humans have no responsibility for their own deeds, negating such concepts as justice and punishment.

It has become a commonplace that Islam is a fatalistic religion which teaches that everything is determined in advance and that man is unable to have no powers over the consequences of his actions. But it is not as well known what this 'fatalistic' attitude really means, what place it occupies in the totality of Islamic religion, and how it originated and has developed. Some critical Western scholars contend that this doctrine leads to a kind of passive fatalism, but Islamic theologians strongly deny that Qadr (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. Those who reject the theory of fatalism argue that if we are to accept this position then there should be no accountability of disasters which in many cases are attributable directly to human negligence. Also the victims of these tragedies should desist from filing suits and claiming damages against the labelled wrongdoers by accepting the event as a   divine ordainment of fate.

In classical Islamic era, the discussion on the concept of fate (divine predestination) or Qadr has created various debates with regard to its relationship to the problem of freedom (Hurriya), choice (Ikhtiyar) and free will (Irada). The word Qadr has been treated differently by various Islamic thinkers such as the jurists, the Sufis, the philosophers and the theologians (Mutakkalimun) according to their respective concern. Classical discourse on Qadr is found predominantly in debates between two main sects, the Murji’ites and the Jabarites who believe that God had predetermined the human life at one hand, and the others, the Mutazilites and the Qadarites who believe in human’s free will. The modern discourse on Qadar shifts to different tunes. It is believed that Qadr was responsible for paralyzing the energies of the Muslims and was the chief cause of their moral degeneration. The doctrine of Qadar causes the Muslims to regard all their actions and achievements as dependent on the will of God and, for the same reason, they were unable to safeguard their rights and protect their countries from tyranny – thus obstructing their overall progress. This paper attempts at discussing both the classical and modern Islamic conceptions of Qadar and its dynamism as the source of strength for Muslims to think about the future in positive attitude - that it is the only space which they could actively participate and operate in order to choose their destiny, be it good or bad, whether on the earth as God’s servants and vicegerents, as well as in the hereafter where they will taste the consequences of their actions.

 Pre-Islamic Arabs believed that humanity was left to an inexorable fate that determines the course of life, regardless of human desire. Islam replaced impersonal fate with a sense of divine direction of all of life, as well as of personal moral accountability. Nonetheless, affirmations of God's absolute power in the Qur’an and traditions led some to affirm a different kind of fatalism, sometimes called predestination, in which God's foreknowledge supersedes human free choice. The prevailing theological compromise posited a middle position whereby God's created actions are appropriated by humans.

 Contemporary Islam stresses the Qur’anic support of human potential and responsibility under God's guidance.   The doctrine of fate holds that the overall fate of human beings is governed by the foreknowledge of God. The individual makes meaningful choices between good and evil, so that individual fate is a matter of ongoing and continuous interaction between human will and God's will. The laws of nature are the laws of God. God has given us the ability to understand these laws and asked from us to act accordingly. What is suitable for God’s will is to take the necessary precautions against the physical causes for disasters. Producing excuses about ‘divine power’ for human guilt and responsibility is wrong. The laws of nature are the laws of God. God has given us the ability to understand these laws and asked from us to act accordingly. What is suitable for God’s will is to take the necessary precautions against the physical causes for disasters.

Traditional Qur’anic Discourse

One day Prophet Muhammad (SAW) noticed a Bedouin leaving his camel without tying it and he asked the Bedouin, "Why don't you tie down your camel?" The Bedouin answered:

"I put my trust in Allah."

 The Prophet then said:

 "Tie your camel first, then put your trust in Allah" (At-Tirmidhi, 2517)

 This refers to the common sense and reasoning that God in His infinite mercy has bestowed reasoning and human intellect; so that we are able to take due precautions, plan and prepare for possible future events, and create a means of addressing those needs on our own.

 It seems to have become a common practice for people to say that preventative and preparative actions are unnecessary because they display a lack of trust in God for our sustenance, safety, or future plans.

 Belief in God’s Qada’ and Qadar (destiny and predestination) is one of the pillars of faith in Islam.

The Muslim’s faith is not complete unless he knows that whatever befalls him could not have missed him, and whatever misses him could not have befallen him; everything is subject to the will and decree of Allah:

{Indeed, all things We created with predestination.} (Q54:49)

All the disasters and tribulations that happen on earth, or happen to the individual, or to his wealth or family, etc., were known to Allah before they happened, He has written them in the Preserved Tablet (Al-Lawh Al-Mahfooz):

“{No disaster strikes upon the earth or among yourselves except that it is in a register before We bring it into being — indeed that, for Allah, is easy.} “(Q57:22)

No matter what disasters befall a person, it is good for him, whether he realizes that or not, because Allah does not decree anything but it is good:

“{Say, ‘Never will we be struck except by what Allah has decreed for us; He is our protector.’ And upon Allah let the believers rely.} “(9:51)

Every disaster happens by Allah’s leave; if He had not willed it, it would not have happened, but Allah permitted it to happen and decreed it, and so it happened:

“{No disaster strikes except by permission of Allah. And whoever believes in Allah, He will guide his heart. And Allah knows of all things.” (64:1)

In the well-known Hadith of Archangel Gabriel when he came to the Prophet (Peace and blessings be upon him) to inquire about the meaning of al-Islam, al-Iman (faith) and al-Ihsan (perfect performance of good deeds), the Prophet (Peace and blessings be upon him) said about al-Iman, “That you affirm your faith in Allah, in His angels, in His Books, in His Apostles, in the Day of Judgment, and you affirm your faith in the Divine Decree about good and evil.” (Muslim)

Jabir Ibn `Abdullah narrated another Hadith in which the Messenger of the Prophet is reported to have said:

"A slave (of Allah) shall not believe until he believes in al-Qadar [the Devine Decree], its good and its bad, such that he knows that what struck him would not have missed him, and that what missed him would not have struck him.” (At-Tirmidhi and authenticated by Al-Albani)

The Qur’anic concept of predestination and fate is outlined in the following verses:

        “{Say [to them]: Indeed, the whole of every affair belongs to God alone.} “(Q3:154),

        “{Thus to Him alone every matter shall be returned [for final Judgment.]”(Q11:123

        “{Then highly exalted is the One in whose mighty Hand is all dominion over all things.} “(Q 36:83)

        “[And not an atom's weight in the earth or in the sky escapes your Lord, nor what is less than that or greater than that, but it is (written) in a clear Book.] “(Q10:61)

        “[No misfortune can happen on earth or in your souls but is recorded in a decree before We [Allah]. That is truly easy for Allah. In order that you may neither despair over matters that pass you by, or exult over favours bestowed upon you. For Allah loves not any vainglorious boaster]”(Q57:22-23)

        “[No female conceives nor does she bring forth a child save with His [Allah] knowledge. And no one is granted long life, nor is anything diminished of its life, but it is all recorded in a book]”(Q35:11)

        “[To Him belong the keys of the heavens and the earth. He enlarges the provisions for whomsoever He pleases and straitens it for whomsoever He pleases. Surely He knows all things full well] “(Q 42:12)

        “[And say not of anything, "I shall do it tomorrow," unless Allah wills]” ( Q 18:23-24)

The above verses speak of Almighty Allah's power and control over His creation, as well as of His will and plan. This is one aspect of His Qadar. There is also another aspect of Qadar, which is concerned with human free will: 

On human freedom and responsibility, read the following verses:

        “[Corruption has spread on land and sea on account of what people's hands have wrought] (Q30:41)

        “[Whatever misfortune happens to you, is because on the things your hands have wrought, and for many (of them) He grants forgiveness.  “(Q 42:30)

        “[If any do deeds of righteousness, be they male or female, and have faith, they will enter Heaven and not the least injustice will be done to them]” (Q 4:124)

        “[It is the truth from your Lord; wherefore let him who will, believe, and let him who will, disbelieve] “(Q 18:29)

        “[O our people respond to God's summoner and believe in him]” (Q 46:31)

The above verses speak of the special status of humans as beings with a role and mission. God 's power over His creation and His foreknowledge of all our actions and their results do not preclude that status. Because, God has given us freedom — not complete freedom, but freedom within the boundaries He has set. God’s Qadaa' and Qadar — which could be loosely rendered as "divine decree and human destiny" — include a certain amount of freedom for humans. This is part of God’s scheme. We may say that Almighty Allah has willed that we must have the freedom to choose between good and bad, and to take the course of action we decide, i.e. to the extent we are permitted.

God’s knowledge of what we are going to choose or what consequences our choice would entail, does not negate this freedom. It is God Who created us with all our talents and gifts, and if we do not have the freedom to use them, what would be the meaning of those blessings? And remember that God gave us, not merely our intellectual faculties, but also the power of moral judgment. And what is more, He sent us His guidance through His chosen prophets and books, to help us make the right choices; additionally,  He does not use force in this matter.

A Muslim takes precautions, does as much as he can and then depends upon God as divine decree does not stop him from taking precautions and utilizing worldly means.

Prophet Muhammad said:

"Take precautions as everybody is guided to that which has been destined for him."

You, for example, should drink to quench your thirst. If something bad comes, it is because of our bad doings, and if something good reaches us then it is from God’s grace:

{What comes to you of good is from Allah, but what comes to you of evil, [O man], is from yourself.} (Q4:79)

The undernoted verses strengthen the Islamic discourse on the omnipotence of the Creator:

“That it is he who makes laugh and weep, and that it is he who kills and makes alive, and that it is he who has created pairs, male and female, from a clot when it is emitted, and that for him is the next production, and that he enriches and gives possession.” (Q53: 44-49)

Here Muhammad makes it clear that good and evil fortune, success and adversity, life and death, in other words man's destiny from beginning to end, is God's matter.

“Thou givest the kingdom to whomsoever thou pleasest, and strippest the kingdomfrom whomsoever thou pleasest, thou honourest whom thou pleasest, andthou abasest whom thou pleasest; in thy hand is good. Verily thou art mighty overall.”(Q3:25.)

If these passages give the impression of the same arbitrariness as is found in fatalism, this is counterbalanced by the fact that the context speaks of the Creator’s providence and omnipotence. The point is rather omnipotence than arbitrariness. Thus man's destiny is in God's hands, and there is no place for an impersonal Fate. It is impossible to deal here in detail with the somewhat contradictory statements concerning predestination for belief or unbelief—as a matter of fact the Quran both teaches strict predestination and appeals to man’s free choice but this should probably not be classified as fatalism but rather as religious determinism, where the point is God's omnipotence, not predestination itself.

Classical Thought

In classical Islamic era, the discussion on the concept of fate (divine predestination) or Qadar has created various debates with regard to its relationship with the problem of freedom (Hurriya), choice (Ikhtiyar) and free will (Irada The term Qadar which means the measuring out or divine determination is used interchangeably with Qudra which means ability or power. In the Qur’an, Qadar also implies God’s power and knowledge (Q 2: 256; 54: 49; 15: 21 the word Qadar has been treated differently by various Islamic thinkers such as the jurists, the Sufis, the philosophers and the theologians (Mutakkalimun) according to their respective concern. The jurists when discussing on Qadar, are more “. . . concern with the rights and liberty that are the outcome of conformity to the divine law (Sharia); Sufis seek inner freedom through liberation from man’s bondage to the lower self; philosophers generally assert the reality of human free will from the standpoint of al-Farabi’s (d.970) political philosophy; and the theologians (Mutakkalimun) are mainly concerned with the relationship between the divine will and human will, and how the former limits the latter” (

Predominantly, classical discourse on Qadar is found in debates between two main sects, the Murji’ites and the Jabarites who believe that God had predetermined the human life at one hand, and the other, the Muktazilites and the Qadarites who believe in human’s free will. The Murji’ites and the Jabarites found support for their views in the Qur’an. However, these verses can be misunderstood to conform the pre-Islamic Arabs outlook of fatalism.   It can therefore be said that the pre-Islamic Arabs had influenced the mainstream Islam in giving the role of Time (Dahr) or fate as the controller of human life to God.

  But such rationalist Muslim schools had powerful rivals, such as the Asharites and the even more rigid Hanbalis, the precursors of today’s Salafis. These dogmatists played down human free will by emphasizing God’s predestination, and discredited human reason. They also denied the existence of natural laws, assuming that causality is an infringement on God’s omnipotence.

Today most Muslims have little knowledge about these old debates, but they live within cultural codes largely defined by the dogmatists, who gained the upper hand in the war of ideas in early Islam. In these codes, human free will is easily sacrificed to fatalism, science and reason are trivialized, and philosophy is frowned upon.

Consequently, “God’s will” becomes an easy cover for intellectual laziness, lack of planning, and irresponsibility. Muslims in positions of power often refer to “fate” to explain away their failures, while never hesitating to take pride in their successes.

Actions which may appear to us completely trivial are cast into the balance, but good and ill are not alike in weight. The Qur’an tells us also that a good action, however small in itself, will be rewarded many times its own weight whereas the crimes or sins we may have committed will weigh no more and no less than what they are as such. It might even be said that the scales are themselves weighted in favour of the good and since God is the source of all that is good, all that is beautiful, all that is harmonious, this is in the nature of things. So far as human justice is concerned, the Prophet counselled all those who are obliged to sit in judgment over their fellows to “avert penalties by doubts” and this is clearly in accordance with the requirement of the British legal system that guilt must be proved “beyond reasonable doubt”.

In the present age, at least in the West, the notion of justice and, in particular, of rights has taken on a colouring that is specifically modern. People are unwilling to accept that misfortunes are a part of life and not necessarily the fault of someone else or of the system. Earlier generations in the West were taught the virtue of resignation, as are Muslims still to this day. The cry “It’s so unfair!” is heard now on every side and the subjective conviction that one has suffered injustice or that one’s rights have been infringed is a source of bitterness and unhappiness. The Muslim, while he must uphold justice so far as he can, has no right to such self-indulgence or to suppose that he can be judge in his own case. To complain against destiny is, in effect, to enter a complaint against Him who holds all destinies in His hand and whose justice is beyond questioning. Here certain Qur’anic verses are particularly apposite: “And surely We will try you with something of fear and hunger and the loss of wealth and lives and crops. But give good news to the steadfast who say when misfortune strikes them: ‘Truly we belong to God and truly to Him we return’. These are they upon whom are blessings from their Lord and mercy. Such are the rightly guided”. Life’s vicissitudes test our metal and reveal what we truly are in ourselves. 

Clearly the question of balance arises once again: on the one hand the obligations to strive for justice in this world, on the other to accept the injustices which are woven into our earthly life in a spirit of resignation. Circumstances dictate which of these alternatives is appropriate. 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 from 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.

As 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

The believers in the doctrine of predestination argue that that this world, with all its frailties, weaknesses and uncertainties, was very imperfect and could insistently goad an individual towards materialistic goals - whether it was a personal selfish goal or one which had the interests of the community at large. The slings and arrows of an outrageous fortune are continuously flung at us, and as life takes turns which an individual can hardly anticipate, a thought naturally comes to our mind about the imperfectness of this world. But the knowledge of the God’s world and deep thinking (Dhikr) over the vast mysteries of creation would clearly reveal to us that this world is certainly an endless phenomenon, the understanding of which is not fully within man’s reach.

 But there is a more perfect world beyond the one in which we live where man is not subject to the vicissitudes and uncertainties which confront him here. This world is a preparation for the world hereafter, a journey in the destination of a more perfect and eternal world. When man becomes fully convinced of his mission and purpose, the uncertainties of life are resolved and the ebb and flow of happiness and misery begin to appear as a natural cycle destined in the life of an individual. This is where the role of fate 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 burden. (Q2: 286).

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

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 which 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 a 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 Finitude of Human Intellect

 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. As 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)

Prophet Mohammad himself decreed that in view of the finitude of our intelligence, we should seek solution 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. Ibn Khaldun makes a valid observation in this connection. He says that a balance used for weighing gold can certainly not be used for weighing a mountain. In a similar way, the human mind has its limitations and it can satisfy our curiosity only to the extent it is capable of. We have been provided the cognitive ability to stretch our minds, and there are issues that are beyond the ken of the human mind. The divine guidance of the Qur’an gives clear signs to aid us in comprehending the mysteries of life,

Man must realize that he is a finite being with his life ordered by Dahr (time and preordained destiny) and Qadar (destiny)

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 own course irrespective of his efforts.   

The Role of Fate in Human Suffering

 Closely related to the doctrine of Taqdeer is the Islamic explanation of human sufferings.   Qur’an makes it clear that sufferings are meant to provide meaning and content to an individual’s life. The Qur’an stresses the educative role of sufferings in making man realise his helplessness and inadequacy in the face of adversities and thereby strengthening his faith and belief in God. Sufferings could be retributive; and may be a direct result of the wrong acts of man; but they could also be without cause - brought about to test a man’s forbearance and patience. A faithful servant of God would never panic in the face of sufferings and would resign himself to a sentiment that it has come from God and he has to bear it with patience. The essence of Islam could also be reduced to two words which characterise all aspects of human life: patience and gratitude. The Qur’an reminds man time and again and also focuses his attention on ‘the numerous bounties bestowed on him’. The individual who accepts every suffering without a grudge shall ‘be raised in the sight of the God’.

 A Momin (true servant of Allah) will never allow the strain of suffering and adversity to become visible on his face for, he conceals it in its heart and never tries to seek the sympathy of others. Sufferings are meant for expiation of one’s sins as well as to test one’s forbearance. Even the Prophets had to undergo suffering in their lives. Noah’s trials raised him to be amongst Allah’s chosen ones for his creatures (Q4:33).

 Ibrahim, having undergone the test of almost sacrificing his own son Ismail - with his own hand, in obedience to the vision seen by him - rose to the rank of being chosen by God as his friend (Khalil) and when he faced the burning furnace with complete confidence in the Lord’s power to turn the fire into ’a cool and safe’ meadow, he was raised to the Imam for men (Q2:124). Ismail, on being consulted by his father - Ibrahim - about his vision to sacrifice him, answered: “0 my father, do that which thou art commanded, Allah willing, thou shalt find me of the steadfast.” (37: 102)). Moses having endured the sufferings inflicted by the Pharaoh was honoured by   Yakub’s trial consisted in the pangs of separation from his dear son Yusuf for whom he moaned so much that he lost sight in both eyes and yet he was described by Allah as ‘Kazeem’ (the patient). Yusuf, having suffered the ignominy of being sold like a slave, was faced with a tremendous temptation against his honour and chastity which he preserved despite being imprisoned. He is described by the Qur’an as ‘Siddique’ (the veracious) and ultimately becomes the ruler of Egypt.

Jesus, the son of Mary suffered affliction at the hands of the people who had prepared to crucify him, Allah raised him to himself; Muhammad, who had been persecuted by his own people at Mecca and had to migrate to Medina, re-entered Mecca as conqueror and proclaimed amnesty for his old enemies.

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 for the purpose of putting an individual to test varies.

Spiritually speaking, suffering is beneficial if we know its redemptive purport, transformative aim, and transcendental objective.   Pain and sufferings instruct us so that we can be able to see a higher view of life. Suffering enables us to contemplate that God alone suffices for us, and that we need to submit ourselves to the Providence of God, in perfect trust, contentment, gratitude, forbearance and obedience. Furthermore, it is through the pain of confronting and resolving problems that we grow spiritually strong and psychologically mature in life—thus we learn to face life in its multi-dimensional challenges and tasks.  The truly wise people do not dread pain and suffering; they welcome them, learn from them, pour courage on them and find wisdom in them. Our experiences of suffering make us resolute, spiritually mature and holy; since the experience of pain and suffering prod us to place our reliance solely on the Benevolent God Who allows us to experience difficulties for the good of our souls.

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 Muslim, 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’.

Iqbal’s Discourse on Fatalism

Iqbal ascribes the fatalistic element in Islam to the influence of Greek thought. Reaching back through a chain of cause and effect to a first cause in the classical tradition the Muslim philosophers tended to regard the ultimate First Cause as the only cause, and therefore denied the existence of intermediary secondary causes, thus making God the only author of whatever happened. Two other factors added to the growth of fatalism. One was political expediency seeking to justify political atrocities by attributing them to the decrees of God. The second was the diminishing force of the life-impulse of original Islam which produced apathy favourable to a fatalistic outlook. Leibniz had held that the natural changes of the monad come from an internal principle. Iqbal conceives of consciousness as unfolding its   "internal infinitude in time like the seed which from the very beginning carries within it the organic unity of the tree as a present fact." But although in one sense the future pre-exists in the present, Iqbal does not believe that life is moving towards a fixed destiny.

We have seen that Iqbal conceives of Creation as the continuous unfolding and fulfilment by God in time of the unlimited possibilities open for His realization, rather than, as orthodoxy has it, the making of a finished product outstretched in space, confronting God as His "other”, "is the ultimate equipment of man, since it is from character that all actions flow... "

 By doing nothing and just waiting expectantly for the manna to fall from heaven, one cannot hope to achieve the destiny which man strives, "for man is man and master of his fate."  (Zabfir-e, Ajan),   It is upto man to make himself a helpless prisoner of Fate or to rise up and carve his destiny. Should he make the effort, Iqbal believes, the way will open before his advancing steps. (Payam-e Mashriq)  If man does not find his environment congenial to himself, there is no reason why he should not- -in the words of 'Omar Khayyam—"shatter it to bits, and remould it nearer to the heart's desire."(Javid Nama)

 In Iqbal’s eyes, the creation of something new, even if it is sinful, is an accomplishment: (Payam-e Mashriq).  The sinner he depicts is proud of his deed and does not wish to be relieved of its responsibility:  If a man or a nation does not strive, then it is not worthy of a glorious future. To such a man or such a nation Iqbal extends neither hope nor sympathy. (Zarb-e-Kalim)  Iqbal constantly refers to the Quednic verse, "Verily God will not change the condition of men, till they change what is in themselves" (Q13:12). If Man "does not take the initiative, if he does not evolve the inner richness of his being, if he ceases to feel the inward push of advancing life, then the spirit within him hardens into stone and he is reduced to the level of dead matter." 1But if he does transform himself, God will ask him to choose his own destiny.  Or man can petition God for a new destiny if he be not satisfied with his present one: (Javed Nama).  In "Jawab-e-Shikwa" God promises that if Man be indeed faithful, then his destiny is whatever he desires it to be: (Bang-e Dara) 

One important question arises from Iqbal's view of freedom of the will and destiny: how is man's freedom of choice compatible with the idea of submission to God's will which plays such an important part in Islamic belief? For Iqbal, to submit to the will of God, to say "They Will be done," is not to contradict or curtail our own freedom, it is our own action and full expression, of our true selves in freedom. In a poem entitled "Taslim-o Raza," he explains the meaning of submission (Zarb e Kalim). Resignation to God's will, Tawakkul, is not mere acceptance of that which is inevitable. Tawakkul is born not out of an awareness of one's helplessness, but is the result of Iman, the vital way of making the world our own. 

The man of God whose will is perfectly attuned to the Will of God, becomes the maker of history and destiny: (Bang-e Dara) With his hand he can work miracles, for Iqbal believes that "man is really free only in God, the source of his freedom," and can see the source of divine law within the depths of his being, he is troubled by doubt.

It is a dynamic conception of time which operates organically that gives the real sense of time – time as a whole and continuous process which never lasted in particular period –it actually ‘lives’ in past, present and future, and this is why Qadar or in Iqbal’s usage, Taqdeer, could not be regarded as a fix and unchangeable matter. It is in fact a continuous process. As Iqbal explains:

“Time regarded as destiny forms the very essence of things. As the Qur’an says ‘God created all things and assigned to each its destiny’. The destiny of a thing then is not an unrelenting fate working from without like a task master; it is the inward reach of a thing, its realizable possibilities which lie within the depth of its nature, and serially actualize themselves without any feeling of external compulsion. Thus the organic wholeness of duration does not mean that full-fledged events are lying, as it were, in the womb of Reality, and drop one by one like the grains of sand from the hour-glass. If time is real, and not a mere repetition of homogeneous moments which make conscious experience a delusion, then every moment in the life of Reality is original, giving birth to what is absolutely novel and unforeseeable. ‘Every day doth some new work employ Him’, says the Qur’an. To exist in real time is not to be bound by the fetters of serial time, but to create it from moment to moment and to be absolutely free and original in creation “

This dynamic concept of time also denotes the dynamic concept and application of Qadar. It shows man open possibilities and opportunities in effecting his life in the future. However, this open possibilities and opportunities will never benefit man unless he has purpose in life. For Iqbal, life, though not teleological in the sense of being implemented according to a preconceived plan, is purposive activities. The concept of self too implies purposiveness. In this regard, Iqbal further explains that: 

“Life is only a series of acts of attention, and an act of attention is inexplicable without reference to a purpose, conscious or unconscious. Even our acts of perception are determined by our immediate interests and purposes. Thus ends and purposes, whether they exist as conscious or subconscious tendencies, form the warp and woof of conscious experience. And the notion of purpose cannot be understood except in reference to the future. The past, no doubt, abides and operates in the present; but this operation of the past in the present is not the whole of consciousness. The element of purpose discloses a kind of forward look in consciousness. Purposes colour not only our present states of consciousness, but also reveal its future direction. In fact, they constitute the forward push of our life, and thus in a way anticipate and influence the states that are yet to be. To be determined by an end is to be determined by what ought to be. Thus past and future both operate in the present state of consciousness.”

The Qur’anic View on Predestination

As for the Qur’an, it is a closed book, a book which, being divinely inspired, has to be difficult and will not disclose the depths of its meaning to the superficial reader; rather, it has to be meditated upon and, as the mystics of yore used to say, has to be understood as if man were listening to God’s own words, addressed to him at this very moment. This does not mean simply an intellectual understanding, but an ‘understanding with one’s whole being’. The divine threats and promises contained in the Qur’an are symbols for the equilibrium that exists in the entire universe, as all great religions have taught; this is a kind of ‘Golden Rule’ which is at work throughout the created cosmos, because in God the One and Absolute both Jamal - kindness, beauty, relief - and Jalal - power, majesty, wrath – are present. They manifest themselves in the twofold rhythm of life, be it the heartbeat or breathing, the two poles in electricity, or simply the contrast of day and night. And yet, as the Islamic tradition states, God’s mercy is greater than His wrath.

Two verses are particularly relevant in the context of the concept of predestination in Islam

        “God calls in the souls at the time of their death, and those which have not died, in their sleep; those upon whom he has decreed (Qadā) death, he retains, the others he sends back until a stated term ...”( Q39:43)

        “That it is he who makes laugh and weep, and that it is he who kills and makes alive, and that it is he who has created pairs, male and female, from a clot when it is emitted, and that for him is the next production, and that he enriches and gives possession”. (Q53: 44-49)

        “Thou givest the kingdom to whomsoever thou pleasest, and strippest the kingdom from whomsoever thou pleasest, thou honourest whom thou pleasest, and thou basest whom thou pleasest; in thy hand is good. Verily thou art mighty over all.”(Q3:25)

If these passages give the impression of the same arbitrariness as is found in fatalism, this is counterbalanced by the fact that the context speaks of the Creator’s providence and omnipotence. The point is rather omnipotence than arbitrariness.

Thus man's destiny is in God's hands, and there is no place for an impersonal Fate. It is impossible to deal here in detail with the somewhat contradictory statements concerning predestination for belief or unbelief—as a matter of fact the Qur’an both teaches strict predestination and appeals to man’s free choice—but this should probably not be classified as fatalism but rather as religious determinism, where the point is God's omnipotence, not predestination itself.

 There is an array of verses that give us insight into the philosophy and doctrine of predestination.

        “And say: ‘The truth is from your Lord’. Then whosoever wills, let him believe; and whosoever wills, let him disbelieve.” (Q18:29)

        “Verily, We showed him the way, whether he be grateful or ungrateful.” (Q76:3)

        “So whosoever does good equal to the weight of an atom (or a small ant) shall see it.

        And whosoever does evil equal to the weight of an atom (or a small ant) shall see it.” (Q99:7, 8)

        “And it will be cried out to them: ‘This is the Paradise which you have inherited for what you used to do’.’” (Q7:43)

        “So taste you the abiding torment for what you used to do.” (Q32:14)

There is a good summary of the attitude of Islamic fatalism in the following words in the story of Khalifah the fisherman: "I seek refuge with God the great, beside which there is no deity, the everlasting. I turn unto him, for there is no strength nor power but in God, the high, the great. What God wills comes to pass, and what he wills not does not come to pass. Subsistence is to be bestowed by God, and when God bestows upon a servant, no one prevents him, and when he prevents a servant, no one bestows upon him ". (The Thousand and One Nights, transl. by E. W. Lane, new ed. by A. S. Poole, London 1889, III  p. 485.)

Here the religious aspect of belief in the great and good God is combined with the fatalistic aspect of God's unalterable decree. Finally, an interesting observation can be made in the Shāhnāmah of Firdausi, the national epic of the Persians. Here we find a great number of instances where 'destiny' plays the role of retributive power rewarding virtue and punishing evil. In this case we might, of course, think of an "order" or a kind of justice inherent in the nature of the world, but in the context it seems clear that Destiny is here simply a manifestation of God's justice. (Ringgren, Fatalism in Persian epics, Uppsala 1952, pp. 17 f.61 ff)

It is pertinent to quote here the great Indo-Muslim poet-philosopher Mohammad Iqbal, who in one of his last poems tells a praying person that even though his prayer might not change his destiny, yet it can change his spiritual attitude 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. “

 Moin Qazi is a well known banker, author and Islamic researcher. He holds doctorates in Economics and English. He is author of several books on Islam including bestselling biographies of Prophet Muhammad and Caliph Umar. He writes regularly for several international publications including Daily Sabah (Turkey) Moroccan Times, Chicago Monitor, Sudan Vision and Times of Malta. He was also a Visiting Fellow at the University of Manchester. He is based in Nagpur.

URL: http://www.newageislam.com/islamic-ideology/moin-qazi,-new-age-islam/islamic-fatalism--lifting-the-shroud/d/104945


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