1. Essentiality of the belief in destiny
The sixth pillar of faith is to believe in destiny, that the good of it and the bad of it is all from Allah. Allah, the Exalted, is the creator, Lord and sustainer of everything in existence. Neither good nor evil comes into being without His leave and knowledge. We do not say, as some religions do, that Allah is Lord of good, but Satan is in charge of the evil.
[We return shortly to the problem of how to reconcile the existence of evil with omnipotence of God.]
(NOTE: Qadar is sometimes translated as ‘destiny,’ and I am using this translation in this article, for easier reading, with the disclaimer that some people’s conceptions of destiny might not be compatible with the correct belief in qadar.)
“Say : Praise be to Allah Who has not taken a son, nor has He any partner in sovereignty.” [(17) Al-Isra, 111]
“Glory be to He in Whose Hand is sovereignty, and He has power over all things.” [(67) Al-Mulk, 1]
Belief in destiny is a necessary consequence of belief in Allah, for it follows directly from the belief that Allah’s knowledge is perfect and unchanging. The well-known Gabriel hadith, which describes Islam, Iman and Ihsan, states explicitly that belief in destiny (al-qadar) is a part of faith. Similarly, the Qur’anic texts are quite unambiguous over this concept, and hence one who denies the essence of Qadar (‘Destiny’) falls outside the pale of Islam. This is in controversion to and in spite of the fact that disbelievers will often use destiny as a pretext to not believe. This argument is not by any means a new one; it is a ploy which was used by the stubborn rejectors of yore, and has merely been been perpetuated by their contemporary successors. Allah mentions such people in the Qur’an, “The pagans will say, ‘If Allah had willed, we would not have worshipped anything besides Him, nor would our fathers, nor would we have forbidden [to ourselves] anything.’ Thus did those before them give lie to the truth until they tasted Our might. Say : Do you have any knowledge [that Allah actually approves of your conduct], so that you might bring it forth for us? You follow only conjecture, and you are only lying. Say : For Allah’s is the decisive argument, for had He willed, He would have guided you all.” [(6) Al-An`am, 148-149]
So, some pagans claimed that since Allah had allowed them to commit disbelief and practice polytheism, He must approve it, and thus they attempted to shield their misdeeds behind Destiny. Others may claim that there is no sense in their believing and doing good if Allah already knows their outcomes. These and similar arguments are, as we shall see, baseless and false, and therefore rejectors cannot take refuge behind them.
Imam Ahmad has narrated that the pagans came to the Prophet (sallallahu `alayhi-wa-sallam, disputing with him over Destiny. Thereupon, Allah revealed some verses of Surah al-Qamar as a descisive rebuttal to them: “Indeed, the guilty ones are in error and frenzy. The day when they shall be dragged into the Fire on their faces, [it will said to them] ‘Taste the touch of Saqar [i.e. Hell]’. Indeed, We have created everything according to a Decree (qadar).” [(54) Al-Qamar, 47-49]
So, it is as if He is telling them : You disbelievers should be warned of a horrific punishment in the hereafter, and although you argue over Destiny, I have indeed created everything according to a measure and proportion, and in accordance with My pre-eternal knowledge. So, rather than persisting upon barren disputation, you should accept the reality and prepare for it.
This incident establishes clearly the essentiality of belief in Destiny. It also contains a valuable lesson for us related to conveying the message of Islam, and that is that we cannot compromize on the fundamentals of Islam merely to please people or to try to increase the number of Muslims. Some people in the past succumbed to this pressure, and introduced numerous polytheistic rites and beliefs into their religion, which played a significant role in the distortion of the pure message that was preached by Jesus (peace be upon him).
“Say : the truth is from your Lord, so let whoever wishes believe, and let whoever wishes disbelieve.” [(18) Al-Kahf, 29]
The truth is whatever corresponds to reality, and it is not our right to modify it to suit people’s desires. Of course, this is not to say that we be blunt and short when presenting Islam; we should always attempt to present the truth with wisdom and insight, so as to facilitate the understanding of the listener.
The early Muslims did not compromize on this belief when, early in Islam, a sect emerged that denied qadar.
Al-Waleed ibn `Ubadah entered upon his father, `Ubadah while the latter was on his death-bed, and asked him for advice. `Ubadah said, “Help me to sit up.” They did so, and then he said, “My son! You will never taste faith, nor reach the true reality of knowing Allah, until you believe in Destiny, the good of it and the bad of it.” His son said, “O father! How am I to know what is the good of Destiny and [what is] the evil of it?” He said, “You should know that whatever missed you could never have befallen you, and whatever befell you could never have missed you . . . . O son! If you died without being [certain] on this, you would enter the Fire.” [Narrated by Ahmad]
2. Belief in Qadar
It is convenient to discuss the belief in qadar under four aspects or dimensions:
“Indeed, Allah knows all things.” [(8) Al-Anfal, 75]
“He knows what is ahead of them and what is behind them, and they do not encompass any of His knowledge, except what He wills.” [(2) Al-Baqarah, 255]
We have already established that Allah knows all, be it past, present or future. Therefore, Allah has always known everything that was ever going to happen, including the measures of our sustenance and lifespans, and our deeds. It may be helpful to realize that Allah is transcendent above time, and He is thus not constrained by time. In this sense, ‘past,’ ‘present’ and ‘future’ do not apply to Allah as they do to us. Furthermore, fore-knowledge of a person’s deed does not imply that the person is under compulsion; rather Allah knows what choice he/she will make, without forcing them to do so.
The Prophet (sallallahu `alayhi wa-sallam) said, “There is not any one of you whose places in Hell and Heaven have not been written.” The Companions asked, “O Messenger of Allah! Shall we then not rely [on this]?” He said, “Act, and each shall be eased [to that to which he was created].” Then, he recited the verses meaning, “So, whoever gives [in charity] and is pious, and affirms the Good [i.e. Islam], We shall ease him to ease. And, whoever is miserly and considers himself free of need, and denies the Good, We shall ease him to adversity.” [(92) Al-Layl, 5-10]
So, although Allah already knows who is going to Heaven and who is going to Hell, e does not compel us to act the way we do. What we do is based on our own choice and free-will granted to us by Allah, but He already knows what choices we will make. Nor is Allah’s guidance and leading astray arbitrary. He guides those who are sincere and honest and who seek guidance.
“And those who strive for Us – We will surely guide them to Our ways.” [(29) Al-`Ankabut, 69]
And He leaves to stray those who consciously and stubbornly reject the truth. “And they say, ‘Our hearts are in a covering from that to which you call us, and in our ears is a deafness, and between us and you is a barrier, so act [in your way], we [also] are acting [in our way].” [(41) Fussilat, 4]
It is about such people that Allah tells us that “If Allah had known of [any] good in them, He would have made them hear, but even if He had made them hear, they would have turned away, averse.” [(8) Al-Anfal, 23]
Thus, everything that occurs (including human deeds) does so by the will of Allah (but not necessarily His approval) and within His pre-eternal knowledge. Mankind acts within this destiny by his own free will. We should not try to ponder excessively over the issue of Destiny, for its precise reality is not accessible to our minds. A man once asked Imam Hasan al-Basri (a famous scholar of the Tabi`in), “Has Allah forced servants to do their deeds?” Hasan replied, “He is more just than that!” “Did He leave things up to them [entirely] then?” the man asked. Hasan said, “He is mightier than that! If He had forced them, He would not punish them, but if He had left things up to them, the order [to obey] would have had no meaning. In fact, the truth is somewhere between the two, and Allah has kept it hidden, so you cannot understand it.”
This is a crucial point to keep in mind : that we are incapable of grasping the full reality of Destiny. It has been kept hidden from even the most pious Muslims, the Prophets and the angels. This concept should not be difficult to accept, for even in thermodynamics and computer science, there are problems which are proven to have no solution. Hence, we should beware of advancing personal conjectures or becoming pre-occupied with this issue, for that is a fruitless pursuit. In fact, one who treads that path deprives himself of the benefits of other, more productive endeavors, such as doing good deeds or using his mind to solve practical problems. He is at his own peril, and, moreover, runs the additional risk of uttering lies against Allah, in an attempt to try to master the reality of Destiny. Eventually, his frustration may even lead him to protest Allah’s decree, saying, “Why did Allah decree such and such?” and to challenge Allah’s decree is disbelief. Allah is not answerable to anyone; rather we are answerable to Allah.
“[Allah] .may not be questioned regarding that which He does, but they will be questioned [about their deeds].” [(21) Al-Anbiya’, 23]
Secondly, we believe that before bringing creation into existence, Allah wrote on a tablet all things that were to come. The Prophet (sallallahu `alayhi wa-sallam) said, “Allah wrote the measures of creation 50,000 years before the creation of the heavens and earth.” [Muslim] According to another hadith narrated by Imam Ahmad, the first thing that Allah created was the Pen, and He ordered it to write everything that would occur until the Day of Judgement. This information is thus inscribed in what is called, ‘The Preserved Tablet’ (Al-LawH al-MaHfooz). “And all things have We recorded in a clear record.” [(36) Ya-Seen, 12] “Nay, it is a glorious Qur’an. in a preserved tablet.” [(85) Al-Burooj, 21-22] This tablet is also referred to in the hadith narrated by Bukhari and Muslim, “When Allah created creation, He wrote a book, which is with Him above the Throne, (it says), ‘My mercy overcomes My wrath.'”
Anything that occurs does so by the will of Allah. There is none who can thwart His will. However, Allah’s will is not necessarily synonymous with His pleasure. The Prophet (sallallahu `alayhi wa-sallam) used to teach his Household and Companions, that
“Whatever Allah wills is, and whatever He has not willed is not.” [Narrated by Bayhaqi]
So, if something occurs, we know then that Allah willed it, while we know also that anything that did not occur was not willed by Allah to occur. This does not by any means imply that Allah is pleased by all that occurs. Although He wills and allows many different things to occur, He is pleased by some of them and displeased by others. This is the point which the pagans neglected when they claimed, as we have referred to before, “If [Allah] the Most Gracious had willed, we would not have worshipped them [(other gods)].” [(43) Al-Zukhruf, 20] So, for example, Allah is pleased by Islam and good deeds done sincerely, but He is displeased with disbelief and sin.
“Allah is the Creator of all things.” [Qur’an, 39:62]
Allah is the creator of everything, both material and non-material, both celestial and earthly, both good and bad. This is part of the proper belief in tawheed (monotheism). Neither Satan, nor any other being, has the power to create anything in the absolute sense (of bringing it into existence from nothingness). However, we should not single out the bad and attribute it to Allah, as a matter of respect and etiquette.
2.4.1 The Existence of Evil
Good and evil are both from Allah (Q[9:51, 4:78-79, 113:2, 72:10]). We can understand the existence of evil and suffering in this world from various angles:
Evil is not approved by Allah, and does not lead to Allah. Sins are the sinner’s responsibility.
Things we see as ‘bad’ or ‘harmful’ may contain wisdom on the larger scale (e.g. harmful creatures)
Sometimes, an evil situation may contain blessings alongside the harm (e.g. a corrupt ruler is better than anarchy)
Suffering in this world may serve as a reminder of the punishment of the Hereafter (Q[56:72-3])
Some types of suffering are important and effective ways for us to grow: whether physically, psychologically, or spiritually. If the butterfly does not struggle to come out of its coccoon, its wings do not develop enough strength for it to subsequently be able to fly.
Becoming aware of the suffering of others allows us to:
be more grateful for our own blessings. We would not truly appreciate blessings if we had no experience of their absence.
Voluntarily help to alleviate and heal the suffering of others (through philanthropic acts)
This world is the place of testing, and hence:
misfortunes may be a test, and entail some blessings or forgiveness if borne patiently
misfortunes may be brought about by the person’s own actions
if people were not able to commit evil, the true sense of testing would not be realized. Much of the suffering in this world is the consequence of human action.
“Corruption (or disarray) has appeared throughout the land and sea by [reason of] what the hands of people have earned” [30:41]
2.4.2 Creation of Deeds
Since Allah is the Creator of all things, therefore our deeds, too, are ultimately created by Allah
“Allah creates you and what you do.” [(37), Al-Saaffaat, 97]
We merely earn the deeds, and this can perhaps be understood as follows: whenever we make the intention and effort (using the free-will with which Allah has endowed us) to do something, Allah will usually create the deed for us at that time. However, the responsibility for the deed is ours, since we chose to do it. If we try our utmost to do something, but the deed is not created for us, then the reward or sin we get is the same as if we had actually done the deed. This is why, when Madinah was threatened by an invader in the time of the Prophet, those men who were prevented from joining the Muslim army by genuine, serious illness or disability got a comparable spiritual reward to the soldiers who did go out. Similarly, Hell is deserved by a Muslim who is killed by another Muslim while the two are engaged in unjustified mortal combat.
There is no strength to maintain piety and uprightness without the assistance and grace of Allah, nor is there any power to keep away from evil and sin other than that granted by Allah. The most one human being can do for another’s guidance is to present the truth to him and remind him, and to pray to Allah for the other’s guidance.
3. Heretic Sects
The Qadariyyah denied Destiny. In their pre-occupation with trying to reduce the issue to full comprehension, they claimed that Allah does not know the future before it occurs, and they thereby became disbelievers. They also claimed that Allah does not will evil, thus implying that He is not the creator of all. The Companions and Tabi`in who were alive at the time of emergence of the Qadariyyah were, justifiedly, very firm in their stance against them, in the interests of proteccting the boundaries of faith. They used to warn people not greet the Qadariyyah with salam, not to visit their ill nor to pray over their dead. Of course, this attitude does not rule out praying for the guidance of people involved in heresy, nor for someone strong in spirit and knowledge to try to reason with them to help them come back to the truth.
The Jabriyyah went to the other extreme – fatalism. They claimed that human beings are under compulsion and have no free will. This is also disbelief, and such people are in fact even denying their own experienced reality of free will; we know and experience a difference between voluntary acts (such as choosing to drink tea at a particular time) and involuntary acts (such as shivering). The Jabriyyah’s stance is reminiscent of the disbelievers’ argument that it is Allah’s will that they disbelieve, and that therefore they will let it be. If such people are sincere in their claim, they should abandon making effort for their worldly needs just as they ignore their Hereafter.