AND FREE WILL
The issue of destiny is a very complicated one,
which has been debated through the ages by philosophers and divines
alike. In almost every religion there is some reference to the
nature of destiny.
We can divide those who believe in destiny into two major categories.
Those with the commonly held blind belief in destiny portray
it as predetermination by God of everything big and small. This
view is popular with some cryptic sects of Sufis, who live a
life apart from the common people. They claim that man has no
control over anything. Everything is predetermined. As such all
that happens is the unfolding of the grand plan of destiny, known
only to God. This is a very problematic concept of the plan of
things and inevitably leads to the question of crime and punishment,
penalty and reward. If a man has no choice, then there should
be neither punishment nor reward for his actions.
The other view is that of free choice, with
destiny playing practically no role in whatever man decides and
During the discussion on destiny, another important
philosophical issue finds its way into the debate, adding further
complications, and that is the question of pre-cognition. What
does the pre-knowledge of God have to do with the things to come?
That is the question, the answer to which has been rather poorly
handled by both parties in the debate. We do not propose to enter
into a lengthy review of the comparative merits of the arguments
of the believers and unbelievers of destiny, but would only attempt
to portray the Islamic viewpoint.
Destiny has many categories, each playing a
distinct role in their respective spheres of operation, working
simultaneously. The laws of nature reign supreme, and none is
above the influence of them. This is the general plan of things
which can be referred to as the widest concept of destiny. Whoever
follows the laws of nature with a profound understanding of them,
will gain some advantage over others who do not. Such people
are always destined to benefit and to shape a better life for
themselves. But none of them is predestined to belong to any
specific grouping in relation to their being on the right or
wrong side of the laws of nature.
There was a time in the era just preceding the
Renaissance in Europe, when the Muslim world of the orient was
far more advanced in its understanding of the laws of nature.
The Muslims consequently were in a position to draw benefits
attendant upon this knowledge. When, later on, this unprejudiced
and open minded study of nature shifted to the West, it ushered
in a new day of light of knowledge for the West, while the East
began to plunge into a long, dark night of wishful thinking,
superstition and dreaming. This is destiny of course, but of
a different type. The only law which is predetermined in relation
to this destiny, is the unchangeable command that whoever studies
nature without prejudices, and permits himself to be led to wherever
the laws of nature would lead him, he would tread the path of
eternal progress. This is the general and all-pervasive category
of destiny which transcends everything, except the laws of destiny
relating to religion.
Before taking up the discussion of destiny in
application to religion, we should further explore some areas
of this universal destiny of the laws of nature; in their larger
global applications, they exhibit some features of predetermination,
but of a different type than commonly understood. In this sense
we are speaking of such seasonal or periodic changes in atmospheric
balances, which represent a very complicated eco-system in which
even distant events such as sun spots play a role. Similarly,
the meteoric invasion of planets bring about certain changes,
which are reflected upon the earth through corresponding variations
in weathers, climates etc. These larger influences, together
with periodic alterations in climates (which are caused by various
factors, many of which are as yet undetermined), sometimes bring
about subtle changes in the growth patterns of vegetative and
animal life on earth. Again there are factors responsible for
droughts or shifting of seasons from one part of the earth to
another. Ice-ages and global warming, in alternation, are but
some consequences of various cosmic influences. However, these
larger influences do not specifically effect an individual's
life on earth, but in the final analysis, as individuals are
all members of the Homo-Sapien family, they are effected to a
There is no evidence to indicate that each man's
life is pre- ordained, and that he has no choice or option in
choosing between good and bad, right and wrong. The Holy Quran
categorically rejects the concept of compulsion, and clearly
states that every human being is free to choose between good
Allah burdens not any soul
beyond its capacity. It shall have the reward it earns, and
it shall get the punishment it incurs. Surah Al-Baqarah
(Ch. 2: V.287)
However, in relation to religion, there are
some spheres of destiny which are predetermined and unchangeable.
They are referred to in the Holy Quran as the Sunnah of God.
One such Sunnah is the destiny that God's messengers will
always be victorious, whether they are accepted or not. If they
are rejected, it is the opponents whose designs are frustrated.
The prophets, their messages and mission must always prevail,
regardless of how powerful their enemies may be -- a few examples
in the living history of man are the confrontations between Moses
(as) and Pharoah, between Jesus (as) and his opponents, and between
Muhammad (sa) and his adversaries. The triumph of religion is
what remains as the legacy of past struggles between prophets
and their adversaries. Abraha (as) and his faith, and those who
uphold him and his message, predominate the world. Moses (as)
and those who revere him, Jesus (as) and his message, and the
Prophet Muhammad (sa) and what he stood for, almost dominate
the entire world. But none is found today who uphold the cause
and values of their opponents. This destiny does not come into
play in other confrontations between men and men. The general
rule there is that the strong will annihilate the weak. In religious
destiny, it is the converse which becomes an inviolable principle.
Although the laws of nature run a smooth course,
and one does not normally find exceptions to the general rules,
but according to the plan of things inferred from various verses
of the Quran, the laws of nature known to us belong to many categories
and spheres. They do not clash with each other within their spheres,
but when they stand at cross-purpose with other laws, the laws
which possess greater force always prevail over the weaker ones.
Even a law of the widest and farthest influence can be defeated
within a small sphere by a more powerful one operating against
it. Thermodynamic and electromagnetic laws in opposition to the
laws of gravitation can win in limited areas of influence. However,
the gravitational law is much wider in its influence, and more
far-reaching. As man's understanding of nature develops from
age to age, things which would have been rejected as impossible,
are becoming conceivable and matters of commonplace observation.
In view of this introduction, according to Islam,
if God decides to favour a special servant of His with a special
manifestation of some hidden laws, such manifestations are regarded
by the onlookers as miracles and supernatural events. But these
things happen in accordance with the laws of nature, which are
subtly controlled to bring about an amazing effect. Here, destiny
plays a specific role in the life of a special servant of God.
Similarly, destiny can also be understood in
relation to the genetic, social, economic or educational background
of the individual, who seems to be a helpless product of circumstances.
This helplessness of the individual makes his destiny, over which
he has no control. Thus it is said that a rich man's child is
born with a silver spoon in his mouth.
The circumstances in which a person is born,
the society in which he is grown, the day-to-day game of chance
which plays a role in everybody's life, the strikes of so-called
luck in favour or against one, the accidents which one may escape
or fall prey to, are all such areas where the individual has
very little choice. Yet it may not be assumed that he was particularly
targeted for such events or accidents which play an important
role in the making or unmaking of his life.
Individuals who are born in homes riddled with
poverty are far more likely to fall prey to petty or even serious
crimes. Poverty is the most compulsive force of all factors which
create and promote crime. If this is understood to be destiny,
then it will cast a grave reflection on the Creator. So, first
of all it should be clearly understood that destiny is only part
of a grand scheme of things which does not issue particular edicts
against people in particular families. In a larger economic plan,
there are bound to be more fortunate and less fortunate people
with relative advantages and disadvantages. It is wrong to say
that they were individually stamped by a maker of destiny, even
before their births, to be born under certain specific circumstances.
Yet there are other questions to be answered. How would they
be treated in relation to the crimes committed by them, as against
those who are born in comparatively healthier circumstances,
and who have very few, if any, background factors to egg them
onto crime? If the crime is the same, shall they be treated alike?
The Holy Quran answers this intricate question in the following
This means that background factors, social and
other, that surround a person, will certainly be taken into account,
and he will be judged accordingly. In the sight of Allah, it
is not just the crime itself which is mechanically punished,
but all factors which go into the making of the crime are also
brought into consideration, with the ultimate result that justice
will be done. The fortunate and the unfortunate will not be judged
with equal severity, and most certainly, license will be given
to the environment and the background of a person who commits
crime. Likewise, acts of goodness will be rewarded far more in
the case of a man whose circumstances are likely to discourage
him from doing good, than a man whose environment is one in which
acts of goodness are taken for granted.
Thus the issue of destiny is highly complicated,
but as the ultimate decision lies in the hands of the All-Knowing,
All- Beneficent, All-Powerful and All-Wise God, in the final
analysis, the dictates of justice will indeed prevail.
There are certain areas in which man is free
to exercise his will, where he can choose between good or bad,
right or wrong, and for which he will be held responsible. On
the other hand, there are areas in which man has little choice
of his own, and appears to be a pawn in the hand of the mover.
The general plan of things in nature, which covers and controls
the destinies of nations and peoples, is one such area. The circumstances
of a wider application make an individual of society completely
helpless; he has no choice but to move along like a straw being
carried by the waves of a river in spate.
The subject of destiny is a very complicated
and vast one, and requires a separate and fuller treatment. So,
with these few hints, we would like to bring this discussion
to an end.