Fate or Free Will, Nature or Nurture
Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi
In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.
All praise and thanks are due to Allah, and peace and blessings be upon His Messenger.
Dear brother in Islam, we commend your keenness on getting your self well-acquainted with Islam and its teachings, which is the way Allah has chosen for the welfare of His servants.
Responding to the question you raised, Dr. Muzammil H. Siddiqi, former President of the Islamic Society of North America, states:
“We do not use the word “fate” in Islam. The word “fate” means “the power that determines the outcome of events before they occur”. Some people believe in fate as an independent and invisible power that controls their destinies. Such people are called “fatalists”. A Muslim is not a fatalist person. Muslims believe in Allah and only Allah has the power to predetermine anything. Allah is “al-Qadir” (the All Powerful or Omnipotent) and “al-`Alim” (the All Knower, Omniscient). Since Allah has power over every thing, He must know everything. He must know things before they happen, because if He knew things only after they happened, He would not have full power over them. Allah not only knows everything, but He also decides and determines everything in His universe. Whatever happens in this world happens according to Allah’s decision and plan. In Islamic terminology this principle is known as “al-qada’ wa al-qadar”(the decision and determination of Allah). It is a very important principle of iman (faith).
Does this mean that we human beings have no freedom? It seems that way apparently to some people. One Western scholar put the problem very interestingly in the following words: “If God knows everything He must know the future, and if He knows the future, He must know the future acts of His creatures. But then His creatures must act, as He knows they will act. How then can they be free?” There are many people who became confused by looking at the problem in this way. There were also some Muslim thinkers who believed that human beings had no freedom. They were called “Jabriyyah”. The majority of Muslim scholars did not accept this position, they strongly criticized and condemned this position and considered it against the teachings of the Qur’an and authentic Sunnah. The mainstream Muslim position is that Allah has the knowledge of all things and He has the power over all things. Allah, however, has also granted freedom to human beings. Allah’s power and foreknowledge do not mean that human beings have no freedom, nor does Human freedom negate Allah’s power and foreknowledge. Human beings are free only as much as Allah has granted them the freedom. However, in spite of our human freedom we are still under the control of Allah and within His knowledge. Allah will judge us according to the freedom and responsibility that He gave us. He knows very well how much freedom we have and to what extent we are able to exercise our freedom, each one of us in our own circumstances. It is for this reason that we say that only Allah is the True and Final Judge. In the Qur’an He is called “Ahkam al-hakimin” (the best of all the judges, Hud, 11:45; at-Tin, 95:8).
When we carefully examine our own selves and the world around us, we see two things very clearly. On the one hand we find ourselves overwhelmed by forces that are apparently beyond our decision and control, but on the other hand we do experience real freedom and we make our choices between various options.
In modern terminology people use the terms “nature” and “nurture”. The truth is that neither everything that we do is by nature, i.e. we are born with it; nor every thing is by nurture.
The truth is that we are free and we are determined both at the same time. Nature and nurture both work in our lives. Our freedom is limited, nevertheless it does exist and it is the deciding factor for our responsibility and consequently for the eternal reward or punishment.
In the Qur’an Allah has spoken about His control and power as well as human freedom and responsibility. Both aspects are very clearly mentioned in the Qur’an. The best way to understand and interpret the Qur’an is to keep both of these aspects in mind. We should not emphasize our freedom at the expense of Allah’s power and knowledge, nor should we speak about Allah’s power and knowledge by negating and denying our own freedom and responsibility. Mawlana Mawdudi – may Allah bless his soul – in his book Qada and Qadar (in Urdu) collected both types of verses from the Qur’an. Following a selection of these Qur’anic statements.
On Allah’s power and control, see the following verses:
“All power belongs to Allah” (al-Baqarah: 165) “Say, Allah is the Creator of all things, and He is the One the Mighty.” (ar-Ra`d: 16) “Allah has created you and all that you do.” (as-Saffat: 96) “No female conceives, nor does she bring forth a child save with His knowledge. And no one is granted long life, not is anything diminished of its life, but it is all recorded in a book...” (Fatir: 11) “No misfortune can happen on earth or in your souls but is recorded in a decree before We bring it into existence. That is truly easy for Allah. In order that you may not despair over matters that pass you by, not exult over favors bestowed upon you. For Allah loves not any vainglorious boaster…” (al-Hadid: 22-23). “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…” (ash-Shura: 12) “And say not of anything, ‘I shall do it tomorrow’, unless Allah wills...” (al-Kahf: 23-24) “If Allah touches you with affliction there is none to remove it but He; and if He touches you with happiness, then He has power to do all that He wills.” (al-An`am:17) “Whom Allah will, He lets go astray, and whom He wills, He places on the right path.” (al-An`am: 39) “Do you desire to guide him whom Allah has caused to perish? And for him whom Allah causes to perish you shall not find a way.” (an-Nisa’: 88) “If your Lord has enforced His will, surely, all those who are on the earth would have believed together. Will you then force people to become believers? And none can believe except by the permission of Allah…” (Yunus: 99-100)
But on the human freedom and responsibility read the following verses:
“Neither according to your desires, nor according to the desires of the People of the Book, whosoever will do evil will be requited accordingly and shall not find beside Allah any protector or helper. 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.” (an-Nisa’: 123-124) “This because Allah does never change a favor that He has conferred upon a people until they change their own condition...” (al-Anfal: 53) “Every person stands pledged for what he has earned.” (at-Tur: 21) “It is the truth from your Lord; wherefore let his who will, believe, and let him who will, disbelieve.” (al-Kahf: 29) “This is a reminder. So let him, who will, take a way unto his Lord.” (al-Muzzammil: 19) “And hasten towards forgiveness from your Lord...” (Al `Imran: 133) “O our people, respond to God’s summoner and believe in him…” (al-Ahqaf: 31) “Turn to your Lord and submit yourselves to Him...” (az-Zumar: 54) “Corruption has spread on land and sea because of what people’s hands have wrought.” (ar-Rum: 41) “Whatever misfortune befalls you is the consequence of what your own hands have wrought. And Allah forgives many of your sins.” (ash-Shura: 30) “Indeed Allah does not wrong the people at all; it is they wrong their own selves.” (Yunus: 44) “As for Thamud, We guided them, but they preferred blindness to guidance.” (Fussilat 41:17) “There is no compulsion in religion. Surely the right way has become distinct from error.” (al-Baqarah: 256)
The Qur’an has no contradictions. Allah’s power and knowledge and human freedom are not mutually exclusive. Whatever freedom we have is granted to us by Allah and we should use it to submit to Him freely and willingly. This is the honor that Allah has given us and for this honor angels were asked by Allah to bow in respect and honor of the progenitor of the human race Adam (may the peace of Allah be upon him).”
Excerpted, with slight modifications, from:
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