The topic of fate and destiny (al-qadā’ wa al-qadar) remained in the past a complicated engima for me, as I could not find a satisfactory and sufficient explanation, at which I feel assured. I remained perplexed, with two alternatives: between what I learned in the school of Ahl al-Sunnah, that man is determined (musayyar) in all of his acts, having no free will to do what he likes: "Everyone is facilitated to that for which he was created," and Allah — the Glorified — delegates to the embryo inside his mother’s belly two angels to inscribe his destiny, sustenance and deed, and whether he is to be miserable or happy;1 and between the dictations of my reason and conscience, of the justice of Allah, the Glorified and Exalted, and negation of His oppression toward His creatures, as how can it be imagined that He forces them to do certain acts, and then calls them to account for them, or to chastise them for a sin He determined upon them and compelled them to do.
So, I, like many of all other Muslim youths, was experiencing those thought contrarieties, in my belief that Allah, the Glorified, being the Omnipotent and the Compeller,
“Who will not be questioned as to that which He doeth, but they will be questioned (21:23),
He is the Doer of what He will (85:16).
He created the creatures, making the fate of some to be in heavens, and some others in fire, and then He is so beneficent and merciful toward His bondmen, "doing not injustice even to the weight of an ant" (4:40),
"And thy Lord is not at all a tyrant to His slaves (41:46),
"Verily, God doeth not any injustice to people, but men to their (own) selves do injustice." (10:44)
Beside all that, He is more compassionate to them than the mother to her child, as stated in the Prophetic hadith.2
I, most often, encounter such contradiction in comprehending the Qur’ānic verses, as I once understand that man against his own self shall be a witness, and he being alone to be answerable about his acts:
“Then he who hath done an atom-weight of good shall see it. And he who hath done an atom-weight of evil shall see it.” (99: 7,8)
And another time I conceive that man is compelled with no might or power, having no power to benefit nor power to hurt, nor sustenance for himself:
“And ye desire not save what God desireth.” (76:30),
“Verily God leaveth to stray whomsoever He willeth and guideth He Whomsoever He willeth” (35:8).
Certainly, it is not only me but most of the Muslims are experiencing such thought paradoxes. Therefore, when inquiring any shaykh or scholar about the issue of fate and destiny, they can never give a reply that be reasonable and acceptable to themselves before the others. So they say: It is a subject into which we should never indulge. Some of them may even forbid from indulging in it, saying: It is incumbent upon every Muslim to believe in the fate and destiny, its good and evil, and be confident of its being willed by Allah.
When being questioned by any obstinate: How can Allah compel His bondman to perpetrate a sin or crime, throwing him thereafter into the hell-fire? They will accuse him with infidelity and blasphemy and apostasy ... beside other futile charges. Consequently, minds turned inactive and petrified, with prevalence of the belief that everything is destined (by Allah): marriage and divorce, and even adultery is destined when some say: Upon every vulva destined is the name of its male copulater (nākih), and so also wine-drinking and self-murder, and even eating and drinking, that you should not eat or drink but only that which is destined by Allah for you!!
After introducing all these issues, I said to some of our ‘ulamā’: The Qur’ān refutes all such allegations, and the (Prophetic) hadith can never contradict the Quran! Concerning marriage, the Almighty Allah said:
"... then marry those who seem good to you," (4:3),
that indicating the freedom to choose. And regarding divorce he said:
"Divorce (shall be lawful) only twice then (you should) either keep her in fairness or send her away with kindness,” (2:229)
which being also through free will. About adultery He said:
“And approach ye not adultery, verily, it is a shameful act and an evil way (opening to many other evils).” (17:32),
which is also an evidence for free will (ikhtiyār). And regarding wine He said:
“The Satan only desireth to cause enmity and hatred in your midst through intoxicants and gambling and keep you away from remembering God and from prayer; will you then abstain (from them)?” (5:91)
And in respect of murder, Allah, the Exalted, said:
“... and kill ye not the soul which God hath forbidden save for justice...” (6:152),
and also said:
“And whosoever killeth a believer intentionally, his recompense shall be Hell, he shall abide therein and God’s wrath shall be on him and His curse and (there) is prepared for him a great torment.” (4:93)
which all indicate free will in killing.
And even in relation to eating and drinking, He has designated for us certain limits when saying:
“... and eat ye and drink ye and commit ye not excesses; Verily He (God) loveth not the extravagants.” (7:31)
that indicates free will too.
After all these explicit Qur’ānic evidences, how do you, my master, claim that everything is destined by Allah, and man is compelled in all of his acts??
He replied: Allah, the Glorified, is administering the universe alone. He mentioned as an evidence the verse:
"Say (O Apostle Muhammad!) “O’ God! Master of the kingdom, Thou givest the kingdom unto whomsoever Thou likest and takest away the Kingdom from whomsoever Thou likest! Thou exaltest whomsoever Thou likest and abasest whomsoever Thou likest; in Thine hands is all good, Verily Thou art over all things Mighty.” (3:25)
I said: No disagreement between us concerning the Will of Allah, the Glorified, and if Allah wills to do something, neither humans nor jinn, nor all other creatures can oppose or contradict His Will! But our disagreement relates to the deeds of the human beings, are they produced by them or determined by Allah??
He replied: “Unto you be your religion and unto me my religion,” closing thus the door of controversy. This, most often, being the argument (hujjah) of our ‘ulamā’. I recall that after two days, I returned to him saying: If you believe that it is Allah Who does everything, and the bondmen have no free will to do anything, so why don’t you hold the same belief concerning caliphate, and that Allah, the Glorified, creates whatever He will and chooses the best (of His bondmen)?
He said: Yes, I hold this view, as Allah, the Glorified, Himself has elected Abu Bakr, and after him ‘Umar, then ‘Uthmān, and then ‘Ali (as caliphs), and if He willed that ‘Ali be the first caliph, neither jinn nor mankind could be able to prevent this.
I said: Now you are trapped.
He said: How is that I am trapped?
I said: Either you believe that Allah has elected the Four Rightly-guided Caliphs, leaving to people then free to choose whomever they like. Or you should believe that Allah has never given free will to choose to people, but He Himself elects all the caliphs after the demise of the Messenger till the Doomsday?
He replied: I hold the second opinion, according to the verse: “Say (O Apostle Muhammad!) “O’ God! Master of the Kingdom, Thou givest the kingdom unto whomsoever Thou likest and takest away the kingdom from whomsoever Thou likest...”
I said: So (according to your belief), every deviation, corruption, and crime that occurred in Islam at the hands of the kings and emirs, all being from Allah (destined by Allah), as it is Him Who has made these people as rulers over the Muslims? He replied: “Yes, it is as you say, and so also concerning the righteous men. Then he recited: “And when intend We to destroy a town, (first) send We Our commandment to its people,” i.e We made them emirs.”
With astonishment I said: Do you mean that slaying of ‘Ali at the hand of Ibn Muljam and murdering of al-Husayn ibn ‘Ali being intended by Allah??
Triumphantly he said: Yes, of course. Haven’t you heard the Messenger’s addressing ‘Ali, by saying:
“The most wicked of the latters will smite you on this (referring to his head) till this (pointing at his beard) will be wet.”
So also in respect of our master al-Husayn, as the Messenger of Allah had pre-knowledge of murdering him in Karbala’ apprising Umm Salamah with it. He further was aware that with our master al-Hasan Allah will reclaim two great communities of Muslims, as everything is inscribed and destined in eternity and no escape is there for man. So it is you who are trapped not me.
I kept silent for a while, looking at him feeling so proud at this speech, thinking that he has defeated me through strong evidence. I was meditating how to convince him that God’s pre-knowledge of anything never indicating necessarily that He has destined it and compelled His bondmen to do it, as I was pre-aware of the fact that his mind would never comprehend such a theory.
I again asked him: So you hold that all the heads of state and kings, in the past and at present, who fight Islam and Muslims, have been appointed by Allah? He said: Yes, certainly.
I said: Do you mean that even the French colonialism over Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco being destined by Allah?
He said: Yea, and when the destined time was due, France went out from those countries.
I said: Glorified is Allah! But how were you previously defending the Ahl al-Sunnah’s belief that the Messenger of Allah (may God’s peace and benediction be upon him and his Progeny), died away and left the matter (successorship) to be determined through consultation (shurā) among Muslims, so as to elect whom they like?
He replied: Yes it is true, and I still hold the same belief, and will maintain this God-willing!
I said: How do you make concurrence then between the two beliefs: Allah’s election and people’s election by shurā?
He said: When the Muslims elected Abu Bakr, it necessarily means that Allah elected him!
I said: Has God revealed to them in the Saqifah to choose the caliph?
He said: I seek God’s forgiveness, no revelation (wahy) is there after Muhammad (his demise), as held by the Shi’ah! (The Shi’ah, as is known, never hold such a belief, but it is merely a charge ascribed to them by their foes).
I said: Let the Shi’ah and their superstitions alone, and convince us with what you have (of your own)! How came you to know that Allah has chosen Abu Bakr?
He said: If Allah intended other than this, neither the Muslims, nor all the worlds could ever contradict the will of Allah, the Exalted.
Only then I realized that such people never meditate nor ponder upon the Qur’ān, and according to their opinion no philosophical or scientific theory will be established with evidence.
This recalls to my mind another story, when I was wandering with a friend in a palmy garden, and as I was telling him about fate and destiny (al-qadā’ wa al-qadar), a ripe fruit fell on my head. I picked it from over the grass in order to eat it, so I put it in my mouth.
My friend wondered saying: You can never eat but only that which Allah has prescribed for you! This fruit fell down in your name. I said: Since you believe that it is destined for me, I shall never eat it ... and I threw it away.
He said: Glorified is Allah! If anything being not prescribed for you, Allah shall verily take it out, even after reaching your belly. I said: I shall eat it then. So I picked it up to prove to him that I have free will to eat or leave it. My friend kept on watching me till I chewed and swallowed it. Thereat he exclaimed: By God it is prescribed for you (meaning that Allah prescribed it for me). In this way, he defeated me, since it was impossible for me to take the fruit out of my abdomen.
Yes, this being the belief of Ahl al-Sunnah regarding the fate and destiny, or say my belief when I was Sunni.
It is natural to be, when holding such a belief perplexed in the midst of contrarieties, and it is natural too for us to remain in the state of inertia all the time, awaiting that Allah changes what is inside our hearts without trying to change what is in our hearts so as to deserve being changed by Allah. Besides we may try to evade the responsibility we shouldered, seeking to hold Allah responsible for everything. For instance, when you ask the adulterer, or the burglar, or even the wicked man who raped a minor girl, killing her after accomplishing his lust, about the reason that pushed him to do so, he will reply: Allah is conqueror .... my Lord has destined so! Glorified is such Lord Who commands man to bury his daughter (alive) questioning him afer that: For what sin she was slain? Glorified are You, this is verily but a tremendous slander!
Naturally we should be then subject of derision on the part of the Western ‘ulamā’, who may ridicule our weak-mindedness, or rather nickname us with some titles, like labelling our doctrine with the name “maktub al-’Arab” (i.e. the Arabs’ prescription), making it the factor for our ignorance and backwardness.
It is natural too for the researchers to know that the source of this belief being the Umayyad State runners who used to circulate that Allah, the Glorified, has granted them the Kingdom and made them rulers over people. So obeying and never rebelling against them being incumbent upon all people, since that who obeys them is obeying Allah, and that renegading them is rebellious against Allah who should be slain. The Islamic history contains many evidences, of which we refer to the following:
When ‘Uthmān ibn ‘Affān was asked to resign (from caliphate), he refused by saying: I never take off a shirt Allah clothed me with.3 So caliphate, in his opinion, being a garment Allah garbed him with, so no one is entitled to take it off of him but Allah the Glorified, i.e. by death.
Also Mu’āwiyah has once said: I have never fought you in order to fast and pay the zakāt (poor-due), but I actually fought you to be a ruler over you, and this being given me while you are averse to it. Thus he goes even farther than ‘Uthmān, since he accuses the Almighty Allah with helping him to slay the Muslims so as to be their commander, and Mu’āwiyah’s sermon in this regard is commonly known.4
Moreover, even in choosing his son Yazid, and appointing him as a governor over people against their will, Mu’āwiyah claimed that Allah made his son Yazid his successor, as a caliph over people. It was reported so by the historians, that he sent letters everywhere demanding swear of allegiance to Yazid, when Marwān ibn al-Hakam was his ruler over al-Madinah. So he wrote him a letter mentioning that allegiance to Yazid was decreed by Allah.5
Such was done also by the debauchee Ibn Ziyād, when Zayn al-’Abidin was brought to him fettered in chains, he inquired: Who is that? They replied: He is ‘Ali ibn al-Husayn! He said: Hasn’t Allah killed ‘Ali ibn al-Husayn? Zaynab (‘a) answered: Nevertheless, the enemies of Allah and His Messenger killed him.
Ibn Ziyād said to her: How did you view Allah’s making regarding your household?
She said: I never saw but good. These are people upon whom murder was prescribed, so they came forth toward their (destined) beds. And Allah will gather you with them, and you will be argued and disputed. At that day, you shall verily find out who is victorious, May your mother be bereaved of you, O Ibn Marjānah.6
In this way, this belief was spread abroad through the Umayyads and their stooges, coming into force among the Islamic Ummah, except the followers of Ahl al-Bayt (the Shi’ah).
As soon as I became acquainted with the Shi’ah ‘ulamā’,7 reading their books, I became aware of a new science called fate and destiny.
Al-’Imām ‘Ali (peace be upon him) has elucidated this, through the most express statement, when giving a reply to someone who asked him about fate and destiny (al-qadā’ wa al-qadar), saying:
“Woe to you. You take it as a final and unavoidable destiny (according to which we are bound to act). If it were so, there would have been no question of reward or chastisement and there would have been no sense in Allah’s promises or warnings. (On the other hand) Allah, the Glorified, has ordered His people to act by free will and has cautioned them and refrained them (from evil). He has placed easy obligations on them and has not put heavy obligations. He gives them much (reward) in return for little (action). He is disobeyed, not because He is overpowered. He is obeyed but not under force. He did not send down prophets just for fun. He did not send down the Book for the people without purpose. He did not create the skies, the earth and all that is in between them in vain. That is the imagination of those who disbelieve; then woe unto those who disbelieve — because of the fire.” (38:27).”8
What an express statement it is! I have never read a speech more rhetorical than this one, nor a proof better pointing to truth than it. Any Muslim is assured that his acts are (done) according to his free will and choice, as Allah, the Glorified, has given us His command but left for us the free will to choose (the acts), as said by the Imam (Amir al-Mu’minin): “Allah has ordered His people to act by free will.”
Besides, He — the Glorified — has prohibited and warned us against contradicting and disobeying Him. So his speech indicated that man being free to do whatever he wills, and can disobey Allah’s commandments, deserving in this case the chastisement (‘iqāb), according to al-’Imām’s saying: “and has cautioned them and refrained them (from evil).”
The point was more elucidated by al-’Imām ‘Ali (‘a) when he stated that: “He is disobeyed, not because He is overpowered”, meaning that if Allah intends to coerce and compel His people to do something, all of them will be unable to overpower Him (or contradict Him). That means that He has granted free will in cases of obedience and disobedience, as indicated clearly in the Holy verse:
“And say thou: “The truth is from your Lord; so let him who pleaseth believer”; and let him who pleaseth disbelieve ...” (18:29)
Then al-’Imām ‘Ali addresses the conscience of man, to reach the depth of his inner consciousness, giving the decisive proof that if man being compelled in all of his acts as believed by some, so sending down the prophets and scriptures would be but a sort of play and sport, from which Allah is far above. That is due to the fact that the role of the prophets (peace be upon them all) and sending down of scriptures being for the aim of reclaiming people, taking them out from darkness into light, giving them the cure that is beneficial for their psychological illnesses, and clarifying the ideal way of living in felicity. The Almighty Allah said:
“Lo! This Qur’ān guideth unto that which is straightest ...” (17:9)
Al-’Imām ‘Ali concludes his statement with saying that to believe in good, being the same as believing that “He createth the skies and earth and all that is between them in vain,” which being a disbelief whose holders are promised by Allah to be thrown in fire.
When examining the Shi’ah’s belief in fate and destiny, we find it quitely an opposite belief and a right opinion. As while a sect went to extremes by believing in determinism (jabr), another one extravagated through holding the belief in free will (tafwid). But Ahl al-Bayt Imams (peace be upon them) undertook the task of correcting and rectifying the concepts and beliefs held by these and those ones, through calling to believe in the dictum: “Neither determinism nor free will, but a state in between the two.”9
For this belief, al-’Imām Ja’far al-Sādiq cited a simplified example, easy to understand by all people in accordance to their thinking, when he replied to a questioner asking him: “What do you mean by saying: Neither determinism nor free will but a state in between the two”? He (‘a) answered him thus: “Your walking on earth is not like your falling down on it”, meaning that we walk on earth by our free will, but when we fall down on it, it is out of our will. Is there anyone among us like falling down that may cause fracture of some organs of our body, rendering us disabled?
Hence fate and destiny will be a state in the midst of two states, i.e a part being on our part and by our choice, and we do it according to our free will. And the second part being out of our will, and we submit to it, without being able to repel it. So we shall be called to account for the first one, while we shall not be called to account for the second part. Thus man, in this case and that will be authorized (mukhayyar) and compelled (musayyar) at the same time.
A. Free in the acts produced by him out of contemplation and meditation, as he goes through the stage of option and struggle between risk-taking or abstaining, concluding at either doing (the act) or abandoning (it). To this Allah, the Glorified referred when saying:
“By the soul as it is perfected. And inspired unto it (against) its vices and (about) its piety! Indeed succeedeth he who purifieth it! And indeed faileth he who polluted it!” (91:7-10)
So purifying and polluting the soul being the result of testing the conscience of every man, as success and failure being the inevitable and fair consequence for that test.
B. Being compelled (musayyar) in respect of the surrounding rules and movements of the universe, which all being subdued to Allah’s Will with all its parts, components, planets and particles. Man has no option to select his sex, of maleness or femaleness, or to choose his skin colour or his parents, to be brought up, for instance, by well-off parents not poor ones. Moreover he can never choose the length of his stature nor the shape of his body.
Man is verily subject to several compulsory factors, like inherited diseases for instance, beside numerous natural rules made for his advantage, with no need for any toil on his part. As man sleeps when feeling tired, gets up when being restful, eats when feeling hungry, drinks when feeling thirsty, laughs and be delighted when feeling happy, and weeps and frowns when feeling sad, while having inside his body factories that manufacture hormones, vivid cells, and transformative semens, building at the same time his body in a wonderful well-arranged equilibrium. Despite all these manifestations, man being ignorant not knowing that the Divine grace is encompassing him at every moment of his life, and rather even after his death! Allah, the Mighty and Glorious, says in this regard:
“What! Thinkest man that he will be left uncontrolled? Was he not a (mere) drop of sperm emitted? Then was he a clot of blood, then He created (him), and (He) made (him) proportioned. Then made He of him of two kinds, the male and the female. What! Is not He potent enough to give life (again) unto the dead?” (75:36-40)
True, glorified and praised Your Name, O our Lord, the Most High! You are the One Who created then fashioned (all things), planned and guided, and caused (creatures) to die and to live. Blessed and Exalted are You, and may wretchedness and separation inflict those who contradicted and turned away from You, never esteeming You with the estimation that that befits You.)
We conclude this discussion by a saying for Al-’Imām ‘Ali ibn Musā al-Ridā, the Eighth of Ahl al-Bayt Imams, who was known of having abundant knowledge during the reign of al-Ma’mun, though not reaching the age of fourteen, to the extent of being the most knowledgeable of his contemporaries.10)
A man asked him about the explanation of the hadith of his grandfather al-’Imām al-Sādiq: “Neither determinism nor free will but a state in between the two (extremes).” Al-’Imām al-Ridā replied:)
“Whoever claims that Allah does our acts (determines them), and then chastises us for them, has in fact believed in determinism (jabr). And whoever claims that Allah has left the affairs of creation and sustenance completely to (be undertaken by) His trustees (hujjaj) — i.e. the Imams —, has in fact believed in tafwid (authorization). Whoever believes in jabr is a disbeliever, and whoever believes in tafwid is a polytheist (mushrik). And concerning the phrase “a state in between the two”, it shows the way toward doing and undertaking whatever commanded by Allah, and abandoning what He forbade. That is, Allah the Glorified has given him power to do the evil act and abandon it, in the same way as He made him able to do the good and to abandon it, and as He ordered him to do this (act) and forbade him of doing that one.”)
By my life, it is verily a sufficient and convincing statement that to be conceived by all minds, and can be comprehended by all people: the educated and uneducated.)
The Messenger of Allah (S) disclosed the truth when saying in their regard:)
“Do not outstrip them, for then you shall perish, and do not fall short of them, for then you shall perish. Do not teach them for they are more knowledgeable than you.”11
The uncommon point in this topic lies in the fact that Ahl al-Sunnah, despite their belief in the inevitable fate and destiny, and that Allah — the Glorified — compels His bondmen to act according to His Will without giving them choice in anything, but when it comes to caliphate they hold that the Messenger of Allah (S) passed away leaving the matter (of caliphate) to be determined through consultation (shurā) among people, to elect someone for them.)
Whereas the Shi’ah hold exactly the opposite opinion, as though believing that man has option in his acts, and that Allah’s bondmen can do whatever they like (within the framework of the hadith:)
Neither determinism nor free will but a state in between the two), but when it comes to caliphate they hold that no one has any right of option!)
All this seems to be a contradiction from both sides: the Sunnah and Shi’ah at first blush, but this being untrue. As when the Sunnah hold that Allah, the Glorified, compels His bondmen in all of their acts, they in fact contradict the matter of fact, as they believe in Allah’s being the real owner of free will, but what He leaves for them being only imaginary option. Since Abu Bakr was elected, on the day
of Saqifah, by ‘Umar and then by some of the Companions, who being in fact executors of the order of Allah, Who has made them only a medium, according to this allegation.)
Whereas the Shi’ah, when holding that Allah, the Glorified, made His bondmen free in their acts, they never contradict their opinion that caliphate being determined according to the Will of Allah alone, as stated in the verse: “Thy Lord bringeth to pass what He willeth and chooseth. They have never any choice...” That is due to the fact that caliphate, exactly like prophethood, is not among the acts done by people, and can never be determined by them or their choice.
As Allah selects His apostle from among people, and delegates him (with a mission). The same is true regarding the successor of the Messenger, and people are free then either to obey the command of Allah or to disobey it, as actually happened during the lifetimes of the prophets throughout the course of ages. So (Allah’s) bondmen shall be free in accepting Allah’s choice, since the upright believer submits to what Allah has chosen and determined for him, while that who being ungrateful to the bounty of his Lord, rejects what Allah chose for him, rebelling against it. The Almighty Allah said:
“... then whoever followeth My guidance, he shall go not astray nor put to grief. And whoever turneth away from My monition, verily his shall be a life straitened, and We shall raise him up on the Day of Judgment, blind. He shall say: “O’ my Lord! Why hast Thou raised me blind, whereas indeed I was seeing (before)?” (God) will say: “Thus (is the recompense) for did come unto thee Our signs but thou didst ignore them; And even so art thou forsaken this day.” (20:123-126)
After that, when considering the opinion of Ahl al-Sunnah in respect of this issue in particular, you won’t blame anyone, as whatever occurred and occurring because of the caliphate, and all the blood that was shed and honours that were violated, altogether were from Allah (by His Will), as commented some of knowledge-claimants among them by Allah’s saying:
“... and had thy Lord pleased they would not have done it...” (6:112)
Whereas the belief of the Shi’ah being to hold responsible whoever caused the deviation and whoever disobeyed the command of Allah, each one according to the extent of his sin and that of everyone followed his heresy up to the Day of Resurrection, in accordance to the hadith: “Everyone of you being a guardian, and every one is responsible for his subjects.”)
Allah the Exalted said:
And stop them, for verily they must be questioned.” (37:24)