Although it has never been mentioned in the Qur-aan at any place where articles of faith have been mentioned, traditional teaching of Islam includes “Qadr” or “Taqdeer” (predetermination) as another article of faith.
The traditional teaching requires a Muslim to believe that Qadr, good or bad, is from Allaah (1), which is often grossly misunderstood by many people. Generally, this concept of Qadr is confused with Judaeo-Christian concept of predestination according to which people assume that everything good or bad a person does in life is predestined by Allah SWT. Such a concept of Qadr gives rise to the questions such as the following: Are human beings, individuals and/or nations, free to do whatever they want? Can they achieve whatever they work for? Or is there luck that determines the outcome people face? Are the people predestined to walk a course or to reach a predestined level of success, status, riches or knowledge? If people are predestined, how does that justify reward or punishment? If people are free, what is Qadr then? What kind of role does chance play in a person’s life? Is each of these concepts mutually exclusive or is there a combination of some or all of them at work in this world? How does Allaah’s knowledge, will or approval relate to the concept of Qadr? And so on and so forth.
1 “Walqadri kharihee wa sharrihee min-Allaahi.”
This is an extremely difficult topic and the believers are discouraged to spend too much time on discussing its intricacies. On the other hand, it is a topic that confuses people the most. Hence, we will try to present the essence of Islamic views in a common sense manner answering the questions that bother many people while refraining from going into intricate philosophical discussions.
A point that may be helpful to remember is that understanding Taqdeer is in reality a matter of properly understanding the attributes of Allaah SWT regarding His power, authority and knowledge as well as Allaah’s plan for human life in this world and holding them accountable on the Day of Judgment. Once these matters are properly understood, the matter of Taqdeer becomes easier to understand. It being a corollary of the clear understanding of attributes of Allaah and His plan for people, it has not been mentioned separately in the Qur-aan as an article of faith.
In any case, to understand the Islamic concept of Taqdeer and to answer all the questions that arise in this respect, we firstly need to understand how the Qur-aan uses this term.
Taqdeer -- as used in the Qur-aan
The Qur-aanic concept of Taqdeer can simply be defined as Allaah’s plan for His creations, and the rules to which He subjected His creations to function within that plan.
Allaah SWT envisioned and decided to create the whole universe and everything in it for the goals and purposes He willed. He planned, initiated, created and set it to operate on the laws, nature and properties that, in His eternal knowledge and ultimate wisdom, were going to achieve all His objectives and intent forever. The complete body of laws established by Allaah SWT under which the universe and everything in the universe came into existence and is functioning are called the laws of nature. Allaah’s plan for the universe and the laws of nature put in place to fulfill His plan are collectively the Taqdeer (predetermination) for the universe and everything in it.
This is the Taqdeer referred to in the Holy Qur-aan in the following verse:
He to Whom belongs the kingdom of the heavens and the earth, Who has begotten no son, Who does not have any partner in sovereignty, and Who has created everything and predetermined its course with precise determination. (Al-Furqan 25:2)
This Taqdeer (or Allaah’s plan and His predetermined laws to implement the plan) has different modes with different implications for different creations. The following are three main categories of Taqdeer:
1. Taqdeer Implemented through the Laws of Nature
The examples of this Taqdeer are: The way the sun produces heat and light while moving in a certain direction taking its own planets with it – this is the Taqdeer set for the sun. The moon revolves around the earth in a certain orbit at a specific distance at a certain speed so as to complete its cycle in about 29 days. During this cycle, people can count time and days through its phases. That is the moon’s predetermined course. The earth keeps a certain distance from the sun, revolves around it in 365.24 days on a predetermined orbit, produces vegetation according to the moisture and temperature conditions, etc. That is earth’s Taqdeer (2). Water flows, extinguishes fire, freezes at 0° C, boils at 100° C, evaporates, condenses, and falls back in different forms of precipitation. These are all water’s predetermined properties – its Taqdeer.
2 Exalted is He who created all pairs – from what the earth grows, from themselves and from that which they do not know. And the sun runs (on course) to its destination. That is the determination (Taqdeer) from the Omni-potent, the Knowing. And the moon – We have determined for it phases (made phases its Taqdeer), until it returns like the old date stalk. It is not allowable for the sun to reach the moon, nor does the night overtake the day, and each is swimming in its orbit. (The Qur-aan 36:36-40) He is the cleaver of daybreak and has made the night for rest and the sun and the moon for calculation. That is the determination (Taqdeer) from the Omni-potent, the Knowing. (The Qur-aan 6:96) It is He who made the sun a shining light and the moon a derived light and determined for its phases (made phases its Taqdeer) – that you know the number of years and account of time. (The Qur-aan 10:5) Say: Do you indeed disbelieve in He and attribute equals to Him who created the earth in two periods. That is the Lord of the universe. And He placed on it (the earth) firmly nailed mountains, and He blessed it and determined (implemented Taqdeer) therein its sustenance in four periods for all creatures who seek it. (The Qur-aan 41:10)
The biological systems and processes of all living organisms – all living entities and whatever they are comprised of – from a tiny cell to the major organs of animals and human beings such as heart, liver, kidneys, etc, are all bound by the Taqdeer represented by the biological laws of nature. For example, it is Taqdeer that life is dependent on water (3). The Messenger of Allaah himself indicated that the biological laws are Taqdeer when he told ‘Aaishah, his wife, that woman’s menstruation is (written) ordained (4).
3 And with water, We gave life to every living thing. (The Qur-aan 21:30)
4 Reported from ‘Aaishah in Bukhaari
All creations of Allaah, including animals and human beings, are subject to the Taqdeer (predetermination) represented by physical and biological laws. This can be called “Taqdeer of Nature” or “Natural Taqdeer” and it is through this Taqdeer that Allaah created life and mandated balance and equilibrium in the universe. Without this Taqdeer life would have been impossible. And it is critical for life to sustain and survive.
2. Taqdeer Implemented through Instincts and Psychology
For living entities, however, the Taqdeer goes beyond the natural laws.
In addition to being bound by the biological/physical laws to sustain their life, animals are also equipped with their instincts. The instincts of living species represent pre-programmed guidance provided by Allaah SWT for their survival. No animal can behave but according to its instincts. For any stimulus, an animal response will always be instinctive. Provision of this guidance through instincts for the created species is alluded to in the Holy Qur-aan in verses such as:
He Who created and then proportioned (everything). And Who determined (established Taqdeer) and then guided. (Al-A'la 87:2-3)
He (Moosa) said, our Lord is He Who gave everything its form and nature, then provided guidance. (Taha 20:50)
Although the guidance for human beings is much more comprehensive, for animals it amounts to the instinctive behaviour for which they have been pre-programmed. For human beings the guidance includes that provided through revelations and messengers.
This instinctive guidance provided to animals ensures the survival of their species and enables then to fulfil their role in Allaah’s plan consistently and properly. It can be called “instinctive Taqdeer”.
In the sense that the creations of Allaah are pre-programmed to function according to the laws of nature and/or instincts (both of which are actually laws of Allaah SWT), they are predetermined to be obedient to Allaah. Hence, they can all be called “Muslim” by predetermination (Taqdeer) because they follow the rules of Allaah SWT consistently as predetermined for them, not by freedom of choice.
Closely related to instincts are human psychology and moral laws of human behaviour that people cannot escape. For example, if a person chooses to follow his instinct and become angry, he will lose his rationality to the extent of his anger. No one can become angry and retain full mental capabilities. Fear also shuts down the brain to a large extent. These are pre-programmed results of fear and anger. Similarly, doing good deeds gives satisfaction, good feelings and tranquility; while the conscience pinches when something bad is done, and frequent bad behaviour causes loss of inner peace. Similarly, repeated behaviour makes people used to it until it becomes their comfort zone which people feel uncomfortable to step out of. These are examples of “psychological Taqdeer”. An example of moral law is that everyone benefits from his own good behaviour; while no one can avoid suffering the consequences of his own bad behaviour. Another example is that a person can get only what he strives for. Without effort, no one can get anything (5). All such rules and principles are predetermined (Taqdeer). These psychological and moral laws are especially designed for human beings to ensure that people live with the consequences of the actions they take under freedom granted to them, as discussed in the next few paragraphs.
5 Man can have nothing but what he strives for.
3. Taqdeer that Gives Freedom
For human beings, Allaah’s plan includes a third aspect. In addition to pre-programming people by natural Taqdeer, biological Taqdeer, instinctive Taqdeer and psychological Taqdeer, Allaah SWT decided to give human beings a limited form of freedom whereby they could make choices and arrive at their own decisions. Even in those aspects in which people have been pre-programmed with instincts, human adults have been given an option to react with a different response to a stimulus than what is dictated by an instinct. This is, in fact, what differentiates a human being from an animal. Animals are bound by instincts, but people can override their instincts and respond in a better way than an instinctive response. Fear and anger are instincts, but adult people can overcome them and behave rationally rather than instinctively, if they choose to do so.
Accordingly, the human freedom to choose and make decisions regarding their conscious actions and behaviour is part of Allaah’s plan and, hence, a part of their Taqdeer. Just as Allaah has decreed biological laws, instincts and psychological laws for them, in the same way He has decreed freedom for them -- a part wherein they are not pre-programmed, but free to choose from alternatives and to make their own decisions. With this freedom of choice, Allaah SWT has put people temporarily on this earth to test as to who freely choose to obey Allaah SWT or who choose to do as they themselves like. Had Allaah SWT pre-programmed people, He would have pre-programmed them to be Muslims – fully obedient to Allaah – just like everything else in this universe. In such a case, they would be predestined Muslims. But that was not His plan. He did not want human beings to be “predestined Muslims”, but gave them option to become “Muslims-by-choice”, i.e., those who willingly adopt obedience to Allaah SWT as their chosen way of life. Although people are not predestined in terms of how they behave, the freedom given to make the choices is itself predetermined (Taqdeer) (6).
6 He who created death and life to test as to who is best in deeds. (The Qur-aan 67:2) Certainly We created man from a sperm-drop mixture that We test him; and We made him hearing and seeing. And certainly We showed him the way, be he grateful or be he ungrateful. (The Qur-aan 76:2-3)
It is Taqdeer because Allaah SWT decreed this freedom for people to act as they desire. In fact, Allaah SWT ensured that the laws of nature work with people so well that people can accomplish what they choose to accomplish. In other words, to make the freedom of action meaningful, Allaah also delegated to humankind some power and authority over His other creations on the earth so that they have enough means and resources to implement and enforce their decisions. Allaah SWT provided for “human will” to prevail to the extent He deemed appropriate. This is the dominion religious books talk about that has been granted to people on earth. It enables human beings to execute their actions they undertake because of the freedom of action granted them.
Allaah SWT could have made laws of nature such that the universe would cooperate and work with the person who was going to do something good; but create hindrances in a person’s way if the act was in defiance of the commands of God. But Allaah SWT did not do that. He wanted to give people real freedom so that the test can be independent, undirected, uninfluenced and free. In addition, Allaah SWT has designed human nature itself with such adaptability that any path a person chooses, he develops an interest towards it, starts liking it and comes up with justifications for it as well. The more a person does a certain kind of good or bad act, the easier it becomes for that person to engage and indulge in it. This inclination of the human nature to get involved deeper and deeper into an activity chosen by that person is also the Taqdeer (God’s Law) for human nature. This Taqdeer augments freedom to choose. It is indicated with an example in the Holy Qur-aan as follows:
As for him who gives (charity), keeps his duty to Allaah and fears Him, and testifies goodness, for him We shall facilitate the path of goodness (which in itself is easy on human nature). But he who practices stinginess, neglects God and Hereafter and belies goodness, for him We shall facilitate the path of evil (which is inherently hard for human psyche). (Al-Layl 92:5-10)
The Scope of our Freedom
The freedom bestowed to human beings, however, is not absolute. It could not have been absolute because absolute freedom is only possible for someone who has absolute power, which human beings do not. It should not have been absolute because it would have resulted in disaster due to human frailty and capacity to make wrong decisions. Hence, for the sustainability of the universal plan, human freedom was subjected to some rules and was also constrained by one’s circumstances.
For example, every living soul must die. We do not have freedom of choice here. No matter what we do, death cannot be avoided. Death is actually a natural result of the biological laws already mentioned in the previous paragraphs.
A second example is: one can reap only what one sows. One cannot sow thorns and expect to reap grain and vice versa, both in a material and moral sense. Also, one cannot have a crop without sowing (i.e. no results without efforts). All of these rules are Taqdeer. Normally, there can be no exception to any of these rules. No human being can have a choice in these matters. People can do whatever they want during their life, but they cannot avoid death. People can sow whatever they want or choose not to sow anything but they can reap only what they sow.
Also, no child has a choice where, to which parents, in which country or society or at what time, he/she is going to be born or what is going to be its first language. For the child itself, it is predetermined. Similarly, no child selects the colour of its skin, eyes or hair, shape and features of the face and all other genetic features coded in his/her DNA. These matters are all determined by the circumstances before or at the time of the conception of the child. They are beyond the child’s control or influence.
Then, in many areas of our life, we come across a multitude of situations where we find that it is our circumstances which: determine our future or the results of our efforts; influence our decisions and choices; and, limit our options. For example, a person born in a poor home and neighbourhood may not be able to get proper education or chances to become rich, while a person born in the household of a rich person may land his first job as a director or senior officer of a large company or be multi-millionaire by birth. Two equally intelligent, educated, experienced, capable and hard-working persons coming from similar family backgrounds may end up in very unequal career or economic situations depending on the circumstances of each individual. A passer-by may be hit by a stray bullet, while the person involved in the fight is not even hurt. A well-cultivated crop is destroyed by a storm. These are situations where the results of human actions, decisions and choice are influenced by the variables determined by the circumstances beyond one’s control. Usually the circumstances appear to be random. But nothing happens in this universe randomly. Everything happens because of the operation of the extremely complicated system of laws of nature commanded by Allaah SWT or, in human society, by a series of actions or decisions taken by a variety of people. Generally, the situation is so complicated or complex that people cannot trace it or understand it. Thus, for convenience or lack of understanding, they are regarded as random occurrences. Some people call these situations “being at the right place at the right time” or “at the wrong place at the wrong time”. Some call it “luck”. We can call it “Circumstantial Taqdeer” – restraints on freedom imposed by circumstances beyond one’s control.
Both the freedom bestowed by Allaah and its limited scope must be clearly understood to avoid arriving at the wrong conclusions.
The Confusing Issues about Taqdeer
The Qur-aanic concept of Taqdeer as described in the previous chapter is simple to understand if one is able to clear his or her mind from many misconceptions that have become deeply ingrained in many people’s minds. Many other issues are confused with the Qur-aanic concept of Taqdeer which hinder clear thinking and accurate understanding. In this chapter, those issues will be clarified one by one.
Taqdeer, Freedom and Accountability
Allaah SWT will hold people accountable only in those matters where they had freedom to make a decision, not in the matters where decisions were made for them. No person will ever be held accountable for the matters already decided for them by laws of nature and circumstances. However, sometimes separating the freedom part from beyond-control part is not easy and becomes confusing to many people.
For example, as mentioned earlier, no person has a choice where, to which parents, in which country or society or at what time, he/she is going to be born, or what is going to be its physical and other genetic features. These matters are all determined by the circumstances before or at the time of the conception of the child. They are beyond the child’s control or influence. That is why all these factors are totally irrelevant in determining the value or worth of a human being. The value, worth, honour or status should be determined only by the personal decisions and choices made or the attitude adopted by a person and it is only for those decisions, choices and attitude, for which a person is held accountable.
Thus, the only thing that matters is how a person, born in given circumstances with given features, behaved and made choices in his life. Did the person take the circumstances as a challenge or as an excuse? Did the person try to do his best in those circumstances or let the circumstances dictate their course? Did he capitalize on opportunities available or lament on those not available? Did he thank Allaah SWT on what was given or complained about what was not given? Did he respond instinctively to stimulus like animals or did he choose a better response? That is what the test is all about and that is where freedom of choice plays its role.
For parents, the physical condition of the couple’s reproductive system that they inherited is beyond their control. The system’s condition and its operation for conception and pregnancy are predetermined Taqdeer for them, for which they are not accountable; but there are multitude of decision they make and are accountable for them. For example, decisions such as: when, where and with whom to have sex, marital or extramarital; for those who can bear children, use or avoidance of contraceptives, aborting or keeping a pregnancy, raising the child with certain values or others; and, for those who are unable to have children, how they react to their inability and the measures to which they resort in order to fulfil their desire for children, etc. are the kind of decisions that they make and will be held accountable for them.
Similarly, Allaah has already determined that every living creation must die. For that reason, biological laws have been made such that after a period of initial growth, physical capabilities start to degenerate resulting ultimately in death. This process takes different amounts of time for different people depending on many things beyond one’s control, such as the quality of genes, the quality of environment (including water, air, food quality, etc.), the spread of germs, viruses, etc. In that sense, span of life is predetermined (Taqdeer) for each individual and no one is held accountable for that. People are only accountable for what they do during that span of life. However, if someone kills another person, that becomes a crime in the eyes of Allaah SWT, because the murderer has made a decision to end a life instead of letting it live its natural span. For the same reason, if someone commits suicide, it is also a crime. On the other hand, if a believer is killed in the way of Allaah, it is highly rewarded as martyrdom (Shahaadah).
From the perspective of the process of death itself, it is all Taqdeer; i.e. result of operation of laws of nature. For example, if too much blood is lost, vital organs are severely damaged, or breathing is stopped for a certain time, death will result. That is Taqdeer. What we will be held accountable for are our actions and reactions such as: Did we do our best to help the dying person with care, caution and affection? Did we handle the death of a loved one with patience and grace or did we abuse God, rant, rave, shout, become angry and frustrated? Did we learn from the experience and tried to become better before our time came or did we lose the little faith we had? Did we show the understanding of the system of life and death or did we question why us? Did we pay attention to the performance during the life span (quality of the test) or did we pay more attention to the life span (the duration of the test)?
Disease and sickness are caused by many factors: Some factors such as defective genes are beyond human control; some result from collective human actions such as environmental pollution; and some are a result of personal human choices such as smoking, drinking, improper diet, etc. However, all of the diseases are predetermined Taqdeer because they are a result of operation of laws of nature. It is law of nature that if a person eats too much fat without burning it with comparable amount of physical activity, he will become obese and suffer the resulting problems. It is Taqdeer that if a person is exposed to more bacteria than his defence system can handle, he will fall sick. Similarly, if polluted water is consumed, hepatitis will result, etc.
That was the point made by the Prophet when he said that sickness is because of Taqdeer (pre-determination). People misunderstood his point and concluded that there is no use of seeking treatment in that case. On that, he clarified that medicine and curing is also Taqdeer (7). It is the law of nature (Taqdeer) that aspirin will reduce inflammation, antibiotics will kill germs and analgesic will reduce pain, etc. Another aspect to be considered for sickness is that the cause of the sickness may be totally random from the sick person’s point of view, thus the random circumstances that played a part in our sickness are beyond our control, hence, circumstantial Taqdeer.
7 When some people asked the question that if everything is from Allaah (predestined), then are things like the treatment for diseases or use of a shield while fighting any useful in changing our Taqdeer? The Prophet said, “These things are also part of Taqdeer.” (Tirmidzi by Aboo Khizaamah)
In short, both disease and its cure are Taqdeer (predetermined laws of nature), but our response to disease is for what we will be held accountable and rewarded or punished. If we become sick, do we try our best to treat it, do we change our eating and living habits to help in recovery and in becoming healthy; do we complain or do we take it bravely, patiently and matter-of-factly, and do we take precautions not to spread it to others? From the collective point of view, finding cures for diseases is rewarded as an act of worship while spreading pollution is a sin to be punished.
Therefore, we are not accountable for the circumstances we find ourselves in (the Taqdeer), but we are accountable for the attitude we adopt in those circumstances, the choices we make and the actions we take. For example, if a person finds himself in circumstances where he has been able to acquire much wealth and resources, he will have to account for the attitude he adopted: whether he became arrogant or humble, helpful and sharing with the poor or rude to them, charitable or selfish etc. He will have to justify: the means he used to acquire wealth if they were honest, aboveboard and moral or otherwise; and the items he decided to spend his wealth upon whether it was spent on luxuries or charities, extravagances or meeting the needs of the poor, etc.
On the other hand, if a person finds himself in miserable circumstances beset with poverty, handicap or disease, he will have to account for: if he was patient or bitter, if he tried to make the best of the given situation or just complain, stayed with honest hard work or resorted to illegal activities, tried to endure cheerfully or contemplated suicide, etc. Whether extremely good, terribly bad or anything in-between, the circumstances we find ourselves in are temporary, but the attitude we adopt and decisions we make in the given circumstances have permanent consequences for the Hereafter. The circumstances are not in our control, they are our Taqdeer, but our response to those circumstances is our choice and the resultant eternal future is in our full control. It is up to us whether we dwell in the temporary, worldly circumstances or prepare for a bright, eternal future.
Allaah’s Will, Taqdeer and Allaah’s Approval
The laws of nature according to which Allaah SWT made everything run and function, the policy Allaah adopted to deal with His creations and the plan He has for the universe and its contents are all collectively the Taqdeer or predetermination. This is also called Will (intent) of Allaah SWT. Taqdeer and Allaah’s Will are two aspects of the same Divine Plan. Because of the infinite power, authority and omnipotence of Allaah, His Will (intent) automatically becomes the Taqdeer (predetermined plan) for His creations.
As explained in the previous paragraphs, human freedom is a part of the Will of Allaah SWT – people enjoy this freedom because Allaah SWT willed them to do so as a part of His overall plan for the universe. Allaah created human beings with the intent of giving them freedom to make choices to a limited extent and then hold them accountable for the choices they make. Because of His intent to do so, people enjoy that freedom whether they do something good that Allaah likes or they do something that Allaah does not like.
Thus, Allaah’s Will to allow people to act freely should not be confused with His approval or disapproval of their behaviour. They are two different things. Allaah SWT is pleased with or approves of good behaviour and He is displeased with or disapproves of bad behaviour, though (as per His Will) He lets people do good or bad as they like.
Human beings are able to misuse the freedom that Allaah SWT has on His Own Will bestowed on them. They may sin or disobey Allaah SWT and their sins and disobedience displeases Him, while their good actions and obedience pleases Him. His pleasure or displeasure, however, does not affect the freedom He has willingly bestowed to people. Though He could have willed otherwise, He has chosen to let people use their freedom as they wish until their death. It is only after the expiry of their period of test, their death, they will find out the consequences of their good or bad deeds. During their life, they are let make even bad choices that Allaah does not approve. Their freedom remains unaffected by interference or approval of Allaah SWT because that is what He willed or intended.
The only exception to this rule is when a whole community becomes so arrogant in violation of the laws of Allaah SWT that their behaviour is about to endanger the survival of Islam altogether. This has usually happened when the punishment came to those who fought against a messenger of Allaah in the past. They were destroyed so that the messenger and Islam could survive. Allaah SWT interfered by shortening the test period (destruction) of the disbelievers after it was proven that there is no willingness or chance for them to repent (change in their response to the test) regardless of how long a respite is given to them. He does not ever, however, interfere in the decisions of the people that will affect purity of their test.
In the same way, the freedom of people to do bad actions does not signify Allaah’s approval. The success of these people in their worldly endeavours also does not mean that Allaah approves of their behaviour. Conversely, failure of people in their missions or efforts is not indicative of Allaah’s displeasure. Allaah’s Will and plan of leaving people free in this world for their test does not change by the goodness or evilness of people’s behaviour. People continue to fail or succeed according to the functioning of the laws of nature in human societies. And the criteria for good or bad behaviour is only and only His revelations in this regard and the models of His Messengers, not the conditions of people in terms of poverty or prosperity.
Taqdeer and Allaah’s Knowledge
Because everything that happens in this universe or any of its parts is from Allaah SWT and is part of His plan, it is, and always was, in His eternal knowledge. He also has, and always had, a complete knowledge and awareness of all human action that they do, avoid doing or plan to do.
Some people think that due to the ultimate knowledge of Allaah of everything, we do not have any freedom whatsoever. They confuse knowledge of Allaah SWT with His Will, Intent and Decree. They reason that because Allaah SWT knew exactly what we were going to do, we are predestined, hence not free.
However, Allaah’s knowledge of exactly how each of us is going to behave does not mean that He has predestined us for that kind of behaviour. The freedom that He has given us, though limited, is still ours to act as we choose. He has not forced us to or programmed us to take a certain course of action. Otherwise, the purpose of our creation and concept of test is defeated. He chose to give us freedom and He meant it that way. His foreknowledge is not in any way a means of coercing us to behave in a certain way. A teacher knows the students from their behaviour and performance in the class. He knows whether they are going to do well on the exam or not. But the teacher’s knowledge does not mean that he has determined the outcome for the student. If we see someone dropping a delicate object, e.g. an egg, from a height onto a hard floor, we know that it will break on impact. However, our knowledge of the consequence does not mean we caused it to break. Thus the knowledge of Allaah SWT does not predestine the decisions we make in our lives using our God-given freedom. His knowledge (‘Ilm) is not the same as His Will or Intent (Mashiyyah) and His Will does not necessarily imply His approval (Ridhaa). Understanding the difference between the three is the key to understanding Taqdeer.
One question, however, remains. If Allaah SWT knew who is going to do what, why did He put us for testing on this earth? Why did He not take the action on the basis of His knowledge? Allaah SWT, like a teacher who knows a student will fail but still gives him the opportunity to write the exam, gave us the opportunity to prove for our own satisfaction where we stand. He, like a fair and just judge, will punish or reward people on the basis of the evidence of their actions, not on the basis of His knowledge.
Attribution of Actions to Allaah
Because everything in this universe is happening according to rules and laws promulgated by Allaah, whatever takes place in this world, except for the behavioural decisions made by human beings using their freedom granted by Allaah, can duly be attributed to Allaah. That is why we can correctly say that Allaah sends down the rain, Allaah causes day and night, Allaah germinates the seeds and produces vegetation, etc. Anything that is the result of the operation of Allaah’s laws can be attributed to Allaah. Even the results that occur in human psychology because of certain decisions people make can be attributed to Allaah SWT because He made the human psychology to be that way. For example, it is human psychology that if a person adopts bias, zealotry and becomes defensive, he becomes blinded from the truth that is different from what he believes in. Although the blindness is the result of that person’s own bigotry and defensiveness, it can be said that Allaah made him blind due to his bad attitude, because the result of his attitude was due to the human psychology created by Allaah (8). Although the result of the bad choices made by the person can be attributed to Allaah, the responsibility and accountability for making those bad choices still rests with the person who made those bad choices and misused God-given freedom.
8 For example, about those disbelievers who have closed their minds completely and shut themselves off from any sight or sound of reason, the Qur-aan says that Allaah has sealed their hearts and their hearing and covered their sight.
Allaah’s Sovereignty and Taqdeer
It must be remembered that Allaah Himself is not bound by Taqdeer (laws of nature) that He has promulgated for its creations and subjected them to it. It does not and cannot apply to Allaah SWT Himself. His decisions and actions are not subject to the same limitations of Taqdeer as ours do. He is infinite in every respect including His power and authority. His infinite power cannot be, and never is, limited by the finite rules He himself has created for His finite creations. He does whatever His infinite Wisdom suggests in infinite ways beyond the functionality of the laws of nature and beyond all our knowledge and understanding.
Although Allaah SWT by His own Will lets the universe function as destined, on occasion, He has overridden the laws of nature in a limited manner to help His messengers fulfill His mission, though that overriding instances are also part of His Will – the overall predetermined, universal plan He envisioned while creating the universe. The miracles Allaah showed through his Messengers, such as letting Moses walk through the sea or Jesus raise the dead, occurred because of His Will overriding the normal laws of nature.
However, He never uses His authority and power to change the decisions or choices a person is to make. He cleaned the earth from the disbelievers through flood at Noah’s time, but did not force them to become believers. When they still chose not to believe after Noah had exhausted his lifelong efforts, Allaah simply finished their test by destroying them. This was mercy for the next generations so that they have a chance to think freely instead of being pressured into the wrong choices by the corrupt society. Similarly, the miraculous birth of Jesus without a father and his raising of the dead or curing of the blind, was out of Mercy of Allaah SWT to give an opportunity to disbelievers to learn from their experience and believe; but Allaah did not use His authority to change their mind.
Allaah SWT does interfere in the human circumstances on the earth but always as a mercy for people to encourage them to make the right choices, but never to dictate anything to them that is in the realm of their promised freedom for the test of obedience.
Freedom to Choose Behaviour or Freedom to Choose Results
Many people are so overwhelmed by the concept of Taqdeer that they deny existence of any freedom. They think they are just puppets or actors who are in reality doing their part according to the predetermined script, while it appears they are doing it freely.
Needless to say that within the confines of fully-predetermined physical realities (Natural Taqdeer), we have a lot of freedom where our initiative, hard work and positive attitude can work wonders. Looked upon from a macro perspective, it may seem little but from the micro perspective, there are all kinds of opportunities for individualism and tremendous area of freedoms. All the humdrum and all the hyperactivity on the earth is because of this freedom as are all the over-consumption, wars and devastation of the environment. Sometimes it appears it is too much. But Allaah SWT gave us the right amount of freedom for a fair test of our choices, decisions, preferences and lifestyles.
This area of freedom is normally governed by Allaah’s law, according to which all efforts produce their natural results. Results being the common outcome of efforts, some people are deluded by its common occurrence in that they forget that we have freedom to make decisions and take actions but not to produce results. Results are not in our power. Two farmers who work equally hard and on timely basis may get different yield from their crops for many reasons beyond their control. Two students who study equally hard may not get the same marks and two equally intelligent and hardworking employees may have different level of success in their career. Many factors beyond our control (circumstantial Taqdeer) affect the outcome of our efforts. In addition, Allaah SWT, the Master and enforcer of Taqdeer and all rules, may also create the circumstances that produce the results He wants, which may be more or less than the efforts put in or He may let the efforts go in vain altogether. His are the kind of interferences that a gardener does for the overall health and well-being of a garden. They do not impact the purity and independence of the test of freedom because people are accountable for intentions and efforts, not for results. They will be rewarded or punished according to their actions and motives behind those actions, not according to results. Similarly, His interferences are not unfair or unjust either. Any efforts not rewarded through their natural outcomes are compensated in multiple other ways. When rewards exceed the efforts, it is because of His Mercy and generosity.
The most important point to remember in this regard is the proper attitude that a believer should have regarding efforts and results. He does his best efforts in everything he does and works to the highest standard of excellence, but never puts faith in his efforts. His faith and trust is always in Allaah SWT, the One who has the power and ability to ensure that the best results and rewards are granted to a believer’s efforts.
Taqdeer’s Changeability and Du‘aa
Many people wonder: Can Taqdeer be changed?
The answer depends on what is meant by Taqdeer, from whose perspective and changed by whom?
From Allaah’s perspective, His Will and plan for the universe including all components of Taqdeer mentioned earlier has not and will never need a change. It is that plan which was set in motion with the creation of universe and everything in it and it is that plan which has been consistently working since the inception of the creation of the universe and is absolutely unchangeable. And there is no need for them to change because the need to change a decision or a plan is only a human necessity. Human decisions or plans need to change because people cannot come up with a perfect plan and process at the outset. As one’s knowledge and experience increases, change is needed for improvement. On the other hand, Allaah’s knowledge and wisdom is absolute and perfect, His very original plan was the perfect plan for the purposes Allaah SWT willed to achieve; hence, it never requires any change whatsoever. This is the fact alluded to in the Hadeeth where the Prophet ŜA‘WS said, “The Pen has dried” (9). They are also universally applicable and no creation of Allaah can escape or override them. They are predetermined for all of the creations.
9 On a question about castration, the Messenger of Allaah said, “The pen has dried.” Reported from Aboo Hurayrah in Al-Bukhaari Ĥadeeth.
From human perspective, what can or cannot change depends on what kind of Taqdeer we are talking about.
Taqdeer in the sense of natural and biological laws of nature (Natural Taqdeer), Instinctive Taqdeer or Psychological Taqdeer does not ever change. It is completely “Static”. It remains constant and consistent and every creation of Allaah, including human beings, is bound by it. It will continue to function exactly as predetermined until the Last Day. None of the creations can escape, overrule or override it. No human effort and no Du‘aa (supplication or prayer to ask Allaah SWT for something) can change any of the rules of this Taqdeer. It does not matter who tries or prays Du‘aa, the sun will continue to work as it is destined. The kidneys will not start performing functions of the heart and stomach will not replace lungs, regardless of how much Du‘aa we pray. Allaah SWT had made this Taqdeer unchangeable for the smooth operation of the universe. It is only because of its unchangeability that we can use the things created by Allaah for our benefit. The sustainability of the universe, the human life and all the scientific advancement and progress we have been able to attain is because of this Taqdeer being static. In case of Miracles, Allaah SWT overrides these laws for specific occurrences only, and in that case, those exceptions are also Taqdeer as they represent the Will of Allaah. From that perspective, the part of Allaah’s plan that allows human beings to make their own decisions (Free-will Taqdeer) also never changes because Allaah SWT does not take away the freedom granted by Him ever in the course of a person’s stay on earth. However, within dues limitation as described earlier, the choices and decisions about their behaviour remain in people’s hands; and they can change their behaviour as and when they like.
When it comes to “Circumstantial” Taqdeer that usually appears to be a chance or random occurrence to us, it is of “Dynamic” nature. Being beyond our control, it is Taqdeer for us. We cannot do anything about it. But it can be changed by Allaah in our favour in response to Du‘aa of a sincere slave of Allaah SWT. Sometimes, it can also become a matter of choice through advancement of science and technology. Because of its changeability we can call it “Dynamic” Taqdeer as compared with laws of nature that are “Static” Taqdeer.
Continuing with the example of the birth of a child, Circumstantial Taqdeer is responsible for the natural selection of the genes that are carried by the spermatozoa and the egg that it will impregnate; however, it is not completely unchangeable. Within limits, the selection of better quality egg and spermatozoa is possible through human manipulation or Du‘aa or both. However, the Natural or Static Taqdeer in this case is the set of laws of nature that make it possible for the egg to become fertilized and grow to form a human being under the right circumstances. Nobody can invent it and nobody can make it happen differently. The laws of nature are permanently set. It is only because of the consistency in the laws of nature that people can manipulate the process to get the desired results. An example of human manipulation is the current advancements in reproductive technologies. Although people can now have some choice in some aspects where they did not have a choice before, it is possible only because of the consistent operation of biological laws that govern conception and birth. Thus, human beings can also manipulate, benefit from, use or abuse the Circumstantial or Dynamic Taqdeer but only with the help of Natural or static Taqdeer (the laws of nature).
As far as Du‘aa is concerned, if the parents are God-fearing and they make Du‘aa to Allaah SWT, He may grant them, within limits, the kind of child they desire. Allaah SWT will make the chance and random circumstances happen the way that will deliver what they desire. The Circumstantial or Dynamic Taqdeer can always be caused to change through Du‘aa to Allaah SWT Who can accept the Du‘aa and change the circumstances to better suit one’s needs or desires. In such situations Allaah’s Will causes the circumstances to change favourably.
Another example of the changeability of Circumstantial or Dynamic Taqdeer is in matters of sickness and health. The natural action of germs and viruses causes the sickness. Similarly, the accumulation of plaque in the arteries causes heart attacks. Although we cannot change the way those things operate and happen, we can either get rid of them or the results of their actions. It is changeable because with appropriate care and cure, the health problems can be resolved. Similarly sickness caused by random circumstances beyond our control is also changeable through Du‘aa to and faith in Allaah SWT. As for all changeable Taqdeers, Du‘aa is extremely important for restoration and maintenance of health because acceptance of Du‘aa by Allaah SWT will create the right circumstances for health. It should, however, be clearly understood that Du‘aas to Allaah SWT or trust in Him are acceptable to Allaah SWT only when accompanied by appropriate personal, material efforts. Du‘aa is useful for those things that are beyond one’s control when he does his level best that is humanly possible for him to do. It does not replace the human efforts that are needed to attain something, it just ensures the efforts get the best results and rewards. As for efforts, Allaah’s law (Taqdeer) is uncompromising:
Man can have nothing but what he strives for. (An-Najm 53:39)
Summary Observations About Taqdeer
- The whole universe and everything in it is predestined completely except for human beings and Jinns who have been given a limited freedom to decide, choose and act as well as the power and resources to implement their actions and decisions.
- Mostly, the predetermination or Taqdeer is static and non-changing. Its consistency ensures sustainability of the universe and life. It also affords maximum opportunity to human beings in their quest to conquer, explore and derive maximum benefits from their environment and laws of nature.
- Certain aspects of human life and society are governed by a circumstantial Taqdeer whose outcome depends on the variables found in the circumstances surrounding an individual, but beyond his control. Such Taqdeer is changeable to some extent by human efforts, if Allaah SWT allows it to happen. There is always the opportunity to have the situation changed through Du‘aa to Allaah SWT. When Allaah SWT decides to grant the Du‘aa, He causes the dynamic factors to develop in such a way that the desired outcome is gained by the supplicant. Hence, it is best to trust Allaah and leave the matters in His hands for the best results.
- Everything else in human life depends on people’s own decisions, choices, efforts and actions. People are accountable for how well they use their freedom and how well they perform in their area of freedom. They are only accountable where there is an opportunity to use freedom to develop an attitude, make decisions, choose options, respond to stimuli or take actions. No one is accountable for anything beyond an individual’s control. This freedom is by the Will of Allaah SWT. The grant of freedom does not imply that Allaah approves all actions people undertake using their freedom.
- Although Allaah SWT knows everything, His pre-knowledge of human decisions or actions does not negate their independence.
All the descriptions and examples given on Taqdeer are to give a simplified explanation of a very complex issue the complexities of which are fully known only to Allaah SWT. The important point for us to remember is that in a predestined universe, Allaah SWT has given us some freedom. It is only the use of that freedom that we are accountable for on the Day of Judgment. The way we use that freedom determines our success or failure on that day.
The Purpose of Faith in Taqdeer
The proper understanding of Taqdeer is very liberating and empowering in its effect. A person not understanding the concept of Taqdeer or of the worldly life being a test, takes his circumstances as the end in themselves. He is deeply affected by them. As the Holy Qur-aan says,
As for man, whenever your Lord tests him by bestowing honour and gifts, he says, ‘My Lord has honoured me’. But when He tests him by restricting his provisions for him, he says, ‘My Lord has disgraced me’. (Al-Fajr 89:15-16)
A Muslim who has appropriate understanding of the test and Taqdeer, on the other hand, is freed from being a prisoner of his/her circumstances. Good circumstances do not get to his head and bad circumstances do not demean him or crush his spirit:
So that you may not grieve at what you lose and you do not rejoice at what you are given. (Al-Hadid 57:23)
A Muslim knows that what really matters is not the circumstances one finds oneself in but what is done with those circumstances. Understanding this concept properly, a Muslim is focused on finding the opportunities to excel in any given circumstance:
He is the one who delegated you dominion on earth and raised ranks of some of you over others to test you in whatever He gave you. Indeed He is quick in punishing and He definitely is also the Forgiving, Merciful. (Al-An'am 6:165)
Had Allaah willed, He would have made you one nation, but He intended to test you in what He has given you; so race to all that is good. (Al-Ma'idah 5:48)
The Prophet ŜA‘WS described it from the Hereafter perspective:
“How nice it is for a believer (Muslim)! He attains goodness in every situation, which is not possible for a non-believer. If he is beset with problems/troubles, he remains patient and steadfast which becomes a source of goodness for him. If he is blessed with happiness, he thanks Allaah SWT (verbally and practically) which also brings him goodness.” (Hadeeth reported by Ŝuhaib in Muslim)
Knowing that all the good or bad that happens to be beyond one’s control is a natural part of the test from Allaah SWT breaks all the shackles that keep people handicapped by their circumstances. This understanding gives believers power and courage to take everything in stride while concentrating on personal performance. That no one in the world can cause any harm or bring any benefit unless it stems from Allaah’s plan, frees the believer from dependence on or expectations and fear from the people. When we realize the fact that if Allaah SWT decides to harm or benefit us, no one in the world can change it otherwise, it gives the believer wisdom to have all expectations from, full trust in and total dependence on Allaah SWT. That trust in Allaah SWT unleashes our personal power and liberates from all fear, despair or concerns (10).
10 The Prophet ŜA‘WS told Ibn ‘Abbaas, “Remember Allaah, He will remember you. Remember Allaah, and you will feel his presence in front of you. Seek Him in prosperity, He will support you in adversity. If you ask, ask Allaah only; and if seek help, seek help from Allaah only. If all people jointly make efforts to benefit you, they would not be able to provide you any benefit unless Allaah had decided so. Similarly, if they gang together to harm you, they would not be able to harm you unless Allaah had decided so. Remember, there is a lot of good on being patient on what you do not like. Allaah’s help follows patience, relief follows trouble and ease follows hardship.” (Musnad Aĥmad and Mishkaah)
A proper understanding of Taqdeer also saves the Muslims from dwelling on past troubles. It takes them out of the vicious cycle of “Had I done this…” It gives them wisdom to say, “That was the natural result of the events and circumstances according to Allaah’s plan, and my job is to try harder to do better next time; and then, to move forward, to seek Allaah’s help, to make the best of the present and to plan for the best for the future (11).
11 From a Hadeeth reported in Mishkaah, by Aboo Hurayrah, the Prophet said that a strong, empowered believer who continues to march on despite the troubles or setbacks is better and more liked by Allaah than a weak believer who feels disheartened or who easily gives up, though both are good. Then he continued, “(whatever the circumstances) Aspire for that which will really benefit you and seek Allaah’s help! Don’t give up! If you suffer a setback, do not say, ‘Had I done so or so..’ but say, ‘Allaah destined it this way, He did what He willed’. Resorting to ‘Had I…’ attitude disposes one to Shayŧaan’s manipulations.”
In short, the proper understanding of Taqdeer is such a powerful weapon that empowers the Muslims to work wonders without giving up at any or all of the setbacks. Unfortunately, an improper understanding is equally damaging. It kills the initiative, destroys the spirit and makes people paralysed. People lament and complain, waiting like sitting ducks to see what is the next misfortune predestined for them.