The subject of al Qada wal Qadar is a subject that engaged Muslims in a massive debate throughout the centuries, for this reason it is impossible to cover all aspects of this discussion in today’s presentation.
The subject of al Qada wal Qadar is an important one, it is from the rational elements of the Aqeeda. It is a subject that many of the Ummah are confused upon to this day. It is a concept that is related to the relationship of this life with the hereafter, if we misunderstood this concept there would be a major vagueness in the relationship between this life and the afterlife in terms of accountability. We may even conclude as those in the past that there is no relationship and therefore can act as we please. Therefore it is important to understand the subject in depth including its origins in history, the different views regarding it and the correct position.
History of the subject of al Qada wal Qadar
The subject of al Qada wal Qadar was never explicitly discussed as a subject by the Prophet (saw) or any of the Sahaba. What they discussed were other issues related to the textual element of the Aqeeda such as al-Qadar referring to the knowledge of Allah (swt) or al-Qada in its linguistic meaning that can mean many things.
This discussion came about amongst the Muslims after the translation of the Greek philosophies into the Arabic language. It was the Greek philosophers who engaged in inquiry and controversy over this issue. They had put forward questions such as: Does man have free will or is he forced to carry out his actions?
There were two main schools of thought regarding the issue amongst the Greeks, the Stoics and the Epicureans.
The Epicureans believed that the will is free in choice and that man does all of his actions according to his will and without compulsion.
The Stoics on the other hand believed that the will compelled to take the path it takes and that it is incapable of departing from it. Man, they said, does nothing in accordance with his will; rather he is compelled to do whatever he does; to do or not to do is not within his control.
With the advent of Islam and the infiltration of the philosophical thoughts Muslims came into contact with these ideas they attempted to answer the same questions from the viewpoint of Islam. One of the major issues that the Muslims began to discuss was the attribute of justice on the with regard to Allah. Islam is based on the concept that Allah is just, and according to this justice we have reward and punishment. Accordingly, the Muslim thinkers attempted to reconcile this premise with the philosophical questions posed by the Greeks.
The most prominent of these was the discussion by the Mu’tazilah; it was the prototype in this matter; the discussion of the other scholastics was a response to repudiate the views of the Mu’tazilah. Thus the Mu’tazilah are considered the pioneers in discussing the issue of al-Qadaa’ wal Qadar, and even in all the topics of scholasticism that the Mutakallimeen engaged in. The head of the Mu’tazilah was Wasil Ibn Ataa’ who had been removed from the circle of the famous scholar Al-Hasan Al-Basri for his views.
The Mu’tazilah responded by first establishing the central role of Allah’s justice in order to prevent anyone accusing Allah of oppression. They concluded that Allah’s justice has no meaning unless man has free will. Thus, they said man created his actions and he if free to do what he likes because if he does something from his own will, by choice without coercion, then his reward and punishment are both rational and just. They maintained that if Allah creates human beings and also forces them into a certain path, such as making people sinners or believers, then to punish the sinners for being sinful and rewarding the obedient believers for believing would be unjust.
In their methodology they followed the Greek way of thinking. Muslims assumed, like Greek philosophers, that Allah follows laws and codes like man does. They made analogy between Allah (swt) and man. Commenting on the will, they said that the person who wants good is good in himself, and the person who wants bad is both bad and evil. Likewise, he who orders justice is just, and he who orders oppression is an oppressor. Accordingly, they maintained if we assume the will of Allah embraces every aspect of life, both good and bad, Allah would then be described as good and bad, just and oppressor; which is clearly impossible.
They were clearly influenced by Greek logic in their argument. They also said that if Allah wants the disbeliever to be a disbeliever (Kafir) and the sinner to be sinful then He should not warn and admonish them from sin and disbelief. How could it be possible that Allah wanted Abu Lahab to be a disbeliever and yet commanded him to believe and warned him from disbelief. If any man had done such a thing he would be called a fool and ignorant. Allah who never be accused of such things. If the disbelief of the disbeliever and the sin of the sinner were wanted by Allah then they should not be punished, because their actions were obedient to the will of Allah. The Mu’tazilah repeated such arguments, with proof derived from their mind.
The Mu’tazilah supported their opinions based on logic with verses from the Glorious Quran, such as, -in translation:
“But Allah never wishes injustice to His Servants.” (Ghafir:31).
“Say: “With Allah is the argument that reaches home: if it had been His Will, He could indeed have guided you all.” (Al-an’aam:149)
“Allah intends every facility for you; He does not want to put you to difficulties.” (Al-Baqarah:185)
They concluded from this the opinion that man has the freedom of will to do an act or refrain from doing it; thus if he does, it is according to his will and if he refrains from doing, it is also according to his will. As regard the issue of the creation of acts, the Mu’tazilah said that the acts of people are created by them and they are of their own doing not of Allah’s; it is in their power to do these acts or refrain from them without any intervention of the power of Allah. The proof of this is the difference which man feels between the voluntary and the involuntary movement, such as the movement of a person who voluntarily moves his hand and the movement of a trembling person, and the difference between the movement of someone going up a lighthouse and another falling from it; thus the voluntary movement is in the power of man; it is he who creates it; but he has no role in the involuntary movement; also, if man was not the creator of his acts, the takliif (obligation to comply with Shari’a) would be invalid, since if he was not capable of doing or refraining from doing, it would not be rational to ask him to do or to refrain from doing, and this would not have been the subject of punishment and reward.
They used logic to prove their arguments, and then tried to quote many naqli (textual) proofs to support their argument such as:
“Verily never will Allah change the condition of a people until they change it themselves (with their own souls).”(Ar-Ra’d:11)
“That Day will every soul be requited for what it earned.”(Ghaafir:17)
In following the methodology of the Greeks they began to discuss the issue and the offshoots of the issue, one of the offshoots of the creation of actions which they discussed was the issue of results.
After the Mu’tazilah had determined that the acts of man are created by him, a question arose from this: What about the acts that result from his action? Is created by him as well? Or is it created by Allah, for example the taste that a thing comes to have as a result of the action of man, the cutting that occurs from a knife, pleasure, health, lust, heat, coldness, humidness, hardness, cowardice, courage, hunger, satisfaction, etc.. They said that all these are part of the action of man because it is man who causes them when he performs his acts. Thus they are resultant from his act and consequently they are created by him.
To summarise their view, they believed that due to Allah’s Justice which has been mentioned in the text it is impossible that Allah forced man to act and then punish or reward him as this would be unjust. Therefore people have free will in all of their actions and it is they who creates their actions and the attributes that occur in things as a result of their action.
In the atmosphere created by the Mu’tazilah a new group emerged, known by the name AI Jabriyah; the most famous of whom was known as Al Jahm ibn Safwan. They held the opinion that man was compelled to carry out actions, man had no free will and no power to initiate his actions. In other words, man was like a feather in the wind or a log floating on the sea.
They argued, if man creates his own actions then Allah’s power does not extend to cover everything, i.e., man is a partner with Allah in creating things in this world. if it is held that Allah’s power creates things, then, by definition, man has nothing to do with creating the actions; neither in part or in full.
AI-Jabriyah maintained that Allah is the creator of man’s deeds and according to Allah’s will the individual carries out the action. AI-Jabriyah believed that man was nothing more than a receiver compelled by Allah, like any object, to carry out actions without any will or influence. They brought verses. of Quran to support their opinions, such as: “You do not guide whom you like, rather Allah guides whom He likes.” [al-Qasas] “Allah has created you and your handiwork.” [as-Saffat:96] “Allah is the creator of everything.” [as-Zumur]
As for man’s organic needs and instincts, and the effects and attributes of the actions, such as: taste, joy, hunger, courage, the knives ability to cut, or the fires ability to burn, they said all these thing are from Allah.
The people of Sunnah (ahl-us-Sunnah) responded to the ideas of AI-Mu’tazilah and AI-Jabriyah. They came out with a compromise solution as they didn’t except the extremes of the other views so they attempted to bring together the views of the Mu’tazilah and Jabriyah in a synthesis. They said that their third opinion which has come out from the two opinions is ‘the pure milk that is sweet to drink that comes out of the excrement and blood’. The most famous amongst them were Abul Hassan al Asharee and his student al-Maturdi.
They said all man’s actions occur by the will of Allah. If Allah wants something He merely says “Be and it is.’ They contented that Allah has bestowed on every creature certain qualities, like good and bad, and these qualities contain reward and punishment. Man’s deeds, therefore, are the result of destiny. As for the sinful and disbelievers, they argued that Allah wants the sinners to be sinful and the disbelievers to be disbelievers, not by obligation but by their choice. Allah knew that they, by choice, would become sinners and disbelievers.
They were different to the Jabriyah in that they believed that man has free will but Allah creates mans actions, in order to explain this they came out with the concept of Kasb Iktiari. This concept is abstract and contradicts the reality and thus is difficult to understand.
Basically it means that man has free will but Allah knows mans will do and therefore creates mans actions in reality. So you have the free will to turn right or left, if you decide to turn left Allah knows this and makes you turn left. You have the free will to attempt to hit someone, if you decide to hit him, it is Allah that creates the action.
They used the same evidences as the Jabriyah in proving that Allah creates the actions of man. Some of the textual evidences they used for proving the concept of Kasb Iktiari are:
“Let him who will, believe, and let him who will, reject (it)” (Al-Kahf:29) and His (swt) saying, “It gets every good that it earns, and it suffers every ill that it earns.”(Al-Baqarah:286)
In reality their conclusion is the same as the Jabriyah’s as they believe that Allah knows what you are going to do before you do it and forces you to act to undertake what he knows your going to do, therefore he forces you to act even if you have free will.
Errors in the way the approached the subject
The Mu’tazilah took the issue of ‘al-Qada wal Qadar’ or ‘compulsion and free choice’ from the Greek philosophy under they discussed it using the logical method of the Greeks by viewing it from the perspective of their own view of the Justice of Allah. This led to the emergence of the Jabriyah and Ahl-us-Sunnah to refute the views of the Mu’tazilah, which they did according to the same precepts and on the same basis.
All of them discussed the issue from the perspective of the attributes of Allah not from the perspective of the actual subject of free will and choice. They all made the fundamental error of linking the texts to do with the attributes of Allah such as Iradatullah (The will of Allah), Ilmullah (The knowledge of Allah) and al Lawh al Mahfouz (The Protected Decree) which is an expression of the knowledge of Allah. So they approached the issue from a textual perspective although it is obviously a rational discussion.
By linking the texts related to the attributes of Allah one would definitely become confused on the subject as if you looked at the texts from this perspective they would look contradictory.
An example are the following texts:
In Surat Al-Tawba, He (swt) says in translation:
“Say: Nothing will happen to us except what Allah has decreed for us. He is our Protector and in Allah, let the Believers place their trust.” [9:51]
“If some good befalls them, they say: This is from Allah. But if evil, they say: This is from you (O Prophet). Say: All things are from Allah. But what has come to these people, that they fail to understand a single fact?” [4:78]
“Verily never will Allah change the condition of a people until they change it themselves (with their own souls).”(Ar-Ra’d:11)
Some people in history even said that discussing Al-Qadaa’ wal Qadar was absolutely impermissible because the Prophet prohibited this, and they would quote the hadith that at-Tabarani recorded which is Hasan in Sanad (narration): “If the qadar was mentioned abstain from discussion”.
In fact it is a common error of many that they link the term Qadar when mentioned in the text to the subject of al-Qada wal Qadar which is completely unrelated.
Al-Qadar as a word is Mushtarak i.e. it can have more than one meaning, as an example it can mean estimated (taqdeer), Knowledge (‘ilm), arrangement (tadbeer), the time (al-waqt), the preparation (tahi’yah) and making an attribute in the thing. Some of the different linguistic meanings of the term have been used in different text in the Quran and the Ahadith.
In many occasions the word Qadar or its derivatives have been mentioned in the text with the meaning of the Ilmullah (Knowledge of Allah).
From Abu Hurairah that the Messenger of Allah (saw) said, “Adam argued with Mousa. Mousa said : Are you Adam, the one who brought your offspring out of Jannah? Adam said: Are you Mousa, the one whom Allah has bestowed upon you His messages and speech? Then you blame a mater which has been decreed for me (qudera ala’y) before I was born. Thus Adam convinced him”. It means that it was decreed to me by the knowledge of Allah.
Tawoos said, I heard Abdullah ibn Omar say, the Messenger of Allah (saw) said, “Everything is with qadar, even impotence and cleverness, or the cleverness and impotence”. This means that everything is according to the knowledge (‘ilm) of Allah, which means that Allah has written that in the Protected Tablet.
The word qadar has been mentioned in the hadith of Jibreel in some narrations. He said: ‘Believe in al-qadar whether good or bad’
The Messenger of Allah (saw) also said, ” … If anything befell you don’t say: Had I did (this), it would have been such and such, but rather say: Allah estimated (qaddara) and He did what He willed.” This means that Allah recorded (Kataba) in the Protected Tablets (al-lawh al mahfoodh), i.e. He knew. All of these matters are related to the attributes of Allah, and that He knows the things before they happen, and they happen (occur) with qadar from him, i.e. with His knowledge. All of this has nothing
to do with the subject of al-qada wal qadar.
The term Qadar when used in the various texts is not used to mean what the Mutakilmeen (scholastics) differed over in reference to al-Qada wal Qadar.
The term Qada is also Mushtarak and has many meanings that have come in the text such as making a thing with precision, completing a matter, ordered, executed, etc. Again the use of the word al-Qada mentioned in the Ayat or Ahadith are not related to the discussion of al-Qada wal Qadar that the Mutakalimeen discussed.
The correct view
The basis of the discussion in al-Qada wa al-Qadar is not the action of man in terms of whether he created the action or Allah created it. Neither is it the will of Allah (SWT) in the sense that His will is conditional on the action of man so it must exist by this will. Neither is it the Knowledge of Allah in terms of Him knowing that man will do such and such action and that His Knowledge encompass that, nor that this action of man is written in the al-Lawh al-Mahfuz so he must act according to what has been written.
The basis of the discussion is definitely none of these things, because they have no relationship to the subject from the viewpoint of reward and punishment. The topic of discussion on whose basis the question of al-Qada wa al-Qadar is built is the issue of reward and punishment for an action i.e.: Is man obliged to perform an action, good or evil, or does he have a choice? And, does man have the choice to perform his action, or does he have no choice?
When we say the basis is reward and punishment, we mean this from the perspective of the origin of accountability i.e. free will. This is because without free will reward and punishment would be meaningless.
The person who scrutinises the actions of people sees that we live within two spheres: 1) one which we dominate, seen as the sphere that is present within the region of our conduct, and within which our actions happen absolutely by our choice; 2) the other sphere dominates us, we exist within its domain, and the that which occurs upon us within it happen without our choice, whether they originate from us or fall upon us.
The actions that fall within the sphere that dominates us, we have no choice in them or in their existence. They can be divided into two kinds: The first are those required by the law of the universe. The second are those actions which are not directly necessitated by the laws of the universe. We are not accounted for anything that occurs within this sphere and it is classified as fate (Qada) from Allah (swt).
The laws of the Universe being from Allah is fairly simple to grasp. However understanding how those things that fall upon us which are not necessitated by the universal law are Qada from Allah requires more thought.
The easiest examples for this are the accidental happenings such as the contracting of an illness, train accidents or tripping and spraining your ankle. However this area of the sphere which dominates us is not limited to accidents it also includes things we intend such as arriving at a destination, passing an exam or establishing the Khilafah. The key issue to grasp is that we only control our actions i.e. our limbs and not anything beyond this. When it comes to the examples that I mentioned such as reaching a destination, passing an exam or establishing the Khilafah we only control our actions and therefore make an attempt to achieve a goal, the result is definitively not in our control and involves complex interrelationships between people and matter, it includes many factors that are not in the control of people. When embarking upon a journey we may make an attempt to reach a destination but fail due to many factors such as the car breaking down or an accident on the motorway – so we do not definitively control whether we will arrive at our destination.
We attempt to re-establish the Khilafah but where and when we establish it is not in our control. Even though there were bloodless coup attempts in the past, the da’wa carriers not control the outcome.
Complex situations must be studied carefully to ascertain which aspects are actually Qada and which aspects are in peoples control, it is dangerous to generalise and label things as Qada without making this distinction. Take the example of marriage, often people label this as Qada, upon further scrutiny we would ascertain that there are elements which are in man’s control and elements outside of his control. Whether the man and the women initially meet or not is not in their control, once they have met the decision they make to agree to the marriage is their decision and is not forced upon them by Allah (swt). Even if they decide to marry whether they are able to make it to the actual wedding is not within their control.
If we do not control something then by definition it falls into the second sphere and therefore is from Allah (swt).
It is important to understand that when we say what is in man’s control and beyond man’s control we mean man as in mankind not an individual man. As something may not be in your control as an individual but is in someone else’s control and therefore cannot be Qada from Allah (swt), an example is if someone swears at you, it is in his control and so is not Qada. Rather it is an action that he will be accounted for.
If something occurs upon us which we don’t control such as winning a prize or tripping and breaking a leg we can conclude that this is from Allah (swt) but is beyond the role of our minds to understand how Allah (swt) ensured that this would happen to us. It is beyond our perception to discuss how Allah does things and ensures that certain things will occur upon us without our control.
As for the sphere that man dominates, it is the sphere in which he proceeds willingly according to the system he chooses, whether it is the divine law (shar’iyah) or any other. In this sphere, actions carried out by man or befalling him occur by his will. For example, he walks, eats, drinks and travels anytime he likes, likewise he refrains from doing any of these things when he likes; he also burns with fire and cuts with a knife when he chooses; and he satisfies the instincts of procreation and ownership and the hunger of the belly as he likes. All this he performs or abstains from willingly. Therefore, man is accounted for those deeds which occur within this sphere. Thus, he is rewarded for the action which is rewardable, and he is punished for it if it is punishable. These actions have nothing to do with al-Qada or vice versa. Because man is the one who undertook them with his own will and choice. Therefore, actions of choice do not come under the subject of al-Qada.
The issue of Qadar is to do with the attributes of things that Allah (swt) placed within the universe, man and life. In reality it is a subset of the discussion of Qada as it is related to the universal laws in the sphere which Allah dominates, however due to the controversy that existed over it during the centuries it was discussed as a topic on its own. It is clear from the observation of reality that all attributes of the universe, man and life are from Allah (swt) whether this is the weight of a stone, the sexual inclination in man or sharpness of a knife.
Although we are subject to al-Qada wal Qadar this does not mean that we become fatalistic and submit ourselves to whatever is going to happen to us as we have no knowledge of that. There is a difference between Aqeeda and Hukm Shari and in issues of action we must refer to the Shariah rules as Allah (swt) has ordered us regardless of whether we control the outcome or not.
For more in depth knowledge on the subject see the chapter about al-Qada wal Qadr in the book ‘Shaksiyyah Islamiyya’ (The Islamic Personality) Volume 1 by Sheikh Taqi ud-deen