Belief in fate in Materialism and Islam
God is almighty and all-knowing. So doesn't God know how people will become and how they will live? God's knowledge cannot be mistaken, and everything is pre-determined by Him, and nobody can alter what has been decided. So a man whose entire movements are controlled by the divine will is not free. Is it just to punish him for certain deeds which were beyond his control?
On this topic believers and unbelievers often raise doubts, and hence it will be useful to discuss it in detail.
Before explaining Islam's view on divine will and the question of human freedom, let us examine the materialist's views on human condition.
1. According to genetics, which the materialists consider infallible, man is not at all free. His thoughts and feelings, decisions and deeds are creations of the organic structure. Cell is the basic unit of which all living things are composed. The chromosomes of cells and the genetic codes of the genes decide the nature of an organism; including human beings. So, according to this view kindness and cruelty, good habits and bad habits, good deeds and evil deeds etc. depend on one's genetic codes. Everything from physiology to thoughts and feelings merely follow the genetic codes. Genetics claim that everything in life is recorded in the genetic codes. No one and nothing can least deviate from these codes. In other words, man is completely bound and subject to his organic nature. His destiny is controlled and decided by the organic structure of the brain and the nervous system. No one is capable of interfering with it and no one has any role in it. Hence according to the materialistic science of genetics man is subject to the will of nature. He is totally bound to it without any way out. What one calls right, wrong, good, bad, virtue, wickedness, humility, pride, kindness and cruelty are merely the results of the genetic codes. So virtue of life is like the health of the body, and evil like its illness. So praising people for their virtuous deeds is like complimenting them for their physical health, a meaningless act. Similarly condemning them is meaningless as it is like condemning people for their ill-health.
2. Heredity is an important idea which Charles Darwin's Theory of Evolution puts forth. According to it man's mental traits, behaviour and ways of life are transmitted to offsprings through generations. No one can escape from the grip of heredity. The seeds of virtuous or wicked deeds of a person are lodged in great-grand parents of his predecessors. This great parent got it from his predecessors in the lineage. These traits emerge from heredity like the mango tree emerges from its seed. Hence no one has absolutely any role in deciding their character and behaviour, their customs or any other deed. Everything is subject to irrevocable heredity and lineage. Man is a mere puppet in the hands of time.
3. In the views of materialistic philosophers including Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, man is a product of socio - economic structure and cultural conditions. They interpreted history from a materialistic perspective, and in order to put across their ideas they searched even for distant similarities which were visible in societies having similar socio economic conditions. They claimed that man's character and behaviour, thoughts and feelings customs and practices, attitude to life etc. are conditioned by external circumstances. They subscribe to the view that virtues and vices of people are results of the social conditions where they live and further claim that concepts like good and bad, virtues and vices, just and unjust are products of socio- economic conditions. The individual is not at all free; he is governed by the conditions.
All these materialistic views which are obviously anti-religious declare that man is not at all free. None has independent will, or none is free to decide. He is bound to the laws of nature, a mere victim of the irrevocable destiny. Ivan Pavlov writes that ''man is a system as many other in nature, subordinated to nature's inevitable, general laws'' (Experimental Psychology)
Friedrich Engels writes that ''man is the product of his environment and his work'' (Islam between East and West by Izet Begovic)
All these views are true of all other organisms, except human beings. Man is not completely fettered or bound to the laws of nature.
1. Birds, animals, reptiles, aquatic creatures and others exist subject to their instinct. They are incapable of violating or going beyond the laws of instinct. Many living organisms have better instincts than those of human beings. Such instincts ensure their existence and safety. However they have no control over the instincts. On getting grass, a hungry cow cannot but eat it; if water is available a thirsty dog will drink it. A cock will not excuse another cock which comes for a fight. Bees build hives in a definite form; and not in any other form. Migratory birds cannot but migrate to distant lands. However man is entirely different from birds and beasts. Though water is available and he feels thirsty, he is capable of resisting his desire to drink it. He can also resist the desire to take food even if he is hungry. Though he has desire to retort to a person's abusive languages, he can resist the desire either out of acquired culture or out of fear. He is also capable of deciding the way of life he wants to follow. A person, who is sacrificing himself for the sake of some noble ideals, does so out of his strong will power. Man who can control his desires, limit his wishes, and master his feelings, is never a slave of his instincts; rather he is the master of the instincts. He is also not a product of the organic structure, heredity or socio-political and economic situations. Man is capable of deciding his destiny and he has independent existence and individuality.
2. No one is complimented or condemned on the basis of deeds over which he has no control. They are also not rewarded or punished over such deeds. A slave who steals at the instruction of his master or a lunatic who throws stone at the passers by is not guilty and therefore not punished. They are punishable offence in others. The fact that in the world people are complimented or condemned, rewarded or punished, shows that man is not completely bound to compulsion, and he is free to a great extent. Had he been completely bound to the laws of nature and not at all free, then it would be meaningless to condemn and punish him for the wickedness. This is equally applicable to compliments and rewards for his virtues.
3. Had man been subject to the laws and wills of nature as the materialists would believe, the systems of law, rules and regulations would have become totally irrelevant. Then man would live in accordance with the genetic codes and heredity of the genes in his brains and nervous system, or in accordance with his social conditions. But there are no people or country in the world without a system of law, judiciary, rules and regulations or a constitution. This shows that practically everyone agrees that man possesses at least a limited freedom and he is responsible for his actions.
In short, the materialists too believe in destiny, and they have stronger belief in it than that of the believers. However their view that man is not at all free from the hold of the laws of nature, and that he is a machine-like beast, is not based on facts. All philosophies and ideologies which do not recognize the distinctive existence and individuality of man from those of beasts are defective and unreasonable.
Islamic View of Belief in Destiny
What should we become? Fair? Handsome? Ugly? Male or female? Tall or short? In which country India or Indonesia? In desert or mountains? In a poor man's hut or in the mansion of the rich? Under democracy or dictatorship? In which century? Eleventh or twenty first?
The decisions regarding our ethnicity, colour, nationality, language, features, family, sex etc are not our own. All these have been decided without consulting us. It is true of our death also. We do not decide its time and manner. It is decided by God, and his decision is definite and irrevocable. In all these matters we are subject to God's will and our will and desires are helpless; Allah tells us: "It is he who shapes you in the wombs as He pleases. There is no god but He, the Exalted in Might, the wise'' (3:6) ''It is We who created you, and gave you shape'' (7:11) "O man! What has seduced thee from thy Lord Most Beneficent Him who created thee, fashioned thee in due proportion, and gave thee a just a bias; In whatever from He wills, does the put thee together.'' (82:6-8)
It is God, and not man, who decides which sperm must unite with the ovum. The importance of God's will becomes clear when one understands that depending on the sperm cell selected for fertilization there will be changes in the creation's character and shape. Allah asks us:'' `Do ye then see? - the (human seed) that ye throw out, - Is it ye who create it, Or are we the Creators'' (56: 58, 59)
Of the millions of sperms God selects one by his will and unites it with the ovum in the womb. By its nature the infant becomes male or female. Allah tells us: "To God belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth. He creates what He wills (And plans) He bestows (children) male or female according to His will (and plan) Or He bestows both males and females, and He leaves barren whom He will: For He is full of knowledge and power.'' (42: 49, 50)
"From a sperm-drop: He hath created him, and then mouldeth him in due proportions'' (80:19).
In the shaping of human destiny the background of our life, family, and bodily features have a big role. In this sense our destiny is definite, and decided by God's will. None can overcome God's will. Allah says: "But God has created you and your handiwork'' (37:96)
"Whom God willeth, he leaveth to wander: whom He willeth, He placeth on the way that is straight'' (6:39)
"Would ye guide those whom God hath thrown out of the way? For those whom God hath thrown out of the way, never shalt thou find the way'' (4:88)
"If it had been thy Lord's Will, they would all have believed, - all who are on earth! Will thou then compel mankind, against their will, to believe!'' No soul can believe, except by the Will of God'' (10: 99- 100)
"As to those who reject Faith, it is the same to them whether you warn them or do not warn them; they will not believe. God hath set a seal on their hearts and on their hearing, and on their eyes is a veil; Great is the penalty they (incur).'' (2:6-7)
"Do misfortune can happen on earth or in your souls but is recorded in a decree before we bring it into existence: that is truly easy for God'' (57:22)
The Quran which declares that everything is willed by God simultaneously points out and emphasises the freedom granted to man. The power of discrimination between good and bad is embedded in man by birth. Allah says "By the Soul, and the proportion and order given to it; And its inspiration as to its wrong and its right; -'' (91:7, 8)
"Have we not made for him a pair of eyes? - And a tongue, and a pair of lips? - And shown him the two highways'' (90:8-10)
Hence, human beings have the freedom to choose between good and bad, right and wrong, virtues and vices and live according to his wishes. He will be rewarded or punished in the hereafter depending on the choice he made in the world and the consequent deeds.
"Who receiveth guidance, receiveth it for his own benefit: who goeth astray doth so to his own loss.'' No bearer of burdens can bear the burden of another.'' (17:15)
"Let there be no compulsion in religion: truth stands out clear from error: whoever rejects Evil and believes in God hath grasped the most trustworthy hand-hold, that never breaks, and God heareth and knoweth all things'' (2:256)
"Say, ''The Truth is from your Lord'': Let him who will believe, and let him who will, reject (it) For the wrong-doers we have prepared a Fire.'' (18:29)
"Verily never will God change the condition of a people until they change it themselves (with their own souls). (13:11)
"Whoever works evil, will be requited accordingly'' (4:123)
"(Yet) is each individual in pledge for his deeds'' (52:21)
"This Day shall ye be recompensed for all that ye did'' (45:28)
"Do ye receive a reward other than that which ye have earned by your deeds?'' (27:90)
"Nor is thy Lord ever unjust (in the least) to His servants'' (41:46)
"Mischief has appeared on land and sea because of (the meed) that the hands of men have earned'' (30:41)
"Whatever misfortune happens to you, is because of the things your hands have wrought'' (42:30) "Verily God will not deal unjustly with man in aught: it is man who wrongs his own soul'' (10:44)
"Those who receive guidance, do so for the good of their own souls'' (10:108) ''Nor are we going to destroy a population except when its members practise iniquity'' (28:59)
"And those who strive in our (cause), - We will certainly guide them to our paths'' (29:69)
"But whosoever turns away from My Message, verily for him is a life narrowed down, and we shall raise Him up blind on the Day of Judgment. He will say: ''O my Lord! Why hath thou raised me up blind, while I had sight (before) (God) will say: Thus didst thou, when our signs came unto thee, disregard them: so will thous, this day, be disregarded. And thus we do recompense Him who transgresses beyond bounds and believes not in the signs of his Lord: and the penalty of the Hereafter is far more grievous and more enduring'' (20: 124-127)
"Namely, that no bearer of burdens can bear the burden of another; that man can have nothing but what he strives for; that (the fruit of) his striving will soon come in sight; then will he be rewarded with a reward complete'' (53:38-41)
"Then shall anyone who has done an atom's weight of good, see it! And anyone who has done an atom's weight of evil, shall see it'' (99:7, 8)
The verses of the Qur'an quoted above and similar other verses teach us that in the view of Islam man is neither completely free, nor a mere puppet in the hands of destiny. Everyone is granted freedom to choose his path. Hence human life has two aspects. With one aspect like one's country, family, language, time, features, sex, birth and death are not under one's control. One has no freedom as they are control.The other aspect is like what one has to eat and not to eat, what one should see, and should not see, what to hear, tell, what to do and what is not to do etc. One has freedom to choose and live accordingly. But it is not an unbound or unrestricted freedom as one's eyes, ears, tongue, nose, limbs, body and life are not in ones complete control. All these are controlled by God. Yet God has given man the ability and freedom to use it according to his wishes. The obligations imposed on man are based on the level of freedom granted to him. In other words each man's success or failure, rewards or punishments will be based on the use of the spheres where he was granted freedom by God. God has presented a way of life through his messengers, which people can adopt and put into practice in those areas where they had been granted freedom. Those who use their freedom to follow and live in accordance with the path shown by God through his messengers will become successful and deserve heaven. Those who deny this path and live in accordance with their whims will fail and deserve hell fire. People who wish to adopt the right path and decide to live a virtuous life will not be compelled by God to choose the wrong path - and vice versa.
God does not demand anything or command people to do things which is beyond the freedom and abilities granted to them. Allah informs us: ''On no soul doth God place a burden greater than it can bear. It gets every good that it earns, and it suffers every ill that it earns'' (2:286)
So God is not unjust to any one. "Nor is thy Lord ever unjust (in the least) to His servants'' (41:46)
Are not human decisions and deeds subject to Gods knowledge and will? Which is the link that connects human freedom to God's will? And How? Such questions can be raised. But man must understand his limitations well. The earth is a planet in this vast limitless universe, and man is one of the millions of creatures on earth. So far he has not been able to acquire complete and precise knowledge of himself. No one has exact and definite knowledge on life, intelligence, memory, soul etc. His knowledge about planet, earth and the universe is very limited. If we compare the knowledge about planet, earth and the universe to a big ocean, man has not been able to acquire even a single drop. Our knowledge is limited to such an extent. So it will be meaningless to insist on a complete knowledge of God, who is the creator of the universe, and of his deeds. Things related to God are supernatural and they are beyond the human thought and intellect, which are subject to the limitations of the five senses. No one knows anything about them except what God has informed through his messengers. So we cannot comprehend the destiny and God's will except what people have been taught through the divine revelations. The knowledge we have acquired from the Holy Scripture is that Gods will and knowledge cover everything in the universe, including human beings. At the same time God has granted them freedom and ability to make their own decision and to live accordingly. This freedom is not unrestricted as God has demanded them to live in obedience to Him in all spheres where freedom has been granted. Success in life and deliverance in the Hereafter have been offered to those who follow God's path. Man has also been given freedom and ability to disobey Him. The disobedient people have been warned of failure in life and of severe punishment in the hereafter. In short each person's obligation is based on the level of freedom and ability granted by the God. The reward or punishment in the life after death is based on whether one has fulfilled his obligations or not. Hence we obtain our own heaven and hell. Through one's own choice and actions one deserves either heaven or hell. No one becomes a victim of injustice.
Belief in Destiny and Peace of Mind
The actions may not always have the desired fruits. A businessman, whose primary objective is to make profit, sometimes suffers loss. The farmers who fertile the land for good yield may eventually sustain huge loss. Within the limits of our knowledge, experience and ability we calculate certain things and work accordingly. Sometimes, in no time, our hopes and dreams become ashes, and there are often unexpected contingencies. Even if there are possible hazards nobody is passive. One should not be passive. Rather people tend to work with expectations of success and achievements. All hopes are not fulfilled, yet people do not cease to have hopes. Man may not get what he proposes. Rather he will get what God has decided for him.
"To Him belong the keys of the heavens and the earth: He enlarges and restricts the sustenance to whom He will: for He knows full well all things'' (42:12)
"See ye the seed that ye sow in the ground? Is it ye that cause it to grow, or are we the cause? Were it Our will, we could crumble it to dry powder, and ye would be left in wonderment, (saying) ''we are indeed left with debts (for nothing):'' Indeed are we deprived (of the fruits of our labour) (56:63-67)
We are absolutely uncertain of our death; its time, place and manner. No one escapes it. The life span, whether it is long or short, is decided by God.
"Nor does anyone know what it is that he will earn on the morrow: Nor does anyone know in what land he is to die'' (31:34).
"It is God that gives Life and Death'' (3:156)
"Wherever ye are, death will find you out, even if ye are in towers built up strong and high!'' (4:78)
Virtues and vices, right path and evil ones, success and failures etc in human life are subject to God's will. All our worldly affairs are subject to His will. Yet no one keeps out of work, and rest content with the hope that God will feed him. Our death is subject to God's will, and yet people undergo treatment if they fall sick. They will not avoid treatment saying that if God wills we will be cured. No sensible person will leave his life to fate and lead an idle life. On the other hand he will choose the right path and put on great effort for progress and achievements in life. Religion has instructed to do so God's will has to be realized through human actions.
''And to all are (assigned) degrees according to the deeds which they (have done), and in order that (God) may recompense their deeds, and no injustice will be done to them'' (46:19)
''And work ye righteousness; for be sure I see (clearly) all that ye do'' (34:11)
Prophet says: ''After the morning prayer don't sleep without working for your food'' (Tabrani)
''If anyone of you has a sapling of date palm with him, let him plant it, even if the Last Day has arrived too close. He will be rewarded for it.''
Once the prophet made judgment in a case between two persons. When they left the one who lost the case said: ''Allah is enough for me. He is the greatest of all guardians''. Hearing this prophet told him: ''God does not like weaknesses. So acquire strength and confidence. Even after that you are defeated you may say: ''Allah is enough for me. He is the greatest of all guardians''.
Man is obliged to acquire his whole means and to fight against all odds. Religion has taught this as essential for success. It demands to equip ourselves with determination, perseverance and willingness to sacrifice. It is a big sin to be lazy and to blame destiny for our failures and faults. Carelessness and laziness will have inevitable consequences, and such consequences cannot be put on a garb of destiny. It is foolish to expect fruits without efforts, and gains without pains. God rewards only for deeds.
Once someone asked the prophet: ''O messenger of God, should I entrust my camel to God after tieing it, or leaving it untied''. The prophet replied: ''Tie it. Then entrust to God''.
Without taking food and water hunger and thirst cannot be quenched. Without sowing seeds there cannot be any crop, and without pain there is no gain. Calculated work is essential for big success. All these are the irrevocable laws of God and a believer who knows this truth will ever be active and engaged. So belief in destiny encourages people to work, rather than making them lethargic and inactive.
God's will and divine knowledge are realms which are unknown to us. So it is meaningless and futile to be obsessed and worried about them which lie beyond our understanding. Rather we must hope for the boundless mercy of God, and work towards it. For believers there is no scope for despair.
Islam has instructed to entrust on God only after one's firm decision to work hard. ''Then when thou hast taken a decision, put thy trust in God'' (3:159)
Let us think of an imaginary situation. A very dynamic youth is unexpectedly affected by paralysis. He tries all kinds of treatments; but they are of no use. All branches of medicines including modern medical science, homeopathy and Ayurveda declare that his disease is incurable. The patient painfully realizes that he will be bed-ridden for the rest of his life. It is quite natural and expected that he will become restless and disconcerted. In such a state no material philosophy or ideology of the world can console him. V.I. Lenin, one of the heroic revolutionaries of the twentieth century, was very disconcerted when he was attacked by paralysis, and asked his comrade Stalin to give him potassium cyanide to end his life. However, those who have firm belief in God's will entrust everything on Him and thereby get relief. With peace of mind he tells himself: ''It was God who gifted me eyes, ears, nose, tongue, limbs, health and life. The health he had given me by his grace is now taken back. My present situation is a mere test, and His will. If I waver I may fail in the test. If I am patient I will become triumphant and rewarded with heaven, which is free of disease''.
The only child of parents, who was much pampered by all, dies at the age of four or five. We cannot describe the grief of people who have had similar experience in life. Karl Marx had argued that the concept of family was only a product of capitalism and under primitive communism when there was no private ownership, women had enjoyed much freedom and children were not able to identify their fathers. Even Marx was panicked by the death of his son. In 1855 his son Edgar, a very intelligent boy, was affected by a severe illness. Marx spent long nights at the sick-bed of eight-years old Edgar who was endearingly called Mush. An obviously worried Marx wrote to his friend Engels that his ''heart is burning and head is hot''. After Edgar's death Marx again wrote''. My poor Mush is no more. You know the depth of my grief. I have experienced lots of difficulties. But only now do I realize what real unhappi-ness is''.
In similar situations those who have belief in destiny can console themselves. Their mind prompts: ''It was God the Gracious who gifted me the child, and it was God who called him back. All comes under His irrevocable will. I have only handed my child back to Him who is more Gracious, Loving and Caring than me. So my impatience will be unwarranted and meaningless. If I am patient I will obtain heaven, and at the gates of the immortal heaven I will meet him waiting for me with a welcome smile.
Those who have no belief in destiny become victims of restlessness and impatience when calamities and other tragedies occur. They go on whining and complaining. No words can console them, or nothing can remove their anxieties. But those who believe in the irrevocable will of God get immense relief. They understand that their patience or impatience cannot make any change in the existing physical condition. Nay, the impatience will intensify the unrest. Patience will give them peace and bring great reward in the hereafter. They understand that impatience is a big fault. The whole life is a test. God tests us by giving his Grace and also by denying it. The result is known only in the hereafter. Religion has asked us to be moderate in joy in favourable conditions as well as to be patient in adverse circumstances. People who do so are offered success.
''Be sure we shall test you with something of fear and hunger, some loss in goods or lives or the fruits (you toil), but give glad tidings to those who patiently persevere. Who say, when afflicted with calamity: ''To God we belong, and to Him is our return'' - They are those on whom (descend) blessings from their lord, and Mercy and they are the ones that receive guidance'' (2:155157)
Those who agree to this verse will be very calm and fearless and well satisfied with their destiny. It is irrelevant for them whether their destiny is favourable or unfavourable. Fear, complaints, grief and weeping cannot change one's destiny. They will not complain about lost opportunities and gains. Rather they continue their hope in divine grace and with composed minds will engage themselves in good deeds. They won't sigh over lost yesterdays. Instead they will draw strength from them for their present and future actions. Hence true belief in destiny encourages good deeds and it is also a source of mental peace. Defective belief in destiny, on the other hand, leads to lethargy and lack of activities. Islam never approves of it.