One of the major beliefs about God held by the majority of Muslims is that of His absolute sovereignty. This concept is unavoidable for Muslims since it is explicitly taught in the Qur’an. For example:
To Him [Allah] is due the primal origin of the heavens and the earth: When he decreeth a matter, He saith to it: “Be,” and it is. (2:117)
Allah doth blot out or confirm what He pleaseth: with Him is the Mother of the Book [Umm al-Kitab, the “book” in which Allah has, supposedly, decreed all things]. (13:39)
And Allah did create you from dust; then from a sperm-drop; then He made you in pairs. And no female conceives, or lays down (her load), but with His knowledge. Nor is a man long-lived granted length of days, nor is a part cut off from his life, but is in a Decree (ordained). All this is easy to Allah. (35:11)
Whom God does guide,-he is on the right path: whom He rejects from His guidance,-such are the persons who perish. (7:178)
It follows logically from the above that Islam would have a concept of Predestination, and indeed it does. The Arabic term for this is Qadar, which has a semantic range that encompasses ideas of “decree” and “ultimate destiny.” This being the case, it should come as no surprise that, just as within Christianity, so in Islam, there are those that embrace the idea of God’s absolute control and decree over all elements of the universe, and those who struggle with it and try to find middle ground between what the Qur’an and the Hadith say with regard to God’s hand on all events, and human free will. However, the many ayat in the Qur’an, along with many sayings quoted in the Hadith (e.g., Tirmidhi, 4/445, hadith no. 2135; Muslim, 4/2040, hadith no. 2648; Bukhari, Fath al-Baari, 11/477, et al.) seem to affirm the idea that nothing, even the destiny of the soul after life, is outside of God’s control.
What the Qur’an and the Hadith Teach about Predestination
In essence, Islam teaches that God is the Creator of all things, and it is He who has ordained all that will happen. When a person is conceived in the womb, God writes the path of that person’s life, so it cannot be anything other than what God has decreed. God will then so order the man’s life and draw him toward good deeds or evil deeds so that he may be properly judged according to his conduct and, at the end of his life, receive the just reward for the life he has lived: Paradise or Hell. In the course of his life, the man may be tempted by jinn, which are spiritual beings that are supposedly morally neutral, but have a tendency to draw people into sin. However, his ultimate end has been decreed by God, and the balance of his life, whether he has succumbed to sin more than he has striven for good, has also been planned and decreed by God.
This is, of course, a very brief statement of the concept without the nuances and explanations that would normally be provided by the Muslim theologian to try to blunt the harsh edges of what this says. Historically, objections have been raised within the Islamic community along the lines of “if God has so decreed every aspect of my life to the very end, why should I strive? What’s the point?” and “if God is able to decree anyone to Paradise, then isn’t God unjust if He does not decree all to Paradise?” In response to these objections, the Muslim theologian might suggest that God decrees both the means and the ends, so one cannot help but strive, even though God has decreed the result beforehand. God does not force one to act, because He so affects the desires of men that they will want to act in the way God ordains:
Verily, (the ends) ye strive for are diverse. So he who gives (in charity) and fears (Allah), And (in all sincerity) testifies to the best,- We will indeed make smooth for him the path to Bliss. But he who is a greedy miser and thinks himself self-sufficient, And gives the lie to the best,- We will indeed make smooth for him the path to Misery; Nor will his wealth profit him when he falls headlong (into the Pit). Verily We take upon Ourselves to guide, And verily to Us (belong) the End and the Beginning. (42:4-13)
To the accusation that God is unjust to punish any when He could ordain all men to Paradise, one response is that if mercy belonged to man and God stole it from him, that would be unjust; but mercy belongs to God and He is free to distribute it however He wishes.
Ultimately, though, Muslims are not encouraged to dwell too deeply on the subject of Qadar, since it involves speculation in things that only God knows. Instead of becoming concerned with questions of God’s justice, and one’s own decreed end, the Muslim should concern himself with obedience and faithulness to God, and let God be concerned with the things He has prescribed.
The Next Installment: Dr. Norman Geisler’s Critique of Qadar.