LESSON NINETEEN: DIVINE DECREE AND DESTINY

The concepts of destiny and decree

The term destiny (qadar) means dimension and pre-determination (taqdīr) means measurement, and measuring and building something to determine a size. The term decree (qadā’) is used in the meaning of bringing to an end, finishing, and judgement (which, figuratively, is a kind of finishing of finishing). Occasionally decree and destiny are used as synonyms in the sense of destiny (masīr).

By destiny it is implied that God has decided the limits and dimensions, time and space, quantity and quality of the phenomena, which are established through the influence of gradual causes and agents. Likewise decree is known as the final and inevitable termination of a phenomenon after creating their grounds and conditions.

According to these definitions the classification of divine destiny is prior to the classification of divine decree and they are comprised of hierarchical degrees, which include conditions that are immediate, intermediary, and remote and by the innovation of some means and conditions they are transformed. For example the gradual development of a foetus from a sperm to an embryo goes through different stages, which includes distinctive time and space, and finally its deliverance, which is considered from the realm of its destiny. However the classification of instant decree is related to the generation of all factors and conditions and at the same time it is inevitable as the Noble Qur’an has referred:

“And when He decides on a matter, He just says to it, ‘Be!’ and it is”(al-Baqarah :117).

As has already been indicated, occasionally decree and destiny are used as synonyms, and due to this it is divided into certain and uncertain, and from this aspect we find in our traditions and supplications that the decree can be averted through giving charity, supplication and strengthening the blood-kinship.

Objective determination and epistemic-determination

Occasionally the divine pre-determination (taqdīr) and decree are known as the knowledge of God, with regards to the conditions and grounds for the birth and actualisation of a phenomenon. This is named as epistemic-decree, and destiny (qada’ wa qadar ‘ilmi). Similarly the objective decree and destiny (qada’ wa qadar ‘ayni) are known to be related to the gradual evolution of a phenomenon and its realisation in the realm of the external world (its materialisation).

On the accounts of the traditions and the noble verses of the Qur’an, all knowledge with regards to the past and present realisation and future actualisation of the phenomenon in the external world is epitomised upon ‘the safe tablet’ (lawh mahfūz). Those by the permission of the Divine have access to the ‘tablet’ and are aware of the past and future of things. Furthermore there are other tablets of lesser degree in which the incomplete and conditional futuristic knowledge is present.

Those who are aware of this have limited information, which is susceptible to substitution. Apparently the following noble verse asserts upon these two forms of destinies sarnevest}:

“Allah effaces and confirms whatever He wishes and with Him is the Mother of the Book” (al-Ra’d:39).

Alteration in the conditional destinies is known as change (badā) in an earlier ruling in the religious text.

At any instance believing in the epistemic-decree and destiny will not influx any enigmas other than that of Divine eternal knowledge (‘ilm azali). In our previous lessons we have refuted those fatalistic arguments with relation to Divine knowledge.

However believing in the objective decree and destiny, and particularly believing in determined destiny will influx several doubts and enigmas, which must be resolved.

Nevertheless a brief answer was provided in the discussions on independent effectuality.

The relation of destiny and decree to human volition

We know that the requirement for believing in the Divine objective decree and destiny is that all phenomena from beginning to end, and even the conditions of actualisation are subservient to the wise design of God the Supreme. Furthermore the reaching of this phenomenon to its final stage is also in consonance with the Divine will.

In other words the existence of every phenomenon is related to Divine will, without which no existent can come into being. Likewise the beginning of everything is based upon the Divine decree, without which no existent would take the limited forms or reach its (end) final stage. The explanation of these relationships and constituents in reality is the gradual teachings of the oneness of God. This in the meaning of it being independent in effectuality, which is of the foremost level and plays an important role in the being and becoming of man, as indicated in our previous lessons.

However the proving of the origination of a phenomenon by the authorisation of God and even by the will of God is perhaps easier than the final stages of a phenomenon entangled with the Divine decree, which requires more complex proofs. Besides, it is difficult to combine the belief in Divine decree with human volition (free-will) in the building of one’s own future. For this reason the school of the theological scholars (ash’arites) who acknowledge the Divine decree, have inclined towards determinist thought, and those who could not maintain this thought, have completely denied it and accepted absolute human volition. Moreover, they have interpreted all of those verses and the traditions opposing their thought, which can be seen in their detailed books relating to this topic.

The genuine doubt mentioned, is that if human acts in reality are based upon the will of man, then how can one establish the relationship between it and Divine decree?

And if it is grounded upon Divine decree, then how can it be known to be the choice of man or be complied with human volition?

Hence on this basis, for the refutation of doubt and for the combination of human volition and Divine will, one must demonstrate the different

proofs for proving that an effect can have several causes in a way that the different voluntary actions (f ‘al) of man are related to human volition and also to Divine decree.

a. Different types of influences from distinctive causes

The effect of several causes in the appearance of a phenomenon can be imagined in the following ways:

  1. Certain cause next to each other or together make an influence such as the mixing of water, grain and temperature etc. that influences the seed to sprout and grow into a plant.

  2. Each and every one of the causes influence a phenomenon periodically during the stretch of its (a phenomenon’s) life such as the flight of an aircraft is dependent or influenced periodically by several machines.

  3. The effect, which results from certain causes due to the sequential inducement, such as the effect of the intention of man to write upon the hand and the effect of the hand upon the pen.

  4. The effect, resulting from certain vertical causes in such a fashion that each and every one of them depends on other causes (existence). This is contrary to the assumption above were the pen was not dependent upon the hand and the hand was not contingent upon the intention.

In all of these forms certain causes were required for the formation of an effect, hence the effect of Divine will and human will upon the voluntary action of man pertains to these realities.

However, the combination of two separate causes upon an effect (or for the origination of an effect) is not possible, taking into consideration that the causes are those which bestow existence (‘illah muwjidah), or if there is a combination of two causes, the combination of which, is impossible.

b. Resolution of a doubt

With the explanation which has been provided, it has become clear that relating the voluntary actions of man to God the Supreme is not contradictory, however Divine will and human will are considered as being parallel to each other.

In other words, the contingency of the action and the agent is on one level, however their existence is compared to God the Supreme on a higher level, in such a way that the existence of man and the existence of the matter is dependent upon Him.

The influence of human-will as being a part of a complete cause in the accomplishment of a work does not contradict the thought that all parts of the complete cause are acknowledged to God. It is God who has the power in his hand by which He gives the existence to man, the universe and to all affairs, there is nothing that can be considered as being independent from Him. The voluntary actions of man are also dependent and not beyond the radius of the Divine will. Therefore these two wills are not horizontal to each other and it is not impossible for them to co-exist.

Human will in its very existence is dependent upon Divine will and the Divine will is necessary for the realisation (actualisation) of any action:

“But you do not wish unless it is wished by Allah, the Lord of all the worlds” (al-Takwīr:29).

c. The influence of belief upon destiny and decree

To believe in Divine destiny and decree other than it being a reason for the perfection of man in the dimension of the intellect, also has a tremendous effect upon the actions of man. Some of these actions have already been discussed, however we will mention a few more below:

One, who believes in the return of all occurrences to the wise will of God, which is related to the Divine decree and destiny, will never be afraid or confused with regards to these occurrences. Furthermore such a person will not despair at fear and suffering, but will see such incidents as the Divine plan of God, and will gladly receive them and master the great art of patience, trust, consent, and submission. Moreover the joys and the status of the world, which leads towards arrogance and intoxication, will not carry him away. These are those very effects, which the Noble Qur’an has mentioned:

“No affliction visits the earth or yourselves but it is in a Book before We bring it about -that is indeed easy for Allah- so that you may not grieve for what escapes you, nor exult for what comes your way, and Allah does not like any swaggering braggart” (al-Hadīd:22- 23).

In every instance one must remember that the false understanding of the issue of destiny and decree or independent effectuality will result in the acceptance of oppression, irresponsibility and indolence. However one must know that the felicity and success and also the eternal misfortune of man are the outcomes of his actions. As the Noble Qur’an has mentioned:

“Whatever [good] it earns is to its benefit, and whatever [evil] it incurs is to its harm” (al-Baqarah:286).

“And that nothing belongs to man except what he strives for” (al-Najm:39).

Questions:

  1. Give the lexical meaning of decree and destiny.

  2. What is meant by Divine decree?

  3. Why is Divine decree and destiny separated into certain and uncertain?

  4. What is appearance (badā)?

  5. Explain objective and epistemic decree and destiny?

  6. What is the ‘guarded tablet’ and what is its relationship to the certain and uncertain destiny?

  7. Explain the difficulties of combining human volition with Divine decree and destiny. Briefly explain the deviation of the school of the Asharite theologians.

  8. What are the different types of influences upon an effect?

  9. How can the doubt of the fatalist be refuted with regards to divine destiny and decree?

  10. What is the influence of belief upon Divine decree and destiny?