Reflections of an American Muslim

(Shahid Athar , M. D.)

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In spite of prohibition from God and also from the Messenger refraining people from indulging in futile discussions of the destiny of the human being, this subject comes up in discussion anyway. "Oh you who believe! Ask not questions about things which if made plain to you may cause you trouble. But if you ask about things when the Quran is being revealed, they will be made plain to you, God will forgive those for God is oft forgiving most forbearing" (5:104).


The questions that are most asked concerning our after life are:

1. Are we free agents? Do we control our destiny or are we just following a pre-decreed path?

2. If we are free to make our destiny, where does God fit in?

3. If God has full knowledge of our deeds and controls our destiny, why are we held responsible for our actions?

4. If God did not guide us to be good, why does He punish us when we are bad?


Philosophers in general have some vague concepts. One group believes that God has knowledge of our actions but only after the act is committed. Others who are not seriously committed to belief (of God) believe in luck or time controlling their destiny. A third group regards men as totally independent.


The term used in Quran is "al-qadar." The translation of qadar is not pre-destiny but "due proportions" or due measures. God has created everything in due proportions. "It is He who created all things and ordered them in due proportions " (taqdira). (25:2). "And the command of God is a decree determined" (maqdura)" (33:38).


There are two types of control in the physiology of our body:

a) Central nervous system control, when our body movements and reflex actions are controlled by our mind through nerves connecting the muscles attached to joints.

b) Autonomic nervous system or involuntary system, in which the mind has little control on heart rate, body temperature, blood pressure, etc. They are controlled by hormones, whose secretions depend on the need.

Similarly, in our actions, there are two areas of control:
a) We have no control, for example, on our skin color, facial features, sex, etc., and there will be no questions asked about them from us on the Day of Judgment.

b) We do have control over simple decisions in our life, i.e., to believe in God or not to believe in Him, to give a known poison to a sick person versus to give him a known medicine, to spend money on gambling or on charity. We can make such decisions if we have clear belief in the advantages versus disadvantages of such action.


Human beings cannot always make the decision on what is good or not good for them, like a patient who cannot make the decision whether treatment is good for him or not. He has to rely on the knowledge and experience of his doctor. "Fighting (in the way of God) is prescribed for you and you dislike it. But it is possible that you dislike a thing which is good for you and that you love a thing which is bad for you. But God knows and you know not" (2:216). Example: Is rainfall good or bad? Rainfall is good for the farmer but is not so good for city dwellers where traffic is disrupted, is good for flowers and vegetable plants, but is bad for thorn bushes and weeds, is good for one living in a brick house who can enjoy it, but is bad for one living in a mud house. So the good becomes bad or vice versa depending on who receives or what purpose is achieved.
(b) I have to get to the airport to catch a plane. My wife gives me food late, I get a last minute phone call and then I get caught in a traffic jam. Well, I miss the plane, so I am upset with everyone who caused this. I have a negative view. Upon my return back to the house, I listen to the radio and hear that the plane I was to board, crashed in midair upon takeoff. I thank God for saving my life. Bad becomes good. "He cannot be questioned about his acts, but they (as human being) will be questioned (about theirs)" (21:23).


God guides only those who believe in His guidance, asks for it, and then accept it for the purpose of acting upon it. Then not only He guides them, but increases their guidance, and gives them a criterion to judge between right and wrong so that they can make better decisions. To the contrary, those who reject Him as the guide, and are bent upon evil as directed by their vain desire, pride (in self), God removes His protection from them, lets them go astray, and seals their heart that nothing good enters it, seals their hearing that they can't hear good (i.e., good sounds bad to them) and puts a covering on their eyes so that they can't see right (eye does not see, what mind does not know, and the heart does not accept). To those who love God, God loves them, and takes special care of them in protecting them from evil future.

If you asked a policeman for road directions, if he knew you and loved you (as a friend), he would not only give the right direction but most likely would say "I don't want you to be wandering. I will take you there myself." On the other hand, if you were arrogant and disbelieving, the policeman has no more responsibility other than just pointing to the direction to which you should be going. This is the difference of guidance of God to believer versus general humanity.

Let us examine some verses of Quran about guidance: "God is the protector of those who have faith; from the depth of darkness. He will lead them forth into the light. Of course, those who reject faith, the patrons are the evil ones; from light they will lead them forth into the depth of darkness. They will be companions of fire, to dwell therein (forever) (2:257). "O You who believe! If you fear God, He will grant you a criterion (to judge between right and wrong), remove from you (all) evil (that may afflict) you, andforgive, for God is the Lord of Grace unbounded." (8:29). "Say: God's guidance is the (only) guidance and we have been directed to submit ourselves to the Lord of the Worlds" (6:7 1).


Is it not simple, easier, and preferable way to be guided by God in this dark area of destiny of future and present, than take upon ourselves to venture?


Muslims accept failures and calamities as a test and warning from their Creator., Therefore, they ask for God's forgiveness and His help. "Be sure we shall test you with something of fear and hunger, small loss in goods or lives or the fruit (of your toil) but give glad tiding to those who patiently persevere who say when afflicted with calamity, 'To God we belong, and to Him is our return. "'

Then for Muslims believing in the Will of God accept illness better and accept treatment as the Will of God and in anxiety, they do not panic nor do they have suicidal depression in failures and misfortunes because they know that God says in Quran, "No misfortune can happen on earth or in your soul but is recorded in a decree before we bring it into existence, that is truly easy for God" (57:22).

The answers to the questions asked in the beginning are that (1) God has knowledge of our past, present and future, (2) He has knowledge of our will, intentions and power to change our destiny according to our intentions and efforts, and (3) the human being has limited free will which he can use to his advantage or to his detriment. "And if your Lord willed, all who are in the earth would have believed. Would You (O Muhammad) compel men until they are believed? It is notfor any to believe except by the permission of God. His wrath is upon those who have no common sense" (I0:99- 100). "Surely God does not change the condition in which a people are in until they change that which is in themselves" (I3:11).

Therefore, as Shaykh Jafar ldris puts it in his book The Process of Islamization, "The human being cannot do anything against the Will of God, but God has willed to give him the freedom to choose and power to realize some of his intentions even if they go against the guidance given by God. One of the important areas in which God gave man to act is his internal state. But since much of what happens to man depends upon what kind of internal state he has, faith can be said to be largely responsible for his destiny."What ever good (O man) happens to you is from God: but whatever evil happens to you is from your (own) soul" (4:79).

Those who are used to driving on icy roads in Midwest winters, can understand the following example. A man sets out from his house on an early winter morning to go to work. He finds the road very icy and hazardous for driving. Unless he takes special precautions, he is destined to end up in the hospital with an accident rather than his place of work. Since he cannot control the road conditions, he should try to control what he can, i.e., his speed and steering. Our actions are the only thing which controls our destiny which has already been predecided by God. Surah al-Asr. "Verily man is in loss. Except such as havefaith, and do righteous deeds and (join together) in the mutual teaching of truth, and of patience and constancy."