The Divine Decree

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What is the divine decree? What does the divine decree means?

The last article of faith is the belief in God’s decree (qadar). Muslims believe that Allah, may He be glorified and exalted, has power over everything. All that happens is according to His Will, thus nothing is supernatural or random. However, Muslims are not fatalistic, they are given free will and enjoined to strive to do their best in all situations, since human beings do not know where their destiny lies. Thus, they must exhaust all possible means and when the inevitable occurs (good or bad) it is to be taken with patience and trusting acceptance of the Infinite Wisdom of Allah.[1] The most appropriate translation of qadar is, ‘divine decree’, other Arabic terms used to refer to this decree are, ‘taqdir’ (determination of measurement) and ‘al-qada wa’l-qadar’ (divine will and divine decree). The problem of understanding the true meaning of qadar arises when the human intellect considers any of the components of the divine decree within a timeline. Predestination and fate are inappropriate terms in this context because God is recognized as being the Creator of space and time and yet He is not bound by them. Consequently, God’s divine decree is not bound by these limited conceptions. The notion of predestination somehow considers God’s knowledge, power and will within the confines of time and space. Furthermore, the concept of fate makes one believe that the human being is totally devoid of free will, because one’s actions would be determined in advance by an impersonal force.

It is recognized that there is a limit to how much human beings can understand about this article of faith. Simply said, Allah is the sole and absolute Creator of all human actions, as well as the Creator of the power (qudra) and choice (ikhtiyār) acquired and exercised by human beings. Hence, all actions, be they recognized as good or evil, are the creation of Allah, but although action, power and choice are created by Allah, it is the human being who acquires the act, and for that they are held responsible. This theory of acquisition (kasb) is inferred from the Qur’an and according to it, human beings only perform an action, whereas, the action is in fact created by Allah, may He be glorified and exalted. Thus, Allah alone is recognized as the Creator Who determines, through a created power (qudra), the individual existence of each act in all its particulars. Yet this act is created in order to be acquired and performed by a creature, so it cannot be seen as God’s own act. In other words, one could not say that God is responsible for it, but rather that the person who performed the act is responsible. According to the Qur’an there is no doubt that Allah is the Creator of everything, and that as far as any action exists, it is a created ‘thing’. It is important for the new Muslim to understand that human beings have been created with a natural disposition (fitrah), an intellect, a capacity of willing, the ability of thinking, judging and choosing, along with the power to distinguish between what is right and wrong. Therefore, people have the ability to act and they possess the freedom of choice (ikhtiyār). It is this choice, and acting on this choice, that human beings are responsible for in their individual and communal life.

God’s willing or creating an evil action cannot be seen as repugnant to His wisdom, because, He wills it in accordance with an individual’s exercise of free choice. There are clear demarcations of evil deeds that are prohibited in Islam, but it is recognized that individuals have the autonomy to commit a sin. Hence, even though sins are in accordance with what is created by the divine, this does not indicate that these actions are in any way in accordance with divine guidance or pleasure. These actions are recognized as breaching the Shari’ah and so an individual is held accountable for his acquisition and performance of the act in question through his free will. Imam Ṭaḥāwī wrote, “All will act in accordance with their design and are moving inexorably toward the purpose for which they were created. Welfare and affliction, good and evil are determined for everyone. The [divine enablement]that an act requires, for example, an act of obedience, which cannot be attributed to a creature, occurs concurrent with the act. As for the [material]enablement that results from health, capacity, poise and sound means, it precedes the act. In sacred law, it is upon the latter that legal and moral obligation hinge, just as God, the Sublime and Exalted, states; ‘God obliges no soul with more than its capacity’ (Qur’an 2:228). Human actions are God’s creations but humanity’s acquisitions.”

Although one can state the various creeds regarding the divine decree, and the place of human responsibility in relation to it, due to the complex reality of ‘Qadar’ the only true unveiling of it comes from living with trust in Allah’s providence (tawakkul), which will enlighten the believer in such a way that he or she will recognize that there is no power but Allah.[2] It is also important for the new Muslim to understand the notion of why evil or harmful things exist. The question of perceived injustice by anyone is either a lack of the full understanding of the situation at hand by the people themselves, or, it is simply the act of a moral evil, which is always carried out in violation of the divine command. This violation is due to the human being’s ability to acquire and perform such actions as his or her own. After all, creation is a testing ground for faith, and harmful and malevolent situations exist as a means to acquire knowledge about the hereafter; in addition such situations also serve the purpose for the justification for a Judgment Day and a life in the hereafter. However, it is important to recognize that human beings act in accordance with their own will, notwithstanding the fact that a person’s will is ultimately determined by divine decree.[3]

The new Muslim needs to appreciate that Islam teaches us that our task is to make a sincere effort, to strive to do the best in any act and choice; for a human being does not know and cannot know wherein his or her destiny lies, and until he or she has exhausted all possible means with regards to what will inevitably take place, we cannot say that we have encountered our destiny. However, whatever then comes after all efforts have been made, should be received with patience and trusting acceptance of what He in His Infinite Wisdom has seen fit to send, and with the expectation that it may prove to be a source of good and ultimate blessing in the broader perspective of the life to come. Belief in the divine decree is, thus, a statement of belief in the meaningfulness and purposefulness of all that it is, an essential part of the Muslim’s sense of total trust, dependence and submission in relation to his Creator. Thus, the divine decree can only be understood by living with trust in Allah; to understand the greater purpose of harmful substances in life and to have patience with everything that one encounters in this life.

[1]. For further detailed information on the Messengers/Prophets of God please see Amjad M. Hussain, The Muslim Creed: A Contemporary Study of Theology, Cambridge: Islamic Text Society, 2016, pp. 242-279.[2].Ghazālī, Faith in Divine Unity, p. 43.[3]. Ibid., p. 38.

Source: Islam For New Muslims An Educational Guide,Assoc. Prof. Amjad M. Hussain, Erkam Publications

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