Introducing the Debate
The debate is how helpless is the man vs. how much authority he has – this is a very vast topic. Philosophers have debated it in different ways, for example in Existentialism.
There are two premises we have to take into account at the onset. First, Allah (swt) is al-Aleem; He has all the knowledge, including what has come to pass and what will happen in the future. Allah (swt) has Transcendental nature which means Allah (swt) has created time but Allah (swt) is pure from the limitedness of time. There is no past, present or future for Allah (swt). We understand past as a time that has elapsed, and a new time that will come as our future. Allah (swt) does not view time like that.
Imagine there is a board and on that board you draw past, present and future linearly. The time represented on the board is linear, but at the same time if you look at the board, past, present and future will be visible at one glance. This is a bit difficult to grasp but crucial in order to understand the nature of this debate.
Secondly, Allah (swt) is al-Qadir; He is the Faail-e-Haqeeqi i.e. the Real Doer. Any action can only occur by the allowance and decree of Allah (swt).
Considering Allah swt is al-Aleem i.e. His knowledge encompasses everything from past and future, and Allah swt is also al-Qadir over everything, so what is the standing of a man’s effort? How much control do we have?
One position could be that Allah swt has control over everything and man has no control whatsoever. Allah (swt) will choose for us and force us to do the action.
وَلَوۡ شِئۡنَا لَأَتَيۡنَا كُلَّ نَفۡسٍ هُدَٮٰهَا
And if We had so willed, We would have led everybody to his right path (by force). [32:13]
If we assume that the human race is completely helpless i.e. it does not matter how much good deeds they do, they will still go to hell, if it was destined for them, then the root of our deen will be dissolved. Because then there is no need to work hard or to do good deeds.
A person may think that I will not do anything because Allah (swt) will make me do it anyway, so I don’t have to bother. Such a person while doing grocery shopping may keep standing in line saying that Allah (swt) will get everything done so I’m just waiting. This is a ridiculous situation.
Second position could be that the man is in complete control over everything. Imagine what life on Earth would be like in this case. If a man could control everything, then he would want to know the future. There is a certain kind of knowledge that a man cannot handle, for example, to know when and where a person would die. With the constant fear of death looming over him, it would be very hard for him to take any action. Second, if he knows before-hand this person is going to betray him, this will be the outcome of this decision, this person will have these situations in life, it will make no sense to reward him for his choice because he already had the knowledge.
Third position is that Allah (swt) knows everything completely and absolutely, but the man is in control of his own actions. However, there are some parameters that Allah (swt) has set for the man and he will act within those limits. They are not majboor in their actions. You should be clear about this because sometimes people are not able to differentiate between knowing and doing.
For example, Allah (swt) knows how we are going to spend this Ramadan. But will this knowledge effect our actions? Even the person who is close to you can easily predict what you are going to do next, and in fact that is exactly what they do. Because of their closeness to you, it is easy for them to make the predictions.
A mother knows how her child will respond to a certain situation. Allah (swt) knows a man better than he knows himself. So Allah (swt) knows what we will do in future. But this knowledge does not mean that this prediction will have an effect on our actions. This is also because Allah (swt) is not bounded by time. We are time-bound and for us events happen sequentially. For Allah (swt) past, present and future are all existing together.
Another example is of a professor who knows before-hand about a student who has not attended any class that he will fail the course. And he does. He does not fail because the professor had predicted that, rather he failed because he had missed the classes.
Role of Nature & Nurture
Nature: If a man has the genes of generosity and his child also inherits it, or a man has a genes of excessive anger, and his son also inherits this, so people debate that what is the fault of the person if this is in his genes and nature?
For example, if there is a person in Philadelphia who is very angry by nature because of which he is often violent with his wife, we would naturally say that he should get himself treated even though he claims he inherited it from his parents. If you have a problem then you should get yourself treated accordingly.
Nurture: If how you have been brought up is the only thing that effects your actions then the son of Nuh (as) should not have been an infidel. Nature and nurture kind of encompass us but within those boundaries we have a choice for our actions.
Every heart has the ability to accept haq (the Truth). Whenever we come across haq, our hearts recognize it as the truth. Then we have a choice to either accept it or reject it. When we keep rejecting the truth, then our hearts are hardened.
وَلَا يَكُونُواْ كَٱلَّذِينَ أُوتُواْ ٱلۡكِتَـٰبَ مِن قَبۡلُ فَطَالَ عَلَيۡہِمُ ٱلۡأَمَدُ فَقَسَتۡ قُلُوبُہُمۡۖ وَكَثِيرٌ۬ مِّنۡہُمۡ فَـٰسِقُونَ
They must not be like those to whom the Book was given before, but a long period passed on them (in which they did not repent), therefore their hearts became hard,
and (thus) many of them are sinners. [57:16]
Allah (swt) has sent prophets (as) so that people who do bad deeds would start doing good deeds. This was the sole purpose of sending guidance. The people in history have killed prophets and have gone at wars with them. Despite this constant rejection, Allah (swt) still sent His guidance. Every person has already seen Allah (swt):
وَإِذۡ أَخَذَ رَبُّكَ مِنۢ بَنِىٓ ءَادَمَ مِن ظُهُورِهِمۡ ذُرِّيَّتَہُمۡ وَأَشۡہَدَهُمۡ عَلَىٰٓ أَنفُسِہِمۡ أَلَسۡتُ بِرَبِّكُمۡۖ قَالُواْ بَلَىٰۛ شَهِدۡنَآۛ
(Recall) when your Lord brought forth their progeny from the loins of the children of ’Adam, and made them testify about themselves (by asking them,) “Am I not your Lord?”
They said, “Of course, You are. We testify.” [7:72]
Everyone has the seed of love for Allah (swt) in their hearts. With a little grooming that seed will grow. Everyone holds the potential to accept haq.
Role of Consent in Being Created
Another debate is people object why was I created in the first place when I did not agree on being created? A lot of Existentialists ask this question. By being created we can get the opportunity to get qurb (proximity) of Allah (swt). For example, when a child is taken to a park, he is being given the opportunity to have fun there, but if the child keeps on crying in a corner, that’s his choice. Being born is a thing of joy because every child is a potential wali of Allah (swt).
وَإِذۡ قَالَ رَبُّكَ لِلۡمَلَـٰٓٮِٕكَةِ إِنِّى جَاعِلٌ۬ فِى ٱلۡأَرۡضِ خَلِيفَةً۬ۖ
(Remember) when your Lord said to the angels,
“I am going to create a deputy on the earth!” [2:30]
Christians have this concept that our creation was to compensate for the original sin. Look at what Allah (swt) is offering you! He is saying that you have been sent here as the Khalifa (representative) of Allah (swt).
Some people have panic attacks thinking they will live for an infinite amount of time. To understand why the afterlife is forever, let’s take the example of an old man who is an Atheist. You go to him and say that you have spent your whole life denying Allah (swt), now that your time of death is near so why don’t you take imaan at least now? He does not take imaan and says even if I were to live forever, I would continue to deny Allah (swt) (nauzubillah).
Then there is a pious old man who has been worshiping Allah (swt) his entire life. And you tell him that you have spent enough time worshiping Allah (swt) so why don’t you just relax now? He will say no, even if I was given forever I would never stop worshiping Allah (swt).
Hadith: ‘Umar Ibn Al-Khattab relates that he heard the Messenger of Allah (sws), say,
Verily actions are by intentions, and for every person is what he intended. [Agreed upon]
So the reward according to the intention is that the pious man will forever live in heaven because he intended to obey Allah (swt) forever. And the Atheist will forever remain in hell because he intended to forever deny Allah (swt).
Now imagine there is a third old man who is a Muslim, but sometimes he does good deeds and sometimes he does bad deeds. The way to purify a sinner who has not repented is that he will be burnt in hell (illa mashaAllah i.e. Allah (swt) may forgive them out of His Mercy) till they are purified, then they will go to heaven. This is because the intention of this man was to go to Jannah but unfortunately his actions were not up to the mark. Contrary to this, the pious old man had both his intention and actions up to the mark so he would directly go to heaven. And the Atheist had neither intention nor action so he will go to hell.
Allah (swt) is Infinite – Allah (swt) has been since time immemorial and will remain for evermore. Allah (swt) created man who is time-bound but Allah (swt) wants the man to be infinite as well. Allah (swt) created man so that they are granted Jannah, which is a place that will last till eternity. The asal (real purpose) of insan is Jannah, and with the right actions his destination is also heaven. But Allah swt is also al-Muqsit (the Just One), which means that someone who has done no effort should not get the same reward as the person who has done the effort.
The Question of Evil
People say that if Allah (swt) is the All Merciful then why is there evil in the world? So imagine the world with no evil in it. For example, a man is going to kill someone, but Allah (swt) intervenes and stops him because He is al-Qadir, He has the power to do so, and says no you cannot kill this man. Then will imaan bil ghayb (belief on the Unseen) remain? Imaan is definitely only on the unseen, and if people were able to see and witness directly the power and might of Allah (swt), that is mushahida. On the Day of Judgement even the kuffar will say that we believe:
وَلَوۡ تَرَىٰٓ إِذِ ٱلۡمُجۡرِمُونَ نَاكِسُواْ رُءُوسِہِمۡ عِندَ رَبِّهِمۡ رَبَّنَآ أَبۡصَرۡنَا وَسَمِعۡنَا فَٱرۡجِعۡنَا نَعۡمَلۡ صَـٰلِحًا إِنَّا مُوقِنُونَ
And (you will wonder) if you see the sinners hanging their heads before their Lord (and saying,) “Our Lord, we have now seen and heard, so send us back, and we
will do righteous deeds. Surely, (now) we are believers.” [32:12]
But Allah (swt) will say now it is that you believe? It means that now it’s too late to believe because now you have seen. Now you have done mushahida – it is not belief when you have seen something clearly.
قُلۡ يَوۡمَ ٱلۡفَتۡحِ لَا يَنفَعُ ٱلَّذِينَ كَفَرُوٓاْ إِيمَـٰنُهُمۡ وَلَا هُمۡ يُنظَرُونَ
Say, “On the day of decision their belief will not be of any use
to disbelievers, nor shall they be given any respite.” [32:29]
At times Allah (swt) does send help from ghayb (unseen). But this is not the norm. Allah (swt) has created a system to stop the evil and that is called ehsan, shariah and sunnah. Allah (swt) wants evil to be removed from this world. One man who was in IMF of some organization of this sort, and he was saying that if all the rich people gave away a small portion of their wealth then world poverty will be eradicated. If the system created by Allah (swt) was followed, poverty would be eliminated.
Sometimes we suffer because of the nafs of another person [i.e. injustice]. Nabi (sws) says that mu’min has good even if some blessing comes their way or some evil comes their way. Because when they are grateful, they get reward and when they show patience, they also get reward.
On the authority of Suhaib (ra) he said: The Prophet (sws) said:
Amazing is the affair of the believer, all of his affair is good. If something of good/happiness befalls him he is grateful and that is good for him. If something of harm befalls
him he is patient and that is good for him” (Sahih Muslim)
Allah (swt) has told us what we should and should not be doing. If the people do not stop their evil actions and Allah (swt) has to forcefully stop them then imaan bil ghayb will not remain.
One reason for having evil is that people can recognize and appreciate goodness. When we look at evil in our society, we crave for goodness all the more, and will be motivated to achieve it, and it is also a way to test us.
Some people debate that Allah (swt) has not created evil, because creating evil is bad, and attributing it to Allah (swt) would be wrong. It is important to distinguish between creating evil and doing evil. Creating evil is not a bad thing. Doing evil is a bad thing. The university system has both an F grade and an A grade. The university wants its students to get A’s. However, some students do not work hard enough and end up getting F’s. It’s a failure owing to the choice they have made which cannot be attributed to a fault in university’s system.