In this article, we want to deal with an important matter that concerns all Muslims: Pre-Decree and Pre-Destination (al-Qaḍāʾ wa-al-Qadr), a subject that has been a point of contention for the Scholars throughout the ages. It has been related that the Messenger of Allāh (ﷺ) once found his Companions arguing about Qadr. He forbade them from indulging in such a debate and told them that communities before them had been destroyed for that reason.
However, by the grace of Allāh, our Salaf al-Ṣāliḥ were able to understand the issue and formulate a moderate view based upon equity and justice. In their understanding, the issue of Qaḍāʾ and Qadr stems from the Tawḥīd of Allāh’s Lordship (Tawḥīd al-Rubūbiyyah). This is one of the three categories of the Tawḥīd of Allāh:
- Unity of Divinity (Tawḥīd al-ʿUlūhiyyah), which is to direct all forms of worship to Allāh alone.
- Unity of Lordship over the entire universe (Tawḥīd al-Rubūbiyyah), which means to believe that all creation, sovereignty and planning belong to Allāh.
- Unity in the matter of the Names and Attributes of Allāh (Tawḥīd al-Asmāʾ wa-al-Ṣifāt).
Īmān (faith) in pre-destination is implied by Allāh’s Attribute of nourishing and sustaining the entire universe. Imām Ahmad (d.241H) – raḥimahullāh – said, “Qadr (pre-destination) is the power of Allāh. It is one of the affairs of the Unseen that no one besides Allāh knows, as it has been recorded in the Preserved Tablet. We do not know what Allāh has destined, either for us or against us or it has been told by the Prophet (ﷺ) himself.”
Regarding this issue, the people of the Muslim Ummah has divided into three factions:
- The first group is so extreme in its attempts to prove pre-destination that it has completely deprived man of any power and any ability to choose. For them, man has no independence but is coerced into doing all that he does; he is a helpless being, at the mercy of Qadr. There is no doubt that this group is wrong. By using our powers of reason and the pillars of Īmān, we know that there is a difference between the things that happen without our will and those in which we play an active part.
- The second group goes to the extreme of attributing complete power and freedom of choice to the individual, at the expense of denying Allāh any role in the process, by saying that Allāh the Exalted does not know of an action until after it has occurred! This view is also mistaken.
- Allāh has guided others to a more moderate and sensible view, and we, Ahl al-Sunnah wa-al-Jamāʿah have adopted it because it is based upon legal as well as rational evidence. We agree that everything that happens in the universe falls into one of the following two categories:
- The things that Allāh does and in which no one else has any power of intervention. For example, there is the falling of rain, the growth of vegetation, life and death, illness and health.
- The actions done by all the creatures that have the power of will. These actions are a consequence of their efforts and their choice, a power that has been given to them by Allāh. He thus says in the Qurʾān,
لِمَن شَاءَ مِنكُمْ أَن يَسْتَقِيمَ ﴿٢٨﴾
“To whomever amongst you wills to go straight.”
مِنكُم مَّن يُرِيدُ الدُّنْيَا وَمِنكُم مَّن يُرِيدُ الْآخِرَةَ ۚ ﴿١٥٢﴾
“Amongst you are some that desire this world and some that desire the Hereafter.”
[Alī ʿImrān, 3:152]
Man knows very well the difference between what he does from his own free will and what he does because of external force. The person who reaches safely the bottom of a flight of stairs knows that this is because he walked down carefully. However, if he is pushed down from the top, he has no power over how he lands at the bottom. The first instance is an example of choice; the second is clearly one of compulsion. Similarly, a person who suffers from incontinence of urine knows that urine is passed without his will and that if he did not have this illness, he would be able to control the discharge. The difference between the two requires no further explanation.
It is a mercy of Allāh that there are certain actions which, are in the voluntary power of the individual but are recorded as if they are not, and so he is not held answerable for them.
For example, there are actions done out of forgetfulness or during sleep. Allāh says in the story of the people of the cave,
وَنُقَلِّبُهُمْ ذَاتَ الْيَمِينِ وَذَاتَ الشِّمَالِ ۖ ﴿١٨﴾
“And We turned them on their right and on their left sides.”
The men themselves are turning over, but Allāh the Exalted attributes their movements to himself, since a sleeping person has no control over his action. The Prophet (ﷺ) said, “The one who forgets while fasting and eats or drinks, he should complete his fast because Allāh is the One who feeds him and gives him drink.”
Thus, actions done in a state of forgetfulness are also treated as if the person is acting outside his own will and are attributed to Allāh Himself.
If we were to agree with the first group mentioned earlier (those who give man no free will whatsoever), we would be distorting the facts. We would not be able to praise someone for their good actions or castigate someone who voluntarily does wrong, because we would have attributed all their actions to the will of Allāh. Another dangerous implication of this argument is that Allāh the Exalted behaves unjustly if He punishes the disobedient and rewards the good, as He alone is the source of all these actions. Not only is such reasoning nonsensical, but it is contradictory to the Qurʾān as well,
وَقَالَ قَرِينُهُ هَٰذَا مَا لَدَيَّ عَتِيدٌ ﴿٢٣﴾ أَلْقِيَا فِي جَهَنَّمَ كُلَّ كَفَّارٍ عَنِيدٍ ﴿٢٤﴾ مَّنَّاعٍ لِّلْخَيْرِ مُعْتَدٍ مُّرِيبٍ ﴿٢٥﴾ الَّذِي جَعَلَ مَعَ اللَّهِ إِلَٰهًا آخَرَ فَأَلْقِيَاهُ فِي الْعَذَابِ الشَّدِيدِ ﴿٢٦﴾ ۞ قَالَ قَرِينُهُ رَبَّنَا مَا أَطْغَيْتُهُ وَلَٰكِن كَانَ فِي ضَلَالٍ بَعِيدٍ ﴿٢٧﴾ قَالَ لَا تَخْتَصِمُوا لَدَيَّ وَقَدْ قَدَّمْتُ إِلَيْكُم بِالْوَعِيدِ ﴿٢٨﴾ مَا يُبَدَّلُ الْقَوْلُ لَدَيَّ وَمَا أَنَا بِظَلَّامٍ لِّلْعَبِيدِ ﴿٢٩﴾
“And his companion (angel) will say, “Here is (this Record) ready with me!” (And it will be said,) “Both of you throw (order from Allāh to the two angels) into Hell, every stubborn disbeliever, hinderer of good, transgressor and doubter who set up another ilāh with Allāh, then both of you cast him in the severe torment.” His companion (the devil) will say, “Our Lord! I did not push him to transgress, (in disbelief, oppression and evil deeds) but he himself was in error far astray.” Allāh will say, “Do not dispute in front of Me, I had already sent you the threat in advance. The sentence that comes from Me cannot be changed and I am not unjust to the slaves.”
Allāh the Exalted clearly states that the punishments He inflicts are not cruel but just, since He has already warned His creatures and sent them guidance. He has clearly defined the two paths of piety and disobedience, just as He has defined the consequences of following each path. Man thus has total freedom to choose either path, remembering that if he opts for the path of disobedience, he will not have the excuse of ignorance to offer Allāh on the Day of Judgement. The Qurʾān says in this regard,
رُّسُلًا مُّبَشِّرِينَ وَمُنذِرِينَ لِئَلَّا يَكُونَ لِلنَّاسِ عَلَى اللَّهِ حُجَّةٌ بَعْدَ الرُّسُلِ ۚ ﴿١٦٥﴾
“Messengers as bearers of good news as well as of warning in order that mankind should have no plea against Allāh after the Messengers.”
The Qurʾān and reality also refute those who go to the other extreme of giving man complete freedom of action, leaving no role for Allāh. We are told that the will of man follows the will of Allāh,
لِمَن شَاءَ مِنكُمْ أَن يَسْتَقِيمَ ﴿٢٨﴾
“To whomsoever amongst you wills to go straight. However, you shall not will except as Allāh, Lord of the worlds wills.”
وَرَبُّكَ يَخْلُقُ مَا يَشَاءُ وَيَخْتَارُ ۗ ﴿٦٨﴾
“And your Lord creates whatever He wills and chooses.”
وَاللَّهُ يَدْعُو إِلَىٰ دَارِ السَّلَامِ وَيَهْدِي مَن يَشَاءُ إِلَىٰ صِرَاطٍ مُّسْتَقِيمٍ ﴿٢٥﴾
“And Allāh calls to the home of peace and guides whom He wills to a Straight Path.”
Those who hold this view are thus rejecting Allāh’s Omniscience, one of His essential Attributes, by effectively claiming that in His Kingdom, there are many things, which He does not wish or does not create. However, Allāh the Exalted wills everything, creates everything and predestines for everything! It is impossible to conceive of something happening that He does not wish to happen. This poses problems for us, such as what is the fate of someone whom Allāh wishes to misguide? It surely cannot be his fault that he did not receive the message of truth. The truth is that Allāh guides those who want to be guided, and misguides those who do not wish to receive guidance. We read this in the Qurʾān,
وَإِذْ قَالَ مُوسَىٰ لِقَوْمِهِ يَا قَوْمِ لِمَ تُؤْذُونَنِي وَقَد تَّعْلَمُونَ أَنِّي رَسُولُ اللَّهِ إِلَيْكُمْ ۖ فَلَمَّا زَاغُوا أَزَاغَ اللَّهُ قُلُوبَهُمْ ۚ وَاللَّهُ لَا يَهْدِي الْقَوْمَ الْفَاسِقِينَ ﴿٥﴾
“Then when they turned away, Allāh turned their hearts away.”
فَبِمَا نَقْضِهِم مِّيثَاقَهُمْ لَعَنَّاهُمْ وَجَعَلْنَا قُلُوبَهُمْ قَاسِيَةً ۖ يُحَرِّفُونَ الْكَلِمَ عَن مَّوَاضِعِهِ ۙ وَنَسُوا حَظًّا مِّمَّا ذُكِّرُوا بِهِ ۚ ﴿١٣﴾
“So because of their breach of their covenant, We cursed them, and made their hearts grow hard: they change the words from their right places and have abandoned a good part of the Message that was sent to them.”
In other words, the wish to be pious emanates from the individual himself, and Allāh guides him because of this. The issue can be further explained by comparing it to the acquisition of knowledge or to the earning of a living. Allāh has decreed the amount of understanding or wealth a person will be able to acquire in his life. This does not mean that the individual can thus sit at home and wait for the wealth or learning he receives will be proportional to the effort put in, and this is just as true for guidance. The Prophet (ﷺ) said in this regard, “Indeed, the creation of each one of you is brought together in his mother’s belly for forty days in the form of a seed, then he is a clot of blood for a like period, then a morsel of flesh for a like period, then there is sent to him the angel who blows the breath of life into him and who is commanded with four matters: to write down his means of livelihood, his life span, his actions, and whether he will be happy or unhappy.”
Just as we make all conceivable sacrifices for the nourishment of the stomach, so should we work hard for the sustenance of the soul. When ill, we are prepared to travel the world in search of a doctor who can cure us, but when our souls are diseased, we leave them to rot, waiting for Allāh to send down guidance upon a plate!
The correct opinion is thus that there are many routes open to the discretion of man, and it is up to him to choose the one he wishes to follow. He is like a merchant with many commodities in front of him, and it is his choice which one to trade in. He will obviously pick the one that he thinks will be most profitable. The difference is that the merchant is uncertain and has no guarantee of success; his commodity may have a market and he may make a profit, but he could just as easily lose all his capital.
The Believer on the other hand, is completely sure that if he follows the path of guidance, there will undoubtedly be success and reward waiting for him at the other end because Allāh has promised so, and Allāh never breaks His promise. Similarly, the disbeliever can be sure that only pain and punishment await him at the end of his path.
I would like to add that what has so far been said has been agreed upon and adopted by us, the Ahl al-Sunnah wa-al-Jamāʿah, as our belief. Man does what he wants, but his will follows that of Allāh. We also believe that Allāh’s will does not act on its own but is strongly linked to His wisdom, one of His Attributes. As a wise and just ruler, He decrees guidance for the person who wants guidance and truth, who wishes to be close to Allāh and who aims to follows the Straight Path. For anyone who does not want the truth, Allāh decrees error and misguidance; were Islām to be presented to him, his heart would constrict as if he was ascending to the sky. Allāh’s wisdom declines to offer guidance to such a person, unless the person changes his attitude.
The Ahl al-Sunnah wa-al-Jamāʿah say that Allāh’s Qaḍāʾ and Qadr have four components. The first is knowledge: man must believe with certainty that Allāh has knowledge of everything; He knows the minute as well as the general details of all that happens, whether it is His own doing, or that of His creatures.
The second constituent of Qadr is writing. Allāh has written all His knowledge of the fate of His creatures in the Preserved Tablet, as He tells us in the Qurʾān,
أَلَمْ تَعْلَمْ أَنَّ اللَّهَ يَعْلَمُ مَا فِي السَّمَاءِ وَالْأَرْضِ ۗ إِنَّ ذَٰلِكَ فِي كِتَابٍ ۚ إِنَّ ذَٰلِكَ عَلَى اللَّهِ يَسِيرٌ ﴿٧٠﴾
“Do you not know that Allāh knows all that is in the heavens and in the earth? Indeed, it is all in the Book (the Preserved Tablet) and that is easy for Allāh.”
In one ḥadīth, the Prophet (ﷺ) is reported to have said, “Indeed, the first thing that Allāh created was the pen. He said, ‘Write!’ It said, ‘What shall I write?’ He said, ‘Write down everything that is going to happen.’ So that moment flowed everything that was going to happen until the Day of Judgement.’ At this the Prophet (ﷺ) was asked whether the actions we do are new actions, or are they actions that have been decreed already. He replied, ‘They are already decreed.’ The Companions said, ‘O Messenger of Allāh, should we then not work and just depend?’ He said, ‘Work and everything that was created for you will be made easy.’ The Prophet added, ‘Work O my brother, work and whatever was created for you will be facilitated for you.’ Then he recited the words of Allāh the Exalted,
فَأَمَّا مَنْ أَعْطَىٰ وَاتَّقَىٰ ﴿٥﴾ وَصَدَّقَ بِالْحُسْنَىٰ ﴿٦﴾ فَسَنُيَسِّرُهُ لِلْيُسْرَىٰ ﴿٧﴾ وَأَمَّا مَن بَخِلَ وَاسْتَغْنَىٰ ﴿٨﴾ وَكَذَّبَ بِالْحُسْنَىٰ ﴿٩﴾ فَسَنُيَسِّرُهُ لِلْعُسْرَىٰ ﴿١٠﴾
“As for he who gives in charity and keeps his duty to Allāh and fears Him, and believes in the best, We will make smooth for him the path of ease. However, he who is a greedy miser and thinks himself to be self-sufficient, and gives lie to the best, We will make smooth for him the path for evil.”
The third component of Qadr is that of will. Allāh wills the presence or absence of everything in the heavens and in the earth. Nothing can exist without His Will. This is reiterated in the Qurʾān,
لِمَن شَاءَ مِنكُمْ أَن يَسْتَقِيمَ ﴿٢٨﴾ وَمَا تَشَاءُونَ إِلَّا أَن يَشَاءَ اللَّهُ رَبُّ الْعَالَمِينَ ﴿٢٩﴾
“To whomsoever amongst you wills to go straight. However, you shall not will except as Allāh, Lord of the worlds wills.”
وَلَوْ شَاءَ رَبُّكَ مَا فَعَلُوهُ ۖ فَذَرْهُمْ وَمَا يَفْتَرُونَ ﴿١١٢﴾
“If your Lord had so willed, they would not have done it.”
وَلَوْ شَاءَ اللَّهُ مَا اقْتَتَلُوا وَلَٰكِنَّ اللَّهَ يَفْعَلُ مَا يُرِيدُ ﴿٢٥٣﴾
“If Allāh had willed, they would not have fought each other; but Allāh does what He likes.”
Allāh also relates that His actions always yield to His own will,
وَلَوْ شِئْنَا لَآتَيْنَا كُلَّ نَفْسٍ هُدَاهَا ﴿١٣﴾
“And if We had willed, surely We would have given every person his guidance.”
وَلَوْ شَاءَ رَبُّكَ لَجَعَلَ النَّاسَ أُمَّةً وَاحِدَةً ۖ وَلَا يَزَالُونَ مُخْتَلِفِينَ ﴿١١٨﴾
“And if your Lord had so willed, He could surely have made mankind one nation.”
Thus, true Īmān is not complete unless we believe that Allāh’s will is total and all-embracing.
The fourth component of Qadr is creation. This means that we believe that Allāh is the Creator of everything and anything, even death, although it is the absence of life. The Qurʾān says,
الَّذِي خَلَقَ الْمَوْتَ وَالْحَيَاةَ لِيَبْلُوَكُمْ أَيُّكُمْ أَحْسَنُ عَمَلًا ۚ ﴿٢﴾
“He who has created death and life, that He may test which of you is best in deed.”
The skies, the mountains, the winds, the vapours, the growth of living organisms, the droughts – all are the creation of Allāh. A difficulty arises: how can we claim that our actions and words are products of our own free will when they are in fact creations of Allāh? The answer is that our actions and utterances are the result of our ability and desire to do them. Since Allāh alone is the one who created us and gave us the ability and the will to distinguish, choose, and act, our actions are His creations; He created the cause which generates the result, so He is the Creator of the result as well as the cause. However, this does in no way belittle our choice and will. For example, fire burns. The One who gave this power to fire is Allāh, as fire on its own does not have the capability to burn. We see an instance of this in the Qurʾān,
قُلْنَا يَا نَارُ كُونِي بَرْدًا وَسَلَامًا عَلَىٰ إِبْرَاهِيمَ ﴿٦٩﴾
“We said: O fire! Be a coolness and safety for Ibrāhīm!” [21:69]
Thus, the fire did not burn Ibrāhīm (ʿalayhī al-salām) in this case. It is Allāh who gives fire the power to burn, just as He gives man the power to choose and act in according to his decision.
Finally, I would like to say that were it not for the increasing number of questions that have been raised about this issue and the ensuing controversy, we would not have entered into the debate. However, we felt there was a need for clarification and so we spoke out.
I ask Allāh the Exalted to facilitate the good actions that have been decreed for His pious creatures and to record for us and for them righteousness in this world and in the next. The praise is due to the Lord of the universe. May the peace and blessings of Allāh be upon our Prophet Muhammad, upon his family and upon all his Companions.
- Related by Muslim (no. 6420)
- Quoted by Imām Ibn al-Qayyim in his Shifāʿ al-ʿAlīl (1/88)
- Related by al-Bukhārī (4/135) and Muslim (no. 1155)
- Related by al-Bukhārī (1/116) and Muslim (no. 1599)
- Related by al-Bukhārī (6/472)