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Stages of Creation, Divine Predestination, and a Blessed or Calamitous End

Al-ʿAllāmah ʿAbd al-Muḥsin al-ʿAbbād

An explanation on how human creation occurs, the predetermined nature of an individual’s life course, and the types of ending they may meet.

Narrated by Abū Abd al-Raḥmān ʿAbdullāh ibn Masʿūd (رضي الله عنه): The Messenger of Allāh (صلى الله عليه وسلم) narrated to us—while he is the truthful, to whom only the truth is revealed: “Indeed, every person is created within the womb of their mothers. They spend forty days as a drop of semen, then another forty as a blood clot, then another forty as a lump of flesh. Then, an angel is sent and his soul is breathed into him. He is then tasked with the writing of four: his provision, his duration of life, his actions, and whether he will be in happiness or despair. So indeed—by Allāh, none is worshipped in truth except for Him—one of you may engage in the actions of the people of Paradise to the extent that there is but an arm’s length between him and it, then he is overtaken by what had been written for him so he engages in the actions of the people of the Fire so he enters it. And indeed, one of you may also engage in the actions of the people of the Fire until there is but an arm’s length between himself and it. Then, he is overtaken by that which had been written for him so he engages in the actions of the people of Paradise so he enters it.”

Narrated by al-Bukhārī and Muslim.

Al-ʿAllāmah ʿAbd al-Muḥsin al-ʿAbbād comments:

His saying: “he is the truthful, to whom only the truth is revealed”, that is he (صلى الله عليه وسلم) is truthful in speech and that which is revealed to him is also only truth. This statement was made by Ibn Masʿūd (رضي الله عنه) because the subsequent ḥadīth is related to aspects of the unseen which are completely unknown except by means of revelation.

His saying: “created within the womb of their mothers”, it has been said: male semen mixes with female excretions in the womb, then a person is created from both. As Allāh—the Exalted in Might—said:

خُلِقَ مِن مَّاءٍ دَافِقٍ

“He is created from a water gushing forth.”
(Al-Ṭāriq, 86:6)

He also said:

أَلَمْ نَخْلُقكُّم مِّن مَّاءٍ مَّهِينٍ ‎﴿٢٠﴾‏ فَجَعَلْنَاهُ فِي قَرَارٍ مَّكِينٍ ‎﴿٢١﴾‏

“Did We not create you from a worthless water (semen, etc.)? Then We placed it in a place of safety (womb).”
(Al-Mursalāt, 77:20-21)

“Creation” being referred to in this context is the material from which a complete human being is derived. As narrated in Ṣāḥīḥ Muslim: “Children are not derived from every drop of semen.”1

This ḥadīth elucidates the various stages in the creation of a complete human being. The first of these stages is a drop or paltry amount of semen. The second stage is that of a blood clot: it is thick, coagulated, unmoving blood. The third stage is that of a lump of flesh: that is, a piece of flesh whose size is proportional to the amount of flesh consumed in a single mouthful. Allāh has mentioned these three stages in His saying:

يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ إِن كُنتُمْ فِي رَيْبٍ مِّنَ الْبَعْثِ فَإِنَّا خَلَقْنَاكُم مِّن تُرَابٍ ثُمَّ مِن نُّطْفَةٍ ثُمَّ مِنْ عَلَقَةٍ ثُمَّ مِن مُّضْغَةٍ مُّخَلَّقَةٍ وَغَيْرِ مُخَلَّقَةٍ

“O mankind! If you are in doubt about the Resurrection, then verily! We have created you (i.e. Ādam) from dust, then from a nuṭfah (mixed drops of male and female sexual discharge i.e. offspring of Ādam), then from a clot (a piece of thick coagulated blood) then from a little lump of flesh, some formed and some unformed (miscarriage).”
(Al-Ḥajj, 22:5)

The meaning of “formed and some unformed”: shaped and unshaped. The most comprehensive passage detailing the stages of human creation is the saying of Allāh—the Exalted in Might—in Sūrah al-Muʾminūn:

وَلَقَدْ خَلَقْنَا الْإِنسَانَ مِن سُلَالَةٍ مِّن طِينٍ ‎﴿١٢﴾‏ ثُمَّ جَعَلْنَاهُ نُطْفَةً فِي قَرَارٍ مَّكِينٍ ‎﴿١٣﴾‏ ثُمَّ خَلَقْنَا النُّطْفَةَ عَلَقَةً فَخَلَقْنَا الْعَلَقَةَ مُضْغَةً فَخَلَقْنَا الْمُضْغَةَ عِظَامًا فَكَسَوْنَا الْعِظَامَ لَحْمًا ثُمَّ أَنشَأْنَاهُ خَلْقًا آخَرَ ۚ فَتَبَارَكَ اللَّهُ أَحْسَنُ الْخَالِقِينَ ‎

“And indeed We created man (Ādam) out of an extract of clay (water and earth). Thereafter We made him (the offspring of Ādam) as a nuṭfah (mixed drops of the male and female sexual discharge) (and lodged it) in a safe lodging (womb of the woman). Then We made the nuṭfah into a clot (a piece of thick coagulated blood), then We made the clot into a little lump of flesh, then We made out of that little lump of flesh bones, then We clothed the bones with flesh, and then We brought it forth as another creation. So blessed be Allāh, the Best of creators.”
(Al-Muʾminūn, 23:14)

The ḥadīth mentions—after these three stages whose summative duration is one hundred and twenty days —that the soul is breathed into the developing foetus which constitutes a living human being. Before that point, it is considered dead. As stated in the Qurʾān that mankind has two lives and two deaths. Allāh—the Exalted in Might—says regarding the disbelievers:

قَالُوا رَبَّنَا أَمَتَّنَا اثْنَتَيْنِ وَأَحْيَيْتَنَا اثْنَتَيْنِ

“They will say: “Our Lord! You have made us to die twice (i.e. we were dead in the loins of our fathers and dead after our deaths in this world), and You have given us life twice (i.e. life when we were born and life when we are Resurrected)!”
(Ghāfir, 40:11)

The first death precedes the breathing of the soul. Then, the first life is from the breathing of the soul until that person reaches their allotted duration of life. Second death begins after their demise until they are resurrected. This death, in no way, negates the life of the grave which is authentically confirmed in the Book of Allāh and the Sunnah. Second life refers to the life after death which is perpetual, continuous and eternal. These four stages have been clarified by Allāh in His saying:

وَهُوَ الَّذِي أَحْيَاكُمْ ثُمَّ يُمِيتُكُمْ ثُمَّ يُحْيِيكُمْ ۗ إِنَّ الْإِنسَانَ لَكَفُورٌ ‎

“It is He, Who gave you life, and then will cause you to die, and will again give you life (on the Day of Resurrection). Verily! Man is indeed an ingrate.”
(Al-Ḥajj, 22:66)

And His saying:

كَيْفَ تَكْفُرُونَ بِاللَّهِ وَكُنتُمْ أَمْوَاتًا فَأَحْيَاكُمْ ۖ ثُمَّ يُمِيتُكُمْ ثُمَّ يُحْيِيكُمْ ثُمَّ إِلَيْهِ تُرْجَعُونَ

“How can you disbelieve in Allāh? Seeing that you were dead and He gave you life. Then He will give you death, then again will bring you to life (on the Day of Resurrection) and then unto Him you will return.”
(Al-Baqarah, 2:28)

Thus, the rulings related to a newborn are applicable to anyone who is born in a state of death (stillborn) after the soul has been breathed into him. He must be cleaned and funeral prayers conducted on his behalf. His birth would also signify the end of his mother’s ʿiddah [requisite period of time a woman waits to remarry after the death of her husband or divorce] and change the state of a servant girl to that of the mother of her master’s children. The mother will also experience postpartum bleeding. Whereas if a miscarriage occurs before the soul is breathed into the foetus, these rulings are not applicable.

After the angel writes his provision, duration of life, whether male or female, and whether he will be among the happy or those in despair, his gender ceases to be among the matters of the unseen that is known only by Allāh—the Most High. This is because the angel knows this information. Therefore, it is considered possible for one to know the gender of the developing foetus.

In this ḥadīth, there is proof of Allāh’s preordainment of everything that will come into existence. Also, it is what a person dies upon that truly constitutes his state with regards to happiness and despair.

The states of human beings with regards to their beginnings and endings are four:

  1. One whose beginning and end are both righteous.
  2. One whose beginning is evil, and his end is likewise evil.
  3. One whose beginning is righteous but his end is evil. Like the one who is raised in a state of obedience to Allāh but then, before death, he apostates and dies upon this apostation.
  4. One whose beginning is evil, but his end is righteous. Like the magicians who accompanied Pharaoh who then believed in the Lord of Hārūn and Mūsá. Or the Jewish man who used to serve the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) whom, when he was taken ill, he (صلى الله عليه وسلم) visited and presented Islām to him and he embraced Islām. Concerning this, the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) said: “All praise be to Allāh who has saved him from the Fire”.2

These two latter states are mentioned in this ḥadīth.

This ḥadīth also proves that a person engages in the actions for which he will experience either happiness or despair by his own free will and desires. Although in so doing, he does not extricate himself from Allāh’s will and that which is desirable to Him. He has been given the choice as he chooses the actions he engages in, while also being directed as he does not engage in that which Allāh had not willed for him. Both of these matters are evidenced in this ḥadīth as, before his demise, he is overtaken by what has been written for him so he engages in the actions of the people of Paradise or the Fire.

Also, everyone should conduct themselves in a state of both fear of punishment, while also being hopeful for reward. This is because there are people who, during their lifetime, engage in goodness but their end is still one of evil. For this reason, people must never lose hope in the reward of Allāh. As a person may engage in acts of disobedience for a prolonged period before Allāh blesses him with guidance in the latter part of his life.

Al-Nawawī said in his explanation of this ḥadīth:

[Q]: If it was said: Did Allāh not say:

إِنَّ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَعَمِلُوا الصَّالِحَاتِ إِنَّا لَا نُضِيعُ أَجْرَ مَنْ أَحْسَنَ عَمَلًا

“Verily! As for those who believe and do righteous deeds, certainly! We shall not suffer to be lost the reward of anyone who does his (righteous) deeds in the most perfect manner.”
(Al-Kahf, 18:30)

The apparent meaning of this verse is that any act of righteousness enacted with sincerity must be accepted. If the Most Generous has promised acceptance, one should consider himself safe from an evil, calamitous ending.

[A]: The answer to this query is in two parts:

  1. The righteous actions mentioned in the verse are only those which have fulfilled all of the prerequisites of acceptance; the enactor of which will experience a righteous end. It is also possible that the one who truly believes and is sincere in the righteous actions he engages in must have an ending that is good.
  2. An evil, calamitous ending will occur for the one who engages in evil deeds, or mixing them with deeds of righteousness that are enacted for the purpose of showing-off or seeking praise. This meaning is evidenced by another ḥadīth: “One of you may engage in the actions of the people of Paradise as far as what is apparent to the people”. That is, what is made apparent to them from his righteous appearance before them, while his inner state is corrupt, wrought with deviousness. And Allāh knows best.

From among the benefits of this ḥadīth:

  1. Clarification of the stages of creation for a human being whilst in the womb of their mothers.
  2. The breathing of the soul occurs after one hundred and twenty days. With it, the developing foetus constitutes a human being.
  3. Among the angels are those who are responsible for the wombs.
  4. Having īmān in the unseen.
  5. Īmān in the divine predestination and that it is comprehensive of everything in existence.
  6. Swearing without being asked for the purpose of ascertaining the certainty of what is being said.
  7. Actions are judged by their conclusions.
  8. Combining between hope of reward and fear of punishment. The one who engages in good should still fear an evil ending just as the one who engages in disobedience should never completely lose hope in Allāh’s mercy.
  9. Actions are among the reasons that cause one to enter either Paradise or the Fire.
  10. The true circumstance of one who was written among those in despair may be unknown or unapparent while in this worldly life and vice versa.

[1] Authentic: narrated by Muslim: 1438.
[2] Authentic: narrated by al-Bukhārī: 1356.

Source: Fatḥ al-Qawī al-Matīn: 110-114
Translated by: Riyāḍ al-Kanadī

Published: February 18, 2024
Edited: February 18, 2024

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