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The Reality of Cause and Effect: Understanding that Tawḥīd Is the Sole Refuge from the Sorrows of the Worldly Life

Imām Ibn al-Qayyim

Understanding how cause and affect are linked and the power Allāh holds over His dominion as a means of safety from the distresses of worldly life.

Imām Ibn al-Qayyim (d. 751 AH) said:

There is no possible cause in existence that is completely independent in its ability to exert an effect.1 Rather, all causes will cease to have any effect at all until it is joined by another cause that works in tandem with it and any preventive factor that prevents its effect is neutralised. This rule is inclusive of the causes that we see and acknowledge, those that are unseen, and metaphoric. For example, the effect of sunshine on animals and plants is predicated on many other causes. This includes, for example, the place that is exposed to that sunshine being accepting of that light and many other additional factors that must also be present. Another example is that of childbirth, which is predicated upon a litany of factors in addition to the mating of two animals or mammals. This is the case for all causes and their accompanying effects.

Thus, everything that one hopes and fears from the creation are, at the very most, representative of only a fraction of a potential cause that is independently ineffectual. For, in actuality, the only being that is able to exert an effect completely unfettered by any other factor is Allāh—the One, the Irresistible. Thus, it is most unbefitting for one to put their fear or hope in anything or anyone other than Him.

This represents a definitive piece of evidence that unequivocally proves the falsehood and invalidity of putting one’s fears or hopes in other than Him. Even if there existed a cause that was able to exert its effect completely independently, it would have only gained such a characteristic from other than itself [i.e., from Allāh alone]. By itself, it possesses no power with which it carries out actions. For there is no change of state, nor power, except from Allāh. All changes to one’s state and all power reside in His Hand alone. Thus, whatever change of state or power that one is hopeful for, or fears from the creation, in actuality belong wholly and completely to Allāh. How, then, could one ever harbour fear or hope from that which does not itself possess the ability to change one’s state or power?!

Rather, harbouring fear from the creation or putting all of one’s hopes in them is one of the many reasons that lead to complete deprivation and the befalling of catastrophes and disaster. This specifically occurs for the one who harbours this misplaced fear and hope. His subjugation to these disasters will be directly proportional to the amount of fear he harbours for other than Allāh. Just as his deprivation will be proportional to the amount of hope placed in other than Allāh.

Such is the state of the creation in its entirety. Most of them are either completely ignorant of this fact, or living their life as if they are unaware of it. Whatever Allāh has willed must undoubtedly come to pass, and what He has not willed the occurrence of shall never occur, even if the creation in their entirety were to come together to make it so.

For tawḥīd is a sanctuary—both for His close allies and friends, and His enemies.
As for His enemies, they seek safety and refuge by it from the despair of this worldly life and its rigours:

فَإِذَا رَكِبُوا فِي الْفُلْكِ دَعَوُا اللَّهَ مُخْلِصِينَ لَهُ الدِّينَ فَلَمَّا نَجَّاهُمْ إِلَى الْبَرِّ إِذَا هُمْ يُشْرِكُونَ

“And when they embark on a ship, they invoke Allāh, making their faith pure for Him only, but when He brings them safely to land, behold, they give a share of their worship to others.”
(al-ʿAnkabūt, 29:65)

As for His close allies and friends, He saves them by means of it from the sorrow and grief of this worldly life and its rigours. Just as Yūnus (عليه السلام) sought safety by it, so Allāh saved him from the layers of darkness he found himself in. Just as the followers of the prophets sought safety by it and were saved from the punishment that descended on those who associated partners with Allāh in this worldly life, and safety from what has been prepared for them in the hereafter.

But when Pharoah sought refuge by it, after gaining certainty of assured destruction while he drowned, it was of no benefit to him. This is because faith is unacceptable in the face of complete certainty [of destruction].

Such is the practice of Allāh with His servants. There is nothing that repels the distresses of this worldly life like tawḥīd. Consequently, the invocation of the one experiencing sorrow and grief is by tawḥīd2, just as the invocation of Dhī al-Nūn [Yūnus (عليه السلام)]—which is not said by anyone experiencing hardship except that Allāh relieves him from that suffering—was by tawḥīd.3

The greatest of disasters are borne from shirk [associating partners with Allāh]. Thus, nothing can grant safety from it except for tawḥīd. For it represents a sanctuary, a place of refuge, a fortress, a source of relief for all creation.

And all guidance belongs to Allāh.

[1] Translator note: In this statement there is a clear refutation made against all the philosophical groups that claim creation from nothingness. Shaykh al-Islām Ibn Taymiyyah said: Those philosophers that claim that the cause of all peculiarities and oddities in existence are associated only to the power of the universe, or nature, or the human spirit is a statement more misguided and ignorant than the claim of the polytheists or the Ṣāʾib [those who worship Fire]. To clarify this, their statement actually stipulates the complete negation of an originator. They are of two types: the naturalists and the Dahriyyūn. As for the naturalists, they do not believe in the existence of a being behind the universe and all it contains. The true implications of their claim is that this world has no recourse but to simply exist by itself. It has no originator, or being that set it in motion. This is the very same negation espoused by Pharoah when he objected to Mūsá saying “And what is the Lord of everything in existence?” This was a question posed to object and refuse. As such, Mūsá responded with that which clarified and raised evidence against him, showing that this Lord is present, well-known, and there exists no path to rejecting or denying His existence. Pharoah recognised the truthfulness of this statement within himself, although his apparent actions were that of rejection as the Most High said:

وَجَحَدُوا بِهَا وَاسْتَيْقَنَتْهَا أَنفُسُهُمْ

“And they belied them (those signs) wrongfully and arrogantly, though their own selves were convinced thereof [i.e. those (āyāt) are from Allāh, and Mūsá (Moses) is the Messenger of Allāh in truth, but they disliked to obey Mūsá (Moses), and hated to believe in his Message of Monotheism].”
(Al-Naḥl, 27:14)

The Most High also said concerning Mūsá when speaking to Pharoah:

قَالَ لَقَدْ عَلِمْتَ مَا أَنزَلَ هَٰؤُلَاءِ إِلَّا رَبُّ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ بَصَائِرَ وَإِنِّي لَأَظُنُّكَ يَا فِرْعَوْنُ مَثْبُورًا

“[Musa (Moses)] said: “Verily, you know that these signs have been sent down by none but the Lord of the heavens and the earth as clear (evidences i.e. proofs of Allāh’s Oneness and His Omnipotence, etc.). And I think you are, indeed, O Firʿawn (Pharaoh) doomed to destruction (away from all good)!””
(Al-Isrāʾ, 17:102)

Pharoah’s statement is the very same negation claimed by these naturalists.” See al-Ṣafdiyyah 1:242.
[2] Refers to the invocation narrated by Muslim: 2730:

لَا إِلَهَ إِلَّا اللهُ الْعَظِيمُ الْحَلِيمُ، لَا إِلَهَ إِلَّا اللهُ رَبُّ الْعَرْشِ الْعَظِيمِ، لَا إِلَهَ إِلَّا اللهُ رَبُّ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَرَبُّ الْأَرْضِ وَرَبُّ الْعَرْشِ الْكَرِيمِ

“There is nothing worshipped in truth except for Allāh, the Great, the Forbearing. There is nothing worshipped in truth except for Allāh, the Lord of the great throne. There is nothing worshipped in truth except for Allāh, the Lord of the heavens, Lord of the earth, and Lord of the supreme Throne.”

[3] The invocation being referred to here is mentioned by Allāh in His saying:

لَّا إِلَٰهَ إِلَّا أَنتَ سُبْحَانَكَ إِنِّي كُنتُ مِنَ الظَّالِمِينَ

None has the right to be worshipped but You (O Allāh)], Glorified (and Exalted) are You [above all that (evil) they associate with You]. Truly, I have been of the wrong-doers.”
(al-Anbiyāʾ, 21:87]

The ‘relief from suffering’, as above, is in a ḥadīth narrated by al-Tirmidhī: 3505 and others but graded weak by Shaykh al-Albānī in Silsilah al-Aḥādīth al-Ḍaʿīfah: 5737.

Source: Al-Fawāʾid: 71-73
Translated by: Riyāḍ al-Kanadī

Published: February 25, 2024
Edited: June 12, 2024

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