Moving away from the politics for a while
There is one area in which both religious traditionalist and scientists agree. Many prominent scientists make an argument that it is a mute question to ponder whether there is God or not as the system has all laws contained in itself to function without intervention. This means that God created the universe and everything in it and then became passive in its affairs.
There has been an age-old quest to seek answers to two fundamental questions:
- what is the nature of human free will?
- & whether the destiny is preordained and we are just going through motions having a false perception of a free will.
In a way, all religions and prophets were sent to answer these questions. The two questions are interlinked and misunderstanding can give rise to social ills. These days we have a tendency to associate our own faults as the will of God and the pretext used for it is that our self-inflicted misery was predestined.
There is one area in which both religious traditionalist and scientists agree. Many prominent scientists make an argument that it is a mute question to ponder whether there is God or not as the system has all laws contained in itself to function without intervention. This means that God created the universe and everything in it and then became passive in its affairs. Let me elaborate this with an example. When we throw a ball in the air it goes up as high as the power that is pushing it up and then gravity pulls it back down. For scientists, this is now preordained and every time ball is thrown it will always come down and God will not interfere in this event. This will only change when there is a scientific cause that has an effect for instance if the wind suddenly changes and picks speed while the ball was up so it may not come down but rather may fly away. In other words like a Google map that gives direction through GPS systems, there is certain destiny for everything. Traditionalist and Sufis agree with this scientific view and believe that free will is only an illusion to test human beings and history of every being is already written in the divine book. This is a passive view of life and undermines the responsibility of participating in life actively.
Let us look at it from the message of Quran. There are a lot of verses that address these two questions of human free will and preordained destiny. Let us first look at the question of free will through the story of Adam (AS). When he was placed in heaven there was an instruction that he should not taste fruits from a particular tree. But on the other hand, there were no guards or barriers placed between Adam and the tree. Ultimately Adam succumbed to the suggestion and tasted from the tree. That breach was the first demonstration of free will and realisation that a creation that is insignificant could dare to defy the instruction of the creator. It was also a realisation that free will comes with responsibility as well as that it can be used for either obedience or defiance of God. That was a humbling experience and induced a sense of shame. God punished Adam for the breach of an instruction not to do something and stripped him of his high stature. Adam (AS) asked for forgiveness which was granted with certain conditions but also a promise that help will be sent to make the test easy. One of the promises made was that conscience will always warn a human about good and bad consequences of an action. And once that warning is made and a person still carried out a bad action then he or she should be ready to bear the consequences. So the free will is limited to the extent of making a choice. Actions, on the other hand, follow their own course which is our next question to address.
We will use two stories from Quran to address this question and understand its nature. First is the story of Prophet Yousuf (AS) and the other of Prophet Musa (AS). The first story relates to Prophet Yousuf (AS) in jail of Egypt when he started interpreting dreams of his fellow prisoners. His reputation of interpreting dreams reached the ruler of Egypt who was himself struggling with some dreams that were repeatedly appearing. Prophet Yousuf (AS) interprets it for him and was given the responsibility to carry it out as well. As it turned out to be correct, ruler of Egypt was very happy and appoints him as Prime Minister of his kingdom. It is said that he was the first to establish Jewish clan ruling a province as a reward from the ruler. This story suggests that it is possible to know the future events which could suggest that everything is preordained.
Now let’s get to the second story of Prophet Musa (AS) encounter with the Wiseman. Quran does not mention the name of the Wiseman but from tradition, it is suggested to be Hazrat Khizar (AS). Prophet Musa (AS) requested that he wanted to accompany the Wiseman on his journey to learn wisdom from him. The Wiseman was hesitant and complained that Musa (AS) will not be patient with him. But he insisted so they embarked on a journey. In the first instance, the Wiseman made a boat non-functional by drilling a hole in it. He then slays a young boy and finally erected a wall to preserve treasure for two orphaned children. After each incident, Musa (AS) raised his protests which showed his impatience. After the third incident, Wiseman explained the reasons for all three actions and also informed him that these were done as mandated by God. Now here is an interesting lesson for all of us that God intervenes to change the destiny and create a new path. Quran is full of such stories to teach us nature of our existence and each story deals with these most basic questions.
There are many verses in Quran where Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) was instructed to inform people that he has no knowledge of the future and that the knowledge of future is only with God. That is really the answer to the question of predestining. The creature does not have the capability to know the future and second that it is not fixed. God may grant us knowledge of some part of future as a blessing through dreams and intuitions. God is not passive rather involved in our affairs as a protector as it is the promise He made to Adam (AS) that help will be provided to deal with life on earth. All prophets and books were sent as that help but we are still unsure and confused about what to do.
God’s instructions to all of us are to listen to the voice of conscience and embark on actions as active participants to do good not just for ourselves but also for our communities. And when we embark on doing good, He will always be there to provide help and guidance even changing the path of a destiny if needed. I encourage everyone to read the prayer of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) in Taif. Allama said it best
Khudi ko kar buland itna –
kay har taqdeer say pehle
khuda bande se khud pooche
bata teri raza kia hai.