This is one of the most intricate problems of religion. For if you look into the traditional arguments (Hadith) about this problem you will find them contradictory; such also being the case with arguments of reason. The contradiction in the arguments of the first kind is found in the Qur’an and the Hadith. There are many verses of the Qur’an, which by their universal nature teach that all the things are predestined and that man is compelled to do his acts; then there are verses which say that man is free in his acts and not compelled in performing them. The following verses tell us that all the things are by compulsion, and are predestined, “Everything have We created bound by a fixed degree” [Qur’an 56.49]; again, “With Him everything is regulated according to a determined measure” [Qur’an 13.9]. Further, He says, “No accident happened in the earth, nor in your persons, but the same was entered in the Book verily it is easy with God” [Qur’an 57.22]. There may be quoted many other verses on this subject.
Now, as to the verses which say that man can acquire deeds by free will, and that things are only possible and not necessary, the following may be quoted: “Or He destroys them (by ship-wreck), because of that which their crew have merited; though He pardons many things” [Qur’an 42.32]. And again, “Whatever misfortune befalls you is sent you by God, for that which your hands have deserved” [Qur’an 42.32]. Further, He says, “But they who commit evil, equal thereunto” [Qur’an 10.28]. Again, He says, “It shall have the good which it gains, and it shall have the evil which it gains” [Qur’an 2.278]. And, “And as to Thamud, We directed them, but they loved blindness better than the true directions” [Qur’an 41.16].
Sometimes contradiction appears even in a single verse of the Qur’an. For instance, He says, “After a misfortune has befallen you (you had already attained two equal advantages), do you say, whence comes this? Answer, This is from yourselves” [Qur’an 3.159]. In the next verse, He says, “And what happened unto you, on the day whereon the two armies met, was certainly by permission of the Lord” [Qur’an 3.160]. Of this kind also is the verse, “Whatever good befalls you, O man, it is from God; and whatever evil befalls you, it is from yourself” [Qur’an 4.81]; while the preceding verse says, “All is from God” [Qur’an 4.80].
Such is also the case with the hadith. The Prophet says, “Every child is born in the true religion; his parents afterwards turn him into a Jew or a Christian.” On another occasion he said, “The following people have been created for hell, and do the deeds of those who are fit for it. These have been created for heaven, and do deeds fit for it.” The first hadith says that the cause of disbelief is one’s own environments; while faith and belief are natural to man. The other hadith says that wickedness and disbelief are created by God, and man is compelled to follow them.
This condition of things has led Muslims to be divided into two groups. The one believed that man’s wickedness or virtue is his own acquirement, and that according to these he will be either punished or rewarded. These are the Mutazilites. The belief of the other party is quite opposed to this. They say that man is compelled to do his deeds. They are the Jabarites. The Asharites have tried to adopt a mean between these two extreme views. They say that man can do action, but the deeds done, and the power of doing it, are both created by God. But this is quite meaningless. For if the deed and the power of doing it be both created by God, then man is necessarily compelled to do the act. This is one of the reasons of the difference of opinion about this problem.
As we have said there is another cause of difference of opinion about this problem, than the traditional one. This consists of the contradictory arguments advanced. For if we say that man is the creator of his own deeds, it would be necessary to admit that there are things which are not done according to the will of God, or His authority. So there would be another creator besides God, while the Muslims are agreed that there is no creator but He. If, on the other hand, we were to suppose that man cannot act freely, we admit thus he is compelled to do certain acts, for there is no mean between compulsion and freedom. Again, if man is compelled to do certain deeds, then on him has been imposed a task which he cannot bear; and when he is made to bear a burden, there is no difference between his work and the work of inorganic matter. For inorganic matter has no power, neither has the man the power for that which he cannot bear. Hence all people have made capability one of the conditions for the imposition of a task, such as wisdom. We find Abul Maali, saying in his Nizamiyyah, that man is free in his own deeds and has the capability of doing them. He has established it upon the impossibility of imposing a task which one cannot bear, in order to avoid the principle formerly disproved by the Mutazilites, on account of its being unfit by reason. The succeeding Asharites have opposed them. Moreover, if man had no power in doing a deed, then it will be only by chance that he may escape from evil, and that is meaningless. Such also would be the case with acquiring goodness. In this way all those arts which lead to happiness, as agriculture, etc., would become useless. So also would become useless all those arts the purpose of which is protection from, and repulsion of danger, as the sciences of war, navigation, medicine, etc. Such a condition is quite contrary to all that is intelligible to man.
Now it may be asked that if the case is so, how is this contradiction which is to be found both in hadith and reason to be reconciled we would say, that apparently the purpose of religion in this problem is not to divide it into two separate beliefs, but to reconcile them by means of a middle course, which is the right method. It is evident that God has created in us power by which we can perform deeds which are contradictory in their nature. But as this cannot be complete except by the cause which God has furnished for us, from outside, and the removal of difficulties from them, the deeds done are only completed by the conjunction of both these things at the same time. This being so, the deeds attributed to use are done by our intention, and by the fitness of the causes which are called the Predestination of God, which He has furnished for us from outside. They neither complete the works which we intend nor hinder them, but certainly become the cause of our intending them — one of the two things. For intention is produced in us by our imagination, or for the verification of a thing, which in itself is not in our power, but comes into being by causes outside us. For instance, if we see a good thing, we like it, without intention, and move towards acquiring it. So also, if we happen to come to a thing which it is better to shun, we leave it without intention. Hence our intentions are bound and attached to causes lying outside ourselves.
To this the following words of God refer: “Each of them have angels, mutually succeeding each other, before him and behind him; they watch him by the command of God” [Qur’an 13.12]. As these outside causes take this course according to a well-defined order and arrangement, and never go astray from the path which their Creator has appointed for them, and our own intentions can neither be compelled, nor ever found, on the whole, but by their fitness, so it is necessary that actions too should also be within well-defined limits, that is, they be found in a given period of time and in a given quantity. This is necessary because our deeds are only the effects of causes, lying outside us; and all the effects which result from limited and prearranged causes are themselves limited, and are found in a given quantity only. This relation does not exist only between our actions and outside causes, but also between them and the causes which God has created in our body, and the well-defined order existing between the inner and outer causes. This is what is meant by Fate and predestination, which is found mentioned in the Qur’an and is incumbent upon man. This is also the “Preserved Tablet” [Qur’an 85.22]. God’s knowledge of these causes, and that which pertains to them, is the cause of their existence. So no one can have a full knowledge of these things except God, and hence He is the only Knower of secrets, which is quite true; as God has said, “Say, None either in heaven or earth, know that which is hidden besides God” [Qur’an 27.67].
A knowledge of causes is a knowledge of secret things, because the secret is a knowledge of the existence of a thing, before it comes into being, and as the arrangement and order of causes bring
a thing into existence or not at a certain time, there must be a knowledge of the existence or non-existence of a thing at a certain time. A knowledge of the causes as a whole is the knowledge of what things would be found or not found at a certain moment of time. Praised be He, Who has a complete knowledge of creation and all of its causes. This is what is meant by the “keys of the secret, ” in the following words of God, “with Him are the keys of secret things; none know them besides Himself” [Qur’an 6.59].
All that we have said being true, it must have become evident how we can acquire our deeds, and how far they are governed by predestination and fate. This very reconciliation is the real purpose of religion by those verses and hadith which are apparently contradictory. When their universal nature be limited in this manner, those contradictions should vanish by themselves, and all the doubts which were raised before, about the contradictory nature of reason, would disappear. The existent things from our volition are completed by two things, our intention and the other causes. But when the deeds are referred to only by one of these agencies, doubts would rise. It may be said is a good answer, and here reason is in perfect agreement with religion, but it is based upon the principles that these are agreed that there are creative causes bringing into existence other things; while the Muslims are agreed that there is no Creator but God. We would say that whatever they have agreed upon is quite right, but the objection can be answered in two ways. One of them is that this objection itself can be understood in two ways; one of them being that there is no Creator but God, and all those causes which He has created, cannot be called creators, except speaking figuratively.
Their existence also depends upon Him. He alone has made them to be causes, nay, He only preserves their existence as creative agents, and protects their effects after their actions. He, again, produces their essences at the moment when causes come together. He alone preserves them as a whole. Had there been no divine protection they could not have existed for the least moment of time. Abu Hamid (Al-Ghazzali) has said that a man who makes any of the causes to be co-existent with God is like a man who makes the pen share the work of a scribe in writing; that is, he says that the pen is a scribe and the man is a scribe too. He means that “writing ” is a word which may be applied to both, but in reality they have no resemblance in anything but word, for otherwise there is no difference between them. Such is also the case with the word Creator, when applied to God and the Causes. We say that in this illustration there are doubts. It should have been clearly shown, whether the scribe was the Creator of the essence (Jawhar) of pen, a preserver of it, as long as it remains a pen, and again a preserver of the writing after it is written, a Creator of it after it has come in touch with the pen, as we have just explained that God is the Creator of the essences (Jawahir) of everything which comes into contact with its causes, which are so called only by the usage. This is the reason why there is no creator but God — a reason which agrees with our feelings, reason and religion. Our feelings and reason see that there are things which produce others.
The order found in the universe is of two kinds: that which God has put in the nature and disposition of things; and that which surround the universe from outside. This is quite clear in the movement of the heavenly bodies. For it is evident that the sun and the moon, the day and night, and all other stars are obedient to us; and it is on this arrangement and order which God has put in their movements that our existence and that of all other things depends. So even if we imagine the least possible confusion in them, with them in any other position, size and rapidity of movement which God has made for them, all the existent things upon the earth would be destroyed. This is so because of the nature in which God has made them and the nature of the things which are effected by them. This is very clear in the effects of the sun and the moon upon things of this world; such also being the case with the rains, winds, seas and other tangible things. But the greater effect is produced upon plants, and upon a greater number, or all, on the animals. Moreover, it is apparent that had there not been those faculties which God has put in our bodies, as regulating them that could not exist even for a single moment after birth. But, we say, had there not been the faculties found in all the bodies of the animals, and plants and those found in the world by the movement of the heavenly bodies, then they would not have existed at all, not even for a twinkling of the eye.
So praised be the “Sagacious, the Knowing” [Qur’an 67.14]. God has called our attention to this fact in His book, “And He has subjected the night and the day to your service; and the sun and the moon and the stars, which are compelled to serve by His Command” [Qur’an 77.14]; again, “Say, what think you, if God should cover you with perpetual night, until the day of Resurrection” [Qur’an 16.12]; and again, “Of His mercy, He has made you night and the day, that you may rest in the one, and may seek to obtain provision for yourselves of His abundance, by your industry; in the other” [Qur’an 28.71]; and, “And He obliges whatever is in heaven or on earth to serve you” [Qur’an 18.73]. Further He says, “He likewise compels the sun and the moon, which diligently perform their courses, to serve you; and have subjected the day and night to your service” [Qur’an 45.12]. There may be quoted many other verses on the subject. Had there been any wisdom in their existence by which God has favored us, and there would not have been those blessings for which we are to be grateful to Him.
The second answer to the objection is that we say that the things produced out of it are of two kinds: essences and substances; and movements, hardness, coldness and all other accidents. The essences and substances are not created by any but God. Their causes effect the accidents of those essences, and not the essences themselves. For instance, man and woman are only the agents, while God is the real creator of the child, and the life in it. Such is also the case with agriculture. The earth is prepared and made ready for it, and the seed scattered in it. But it is God who produces the ear of the grain. So there is no creator but God, while created things are but essences. To this refer the words of God. “O men, a parable is propounded unto you, therefore, hearken unto it. Verily the idols which you invoke, besides God, can never create a single fly, although they may all assemble for the purpose; and if the fly snatch anything from them they cannot turn the same from it. Weak is the petitioner and the petitioned” [Qur’an 22.72]. This is where the unbeliever wanted to mislead Abraham, when he said, “I give life and kill” [Qur’an 22.260]. When Abraham saw that he could understand it, he at once turned to the conclusive argument and said, “Verily, God brings the sun from the east; do you bring it from the west.”
On the whole, if the matter about the creator and the doer be understood on this wise, there would be no contradiction, either in Hadith or in reason. So we say that the word “Creator” does not apply to the created things by any near or far-fetched metaphor, for the meaning of the creator is the inventor of the essences. So God has said, “God created you, and that which you know” [Qur’an 2.260]. It should be known that one who denies the effect of the causes on the results of them, also denies philosophy and all the sciences. For science is the knowledge of the things by their causes, and philosophy is the knowledge of hidden causes. To deny the causes altogether is a thing which is unintelligible to human reason. It is to deny the Creator, not seen by us. For the unseen in this matter must always be understood by a reference to the seen.
So those men can have no knowledge of God, when they admit that for every action there is an actor. It being so, the agreement of the Muslims on the fact that there is no Creator but God cannot be perfect, if we understand by it the denial of the existence of an agent in the visible world. For from the existence of the agent in it, we have brought an argument for the Creator in the invisible world. But when we have once admitted the existence of the Creator in the invisible world, it becomes clear that there is no Creative agent except one by His command and will. It is also evident that we can perform our own deeds, and that one who takes up only one side of the question is wrong, as is the case with the Mutazilites and the Jabarites. Those who adopt the middle course, like the Asharites, for discovering the truth cannot find it. For they make no difference for a man between the trembling and the movement of his hand by intention. There is no meaning in their admitting that both the movements are not by ourselves. Because if they are not by ourselves we have no power to check them, so we are compelled to do them. Hence there is no difference between trembling of hand and voluntary movement, which they could call acquired. So their is no difference between them, except in their names, which never effect the things themselves. This is all clear by itself.