Islamic Perspectives

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Islam and Determinism

By: Dr. Ahmad Shafaat




We now examine determinism in the light of Hadith. Our examination is limited to prophetic ahadith. It is done at two levels:

  1. What is the position on determinism in prophetic ahadith as they are found in early collections?

  2. Which of these ahadith go back to the Prophet himself and in what form and what do they teach?

Some of the books of Hadith have collected ahadith related to our topic under the title Kitab al-Qadr. For a., I mostly depend on these selections. For b., the following criteria are used to exclude probable inauthenticity of a hadith:

1) The existence of a chain of reliable narrators reaching all the way to the Prophet. This criterion, in principle, should be enough to settle the authenticity of ahadith but for the following difficulties:

  1. The chain of narrators can be invented just like the narration itself.

  2. The reliability of a narrator is a matter of human judgment on the part of the contemporaries of the narrator or some subsequent scholars and is therefore subject to difference and error.

  3. Even a very reliable narrator can sometimes make mistakes, e.g. perceive an event or hear a statement in a wrong way or remember it in a wrong way or mix his report with his own misinterpretation of the original event or statement.

  4. Finally, in the earlier period Muslims did not know that later Muslims would demand reliable chains of traditions and may have quoted perfectly reliable ahadith without providing proper chain of transmission.

New examination of the history of Muslims of earlier centuries can certainly improve our judgments as to the reliability of narrators and of their reports. But this is a massive task that requires the labors of many researchers. The task is underway but is far from completion. In the absence of any other indications, when a chain of transmission for a hadith is considered reliable by several compilers, including at least both Bukhari and Muslim, who were the most careful in the matter of chains of transmission among the earlier collectors, we may accept their conclusion provided the criteria given below are not violated.

2) Absence of any known facts which call into question the events described in a hadith or the feasibility of the claimed chain of transmission. For example, if a hadith connects a person with an event which is known to have occurred after the death or before the birth of the person, then the hadith cannot be trusted.

3) Early documentation. Clearly, a hadith found in an earlier document is more reliable than one in a later document, all other things being equal. The earliest collections, with approximate chronological order, are:

al-Muwatta of Malik bin Anas (d. 179/790),

al-Musnad of Ahmad ibn Hambal (164-241/780-855), without the additions made later by Ahmad's son Abd Allah and his student Abu Bakr al-Qati'i (died 368).

al-Musnad (or as-Sunan) of Abd Allah bin Abd ar-Rahman ad-Darimi (181-255/797-869)

Kitab al-Jami' as-Sahih of Muhammad bin Ismail al-Bukhari (194-256/810-870)

Jami' as-Sahih of Muslim ibn al-Hajjaj (202-261/817-875).

4) Consistency with the Qur`an. Here one should be careful not to judge on the basis of one or two verses alone. Rather the hadith should be judged by views derived from the Qur`an as a whole.

5) Internal consistency of ahadith accepted to be authentic. Once again this criterion should be used with caution. When a symbolic or parabolic way of talking is used, then contradictions produced by variations in detail may not mean that one of the versions is inauthentic. On the other hand, if we have two reports of the same event which contradict each other, then it is certain that one or both of the reports are at least partly incorrect.

6) Multiple chains of transmission. A hadith transmitted by several original observers is more reliable than one transmitted only by one observer. Of course, it is possible that originally there was only one observer, but the Prophet came as a teacher (Qur`an 62:2) and therefore, if a hadith does not provide any indication that the original observer was alone with the Prophet, as may be reasonably assumed in case of a hadith about marital life coming from one of his wives, it is natural to assume that he delivered his teachings to groups or repeated them in front of several individuals at different times. Also, as we go down the chain, starting from the original observer, the multiplicity of the narrators is expected to increase rather than decrease. Consequently, a hadith transmitted by a single chain of some length cannot be considered reliable.

It should be noted that even when a hadith fulfills all the above criteria in the best possible way, we can only arrive at probable, and not certain, conclusion about its authenticity. This is because almost all ahadith are attested by documents written more than a century after the departure of the Prophet and many unexpected things can happen to a report during the course of a century. This is why we have described our criteria as criteria of excluding probable inauthenticity of a hadith rather than as criteria of its authenticity.

Now let us examine the ahadith about determinism. We do so by conveniently placing them into several categories according to their contents.


Creation of men for paradise and hell

We begin with a hadith which has the earliest documentation since it is found in Malik. It is also reported by Tirmidhi and Abu Da'ud. The hadith reads:

Muslim bin Yasar said that when 'Umar bin al-Khattab was questioned about the verse, "When your Lord took their offspring from the backs of the children of Adam ..." [Qur`an 7:172], he replied that he had heard God's messenger say when he was questioned about it, "Verily God created Adam and then rubbed his back with His right hand and took out a progeny from him and said: 'I created these for Paradise and with the actions of the inmates of Paradise which they will do.' Afterwards He rubbed his back with His left hand and took out a progeny from him and said: 'I created these for Fire and with the actions of the inmates of Fire which they will do.'" Someone asked the Prophet, "What are then deeds for?" The Prophet replied, "When God creates a servant for Paradise he makes him do deeds of the people of Paradise until he dies doing the deeds of the people of Paradise and He then puts him in Paradise on account of them (i.e. the deeds). And when God creates a servant for Fire he makes him do deeds of the people of Fire until he dies doing the deeds of the people of Fire and He then puts him in Fire on account of them."

This hadith does not talk about foreknowledge of freely made choices. Rather it says that even those choices are foreordained, since God not only creates the people of Paradise/Hell, but also their actions. Since actions proceed from choices, the foreordainment of actions implies foreordainment of choices.

The hadith is said to be an explanation of the verses 7:172-73 but it is not clear how these verses imply foreordainment. The verses are also used in some ahadith recorded in Ahmad but the application to foreordainment is even less clear there. These verses talk about a dialogue between God and human beings at the time of their creation. Perhaps the hadith means to build on the verses rather than explain them. The idea can be paraphrased as follows: When according to the verses 7:172-173 God "took their offspring from the backs of the children of Adam," at that time God foreordained that some children of Adam will go to Paradise while others will go to Hell. The former were created when God passed His right hand over the back of Adam while the latter were created when He did the same with his left hand.


Similar ahadith are also found in Bukhari, Muslim and Ahmad:

A man said, "O Messenger of God! Can the people of Paradise be differentiated from the people of the Fire (prior to the performance of their deeds)." The Prophet replied, "Yes". The man said, "Why then do people do deeds?" The Prophet replied, "Everyone will do the deeds for which he has been created or which have been made easy for him." (Bukhari on the authority of 'Imran ibn Husayn)

Ali reports: We were in Baqi' (Medina's cemetery) attending a funeral when the Prophet came. As he sat, we also sat around him. He had a stick with him. He lowered his head and started to scrape the earth with the stick and then said: "There is none among you and no other person but has his place assigned either in Paradise or in Hell and has been forewritten to be either wretched or blessed." A man said: "O Messenger of God! Do we then not depend on what is written and stop the deeds?" The Prophet said: "He who is blessed will hasten to do the deeds of the blessed while he who is wretched will hasten towards the deeds of the wretched". He also said: "Do your deeds, for everyone is put on ease. For the blessed the deeds of the blessed will be made easy while for the wretched the deeds of the wretched will be made easy." Then he recited Qur`an 92:5-7. (Muslim; Bukhari also records something similar)

Once again the Qur`anic verse cited does not fit with the idea expressed in the hadith.

Abi al-Aswad ad-Dayli reports: Imran ibn Husayn asked me, "That for which people now do deeds and strive over, is it something that is already decided and is foreordained or is it something that will come about in future on the basis of what their prophet gave them and on the basis of proof?" I said, "But no, it is a thing already decided and foreordained for them." Imran said, "Is that not tyranny (zulm)?" I was greatly perturbed by this question. I said, "Everything is a creature of God and his property. No one can question what He does but others can be questioned." Imran said, "May God have mercy on you. I asked you only to test your ability to reason". Two men of Muzaynah came to the Prophet and said, 'O Messenger of God! That for which people now do deeds and strive over, is it something that is already decided and is foreordained or is it something that will come about in future on the basis of what their prophet gave them and on the basis of proof?' The Prophet said, 'No, it is something already decided and foreordained for them. This is confirmed by the Book of God: (Qur`an 91:7-8).'" (Muslim)

Again the meaning of the Qur`anic passage cited and the meaning of the hadith do not fit together.

Suraqa bin Malik came to the Prophet and said, "O Messenger of God! Explain our religion for us (in this matter): Suppose we are born now. For what do we do deeds? For that with which the pen has dried (after writing maqadir) and the fates are sealed? Or, for that which we meet in the future (without being ordained)?" The Prophet replied, "But no, for that with which the pen has dried (after writing maqadir) and the fates are sealed." ... (Muslim on the authority of Jabir)

Ahmad ibn Hambal records the following hadith:

(Abu Nadra told that the Prophet was heard by a companion called Abu Abd Allah as saying that) God took a handful in His right hand and another in His left saying, "This (i.e., the handful in His right hand) is for this (i.e., Paradise), and that (i.e., the handful in His left hand) is for that (i.e., Hell), and I do not care." (Ahmad)

In another hadith recorded by Ahmad, the people created for Paradise are white and those for Hell are black. This, of course, does not refer to actual color of the people in the two groups but rather reflects the common representation of good as whiteness or brightness and evil as blackness or darkness. It is to be understood in the sense of Qur`an 3:106-107 and also of the following hadith:

The Prophet said, "God created his creatures in darkness and cast some of His light upon them. Those on whom some of that light falls will have guidance, but those who are missed by it will go astray. On that account I say that the pen has dried from (writing) of God's knowledge (i.e. there would be no addition or change in God's decree)" (Ahmad and Tirmidhi on the authority of 'Abd Allah bin 'Amr(w)).

In Tirmidhi the Prophet actually comes out with two books in his two hands and tells the companions that the book in his right hand contains the names of the people of paradise along with the names of their fathers and their tribes while the book in his left hand contains the same for the people of hell. It is needless to say that this hadith is a fabrication. It raises a number of serious questions: What happened to the two books? The presence of such books in the hands of the Prophet would have impressed people to such a degree that the incident is expected to become famous in the Muslim community from the earliest times. Yet why do we not find it mentioned anywhere in any earlier book?

With the exception of this one hadith from Tirmidhi, there is no strong reason to reject in main substance the ahadith quoted above, since they satisfy all of our criteria for authenticity:

They are consistent with the Qur`an. As we saw earlier the Qur`an also teaches determinism just as these ahadith do. In particular, the idea behind these ahadith is consistent with the following Qur`anic verses:

Indeed, We have made many of the jinns and men for hell (7:179).

But you will not (so will) unless wills God. (76:30)

And it is God who has created you and what you do (37:96)

On the day when they are dragged into the Fire upon their faces (it will be said to them): Feel the touch of hell.

Lo! We have created everything with a measure (bi qadar). (54:48-49)

Also, there are multiple chains of transmission and some of these chains are considered sound by more than one compiler, including both Bukhari and Muslim. The variety of ways in which the same idea is expressed is not an argument against the authenticity of the ahadith since it is similar to the variety of ways in which the Qur`an expresses some ideas. However, since many of the Qur`anic verses cited in these ahadith do not fit with them, it is likely that the Qur`anic citations represent secondary additions to the earlier narrations.


Writing of fate by an angel

According to a hadith found both in Bukhari and Muslim, the Prophet said that during pregnancy


God sends an angel and orders him to write four things: his provision, his age, and whether he will be wretched (shaqiyy) or blessed (sa'id). Then the spirit (ruh) is breathed into him. And by God, a person among you (or a man) may do deeds of the people of the Fire till there is only a cubit or an arm-breadth distance between him and the Fire, but then that writing (which God has ordered the angel to write) proceeds, and he does the deeds of the people of Paradise and enters it; and a man may do the deeds of the people of Paradise till there is only a cubit or two between him and Paradise, and then that writing proceeds and he does the deeds of the people of the Fire and enters it. (Bukhari on the authority of Ibn Mas'ud; Muslim also reports something parallel)

Here "wretched" and "blessed" are understood in terms of whether a person will go to Hell or to Paradise. This is evident from the reference to people who do one type of deeds and then begin to do the opposite type according to whether the writing identified them as wretched or blessed. In Bukhari the idea that people are foreordained to go either to Paradise or Hell and they will meet their fate by their final action even though previously they were acting differently is illustrated by a concrete example: The Prophet said about a man that he was from the people of the Fire. However, the man fought very bravely in a battle (identified as Khaybar in one version) on behalf of the Muslims and was seriously wounded. As a result people wondered about the Prophet's statement that he was among the people of Fire. Soon afterwards it was learnt that the man committed suicide presumably to end the pain of his wounds. In this way he became one of the people of Fire, since the hadith says that anyone who commits suicide will go to Hell.

In Bukhari the things written by the angel do not add up to four if counted in a natural way, since they consist of provision, age and wretched or blessed; only if we count both wretched and blessed do we get four items. But of course, the angel cannot write that a person would be both wretched and blessed. Muslim has the number right, since he mentions: provision, life-work ('amal), age and wretched or blessed.

The above hadith has two parts: First part states that during pregnancy an angel descends and writes some crucial elements of the person's fate. Second part states how a man can do one type of deeds most of his life and then towards the end do the opposite type of deed to meet his foreordained destiny as a person of Paradise or of Hell. In some ahadith, found both in Bukhari and Muslim, the first part is found by itself, without the second part. Also, in two ahadith in Muslim, the second part is found by itself, without the first part. It is possible that originally the two parts were separate and they were combined by one of the narrators in the chain of transmission. Even so, the interpretation of the hadith does not change, since the two parts lead to the same conclusion whether taken separately or together.

Some variations in different versions of the two parts taken separately or together may be noted: The angel writes the "fate" of a person at different stages in the life of a fetus in different versions; 40, 42, 45 or 120 days after conception. In some versions the angel only comes to write fate while in others he also takes part in the development of the fetus into a child. In all versions where the first part occurs separately the angel also writes the sex of the child to be born. In one version wretched or blessed is not mentioned while in another instead of "wretched or blessed" we read "character" (khuluq). Such variation may be explained on the assumption that the Prophet expressed the same idea in different ways at different times or that the variations arose during the process of oral transmission. In any case, the variations in this case do not seriously call into question the authenticity of the essential idea behind these ahadith. As in case of the ahadith in the previous category, these ahadith are consistent with the Qur`an and their isnad are trustworthy in the sight of both Bukhari and Muslim.

It may be asked why the writing is done some time during pregnancy? Is it not more reasonable to think that the writing was done at the very beginning of time, since God knew everything from the very beginning? This is indeed what some ahadith tell us:

God wrote fates (maqadir) of creatures 50 thousand years before He created the heavens and the earth. And he said, His throne was on water. (Muslim on the authority of 'Abd Allah bin 'Amr(w). In another version, the words "His throne was on water" are not found.)

Here, of course, "50,000 years" is used in some symbolic sense, just as the whole concept of "writing" is symbolic. That foreordainment was done before the creation of the universe is also stated in the following hadith, in which answering a question of some people from Yemen, the Prophet said:

There was God and nothing else besides him. (Then) his throne was on water. (Then) he wrote everything in the Book (kataba fi adh-dhikr kulla shay). And (then) he created the heavens and the earth. (Bukhari, Muslim and Ahmad on the authority of 'Imran bin Hus.ayn)

Tirmidhi, on the authority of 'Ubada ibn as-Samit, records a hadith in which the Prophet says, "The first thing to be created by God was the pen" (to write everything that was to happen from the beginning of time to its end).

So, what is then the meaning of writing during pregnancy? The idea seems to be that the actualization of the fate of a man, written before the creation of the universe, begins when he may be considered a human being in his mother's womb. The writing by the angel may also reflect the fact that the character of a man, and therefore much of what happens to him, is largely determined by his biological make-up as it is formed when he was in his mother's womb.

The following hadith expresses the idea of foreordainment without any symbolism of writing or angel and without specifying any time when the writing is done:

The Prophet said, "God has preordained five things for every man He has created: his age, his action, his lying down, his moving about and his provision." (Ahmad on the authority of Abu ad-Darda')

The idea that everything that befalls man is forewritten is applied in a hadith to the specific case of reported poisoning of the Prophet. The Prophet says: "I am afflicted by nothing due to it (i.e. poisoning) which was not decreed (maktub) while Adam was still a lump of clay." (Ibn Maja on the authority of Umm Salama).

The idea is consistent with the Qur`an:

Say: Nothing befalls us save that which God has written for us. (9:51)

In particular the idea that the age and provision of a person is foreordained is stated in the following Qur`anic verses:

And no one grows old who grows old nor is anyone's age cut short but it is recorded in a book. (35:11)

No person can die except by God's leave and at a term appointed by writing (3:145)

They say, "Had we any part in decision-making we should not have suffered casualties here (at 'Uhad)". Say, "Even you would have been in your houses, those appointed to be slain would have gone forth to the places where they were to lie (dead). (3:154)

And He will provide for him from (a quarter) whence he does not expect. And whosoever puts his trust in God, He will suffice him. Lo! God brings His command to fulfillment. God has set a measure (qadr) for everything. (65:3)

Considering the variety of books, of chains of transmissions and of ways in which the idea finds expression that man's age, provision, his being wretched or blessed are foreordained and considering the consistency of the idea with the Qur`an, there is no strong reason to judge it to be inauthentic. Notice that almost all ahadith on the topic say that along with the age and provision of a person the angel also writes whether he would be wretched or blessed. But, as shown earlier, even if we limit ourselves only to the foreordainment of age and provision, we are led to determinism.


Adam's sin foreordained

(The Prophet said:) Adam and Moses argued with each other. Moses said to Adam, "O Adam! You are our father who disappointed us and turned us out of Paradise." Then Adam said to him, "O Moses! God favored you with His (direct) talk and He wrote for you (the Ten Commandments) with His own hand. Do you blame me for action which God had ordained forty years before my creation?" Thus, the Prophet added, Adam prevailed over Moses in the argument, repeating the statement three times (Bukhari and Muslim on the authority of Abu Hurayrah).

The meaning is that just as Moses did not receive the good things by his own choice, Adam did not do his sin by his. That the hadith is not talking about merely foreknowledge about the free choice of Adam is shown by the word "ordained", for which the original Arabic is qaddara (or, kataba in one version in Muslim). Moreover, if Adam's sin was by his free choice, how could he have prevailed over Moses with his argument? For in that case the blame Moses put on him would have stuck.

In another hadith in Muslim the argument of Adam is expanded as follows: Torah, which mentions Adam's sin, was written 40 years before the creation of Adam. Hence Adam committed his sin according to what God had written 40 years before he was created. The implication is that Adam's sin was foreordained.

This category of ahadith is consistent with the Qur`an to the extent that it says that all human actions take place according to God's will and are therefore foreordained. In addition to some of the verses already quoted, the idea that all human actions according to divine will is supported by the following verse:

Do they seek a way (din) other than that of God when unto Him submits whosoever is in the heavens and the earth with gladness (taw'an) or dislike (karhan) and to Him they will be returned? (3:83; see also 13:15)

Here man is, of course, included among those in the heavens and the earth. All men therefore act according to the will of God whether they do right or wrong, good or evil. Some realize that they are God's servants. This realization enables them to seek to know what God commands and what is right and to do it. They generally do good and serve some positive purpose of God. Others find concepts like God and submission to His will meaningless and seem to pursue their own desires with their own will and resources, not too concerned with right and wrong. But little do they know that they, too, are acting according to God's will; they, too, are serving a purpose of God, albeit a negative one. The difference between the good and the evil is therefore not that one is doing the will of God and the other is not. The difference is that one is consciously doing the will of God and the other is in his own consciousness following his own will but is in reality following God's will. Good comes when man is conscious of God and His will (taqwa(y)) while evil comes when he is forgetful of God and His will and is lost in his own self (ghaflah).

The following hadith also suggests that sin could be foreordained by God:

The Prophet said: "God has written for the son of Adam his inevitable share of adultery whether he is aware of it or not. The adultery of the eye is looking (unlawfully), the adultery of the tongue is to utter (unlawful things). The heart desires and lusts and the private parts accept and actualize (the temptation) or reject it." (Bukhari and Muslim on the authority of Abu Hurayrah; Muslim gives another version which talks not only of the adultery of eye and tongue but also of the ears, hand and foot).

Here it is not clearly stated whether or not the final choice of actually committing adultery or refraining from it is foreordained, but neither is there a clear rejection of such foreordainment.

This category of ahadith do not possess multiple chains of transmission; they are all related on the (supposed or actual) authority of Abu Hurayrah. This provides reason to attach a smaller probability to their authenticity.


Hearts are under God's total control

The Prophet said: "The hearts of the children of Adam are all between two of the fingers of the Most Gracious One like a single heart which he turns as he wills." Then the Prophet prayed: "O God, the one who turns the hearts, turn our hearts towards your obedience." (Muslim on the authority of 'Abd Allah bin 'Amr(w); Tirmidhi and Ibn Majah record a similar hadith on the authority of Anas. Bukhari supports the idea by mentioning, on the authority of Abd Allah, only the use of the address to God as "the one who turns the hearts").

The same idea is expressed in a different way in the following hadith in Ahmad on the authority of Abu Musa:

The Prophet said, "The heart is like a feather in desert country which the winds keep turning over and over."

The meaning is that just as the feather's movement from place to place in a desert country is determined first by the winds and ultimately by God so also the human heart moves from thought to thought or desire to desire or decision to decision under the influence of many factors but ultimately by the will of God.

Once again the idea behind the ahadith is consistent with the Qur`an ("you will not will unless wills God"). Also, there is no indication that any of the other criteria of authenticity are violated.


The fate of children

The question of the fate of children is important not only in its own right but also because it throws light on the concepts of foreordainment and fitrah. It is therefore not surprising that many collections contain ahadith about this question in connection with foreordainment.

The question is answered in four different ways:

1) When God created human beings, he created each one of them either for paradise or for hell. Thus children who were created for paradise will go to paradise and those created for hell would go to hell. This answer is given in the following hadith:

'A'ishah reports that a child died. She said that it is a happy situation for him because he would be among the birds of the Paradise. The Prophet said: "Do you not know that God made Paradise and Hell and for each created people." (Muslim)

Muslim records another version of this hadith in which the significant new point is that the people of Paradise were made people of Paradise when they were yet in the loins of their fathers and the people of Hell were made people of Hell when they were yet in the loins of their fathers.

2) The children would be dealt with according to what they would have done had they not died young:

The Prophet was asked about the children of the polytheists. He said, "God knows what they would have done." (Muslim on the authority of Abu Hurayrah.)

This means that the children of the polytheists would not necessarily go to hell. Their fate depends on what they would have done had they not died young.

3) The children who die young would be wherever their parents will be.

The Prophet said, "The believers and their children are in paradise and the polytheists and their children are in hell." Then the Prophet recited Qur`an 52:21. (Ahmad on the authority of 'Ali)

(Here the application of Qur`an 52:21 is not correct, since the verse only says that the descendents of believers who follow them in faith would be with them.)

The principle that the children share the fate of their parents leads to the following hadith in which the Prophet says:

"The one who buries her daughter alive and the one who is buried alive go to hell." (Abu Da'ud on the authority of Ibn Mas'ud)

4) The third answer is that the children who die young would all go to paradise regardless of where their parents will go.

This answer is assumed in 'A'ishah's comment in the hadith from Muslim quoted above: "it is a happy situation for him (i.e. the dead child) because he would be among the birds of the Paradise." It was perhaps also understood to follow from the hadith that says that every child is born on fitrah:

Abu Hurayrah reported that the Prophet said, "There is no child but is born on the fitrah. Then his parents turn him into a Jew or a Christian or Majusi. This is like the cattle who always give birth to a whole offspring. Do you see any among them (born) with ears cut." Then Abu Hurayrah says that if you like read: [Qur`an 30:30]. (Muslim; in another similar hadith, the child remains on fitrah till the age when he begins to speak, about two years)

In some versions of this hadith, some people ask about the fate of the children and they receive answer 2 mentioned above:

The Prophet said, "There is no child but is born on fitrah. Then its parents turn it into a Jew or a Christian. It is as you help the animals give birth. Do you find among them a mutilated one before you mutilate them yourself?" The people said, "O Messenger of God! What do you think about those who die young?" The Prophet said, "God knows what they would have done." (Bukhari and Muslim, on the authority of Abu Hurayrah).

Since the two parts of this hadith -- the statement that each child is born on fitrah and the question of the fate of children -- are found separately in some ahadith, it is quite possible that they were originally separate and were combined together later. This is further evidenced by a certain tension between the two parts: If every child is born on fitrah why should its fate depend on what it would have done in the future? Could not the same principle be applied to all human beings: if a man lived for sixty years, why not judge him on the basis of what he would have done had he lived for eighty years?

It is natural to conclude that all the above ahadith cannot be authentic, since they give contradictory answers. Which, if any of the answers is authentic? In this regard, the following observations are relevant:

Answers 1 and 3 do not have very strong early documentation, being found in none or one of the earliest collections. Answer 2 has the best attestation, being found in both Bukhari and Muslim. Yet it establishes a problematic principle of judgment on the basis of what a person would have done rather than what he actually did. This and all other answers seem to conflict with the emphasis that the Qur`an and other better attested ahadith (see above under "Creation of men for paradise and hell") put on the dependence of paradise and hell on 'amal (life-deeds). The Qur`an and these ahadith regard man's final destination and his 'amal as an inseparable sequence of two foreordained things.

Answer 4 is not explicitly stated by the Prophet himself in any hadith. It is simply a consequence of the hadith that all children are born on fitrah. The hadith has good attestation. But what does it mean? The Qur`an says that mankind are created on the fitrah of God which is described as ad-din al-qayyim (upright way) (30:30). Elsewhere the Qur`an says that a knowledge of God and of right and wrong is ingrained in all men (7:172-173, 91:8), so that fitrah can be interpreted as this ingrained knowledge and positive tendencies associated with it. But the Qur`an also says that man was created weak (4:27), that man is from the beginning wrong-doer (zalum) and ungrateful (kaffar) (14:34) or that he is wrong-doer and ignorant fool (33:72), and that he has a nafs which impels him to evil even if he is a prophet (12:52-53). It is natural to think that children are born not only on fitrah but also with these negative tendencies. Thus if they go to paradise in case of death at a young age on account of the fact that they are born on fitrah, then why do they not go to hell on account of the negative tendencies. In case it is said that these negative tendencies are only latent and not yet manifest in children, then it may be replied that even the fitrah is something latent and not manifested. For, there is no evidence that the children live from the very beginning with the knowledge of God and hereafter and a concern with right and wrong. They rather live a life of almost complete ignorance and self-centeredness.

It is possible that all the four answers are inauthentic. The correct answer may be that children, having manifested neither good nor bad would not be raised at all; in this regard their case may be like that of animals, [who are not held responsible and accountable for their actions]. However, those in paradise would naturally like to have their children with them and in paradise people can get what they want. So children of those in paradise would be raised to be with their parents. It is probable that the Prophet said that the children of the Muslims would be with them in paradise. This is why there is consensus among scholars on this point. Later, the question arose about the children of the non-believers. This was answered differently by different people and different answers were formulated as ahadith. Some said that children of non-believers would be with them in hell just as the children of the believers would be with them in paradise. Others said that it would dependent on what they would have done had they lived to be adults. Still others said that since they were on fitrah, they would also be in paradise.

In concluding this category of ahadith, the following two ahadith are also noteworthy.

The Prophet said, "The lad whom al-Khadir killed was born a disbeliever (kafir). Had he lived, he would have entangled his parents in unbelief and rebellion" (tughyan). (Muslim on the authority of 'Ubayy ibn K'ab)

This hadith is consistent with the Qur`an since it is an implication of the Qur`anic story about al-Khadir. It also does not necessarily conflict with the hadith that each child is born on fitrah, since each child is also born with negative tendencies and these may be so strong so as to make it impossible for fitrah to be manifested. Nevertheless the attestation of the hadith is not very strong.

The Prophet said, "When you hear that a mountain has moved from its place believe it; but when you hear that a man's nature (khuluq) has changed do not believe in it, for he will remain true to his inborn disposition" (ma jubila 'alayhi). (Ahmad on the authority of Abu ad-Darda)

This hadith is inconsistent with the Qur`an unless ma jubila 'alayhi includes the potential of development in man. For the Qur`an shows a striking openness to the possibility of man moving to a radically new stages of development. It talks of God teaching man what he knows not and of God taking him out of darkness into light. However, in the hadith ma jubila 'alayhi does not seem to include these possibilities. Also, the attestation of the hadith is not strong.


Ends and means are both foreordained

Abu Khizamah said that his father asked the Prophet, "Tell me, O Messenger of God, whether spells we invoke, medicine we apply and means of defense we use can avert anything God has decreed." He replied, "They are a part of God's decree." (Ahmad, Tirmidhi, Ibn Majah)

This hadith is suspect because of the reference to "spells we invoke". Where does the Qur`an and other ahadith speak of "invoking spells", a magical concept, in a positive way? But the idea in the hadith that means as well as ends are foreordained by God is consistent with the Qur`an and other ahadith. We have already encountered a hadith according to which those made for Paradise are made to do deeds of the people of Paradise and those made for Hell are made to do the deeds of the people of Fire, that is, both the final destination (end) and the deeds leading to it (means) are by God's ordainment. The idea is also supported by the following ahadith:

The Prophet said: 'God says, "Vowing (nadhr) does not bring to the son of Adam anything I have not already written in his fate, but he (the one who vows) does so because it is foreordained for him to do so. Through vowing I make a miser spend his money." ' (Bukhari on the authority of Abu Hurayrah)

The Prophet said, "When God decrees that someone should die in a certain land, He gives him a reason for going there." Ahmad and Tirmidhi on the authority of Matar bin 'Ukamis)

The first of these two ahadith discourages vows but does not prohibit them. The Qur`an describes it a property of the believers that "they fulfill their vows" (76:7). Vows are also talked about without any negative implications in 2:270 "And whatever alms you give or vow you make, God knows about it". Bukhari itself gives a large number of ahadith which are concerned with regulations regarding vows, which would not make sense if vows were prohibited. For our purposes here the most interesting part of the hadith is that the vowing is itself said to be according to divine foreordainment. That is, ends and means are both ordained.

There are two ahadith in Bukhari that suggest that the end result is independent of the preceding events:

The Prophet said: "No woman should ask for the divorce of her sister (in Islam) so as to take her place, but she should marry the man (without compelling him to divorce his other wife to benefit from the husband's income) for she will have what has been ordained for her." (Bukhari on the authority of Abu Hurayrah)

[When asked about coitus interruptus (al-'azl)], the Prophet said: "It is better for you not to do it, for there is no person which God has ordained to be born but will come into existence" (Bukhari on the authority of Abu Sa'id al-Khudri).

In the first hadith, the share of a woman in her husband's wealth is said to be the same whether she shares her husband with another woman or not, while in the second hadith, the birth of a child is independent of any contraceptive practice. This is not only irrational but also against Qur`an and many ahadith, which show that events are dependent on preceding events and ordainment means that all sequences of events are ordained as sequences.

The following hadith from Bukhari not only suggests that end results are independent of human actions but also seem to encourage inaction on the part of man:

'A'ishah asked the Prophet about the plague. He said, "That was a means of torture which God used to send upon whom-so-ever he wished, but he made it a source of mercy for the believers, for anyone who is residing in a town in which this disease is present, and remains there and does not leave that town, but has patience and hopes for God's reward, and knows that nothing will befall him except what God has written for him, then he will get such reward as that of a martyr."

But actually this hadith is an encouragement for protecting a community from plague. There is another hadith, found in Muwatta, Bukhari and Muslim which enables us to see the above hadith in Bukhari in a correct light:

Umar ibn al-Khattab set out for ash-Sham and when he was at Sargh, near Tabuk, the army commander Abu Ubayda ibn al-Jarrah and his companions, met him and told him that the plague had broken out in ash-Sham. Ibn Abbas related, "Umar ibn al-Khattab said, ‘call the first Muhajir unto me.' He assembled them and asked them for advice, informing them that the plague had broken out in ash-Sham. They disagreed in their opinions. Some said, 'You have set out for something, and we do not think that you should leave it.' Others said, 'You have the companions of the Prophet, may God bless him and grant him peace, and the rest of the people with you, and we do not think that you should send them towards this plague.' Umar said, 'Leave me.' Then he said, 'Summon the Ansar to me.' They were summoned and he asked them for advice. They acted as the Muhajirun had and disagreed as they had disagreed. He said, 'Leave me.' "Then he said, 'Summon to me whoever is here of the aged men of Quraysh from the Muhajirun of the conquest.' He summoned them and not one of them differed. They said, 'We think that you should withdraw the people and not send them towards the plague.' Umar called out to the people, 'I am leaving by camel in the morning,' so they set out. Abu Ubayda said, 'Is it flight from the decree of God?' Umar said, 'Better that someone other than you had said it, Abu Ubayda. Yes. We flee from the decree of God to the decree of God. What would you think if these camels had gone down into a valley which had two slopes, one of them fertile, and the other barren. If you pastured in the fertile part, wouldn't you pasture them by the decree of God? If you pastured them in the barren part, wouldn't you pasture them by the decree of God?'

''Abd ar-Rahman ibn Awf arrived and he had been off doing something and he said, 'I have some knowledge of this. I heard the Messenger of God, may God bless him and grant him peace, say, "If you hear about it in a land, do not go forward to it. If it comes upon a land and you are in it, then do not depart in flight from it." ' Umar praised God and then set off."

The essential way to deal with plague is suggested in the saying of the Prophet in the last part of the above hadith: Do not go to or leave from a land stricken by plague. This was of course the best way to protect a community as a whole. But while the first part of this rule is easy to follow, the second part -- staying in the land stricken by plague is not so easy. Hence ahadith like the one quoted earlier from Bukhari encourage people to follow this second part. If we interpret the hadith from Bukhari to mean that end results are independent of human actions and hence human actions are irrelevant, then we would be in conflict with the Qur`an and other ahadith about foreordainment. In the Qur`an determinism is never understood to mean that man should submit to whatever circumstances he finds himself in. Rather, the role of man's own actions as secondary causes is continuously stressed. Thus the Qur`an says that "there is nothing for man except what he strives for". The Qur`anic determinism arises from the fact that man's striving is ultimately caused by God. Also, in 42:39 the Qur`an says that "(the believers are those) who when a wrong (baghi) is done to them they defend themselves".baghi) is done to them they defend themselves". In 4:97 it encourages believers to move if in one place they cannot practice the religion of truth because of oppression. Similar encouragement for action is found many ahadith. Bukhari himself has a whole section of ahadith entitled "To flee afflictions (fitan) is part of religion" (kitab al-'iman). If man is encouraged to defend himself in the face of baghi or more in the face of oppression or flee from fitan, then there is no reason why staying in a town stricken with plague is something desirable, unless it is only to protect the plague from spreading. It is noteworthy that in the hadith about ‘Umar’s trip to ash-Sham a fatalist interpretation is actually voiced by Abu Ubayda when he objects to ‘Umar’s decision to avoid the plague-stricken city by saying: "Is it flight from the decree of God?" Umar’s answer was well put: "Yes. We flee from the decree of God to the decree of God."

The correct spirit in which to understand and live determinism is also expressed in the following hadith from Muslim:

The Prophet said, "The believer who is strong is better or more beloved of God than the believer who is weak -- although it is good to be a Muslim of any type. Be greedy about that which is (really) beneficial to you and seek God's help and do not loose heart. And if something (ill) befalls you, do not say, 'Had I done such and such this would not have happened', but rather say, 'God had thus foreordained and He did what He had willed'. For surely "if" opens the way for the work of Satan." (Muslim on the authority of Abu Hurayrah)

The difference between this hadith and some other ahadith quoted earlier is that the latter talk about future events and suggest that they have nothing to do with man's actions in the present while this hadith is concerned with what has already happened and teaches man not to admit the possibility that it could have happened otherwise (although it is desirable that man analyses past events to get lessons for the future, if God so will). Since what is foreordained are not isolated events but all temporal sequences of events, it is meaningless to say that things would be different had I done such and such, for what I did was as much foreordained as its result. This idea is consistent with the Qur`an:

They say, "Had we any part in decision-making we should not have suffered casualties here (in 'Uhad)". Say, "Even you would have been in your houses, those appointed to be slain would have gone forth to the places where they were to lie (dead). (3:154)

Here some weak Muslims are suggesting that the death of some Muslims in 'Uhad could have been avoided, that is, a past event could have been different from what actually happened; the Qur`an is negating that way of thinking. But the Qur`an itself analyses various past events in the life of the Muslim community, including the battle of 'Uhad, to teach a lesson for the future.


Condemnation of argument about taqdir and of those who reject taqdir

Abu Hurayrah said: God's messenger came out to us when we were arguing about God's decree (taqdir). He was angry and his face became so red that it looked as if pomegranate seeds had been burst open on his cheeks. He then said, "Is this what you were commanded to do, or was it for this purpose that I was sent to you? Your predecessors perished only when they argued about this matter. I adjure you, I adjure you, not to argue about it." (Tirmidhi; Ibn Majah also transmits something similar).

The Prophet said, "He who discusses any aspect of divine fore-ordainment will be questioned about it on the day of resurrection, but he who does not discuss it will not be questioned about it." (Ibn Majah on the authority of 'A'ishah).

The Prophet said, "Do not sit with those who believe in freewill (ahl al-qadr) and do not address them before they address you." (Abu Da'ud on the authority of 'Umar)

Similar condemnation of proponents of free will (called qadariyyah or ahl al-qadr or deniers of al-qadr) is found in other ahadith in Abu Da'ud, Tirmidhi, Ahmad, Bayhaqi and Ibn Majah. But none of these ahadith is reliable since they reflect terminology used in the discussions about free will after the Prophet's life and also since they are not attested by the earliest and the most reliable collections. The reddening of the Prophet's face with anger is a common device used to embellish a hadith and the use of incomplete names insufficient to identify a person ('Umar instead of 'Umar bin al-Khattab) was common to confuse an unknown narrator with a famous companion. The prohibition of argumentation on taqdir is more relevant to the time when heated discussions on the subject were taking place than to the Prophet's time, although, in view of the complexity of the issues involved, it is a wise advice for those who do not have sufficient patience with complex matters.

In summary, it is certain that the prophetic ahadith as found in the second century collections categorically teach determinism. Also, it is probable that authentic ahadith, i.e., that go back to the Prophet himself, teach the same. In particular, something like the following statements, which clearly teach determinism, go back to the Prophet:

  1. God created some people for paradise and some for hell and He makes easy for each group the deeds that lead to their respective destiny.

  2. God has foreordained for each person his age, provision and whether he would be wretched or blessed.

  3. The heart of man is between God's two fingers.



As our survey of prophetic ahadith shows, determinism was the view of the majority of the Muslim scholars in the early centuries. But, of course, throughout the centuries Muslims have held other views. We now briefly discuss some of these other views.

Sometimes it is asserted that we should take a middle way between determinism and indeterminism. This seems to be a popular view at the present time among most schools of thought in Islam. One version of this view states: "Neither determinism nor indeterminism, but something in-between". The popularity of this view is mostly due to the fact that most people are hesitant to take a definite position on a controversial issue, since this can often have unpleasant consequences. The view is further reinforced by the apparent difficulty of reconciling Qur`anic verses of type 1 and 2 discussed earlier as well as the human experience of free will and the evidence to the contrary.

But while the middle way is often the best way, in the present case the middle way is devoid of any reasonable content.

For what is the meaning of a middle way between the view that man has the freedom of choice and the view that he does not? Does it mean that man is partly free to choose and partly his choices are determined? But then what is the meaning of "partly" free?

There are two ways in which this idea can be made precise.

a) A human being makes his choices under the influence of many factors beyond his control such as his background, his upbringing, his genetic and biological make-up, his present mental and biological state etc. To the extent man is under such influences, he is not free to choose but to the extent that these influences do not completely determine his choices, he is free. However, any reasonable concept of free choice already takes into account the influence of factors beyond a person's control. Indeed, the only sensible definition of free choice is this: factors beyond our control limit the number of possible alternatives we can conceive at any time; other factors beyond our control make some of these conceivable alternatives impossible to realize; out of the remaining alternatives we have a complete and genuine freedom to choose one. Thus the role of the external factors is only to limit the alternatives from which a human being can choose, but the choice among those available alternatives is either free or it is not. In this situation there is no middle way between determinism and indeterminism.

b) Another way of giving meaning to the statement that man is partly free to choose is to say that human beings and God are partners in human choices, so that at least some human choices are made only when both man and God will them. But what is the nature of this partnership? There are three possibilities:

  1. Man freely makes his choice and God accepts that choice. In this case it is not meaningful to say that man is partly free; he is, in fact, totally free. Moreover, in this case there is no natural way to understand Qur`anic statements like "Whom God will He leads astray, and whom He will He puts on a straight path". If person A freely makes a choice and person B simply accepts it, it is not sensible to attribute A's choice to B, certainly not in the words that Qur`an uses in type 2 statements.

  2. God makes the choice and then he makes man choose the same thing. This amounts to determinism, the very conclusion which the formulation is meant to avoid.

  3. Each of the two partners, man and God, freely opts for an alternative and a choice is made if both opt for the same alternative. In case of a difference, man or God, more naturally the latter, exercises veto power. But such a view of partnership between God and man seems to amount to shirk. Moreover, it solves nothing. For, when man's action is evil, as it frequently is, then we must infer that not only man but also God is responsible for man's evil choice. But is not indeterminism meant to avoid such a conclusion?

Although the irrational middle way is a popular position among Muslims, many modern thinkers have opted for strict indeterminism, e.g. Muhammad Iqbal and Ali Shariati.

In Bal-i-Jibrail (Urdu) Iqbal writes in an untitled poem:

Develop your self to the point that before writing every taqdir God himself asks man, What is your desire?

In Darb-i-Kalim (Urdu), a poem entitled "Taqdir" (Foreordainment) interprets thoughts of Muhayy ad-Din ibn Arabi through a discourse between Iblis and God. Iblis says to God that he failed to prostrate before Adam because such was not His will. God replies:

Lowness of his nature has taught him this arguement, He says that "it was not your will that I prostrated".

He is looking at his freedom as his helplessness,

This tyrant (against self) calls his burning flame "smoke".

In the same Darb-i-Kalim, a poem entitled "Divine Commandments" reads:

Obedience to taqdir or obedience to divine commandments?

This question is not difficult for a man of reason (to answer)

In a moment taqdir changes hundreds of times,

It's follower is now unhappy and now joyful.

Bound to taqdir are plants and vegetables,

Mu'min is bound only to the commandments of God.

According to Shariati, man is absolutely free to make his own decisions (see S. Akhavi, "Shariati's Social Thought," in: Nikki R. Keddie (editor), Religion and Politics in Iran: Shi'ism from Quietism to Revolution, New York: New York University Press, 1983).

These thoughts are appealing and even exciting and useful. But only as long as one does not give them careful thought and they are not examined in the light of the Qur`an. It is noteworthy that these thinkers nowhere seem to have made any attempt to root their indeterminism into the Qur`an by discussing in detail all the relevant verses. A. A. Mawdudi does examine the relevant Qur`anic verses in his Mas'alah Jabr-o-Qadr (Urdu) (Lahore: Islamic Publications (undated)) and therefore he does not reject determinism. But there is a strange conflict in Mawdudi's views. On the one hand, he accepts free will (pp. 88-89, 120). But on the other hand, he seems to think that his position is somewhere between indeterminism and determinism (pp. 112-113). His view can be described as an acceptance of indeterminism without rejection of determinism, a clearly irrational view. It is interesting that Mawdudi, who almost always takes into account the evidence from Hadith, especially those ahadith that are found in different versions in several different books and related from different narrators in a variety of ways, does not do so in case of the question of determinism in his Mas'alah Jabr-o-Qadr. With the exception of the hadith discouraging a woman to compel the man she wants to marry to divorce his other wife and the hadith discouraging coitus interruptus, Mawdudi ignores the numerous other ahadith found not only in Bukhari but also in many other early books with varied chains of transmission and in doing so he gives no other reason than a statement of Ibn 'Abd al-Barr! (pp. 83-84). Had he seriously examined all the ahadith relating to al-qadr with some consistent criteria for hadith criticism, he could not have argued for indeterminism or the irrational middle way between determinism and indeterminism.

Some writers such as Shariati have derived free will from the Qur`anic concept that man is God's khalifah on earth. This despite the fact that the Qur`an explicitly gives a reason why man was made the khalifah and this reason is not that man has free will. The reason rather is that man can name things (2:30-32). Name of a thing is like a model of a thing and so man's ability to name things is the ability to make models of reality. This is the highest form of intelligence on earth and is the reason why man was made the khalifah on earth. Intelligence does not necessarily imply free will.

That freedom of will is not seen in the Qur`an as the reason for the khilafah of man is seen in another way. In the Qur`an, when Iblis was thrown out of paradise for not bowing to man, the rejected one says:

"My Lord! Because you have sent me astray, I verily shall adorn the path of error for them in the earth, ...

Here Iblis considers God the cause of his disobedience. Iqbal notwithstanding this may well be right since God in His reply does not correct Iblis. But suppose that Iblis freely chose to be disobedient to God. Then that would mean that he had freedom of choice. Then why was Iblis himself not made khalifah if khilafah depended on freedom of choice? Indeed, since 2:34, 15:30-31 imply that Iblis was from among the angels, freedom of choice on the part of Iblis means that angels also had freedom of choice, for, there is no reason to think that only one angel had this gift. (In Qur`an 18:50 it is stated that Iblis was one of the jinns, which together with 15:26-30 means that "angels" and 'jinns" are closely related terms, although the exact relationship between them is not exactly clear from the Qur`an. All we can say with confidence is that either angels are a particular class of jinns or vice versa, so that Iblis can be both an angel and a jinn.)

Thus in the Qur`an the selection of man to be the khalifah is not determined by the fact that he has freedom of choice while the angels and other beings did not. The same conclusion is reached by the following relevant passage:

Lo! We offered the trust unto the heavens and the earth and the hills, but they refused to bear it and were afraid of it. But man bore it. Lo! he was a tyrant (against himself) and an ignorant one (zalum and jahul) (33:72)

It is said that "the trust" is the responsibility of khilafah which only man could bear because he can freely choose between good and evil. But no such thing is said by the Qur`an. Note that here even the heavens and the earth are talked about in a way as if they have freedom of choice. For when the trust was offered to them, they refused to accept it. Such refusal of an offer can imply a free choice. It is true that here the Qur`an is using a mythical language but even so if it viewed the khilafah as coming from freedom of will, it is strange that the Qur`an should use a language implying freedom of choice both for those who refused to accept the trust and those who did not.

One suspects that modern writer's indeterminism comes from a desire to lift the Muslim world out of its stagnation. For, under indeterminism it seems easier to urge Muslims to take control of their affairs and to become masters of their destiny and to be dynamic and creative. But it should be remembered that the Qur`an was able to lift mankind without indeterminism.


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