Message of Islam to Humankind ]

[ Part 2 ]


Islam and Determinism
(Part 1)


Dr. Ahmad Shafaat (2000)


Islam's primary objective is not to teach systematic philosophy but to help man establish a relationship with God and to build societies based on God consciousness. Nevertheless, the teachings of Islam proceed from a certain philosophy, i.e. a view of the universe and of man and of the ultimate reality. It is important for Muslims to formulate this philosophy. This paper is concerned with a specific part of such a formulation. More particularly, the paper is concerned with the position of determinism in Islamic philosophy.

Determinism in a strict sense means that all events in the universe including human choices are inevitable in the sense that in their place no other events could have taken place.

Determinism may be affirmed within an atheistic view of the universe or within a theistic view. One of the commonly held views of the universe in atheistic terms is that there is nothing beyond time-space and energy-matter except ideas, including mathematical relations, and some system of such mathematical relations completely describes all the events in the universe. This is illustrated in Figure 1. Islamic theistic system is best understood by modifying the system in Figure 1 to the one in Figure 2, where the universe contains an unseen part beyond time-space and energy-matter and where the events are determined not by a mathematical system but by the will of a living God. Determinism in this second system means that all events without exception are determined completely by the will of God.


Mathematical laws                                        God

            |                                                             |

            |                                                             |

------------------                                           ------------------

| Time-space-   |                                     | Unseen |

| energy-matter |                                     |               |

   -----------------                                          ------------------

                                                                 | Time-space- |

                                                                 | energy-matter |



   Figure 1                                                        Figure 2



One of the important consequences of determinism is that human beings have no genuine freedom of choice. This consequence does not necessarily mean that human beings are completely physical beings. They may have a non-physical, spiritual or divine element in their constitution, which may be referred to as soul. But determinism means that even this element operates entirely according to God's will.

Since most people are willing to accept determinism outside the sphere of human activity, the focus in this paper is on the question of whether or not Islamic philosophy, i.e. a philosophy based on the Qur'an and Hadith, recognizes freedom of choice on the part of human beings.

The discussion of the question is divided into three parts:



Determinism is often referred to as jabr which is understood in the sense of forcing a choice on man. But jabr in the sense of "forcing" is not a suitable concept to bring into the discussion. Determinism means that human choices are like other events in the universe and we should use similar type of language for both. As we do not say that God forces rain to fall, it is not necessary to say that God forces a choice on man. Also, jabr is not a useful concept to start the examination of the subject in the Qur'an. Although the Qur'an does call God Jabbar, but it does not expand enough on this term for us to reach any definite conclusions. Much more fruitful is the examination of the concepts mashiyyah and irada (will) which are very widely used in the Qur'an. But in the last analysis there is no real distinction between mashiyyah/irada and jabr in case of God, if the sense of "forcing" is not made the primary significance of jabr. That is because while wanting, willing, doing, achieving are separable in case of weak human beings, for God they are inseparable, since what He wants is what He decides and what He decides is what happens. Consequently, God's mashiyyah or irada implies jabr in the sense that whatever is His mashiyyah or irada must necessarily happen.

Fortunately, it is not necessary to focus on any particular words like jabr, mashiyyah or 'irada. In Muslim discussions about the question under consideration many Qur'anic verses, employing different concepts, were used on both sides of the argument and any present discussion could simply focus on these same verses. These can be divided into three categories:

1) Those that mention only that man is the source of his choices.

For example,

Behold! We have shown him the way whether he be grateful or disbelieving. (76:3)

And say: "(It is) the truth from your Lord. Let anyone who wishes to, believe, and let anyone who wishes to, disbelieve. (18:29)

That no one burdened with responsibility shall bear another's burden. And that there is nothing for man except what he strives for (53:38-39).

Lo! We have placed all that is on the earth as an ornament for it that We may try them (to see) which of them is best in conduct (18:7; see also 11:7, 67:2).

Whoso does good it is for his soul, and whoso does evil it is against it. And your Lord is not a tyrant to his slaves" (41:46)

2) Those that mention only that God is the source of man's choices, including his moral choices.

For example,

Of them are some who listen unto you (O Muhammad), but We have placed upon their hearts veils, lest they should understand, and in their ears a deafness. (6:25)

Those who deny our signs are deaf and dumb in darkness. Whom God wills he leads astray, and whom he wills he puts on a straight path (6:39)

And though We should send down the angels unto them, and the dead should speak unto them, and We should gather against them all things in array, they would not believe unless God so willed. (6:111)

Had God willed, they had not engaged in shirk. (6:107)

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

And We decreed in the Book for the children of Israel: You will work corruption in the earth twice, and you will become great tyrants. (17:4)

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

He whom God wants to put in trial (fitnah), you will not avail him against God. Those are they for whom the will of God is not to cleanse their hearts. They will have disgrace in this world, while in the Hereafter they will have terrible punishment, (5:41)

And when we want to destroy a township we command its well-off folks and they commit fisq in it; thus the word (of destruction) is justified and we annihilate it with complete destruction (17:16)

Obey not the one whose heart we have made heedless (aghfalna) of our remembrance, who follows his own desire and whose case has been abandoned (18:28)

Do you not see that we have set the devils on the disbelievers who confound them with confusion. (19:83)


3) Those that bring the two thoughts together.

For example,

Behold! This is a reminder. Then, whosoever will, let him choose a way unto his Lord. But you will not (so will) unless wills God. (76:29-30)

That is because God never changes the favor he bestowed on any people until they first change that which is in themselves .. (8:53)

Evil is the example of people who denied our revelations, and were wont to wrong themselves. He whom God guides is guided aright and as for those whom He leads astray, they are the losers. (7:177-178).

And of them are some who listen to you (O Muhammad). But can you make the deaf hear even if they do not apprehend? And of them is he who looks at you. But can you guide the blind even though they do not see? Behold! God wrongs not mankind in aught; but mankind wrong themselves.(10:44)


Now the following arguments show that the Qur'an teaches determinism:

I) Determinism follows naturally from the view that all human choices and activities are like other events in the universe and take place according to God's will. This view is clearly indicated in the following verses:

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)


II) It is possible to explain in a natural and logical way all the three types of verses quoted above and those similar to them if we assume determinism. But starting from the assumption of "free will" or indeterminism, it is difficult to explain all of the verses of type 2.

In order to explain all the verses assuming determinism, all we need is the following simple logical principle:

If A causes or is necessary for B and B causes or is necessary for C, then A causes or is necessary for C. We can express this by means of the following triangle.





B ----------- C


Moreover, it is possible to make each of the following statements separately with the other two understood:

  1. A causes or is necessary for B;

  2. B causes or is necessary for C;

  3. A causes or is necessary for C.

Indeed, often these statements are made separately. Since 3. is a consequence of 1. and 2., it is clearly unnecessary after 1. and 2. but even 1. and 2. are often not stated together but only one at a time.

For example, if a doctor gives a patient a medicine which cures him, we have the following triangle:





Medicine --------- Cure


The patient can make any of the following statements:

  1. "The doctor gave me the medicine"

  2. "The medicine cured me"

  3. "The doctor cured me".

Note that a patient would not always say that the doctor gave him a medicine and that medicine cured him. He could either say that his doctor cured him or that a particular medicine cured him.

Now let us assume determinism. This means that all events including human choices/actions etc are ultimately brought about by God. We can expressed this by the causal triangle:





  Human choice/action etc ------------ Some result


This can give us three types of statements:

  1. Some human choice, action or condition causes or is necessary for a certain result.

  2. God causes or is necessary for the human choice, action or condition.

  3. God causes or is necessary for the result.

Again note that it is not always necessary to make all the three statements together. Depending on the occasion, only one or two of the three statements may be made.

The above triangular relation between God, human choices and some result is clearly established by the Qur'an in explicit terms in the following passage:

Behold! This is a reminder. Then, whosoever will, let him choose a way unto his Lord. But you will not (so will) unless wills God. (76:29-30)

The first of these two verses gives us the first of the three statements implied in our triangle:

i) Man may choose to respond to revelation and as a result take a way to his Lord.

The second verse gives the second of the three statements:

ii) God's will causes or is necessary for man's choice to respond to the revelation.

These two statements then logically lead to:

iii) God's will causes man's taking a way to his Lord.

Notice how explicitly and deliberately the Qur'anic verses bring the will of man and the will of God together, using the same Arabic word for "will" (sha'), and then we are told that the exercise of the will of man is totally dependent on the will of God. Because of the deliberate and explicit nature of this statement it must clearly form the basis of our understanding of the Qur'anic teaching about the relationship between the will of man and the will of God. That is, in setting some kind of hierarchy among the various relevant Qur'anic verses this passage needs to be given priority.

Our triangular model is also demanded by some other Qur'anic passages. Thus consider the following passage:

Wheresoever you may be, death will overtake you, even though you were in lofty towers. Yet if good befalls them, they say: This is from God; but if evil befalls them, they say: This is from you (O Muhammad). Say: All is from God. What is the matter with these people that they do not understand a single thing? Whatever good befalls you (O man) this is from God, whatever evil befalls you, it is from your self. We have sent you as a messenger for mankind and God is enough as a witness. (4:78-79).

In the first of these verses (78), it is clearly stated that all that befalls man is from God whether good or evil, while in the second verse (79) it is equally clearly said that the evil is from man's own self. The statement that all is from God, whether good or bad is also supported by the following passage:

If good befalls you (O Muhammad) it afflicts them, and if calamity befalls you, they say, "We took precaution (against that calamity)" and they turn away rejoicing. Say: Nothing befalls us save that which God has written (kataba) for us. He is our protecting friend. And let in God the believers put their trust. (9:50-51)

It would be rash to say we have a contradiction in 4:78 and 79, since only a couple of verses after these two verses the Qur'an claims:

Do they not ponder on the Qur'an? If it had been from other than God, they would have found therein much incongruity (ikhtilaf). (4:82).

Thus in 4:78-79 the Qur'an makes two different statements about where good and evil come from, using the same Arabic words for good and evil, and then tells us that there is no contradiction in the Qur'an. One must therefore start, whether or not one is a Muslim, with the assumption that there is a consistent understanding from which the two verses are coming. Only if no way can be found to see a consistent understanding behind them can we consider them contradictory. But how can one say that "all (whether good or evil) is from God" and "evil is from man's own self"? Only by the simple logical principle given above, that is, we need to think in terms of the following three statements:

i) Man's own self causes the evil that befalls him.

ii) God causes what is in man's self.

iii) God causes the evil that befalls man.

Statement i) is found in verse 79, statement iii) is implied in verse 78 and statement ii) is understood. In other words, we need to complete the triangle:

God v. 78

Something in --------------- evil man's self v. 79

It is not possible to remove the apparent contradiction without completing the triangle. One may, of course, complete the triangle in two ways: by pointing the arrow downward or upward. But 9:50-51 (quoted earlier) and several other verses show that whatever befalls man is foreordained by God (see argument III below) and this necessitates that the arrow should point downward.

Since the two verses agree that good comes from God, I have focused above primarily on evil. However, the case of "good" is the same as that of "evil". Good also can come from man's self (28:84), but whatever is in man's self comes from God and therefore all good, whether it is coming from man's self or any other source is from God. The words in 4:79, "Whatever good befalls you (O man) this is from God, whatever evil befalls you, it is from yourself" if read by themselves suggest that God is the only source of good that befalls man while man is the only source of the evil that befalls him. But 4:78 shows us that this is not the intention. Both good and evil come from God and both can also come from man's self. The way the Qur'an expresses itself in 4:79 can be fully understood in the light of the following points:

a) Although knowledge of God is ingrained in man (7:172-73), man is born in a state of ghaflah (forgetfulness). A great deal of evil that befalls man is due to this ghaflah. Therefore much evil comes from a state of man's own self. Much good befalls man when he comes out of his state of ghaflah. All this good comes from God because it is only by his grace that man comes out of his ghaflah. Another way of looking at this is by observing that the Qur'an talks of three types of nafs: nafs ammara (12:53), nafs lawwama (75:2), and nafs mutma'inna (89:27). The first type, nafs ammara, is defined in the Qur'an by Yusuf (Joseph): "The nafs is surely prone to impel towards evil unless my Lord bestows His grace." This impelling by nafs ammara towards evil is not a function of human will but is rather the result of the way it is created by God; human will in fact is needed to control this nafs ammara. The development and exercise of such a self-control (nafs lawwama) requires God's grace as the Qur'an says in the words of Yusuf. Now the statement in 4:79 that the evil that befalls man comes from his nafs refers to nafs ammarah. But to the extent that this nafs ammarah is created by God and to the extent that He has withheld His grace from it, one can say that the evil comes from God.

b) Much of ill fortune that befalls us becomes ill fortune because of our subjective reaction to it. Thus one person loosing his business may go in depression while another person suffering the same loss may take it all in stride. This is another sense in which evil comes from man's self.

c) As noted earlier, the Qur'an is not primarily concerned with giving us philosophy or logic but with the "moral and spiritual" uplifting of those who are destined to pay heed to it. For moral and spiritual uplifting it is often best for man to focus on his own role in the evil that befalls him and on God's role in the good that befalls him while remembering that everything is (ultimately) from God. This is why in 4:79 man is addressed directly in the manner of giving advice.

Now using determinism we can explain as follows all the Qur'anic verses, whether they make man himself responsible for certain events or God.

First recall that it is not expected that the three sides of the causal triangle are stated together and the Qur'an also often does not do that. Now each verse in the Qur'an about man's choices, actions etc and results of those choices, actions etc can be viewed as corresponding to one or two sides of a triangle with the remaining side(s) to be understood and hence to be supplied by the reader. Let me illustrate this by a few examples.

Consider the verse:

Lo! God does not change the condition of a people until they change that which is in themselves. And if God wills ill for a people there is none that can repel it, nor have they a defender beside him. (13:11)

Although this verse can be used to support "free choice", but it can also be easily explained under determinism. The statement is like saying that God does not bring down rain unless there first come clouds. This is entirely consistent with determinism, since it is also God who brings the clouds. Similarly, God does not change the condition of a people unless they first change that which is in themselves. But it is also God who ultimately causes people to change that which is in themselves. In other words, we can explain the verse under determinism by completing the triangle:


    Change in what is ------------- Change in their condition
    in a people

Similarly, consider the verses:

And that there is nothing for man except what he strives for. (53:39)

God does not lead astray with it (the Qur'an) except the wrong-doers (2:26)

And he leads astray the transgressors (14:27)

But God has sealed them because of their disbelief (4:55)

God turned away their hearts (from guidance) because they are a people who do not understand (9:127)

We can explain under determinism all such verses on lines indicated above. Very briefly, the explanation is: A cause of being misled by the Qur'an or by God or being sealed from truth or one's heart being turned away from guidance is being a wrong-doer (fasiq) or a transgressor (zalim) or being in a state of disbelief (kufr) or lacking understanding. But what is the cause of being a wrong-doer or a transgressor or a disbeliever or lacking understanding? Ultimately God himself!

The same is the case with verses like the following which talk about those who are guided by God:

He guides towards himself those who turn towards Him (13:27)

Those who strive in our direction We show them Our paths (29:69).

God guides those who turn towards Him or strive in His direction. But what is the cause of one's turning towards God or striving in his direction? Ultimately God himself!

Some other verses usually used to support indeterminism or "free will" would be explained below during discussion of other issues.

But while all the Qur'anic verses can be explained in a logical way under determinism, there is no such explanation for many of them under indeterminism. For assuming that in Qur'anic teaching man is genuinely free to choose between right and wrong, no one has been able to explain verses of type 2,

e.g., "Of them are some who listen unto you (O Muhammad), but We have placed upon their hearts veils, lest they should understand, and in their ears a deafness" (6:25).

Or, "Whom God will he leads astray, and whom he will he puts on a straight path" (6:39).

Or, "they would not believe unless God so willed" (6:111).

Or, "You will not will unless wills God" (79:30).

Or, "Whomsoever it is God's will to guide he expands his bosom unto al-islam, and whomsoever it is his will to send astray he makes his bosom closed and narrow" (6:125).

Under indeterminism it is impossible to explain these verses except perhaps by very artificial and highly forced manipulations of the Qur'anic words. One such explanation makes a distinction between mashiyyah, irada or niyyah. Since the Qur'an generally uses the word sha' for will and says that man cannot will anything unless God so wills, therefore man's mashiyyah is not free but his irada or niyyah is free. This is unsatisfactory because the Qur'an uses 'arada like sha' in 6:125, 22:16 25:62. And niyyah (meaning motive) is not used in the Qur'an and one must not explain the Qur'an by ignoring the words used by it and bringing instead some words from outside. In any case, motives are experienced to arise in man involuntarily. Man has some kind of choice to either act on them or not to act on them. But this choice can be described either by 'arada or sha', so that we are back to the examination of the same two words with which we started.

III) Our last argument for determinism in the Qur'an examines the concepts of divine foreknowledge, forewriting and foreordainment.

God has, as everyone agrees, knowledge of every event before it happens. This is divine foreknowledge; it is a particular case of divine omniscence. Forewriting or simply writing (kitabah) literally means that God has written in a symbolic sense that an event will occur. Foreordainment (taqdir or qada) means that God has willed that this event should occur.

Some understand forewriting as foreknowledge only and reconcile it with indeterminism as follows: man freely chooses right and wrong but God knows what he will choose. What is written by God is simply this foreknowledge. However, forewriting is often identified with foreordainment. Thus maktub and muqaddar are often used as synonyms. There is a good reason for it. There is no need to talk about divine writing if one wants to talk only of divine foreknowledge. For knowledge is written in order to transmit it to others or preserve it for oneself. Since much of God's foreknowledge is not communicated and there is no danger that God will forget anything the use of "writing" even in symbolic sense is difficult to understand in term of foreknowledge only. Moreover, "writing" often means decree or command, as for example when God says that fast is written (kutiba) for you (2:183); and in 9:51 (quoted earlier) kataba is clearly used in the sense of foreordainment and not in the sense of foreknowledge. Thus when it is said that something was written by God, it refers not only to God's foreknowledge but also his will.

Foreordainment of all events implies determinism while determinism and divine foreknowledge together imply foreordainment of all events. Hence it is useful for us to examine whether in the Qur'an foreordainment of all human choices and actions, whether right or wrong is taught.

In one verse we read:

And We decreed in the Book for the children of Israel: You will work corruption in the earth twice, and you will become great tyrants. (17:4)

Here we are not talking about simply foreknowledge on the part of God that the children of Israel will work corruption twice in the land twice. The Qur'an uses the word "decree" (qada).

Similarly, in another verse we read:

And as for the lad, his parents were believers and we had knowledge to fear that he would oppress them by rebellion and disbelief (18:80).

This refers to the killing of a boy by "al-Khadir" presumably on the basis of the knowledge that the boy would grow up to be rebellious and disbeliever. This cannot be foreknowledge of what the boy would actually choose freely when he grows up, since he never grew up to make that choice. Rather, it refers to the knowledge of something present in the very nature of the boy with which he was born, i.e., with which he was created by God and on the basis of which al-Khadir deduced, not predicted, that the boy would choose kufr and tughyan had he lived.

Also relevant is the following verse:

And this was revealed to Noah by inspiration: None of your people will believe save him who has believed already. Do not be distressed because of what they do. (11:36)

Once again, this verse is not talking about foreknowledge of the future choice of the disbelievers among his people, but of their inherent inability to choose faith. The revelation to Noah spoke of the nature with which the unbelievers were created and which made it certain that they cannot believe. This is further supported by the following verse:

And Noah said: My Lord! Leave not one of the disbelievers in the land. If You did leave them, they will mislead Your servants and will breed (yalidu) none but wicked, ungrateful ones. (71:26-27)

That the unbelievers will breed none but wicked and ungrateful ones implies that these would be born with such a character or turned into such by parental influence beyond their control and not that wickedness and ingratitude would be their freely chosen way of life. For otherwise the justification given to destroy the parents before they produce children would be difficult to comprehend.

Of course, in the above verses we have only particular cases, but they are enough to establish that in the Qur'anic view working corruption (fasad) or disbelief or ingratitude (kufr) and rebellion (tughyan) can be foreordained by God for a human being and in this way one of the common objection to determinism is removed. But in the following verses the Qur'an establishes foreordainment as a general rule:

Praise the name of thy Lord the Most High, Who creates, then disposes (in a certain way) And who sets destiny and measure, then guides (towards it) (87:1-3).

This verse talks about creation generally. Everything, including man is created, disposed towards fulfillment of a certain destiny, which may be good or bad, and then guided towards that destiny.

Foreordainment is also mentioned in the following passages:

If good befalls you (O Muhammad) it afflicts them, and if calamity befalls you, they say, "We took precaution (against that calamity)" and they turn away rejoicing. Say: Nothing befalls us save that which God has written for us. He is our protecting friend. And let in God believers put their trust. (9:50-51)

No calamity takes place on the earth nor in yourselves but it is in a book before we bring it about ... (57:22)

One may say that these verses talk about morally neutral fortunes such as victory or defeat, being wealthy or poor but since many of such fortunes result from human choices, including moral choices, they could not be foreordained without the choices themselves being foreordained. Thus most Muslims are willing to accept foreordainment for such morally neutral things as age, provision, time and place of death etc. But these things together depend on our choices. If we do have freedom of choice then it is difficult to see how these things can be foreordained. One may say that we do not have freedom of choice in morally neutral matters but only in moral matters but even many moral choices have an influence on provision, age etc. If at every step we choose a halal source of money, our total provision cannot be expected to be the same as when we do not care about whether our means of earning are halal or haram. One may argue that despite our choices God intervenes here and there to make the total income equal to what has been ordained. But that raises the question, What is the purpose of giving free choice and at the same time fixing the total income or total age?

Moreover, the Qur'an does not make a distinction between "good" and "moral good" and between "evil" and "moral evil". It uses the same word (sayyi'ah, 2:81, 3:120, 30:36, 40:40 etc) for calamity and "moral" evil and the same word (hasanah, 2:201, 4:40, 78, 13:6, 22, 33:21 etc) for good fortune and "moral" good. Similarly it uses the same words for a fortunate and a morally good person (sa'id, 11:105, 108) and for an unfortunate and a morally bad person (shaqiyy, 11:106,19:4, 19:32, 19:48, 23:106, 87:11, 91:12, 92:15). Ultimately fortunate and good are the same, just as the unfortunate and the bad are the same. It is only the difference in temporal perspective. Moral good is that which leads to eternal good fortune (paradise) and moral evil is that which leads to eternal ill fortune (hell). In the Qur'an and indeed in any deterministic system of thought the concept of morality is secondary to the concept of what happens to man. There is no absolute meaning of good and evil apart from what leads to man's well being and what leads to his doom.

In apparent contradiction with the idea of foreordainment are verses like the following:

And verily We shall put you in trial till We know those of you who strive and are patient and examine your record (nabluwa akhbarakum) (47:31)

Lo! We have placed all that is on the earth as an ornament for it that We may try them (with temptation to see) which of them is best in conduct (18:7; see also 11:6-7 (discussed below) and 67:2).

But in regard to these verses, the following points should be kept in mind:

a) The verses cannot be interpreted literally since otherwise they raise the following problem: Since God knows everything, He also knows who will be the best in conduct or who are the ones who will strive or will be patient. So why does God need to try or test people to know what He already knows? This problem arises whether one believes in determinism or free will, since foreknowledge of God is a universally held belief. Now whatever interpretation can be given to the verses in the light of indeterminism could also be made consistent with divine foreordainment.

Thus in view of divine foreknowledge one would have to interpret "knowing" or "trying" by God as simply "bringing to light" or "manifesting in time". This interpretation is not only demanded by divine foreknowledge of all events but is also supported by the two verses that precede 47:31:

Or do those in whose hearts is a disease deem that God will not bring to light their (secret) hates? And if We will, We would show them unto you (O Muhammad) so that you would recognize them by their marks. And you can recognize them by the burden of their talk. And God knows (O human kind) your deeds. (47:29-30)

Thus God already knows the hypocrites and if He wanted He could show them to the Prophet. But this is not His way. He would let events bring into light the disease they carry in their hearts.

Now 4:31 should be understood similarly. If one assumes divine foreknowledge and indeterminism, one can interpret the verse as follows: God will put the believers in trials so that those who strive and are patient may be manifested in time, although He already knows them. But it is equally justified to assume foreordainment and determinism and interpret the verse thus: God will put men in trial in order to manifest in time those who strive and are patient, although He has already foreordained that they will strive and will be patient. The case of verses like 18:7 is similar: they can be interpreted under both determinism and indeterminism with equal justification.

b) The verbs bala(y) and ibtala(y) used in these verses do not necessarily mean to perform some kind of experiment to see its previously unknown result. In the Qur'an they are also used in the sense of exposing or examining something that is already there with a view to judge:

(We shall) examine your record (nabluwa akhbarakum) (47:31)

There every person will examine (in order to defend) (tabluwa) that which it sent forth (i.e. did aforetime) (10:30)

This in order that God may bring forth for examination (yabtali(y)) what is in your breasts (3:154)

On the day when secrets will be exposed for judgment (tubla(y) as-sara'ir)

In all these verses the verbs bala(y) and ibtala(y) are used for examining or exposing something that already exists. Hence verses like 18:7 can be interpreted as follows: Through trials or temptations God exposes or manifests in time those who were foreordained by Him before time to be the best in conduct.

c) This interpretation in the light of foreordainment is supported by the fact that the reference to testing men is preceded in 11:7 by a statement about divine foreordainment:

And there is no moving (i.e. living) creature on earth but sustenance thereof is dependent on God. He knows its habitation and its repository. All is in a clear record (kitab). And He it is who created the heavens and the earth in six days -- and His throne was upon water -- that He may try you, which of you is best in conduct. And if you say to them that you would be raised after death, those who reject (truth) are sure to say that this is only magic manifest (11:6-7).

The kitab mentioned here is not being written as events happen but was always there, even before the events happen (57:22). Also, human beings are included among the living creatures, so that their activities are also in the kitab (9:50-51). This reference to kitab suggests that the subsequent statement "that he may try you, which of you is best in conduct" should be understood in the light of foreordainment. In interpreting the Qur'an it should be kept in mind that some verses focus more on the role of human beings (the horizontal side of the causal triangle) than the role of God (the vertical side) while others do the opposite but both roles (i.e., all sides of the triangle) are always assumed. In the verses under consideration the role of man is stressed more than that of God by using symbolically the idea of "testing" or "trying" but by a reference to kitab, God's role is also brought into view.

Thus while some verses can be explained both in terms of foreknowledge/indeterminism and foreordainment/determinism, there are other verses that can only be explained assuming foreordainment/determinism. Hence the Qur'anic view is best represented by foreordainment/determinism.


Copyright Dr. Ahmad Shafaat. The article may be reproduced for Da'wah purpose with proper references.


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