The Book of The Divine Destiny (kitaab ul-Qadr)

The Divine Destiny

The meaning of the belief in al-qada wa al-qadr, i.e., divine destiny, has been the subject of great debate between Muslims scholars over the centuries. There is no universally accepted meaning of the statement. The reason for disagreement has centred on how scholars have reconciled between texts that state personal responsibility for one’s actions and texts that appear to support, based on God’s absolute omnipotence and omnicience, a view of predestination. Traditionally, therefore, the subject of divine destiny has been presented as a debate between predestination and free will. The Companions of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him and his family) understood the belief in destiny, its good and evil, in a clear manner free from the theological hair splitting arguments of the scholars that came later.

The Companions understood that the subject of divine destiny had nothing to do with an individuals responsibility for his actions. The Companions accepted as part of their belief that man will be held accountable on the day of Judgement for his actions. “Say: `Shall We tell you of those who lose most in respect of their deeds? – those whose efforts have been wasted in this life, while they thought that they were acquiring good by their works?’ They are those who deny the Signs of their Lord and the fact of their having to meet Him (in the Hereafter); vain will be their works, nor shall We, on the Day of Judgement, give them any weight. That is their reward Hell; because they rejected (the right way of God), and took My signs and My Messengers by way of jest. As to those who believe and work righteous deeds, they have, for their entertainment, the Gardens of Paradise” [Kahf 18: 103-107]. The doctrine of personal responsibility is emphasised over and over again in the Quran, for example in surah Zumar, we read: “And to every soul will be paid in full (the fruit) of its deeds; and (God) knows best all that they do.” [39:70]; in surah An’am: ” Every soul draws the meed of its acts on no one but itself; no bearer of burdens can bear the burdens of another.” [6:164]; and in surah Mu’min: “That Day will every soul be requited for what it earned; no injustice will there be that Day, for God is swift in taking account.” [40:17]. Many more verses make manifestly clear that each individual will receive what it has earned in this life and none will be dealt with unjustly. Thus reward and punishment in the hereafter is dependent upon the individual exercising his own free will and his own judgement in accepting or rejecting the Way of God. This doctrine of free will and personal responsibility for actions resulting from exercising this free-will has nothing to do with divine destiny (al-qada’ wa al-qadr).

The Jabriah And Mutazilah View Points:

The starting point for understanding the doctrine of divine destiny is to understand the limits of man’s control over his actions. The Jabriah school, founded by Jahm ibn Safwan, held that neither action nor the ability to act belonged in any sense to man. Man is not responsible for any of his actions, which proceed entirely from God; nor does man possess the capacity of free will, he is compelled (jabr). In simple words, man is powerless and everything is predestined and determined by the Decree of fate. The Mutazilah school withdrew (i’tazahu) from this extreme position of compulsion, calling theselves “people of justice and unity” (ashab al-adl wa’t-tawhid) they said that man is the creator of his actions, good and bad, and gets reward or punishment in the hereafter on the merit of what he does, thus man had complete free will. The reality of the matter is that man is neither completely compelled nor completely free. This has been simply illustrated by Imam Ali (ra) when questioned by one of the believers about divine destiny, the Imam asked the believers to lift up one leg. When he had done so, he asked him to lift up his other leg, which he obviously could not do. Then Ali (ra) explained to him that this showed what was meant by having a limit to his ability. One can do certain things of one’s own free will up to a certain limit but one cannot extend one’s power and ability to do anything beyond that limit. The difference between voluntary actions and the involuntary reflexes, such as nervous twitches, are noticed by everyone.

Divine destiny is concerned with those actions which man has no control over, such as the limits imposed by God’s universal laws as illustrated in the example by Imam Ali (ra). We are restrained by exterior causes in the form of God’s universal laws so that man neither creates his form nor can he alter his physical capabilities to enable him to fly or walk on water etc. In like manner, causes outside of us impact on us directly, without any choice in the matter, such as so called accidents or unintentioned happenings. A man falls from a high building and lands on someone walking on the footpath, and by so doing killing him. This kind of event is usually described as an accident; was it the result of the dead persons free will or was he compelled? Clearly the pedestrian had no knowledge of the matter and therefore cannot be said to have exercised free will in the action; he was compelled without choice. Actions and events such as these, i.e. the limits imposed by God’s universal laws and those actions which man cannot reject, that restrain him by exterior causes, all these are termed qada’ because God alone has decreed them. Man is not accountable for such actions whether they are deemed good (khayr)or evil (sharr). Indeed man cannot know whether such things are good or evil.

Good And Evil (Al-Khair Wa Al-Shar):

The measure of good and evil is the sacred law. The basic premise being that good is what the Lawgiver (Allah or His Messenger) has indicated is good by permitting it or asking it to be done. Bad is what the Lawgiver has indicated is bad by asking it not to be done. The mind alone, unaided by the sacred law, cannot know the good or evil of something. The use of the terms good or evil therefore to the area of al qada’ is inappropriate. Instead the believer accepts whatever occurs in this sphere of his life whether apparently good or evil. The people of the sunnah believe that good and evil, benefit and harm, are of the knowledge of God (qadr) and by His decision (qada’); and nothing can happen except by His will (mashiyat). Ibn Abbas has narrated that the Messenger (saw) said: “If the whole nation gathered to help you with something, they cannot help you except with something already written for you by God, and if the whole nation gathered to harm you with something, they cannot except with something already written for you by God.” [Tirmizi, Ahmad]. And God says in surah Yunus: “If God do touch thee with hurt, there is none can remove it but He: If He do design some benefit for thee, there is none can keep back His favour.” [10:107]. Thus in respect of the above example the believer does not say that the man falling onto the pedestrian is evil. Clearly the relatives of the dead man will grieve but they are incapable of judging whether the actions were good or evil. Only God knows whether such actions are good or evil. An illustration of this is what al-Ghazali has narrated from Said Wahb ibn Munabbih: “The Angel of Death once took away the spirit of a great tyrant, the likes of whom had never been seen on the face of the earth before. When [the Angel] had ascended up to heaven again, the other angels asked him,`Of all those whose spirits you have taken, to whom did you show the most mercy?’ `I once was commanded’, he replied, `to take the soul of a woman in a desert place. When I came to her she had just given birth to a son, and I dealt with her mercifully on account of her remoteness from her homeland, and with her son because of his young age and his presence in the desert where there was none who might care for him.’ And the angels said,` The tyrant whose soul you just took away was that same child to whom you showed mercy.’ And the Angel of Death declared, `Glory be to Him Who shows kindness as He will!” Similar lessons of our inability to understand the wisdom of divine destiny is contained in the Quranic narration of Musa and Khider in surah al-Kahf.
Khider had a special knowledge of the inner meanings and mystery of events which Musa did not understand and made him impatient. Our job as believers is not to pass judgement on matters of al Qada’ as good or evil but to believe the destiny good and evil is from God.But we do not attribute to God that He intends evil, for example we do not say `O Creator of evil’, even though God is the Creator and the Maker. The Prophet, peace be upon him) would supplicate: “Praise be to thee, the Exalted one, the good is in your hands and evil does not belong to you.” [1] The Prophet Ibrahim, (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “And when I am ill, it is He who cures me.” [ash-Shu’araa 26:80]. Ibrahim attributed illness to himself and the cure to God, despite the fact that both are from God. In like manner al-Khider apportioned the desire to render damage to himself in the statement: “As for the boat, it belonged to certain men in dire want: they plied on the water: But I wished to render it unserviceable.” [al-Kahf 18:79]; but when al-Khider mentioned good and mercy he attributed it to God: “So thy Lord desired that they should attain their age of full strength and get out their treasure, a mercy and favour from thy Lord.” [18:82].

God, All Knowing (Allahu Al-A’leem):

Believe in the divine destiny also obliges the acknowledgement that God knows all things knowable, encompassing all that takes place from the depths of the earth to the highest heaven. He knows without an atom’s weight in the earth or heavens escaping His knowledge. “Whether you hide your word or make it known, He certainly has (full) knowledge, of the secrets of (all)hearts. Should He not know,- He that created? And He is The Subtle, The Aware.” [ al-Mulk 67:13-14]. Whatever happens in the universe is known to Him before it occurs. Abdullah bin Umar has reported the Prophet, (peace and blessings be upon him), as saying: “Verily God wrote the predestination of all creatures some 50,000 years before he created the skies and earth.” [Sahih Muslim]. The writing of God is an expression of His knowledge of things before they happen. Abdullah bin Abbas said: “God created the creatures, He knew what they were going to do, He then said to His knowledge “Be a book” then it was.”[Ibn Taymiah, al Iman, p199] “Knowest thou not that God knows all that is in heaven and on earth? Indeed it is all in a record, and that it is easy for God.“[al-Haj 22:70]. However, God’s knowledge does not compel individuals to act in a given way. Imam Abu Hanifah said: “If anyone tells you that man has no free will and is coerced and compelled by destiny, then find a rod and raise it over his head as if to strike him. Tell him Don’t move away this is your destiny!” Imam Khattabi said “Many will think that divine destiny is compelling people to perform what God has already decided for them. But destiny means the knowledge of God concerning the action of His slaves and their acquiring of deeds. So there is no justification for anything, and they should be blamed for intentional deeds performed with choice. Therefore divine destiny is the knowledge of God concerning the action of his slave, and what he is going to do; and it is not the knowledge of God which forces anyone to do an action.” [2] ] Abiy Tharr has reported the Messenger of God, peace and blessings be upon him, as saying: “God will say on the Day of Judgement: `O my slaves! This is surely your deeds, I counted for you, then I gave them to you. If anyone finds good let him praise God, and if you find other than that you only have yourself to blame.”[Sahih Muslim]. As a Muslim we can never justify our deeds by the excuse of destiny. It happened that one day the Companions brought a thief to Umar al-Khattab, may God be pleased with him. Umar asked the thief why he had stolen. The thief replied, `Because the destiny decreed so.’ Umar said, `Then shall cut off your hand with the destiny.’ So no one can use divine destiny as an excuse for committing sin. God did not create man in chains with hands tied under duress. God created in man the attributes of hearing and seeing, and a discerning mind. If man neglects these blessings from God he has only himself to blame. “And We had endowed them with faculties of hearing, seeing, heart and intellect, but of no profit to them were their faculties of hearing, sight and heart, and intellect, when they went on rejecting the signs of God.” [al-A’hqaf 46:26] .

The divine destiny should not be used as an excuse not to do something or not to aim for something; neither should it be relied upon in the sense of doing nothing towards the task in hand. The Prophet, peace be upon him, would take medicine when ill and protect himself with a coat of mail and shield in war. In the words of Umar al-Khattab, he would employ destiny against destiny. When Umar was informed that there was plague in Syria he decided not to enter the country, instead he returned with his companions to Madina. Abu Ubayda told him, `You are running away from the destiny of God.’ Umar replied:`Yes I am. We are running away from the destiny of God to another destiny.’ We should take precautions in our life affairs “O you who believe! Take your precautions.” [an-Nisa’ 4:71]. During the Battle of Uhud, when the Companions disobeyed the Prophet and left their position on the mountain the disbelievers killed 70 of the Companions. Concerning this incident God says: “What! When a single disaster smites you although you smote (your enemies) with one twice as great, Do you say? `Whence is this?’ Say (to them): `It is from yourselves’.” [al-Imran 3:165]. The Companions had come to think of themselves as being unbeatable because of the presence of the Prophet, and some of them paid no heed to the Messenger of God’s (peace be upon him) instruction to hold their position as a deterrent against the enemies cavalry. The consequence was defeat. We must employ lifes means instead of relying on destiny. “Against them make ready your strength to the utmost of your power.” al-Anfal 8:60]. Ali bin Abi Talib (ra) has reported the Prophet, (peace and blessings be upon him), as saying: “`Everyone of you has had written for him his seat in Paradise or his seat in Hell.’ The people asked: `O Prophet of God, can we then just rely on what has been written for us and do nothing?’ The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him and his family) replied: `Work, everyone is guided to what is created for him.‘” [al-Bukhari, Muslim]. This tradition makes it abundantly clear that God knows about our actions before we perform them, but He does not deprive us from exercising choice and working to save ourselves. It has been narrated that God effaces the destiny with the destiny. Umar
al-Khattab used to supplicate to God with the words; “O God! If you have written for me in the Mother of the Book (umm al-kitab) misery, efface it and make me fortunate. Verily, you efface what you want and keep what you want“. God says: “God doth blot out or confirm what He pleaseth, with him is the Mother of the Book.” [ar-Ra’d 13: 39]. Umm al kitab is the original foundation of all revelation, the essence of God’s will. Thus God blots out one destiny with another. Thawban has narrated that the Prophet of God, peace and blessings be upon him, said “What turns away the destiny is the supplication (du’a).” [ibn Hayan and al Hakim].

God’s Will (Mashiyat):

The meaning of God’s will (mashiyat) according to the people of the sunnah is that no one believes in God except with His Will, and no one disbelieves in God except with His Will, and if God Willed He could make all people one nation. “If it had been thy Lord’s will they all have believed all who are on earth!” [Yunus 10:99]. “He Most High wills all that exists and directs all events. Nothing occurs in the physical or spiritual world, be it meager or much, little or great, good or evil, of benefit or detriment, faith or unbelief, knowledge or ignorance, triumph or ruin, increase or decrease, obedience or sin; save through His ordinance, apportionment, wisdom, and decision. What He wills is, and what He does not wil is not.” [3] If God willed no one to sin He would not have created the devil (shaytan), the disbelief of the infidel, the belief of the believers, the obedience of the submitters and the sin of the evil doers, all with His judgment (al qada’) and His knowledge (al qadr), His will (mashiyat) and command. He is pleased with iman and obedience and displeased with disbelief and sin: “If you reject (God) truly God hath no need of you; but He liketh not ingratitude from His servants: if you are grateful, He is pleased with you.” [az-Zumar 39:7].If it should then be asked, `How does God forbid what He has willed and enjoin what He does not will?’ Imam Ghazali has answered this question by stating that that the question is not that of will (iradah). He provides an example to clarify the matter. “If a master strikes his slave and is accordingly reprimanded by the ruler, the master justifies his action by the rebellion of the slave against him. So the master attempts to prove his point by ordering the slave to do something which the slave would refuse in the presence of the ruler. Therefore he tells the slave to saddle a mount. Now the master ordered the slave to do something the fulfilment of which he did not really desire. If he had not given his order, he would not have been able to justify himself; and if he had really desired its fulfilment he would have desired destruction for himself, which thing is impossible.” [4]. The will of God does not compel man to carry out an action. Its meaning is that nothing can take place in God’s custody without His will, i.e., nothing in existence can happen independent of Him. Thus if man carried out an action and God did not compel him or prevent him from doing the action, but instead left him to act freely, then man has acted according to the will of God. The action of the man was undertaken by himself and by his choice, and the will of God did not force him to carryout the action [5].

Al Qada’ wa Al Qadr (divine fate and destiny) relates to the actions of man in the domain that dominates him, i.e., outside man’s control, and the particular attributes that God has given to things, such as the strength of steel and the burning of fire. The meaning of `divine destiny, the good and evil, being from God’ is to believe that the actions of man which happen to him without choice cannot be avoided, it is to know what hits you was not going to miss you, and what misses you was not going to hit you. It is also to know that the attributes in things were assigned to them by God and not man. The actions man performs with free will are not connected to the subject of al qada wa al qadr. God has blessed man with a mind, which can distinguish between things, and God gives man the choice to do an action or not. For this reason God rewards those who adhere to His law and way and punishes those who disobey and transgress His laws: “Then, on that Day not a soul will be wronged in the least. And you shall be repaid the meeds of your past deeds.” [ya Sin 36: 54].

Related to the subject of divine destiny is the knowledge that God alone takes life, God alone who provides our provisions (rizq), and God alone who provides guidance (huda).

The Appointed Time (Al-Ajal):

God has decreed an appointed time (ajal) for everyone, “We have decreed death to be your common lot.” [al-Waqi’a 56:60], and no soul will depart without the permission of God when that time has expired: “To every people is a term appointed : When their term is reached, not an hour can they cause delay, nor an hour can they advance it (in anticipation).” [al-A’raf 7:34]; and in surah al ImranNor can a soul die except by God’s leave the term being fixed as by writing.” [3:145]. Thus the Muslim believes that the expiration of the appointed time is the cause of death. However intellectually it appears that the cause of death is that which is recorded on the Death Certificate, i.e, heart attack, cancer, natural causes, etc. Actually these apparent causes are only the forms in which the ajal expired; circumstances as opposed to the cause of death. It is “He who created death and life.” [al-Mulk 67:2]. The texts which inform us of this fact are definite in authenticity and meaning and must be believed in: “Wherever you are, death will find you out, even if you are in towers built up strong and high!” [an-Nisaa 4:78]

Our Provisions (Al-Rizq):

God has decreed our life-span and our provisions (rizq) and He is the source of both: “There is no moving creature on earth but its sustenance dependeth on God.” [Hud 11:6]. “Verily thy Lord doth provide sustenance in abundance for whom He pleaseth and He provideth in a just measure.” [al-Israa 17: 30]. And in surah al BaqarahO you who believe! Eat of the good things that We have provided for you and be grateful to God.” [2:172]. Imam Ali (ra) was asked, “How did you know God?” He replied: “When I desired something a barrier stood between me and my desire. And when I planned for income, the fate and destiny crossed my plan. Then I knew that the provider of rizq is someone other than me and He is God, the Creator, the Sustainer.” “And who gives you sustenance from heaven and earth? Can there be another God besides Allah?” [an-Naml 27:64] Our sustenance is given to us by God, but our means of acquiring it can be both lawful (halal) and unlawful (haram) according to the viewpoint of the sacred law. We are held accountable for the way we have acquired our rizq [6].

God is Self-Subsisting, all creatures are responsible to Him, there is no being to whom He is responsible, :”He cannot be questioned for His acts, but they will be questioned for theirs.” [al-Anbiyaa 21:23], and He is dependent on no one or anything: “Is it not His to create and to govern? Blessed be God, the Cherisher and Sustainer of the worlds.” [al-A’raf 7:54]. Abdullah bin Masud has narrated that the Messeneger of God, (peace and blessings be upon him), said: “The creation of one of you is assembled in the womb of his mother forty days as a sperm, then he becomes clot for a similar period (i.e, forty days), then he becomes a lump for a similar period (forty days), then God sends to him an angel with four words: his provisions, his deeds, his appoined time, and whether he will be miserable or favoured. By Him who holds my soul is in His hand, one of you may do the work of people of paradise until between him and Paradise is the distance of an arms length, then will reach him what has been written for him in the Book, then he will do the work of the people of Hell and he will enter it. And one of you may do the work of the people of Hell until only the distance of an arm span stands between him and Hell, then will reach him what has been written for him in the Book and he will do the work of the people of Paradise and will enter it. ” [7]

Some verses of the Quran state that some people will never be guided to the Way of God: “The same is it to them whether thou admonish them or thou do not admonish them : they will not believe.” [Ya Sin 36:10]. This verse and others similar in meaning inform us that there are specific people who will never believe whether you warn them or not, and this is in the knowledge of God. But every human being as the capacity to believe. The Prophet of God, and those who carried the invitation to Islam after him, was ordered to call everyone to belief. It is not in our knowledge to know who will believe or not. Until the person takes his or her last breath we convey to them the invitation to believe.

Guidance (Al-Huda):

We believe that God guides whom He pleases to His religion, and He misguides whom He pleases, and no one has an excuse if God misguides him: “Say: `With God is the argument that reaches home: If it had been His will, He could indeed have guided you all.‘ ” [al-An’am 6:149], “If We had so willed, We certainly have brought every soul its true guidance: But the word from me will come true `I will fill Hell with jinn and men all together.’ ” [as-Sajda 32:13], and in surah A’raf: “Many are the jinn and men We have made for Hell.” [7:179]. Men and jinn will enter Paradise or Hell justly based on their deeds. Those people who are rebellious, evil doers, sinners, oppressors and disbelievers have characteristics not compatible with guidance. God does not guide those who have such characteristics “For God guides not those who are rebellious transgressors.” [ as-Saff 6:5], “And God guides not those who do wrong.” [6:7]. The key to salvation is to acquire the qualities that leads to guidance and success: “Thee do we worship, and thine aid we seek, show us the straight way, the way of those on whom thou has bestowed Thy Grace, those whose (portion) is not wrath, and who go not astray.” [al Fatiha 1:5-7].


1. Ahmad, Muslim, Nassa’i, Abu Dawud, Darmy.

2. Quoted by al Khazin in his tafsir, and Ibn Taymyyah in Minhaj al Sunnah.

3. Ghazali, ihya’ ‘ulum al-Din.

4. Ghazali, Ihya ‘ulum al-Din.

5. Shiekh Taqi ud-din Nebahani, The Islamic System, p10.

6. The people of Sunnah believe that rizq encompasses provisions earned lawfully and unlawfully. The Mutazilah believe that unlawful provisions are not of the rizq . They hold that God does not provide rizq from haram (prohibited), if a boy was brought up by a thief until he became a man, they maintain the boy becomes a thief and God has not provided him with rizq . This is wrong because if rizq is only what you earn then the implication is that the baby and the animals are not provided by rizq from God, but God says: “Is there a creator other than God to give you sustenance from heaven or earth?” [Fatir 35:3]. Imam Qurtobi said: “Our scholars derive from the verse “Eat of the sustenance (provided) by your Lord, and be grateful to Him: a territory fair and happy and a Lord oft-forgiving!” [saba 34:15] that the mention of God forgiving after saying `eat’ means that rizq can be haram and halal .” Tafsir al-Qurtobi.

7. al Bukhari, Muslim, Ahmad, ad-Darmy, Abdul Razaq, Tayalissi.


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