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DIVINE DECREE AND DESTINY FROM DIFFERENT VIEWPOINTS

Divine Decree and Destiny in relation to Divine Knowledge

God is completely beyond our abilities of comparison and conception, and so we can acquire only some knowledge of Him, not of His Divine Essence but rather of His Attributes and Names, by meditating on and studying His acts and creatures. To understand His acts, sometimes we have to resort to comparisons, as allowed in the Quranic verse: God’s is the highest comparison. (30:27) We may get a glimpse of the relationship between Divine Decree and Destiny and Divine Knowledge by pondering the following comparisons:

Suppose an extremely skilful man, who is an engineer as well as an architect and a builder, wants to build a magnificent house. First, he must determine what type of house he wants (the house exists in his mind). Then, he draws the blueprints (the house exists as an actual design or plan). After this, he builds the house according to the blueprints (the house acquires a material existence). As people can see the house, its image is recorded in numerous memories. Even if it is completely destroyed, it lives on in these memories and in the builder’s mind and plan (the final form of the house’s existence, which has acquired a kind of perpetuity).

Before writing a book, an author must have its full content or knowledge of its full meaning in his or her mind (the book exists as knowledge or meaning). To make this knowledge or meaning visible and known, he or she must express it in words. Before doing this, he/she arranges it in chapters, sections, and paragraphs (a “blueprint”), and then writes it down (material existence). Even if the book is destroyed completely and vanishes, it continues to live in the memories of those who read or heard of it, and in the author’s own mind.

Such existence - existence in mind - is the thing’s essential existence. Even if the thing in question is not put into words or practice, its knowledge or meaning exists in the mind. Therefore, although knowledge or meaning need matter to be seen and known in this world, it is the essence of existence, upon which material existence depends.

Likewise, God has full and exact knowledge of the universe and all its contents. This is stated many times in the Quran, as seen in the following verses:

It may be that you dislike a thing although it is good for you, and love a thing although it is bad for you. God knows, but you know not. (2:216)

Say: “Whether you hide what is in your breasts or reveal it, God knows it. He knows all that the heavens and the Earth contain; and He has power over all things.” (3:29)

With Him are the keys of the Unseen. None but He knows them. And He knows what is in the land and the sea. Not a leaf falls but He knows it; not a grain amid the darkness of the soil, nothing of wet or dry, but (it is) in a Manifest Book. (6:59)

Say: “If the ocean were ink for the words of my Lord, assuredly the ocean would be used up before the words of my Lord were finished, even if We brought another (ocean) like it, for its aid.” (18:109)

Even if He had not created the universe, it still would exist in His Knowledge. Since God is beyond all time and space, both of which are united in His Knowledge as a single point, and since His eternal, all-encompassing Knowledge does not depend on them, time is a unified whole: there cannot be things like precedence or posteriority or sequence or division of time. We should always remember that our categories of past, present, and future time are only artificial categories designed to make our lives more manageable. Time and space are also only two dimensions of creation.

Everything eternally exists in God’s Knowledge, and He literally knows everything about everything. Divine Power clothes a thing in material existence according to Divine Will, and this transference from Knowledge into our own world takes place within the limits of time and space. Knowledge and Will are two essential Attributes of Divine Being: God knows things, things exist in His Knowledge, His Will determines all of their specific and general characteristics, and His Power gives them material existence. The overall relationship between Divine Knowledge and Destiny, is best expressed as: There is not a thing but with us are the stores thereof. We send it not down save in appointed measure (15:21).

Divine Decree and Destiny in relation to registry and duplication

Everything that exists in Divine Knowledge in an individualized form according to a certain measure, or, if we may say so, as a plan or project, is in a Record, called, in one respect, the “Supreme Preserved Tablet” (85:21) and, in another, the “Manifest Record” (36:12). The Qur’an states that nothing befalls us save that which God has decreed or preordained for us (9:51) and there is not a moving creature on the earth, nor a flying creature flying on two wings, but they are communities like mankind, and that God has neglected nothing in the Record (6:38).

This Record (or original Register) is a title for Divine Knowledge in relation to creation. During the “process” of creation, this Register is duplicated. Its first, most comprehensive duplication-all of creation-is the “Tablet of Effacement and Confirmation” (or the “Manifest Book.”) While the Supreme Preserved Tablet (or the Manifest Record) contains the originals of everything in Divine Knowledge, as well as the principles and laws of creation, the Tablet of Effacement and Confirmation is the reality and, metaphorically, a page of the stream of time. Divine Power transfers things from the Supreme Preserved Tablet onto the Tablet of Effacement and Confirmation, arranges them on the page of time and, in turn, attaches them to the string of time. Nothing changes on the Supreme Preserved Tablet, for everything there is fixed, but during the process of creation, God effaces what He wills, and confirms and establishes what He wills (13:39).

After birth, everyone is registered in a Registry of Births. Then, based on this information, everyone receives an identity document. Similarly, everyone’s complete personal characteristics, particularities, and future life-history are registered on the Supreme Preserved Tablet, which then is copied by angels. These beings record all the information related to one’s body, and encode it in cells as information or laws. For this information to work and come to life, however, the spirit must be breathed into the body.

The other part of this copy is fastened around our neck as an invisible book (17:13). We enact whatever is in that book until it is our time to die. This does not mean that Destiny or predetermination compels us to act in a certain way, for Destiny is no more than a sort of knowledge. For example, you send someone somewhere to do a job. Having already procured whatever is needed for the journey, you brief the man and send him on his way. Since you know in advance how he will behave, you record all of the journey’s details in a notebook and hide it in a secret pocket in his jacket. Unaware of the notebook, this fellow behaves as he wants to while traveling. You also dispatch two of your most reliable men to follow him in order to observe and videotape secretly whatever he says and does. When he returns, you compare the videotapes with the notebook and see that they are exactly the same. Afterwards, you interview him to see if he followed your instructions, and then either reward, punish, or forgive him accordingly.

As in the example above, God, Who is beyond all time and space and therefore has comprehensive knowledge, records our life-history in the original Register. Angels copy this information and fasten a personal register, which we call destiny or fate, around each person’s neck. God’s apparent foreknowledge and recording of our deeds and words do not compel us to perform them, for whatever we say or do is the result of using our free will. Here we should point out that such “foreknowledge” and “pre-recording” are apparent, because past and future time are only relevant to us; they cannot, and do not, apply to God. As He “sees” everything at one and the same time, there is no such thing as “fore-” or “pre-” when speaking of Him. Our complete life is recorded by two angels, called Kiramun Katibun (noble scribers). On the Day of Judgment, our record will be presented to us, and we will be told to read it:

Every man’s book of life-history (fate) have We fastened around his neck, and We shall bring forth for him on the Day of Resurrection a book which he will find wide open. (It will be said unto him): “Read your book. Your own self suffices as a reckoner against you this day.” (17:13-4)

Question

Are man’s actions really predetermined, and then recorded during his life-history? (The meaning of the Manifest Record and Manifest Book)

Answer:

Believing in Divine Destiny is one of the pillars of faith, and, in accordance with this belief, everything in the universe is determined by God, the All-Mighty. While there are countless absolute evidences of Destiny, it may be sufficient to make some introductory remarks to demonstrate how important a place this pillar of faith has for the whole of creation.

The Quran specifically explains that everything is predetermined, and then recorded after its coming into existence, as indicated in many verses like,

Nor anything green or withered except it is all in a Manifest Book.

This Quranic statement is confirmed by the universe, this macro-Quran of the Divine Power, through its creational and operational signs like order, harmony, balance, forming and shaping, adornment and distinguishing. All seeds, fruit stones, measured proportions and forms demonstrate that everything is pre-determined before its earthly existence. Each seed or fruit stone has a protective case formed in the factory of Kaf Nun, into which the Divine Destiny has in-built the life-story of a tree or plant. The Divine Power employs the particles according to the measure established by Divine Destiny so as to cause the particular stone to grow miraculously into the particular tree. This means that the future life-history of that tree is as though written in its seed.

While there is variety between individuals and between species, the basic materials from which these plants and animals are formed are identical. The plants and animals that grow from the same constituent basic elements display, amid abundant diversity, such harmony and proportion that man cannot help but conclude that each of them has been individually given its particular form and measure. It is the Divine Power which gives to each its particular form according to the measure established for it by Divine Destiny. For example, consider how vast and innumerable a mass of inanimate particles shift, cohere, separate so that this seed grows into this tree or that drop of semen grows into that animal.

Since there are the manifestations of Divine Destiny to this extent in visible material things, for certain, the forms with which things are clothed with the passing of time and the states they acquire through their motions are also dependent on the ordering of Divine Destiny. Indeed, a single seed displays Destiny in two ways, one by demonstrating the Manifest Book (Kitabun Mubin) which is but another title for Divine Will and God’s creational and operational laws of the universe; the other is by displaying the Manifest Record (Imamun Mubin), another title for Divine Knowledge and Command. If we regard these two as different manifestations of Divine Destiny, the former can be understood and referred to as ‘Destiny Actual’ and the latter as ‘Destiny Formal or Theoretical’. The future full-grown form of the tree can be understood as its Destiny Actual, whilst Destiny Formal refers to all the stages together through which the tree has to pass in its life, and comprehends the entire history of its life. Such manifestations of the Divine Destiny, so easily observed in a life such as that of a tree, are illustrative of how everything has been pre-determined in a Record before its worldly existence. On the other hand, all the fruits and seeds which are signs of the Manifest Book (Kitabun Mubin) and the Manifest Record (Imamun Mubin), together with all human memories which indicate the Preserved Tablet (Lawhun Mahfuz), prove that, as everything has been pre-recorded, its life-history is also recorded. The life-history of every tree, for example, is recorded in each of its fruits, which is the outcome of its entire life. The life-history of man including events occurring in the external world is likewise recorded in his memory. Thus, the Divine Power registers a man’s deeds with the Pen of Destiny by lodging it in his memory so that he will be able to remember them on the Day of Reckoning.

Man should also be assured that in this world of transience and upheavals there are numerous ‘mirrors’ pertaining to eternity in which the All-Powerful and Wise One depicts and makes permanent the identities of mortals. There are also many tablets upon which the All-Knowing Preserver writes down the meanings of transient beings.

In short: While plants, which are the simplest and lowest level of life, are completely dependent upon Divine Destiny, it is also evident that the life of man, which is the highest level, has also been minutely determined by that Destiny. Just as drops of rain are indicative of a cloud, and trickles of water disclose a spring, and receipts and vouchers suggest the existence of a ledger, so fruits, sperms, seeds, and forms are indicators of the Manifest Book and the Manifest Record.

The expression Manifest Book symbolizes the Destiny Actual, which is a title for Divine Will and God’s creational and operational laws of the universe and the physical order displayed by living creatures. The Manifest Record means the Preserved Tablet which is the book of Divine Knowledge and symbolizes the Destiny Formal or Theoretical determining the immaterial order and the life of the universe.

To conclude: We witness that particles are in continuous movement during the formation of a living creature and travel to their destinations by complicated routes and remain there. Their movement results in many benefits, uses, and instances of wisdom. Evidently, an apparent measure is appointed for each thing by Divine Destiny. If this is so, it is also observable that even the immaterial states of living beings result in certain fruits. Thus, Divine Power is the agent, and Divine Destiny is the pattern. Divine Power writes the book of the meanings on that pattern. We see that every movement a creature makes in the course of its existence, and all the stages through which it passes, are pre-determined by Divine Destiny and its whole life forms a harmonious unity.

Since we understand that a destination and a certain purposeful result has been appointed for everything by Divine Destiny, and accordingly all the stages it will undergo during its life-time have also been pre-determined by the same Destiny, surely, the life-history of man, the most perfect fruit of the tree of creation, God’s vicegerent on earth, and the bearer of His greatest trust, is more than anything subject to the law of Divine Destiny.

Question

If we are so bound by Divine Destiny, then doesn’t belief in it cause trouble and discomfort to the soul desirous of continuous activity and self-perfection?

Answer

Far from causing trouble, it provides the soul with relief, security and comfort. If a man does not believe in Destiny, then his soul will have to endure a burden as heavy as the earth itself for the sake of an illusory, temporary and in practice very limited freedom. Man is connected with the whole universe, while he cherishes within himself limitless desires and ambitions, one millionth part of which are impossible to satisfy through his own power. Thus, he will eventually be left alone with insupportable troubles and torments. Belief in Destiny relieves man of all the burdens by assigning the bearing of them to it. It gives the soul comfort and tranquility, and enables it to attain perfect freedom. It only takes away the illusory freedom of the carnal soul, and breaks its tyrannical hold over the man himself. Belief in Destiny gives man so great a pleasure and happiness that it cannot be described. We shall just point to that pleasure and happiness with the following comparison:

Let us suppose two men enter a king’s palace. One of them does not recognize the king, and tries to live there on theft and usurpation. However, he experiences difficulties and hardships like having to control the palace and its inhabitants, since the garden requires special care, and the affairs of the palace need exact calculation and management. Operating of the machines there, provisioning the many strange animals living in the palace all proves very difficult for him. So, he suffers much and this paradise turn into a hell for him. Finally, he is imprisoned because of his defective management and corruption.

As for the other man, he recognizes the king and is aware of being his guest. He perceives and believes that all the affairs of the palace and the garden are carried out under the king’s rule and authority. He comes to understand that it is the king himself who assumes full responsibility for governing the palace, so he enjoys the pleasures of living there without interfering with anything. He overlooks certain things which appear to be disagreeable, trusting in the compassion of the king and the justice of his administration, and thus lives a contented and pleasant life.

Ponder this comparison and grasp the meaning of the adage, He who believes in Destiny is free from anxiety.

Divine Decree and Destiny in relation with Divine Will

God registers everything in His Knowledge in a record containing each thing’s particular characteristics, life span, provision, time and place of birth and death, and all of its words and actions. All of this takes place by Divine Will, for it is through Divine Will that every thing and event, whether in the realm of Divine Knowledge or in this world, is known and given a certain course or direction. Nothing exists beyond the scope of the Divine Will.

For example, an embryo faces innumerable alternatives: whether it will be a live being, whether it will exist or not, when and where it will be born and die, and how long it will live, to mention just a few. All beings are completely unique in complexion and countenance, character, likes and dislikes, and so on, although they are formed from the same basic elements. A particle of food entering a body, whether an embryo or fully developed, also faces countless alternatives as to its final destination. If a single particle destined for the right eye’s pupil were to go to the right ear, this might result in an anomaly.

Thus, the all-encompassing Divine Will orders everything according to a miraculously calculated plan, and is responsible for the universe’s miraculous order and harmony. No leaf falls and no seed germinates unless God wills it to do so.

Our free will is included in Divine Will. However, our relation with Divine Will differs from that of other beings, for only we (and the jinn) have the power of choice; in other words, free will. Based on His knowledge of how we will act and speak, God Almighty has recorded all details of our life. As He is not bound by the human, and therefore artificial, division of time into past, present, and future, what we consider “predetermination” exists in relation to us, not to God Himself. For Him, “predetermination means His eternal knowledge of our acts. This is an important point because Islam does not accept the theistic concept of God, namely, that He created the universe and left it to run itself. We are contained by time and space, and therefore cannot draw exactly true conclusions about the relation between the Creator and the creation. Also, we cannot perceive eternity and have little true information about this world. God is beyond all time and space, infinite and eternal. He holds the universe in His “hand” and controls and manages it as He wills. However, so that we might glimpse His actions and acquire some knowledge of Him and His Attributes, He allows His manifestations related to creation to be limited by time and space. If He did not do so, life could not exist and we could acquire no knowledge of Him and the universe. Therefore, what we have said about His Will and Destiny should be considered in light of the fact that we can talk about these matters only from within the bounds of this life (limited by time, space, and matter) and of our very existence.

In sum: Divine Will dominates creation, and nothing can exist or happen beyond Its scope. It is also responsible for the universe’s miraculous order and harmony, and every thing and event is given a specific direction and characteristics. However, the existence of Divine Will does not mean that we do not have free will.

Divine Decree and Destiny in relation to creation

There are two aspects of the relation between Divine Decree and Destiny and creation. First, as a determining and compelling factor, Destiny is absolutely dominant everywhere, except for that realm in which our free will has a part. Everything occurs according to Its measure and determination, judgment and direction. God is the absolute owner of sovereignty, and thus does what He wills. No can call Him to account for His acts. Being absolutely Just and Wise, and absolutely Merciful and Compassionate, He does only good and never wrongs His creatures.

We cannot interfere with the universe’s operation. The sun always sends heat and light independent of us, the Earth rotates on its axis and around the sun, days and months pass, the seasons and years come and go, and we have no control over nature. There are innumerable instances of wisdom in all of God’s acts, all of which benefit us, and so we must study and reflect on His acts to discover their wisdom:

In the creation of the heavens and the Earth, and in the alternation of night and day, there are signs for men of understanding. Those that remember and mention God standing, sitting, and lying down, and reflect upon the creation of the heavens and the Earth. “Our Lord! You have not created this in vain. Glory be to You! Protect us from the punishment of the Fire.” (3:190-91)

We should reflect on what happens to us. God never wills evil for His creatures, for whatever of evil befalls a man is from himself (4:79). In other words, our sins are the source of our misfortunes. God allows misfortunes to strike us so that or sins will be forgiven or so that we will be promoted to higher ranks. But this does not mean that God sometimes, for a reason known only to Him, overlooks our sins and does not punish us.

The second aspect of this relationship concerns the religious injunctions and prohibitions, which relate to human free will. While Divine Destiny is absolutely dominant in those areas in which our free will has no part (e.g., the creation and control of all things and beings, animate and inanimate bodies, the movement of planets, and all “natural” events or phenomena in this world), It takes our free will into consideration. However, God creates all things and events, including all of our deeds, because He has honored us with free will and prepared an eternal abode for us. Although He desires that we always do what is good and insistently invites us to it, He does not refrain from giving eternal, physical existence to our bad choices and evil acts, however displeased with them He is.


Recommended Reading
How Can Divine Destiny and Human Free Will be Reconciled?

Last Updated on November 13, 2000

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