Inshah Allah (Allah-So-Willing) – The Islamic Metaphysics of the Future
In the lives of devout Muslims, a day never passes by without them using the Arabic phrase, Insha-Allah (God So Willing), at the end of the conversation when they refer to future events. Without an understanding of the meaning of this Arabic phrase, God’s relationship with His creatures, the concept of creation, and the role of free will cannot bring into human comprehension. It is also not possible to counter materialists with a rational internally consistent argument against their exclusion of God in the evolution of life and the universe. Materialist scientists argue that biological evolution is an “inherently mindless purposeless process. They preach that impersonal laws rule the universe and atoms are at work in the operation of life.
Biologist Richard Dawkins, anti-God extremist, insists that contingency and natural selection, operating over a long period of time, account for evolution. Dawkins assumes that blind forces of physics and natural selection are sufficient to explain the origin and expansion of life. [2 & 3] He asserts that the unfolding of life is the result of selfish desires of genes to increase their opportunities for survival and reproduction. Similar fanaticism prevails among other practitioners and admirers of science, who argue that there is no reason to include God in the evolution of life.
Another extremist states, “…materialism is absolute [and] we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.”
Such fanaticism stems from an absolute faith in the law of causality, which most people acknowledge. A given cause always produces the same effect–gravity always pulls an apple down to the earth; spring season melts snow; drought brings destruction of crops. Chemical reactions in any organism, amoeba or human, are explainable by the same laws of physics and chemistry that govern the universe.
Based on causality, scientists maintain that the future is predetermined and can be predictable through accurate knowledge of past causes. The laws of nature, they argue, are invariant and scientific observation of the past is the product of those laws. Consequently, any natural event that departs from the anticipated effect of a uniform cause is classified as an “accident.” However, scientific predictions, based on observation of matter and invariant laws of nature, are limited by their own earlier conclusions and experiences.
John F. Haught’s novel and outstanding treatise, God After Darwin, helped me develop a better understanding of Islam and the concept of creation described in the Quran. Since I view his mode of thought as much Islamic as his belief system, I shall apply his metaphysics to an Islamic context. Science peers into nature to gather data from atoms to stars, amoeba to man, fungus to maple tree or from any other phenomena of our universe. Science has separately cataloged the collected data using terminology such as paleontology, comparative anatomy, biogeography, embryology, molecular genetics and others such names. The materialist claim, that the unfolding of life as a “purposeless mindless process,” is based upon inferences from catalogued extrapolations of past experiences. John F. Haught called materialistic metaphysics “metaphysics of the past.”
With unflinching and, on the surface contradictory faith that God created everything, many Muslims also believe that the past determines the future. In the Islamic universe, unlike that catalogued by materialist science, the past and the present are not the creators of the future and neither can humans or any other creatures because “…Allah is the creator of everything, … (Quran 13:16).”
Even creations that we boast are our own emanated from Allah. The Quran states, “And God created you and what you make (The Quran 37:96).” Allah created everything–computers, airplanes, cars and even the atom. A few important questions Muslims might ask are: If Allah is the creator of what humans make, is He not also the creator of their good and bad deeds? Why should there be reward for the pious and retribution for the impious if Allah is the source of our actions? If Allah has sealed the hearts of disbelievers from receiving His guidance, (Quran 2:7) why does He hold them accountable for their actions on the Day of Judgment? We will answer those questions a little later.
The experienced past is irretrievable, the present is only a fleeting moment that we cannot get a hold of; on the other hand, we experience the continuous coming of the future. Future is not simply the birth of a moment.
Future means the yet to be born or created moment packed with contrasting or diametrically opposite possibilities. Each moment brings each of us hope or fear, success or failure, pain or pleasure, and routine or surprise events. Each moment presents itself to us as different kinds of information simultaneously. Islamic faith decrees that Allah is the source of all information. Therefore, Muslims pray, “…My Lord, augment me in knowledge (Quran 20:114).” Its teachings regarding the coming of future events is grounded in the phrase, Insha Allah (God so willing) and the verse “And never say about anything ‘Behold, I shall do this tomorrow,’ without [adding] ‘if God so wills.’…(The Quran 18:23).” So, Muslims say Insha Allah after every statement pertaining to the future, even for simple tasks such as meeting a friend at 4 P.M. tomorrow. Muslims believe that the future is not simply born without cause, but that it will occur only if Allah creates it. Our planning and our desires may or may not be what Allah has is going to present us with in our future. Allah states: “and they contrived, and God contrived, but God is the greatest of contrivers (Quran3: 54).”
Islamic theology tells us that all living creatures participate in the actualization of the possibilities contained within future moments into visible monuments of God. The present is the pivotal moment between past and future. Allah tests us by asking us to make moral choices out of possibilities-the good, bad, and neutral, the moral and the immoral-that are contained in each approaching moment. Each moment is different for each individual and the lessons of the past and present are tools that help one make the right choices. Allah revealed his words to the prophets and provided holy books to both humans and Jinn explaining what is right or wrong, moral or immoral, preferred or not preferred, and what is rewarding or punishable. Allah narrates the histories of the past in the Quran in order to help humans and Jinn use lessons from the history in conjunction with His revelations to make the right choices.
If a future moment arrives, lacking in novel possibilities, humans and other creatures cannot change their present condition, which then becomes stagnant and could remain so for an unlimited period of time. Even when Allah sends our way moments with novel possibilities, creatures will remain unchanged if they do not accept His revelation. Thus, living creatures have the freedom only to actualize possibilities contained as information in each moments of future arriving from God. To label the above belief, we shall borrow John F.Haught’s title “metaphysics of the future” and modify it to read “the metaphysics of future of Islam.”
In Islamic metaphysics of the future, the universe is always within Allah’s providence. Allah is the creator of all things and the one who brings each moment with possibilities as information. Nothing comes into being without the information about it initially available. Scientists provide information to various sectors of society, such as presidents, heads of corporations, assembly workers and others, guiding them to the scientific basis for managing their vocations. Those who receive such information can then actualize it into cars, airplanes, nations etc. For instance, the ordinary assembly-line worker can choose the manufacturing plant in which he wishes to be employed. In the work place workers have no freedom to manufacture any products of their choice but to assemble a product using components coming through the conveyer belt of the factory.
The physical and spiritual universe is the manufacturing plant of Islam where creatures at large, and mankind in particular, are like assembly-line workers. The chain of flowing moments of the coming future are the conveyer belt, which delivers the raw materials (possibilities as information) necessary for the making of many products. However, in this factory there are components for many product lines or possibilities and the worker is free to select any of the components from conveyer belt (arriving future) and actualizing those possibilities into visible monuments of Allah’s creation. If there is no flow of information from scientists, the assembly line worker is unable to produce any anything. Even the factory would not exist. Similarly, human or any other creatures cannot produce or act upon until the future moment arrives with possibilities as information from Allah.
Belief and disbelief in God also come as possibilities in the flow of moments from the future. If human beings choose and accept disbelief in God, their minds become unreceptive to divine revelations until they are willing to give up their disbelief. Therefore, individuals opt to receive reward or retribution in the hereafter universe (al-Akhirah) based upon their earthy choices. Allah, the Merciful and Benevolent, bestowed his creatures with free will. He does not interfere or force us into making choices and voluntarily limits His Absolute Power as stated in the Quranic verse: “And had your Lord willed, whoever in the earth would have believed altogether. Will you then coerce the people to become believers? (Quran 10:99)”.
Therefore, we are free to choose and actualize any one of the worldly possibilities available to us, such as atomic power, computer technology, etc., but our future is limited by what possibilities that God has in store for us.
Based upon the far-reaching meaning of the phrase, Insha Allah (God willing) and the concept of “metaphysics of future,” the accidents or contingencies are novelties coming from Allah even though these novelties appear random for human mind fixed in the “metaphysics of the past” of the materialists. For example, God created for Hind d. Utba, one of the foremost enemies of Prophet , the possibility of joining the distinguished company of Prophet , as Hamzah did, or the decision to kill and mutilate Hamzah. Allah did not compel Hind to choose any one of the paths. Allah created good and bad choices in her arriving future and she decided to actualize the bad choice to kill and cannibalize. The Quran supports the above when it states: “Surely God does not wrong anyone, they wrong themselves. (Quran 10:44).” So, there is no conflict between the belief that Allah is the creator of the world and all the creatures and the belief that human beings and other creatures are endowed with free will within the bounds of possibilities that come through the flow of moments from the future. Such a construction of the universe and with free will distances God as a tyrant.
If we take a global picture of all earthly creatures, we witness a universe filled with a mixture of pain and suffering, as well as happiness and peace. Universe is like a musical play where actors (God’s creatures), at their individual hierarchical ranks, freely choose their roles from possible scenarios presented to them by the choreographer (Allah). Chance and unpredictability are inevitable and in fact built into such an atmosphere. However, in real life, the pain and suffering, that we experience as a result of the free choices of all creatures for their selfish benefits, are God’s way of testing, perfecting and preparing us for the eternal world of absolute happiness and peace. Sufi poet, Rumi, describes this universe as a battlefield where atom struggles with atom like faith against infidelity. He states in this struggle, some benefit and others suffer. Finally, the “metaphysics of future of Islam” blends chance, unpredictability, and creatures with free will altogether to form our universe within the context of the existence of a Most Compassionate, Most Just, Omnipotent God, Allah.
Dr. T. O. Shanavas is Vice President, Islamic Research Foundation International, Inc.
1 Daniel Dennett, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the meaning of life. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995).1
2 Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker. New York: W.W. Norton, 1986.
3 Richard Dawkins River out of Eden (New York: Basic Books, 1995).]
4 From Richard Lewontin’s review of Carl Sagan’s book, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Cradle in the Dark, in the New York Review of Books (January 9, 1997)]
5 John F.Haught, God After Darwin: Boulder: Westview Press, 1999).
7 M.M. Khathib. The Bounteous Koran. London: Macmillan Press, 1984.
13 Guillanme.A, The Life of Muhammad. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1955
14. Ali, Ahmed. Al-Quran. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990.