Concept of Taqdir and Its Impact on Muslims


“The world of plants and animals is subject to Taqdir; but a Momin is subject only to the Commands of Allah (Quran),” so says Allama Iqbal. [Dharb-e Kalim]

On the other hand, seeing the servile attitude of Muslims, he says: “Muslims’ view on life today is grounded in predestination; whereas our ancestors’ wills were grounded in Allah’s Taqdir.” [Dharb-e Kalim]

He further says: “Muslims became devoid of feat by blaming their Taqdir.” [Armughan-e-Hijaz]

An important point to note here is that Iqbal talks of Allah’s Taqdir. This may sound somewhat strange because we Muslims generally think in terms of human Taqdir whenever this topic is discussed, due mostly to Magian influence on Islam.

The root meaning of the word “Taqdir” (root q-d-r) is measure, standard, or pattern. Quran says:

وَكَانَ أَمْرُ اللَّـهِ قَدَرًا مَّقْدُورًا

(33:38) – Allah’s command (directive) took a definitive pattern. This implies that everything in the Universe is working according to a set pattern; i.e., according to set “laws of nature” in modern scientific terminology.

According to the Quran, there is a world of Amr (God’s world of command, planning, and direction) and there is a world of khalq (God’s created world, i.e., the material universe). The world of Amr, completely and exclusively, belongs to Allah and no one can have any share in it. This is the world of كُن فَيَكُونُ (kun-fayakoon) in the words of Quran; i.e., Allah says “be” and it “becomes.” This world of Amr is beyond human comprehension. No one can understand how it operates. For example, it is beyond human beings to know how the Universe came into existence from nothingness. But after its creation, it enters the world of Khalq and follows definitive patterns (laws) which Allah prescribed for it. It is possible for human beings to discover and understand these laws. As a further illustration, we can say that Allah’s executive power of كُن فَيَكُونُ created the law of gravity. We cannot understand how this law was created by Allah or what it was before its creation. It is beyond human mind to know anything about it before it was created. But after its creation, we can understand it and make use of it. Thus it becomes possible for us to design airplanes and fly them with complete trust in this law. The same thing applies to all the other physical laws:

وَإِن مِّن شَيْءٍ إِلَّا عِندَنَا خَزَائِنُهُ وَمَا نُنَزِّلُهُ إِلَّا بِقَدَرٍ مَّعْلُومٍ

(15:21) – For, no single thing exists that does not have its source with Us; and naught do We bestow from on high unless it be in accordance with a measure well-defined. [Asad]

It is also worthwhile to note that according to the Quran, we can talk of Allah’s Taqdir (laws) and not of human’s, because Allah is The Only One who has created these laws (of nature) and has the exclusive control over them. Everything in the Universe is subject to His laws. Iqbal beautifully illustrates this concept of Taqdir as given by the Quran:

“The subtle secret of this concept (of Taqdir) is hidden in one word. That is, if you change then you are subject to Taqdir of Allah accordingly. If you become dust, then even a mild wind will scatter you and will carry you wherever it wishes. If you become stone then you will break any glass that comes your way. If you become dew then your destiny will be abyss and lowness. If you become an ocean then your destiny will acquire depth and permanence.” [Javaid Naamah]

Therefore, if one has fallen into an abyss, then one should not just blame one’s Taqdir. One should not say that God has written it in my fate; that I can do nothing about it. This is fatalistic attitude. Iqbal provides the remedy: “Whatever condition you are in now, you are subject to (Allah’s) Taqdir accordingly. If you want that some other Taqdir (of Allah) be applicable to you, then change yourself and another Taqdir will apply to you. Allah has infinite number of Taqdir (laws).”[Javaid Naamah]

What is this change which Iqbal talks about here? He talks about a change in mental attitude. And there can be no change in mental attitude unless there is a change in people’s psyche. Therefore, psychological change in the “self” is absolutely essential if change in the external condition is desired. A people’s condition cannot change unless individuals change their selves (13:11):

إِنَّ اللَّـهَ لَا يُغَيِّرُ مَا بِقَوْمٍ حَتَّىٰ يُغَيِّرُوا مَا بِأَنفُسِهِمْ

And Allah never changes the blessings with which He has graced a people unless they change their inner selves (8:53):

بِأَنَّ اللَّـهَ لَمْ يَكُ مُغَيِّرًا نِّعْمَةً أَنْعَمَهَا عَلَىٰ قَوْمٍ حَتَّىٰ يُغَيِّرُوا مَا بِأَنفُسِهِمْ

No amount of extrinsic law making can change a society unless there is a psychological change in the individuals comprising that society. This is the law of Requital for the human world, just like the law of gravity for the physical world. The human plane cannot take off and reach greater heights if we do not follow this law just as the physical plane cannot take off and fly if we do not follow the law of gravity. This is the Taqdir (law) of Allah and no one can change it. Momins (believers) are those who believe in it; have unshakable conviction on it; and unflinchingly act according to it. This is what Iqbal means when he says: “A Momin only follows the law of Allah.”

Since Allah does not force anyone to believe in His laws, the initiative must come from humans. To have this choice, Allah has endowed humans with freewill. This is the essential hallmark of being human and it is the distinguishing feature between animals and humans.

The entire Universe is operating under the laws created by Allah which we call “Laws of Nature.” Humans are responsible for their own actions if performed by their own freewill. One cannot escape the consequences of one’s actions. This is what Iqbal calls “Mukafat-i-‘Amal” or Law of Requital. But once a person has exercised his freewill, he has to face the consequences of that choice. In the physical world we see this every day. If I burn my finger I face the consequence and I cannot transfer my pain to somebody else. Whatever we sow, that is what we reap, be it in the field of agriculture, health, education, or business, etc. Iqbal says: “Wheat produces wheat and barley produces barley. Never be unmindful of Law of Requital.” Allah has the authority that if one sows barley then He can change it into wheat. But He never does it. He never changes His laws for anyone (30:30):

لَا تَبْدِيلَ لِخَلْقِ اللَّـهِ

The Law of Requital applies in the human world as well. All our actions produce their desirable or undesirable consequences depending on the action performed. One’s bad action can never produce good results and vice versa. Also, one cannot transfer the consequences and responsibilities of one’s action to someone else. Iqbal says:

“Thus there is nothing static in my inner life; all is a constant mobility, an unceasing flux of states, a perpetual flow in which there is no halt or resting place. (page 38)…Pure time, then, as revealed by a deeper analysis of our conscious experience, is not a string of separate, reversible instants; it is an organic whole in which the past is not left behind, but is moving along with, and operating in, the present. And the future is given to it not as lying before, yet to be traversed; it is given only in the sense that it is present in its nature as an open possibility. It is time regarded as an organic whole that the Quran describes as Taqdir or the destiny – a word which has been so misunderstood both in and outside of Islam. . . The destiny of a thing then is not an unrelenting fate working from without like a task master; it is the inward reach of a thing, its realizable possibilities which lie within the depths of its nature.” [Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam]

Iqbal sums this up in a beautiful couplet: “Write your destiny with your own pen. Allah has given you a clean forehead.” [Dharb-e Kalim]

How this concept of Taqdir providing a dynamic and lively outlook on life was transformed into a lifeless and static concept of predetermination is extremely sad and heart-wrenching story indeed. The concept of predetermination and its insertion as the sixth component of Islamic faith – while the Quran requires only five components (2:177) – has impaired the Muslim psyche, possibly beyond repair. Muslim kings and dictators have used it to establish their absolute authority in order to maintain their iron grip over the minds of Muslim masses. Religious establishments have constantly used it to maintain their psychological and emotional grip over the hearts of Muslim masses. Muslim capitalists have used their capital to propel the cause of religious status quo. This three pronged attack on the hearts, minds, and sustenance of Muslim masses leave them virtually helpless prey to these modern Pharaohs, Haamaans, and Qaroons. According to them, it is predetermined who will get what, when, and where. Therefore, if a rich person’s dogs and cats enjoy gourmet food and a poor person’s children die of hunger, it’s okay, because everything is predetermined; that is what is written in fate. The very fact that Allah has endowed humans with freewill is sufficient to disprove predetermination:

  1. The universe works precisely according to the laws decreed by Allah.
  2. Human beings are endowed with freewill and, therefore, are responsible for their own actions. Every time one is confronted with a choice, one exercises one’s freewill. But once a choice has been made, the result of that choice cannot be changed. The result is governed by Allah’s law of requital. The operation of this law is immutable and does not change for anyone. Whatever one sows, that is what one is going to reap. This is the fundamental principle of life.

Keeping these facts in mind, one is perplexed at the current situation when one hears sermons such as the following: Whatever is to happen in one’s life is already written before birth. No matter what, one cannot change this writing in one’s Taqdir. Allah gives wealth or poverty to whomsoever He wills. He gives dignity or indignity to whomsoever He wills. If He wills, He can turn a beggar into a king and a king into a beggar. One should simply accept the condition one is in and should not complain because it is from Allah.

These types of sermons are constantly heard from every pulpit. They are presented as universal truths and fundamental principles of Islam. No one is supposed to challenge this belief in the idea of predetermination in the name of “Taqdir.” One is supposed to accept this as (blind) faith.

Quran, on the other hand, emphasizes action. Allama Iqbal in his Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam starts the preface with the very first sentence: “The Quran is a book which emphasizes ‘deed’ rather than ‘idea.’” How right he is. An idea must lead to action. An idea without an action results in mysticism which produces its own virtual universe which has nothing to do with the real universe or with real people facing real problems of real life. Iqbal says: “If you are not able to handle the problems of the earth, then it is bad to be ecstatic about prospect of heaven.” [Dharb-e Kalim]

Thus the idea of predetermination, so alien to Islam, became an integral part of Islamic faith and immobilized an essentially mobile people. The same Quran – which invigorated and energized Prophet’s companions (may Allah be pleased with them all) into perpetual motion and constant struggle – is with us but it is not producing the same fruits as it did fourteen centuries ago.

It is worthwhile to investigate how this concept of predetermination became the sixth component of Islamic faith. It is also instructive to find out when it happened and why.

At the time when the Quran was being revealed, there were people who believed in predetermination. The Quran says that Mushriks will say that if Allah wished, neither we nor our ancestors would have done shirk and neither would we have declared anything haram (6:148):

سَيَقُولُ الَّذِينَ أَشْرَكُوا لَوْ شَاءَ اللَّـهُ مَا أَشْرَكْنَا وَلَا آبَاؤُنَا وَلَا حَرَّمْنَا مِن شَيْءٍ

Therefore, according to this verse the people who were mushriks at the time of the Prophet (PBUH) used to say that if we are mushriks, then that is because Allah has written it in our fate. And if we have declared something forbidden (haraam) it is because Allah has preordained everything. Who are we to go against what God has already preordained? The Quran then says: These people are practicing falsehood (6:148):

إِن تَتَّبِعُونَ إِلَّا الظَّنَّ وَإِنْ أَنتُمْ إِلَّا تَخْرُصُونَ

The Quran further says:

وَإِذَا قِيلَ لَهُمْ أَنفِقُوا مِمَّا رَزَقَكُمُ اللَّـهُ قَالَ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا لِلَّذِينَ آمَنُوا أَنُطْعِمُ مَن لَّوْ يَشَاءُ اللَّـهُ أَطْعَمَهُ إِنْ أَنتُمْ إِلَّا فِي ضَلَالٍ مُّبِينٍ

(36:47) – When they are told to spend (to feed the hungry) what Allah has provided them with, the kafirs say to the momins, “Shall we then feed those whom if Allah has so willed, He would have fed? How openly deviated these people are.”

It is clear from these verses that there were people at the time of the Prophet (PBUH) who believed in predetermination. Quran says that these people were mushriks and kafirs and Allah refutes their belief in predetermination or preordination. As long as the Quran was the foundation and source of Islam, the concept of predetermination could not find any support among Muslims. How could Muslims tolerate an idea which the Quran calls kufr and shirk? But when the Quran lost its place from being the central authority for enforcing the unity and regulating the lives of Muslims to a mere peripheral position in their lives, the door was opened for non-Quranic concepts and beliefs to enter Islam – the earliest among them being the concept of predetermination.

At the advent of Islam, the Arabian Peninsula was surrounded by the two great empires – superpowers of those days – on the west by the Roman Empire and on the east by the Persian Empire. The Arabs, mostly Bedouins, were nomads. They were divided into various tribes. The Romans and the Persians did not think much of them. They were no threat to their empires. These Bedouin Arabs were mostly engaged in tribal warfare amongst themselves. They were ignorant and illiterate. This was the period which historically is referred to as the period of Jahiliya.

After the advent of Islam, within a very short span of time, these Arabs defeated both these empires. People talk about the miracles of the Prophet (PBUH). This is the greatest miracle which the world has ever seen of this magnitude. How could it be explained otherwise – that a group of mostly unlettered Arab people (may Allah be pleased with all of them) could accomplish this miraculous feat in such a short time.

People of Persia accepted Islam after the fall of the Persian Empire but their leaders (both political and military) felt humiliated and shocked. They could not forget the emotional and psychological humiliation they had suffered by being defeated by a people with far less military power than their own. It didn’t take them long to figure out that it must be the Quran which had completely transformed their lives. And the power of these Arab people must be due to the transformation which had taken place in their ideology of life (Iman) because of the Quranic message.

History tells us that the first person to introduce the idea of predestination in Islam was Ma’abad bin Khalid Jhanni. Ghilan Damishki transmitted this idea further after learning it from Ma’abad. According to this idea, the destiny of human beings is considered to be predetermined and the followers of this idea were known as Jabriya. History also tells us that during the early period of the Abbasid Dynasty, Jaham bin Safwan propagated this idea of predetermination (or Jabr) with so much fanfare that the followers of this idea became known as Jahamiya. There is confusion in history as to who was finally responsible for this idea; and what were the names of the groups (sometimes they were called Jabriya, and sometimes Qadriya). Whosoever might have been the originator of this idea (Ma’abad or Jaham) and whatever source it may have come from (Zoroastrianism, Judaism, or Christianity), one thing is absolutely certain; that this idea of predetermination is against the Quran and it came to Islam from non-Islamic sources.

This idea of preordination perfectly suited the Muslim kings and dictators and became one of the fundamental components of Islamic faith. Once it was inserted as the sixth component of Iman (although the Quran mentions only five (2:177)), no one could question these rulers and they were accountable to no one. This is because their oppression was perpetrated in the guise of Taqdir, part of religion, and unquestionable. This concept of predetermination gave them a free reign and absolute authority to exploit the Muslim masses as much as they could – all in the name of religion. Since the Muslim masses were (and still are) very religious, they accepted (and most still accept) every fatwa given by the religious hierarchy. Just as the Pharaoh could not have ruled without the support of Haamaan and Qaroon, Muslim kings could not rule without them either. So they invented their own versions of Hamans and Qaroons to entrench their own absolute authority over the Muslim masses. People who challenged them were ruthlessly crushed. These kings were even called “shadow of god on earth.”

The three institutions symbolized by the Pharaohs (dictators), the Haamaans (religious priesthood), and the Qaroons (capitalists) operate within their own spheres but they always cooperate with each other because they know that they cannot survive alone. Royal highnesses took control of the political arena but they needed the blessings of the religious priesthood for their survival. The capital to sustain these two forces was provided by capitalists. Muslim masses accepted (or were forced to accept) their fate according to their belief in predetermination.

Thus a concept totally alien to Islam became one of the cornerstones of Islamic faith. In the words of Iqbal: “What to say of earth, even the heaven is crying on your crooked vision. It is unbelievable that you have crucified the verses of Quran (with non-Quranic concepts).” [Bang-e Daraa]


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