Fatalism in Islam
The word used by the Quran and in the Hadith for predestination is qadr; in theological works by Muslims the more technical word taqdir is used. Both come from the same root, which means ‘to measure out’ – ‘to order beforehand.’
The Quran has many passages on this subject which can be represented in the following way. 1) No soul can die except by Allah’s leave; the term is fixed by writing (Al-Imran 3:145); 2) Nothing will happen, except by what Allah has decreed or willed. (At-Tauba 9:51, Al-Insan 76:29,30)
An example of the orthodox interpretation by the commentators concerning the will and decrees of Allah is as follows: “It is necessary to confess that good and evil take place by the predestination and predetermination of God; that all that has been and all that will be was decreed in eternity and written on the preserved tablet; that the faith of the believer, the piety of the pious and their good actions are foreseen, willed and predestined, decreed by the writing on the preserved tablet produced and approved by God; that the unbelief of the unbeliever, the impiety of the impious and bad actions come to pass with the foreknowledge, will, predestination and decree of God, but not with His satisfaction or approval. Should anyone ask why God willeth and produceth evil, we can only reply that He may have wise ends in view which we cannot comprehend.”
Fatalism in the Islamic Traditions
Practically all Sunni orthodox Muslims believe this doctrine and here are some examples expressing this belief from the Traditions.
1) “God created Adam and touched his back with His right hand and brought forth from it a family. And God said to Adam, I have created this family for Paradise and their actions will be like unto those of the people of Paradise. Then God touched the back of Adam and brought forth another family and said, I have created this for hell and their actions will be like unto those of the people of hell. Then said a man to the prophet, Of what use will deeds of any kind be? He said, When God creates His slave for Paradise his actions will be deserving of it until he die, when he will enter therein; and when God creates one for the fire his actions will be like those of the people of hell till he die, when he will enter therein.” (Qadr in Mishkat-ul-Misabih)
2.) “Adam and Moses were once disputing before their Lord, and Moses said ‘Thou art Adam whom God created with His hand and breathed into thee of His spirit and angels worshipped thee and He made thee dwell in Paradise and then thou didst make men to fall down by thy sin to the earth.’ And Adam replied, ‘Thou art Moses whom God distinguished by sending with thee His message and His book and He gave thee the tables on which all things are recorded. Now tell me how many years before I was created did God write the Taurat? Moses replied, ‘Forty years.’ Said Adam, ‘And did you find written there, Adam transgressed against his Lord? ‘Yes,’ said Moses. Said Adam, ‘Then why do you blame me for doing something which God decreed before He created me by forty years?” (Qadr in Mishkat-ul-Misabih and also Muslim book 33 number 6410)
3) It is related that ‘Aisha said: “The prophet was invited to the funeral of a little child. And I said, ‘O Apostle of God, Blessed be this little bird of the birds of Paradise, it has not yet done evil nor been overtaken by evil.’ ‘Not so,’ Aisha,’ said the apostle, ‘verily, God created a people for Paradise and they were still in their father’s loins, and a people for the fire and they were yet in their father’s loins.’” (Qadr in Mishkat-ul-Misabih and Muslim book 33 number 6436)
Fatalism in place of Responsibility
According to these traditions and the interpretation of them, Muslims have for more than eleven centuries lived-out this kind of predestination which should be called fatalism and nothing else. For Fatalism is the doctrine of an inevitable necessity under the influence of an omnipotent and arbitrary sovereign power. It comes from the Latin fatum, meaning, that which is spoken or decreed, and comes close to the Muslim phrase so often on their lips, ‘God wrote it’ (Allah Katib).
Islam exalts the Divine in its doctrine of the eternal decrees, not to combine it with, but to oppose it to the human. This not only leads to neglect of the ethical idea in God, but puts fatalism in place of responsibility making God the author of evil, and searing the conscience as with a hot iron.
Allah the author of Evil
Allah stands aloof from creation; only His power is felt. Men are like the pieces on a chess-board and he is the only player. Creation itself was not intended so much for the manifestation of God’s glory or the outburst of His love but as an example of His power (Qaf 50:38, Fussilat 41:9,10, Al-Rad 13:2)
In Muhammad’s idea, Allah is not only the author of creation but also the author of evil (Al-Falaq 113:1,2). Zamakhshari comments “The evil of His creation and of His creatures, both those who are responsible and those who are not responsible.” The common idea, undoubtedly taken from the Quran and Tradition, is that Allah created Hell and created Satan such as they are. He is the Creator of the evil jinn as well as the good jinn; and He made them evil in the same sense as He made the scorpion poisonous and arsenic deadly.
The relation of Allah to the world is such that not only all free-will but all freedom in the exercise of the intellect is preposterous. God is great and the character of His greatness is so pantheistically absolute that there is no room for the human. All good and evil come directly from Allah. God not only decreed the fall of Adam, but created Adam weak in the flesh (An-Nisa 4:28), with sensuous appetites so that it was natural for him to stumble.
In twenty passages of the Quran, Allah is said “to lead men astray.” Still worse, God is said to have created a multitude of spirits and of men expressly for torture in such a Hell as only the Quran and Tradition can paint (As-Sajda 32:13). Even for the true Muslim believer there is no sure hope. One celebrated verse of the Quran says that every one of the believers must enter Hell (Maryam 19:71)
Phrases in Islam that express the doctrine of Fatalism
We can also see what Muslims understand by predestination from their use of certain expressions which are very common in Muslim communities. Inshallah, ‘if God wills,’ (Al-Kahf 18:24) is an example. This phrase is equivalent grammatically, but not logically to the Biblical phrase ‘if God wills’ ( James 4:15; Acts 18:21). To the Muslim, God’s will is certain, arbitrary, irresistible and inevitable before any event transpires. To the Christian, God’s will is secret until He reveals it; when He does we feel the imperative of duty. The Christian prays ‘Thy will be done.’ This prayer is little less than blasphemy to a strict Muslim. Allah only reveals His will in accomplishing it; man submits. An archangel and a murderer, a devil and a gnat equally express the will and purpose of Allah every moment of their existence. As He wills and because He wills, they are what they are and continue to be what they are.
The same difference appears when we study the phrase Al-Hamdu-lillah, ‘the praise is to God.’ The Biblical phrase ‘Praise ye the Lord,’ implies personal responsibility, gratitude, activity; the Muslim phrase expresses submission, inevitableness, passivity, fatalism. Therefore, it is often used in circumstances that to the Christian seem incongruous. The one phrase is the exponent of Islam, submission; the other of Christianity, joy and gratitude. The first never occurs in scripture; the latter is absent from the Quran. It is also true that Muslim people sometimes use this word to express joyful satisfaction of gratitude to the Almighty, but they use it continually in a fatalistic sense.
Redemption softens the doctrine of decrees
In Islam there is no Fatherhood of God and no purpose of redemption to soften the doctrine of decrees. The attribute of love is absent from Allah. Both the Christian sense of God’s love for us or our love to Him are not found in Islam. An inter-communion of such tender regard between God and the creature is seldom or never spoken of in the Quran.
Exceptions are found in Al Baqarrah 2:165 and Al Maeda 5:54 but orthodox exegesis of these verses are explained to mean that Allah’s love is an impulse which causes obedience thereby exalting Allah’s greatness. How strong is the contrast between these two or three exceptional passages and the abundant and plain teaching of the Old and New Testaments regarding the love which God requires of man and that which flows out from God to man!
In like manner God’s love to man when it is referred to in the Quran is rather a love for his good qualities than for man himself. Dr. Otto Pautz, who collected all the passages that in any way bear on this subject, came to the conclusion that “in no case is there any references to an inner personal relationship.” The mystic love of the Sufi’s, widespread and weighty though it be in its influence, is not a characteristic of orthodox Islam, but arose in rebellion to it.
Islam, reduces God to the category of the will. He stands at abysmal heights above humanity. He cares nothing for character, but only for submission. The only affair of men is to obey His decrees.
It is not difficult to surmise from where Muhammad got his ideas of a predestination after the pattern of fatalism. Like so much of his other teaching, it seems that the doctrine of qadr comes from the Talmud. Rabbi Geiger has shown how Muhammad borrowed from Judaism not only words, conceptions, legal rules and stories, but also doctrinal views.
Hope perishes under the weight of this iron bondage and pessimism becomes the popular philosophy. Islam saw only one side of a many-sided truth. As Clarke put it, “Islam saw God, but not man; saw the claims of deity, but not the rights of humanity; saw authority but failed to see freedom, therefore, hardened into despotism, stiffened into formalism, and sank into death.” (James Freeman Clarke’s Ten Great Religions)
Elsewhere the same author calls Islam “the worst form of monotheism in that it makes of God pure will – will divorced from reason and love.” Islam, instead of being a progressive and completed idea, goes to a lower level than the religions it claims to supplant.
God above us: not as an Oriental despot, but as a Heavenly Father.
God with us: He is Emmanuel in the mystery of His Incarnation, which is a stumbling block to Muslims.
God in us: through His Spirit renewing the heart and guiding the will into a true subjection by a living faith.
Abridged from ‘The Muslim Doctrine of God’ by S.M Zwemer
Abridged from ‘The Muslim Doctrine of God’ by S.M Zwemer