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Divine Will and Human Freedom -- Part I. Divine Predestination: How Far Real?

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What about the empirical demographic data -- e.g., differences found in gender, complexion, look, shape, and health condition and longevity of people across borders, and/or over time? Do such differences support predestination? Ask, for example, the question: Has God fixed everybody's longevity -- or the time (and the place) when (or where) the persons X, Y or Z are going to die? Many would rush to say: Yes. They could cite part of one verse in particular, that was revealed in the context of the battle of Uhud, in support of their contention:

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3:154 They (a party of the soldiers who participated in the Uhud battle) said: If we had a say in the matter, none of us would have been killed here. Say (to them): Even if ye had remained in your own homes, those (of you) for whom death had been decreed would indeed have gone forth to the places where they were to lie down.

If one wishes to correctly interpret this verse, he/she would need first to understand the meaning of this decree, and how it gets implemented. We discuss this in Part 2 of this article. Suffice it to say here that death can be caused by myriad reasons. Hence, even if one is killed in a battle, it could not be asserted with absolute certainty that he or she would have averted death by not joining the battle. The differences in the longevity of different people the world over, or the improvement in such longevity over time, cannot be said to have been preordained by God. We know such differences are accounted for by many reasons such as differences in existing climatic and hygienic conditions in which people live, the kind, quantity and quality of available food supplies, the income situation or purchasing capacity of people, the quality of life lived by them, their dietary, work and exercise habits, and their health consciousness, the general environment in which they live, the kind and quality of medical facilities that are available, and patients' access to such facilities. A recently published book has documented that there has been radical life extension over time due to improvements in bio-medical science and that this would likely have a far-reaching impact on existing religious beliefs. [7] Did God preordain this improvement in longevity? Over the last millennium, mortality was dramatically reduced the world over. For example, in the United Kingdom, the average life expectancy of a male child more than doubled, from 31.3 years during 1276-1300 to 76 in 1998. [8] Also, we could not say that God predetermined or caused the differences in longevity in various countries and regions. Some diseases such as smallpox has been completely eliminated, and bubonic plague virtually eliminated, while malaria, poliomyelitis (polio) and measles have been eliminated or eradicated in large parts of the world, and are well on the way to be eliminated from much of the world. Cholera, tuberculosis, heart disease and many other diseases are curable; so is most cancer, if detected at an early stage. Diabetes can be kept under control. Note, however, that incidence of new hard-to-cure diseases such as aids has also increased, which offsets some of the gains made in the area of overall disease control.

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Before we conclude this part, it would be in order to quote some Hadith texts. It is the Hadith that has brazenly promoted divine predestination, and has thus exerted the most influence in misleading Muslims into believing it. In two Hadith reports, for example, the Prophet is alleged to have said that not only the sex of a person but also whether he or she would be a good or a bad person in life, and how long he or she would live, and what will be his or her provision are all decided in the mother's womb, even before the child is born (Bukhari, Book 8, Vol. 77, #593 and 594). In another Hadith, the Prophet allegedly said that everyone would do in life deeds for which he or she has been created to do, or he or she would do those deeds which would be made easy for him or her to do (Ibid, Book 8, Vol. 77, #595). Still another Hadith is as follows:

"Allah created Adam ... brought forth from him a family and said, 'I have created this family ... for hell, and their actions will be like those of the people of hell!" Then a man said to the Prophet, 'Of what use will deeds of any kind be?' He said, 'When Allah creates his servant for Paradise, his actions will be deserving for it until he dies - and when Allah creates one for the fire, his actions will be like those of the people of hell till he dies, when he will enter therein." (Mishkat, Vol. 3, Chapter XXXII:4 and 14). [9]

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In the history of human civilization, perhaps no other branch of religious thought has been so misinformed, so misleading, and so debilitating to human spirit, enterprise, creativity, and accountability as that which espouses divine predestination. This doctrine is largely a misconceived dogma, a myth that needs to be exploded once and for all for the greater benefit and progress of humankind. This is rather fatalism or fatalistic attitude that belies God's Laws or the logical system. Fatalism or blind dependence on God, which negates the relevance of man's own effort is, therefore, not only a real obstacle for one's spiritual progress, but a great impediment to overall human progress, and should therefore be shunned.

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Abdur Rab is the author of "Exploring Islam in a New Light: An Understanding from the Quranic Perspective" (To know about the book, visit the website: Abdur Rab, Ph.D. from Harvard, has had a long career in economic research (more...)
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