Is the Islamic view of destiny and human free will compatible with fatalism?
Most Western Orientalists accuse Islam of being fatalistic. Whereas, except
a small sect—Jabriya—no one in the history of Islam has defended fatalism.
Almost all the Western philosophies of history and, to some extent, Christianity
with all its sects, are, by contrast, fatalistic and based on the irresistibility
of what they call historical laws. The outlines of those philosophies of history
may be summed up as follows:
- Mankind are in a continuous progress towards the final happy end.
- This progress depends on the fatalistic, irresistible laws of history
which are completely independent of humanity, so humanity must, in any case,
obey these laws, otherwise they are certain to be eliminated.
- All the stages, primitive, feudal or capitalistic, through which
mankind inevitably pass in the course of time to the final happy end
should not be criticized, because mankind have nothing to do other than
What is implied concerning the political conditions of time by all such philosophies
of history may be this: The present socio-economic and even the political conditions
of the world are inevitable, because they were dictated by nature, which decrees
that only the able and the powerful can survive. If the laws of history dictated
by nature are in favor of the West, the communities that choose to survive must
concede to the dominion of the West.
What distinguishes the Qur’anic concept of history from other philosophies
is that, first of all, while philosophers of history or sociologists build their
conceptions on the interpretation of past events and present situations, the
Qur’an deals with the matter from the perspective of un-changing principles.
Second, contrary to the fatalism of all other philosophies, the Qur’an lays
great emphasis on the free choice and moral conduct of the individual and community.
Although Divine Will, emphasized by the Qur’an, could be regarded as, in some
respects, the counterpart of the ‘Geist’ in the Hegelian philosophy and of absolute,
irresistible laws of history in other philosophies, the Qur’an never denies
human free will. God, according to the Qur’an, tests humanity in this life so
that humanity should sow the ‘field’ of the world to harvest in the next life,
which is eternal. For this reason, the stream of events—successes and failures,
victories and defeats, prosperity and decay—are all the occasions which God
causes to follow one another for mankind, to the end that the good may be distinguished
from the evil. Testing must evidently require that the one who is tested should
possess free will to choose between what is lawful and unlawful or what is good
and bad. Thus, according to the Qur’an, what makes history is not a compelling
Divine Will, rather it is humanity’s own choice, the operation of which God
Almighty has made a simple condition for the coming into effect of His universal
will. If this point is understood well enough, then it will be easy to see how
groundless are the Western philosophies of history especially with respect to
their conception of some “inevitable end.”