Islamic viewpoint

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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 pass through them.

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.”

 

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