“Insha Allah” – A Deeper Meaning
This is perhaps the most common phrase heard in Arabic. “Insha Aalla”, or “If God Wills”, is said at the end of most sentences that involve future actions. It sounds good, well-intentioned, and hopeful. Even still, in light of the 6th Article of Faith – Al Qadar – this simple phrase implies much more.
In fact, according to the most accepted interpretation of Al Qadar, uttering this phrase means that you acknowledge this fact: Whether you do or do not, God already knows the outcome and you are basically powerless to effect any final result other than what Allah had pre-ordained. And, not only pre-ordained, but actually documented on tablets before time (as we know) it began. It means (according to IslamQA.info) “Certain belief that everything that happens in this universe happens by the will and decree of Allaah”.
The concept of Al Qadar rests on four key assumptions:
- Belief that Allaah knows all things, in general terms and in detail, from eternity to eternity. Not a single atom is unknown to Him in the heavens or on earth.
- Belief that Allaah has decreed all things in al-Lawh al-Mahfooz, fifty thousand years before He created the heavens and the earth.
- Belief that the will of Allah is irresistable and His decree is comprehensive, so nothing happens in this universe, good or bad, but by His will.
- Belief that all that exists was created by Allah. He is the Creator of all beings and the Creator of their attributes and actions
Rift as old as Islam
Given this, it’s important to understand the doctrine of Predestination, or Al Qadar, in the context of what the Quran and Hadiths say. However, that is not an easy task. According to Al-Islam.org, this doctrine has been interpreted to mean two things – each 180 degrees apart:
Some critics of Islam hold that the biggest cause of the decline of the Muslims is their faith in fate and destiny. Now a question arises, if belief in destiny is a cause of the decline of an individual or a society, how is it that the early Muslims were not adversely affected by it. Did they not have a belief in destiny? Was this question introduced in the teachings of Islam later, as asserted by some European historians? Or is it that the nature of their belief in fate and destiny was such that it was not inconsistent with their faith in liberty and responsibility? In other worlds, did they believe that one’s destiny was not absolutely beyond his control and that he could change it. If so, what was the basis of their thinking?
Leaving aside the basis of their belief, let us see what the Qur’an and the Imams say in this respect. Then we will see what way of thinking we should logically adopt.
Some verses of the Holy Qur’an expressly support the rule of destiny. They state that nothing happens in the world without the Will of Allah and that every event is already recorded in the ‘Book’.
A few of the Qur’anic verses to this effect are quoted:
- . (Surah al-Hadid, 57:22)
- “(Surah al-An’am, 6:59)
It is often seen that in the sentence, “there is nothing green or withered, but it is recorded in a clear Book”, the word, Book is taken to be referring to the Qur’an, but it may be said with certainly that here the word, ‘Book’ does not refer to it. So far as we know, not a single reliable expounder of the Qur’an has interpreted the verse that way.
- (Surah Ale Imran, 3:154)
- (Surah al-Hijri, 15:21)
- (Surah al-Talaq, 65:2)
- (Surah al-Qamar, 54:49)
- (Surah Ibrahim, 14:4)
- (Surah Ale Imran, 3:26)
There are other verses which indicate that man is free and he can change his destiny:
- (Surah al-Ra`d, 13:11)
- (Surah al-Nahl, 16:112)
- (Surah al-Ankabut, 29:40)
- (Surah Fussilat, 41:46)
- (Surah al-Dahr, 76:3)
- (Surah al-Kahf, 18:29)
- (Surah al-Rum, 30:41)
- (Surah al-Shura, 42:20)
- (Surah al-Isra’, 17:18-20).
There are many other verses of both the categories. Most of the expounders of the Qur’an and the scholastic theologians consider the verses of the two categories to be contradictory to each other. According to them it is necessary to accept the verses of one category and explain away those of the other. This way of thinking appeared in the second half of the first century. The exponents of human liberty and the doctrine of free will tried to interpret the verses of the first category. They came to be known as the Qadarites.
Another group inclined to the doctrine of predestination, interpreted the verses of the second category, and was called the Jabarite or predestinarian. Gradually two big groups of the scholastic theologians, two schools of theology came to be recognized. They absorbed in their ranks both the Jabarites and the Qadarites which ceased to exist independently. The Ash’arite school advocated predestination and the Mu’tazailite supported doctrine of free will.
This topic is as old as Islam and continues to be debated today, similarly to the debate around violent jihad. In both arguments, the “reformers” are losing and not taken seriously. Here is more background on the issue from Answering-Islam.org.
Where does that leave us?
Certainly the fruits of Islam testify to the impact of Al-Qadar across the Islamic world. And the fruits seem to indicate that the fatalistic, deterministic approach has dominated throughout history – Despite the mental gymnastics of reasoning to the contrary by a seeming minority of Muslims.
Therefore turning to logic, we reach the same conclusion as the Jabarite school of thought, as expressed here on WikiIslam:
A. Because nothing happens except by Allah’s will, all human beings are created only according to Allah’s will.
B. Because Allah is omniscient, Allah knows the eventual fate of every person even before the moment of their creation.
C. Because Allah has free will, he has the free will to create or not create any human being he chooses.
D. Therefore, at the moments of creation, Allah is choosing to create some people that he already knows will be saved, and others that he already knows will be condemned to hell.
E. Therefore, since the results of every lifetime are already known even prior to creation, the “test” for salvation is already complete even before the created individual is born.
- THEREFORE: Life on earth cannot be a test for salvation. The test is already complete before life on earth takes place.
F. If a human being were capable of doing anything to change his fate from the one Allah already determined, then Allah would have made a mistake.
G. Since Allah cannot make a mistake, a human being cannot do anything to change his fate from the one Allah already determined.
- THEREFORE: Human beings cannot have free will.
John Calvin (1509-1564)
To be fair, a strain of 17th Century protestant Christianity had strikingly similar views that came from certain New Testament passages. Calvinism had as its five base tenants the following:
- Total depravity > All are sinners
- Unconditional election > Some chosen to eternal life, some to damnation
- Limited atonement > Therefore, Christ’s atonement only impacts those saved
- Irresistible grace > There’s nothing we can do about it
- Perseverance or preservation of the saints > Once saved, nothing we can do to change it
To most honest observers, the foregoing, explained here in more detail, appears to be equally opposed to the current notion of freewill as the Jabarite school of thought in Islam.
But, like many concepts that were once followed in Christendom (e.g. The Inquisition, forced conversions of indigenous peoples) this one too has been abandoned by most and is of little consequence in the modern world. The same cannot be so easily said about Al-Qadar and its continuing impact on the modernity and thinking of a majority of the world’s 1.6B Muslims.