What is destiny?
Confusion about destiny
People have been confused by this topic from the time of the companions of the Prophet (peace be on him) till today.
What is destiny?
How much control do we have?
Can it be changed?
What is the role of dua?
Believe in destiny
Al Walid bin ubadah bin al Samit came to visit his father, Ubadah (may Allah be pleased with them), on his death bed. Ubadah was one of the first people to embrace Islam and to memorise the Quran during the lifetime of the Prophet (peace be on him).
His son asked him for a piece of advice – the best advice he could give him, before he departed from this world, from his huge knowledge and experience. His father told him about destiny. Al Walid said:
I entered into Ubadah when he was sick in which I imagined death. I said: ‘Father, give me the best advice.’
Then he said, ‘Sit me up’. He said: ‘O my son, you will not taste the sweetness of faith and will not reach the truth of the knowledge of God, blessed and exalted, until you believe in destiny the good and the bad.’
I said: ‘Oh father, how can I know what is good and bad of destiny?’
He said: ‘You know that what has missed you, could not come to you and what has come to you could not miss you.
O my son, I heard the Messenger of God (may God’s prayers and peace be upon him) saying:
The first thing that God blessed and Almighty has created is the pen. Then He said: Write what was decreed about everything till the Last Hour comes.
O my son! He who dies on something other than this will enter hell’. (Musnad Ahmad)
The pen and the order of creation
Ubadah explained here what he understood from the Prophet (peace be on him). He said here that the first thing[i] Allah Almighty created was the pen. Then the pen asked Allah Almighty what to write.
The speaking pen
Did the pen speak to Allah? Yes, Allah gave it the ability to speak. Or you could say that Allah could understand the pen without any language as He created language. Allah then told the pen to write down everything that would happen.
He commanded it to write down every single thing till the last minute. This is no small task!
Where did the pen write?
The pen wrote all this on the Preserved Tablets (al lahw al mahfooz). We do not have much detail about this, but we believe what has been conveyed from the authentic sunnah on the matter.
Al Qadar – destiny
What is destiny?
Destiny is what Allah Almighty has decreed. In order to understand destiny, we need to understand the comprehensive nature of Allah’s knowledge.
His knowledge is not like ours. It is not comparable to any knowledge. He knows everything about everything. He knows for instance how many breaths we take in a day, how many drops of rain have fallen, or how many pebbles there are on the beach. He commanded the pen to write down everything.
Free will and pre-destination
When people do not understand this concept, it can lead to disbelief.
The confusion arises in people’s minds that if Allah Almighty has written everything then we are forced to do it because Allah’s knowledge will not change.
Our knowledge increases and decreases but Allah’s knowledge is perfect. You have to know that there is no correlation or conflict between Allah’s knowledge and our choices.
His fore-knowledge of what we will do, does not force us to make choices we do not want. He created free will for us and at the same time, He knows what our choice will be.
The time-machine analogy
We can understand by using the example of the time machine. If you have a time machine and you travel two days into the future, you can see what will happen, record everything and come back. You will know exactly what will happen and you know for instance that the door will ring, the postman will come, he will give you a parcel. Knowing this, does not mean that you forced these things to happen. You did not make the postman come. You only recorded it; you did not interfere with it.
Recording deeds does not determine them
In the beautiful hadith in which Allah Almighty says ‘Ya Ibadi’ (O My servant) ten times, Allah Almighty says:
O My servants, it is but your deeds that I reckon up for you and then recompense you for, so let him who finds good, praise Allah, and let him who finds other than that, blame no one but himself. (Muslim, Tirmidhi and Ibn Majah)
Actions are based on your choice
Our actions are based on our own choices. Allah Almighty only recorded the deeds, He did not force anyone to do them.
If you cross the street without looking and meet with an accident, it was your choice that you crossed the street, you were not forced to cross the street. It was your fault that were not looking. It did not happen because it had been recorded, though sometimes it might not be your fault.
Allah Almighty has recorded our actions in the Preserved Tablet (al lawh al mahfuz). However there is another record kept by the angels, which does not contain all the knowledge, as the Preserved Tablet does, and this record can be changed (al-qada’ al-mu`allaq). This is conditional decree.
By contrast, the Preserved Tablet is the final record or absolute decree which never changes (al-qada’ al-mubram).
Allah Almighty releases some information to the angels piecemeal, which can be altered depending on your dua or your actions, for instance, if you connect your blood ties your provision (rizq) is blessed and increased.
Anas (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Messenger of Allah (peace be on him) said:
He who desires ample provisions and his life be prolonged, should maintain good ties with his blood relations. (Bukhari and Muslim)
Therefore someone who does not do this, could have a life span of 70 years, instead of 80. But if he connects his bloodties, his lifespcan could be increased to 80. However, this does not change in the final book, as Allah Almighty knows that he will connect his blood ties, his destiny will be altered and his final life span will be 80.
`Abdullah bin Mus’ud narrated that Allah’s Messenger (peace be on him) said:
(The matter of the Creation of) a human being is put together in the womb of the mother in forty days, and then he becomes a clot of thick blood for a similar period, and then a piece of flesh for a similar period. Then Allah sends an angel who is ordered to write four things. He is ordered to write down his (i.e. the new creature’s) deeds, his livelihood, his (date of) death, and whether he will be blessed or wretched (in religion). Then the soul is breathed into him. So, a man amongst you may do (good deeds till there is only a cubit between him and Paradise and then what has been written for him decides his behaviour and he starts doing (evil) deeds characteristic of the people of the (Hell) Fire. And similarly a man amongst you may do (evil) deeds till there is only a cubit between him and the (Hell) Fire, and then what has been written for him decides his behaviour, and he starts doing deeds characteristic of the people of Paradise. (Bukhari)
The meaning is explained more in the narration of Muslim:
Sahl bin Sa’d reported it from Allah’s Messenger (peace be on him) that a person performs deeds like the deeds of the people of Paradise apparently before people and he would be amongst the dwellers of Hell and a person acts apparently like the people of Hell, but (in fact) he would be among the dwellers of Paradise.
Bitter experiences and trials
Destiny is both good and bad. Accordingly, we have some good and bad experiences. Everything which comes from Allah is good. Bitter experiences teach us how to be stronger, pick our self up and cope with anxiety and get out of difficulties with more connection with Allah through salah and supplications. It is good if you see the good side of it, otherwise if you do not focus on the good, you will only see the dark side and even good things you can flip them and only see the bad.
Out of His mercy Allah puts people in trial. Sometimes people can listen without trials and sometimes they do not listen unless they experience trials. Whoever does not respond to the call of love by Allah, will be brought back to Him by the whips of trials. These trials are good because they bring people back to Allah. Just as someone has a gangrenous foot, and has to have it chopped, not removing it is fatal. So it is merciful to remove it otherwise he will die. Bitter is merciful.
See the positive side
We have to believe in destiny. In the hadith of Jibril, the Prophet (peace be on him) said we have to believe in the good of it and bad of it. and what has afflicted you, you can’t escape it. You have to go through it. Just as the whole world is going through the Covid 19 trial. Let’s accept Allah’s destiny and look at the positive side of it, and search for cure of course.
Here Allah is teaching us through destiny that He knows what will happen, but we have to believe that what happens is destined by Him and this does not mean we have no choice. We confuse the two together and think that if something is destined we have no choice. No. Destiny does not control your decisions. You make your destiny through your choices. Although in some exceptional events we have no choice.
Can destiny be changed?
Who knows what is beyond the curtains? Beyond the curtains is the unseen, we cannot see it. This is what the Prophet (peace be on him) was asked, if something has been done and dusted and written, or can it be changed. The Prophet (peace be on him) said it is done, it cannot be changed. They said we should just sit down and wait for destiny. He said no go and do what you have been destined to do.
`Ali (may Allah be pleased with him) reported:
We were accompanying a funeral procession in Baqi` Al-Gharqad (graveyard in Al-Madinah) when the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) proceeded towards us and sat down. We sat around him. He had a small stick in his hand. He was bending down his head and scraping the ground with the stick. He said, ‘There is none among you but has a place assigned for him either in the Jannah or in the Hell.’ The Companions said: ‘O Messenger of Allah, should we not depend upon what has been written for us (and give up doing good deeds)?” The Messenger of Allah (peace be on him) said, ‘Carry on doing good deeds. Everyone will find it easy to do such deeds (as will lead him to his destined place) for which he has been created.’ (Bukhari and Muslim)
It was narrated that Suraqah bin Ju’shum said:
O Messenger of Allah (peace be on you), is one’s deed in that which has already dried of the Pen and what has passed of the Divine Decree, or is it in the future?’ He said: ‘No, it is in that which he already dried of the Pen and what has passed of the Divine Decree, and each person is facilitated for what he has been created. (Ibn Majah)
In another hadith, he said:
‘Bless me in what You have given me. And avert and turn away from me the evil that has been decreed for me, for verily You Decree (all things), and none can decree against You’ (Tirmidhi)
Allah says pray and do good deeds, so you can’t sit down and do nothing. Allah says do goodness, so go and do good. Don’t blame destiny for your actions. Don’t say I am bad because my destiny is like this. Don’t connect destiny with no choice. Destiny means recording what will happen from our choices. The moment we have no choice, or free will we are not accountable. For instance, the insane are not accountable for their actions. Are they commanded to pray? No. The moment we don’t have control, we are not accountable.
In the hadith the Prophet (peace be on him) said three categories are not accountable. One of them is doing things out of coercion. You are not punished for what you were forced to do.
‘Aishah (may Allah be pleased with her) narrated that the Prophet (peace be on him) said: ‘The pen has been lifted from there: a sleeping person till he awakes, a child till he is a grown up, and an insane person till he is restored to reason or recovers his sense.’ (Ahmad and al-Arba’a)
Do what you have been commanded to do and Allah will ease your way. When you are confused do dua istikhara (dua for guidance). Do your homework, your market research, ask specialists and get clarity.
What has been decreed out of your control
There are certain things that are out of our control, that we cannot change. For instance, you cannot choose your parents, or your upbringing. So you are not punished or blamed for that.
Whatever you have control over, is what you are accountable for. And your rizq is your rizq – no one can take it away from you.
Don’t dwell on past decisions
Once you make a decision, do not keep wondering what would have happened if you had made a different decision. Don’t go down the ‘if’ clause. The Prophet (peace be on him) told us not to go down this route, as it leads to anxiety, and opens a gate for shaytan.
Abu Hurairah (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated that the Messenger of Allah (peace be on him) said:
‘A believer who is strong (and healthy) is better and dearer to Allah than the weak believer, but there is goodness in both of them. Be keen on what benefits you and seek help from Allah, and do not give up. If anything afflicts you do not say, ‘If I had done such and such things, such and such would have happened.’ But say, ‘Allah decrees and what He wills He does,’ for (the utterance) ‘If I had’ provides an opening for the deeds of the devil.’ (Muslim)
Say this is Allah’s destiny, accept it but review your actions and improve your knowledge and character and prospects. No one knows what has been written so do your best to do what is in line with shariah and in accordance with sunnah. This will be the best thing.
What is the function of dua? Can it change destiny?
There are authentic hadith about dua, for instance if someone connects his blood ties his life is extended. This is not in the Preserved Tablet. Therefore as the angels only know piecemeal what will happen next, the next chapter of your life can be changed in their books. But this does not change what is in the Preserved Tablet.
Salman narrated that the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said:
‘Nothing turns back the Qadar Decree except supplication, and nothing increases the life-span except righteousness.’ (Tirmidhi)
Qadar here means what you are afraid of in your mind. As in the commentary of al-Mubarakpuri on Tirmidhi.
We ask Allah to enable us to follow the footsteps of the Prophet (peace be on him) and change our actions and make them better. Ameen.
Delivered by Shaykh Haytham Tamim in the Hadith Qudsi Online Session of 9th June 2020
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[i] The order of creation.
We also have some discussion, what was created first. The Prophet (peace be on him) said in this hadith that the first thing Allah created was the pen, but how does that fit with the ayah on creation in the Quran, when Allah says in Surah Hud:
وَهُوَ الَّذى خَلَقَ السَّمٰوٰتِ وَالأَرضَ فى سِتَّةِ أَيّامٍ وَكانَ عَرشُهُ عَلَى الماءِ لِيَبلُوَكُم أَيُّكُم أَحسَنُ عَمَلًا ۗ
It is He who created the heavens and the earth in six days—and His Throne was on water—in order to test you—which of you is best in conduct.’ (11:7)
This means that water and throne existed before the heavens and the earth. This is the discussion the scholars have. We have another narration:
عَنْ عِمْرَانَ بْنِ حُصَيْنٍ ـ رضى الله عنهما ـ قَال قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم: ’ كَانَ اللَّهُ وَلَمْ يَكُنْ شَىْءٌ غَيْرُهُ، وَكَانَ عَرْشُهُ عَلَى الْمَاءِ، وَكَتَبَ فِي الذِّكْرِ كُلَّ شَىْءٍ، وَخَلَقَ السَّمَوَاتِ وَالأَرْضَ ’. البخاري.
Imran bin Husain narrated that the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said:
First of all, there was nothing but Allah, and (then He created His Throne). His throne was over the water, and He wrote everything in the Book (in the Heaven) and created the Heavens and the Earth. (Bukhari)
Without going into all the details in the discussion of the scholars, they say that Allah Almighty created water, then the throne and then the pen. Some scholars differ.
When Allah Almighty created the pen, though the narration says it was created first, from a linguistic point of view you can interpret the hadith in different ways, depending on whether you have a dammah or fatha on Awwal أول , the meaning changes from marfu (nominative) to mansub (accusative) and accordingly then the sequence changes from the first created object to the first to write. This is how scholars reconcile these three things.
What came first?
There are two famous opinions on what came first – the arsh (throne) or the qalam (pen)? The ayah says ‘His throne was on water’ this means that water came before the throne. It does not make a big difference which is first, but as scholars explored this, we can go with the opinion that water came first, then the throne then the pen. And the first thing the pen did was to write, by Allah’s command.
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