Proactive sacrifice (of nafs) – between qadar and engaged choice
Eid al Adha
16 Oct 2013
I have for most of this year, contemplated and reflected on this topic, and it’s natural that it’s now formalized as a talk. Many thanks to the committee for inviting me on this platform, in order to deliver this message.
The Arabic word for destiny, qadar, implies the measuring out of something or fixing a limit to it. In a technical sense, destiny is the divine decree in its fixing limits for things as they are, or divine measuring out the being of things. Very simply defined, destiny is knowing that what hits you was not going to miss you, and that what misses you was not going to hit you. Shaikh Abdul Kadir Gilani also states that a grain of rice on your lips will not be swallowed if it is not meant for you, whereas that which is written for you will reveal itself even from beneath a mountain. What getting a grip on this meaning does, is it drags us away from the gutters of dwelling on the past, and our laments of what could have been. When we are frozen in regret, we become immobilized and unproductive. A dead weight floating through life. When we realize the dual purpose of divine decree and free will, we shift to a new way of negotiating this life.
The relevant section of the Tradition, which is reported by Sahih Muslim, appears as follows:
The angel Gabriel, peace be upon him) said, “Inform me about Iman (faith).” The Holy Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) replied, “That you affirm your faith in Allah, His angels, His Books, His Apostles, the Day of Judgment, and you affirm your faith in destiny (qadar), both its good and its evil.” He (the angel Gabriel) said, “You have told the truth.”
In another narration,Reported by Bukhari and Muslim, The Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) asked one of his Companions, “Shall I not guide you to words that are a treasure from the treasures of Paradise?” He said, “Of course, O Messenger of Allah!” The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “There is no ability or power except through Allah”
We understand destiny as the conviction “that Allah Most High has ordained both good and evil before creating creation, and that all that has been and all that will be only exists through Allah’s decree, preordainment, and will”
At the same time, our apparent choice and will in matters is not mere illusion. As such, a person may feel guilty when he performs a wrong or evil action, but he does not feel answerable to others when an emotional or financial crisis strikes him or her personally. As we understand it, Free will exists, but there is a chain of conditions that exist prior to the opportunities for engaged choice. This chain of conditions are already created, and themselves refer back to the Creator, fully evidencing the fact that Humankind is neither completely powerless nor having full power or authority.
In Mevlana Rumi’s Mathnawi there’s a story of the Dervish who broke his vow. So the dervish retreated to the mountains in search of solitude to perfect his worship. There were many fruit trees and he vowed that he would not disturb the fruit, and would only eat what was shaken down by the wind.
For a while he kept his vow, but then there was a time when there was no wind and he hadn’t eaten for some days. He could not endure the hunger and pain, and reached out into the tree for some fruit and satisfied his hunger.
Rumi says the reason that he couldn’t fulfill his vow humble as it was, is he forgot to say Insha Allah, if Allah wills. As nothing is accomplished without the aid and will of Allah, his failure to recognize this was his error.
Soon afterwards, the chief of police scouted the area for a band of robbers or bandits thought to be hiding in the mountains and upon capturing them, took the dervish along thinking him to be one of them. He then had a hand chopped off from each ofthem. When he realized that the dervish wasn’t part of this group he apologized profusely. The dervish had to reassure him with his own realization: that men were not to blame, as Allah had decided to punish him for breaking his arrogant vow by taking the hand that had sinned by plucking the fruit.
Some theologians have explained it, “Allah has willed that you act based on choice.” We are held responsible for choosing an act but not for creating the act itself. In other words, Allah creates the act and by our choosing it, we “acquire” it and are thereby held responsible for it. Thus, human actions are created by Allah but performed by us.
Because Almighty Allah’s Knowledge, Will, and Power are absolute and unbounded, Allah knows the results of all events and choices before their occurrence. A human being, however, does not have access to this knowledge, and thus he acts in accordance with a desire from within him. Even though his decision or choice corresponds with Allah’s eternal knowledge, he is still accountable for it.
When the king Nimrod tried to burn the Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham, peace be upon him), Allah willed that the fire not burn him. In any event even though he failed to execute his evil plan, Nimrod sinned for choosing to harm Ibrahim A.S.
It’s important to realize that within the parameters of divine decree, opportunities exist for transgression or engaged belief and proactive will.
We recognize also the limits of human reason in understanding divine decree. a child, an insane person and a sleeping person are not held accountable for their actions. But even beyond these conditions there can be found general limits to human reason.
Mevlana Rumi in the Mathnawi relates a story of the mule and the camel.
A mule said to a camel, how is it that I am always stumbling and falling down, while you never make a false step? The camel replied, my eyes are always directed upwards, and I see a long way before me, while your eyes look down, and you only see what is immediately under your feet.
The mule admitted that was true and asked the camel to guide him in future, and the camel agreed.
Partial reason cannot see beyond the grave and the fear of death and loss. It is also responsible for us dwelling on past events and holding on regretfully.
Real reason looks beyond the grave onward to the day of judgment and is therefore able to steer a better course through the worldly life.
Said Nursi in his commentary on the Quran suggests that human responsibility is a mystery, that the limits of reason fail to fully grasp what it entails. And so beyond human reason, as believers we acknowledge that we stand before a truth that is greater than what can be grasped by human intellect. We humbly submit to the divine message.
Further evidence of this mystery occurs in the fact that Almighty Allah leaves individuals free to decide even in the crucial matter of faith. Allah does not use any compulsion to force us to believe. He doesn’t say ‘You Must Believe.’ He says (la iqra fid’deen) there is no compulsion in religion, and time and again, He reveals the evidence of creation and then suggests, that ‘surely therein are signs for those who believe.’ So Almighty Allah in His infinite wisdom, invites people to faith through the use of reason, and the freedom ultimately to choose.
Another question that Nursi proposes is on the obviousness of miracles. He says Allah SWT showed the various miracles experienced through Nabi Mohammed SAW such as splitting the moon, to a select few people at a particular place and time. Why not to everyone? And the conclusion was that if everyone would see it, there would be an immediate and full force worship from all. People would be compelled to worship. A compulsive worship is not as powerful as the worship of those who believe of their own free will and it would essentially diminish human responsibility.
So let’s look at whats being said here:
We believe in the power and sovereignty of Allah. In this absolute power, we submit that everything is ordained or pre determined by Allah, including those that come through human choice because the scene was already set. If Essential choices to believe or disbelieve, obey or disobey are already set, directly or indirectly, then how is it that we might be rewarded or punished on this moral basis? The answer is clear: When human beings come to take responsibility for deeds and choices, then the path to true belief opens. The choice to believe taken above its alternative of disbelieving, is the door to engaged faith.
A new statement or manifesto is now made by the believer:
There is no compulsion, and yet I choose for my heart to remain true and firmly committed to the Beloved. It is further encapsulated in probably one of the most powerful declarations of love – La ilaha Illallah. I worship only Allah, I Love only You, ya Allah… worship being the highest form of love.
While divine decree is the presentation of conditions, it is also the presentation of gifts and skills. Humans are endowed with many talents that may be put to waste like rotting fruit or used for the benefit of self, family, community and society as a whole. To misuse or neglect these skills is to be in denial of Allah’s decree as well as ones responsible freedom. And this is what I mean when I suggest a proactive sacrifice, that it is to responsibly discard the presupposition of ego as all powerful, and realize in order to surrender in awareness, we must enage human responsibility in our personal and professional lives but also as citizens in community and country, responsible citizens in an ever changing global arena which constantly challenges what it means to be Muslim. We are ever more aware that our conduct and demeanor is viewed in a global narrative of how Muslimness is evaluated. This awareness lends urgency to our understanding of a responsible freedom.
The acceptance of qadar and the recognition of responsible freedom will go hand in hand. To deny this and to look to blame mishaps and seemingly undesirable past events on fate without owning our actions or lack thereof, is to shun the strength of our capacity to respond freely with pure love, to Almighty Allah.
Poem: Why free will is good for man – Mevlana Rumi (Mathnawi p162)
God said, “Do thou grant his earnest request,
Enlarge his faculty according to his free will.
Free will is as the salt to piety,
Otherwise heaven itself were matter of compulsion.
In it’s revolutions reward and punishment were needless,
For ’tis free will that has merit at the great reckoning.
If the whole world were framed to praise God,
There would be no merit in praising God.
Place a sword in his hand and remove his impotence,
To see if he turns out a warrior or a robber.
Because free will is that wherewith ‘we honour Adam’,(Quran17:72)
Half the swarm become bees and half wasps.
The faithful yield honeycomb like bees,
The infidel yield store of poison like wasps.
For the faithful feed on choice herbs,
So that, like bees, their chyle yields life-giving food,
Whilst infidels feed on filth and garbage,
And generate poison according to their food.”
Men inspired of God are the fountain of life;
Men of delusions are a synonym for death.
In the world, the praise: “Well done, faithful servant!”
Is given to free will which is used with prudence.
If all dissolute men were shut up in prison,
They would all be temperate and devout and pious.
When power of choice is absent actions are worthless;
But beware lest death snatch away your capital!
Your power of choice is a capital yielding profit,
Remember well, the day of final account!