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Conflicting Views about the Destiny

We have already said that according to the most of the interpreters of the Qur'an as well as the scholastic theologians, the Qur'anic verses in respect of destiny and human free will are conflicting and hence it was necessary that the verses of one of these two categories should be interpreted in a way different from what they apparently convey.

It may be mentioned here that there are two kinds of contradiction. Sometimes a statement expressly contradicts another. For example, someone says: "The Holy Prophet died in the month of Safar". Another person says. "The Prophet did not die in the month of Safar". In this case the second statement expressly repudiates the first. But sometimes the position is some what different. The second statement does not contradict the first, but the truth of the second implies its falsity. For example, someone says: "The Prophet died in the month of Rabial-Awwal". It is self-evident that if the Prophet died in the month of Rabial-Awwal, he could not have died in the month of Safar.

Now let us see how the verses of the Qur'an in regard to fate and destiny on the one hand, and human liberty and free will on the other are mutually incompatible. Are they of the first type and expressly contradict each other, or of the second and the import of the verses of one category denies that of the verses of the other category.

There is no doubt that the Qur'anic verses on this subject do not expressly contradict each other. The position is not that the verses of one category say that everything is destined and those of the second declare that there is no such thing as destiny; or that the verses of one category say that man is free and has a choosing power, but those of the second category assert that man is not free and has no choice. No verses of the Qur'an deny that the Knowledge of Allah is all-comprehensive and that everything depends on His Will.

The reason why the two sets of these verses are considered to be conflicting is that the scholastic theologians and some commentators of the Qur'an think that destiny implies that man is not free. According to them destiny and liberty are mutually inconsistent. They argue that the fact that everything is within the Knowledge of Allah means that everything has been predetermined by Him. Should it be admitted that man exercise his own free will, Allah's Knowledge may on many occasions prove wrong.

In contrast, if it is true that man is master of his destiny and an effective factor in making or marring his fortune that automatically means that nothing is predestined.

Hence, one out of these two sets of verses needs interpretation.

The commentaries of the Holy Qur'an and the scholastic books of the Ash'arites and the Mu'tazilites are full of explanations and interpretations on this point. The Mu'tazilites explain the verses referring to destiny and the Ash'arites interpret those related to free will. To see the specimens of these interpretations a reference may be made to Tafsir al-Kashshaf by Zamakhshari, whose way of thinking is that of the Mu'tazilites.

Now let us see if it is feasible to have a third view which may resolve the apparent conflict between the belief in fate and destiny on the one hand and Allah's Omnipotence and His Omniscience on the other. If we can find such a proposition there will be no need of interpreting any set of the Qur'anic verses.

As we will see later there already exists a third view, according to which there is no actual conflict between these two sets of the Qur'anic verses. As a matter of fact, conflict has been created by a misunderstanding on the part of some theologians and commentators.

On principle it is meaningless to say that there is any contradiction in the Qur'an and that it is necessary to reconcile the conflicting verses. The fact is that there is not a single verse which may require any reconciliation. That is not the case even with the so called most equivocal verses. The consistency of the Qur'an is a subject which requires detailed discussion, but it is beyond the scope of this book. Anyhow, it may be said safely that constancy is one of the most miraculous aspects of the Holy Book.

Adapted from the book: "Man and Destiny" by: "Shahid Mutahhari"

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