Rafed English

Fate and Destiny are the Words that Cause Alarm

No two words more awful than fate and destiny have ever struck the ears of a human being.

Nothing can be more depressing to the spirit of a man than the feeling that he has no liberty and all his acts are controlled by a superpower.

It may be said that freedom and liberty are the supreme blessings and the most bitter disappointment is supreme blessing and the most bitter disappointment is a feeling of helplessness, a feeling that one has no independent personality, a feeling that he is just like a sheep in the hands of a shepherd and that he has no control even over his food, sleep, life and death.

A feeling of quiet endurance and resignation resulting from helplessness is more consuming and oppressive to human spirit than any king of fire.

That is the position when a man finds himself helpless against another who is more powerful or against an animal which is stronger. It is easy to imagine what his position will be if he finds himself dominated by an invisible and mysterious force which he cannot resist. Obviously his position will be far worse.

A question which has always engaged human attention is whether the affairs of this world are going on in accordance with a pre-arranged and inevitable program. Are all the events in this world governed by an invisible but immensely powerful force called fate and destiny? Is everything that is happening now or will ever happen, predetermined? Is man subject to determinism and has no liberty of choosing? Or is it that there is no such thing as fate and man is absolutely free to determine his own destiny? Or is it that actually there operates a third alternative, according to which all events of the world are governed by destiny, the influence of which extends to everything without exception, but still its irresistible influence does not curtail human liberty in the least. If this is the case, how is it to be explained?

The question of fate and destiny is one of the most equivocal philosophical questions. For certain reasons to be explained later, it has been a subject of dispute among the Muslim thinkers from the first century of the Hijri era. The various views held in this connection have caused many controversies and given rise to a number of sects in the Muslim world with queer results during the past fourteen centuries.

Though it is a so called metaphysical subject, for two reasons it also comes under the category or practical and social questions.

The first reason is that man's way of thinking about this question affects his practical life and social attitude.

It is obvious that the spirit and attitude of a man looking at himself as a being subject to inexorable determinism, is different from those of one who believes that he has been created free and hence he is master of his destiny.

Generally speaking, most of the philosophical questions do not affect the spirit, attitude and actions of man. The practical attitude and the social spirit of a person are not influenced by such questions as the temporal eternity or transcience of the universe, the finiteness or infinitude of its dimensions, the system of causation, the theory that many cannot emanate from one and the identicalness of the essence and the attributes of the Self-existent Being.

The second reason is that the doctrine of fate and destiny, despite its being a personal belief, comes under the category of the questions of universal application, for the number of people who are in search of its solutions is very large.

It is one of those questions which engage the attention of nearly all those who have some capacity of thinking over general questions. Everybody is naturally interested in knowing whether he is at liberty to determine his course of life or it has already been irrevocably determined by his fate.

The scope of other philosophical questions is limited. They are only a matter of personal and private interest and do not attract such a general attention.

From these two view-points this question may be included in the category of practical, universal and social problems.

In olden days attention was seldom paid to the practical and social effects of this question. It was discussed only from theoretical, philosophical and scholastic points of view. But modern scholars give more heed to its practical and social aspects, and look at it from the angle of its effect on the way of thinking of the nations and their progress and decline.

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 adobpt.

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

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