What is Possible?
- :Shahid Mutahhari
But a change in destiny in the sense that the factor bringing about the change should itself be a manifestation of what Allah has decreed, is possible. Though it may look rather queer, it is a fact that the destiny can be changed by another destiny.
It may look more surprising if we think of the divine aspect of fate and destiny, for a change in this aspect implies a change in the celestial world, in the angelic tablets and books and in the Divine Knowledge. So can Allah's Knowledge still undergo a change? The surprise reaches its height when we admit that certain terrestrial affairs, especially human will and actions cause changes in the celestial world and the angelic record.
Is it not a fact that the terrestrial and material system emanates from the celestial system? Is it not a fact that the terrestrial world is inferior and the celestial world is superior? Is it not a fact that the human world is dominated by the angelic world? Is it still possible that a lower system, or at least a part of it, viz. the human world should influence a higher system and bring about changes in it, even if these changes also should take place in accordance with an appointed destiny? Here several remarkable questions crop up consecutively. Is the Knowledge of Allah changeable? Is a divine decree revocable? Can an inferior influence a superior? The answer to these questions is in the affirmative. Yes, the Knowledge of Allah is changeable. In other words Allah has such knowledge also which is changeable. A divine decree is revocable. In other words Allah has decrees which are revocable. An inferior can influence a superior. A lower system, especially the will, desire and human acts can shake the higher world and cause changes in it. This is the highest form of man's control of his destiny.
We admit that this statement is surprising, but it is factual. This is that lofty question of Bada' which for the first time in human history was mentioned by the Qur'an.
"Allah creates whatever He wants (out of what was recorded previously) and records whatever He wants (that was not recorded previously) and with Him alone is the Mother Book". (Surah al-Ra'd, 13:39)
The doctrine has no precedent in the field of human knowledge. Among the Muslim sects it is only the Twelver Shi'ahs who have been able to derive this truth from the sayings of the Imams of the Ahlul-Bayt and they are proud of this distinction.
We are unable to give a full explanation of this highly philosophical question in this brief book. It is enough to say that the question of Bada' has a Qur'anic basis. It is one of the most subtle philosophical subjects and only very few Shi'ah philosophers well-versed in the Qur'an have been able to reach its depth. They were able to do so in the light of the sayings of the Imams, especially those of Imam Ali (a), the Commander of the Faithful.
Anyhow, it is obvious that in respect of such a subtle question reliance cannot be placed on the lay man's conception of it, which is nothing but absurd.
For the present we are mainly concerned with the question of the changeability of destiny. We have to see whether it is true that from material angle destinies are revocable and some others irrevocable. If so, how can this phenomenon be explained?
The things existing are of two kinds. Some of them do not have the possibility of having more than one kind of special existence, like the heavenly abstracts. Some others have such a possibility, like all visible and perceptible things. They are composed of some kind of matter and prepare the ground for coming into being of some other things. Natural matter can receive various forms and shapes. It can evolve. It grows, decays and decomposes. It is affected by various factors and under the impact of each one of them its state and quality changes. A seed sown in the soil grows and matures if it meets favorable climatic conditions, receives an appropriate amount of light and heat and its not affected by the pests. But its growth will naturally be hampered, if any of the necessary factors are lacking or the seed itself is damaged in any way. There are thousand and one if's in the case of any way. There are thousand and one if's in the case of any kind of natural matter. If this happens, the result will be that, and if that happens, the result will be something different. In other words, the effect varies as the causes vary.
As the heavenly abstracts do not have more than one kind of existence and are not influenced by divergent causes, their destiny is irrevocable and cannot undergo a change. Destiny is always determined by its causes. As in the case of the abstracts their causes are not changeable, their destiny also does not change. But the case of the non-abstracts is different. They are subject to the law of motion, and have countless forms and colours. They are always at cross-roads and have several possibilities. Hence their destiny is revocable. In other words, one single destiny does not determine them. As we have said, the destiny of every effect is determined by its cause. As the non-abstracts can have many causes, they can have many destinies also. As each series of their causes is liable to be replaced by another series, their destiny cannot be firm. There will always be a possibility of the change in destiny with the change in the circumstances. If someone falls sick, there is no doubt that his disease is the result of some particular cause, which has brought about this particular destiny. Now suppose he takes some effective medicine. This medicine is another cause. It will produce a different destiny. If with the taking of medicine the disease disappears, that means that the destiny of the patient has changed. Suppose this particular patient is treated by two physicians and their diagnosis and prescription are different. While the treatment diagnosis and prescription are different, the treatment prescribed by one of them has a curative and healing effect, that of the other is lethal. In this case it may be said that two different destines are in store for this patient, and as he has an option to choose either of the treatments, it may be said that neither of his destines is irrevocable. Naturally his eventual choice will depend upon so many open and hidden factors. But the fact that he chooses one particular treatment, does not preclude the latent possibility of the choice of the other.
Hence it is clear that in many cases a number of destinies are operative and they can replace one another it a man suffering from a disease takes a medicine and recovers, he does so in accordance with his fate and destiny. Again if he does not take any medicine and continues to suffer, or takes a harmful medicine and dies, that is also perfectly in accordance with his fate and destiny.
Similarly if a man moves out of an infected area and saves himself from being affected by a disease, that is also owing to his fate and destiny. In short everything is within the purview of destiny and one can never escape it.
The point is that destiny is the source of all factors in the world, but in itself it is not a factor which may bring other factors into play. Every factor which comes into play is a manifestation of destiny and at the same time is subject to the general law of causation. As such, destiny cannot be a factor independent of other factors nor can it force any other factor to act in a particular way.
That is why the theory of predestination, which means compulsion by destiny, is not tenable. As we have said, destiny is the source of all factors, but in itself it is not a factor to bring into play any other factors. Hence, destiny cannot force man to do a thing. There is no doubt that certain manifestation of destiny can be compelling, but that compulsion is totally different from predestination which is supposed to influence human will direct as a negative factor to deter man from doing a thing or as a positive factor to force him to do it. In other words destiny is changeable because it necessitates the existence of a thing through its natural causes, which are manifold. The matter in this world is liable to be influenced by a number of causes simultaneously.
Naturally the position becomes different if like the Ash'arites we hold that causation is a mere illusion, or like the semi-Ash'arities believe that in exceptional circumstances the course of events is directly affected by fate and destiny. But such a fate and such a destiny do not exist, nor can they exist.
Adapted from the book: "Man and Destiny" by: "Shahid Mutahhari"
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