Allah's will and man's choice

Q30 :When something happens, we say that it has happened by Allah's will. But then we say that man is required to abide by Islamic teachings and he will be either rewarded or punished for his actions. I realize that certain things like health and illness, birth and death, etc. are out of our control. But I have also heard it being said that with regard to financial earnings, a man cannot exceed what Allah has fixed for him. It is up to him to earn his money through legitimate or illegitimate means. At the same time, when someone has a large number of children, people will say Allah will provide for them. Could you please comment on these points.

A30 : No believer will question the fact that it is Allah who has created the universe and who has set all the rules of nature in operation. On the basis of this common acceptability, everyone agrees that weather conditions, birth and death as well as effects of natural forces and conditions on man happen by Allah's will. We are not considering here the argument of non-believers who try to explain these phenomena away, by saying that they are the product of natural forces and natural laws. When you ask them who has devised these natural laws and set them in operation, they have no convincing answer. But to a believer who accepts that all these have been put into existence by Allah's will, no conflict arises between the divine will and his own choice. What is very important to remember is that it has been Allah's will to create man with the ability to determine his own actions. Moreover, human life is made in such a way that man is influenced by his own actions. When you do something,its results must affect you in one way or another. If they were to have no effect at all on you, then you lose the motivation or the incentive to do anything at all. The point you have mentioned with regard to a person's earnings is rather misleading. A government employee who can get away with embezzlement of funds and remains in his job for several years will be able to amass a wealth which he could not hope to have received otherwise. We cannot say, therefore, that he would have ended up with the same amount of money whether he resorted to embezzlement or chose to be honest and not to take a single riyal in an illegitimate way. If this is true, people will sit idle and wait for their provisions to come to them. Similarly, a person who drinks or smokes will have the ill-effects of both substances. A smoker is likely to develop lung cancer or heart disease or any one of the other diseases associated with smoking. If he does not smoke, the likelihood of him suffering any of these diseases is greatly reduced. The same applies to alcoholic drinks and their effects on health. We cannot, then say that whatever man does, he will end up suffering the same diseases. Nevertheless, you have accepted that our health condition is part of Allah's will. How can we reconcile these two sets of facts? The answer is simple. Everything operates according to Allah's will. Nicotine, which is the poisonous substance in tobacco, produces its effects by Allah's will. It is He who has given it its qualities. Therefore, when man inhales this substance, he cannot escape its cumulative effects on his health. This effect is, therefore, produced by Allah's will. What this means is that when man inhales nicotine he sets up Allah's will to operate on him in a certain manner. When he refrains from smoking, he sets it to operate in a different manner. In both cases, he is subject to Allah's will, but the end result is widely different. The other point which we have to clarify here is Allah's advance knowledge of what we are going to do in our lives. Allah knows before He creates any man or woman or indeed any creature what this creature will do and what others will do to it and what will happen to it at every moment of its life. He knows who of us will be a chain smoker and who, like myself, cannot stand the smell of tobacco. He similarly knows who will have lung cancer as a result of smoking and who will be spared that agony. This knowledge does not interfere with man's choice. It is not the way that Allah has created a particular person that influences which make him take up this dangerous habit. In the final resort, it is his choice which determines what happens to him. As you see, there is no conflict between Allah's will and man's choice. Man's choice is indeed part of Allah's will, in the sense that it is He who has given man this ability, told him of its effect on him and allowed him to exercise this freedom of choice throughout his life. This is what makes man accountable for his choices. If his choice was not a free one, accountability would not come into it, in the same way as all animals are not accountable for their actions. They do not have free choice. As for children and what Allah provides for them, again this is a simple matter. Allah tells us in the Qur'an that everything that walks on earth will have its provision set for it by Allah. Nevertheless, if we were to stop working and consume what the earth produces of vegetables, fruit and cereal, etc. we will very soon go through all that is available on earth and find out that we have nothing to sustain us for another day. At the same time, when we work we are able to increase production manifold. If you were to ask any scientist one hundred years ago whether the earth will be able to support five billion people, his answer would have been a decisive 'no'. Nor would he have imagined that the population would reach this figure in 1988. His answer was most probably according to his knowledge of the potentials of the earth. He could not have imagined the effects of electricity and other sources of energy on man's productivity. The earth could not have supported this number of people if we were still using the same agricultural and industrial techniques we were using one hundred years ago. In this example, man's work is a very important factor in the equation of productivity and consumption. It is the means with which we are working that make all the difference. Allah has certainly given us the potential to earn our living and the living of our families. But He will not just send us an extra sum of money every month, which will come to us through a special post simply because we have another child. When you have a large family you have to work harder in order to earn more to support your wife and children. When you do work harder, Allah gives you the fruit of your work. Having said that, I must clarify that I include within "working harder" what every one of us tries to do when he is coping with a greater responsibility, namely, to look for more opportunities to help one's family. That such opportunities do occur is part of Allah's will. Whether we take them up or not is our choice.

Our Dialogue ( Source : Arab News - Jeddah )