Life expectancy and predestination

Q330 :It is our firm belief, supported by the Qur'an and the Sunnah, that a man's life is predetermined by Allah. Nevertheless, people say that in such and such country, life expectancy is longer; or, if this and that are done, people can live longer; or if such and such precautions are taken, a person or a group of people would have been saved, and so on. By leading a simple and disciplined life one can have a peaceful go, but cannot cross the "deadline". Please comment.


A330 : There is a simple law which applies to human life as well as to the universe in general. Indeed, it has a direct bearing on the task Allah has assigned to man when He first created him, namely, building human life on earth. That is the law of cause and effect. No individual or community can ignore this law or its implications without suffering disastrous consequences. Let us take a simple example: When a certain area has a good rainy season, agricultural produce is bound to be plentiful. A drought means shortage of supply and, in consequence, higher prices, poverty, hunger and even famine. If a country knows from experience that it has a "dry" winter every two or three years when rain is scarce, it can plan ahead and preserve certain supplies in order to alleviate the effects of the drought. Allah gives us in the Qur'an a very good example of this when He tells us that Prophet Yousuf foretold the king of Egypt that after seven years of good harvest, the land will go through a patch of terrible drought lasting another seven years. A program of preparedness for the forthcoming emergency was devised and put into operation. It was Yousuf himself who supervised it and the people of Egypt and the surrounding areas were able to live through the drought period without much affliction. If someone suggests that without that program of preparedness, which meant stocking more than half of the harvest, in the first seven good seasons, the population would not have suffered any consequences and those who managed to live easily would have continued to live in the same way and no one would have starved, then we can only tell him that he does not know what he is talking about. A drought of seven consecutive years will play havoc with the lives of the population of any country. However, the people of Egypt were able to stand this long hardship because of the wise policy adopted by Yousuf (peace be upon him). That was a good example of how the law of cause and effect works. What we need to know is that it does not contradict Allah's will because it is part of it. It is Allah who set that law in operation and allowed its consequences to be fulfilled. It only needs a little stretch of the mind to understand that this law is also part of predestination, in its broad, Islamic sense. Let us take another example. Until recently smallpox was a major childhood disease which caused death and a great deal of suffering to millions of victims every year. As a result of a worldwide campaign of vaccination, smallpox has disappeared from the face of the earth. It is now 16 years since the last known case of smallpox was recorded in Somalia. Many of us remember friends, relatives or schoolmates who fell victim to this disease. Some of us still have its effects on our faces and bodies. Without that long campaign of vaccination, smallpox would have still been with us, causing untold suffering to our children. There is no doubt that smallpox has disappeared by Allah's will, but the medium of its eradication was the vaccination campaign undertaken by man in fulfillment of Allah's will. Can anyone suggest that smallpox would have disappeared from the face of the earth in 1977 whether the campaign of vaccination was organized or not? A similar effort of immunization of children against six major childhood diseases is going on, with the eradication of one of them, polio, being clearly in sight. As efforts of monitoring the effects of the program show, incidence of these diseases have dropped with increased coverage of children with immunization. Since most of these diseases could kill their victims, the fall in occurrence has meant a commensurate drop in child mortality as a result of these illnesses. You have only to look at facts and figures to realize that in a certain country, the number of children dying with, say, measles, is half what it was ten years ago after the rate of coverage with vaccination against measles has reached 50 percent of the children of that country. Are we not required by Islam to relate these facts to each other and draw the appropriate conclusions which will tell us that a 100 percent coverage of children with immunization will inevitably mean that the occurrence of the disease will be minimal if not stopped completely. Human beings fall ill and then they do recover. Do we ask ourselves how and why? When a person falls ill, he is required by Islam to seek medical treatment if it is available. The Prophet tells us to seek medical treatment because, as he puts it, "Allah has not created an illness without creating a cure for it." This is a good example of cause and effect. When you take a medicine, you are cured by Allah's will, because He has put into that particular medicine the qualities which enable the human body to overcome a certain disease. The Prophet tells us that "a human being cannot fill a worse container than his stomach." He also advises us that if we want to eat our fill, let us divide our tummy into three portions, one for food, one for drink and one for breathing. By giving us this valued advice, the Prophet is certainly showing us one way to avoid disease. Medicine has established for certain that the consumption of particular substances is associated with certain diseases. Cigarette smoking, for example, has been established as a direct cause of lung cancer, cardiovascular diseases and other types of cancer. On the basis of this certainty, the majority of scholars are giving rulings that tobacco consumption is forbidden in Islam. They argue that Allah would not permit us to use a substance which is likely to cause killer diseases. Does not their ruling tell us that Islam recognizes the fact that by avoiding such a substance, we spare ourselves the possibility of falling victim to these diseases? Similarly, a healthy diet is important for health. When a person eats "rich" food, which means that his diet has a large proportion of fat and sugar, he is liable to put on weight and if he is in the habit of "washing down" his fatty meal with a couple of drinks, he exposes himself to increased risk of a heart attack. Are we not, as Muslims, required to relate these scientifically proven facts to the Hadith which I have just quoted? When we do so, we conclude that Islam likes its followers to have a balanced diet which also means that they should not eat too much. But why would Islam want us to do so when what has been written will take place whatever we do? If the death of a particular person will occur at a particular moment of time, whether he follows a healthy lifestyle or not, why should it matter what he eats, drinks, smokes, etc.? Is it true that there is a "deadline" which no one can cross? May I ask in this connection why does Islam prescribe capital punishment for a murder? And why is a martyr rewarded with heaven in addition to forgiveness of all his past sins? If the victim of a murderer would have died any way when the weapon of the murderer caused his death and if the martyr would have died at the same moment whether he was fighting for Allah's cause or not, then the severity of the punishment in the first case and the abundance of the reward in the second can be called into question. There is no doubt in my mind that the punishment for murderer is the right one and the reward of a martyr is the one which is most befitting with Allah's grace and generosity. It is true that a murdered person died at the point in time when his life ended, as it was known to Allah long before the creation of man. But if the murderer did not pull the trigger and the bullet did not hit the victim, that victim would not have died at that particular moment. Read, if you will, the Hadith which states, "He who likes to have his provisions increased and his life extended should be kind to his relatives." Here the Prophet is speaking of an extended life duration. We should not explain his statement away as meant figuratively, because it is not. What he tells us is the truth. All the above examples can be easily understood within the general framework of the law of cause and effect which Allah has set into operation. Therefore, it works with Allah's will and as a means of bringing about what He determined. Most of our actions are done by our free will. This means that it is up to us to do them or not. It is up to me to sit at this moment of time and write this answer to your question. I can easily stop and go and do something else. Similarly, you could have decided not to send your question to me. If you did not, I would not be writing on the subject. By the same token, the murderer could have refrained from pulling the trigger and his victim would have lived. That does not mean that he would have violated Allah's will because it is also Allah's will for a man to live if he is not hit by a bullet in his head or in his heart. The same man will meet his death sometime later when a different cause of death will have occurred. Its occurrence is also part of what Allah has predetermined. If all the people on earth have access to safe drinking water and proper sanitation to dispose of their waste and if all people have their children vaccinated, a 50 percent reduction in the incident of diseases would be achieved. You will probably agree if half the illnesses suffered by mankind are avoided, the other half will cause less deaths. What that means in your terminology is that "the deadline" for the end of the life of many of us would be changed by Allah's will as He has already predetermined for man's life.


Our Dialogue ( Source : Arab News - Jeddah )