Predetermination: Can human beings avoid what is predetermined?

Q503 :When something unfortunate happens, most people say that it has been impossible to prevent it, because what is written cannot be changed. May I ask whether Muslims generally are afraid to accept the blame for their mistakes? We believe that giving life and taking it away is controlled by God only. What can we say about birth control which enables individuals to determine the number of children they have? On the other hand, life is lost in riots, when blind mob goes on the rampage and kills opponents at will. Please comment.

A503 : It is certainly true that the giving of life and taking it away are actions that take place only by God's will. It is He alone who originates life, takes it away and brings it back. It is He who created the first human being and devised the system of procreation so that generations of human beings would succeed one another to maintain human life on earth until the day "when God will inherit the earth and all those living on it." When God created man, He wanted him to be in charge of the earth and gave him a will of his own to make his life a trial. He has made it clear that our life on earth is not the final chapter in our existence. After we die we are brought back to life at a time determined by God when we are given our reward for our good deeds or punished for our bad ones. It is most important, therefore, to take the chance of this life in order to ensure our happiness in the life to come. It is God's own will that our life span on earth is kept secret from us. No one can ever tell when his moment comes and how he will depart from this life. Very recently, a group of people survived a plane crash and a bus accident in two different countries within the same weekend. Either accident could have seen them all killed, but they survived. As human life is shaped by God, people die at all ages. Children may die when they are yet newborn, in their early years and before they reach adolescence. Young men die in wars and by accident. Young women die in childbirth or succumb to killer diseases. These days, people die in the prime of life as a result of contracting AIDS. Those who live to old age eventually wither away. No one can say whether he will survive the next moment or live for another forty or fifty years. That should be enough motivation for anyone to try to be always ready to meet God, having passed the test of life. While we certainly cannot say when we are going to die, we can influence certain causes of death. This does not challenge or alter God's will, but works within it. It is God who has set into operation the law of cause and effect. It is He who has given fire the quality of burning. If a human being is caught up in a burning house, he will certainly die, unless the fire brigade arrives in time. This is because for a human being to die by burning or to suffocate by the fumes caused by a fire takes some little time. If he is taken away within that period, and given the right treatment, he will survive. In the first situation when he is caught in the fire, he is subject to the effects of certain causes in a particular situation. After the fire brigade has taken him away, he is subject to the effects of another set of causes which help preserve life rather than destroy it. In each situation he is subject to God's will which remains in operation. Infant mortality rates throughout the world have been significantly reduced through the implementation of the immunization program. Incidence of the major childhood diseases has been controlled, but does that mean human beings have taken over the control of childhood mortality? By no means. What has happened is that children have moved from one set of prevailing conditions to another. Before they were immunized, they could easily suffer any of the childhood diseases which can cause death or disability. After a child is immunized, he is better able to fight those viruses and escape those diseases. The process of immunization does not function in isolation from God's will. In fact, it functions by God's will. This is exactly what Umar ibn Al-Khattab said to Abu Ubaidah, another companion of the Prophet, when the latter questioned him about his order preventing entry to and departure from an area where the plague was widespread. Abu Ubaidah asked him: "Are we trying to escape from God's will?" Umar answered: "Yes, we try to escape from God's will with God's will." This means that if we avoid certain causes of death we remain subject to God's will, because avoiding them and preventing certain causes of death is also part of God's will. We apply this law everyday in our lives. We know, for example, that drinking clean and purified water will help us stay healthy. On the other hand, drinking polluted water can cause illness and death. Therefore, governments try to make drinking water safe. When we travel to an area where we are not sure of the quality of water, we drink either bottled or boiled water. Do we, as a result, avoid disease and death? The answer is yes, indeed. But do we prevent the operation of God's will? Certainly not, because we are taking precautions in order to produce new effects of another set of prevailing causes. In other words, we are benefiting by the operation of the law of cause and effect which is part of God's will. In the same vein, people who resort to birth control methods are likely to have a smaller number of children than those who do not. That is because such people resort to certain causes which have the effect of preventing conception. It is also His will that a female egg will not produce life unless conception takes place. This is not different from a woman remaining childless if she does not get married. Similarly, those who are killed in wars or riots would have survived if they did not happen to be at the receiving end of a bullet or shrapnel, or have not been too close to where a bomb exploded. These days, many Muslims understand this fact in a very narrow sense. They have learned that when a human being is still an embryo his life duration and means of livelihood are written down. They understand this an impossible position from which they cannot be released. Hence, they are not ready to do anything that does not take their fancy. They wait for things to happen to them because whatever they do is not going to affect them. This attitude is not acceptable from the Islamic point of view. Indeed, God has encouraged us to take every possible means to improve the quality of life. This applies to all aspects. The examples we have cited are mostly concerned with health, but if you look at social life, you find that the Islamic system provides social security through the working of zakah, and ensures that wealth is not concentrated in the hands of the few while the overwhelming majority of people suffer poverty and deprivation. If Muslims implement that system then they have taken steps which have the effect of making their social life much better and happier. It is unfortunate that the majority of Muslim communities today do not take such measures and steps to improve the quality of life. They try to put the blame for their suffering on God's will. The early Muslims understood the operation of God's will in a very positive way. Hence, they were able to deal with every situation and try to ensure a better life for their community and the next generation. They took the fact that the duration of a person's life is written before his birth in a definitely positive manner. When they faced tyrants they stood up to them. They realized that tyranny cannot shorten their life span. They will die at their time known to God. But if they remained idle, they would still die at the same time. [This rectitude provided them with deeper faith to stand up against tyranny.] It is as the Qur'an says to those who were reluctant to join the Muslim army at the time of the Prophet, because they feared death: "Say, Had you been in your own homes, those who might have been killed in war would have died in bed." That is because going to war, or a campaign or jihad, does not shorten a life God has determined to be long. To die in war is to die at the end of one's life, as it had been determined by God. A person who stays at home would also die at the end of his life. Only the means of death may be different.

Our Dialogue ( Source : Arab News - Jeddah )