‘Qada wa Qadar!’ Those were the times of
the Umayyad caliphs. Anarchy prevailed. The anarchists were the rulers, their
banner being: ‘Our actions are part of God’s decree’. The state-appointed
scholars would preach and vindicate claims of predestination in the defence of
the caliphate. Following those times, the history of Muslim philosophy began to
predominantly overflow with debates over the question of destiny, and the role
it plays in the lives of humans.
If one were to generalise the sincere
stances transpiring thereafter: the Mutazilite scholars have predominantly been
emphasizing the importance of ‘freewill’ and its relevance to our judgement in
the Hereafter; the Asharites, on the other hand, propagate that ‘predestination’
alone can define the happenings and workings of this world, a denial of which is
tantamount to the denial of God’s attributes.
Basri’s Point of View
The Mutazilites emerged as a group under
Wasil Ibn ‘Ata, a student of Hasan Basri.
This man was a beautiful product of his times. While the Murjites were accepting
the Umayyad rulers in whatever they stood for, keeping in view their highly
tolerant view of ‘postponement’ of verdict till the Day of Judgement, Hasan
Basri stood up to declare what, in his opinion, was the most convincing truth.
As a Qadarite, he propagated ‘freewill’, and invited all Muslims to act, rather
than be led astray and abandon the message of Allah, in favour of some
contemporary ruler. He is believed to have said once:
Allah outweighs the Caliph, the
Caliph cannot outweigh Allah…Do not confuse the civil power established by Allah
with His religion, for no obedience is due to a creature who disobeys Allah.
Basri argued forcefully from the Qur’an. His strong point
was that if man was given the Qur’an to follow and to act accordingly, while
being given a moral choice, he had to have freewill. If the Qur’an forbade
and if someone were to indulge in it, then it would be the factor of freewill
that would justify his punishment in the Afterlife. With predestination, on the
other hand, in matters of action, the belief of a Just God would be betrayed. In
verse 41:40, Allah tells men and women, ‘Do you what you wish,’ which, according
to Hasan Basri, is reason enough to believe in freewill. As for those arguing
against him, while citing Qur’anic verses such as, ‘He leads astray whoever He
wishes’ (13:27), he maintains that people here referred to, are entirely another
group, which does not fall within the general purview of mankind. According to
him, the verse actually alludes to worsening the state, by Allah, of those who
choose to tread the wrong path out of their own freewill; reference to the
context enables this understanding.
Of course, he acknowledges, that in matters not involving
human volition, but rather, accidents in the material world, like natural
calamities, predestination plays a role, for there quite clearly, Allah ordains
it to be, and it is.
Ash‘ari’s Point of View
Ash‘ari, on the other hand, discounted this concept of
freewill, while justifying still, the significance of man’s responsibility and
his accountability in the Afterlife. As O’Leary puts it, Ash‘ari is of the
God creates power in the man and creates also the choice,
and He then creates the act corresponding to this power and choice. Thus, the
‘action’ is acquired by the creature.
Ash‘ari, earlier a Mutazilite, eventually generated a new
school, independent of the role of philosophy in matters of belief. In 300 A.H.,
he is known to have publicly abandoned his earlier position, thus:
…I used to hold that the Qur’an was created, that the eyes
of men shall not see God, and that we ourselves are the authors of our evil
deeds; now I have returned to the truth; I renounce these opinions...
In his view, therefore, making a person responsible for
creating and causing his actions and deeds amounts to calling him a co-creator
with the Creator, and such dualism, he says, is unacceptable. He opines that it
is God who creates both Qudrah (power) and Ikhtiyar (choice), and man comes in
with responsibility when he acquires the choice already delineated (Kasb).
The Author’s Inclination
Considering all the foregoing arguments, I do not feel
inclined to believe that to proclaim having been given a choice to create action
amounts to dualism or to any form of Shirk (polytheism). If that were the case,
why would God have created us with the capabilities that we have? And since He
did, in fact, create us, what would be our purpose as functional human beings if
we were to act like programmed robots? The reality of being able to do something
negates the very notion of immaculate predestination. To ‘acquire’ is a
possibility, but plausible only so long as such acquiring is subject to a choice
If creation falls within the purview of dualism, why not
acquiring? In reality, it is the act of acquiring which gives ‘actual existence
to an action’ – something more tangible and palpable. The Qur’an illustrates the
mistakes committed by some of the prophets. Were they not the best of believers?
Were they not supposed to set examples for both their immediate followers and
for all mankind? And yet they erred though definitely out of their sincerity
with Truth and Goodness. Had an absolute programming of the Lord been in full
action, all the Prophets would have acted in a perfectly stainless manner.
Reality, however, is that making it through this life is but a test – for
Prophets and ordinary human beings, alike.
The Holy Qur’an has declared this life to be a test
(67:2). If we were to take the choice element out of this test, this life would
be nothing but a puppet show played by the Lord. One must also keep in mind that
all human beings, in the eyes of Allah, are equal – the only ‘hierarchy’ can be
with respect to Taqwa (piety). Individuals who feared Allah as He deserves to be
feared, were granted prophethood; and not vice versa. God did not make them fear
in the previous phases of their lives, although it can be said without any doubt
that He knew all that had happened in their lives, all that was happening and
all that would happen.
All these arguments point me in the direction of accepting
Hasan Basri’s opinion on the matter. Furthermore, what makes an even deeper
impact in his case is his presentation. To argue on the basis that the Qur’an is
the most acceptable form of argument and his interpretation of verses sound most