Islam and predestination

Reconciling Free Will and Predestination in Islam with al-Māturīdī and Ibn Taymiyya

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Recently I have been reading many works on Islamic theology (kalām) in order to find answers to certain questions and paradoxes inherent within the Islamic theological worldview.

Since I was already familiar with Ashʿarite theology (Islam’s dominant theological school), I decided to focus on al-Māturīdī (d. 944 CE), who represents Islam’s alternative yet orthodox theological school popular in the Ḥanafī school and propagated by the Seljuqs and Ottomans. The Māturīdite school is thought to be more reasonable and balanced than the Ashʿarite school, although they agree on many important questions. In the admirably detailed and precise study al-Māturīdī and the Development of Sunnī Theology in Samarqand (published in German in the 1990’s and in English in 2014) the German scholar Ulrich Rudolph presents what we know about al-Māturīdī’s life (we know very little actually) and the development of his thought.

Al-Māturīdī was the first Ḥanafite scholar to truly develop a theological system that could compete with the Muʿtazilites yet maintain respect for traditional views starting with Abū Ḥanīfa’s (d. 767 CE). He was extremely well-versed in Muʿtazilī theology and even had some knowledge of philosophy.

After finishing that book, I went on to read Bulqāsim al-Ghāli’s 1989 study Abū Manṣūr al-Māturīdī and His Theological Views (Abū Manṣūr al-Māturīdī wa-Āraʾuhu al-ʿAqdīya). The book was largely lacking in details and I did not learn too much that is new from it. I then read the 2009 book Abū Manṣūr al-Māturīdī and His Kalām Opinions (Abū Manṣūr al-Māturīdī wa-Āraʾuhu al-Kalāmīya) by ʿAlī ʿAbd al-Fattāḥ al-Maghribī. This book is based on a PhD dissertation. This book may be the first Arabic book that discusses al-Māturīdī’s theology at a very high scholarly standard and makes full use of al-Māturīdī’s neglected commentary on the Quran.

One of al-Māturīdī’s great contributions to Islamic thought is his defense of free will without submitting to the Muʿtazilite framework. Other members of the Maturidite school, such as al-Taftazānī (d. 1389 CE) and Qadi Zadeh (d. c. 1600 CE) continued the tradition of affirming the existence of true free will in humans. Their position is therefore opposed to the position of important Ashʿarite theologians like al-Rāzī who believed humans only appear to be free but are in reality completely lacking in freedom.

I next read Frank Griffel’s Al-Ghazālīʾs Philosophical Theology, one of the best studies of al-Ghazālī up to date. He refutes the tired old trope that al-Ghazālī “destroyed” Islamic philosophy and shows that he was actually essential to the integration of Aristotelian-Avicennan philosophy within Islamic theology.

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The scholar Richard M. Frank had accused al-Ghazālī of secretly being a follower of Avicenna and only paying lip service to his own Ashʿarite school. One of Griffel’s tasks in this book is to refute that view and show that al-Ghazālī continued to adhere to orthodox Islamic theology while also embracing significant Avicennan influences.

In their determination to uphold God’s absolute power and control over the universe, Ashʿarite theologians argued that God is the only “actor” in the world. Humans have no power to move anything in this world unless God moves it for them. They also developed the theory of “atomistic time” that says that nothing has the power to exist from one moment to another by itself. It is God who re-creates every object and its properties moment by moment. When a ball rolls, it is not that its atoms move. It is actually God who this moment allows the atoms to be at this position, and the next moment He re-creates the atoms at the next position, and so on during each moment. This is similar to the way that in a video game when something moves, the computer simply changes the information held inside the computer hardware in order to create the impression of movement. The universe, in the Ashʿarite and Māturīdite worldviews, which is known as occasionalism, is like a computer simulation controlled by God. Nothing has any objective reality of its own, and nothing has the power to cause anything. Reality is entirely a “computer simulation”, like in the film The Matrix, that God controls and operates.

Besides solving the problem of how God relates to the universe and how human actions come about, this worldview also solves the problem of miracles. The laws of nature are merely God’s habits in the way He operates the universe. He has the power to suspend these habits in certain circumstances and bring about miracles since He is not chained by the laws of nature. The laws of nature are simply the rules of the simulation that God Himself maintains. He can operate it according to different rules if and when He chooses. He can cause a mountain to fly because there is no outside rule that prevents this. The laws of nature are properties of things inside the simulation. But since God is outside the simulation, He can do anything He wants regardless of nature.

This might be one of the magnificent achievements of Islamic thought. Muslim theologians were able to think outside the box of the universe and freed their conception of God from the chains of nature. In this way they were able to reaffirm God’s absolute power and transcendence more explicitly and powerfully than had ever been done before as far as I am aware.

Some have objected that viewing the world in the occasionalist way makes science impossible since it teaches that causes do not necessarily lead to effects. Al-Ghazālī mentioned the famous example that a piece of cotton will not necessarily burn when it touches fire–it only burns because God makes it burn. Ibn Rushd (Averroes) criticized this by saying this makes the world arbitrary and makes real knowledge impossible, since we can never be sure if what we consider the laws of nature this moment will continue to be the laws of nature the next moment. Robert R. Reilly, in his book The Closing of the Muslim Mind (which I reviewed and refuted here) accepts Ibn Rushd’s criticism and thinks that al-Ghazālī is promoting a senseless and irrationalist worldview. But al-Ghazālī himself mentions and replies to this criticism in his Incoherence of the Philosophers. It is God who operates the universe, but He operates it in a predictable and rational manner. So saying that everything happens because of God does not prevent us from having a scientific worldview. Science merely studies God’s habits. The laws of nature are stable and we can expect them to continue being stable. We just admit that the laws are upheld by God and that there is no power forcing God to operate them a certain way. He just decided to operate things in this way.

So as a lover of science I can be perfectly happy with occasionalism, viewing the universe as a simulation controlled and operated by God, while also appreciating and contributing to science. Science is merely the study of God’s habits and handiwork in the universe. I am as much a rationalist and skeptic as any scientist, but I believe that God runs the show behind the scenes. My view that God is in charge behind the scenes has no influence on my scientific worldview. I am exactly like a scientist who believes the universe could be a simulation–there are in fact scientists who admit this possibility. Occasionalism, therefore, is not irrationalism. It is simply to admit this possibility of the universe being a simulation, a possibility that even atheists can admit. The disagreement then would be about whether the simulation is controlled by God or some other entity.

We further strengthen occasionalism’s rationality by proposing what I call a principle of “plausible deniability”. It is God’s will that He should remain hidden and that His existence should be scientifically unprovable. His existence should be deniable–humans should be able to disbelieve in Him. This allows humans to choose whether to be believers or not. God does not want to force belief on people as the Quran makes clear. Therefore the principle of plausible deniability says that the universe must act in a scientific way to preserve God’s hidden-ness. There should never be any “glitches in the Matrix” that cause scientists to doubt the universe really works scientifically (i.e. miracles should not happen on an everyday basis, making it impossible to reach scientific conclusions about how the world works). As an occasionalist who believes in the principle of plausible deniability, I fully believe in an utterly rational and scientific universe.

Richard M. Frank argued that al-Ghazālī is a non-occasionalist who believes in secondary causes (meaning that he does not really believe the universe is like a simulation controlled by God, rather, he believes that it operates according to pre-determined “natural laws” as Avicenna believed). Michael Marmura disagreed and argued for the exact opposite; al-Ghazālī was a complete occasionalist who only mentioned Avicennan causality as mental experiments meant for argumentation with the philosophers. Griffel disagrees with both of them and offers what he considers to be a synthesis: al-Ghazālī was undecided as to whether the universal really runs in an occasionalist way or whether it runs in an Avicennan way. As he himself says in the Incoherence, both options are equally acceptable to him.

Al-Ghazālī says that we can either explain miracles the occasionalist way, by saying that God temporarily changed the laws of nature, or the Avicennan way, by saying that miracles are natural events whose causes we simply do not know. The stick of Moses that turned into a snake may have actually followed a sped-up version of natural causation. Perhaps the stick decayed extremely quickly and a snake was caused to come alive from the same material according to natural laws (I prefer the first, occasionalist, explanation).

Al-Ghazālīʾs teacher al-Juwaynī (d. 1085 CE) followed the classical, “occasionalist” Ashʿarite conception that God creates every human action. He also seems to have been influenced by philosophical ideas about “secondary causality”, believing that human actions were largely (or entirely) the result of previous causes that create in them the motivation to do certain things.

Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī (d. 1210 CE) subscribed to a similar theory, believing that previous circumstances determine what humans do. Unlike previous thinkers, he correctly recognized that if all human actions are predetermined by God and come from previous causes (themselves also predetermined by God), then there is no room for human free will. He therefore concluded that humans only appear to be free-willed. They do not really have free will. I would have expected someone as intelligent as al-Rāzī to have come up with a better solution, so it is disappointing that he was satisfied with this intellectual dead-end.

So according to al-Juwaynī, al-Rāzī and also al-Ghazālī, since God has foreknowledge of everything, it is as if He already has a “film” of how history will play out. Everything we say and do is already in the film. Yet we are still somehow responsible for our actions. Recognizing the dangers this realization poses to Islamic belief, al-Ghazālī says:

Accept God’s actions and stay calm! And when the predestination is mentioned, be quiet! The walls have ears and people who have a weak understanding surround you. Walk along the path of the weakest among you. And do not take away the veil from the sun in front of bats because that would be the cause of their ruin.

So that appears to be the state of affairs in orthodox Islamic theology when it comes to the conflict between free will and predestination. We are responsible for our actions–yet everything we do is already written and recorded. And since this would upset people if they heard it, the recommendation is to just not talk about it.

This rather dreary view of the universe did not get significantly challenged within mainstream Sunnism until Ibn Taymiyya came along.

Ibn Taymiyya’s Theology

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Jon Hoover’s essay in Ibn Taymiyya and His Times (which I reviewed here) had informed me that Ibn Taymiyya has unique solutions that could help end the intellectual dead-end that orthodox Islamic theology had arrived at with thinkers like al-Ghazāli and al-Rāzī. I therefore decided to read Hoover’s Ibn Taymiyya’s Theodicy of Perpetual Optimism, a highly detailed and informative study of Ibn Taymiyya’s theological thought that is based on Hoover’s doctoral dissertation,

The Ashʿarites denied that God created the universe for a purpose, because in their view this implies that God has a need for the universe, which implies that God is imperfect. In order to defend God’s absolute needlessness, they had to assert that the creation of the universe was totally without desire, aim or purpose.

The Ashʿarites also came up with the idea of dead-time (already mentioned) where all of history, past, present and future is like a film that God already possesses. They had to assert this because they thought that assuming the future to be non-existent would imply that God’s knowledge changes (increases or decreases) as time moves forward. To them change in God was unacceptable because it implied imperfection. God should already know everything that my possibly happen from pre-eternity so that His knowledge may stay still and never change.

Ibn Taymiyya rejected that view of time. To him God exists in “real time”. If you envision eternity as a line, the present moment is a point on it and we and God experience it together. Even though God is eternal and the universe was created in time, this does not mean that God’s time is dissociated from the universe’s time. Time is real everywhere. Below is a diagram of how Ibn Taymiyya may have understood time:

According to Ibn Taymiyya, if God had already willed everything that may happen from pre-eternity, that means nothing would ever happen because everything would already be complete, like a finished film on a shelf. But the reality is that we experience time and change, which to him proves that time is real and that God’s will interacts with the universe in real time rather than having interacted with it just once in pre-eternity as the Ashʿarites claim.

The Ashʿarites had to posit a changeless knowledge and will in God to defend the Greek-inspired idea that God does not change. Ibn Taymiyya criticizes this idea of a chained God who cannot will or create anything truly new. He says a God who can will and create new things in time is actually more perfect than one who cannot do that. In this way, he defends the real-time view of God against the dead-time of the Ashʿarites. To Ibn Taymiyya, God is perpetually dynamic, active and creative in real time, since such a God is more perfect than a still God.

A person may object that this means God is subject to time. In reality time is subject to God–God creates time moment by moment by His will and power. God is eternal, but one of His actions can precede another (since we say a dynamic God is more perfect than a still God), and “time” simply means the succession of God’s acts. If God stopped acting, time would stand still–the universe would be like a paused video game. God acts every moment by causing atoms and photos to vibrate and move, and this is perhaps what causes time to exist. If everything stopped moving, time would stand still.

And they ask you to hasten the punishment. But God never breaks His promise. A day with your Lord is like a thousand years of your count.

The Quran, verse 22:47

The above verse both suggests that God is involved dynamically with time, and that time is relative. God can control how fast time moves in a universe merely by slowing down or speeding up how fast photons and atoms vibrate and move. The above verse suggests that our universe runs very fast compared to how God measures time on the outside of the universe. 1000 years pass here inside the universe when only one day passes with God. It is as if we live in a video game that has been sped-up by a factor of about 354360 (these are the number of days in 1000 lunar years).

Ashʿarites say it is impossible for God to do things one after another since He should do everything in one instant in pre-eternity. But Ibn Taymiyya says that a God who creates things one after another is more perfect. And if God creates things one after another, and if He creates each moment, then this means time is real, for us and for God, by God’s own choice in choosing to create each moment. Ashʿarites say time is just an illusion and this makes them deny free will since they think God should already have a film of all of history. But if time is real, if God is creating each moment the very moment it happens, this makes room for development and change in the film of history. History would not be a closed book or completed film, but a living and developing story.

Both the Ashʿarites and Muʿtazilites said that God is aimless and purposeless in creating the universe, since otherwise it would mean that God gained something from creating the universe. It would mean that God was imperfect and aimed to become perfect by creating the universe. But Ibn Taymiyya responds:

Anyone who commits an act in which there is neither pleasure, nor benefit nor profit for himself in any respect, neither sooner nor later, is aimless, and he is not praised for this.

Ibn Taymiyya says that a God who acts with wise purpose is more perfect than a purposeless God, so God must have a wise purpose in creating the universe. Ashʿarites respond that this implies God was imperfect and had a need in order to perfect Himself. Ibn Taymiyya responds that perfection means doing everything in its own time and imperfection is when something is absent when it should be present. Thus to Ibn Taymiyya perpetual, dynamic and wise creation is an expression of God’s perfection. It is not purposeless because to create with purpose is an attribute of God from eternity and an expression of His perfection. He has no need for the creation, but it is an expression of His perfection to create perpetually.

Ibn Taymiyya’s theology falls short of resolving the predestination and free will paradox. He says that God is the one who creates all human acts (something we can agree with), but he goes on to say that God also creates the causes that lead to humans choosing one thing over another. While he argues extensively that humans are responsible for their actions, he also argues for the contradictory position that humans ultimately have no choice, saying human choice actually is jabr bi-tawaṣṣut al-irāda (compulsion by means of the will [that God Himself creates]), which is also what al-Rāzī says.

Defending Free Will with the Maturīdīs

While Ibn Taymiyya failed to resolve the predestination and free will paradox, he provided an important building block for the solution, namely refuting the Ashʿarite view of “dead time”, replacing it with the theory of real time–the idea that God’s acts follow each other, therefore time is real and history is not a finished film; it is a developing story. The future is non- existent and God brings about each new moment of history in real time. When He answers a prayer, He really and truly intervenes in the universe to bring about a change for the benefit of the person, while the Ashʿarites say the prayer and its answer both would have already been written and compelled from pre-eternity.

Ibn Taymiyya’s theology often depends on the consideration of what is the most perfect quality for God to possess. He thus says an active and dynamic God is more perfect the Ashʿarite still God. The question to ask is this: what God is more perfect, one who can create a truly free-willed creature, or one who cannot make such a creature?

Ashʿarites, al-Ghazāli, al-Rāzī and Ibn Taymiyya all say that God is utterly chained by His very nature into being incapable of creating free-willed creatures since He must create all intentions, wills and actions. God is incapable of making room for humans to be free.

Is that God more perfect or a God who has the power to create creatures who are truly free? We humans can make robots, but we can never give them the power to have free will. Everything they do will always come from their programming. Even if we allow them to freely choose what to do based on their environment, it is the environment that decides completely what they should do. Even if we add a bit of randomness to their decisions so that they randomly choose between their choices, there will be no wisdom or choice in their decision. It will be random, arbitrary, purposeless.

What is unique about humans is that unlike robots, they have an extra dimension to them that gives them the ability to truly choose, as the Maturīdī scholars believe. This is likely the Trust that God refers to in this verse:

We offered the Trust to the heavens, and the earth, and the mountains; but they refused to bear it, and were apprehensive of it; but the human being accepted it. He was unfair and ignorant.

The Quran, verse 33:72

God has entrusted us with a power that He Himself, in His wisdom and creativity, created–the power of a creature to choose between good and evil. We can therefore say with al-Māturīdī that there is an element of ikhtiyār (the ability to choose) given to humans by God.

We do not say, like the Muʿtazilites and Qadarites, that humans create their own actions. We instead can propose the following three-step process:

  • The human intends based on a power delegated to them by God. Humans are given the power by God to create their own intentions. A God who can delegate decisions to His creatures is more perfect than a God who is incapable of delegation.
  • God either creates a will in them (or does not create it)
  • God either creates the external action (or does not create it)

God is therefore utterly in charge of the universe and humans can never will anything unless God wills it and permits it (in the second step). We humans can only intend things, based on the ikhtiyār (freedom to choose) that God has given us, and it is God who creates everything else from then on.

We can also reject the Muʿtazilite/Qadarite view that God does not create evil actions. They say if God created evil actions He would be responsible for them. But we say that when humans intend evil, God, when He wishes, may allow it to happen out of a wise purpose that He has. God is not responsible for evil because evil comes from human intentions. He only carries out those intentions in order to preserve the system of the universe that He has created. When the human intends evil, God may treat them with khidhlān (forsaking) as Abū Ḥanīfa and al-Māturīdī say, allowing the evil to be carried out. I discuss the problem of evil and its solution in more detail in my essay: Why God Allows Evil to Exist, and Why Bad Things Happen to Good People.

Predetermination (Qadar) in the Quran

There are authentic narrations where the Prophet suggests humans have no free will. The issue of hadith will be dealt with later. The Quran itself, however, never tells us anywhere that future human decisions are already written and known beforehand. The predetermination that the Quran talks about is always about things that befall humans from the outside:

But God will not delay a soul when its time has come. God is Informed of what you do. (63:11)

God created you from dust, then from a small drop; then He made you pairs. No female conceives, or delivers, except with His knowledge. No living thing advances in years, or its life is shortened, except it be in a Record. That is surely easy for God. (35:11)

Whatever good happens to you is from God, and whatever bad happens to you is from your own self. We sent you to humanity as a messenger, and God is Witness enough. (4:79)

No calamity occurs on earth, or in your souls, but it is in a Book, even before We make it happen. That is easy for God. (57:23)

The Quran also tells us that guidance comes only from God:

O you who believe! Do not follow Satan’s footsteps. Whoever follows Satan’s footsteps—he advocates obscenity and immorality. Were it not for God’s grace towards you, and His mercy, not one of you would have been pure, ever. But God purifies whomever He wills. God is All-Hearing, All-Knowing. (24:21)

You cannot guide whom you love, but God guides whom He wills, and He knows best those who are guided. (28:56)

If we base our opinions only on the Quran and a number of authentic hadiths, the view of predestination that we get is that God is in charge of all external circumstances of humans. He is also in charge of guiding us. We, however, are in charge of choosing our internal responses. God can give us guidance but we can intend rejection of it. This is what kufr means, to know the truth about God, to be guided to God, but to deny Him anyway.

Rather than telling us that the world is like a film that is already finished, the Quran gives us the impression that the universe operates in real time as Ibn Taymiyya says. What is “written” in our predestination are the external circumstances in our lives. God knows exactly whether we will get that job and when we will be living next year and when we will die. The external circumstances of our lives are entirely in His charge. But this does not mean that our circumstances are rigid and unchangeable. The Quran says:

God erases whatever He wills, and He affirms. With Him is the Mother Book. (13:39)

This gives the impression that the Protected Tablet (al-Lawḥ al-Maḥfūẓ) is not rigid but changeable. The Prophet supports this view in this sound narration:

لَا يَرُدُّ القَضَاءَ إلَّا الدُّعَاءُ، وَلَا يَزِيدُ فِي العُمُرِ إلَّا البِرُّ

Nothing counters God's decree except supplication, and nothing increases lifespan except righteousness.

(Narrated in al-Tirmidhi, authenticated by al-Albani in al-Silsila al-Sahiha 154 and in Sahih al-Jami` 7687)

According to the above hadith, if your present choices have made you deserve Hell, all that you need to do is pray for guidance and forgiveness, and that will change God’s decree. The Prophet also prayed for God’s decrees to be changed:

... and I ask you to make every decree You decree for me to be a good.

Ṣaḥīḥ Ibn Ḥibbān 870; Muṣannaf Abī Shayba 28767

and also:

O Allah, whoever believes in you, and bears witness that I am your messenger, then cause him to love meeting you, and ease your decrees on him, and decrease from him the worldly life. And whoever does not believe in you, and does not bear witness that I am your Messenger, then do not cause him to love meeting you, and do not ease your decree on him, and increase for him of the worldly life.

Ṣaḥīḥ Ibn Ḥibbān 208

and also:

Narrated Anas:

Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) said," None of you should long for death because of a calamity that had befallen him, and if he cannot, but long for death, then he should say, 'O Allah! Let me live as long as life is better for me, and take my life if death is better for me.' "

Ṣaḥīh al-Bukhārī 6351

The above prayers only make sense if the future, i.e. qadar, was changeable.

When the Prophet says that our place in Paradise or Hell is already determined, we can interpret this as saying that if the world ended today, God knows whether we will be in Paradise or Hell. But this does not mean that we cannot change our place through prayer.

God’s qadar (predetermination) may simply refer to the fact that all alternative futures that God offers us are controlled by Him. You can choose to be good or bad, but in both alternative futures you may predestined to become a doctor. Even though we choose between futures, God creates the shape and nature of all futures.

Ibn Taymiyya’s real-time view of the universe and the Māturīdī affirmation of true free will help create a coherent theory of free will in Islam.

The Ashʿarite views of dead time and a still God contradict free will, since in their view nothing new ever happens. Everything is already finished, so we only appear to be living, breathing and choosing. But Ibn Taymiyya’s real-time view tells us that the future is non-existent and God actively and creatively creates it moment by moment. Accordingly, there is room for free will since we interact with God in real time. God’s predetermination simply means that He decides the shape of all alternative futures. But He does not force us to choose one future and avoid another. He gives us a true free choice in deciding which future we want to be in.

The views offered here are perfectly in concordance with everything the Quran says. As al-Rāzī admits, the verses on predestination and free will can be used to argue both for hard determinism and for free will. He and others like Frank Griffel think that the Quran has a contradictory stance toward predestination and free will; God determines everything, yet humans are responsible for their actions.

But by merging Ibn Taymiyya and the Māturīdī school’s views, we can resolve all apparent contradictions: God determines and creates all futures, but humans decide which futures they will be in. We can never escape what God has determined, but at times God offers us alternative futures and we choose which one we will be in. Our choice of which future we will be in is never said to be predetermined in the Quran. It rather constantly affirms the alternative, that it is we who decide whether we corrupt or purify ourselves with our choices.

And [by] the soul and He who proportioned it.

And inspired it with its wickedness and its righteousness.

Successful is he who purifies it.

Failing is he who corrupts it.

The Quran, verses 91:7-10.

And if we make good choices, God decrees further good things to happen to us:

And when he reached his maturity, and became established, We gave him wisdom and knowledge. Thus do We reward the virtuous.

The Quran, verse 28:14

Moses was virtuous, so God decreed that He should gain wisdom and knowledge.

Whoever works righteousness, whether male or female, while being a believer, We will grant him a good life—and We will reward them according to the best of what they used to do.

The Quran, verse 16:97

Above, God affirms that He will decree a good worldly life for those who work righteousness.

And when your Lord proclaimed: “If you give thanks, I will grant you increase; but if you are ungrateful, My punishment is severe.”

The Quran, verse 14:7

Above, God affirms that there is a contractual relationship between the believers and Himself. If we are grateful, He will decree for us an increase in good things. And if we are ungrateful, He will cause us torment.

Life is like walking down a road created by God. At some points the road forks into multiple roads (also all created by God), but we are free which of these roads we choose to walk down. God responds to righteous choices by decreeing good things for us, and responds to wicked choices by decreeing hardships and disasters for us.

In Sheba’s homeland there used to be a wonder: two gardens, on the right, and on the left. “Eat of your Lord’s provision, and give thanks to Him.” A good land, and a forgiving Lord.

But they turned away, so We unleashed against them the flood of the dam; and We substituted their two gardens with two gardens of bitter fruits, thorny shrubs, and meager harvest.

We thus penalized them for their ingratitude. Would We penalize any but the ungrateful?

The Quran, verses 34:15-17

One of the biggest problems in the Quran regarding free will and predestination are in verses 4:78-79, which some believe are contradictory:

Wherever you may be, death will catch up with you, even if you were in fortified towers. When a good fortune comes their way, they say, “This is from God.” But when a misfortune befalls them, they say, “This is from you.” Say, “All is from God.” So what is the matter with these people, that they hardly understand a thing?

Whatever good happens to you is from God, and whatever bad happens to you is from your own self. We sent you to humanity as a messenger, and God is Witness enough.

The Quran, verses 4:78-79

But according to my Taymiyyan-Maturīdī synthesis, the first verse is saying that whatever befalls humans does so because God caused it (moved the relevant atoms, etc.) for the thing to happen. So it is all from God. It also means that God is utterly in charge of all futures, so whatever future comes about, it is always from God. The second verse, however, says that the reason why a thing befalls you could either be God’s favor upon you (if it is a good thing) or the result of your own bad choices (if it is a bad thing).

In other words, when faced with two futures, future A (good) and future B (bad), both are created by God. But if you choose the good future and it takes place, that is a blessing from God. And if you choose the bad future, that is your own fault. So both futures are from God, and the bad future takes place because of your choice.

This may be why the Prophet says:

لَا يَقْضِي اللَّهُ لَهُ شَيْئًا إِلَّا كَانَ خَيْرًا لَهُ

God never decrees a thing for [the believer] except that it is good for him.

Musnad Aḥmad 19884 and Ṣaḥīḥ Ibn Ḥibbān 729

God’s attitude toward the believer is only mercy; the hadith could be saying that God never, of His own volition, intends and wills evil for the believer. God does not like to watch us suffer.

This, however, does not address the question of God causing suffering to a believer as a test. Perhaps it means that if the believer was perfectly pious and sinless, they would not need any test or hardship and so nothing evil would ever befall them. God’s tests are there to teach us true submission to His will and power. If we reach the impossible standard of perfect submission, then that would be an end of tests and hardship–possibly.

God’s Guidance and the Sealing of Hearts

The Quranic verses on God guiding and misguiding humans or sealing the hearts of unbelievers have often been used to justify fatalism–the idea that humans absolutely have no role in the universe; their acts and choices are all created by God.

Had God willed, He would have made you one congregation, but He leaves astray whom He wills, and He guides whom He wills. And you will surely be questioned about what you used to do.

The Quran, verse 16:93

By believing that God causes all human choices, classical Sunni theologians believed that God can make something obligatory upon a person when it is impossible for them to do it. The classical example is the fact that God calls unbelievers to guidance, yet He Himself has supposedly sealed their hearts–making it impossible for them to be guided.

Based on what we have said so far, we can solve this problem by saying that God guides humans, but He also gives humans the freedom to accept or reject guidance. He shows us the truth, as He says:

We will show them Our signs on the horizons, and in their very souls, until it becomes clear to them that it is the truth. Is it not sufficient that your Lord is witness over everything?

The Quran, verse 41:53

But after showing us His signs, He lets us choose guidance or disbelief. Those who believe will be further guided by God, while those who disbelieve will be led astray:

As for those who believe and do good deeds, their Lord guides them by their faith. Rivers will flow beneath them in the Gardens of Bliss. (The Quran, verse 10:9)

Those who disbelieve say, “If only a miracle was sent down to him from his Lord.” Say, “God leads astray whomever He wills, and He guides to Himself whoever repents.” (The Quran, verse 13:27)

Guidance is therefore from God, but it is conditional upon human intentions. Those who believe, do good deeds and repent are blessed with further guidance. Those who disbelieve are caused to go further astray as a punishment. We can either choose guidance or reject it.

How will God guide a people who disbelieved after having believed, and had witnessed that the Messenger is true, and the clear proofs had come to them? God does not guide the unjust people.

The Quran, verse 3:86

The above verse says God will not guide unjust people who first believed then chose to reject the Prophet .

God’s guidance is not random. He does not force some people to go to Hell and some to Paradise as Ashʿarites and hadith scholars think. Rather, God allows us to choose our places in the Hellfire or Paradise. God knows whether we will be in the Hellfire or Paradise if we were to die this moment. He also knows all possible futures. But He has given us the freedom to erase what has been predetermined for us and change it based on our choices. You may be a sinner and God may have predestined you to have an unhappy life. But if you repent and become pious, God may rewrite your predestination so that He allows you to have a happier life.

As for the sealing of the hearts of unbelievers, it refers to those who have sinned and rejected God so severely and for so long that God has decided to seal their fate and prevent them from repenting.

Indeed, whoever commits misdeeds, and becomes surrounded by his iniquities—these are the inmates of the Fire, wherein they will dwell forever.

The Quran, verse 2:81

The Quran also says:

I will turn away from My revelations those who behave proudly on earth without justification. Even if they see every sign, they will not believe in it; and if they see the path of rectitude, they will not adopt it for a path; and if they see the path of error, they will adopt it for a path. That is because they denied Our revelations, and paid no attention to them.

The Quran, verse 7:146

God does not randomly seal hearts. He seals the hearts of those who commit so much evil that God decides they do not deserve to have the chance to repent. Once that happens, He seals their hearts and makes it impossible for them to ever seek repentance from Him.

The Remaining Paradox: God’s Foreknowledge

The creation of the future is a dynamic process between God and humanity. God constantly offers us multiple futures and we choose the ones we want to actually be in. We can never create a future God does not want because it is God who creates the futures. We only choose. Even if all of humanity wants to start a war, the futures God offers us may all lack the war. His will overrides humanity’s will and the war will never take place.

This, however, leads to the question: Does God know which future you will choose before you choose it? If God already knows which future you will choose, how can the choice possibly be free?

This is a logical paradox. If a decision is truly free, it seems like it should be unpredictable. Imagine that you create a robot that has free will. Even if you know everything there is to know about the robot, you will never be able to know what it will do next because its decisions are free. If you could always predict with 100% accuracy what the robot will always decide, then there is no free will involved. Freedom means to be able to make a genuine choice that comes from your inner self and that is not forced upon you from the outside by circumstances, or forced upon you by your brain chemistry. It is a genuine choice of the soul that is completely independent of the universe.

Saying that a free-willed decision is knowable before it is made may be as nonsensical as saying that God can make a 4-sided triangle, or that He can make an object so heavy that He Himself cannot move it. It is possible that free-willed human decisions are logically unknowable by their very nature because of the way God has made them. The decision is truly free and delegated to the human by God in a way that makes foreknowledge of it impossible (but there is an alternative view as will be discussed).

As mentioned, Ashʿarites, al-Ghazāli, al-Rāzī all say that God is utterly chained by His very nature into being incapable of creating free-willed creatures since He must create all intentions, wills and actions. God is incapable of making room for humans to be really, truly free.

So the question is this: Is God powerful enough to create a creature whose decision is so free that it is impossible to predict its decisions beforehand?

As far as I know, no Muslim theologian has ever posed that question directly.

Saying that God has foreknowledge of our decisions may be an insult against God’s power, because it suggests that God is incapable of producing a creature whose decision is so free that it is impossible to predict the decision beforehand. Is God incapable of making such a creature? Yet saying God does not have foreknowledge of our decisions may be an insult against His being All-Knowing.

Orthodox Muslim theologians like al-Rāzī chose to go with the first potential insult, saying God is incapable of making a truly free-willed creature, while non-orthodox Muʿtazilites went with the second potential insult, saying God is incapable of foreknowledge of human decisions.

We who know better should avoid both insults and choose a moderate path between them; leaving the judgment of these matters to God and relying on what we are certain about–the fact that we are responsible for our decisions, and the fact that God is utterly in charge of the universe.

Out of fear for God, we should not deny the possibility that God somehow knows all future decisions even before they are decided, even though this sounds like nonsense and like a contradiction of free will. We have very little knowledge of the world outside our universe and we do not know the true nature of God and His knowledge. Therefore rather than denying God’s foreknowledge, we should admit both possibilities:

  • Either it is logically impossible for foreknowledge to apply to free-willed decisions. The future is a creative act between God and humans. In this view, saying it is possible to know a free-willed decision before it is made is nonsensical–it is like saying God can create a 4-sided triangle. God, of course, can predetermine the direction of the future, and no human can will anything He does not want. But He delegates some decisions to humans, and therefore this allows them to choose between different futures. It is logically impossible to know which future will be chosen before it is chosen because in order for a decision to be truly free, it should not be predictable. God Himself, with His infinite power and creativity, has chosen to create a creature who can make unpredictable decisions. Of course, when God wants, He can also force decisions on humans. We do not deny God’s power to do this.
  • Or God has a mysterious power to know which future a human will choose even before he chooses it. In this view, God will already have a “film” of all of history, past and future, and nothing will change in it. This appears to completely contradict free will, but rather than denying it, out of fear for God, we leave its meaning to God. God knows everything that may possibly be known.

What we know for certain from the Quran is that we are responsible for our decisions. We also know that God is utterly in charge of our destinies. We also know that fatalism is forbidden–we cannot say that it is already predetermined whether we will be in Paradise or Hell so that there is no point in good deeds:

The polytheists will say, “Had God willed, we would not have practiced idolatry, nor would have our forefathers, nor would we have prohibited anything.” Likewise those before them lied, until they tasted Our might. Say, “Do you have any knowledge that you can produce for us? You follow nothing but conjecture, and you only guess.” (6:148)

However, we must also reject al-Rāzī’s statement that humans only appear to be free. It is mere conjecture. Rather, we should say that we simply do not know the solution to the paradox and that we leave the matter to God. As far as we know, we are free in our choices, God is utterly in charge, and whether His foreknowledge applies to our future decisions or not is a dangerous matter that we leave to God. Logically it appears that foreknowledge should not apply to free will, but we admit that God is so great and so infinitely beyond our knowledge that we say logic is not necessarily sufficient to override the possibility of God’s foreknowledge.

The Predestination of Prophets

He said, “I am only the messenger of your Lord, to give you the gift of a pure son.”

The Quran, verse 19:19

In the above verse, an angel tells Mary mother of Jesus that she will have a “pure” son. This means that Jesus was predestined to be pure. We see the same in the case of John (Prophet Yaḥyā):

Then the angels called out to him, as he stood praying in the sanctuary: “God gives you good news of John; confirming a Word from God, and honorable, and moral, and a prophet; one of the upright.”

The Quran, verse 3:39

Above, Zechariah is told that his unborn son will be honorable, moral and upright, as if John himself would have no say in the matter. This does not nullify free will in general. What it means is that certain chosen individuals will be protected by God from sins and disbelief. As we said above, humans only intend, but God creates the will in them to do good or bad. In the case of the prophets, even if they willed something bad, God could override their will and prevent them from carrying out the sin.

While the generality of humans enjoy free will, prophets enjoy a more restricted free will that is under God’s divine guidance and control. In this way God can have a plan for a prophet even before the prophet’s birth and ensure that His plan is fully carried out. He may give the prophet sufficient free will for them to be human to some degree, while preventing them from ever deviating from His plan.

The same protection is also likely enjoyed by pious believers. God eases them toward good deeds and makes evil deeds difficult for them by overriding their will when He wants and restricting their freedom to sin as a favor upon them. But when it comes to impious and rebellious people, God takes away His protection:

Whoever makes a breach with the Messenger, after the guidance has become clear to him, and follows other than the path of the believers, We will direct him in the direction he has chosen, and commit him to Hell—what a terrible destination!

The Quran, verse 4:115

On Contradicting Hadith Narrations

Numerous hadiths suggest that people are condemned to Paradise or Hell even before they are born. These hadiths seem to completely contradict free will and divine justice. Due to the great number of hadiths on this issue and their conflicting nature, I have dedicated a supplementary essay to it here: A Study of the Hadiths on Qadar (Predestination): Judging Between Fatalism and Free Will

My conclusion in that essay is that the hadith literature is not conclusive in forcing fatalism on us. We have the choice to reject fatalism, and since rejecting it is the more sensible and Quranic choice, and since it is supported by multiple authentic narrations, then this should be the choice of someone who prefers the theological worldview I have described here in this essay.

We know that Imam al-Bukhārī rejected a few authentic narrations when he considered their meaning absurd, as Jonathan Brown’s studies have shown.1 Imam Mālik too refused to act by certain authentic hadith narrations when they went against the practice of the people of Medina (see the PhD dissertation The Origins of Islamic Law: The Qur’an, the Muwatta’ and Madinan Amal by Yasin Dutton). We may never know, but perhaps if Imam al-Bukhārī had been against fatalism, he would have considered fatalistic narrations to be unauthentic regardless of their chains.

Ibn Taymiyya and his student Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya both rejected fatalism and did their best to reinterpret fatalistic hadith narrations to make room for true free choice and the possibility of change in a person’s fate; see Livnat Holtzman’s essay in Ibn Taymiyya and His Times.

Conclusion

We know for certain that we are responsible for our actions. This should be the basis of our thinking about these matters. Suppositions about predetermination and divine foreknowledge should never dishearten us from doing goods deeds and avoiding sin, because we should not abandon a certainty (our responsibility) for the sake of speculations.

In summary, we accept human responsibility, divine predetermination of the alternative futures, the possibility of change in destinies, and the possibility of true human free will. We affirm God’s All-Knowing and All-Powerful attributes, that He is utterly in charge of the universe, that no human can will anything unless God allows it and creates the will. We also admit the paradox between free will and divine foreknowledge and leave its ultimate solution to God. We do not want to say there is anything God does not know. But there is no shame in God being powerful enough to create a creature who is free enough to make decisions that are intrinsically impossible to predict. This affirms His attribute of the All-Powerful, even if on the face of it it appears to go against His attribute of the All-Knowing. Since we have no firm knowledge of these matters, we leave their ultimate solution to God: it may be an insult against God to deny the possibility of true, impossible-to-predict free will (because it suggests God is incapable of making such a thing), and it may also be an insult against God to say that future human decisions are impossible to predict (because it suggests God does not know future human decisions).

God allows us to choose between alternative futures, but all futures are created by God. Prayer is beneficial because God may respond by creating brand-new alternative futures that did not exist before and that contain many blessings that we wouldn’t have had access to otherwise. We can never escape God’s decree, but we can affect what God decrees for us by our piety or sinfulness. If we are pious, God rewards us by decreeing good things, and if we are sinful, God may punish us by decreeing bad things for us. This is what the plain meaning of the Quran and the Prophet’s statement on prayer changing one’s predestiny suggest.

A Study of the Hadiths on Qadar (Predestination): Judging Between Fatalism and Free Will

This is a supplement to my essay Reconciling Free Will and Predestination in Islam with al-Māturīdī and Ibn Taymiyya

Qadar (divine predestination) is one of the most controversial issues in Islam. Muslim thinkers are generally divided into two groups on this issue. There are the rationalists and semi-rationalists like the Matūrīdīs, Ibn Taymiyya and Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya and most mainstream intellectuals who try to make room for human choice and free will and do their best to avoid asserting fatalism. Fatalism is the belief that all of humanity is divided into believers and disbelievers from birth–we have absolutely no choice but to live out the lives that are predestined for us even before we were conceived. According to fatalism, whether your destination is Paradise or Hell is something decided by God before your birth and you have absolutely no choice in the matter.

While most mainstream thinkers try to avoid fatalism, its most ardent defenders are the scholars of hadith, who believe that fatalism is proven through numerous narrations and that doubting it is disbelief. While we can believe in qadar (predestination) with or without fatalism, hadith scholars say we must only believe in the fatalistic interpretation of qadar.

The issue is very important because if humanity was really created in a fatalistic manner, it would make the creation of humanity sound rather useless and pointless. Humans would already be divided into the dwellers of Paradise and Hell from before birth and they would have no choice but to end up there. How could any just, wise and sensible God create such a system? Believing that you might end up in Hell because it is “decreed” for you even if you are a believer now (as some hadiths say) leads to a rather depressing and hopeless worldview and has nothing to do with the worldview of the Quran.

Qadar can be interpreted in two ways: the first way is that God decides everything that befalls you without forcing you to choose between good and evil, so that you can choose between a good or evil destiny even if you have no control over what befalls you in life. This is what orthodox rationalists like the Maturīdīs say. The second way to interpret qadar is to say that it means, besides controlling what befalls you, God also controls your choices. You have no choice in whether you end up in Paradise or Hell–it was decreed for you even before birth. This is what the fatalist hadith scholars believe. Which view of qadar is to be preferred?

So far the argument between the rationalists and the fatalists has failed to progress because neither side engages with the other on the other’s terms. The rationalists use rational and Quranic evidence to argue that fatalism is unjustified and senseless–God must give us some choice in the matter of our destiny. The hadith scholars wholly reject rational arguments and say that since hadith “proves” fatalism, there is no room for rational argumentation. The rationalists have often had little interest in or knowledge of hadith and have merely resorted to stating that the Quran and rational arguments should be given preference.

In this essay I will perform the unique task of engaging with the issue of fatalism and free will using the hadith scholars’ own terms and methods. I decided that this study was necessary because I am working on synthesizing Matūrīdī theology with Ibn Taymiyya and Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya’s theology in order to reconcile free will and predestination in an orthodox and coherent manner. But the biggest hurdle I have faced in this task are the fatalistic hadith narrations that seem to contradict divine justice and wisdom and that make it impossible to build a satisfactory and complete Islamic theological theory.

As I will show in this essay, despite what hadith scholars believe, the evidence for fatalism is not really that strong. In fact, one major characteristic that becomes clear throughout this study is the unusual level of weakness and doubtfulness associated with most fatalistic narrations, which in itself is a strong argument against fatalism. If fatalism was such a crucial aspect of Islam, why did the Prophet fail to clearly state it enough times for us to get just one single hadith that is corroborated by four or more Companions? In fact, even if lower our standard to requiring only two Companions’ witnessing to a fatalistic hadith coming through two transmitters and so on, we have no hadiths that reach even this level.

Ideally we should have four or more Companions narrate the same hadith (each through four transmitters and so on) in order to prove a point beyond doubt in theology. Singular (aḥād) narrations that come only from one or two Companions do not prove anything beyond doubt when it comes to matters of uṣūl (fundamentals). It is perfectly fine to accept a narration from a single Companion on secondary (furūʿ) matters, such as the Prophetic way to use the miswāk (a type of toothbrush made from an Arabian tree). But when it comes to crucial matters that completely change the nature of our religion, we should require a much higher standard of evidence. Islam requires four witnesses to prove a case of fornication. Shouldn’t we at least require the same standard of evidence on crucial issues of our faith? This is especially necessary when hadiths conflict with the Quran, reason and with other narrations that support the opposing case.

Al-Bayhaqi’s Kitāb al-Qaḍāʾ wa-l-Qadar

I have based this study mainly on Kitāb al-Qaḍāʾ wa-l-Qadar (The Book of Predestination) by the hadith scholar Imam al-Bayhaqī (d. 1066 CE), may God have mercy on him. This book tries to bring together all existing hadith narrations on the issue of qadar and tries to prove fatalism in the strongest terms. I only dealt with hadiths that are authentic or may be considered to have a chance of authenticity, or may be of doubtful authenticity. I have skipped the ones that are judged by most hadith scholars to be fabricated and unauthentic since there is no point in dealing with them.

To find additional evidence for and against fatalism, I have surveyed the entirety of the two volumes of Ṣaḥīḥ Jāmiʿ al-Ṣaghīr wa-Ziyādatuh by Imam Nāṣir al-Dīn al-Albānī (d. 1999, may God have mercy on him). This book attempts to bring together almost all existing authentic Prophetic statements from the hadith literature from dozens of sources. It is a good resource for finding Prophetic information on any chosen topic.

Nāṣir al-Dīn al-Albānī’s Ṣaḥīḥ Jāmiʿ al-Ṣaghīr wa-Ziyādatuh

I did not merely do a keyword search for words having to do with qadar since many Prophetic statements on qadar do not actually mention the word or anything close to it. It was therefore necessary to read the entire book.

Summary

As will be shown below, there is only one wholly authentic narration that comes from multiple Companions that affirms fatalism (that humans are divided into believers and disbelievers before birth and their fate never changes). There are also three other narrations, each coming from a single Companion, that affirm fatalism.

As mentioned, we must require four Companions’ hadiths to prove theological points. However, since the three-Companion hadith is the most significant fatalistic hadith in existence, I will deal it with specifically.

I will mention Anas’s version since all three Companions’ hadiths agree on its meaning:

Narrated Anas bin Malik:

The Prophet (ﷺ) said, "At every womb Allah appoints an angel who says, 'O Lord! A drop of semen, O Lord! A clot. O Lord! A little lump of flesh." Then if Allah wishes (to complete) its creation, the angel asks, (O Lord!) Will it be a male or female, a wretched or a blessed, and how much will his provision be? And what will his age be?' So all that is written while the child is still in the mother's womb."

Ṣaḥīh al-Bukhārī 318

This hadith is fatalistic because it implies that wretchedness and blessedness in the afterlife is decided for the person from their mother’s womb. This hadith is actually not very well-attested. Here is a diagram of the narrations coming from Anas:

The hadith only comes through Ḥammād b. Zayd, through ʿUbaydallāh, so we have to trust that these individuals correctly understood and transmitted the hadith. Thus we have no second opinion on Anas having said this. And here is a diagram of the narrations from Ibn Masʿūd:

This hadith too comes only through single individuals; al-Aʿmash, through Zayd b. Wahb. The other attesting chains of Salama b. Kuhayl and Abū Ṭufayl are not fully reliable and can be ignored. The version from the third Companion Ḥudhayfa b. Usayd is as follows (right to left):

It comes only through Abū al-Ṭufayl through various badly-attested chains.

This is the most important fatalistic hadith. In order to accept it, we have to trust that Ibn Masʿūd correctly understood the Prophet , that Zayd b. Wahb correctly understood Ibn Masʿūd, and that al-Aʿmash correctly understood Zayd. The same applies to the other Companions’ hadiths. This is an extremely precarious structure to rely on for something so important, especially something that is not found in the Quran and that appears to contradict its wisdom and plain meaning.

Another reason to doubt it is that we have a non-fatalistic version of the hadith coming from Ḥudhayfa b. Usayd, from an authentic chain except for one individual who is trusted by some and not others (Abū al-Zubayr al-Makkī):

حَدَّثَنِي أَبُو الطَّاهِرِ، أَحْمَدُ بْنُ عَمْرِو بْنِ سَرْحٍ أَخْبَرَنَا ابْنُ وَهْبٍ، أَخْبَرَنِي عَمْرُو، بْنُ الْحَارِثِ عَنْ أَبِي الزُّبَيْرِ الْمَكِّيِّ، أَنَّ عَامِرَ بْنَ وَاثِلَةَ، حَدَّثَهُ أَنَّهُ، سَمِعَ عَبْدَ اللَّهِ بْنَ مَسْعُودٍ، يَقُولُ الشَّقِيُّ مَنْ شَقِيَ فِي بَطْنِ أُمِّهِ وَالسَّعِيدُ مَنْ وُعِظَ بِغَيْرِهِ ‏.‏ فَأَتَى رَجُلاً مِنْ أَصْحَابِ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم يُقَالُ لَهُ حُذَيْفَةُ بْنُ أَسِيدٍ الْغِفَارِيُّ فَحَدَّثَهُ بِذَلِكَ مِنْ قَوْلِ ابْنِ مَسْعُودٍ فَقَالَ وَكَيْفَ يَشْقَى رَجُلٌ بِغَيْرِ عَمَلٍ فَقَالَ لَهُ الرَّجُلُ أَتَعْجَبُ مِنْ ذَلِكَ فَإِنِّي سَمِعْتُ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم يَقُولُ ‏ "‏ إِذَا مَرَّ بِالنُّطْفَةِ ثِنْتَانِ وَأَرْبَعُونَ لَيْلَةً بَعَثَ اللَّهُ إِلَيْهَا مَلَكًا فَصَوَّرَهَا وَخَلَقَ سَمْعَهَا وَبَصَرَهَا وَجِلْدَهَا وَلَحْمَهَا وَعِظَامَهَا ثُمَّ ‏.‏ قَالَ يَا رَبِّ أَذَكَرٌ أَمْ أُنْثَى فَيَقْضِي رَبُّكَ مَا شَاءَ وَيَكْتُبُ الْمَلَكُ ثُمَّ يَقُولُ يَا رَبِّ أَجَلُهُ ‏.‏ فَيَقُولُ رَبُّكَ مَا شَاءَ وَيَكْتُبُ الْمَلَكُ ثُمَّ يَقُولُ يَا رَبِّ رِزْقُهُ ‏.‏ فَيَقْضِي رَبُّكَ مَا شَاءَ وَيَكْتُبُ الْمَلَكُ ثُمَّ يَخْرُجُ الْمَلَكُ بِالصَّحِيفَةِ فِي يَدِهِ فَلاَ يَزِيدُ عَلَى مَا أُمِرَ وَلاَ يَنْقُصُ ‏"‏ ‏.‏

ʿĀmir b. Wāthila said that he heard 'Abdullah b. Mas'ud say that wretched one is the one who is wretched in the womb of his mother and the happy one is he who takes a lesson from the (fate of) others. The narrator came to a person from amongst the Companions of Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) who was called Ḥudhayfa b. Usayd al-Ghifārī and said: How can a person be an evil one without (committing an evil) deed? Thereupon the person said to him: You are surprised at this, whereas I have heard Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) as saying: When forty-two nights pass after the semen gets into the womb, Allah sends the angel and gives him shape. Then he creates his sense of hearing, sense of sight, his skin, his flesh, his bones, and then says: My Lord, would he be male or female? And your Lord decides as He desires and the angel then puts down that also and then says: My Lord, what about his age? And your Lord decides as He likes it and the angel puts it down. Then he says: My Lord, what about his livelihood? And then the Lord decides as He likes and the angel writes it down, and then the angel gets out with his scroll of destiny in his hand and nothing is added to it and nothing is subtracted from it.

Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 2645 a

Notice that above, it is Ibn Masʿūd himself who makes the fatalistic statement. The actual Prophetic hadith narrated by Ḥudhayfa b. Usayd completely lacks all fatalism. It merely says that a person’s death-timing, livelihood and sex is determined in the womb. There is no mention of a person’s deeds or fate in the afterlife being written there.

Ibn Masʿūd himself appears to have been a fatalist. His statement that people are differentiated into Hell-dwellers and Paradise-dwellers from the womb is attested from authentic chains. It seems quite possible that Ibn Masʿūd’s opinion became mixed up with the content of the Prophetic statement so that Ibn Masʿūd’s fatalistic interpretation of it became a part of it in people’s minds. Later people may have “corrected” the hadith by adding the fatalism to it that seemed obvious to them. We can therefore conclude that the hadith in Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 2645 a is likely to be the original and authentic version.

The fatalistic narrations are countered by an authentic narration that affirms the changeability of qadar, thus wholly contradicting fatalism. There are also a number of other authentic narrations that only make sense if the world is not fatalistic but dynamic and changeable.

What we have, therefore, are a number of authentic narrations and the entirety of the Quran, all of which go against fatalism, and a few other narrations that assert fatalism, the most important of which is not worth relying on in this matter since it is refuted by another version of itself that lacks fatalism. If the fatalistic version had come through four Companions, each of whom said it to four trustworthy people, and so on until it reached us, we would have had no choice but to consider it true. But as it is, it seems justified to prefer the Quran and the non-fatalistic version to it.

The correct and just attitude, therefore, is to acknowledge the inconclusive and contradictory nature of the hadith evidence and to acknowledge that many different interpretations are possible. The hadith scholars’ insistence on fatalism seems unjustified.

Since our sense of justice and wisdom is repulsed by fatalism, and since it demolishes much of the beauty and sense of the Quran’s statements, I think we are justified in taking the below hadith’s advice regarding this issue by doubting fatalism and considering the non-fatalistic interpretation of qadar of scholars like Ibn Taymiyya to be the likely correct one.

Narrated by the Companions Abū Ḥumayd and Abū Usayd:

إِذَا سَمِعْتُمُ الْحَدِيثَ عَنِّي تَعْرِفُهُ قُلُوبُكُمْ ، وَتَلِينُ لَهُ أَشْعَارُكُمْ وَأَبْشَارُكُمْ ، وَتَرَوْنَ أَنَّهُ مِنْكُمْ قَرِيبٌ فَأَنَا أَوْلَاكُمْ بِهِ ، وَإِذَا سَمِعْتُمُ الْحَدِيثَ عَنِّي تُنْكِرُهُ قُلُوبُكُمْ ، وَتَنْفِرُ مِنْهُ أَشْعَارُكُمْ وَأَبْشَارُكُمْ ، وَتَرَوْنَ أَنَّهُ مِنْكُمْ بَعِيدٌ ، فَأَنَا أَبْعَدُكُمْ مِنْه

If you hear hadith from me and your heart knows it, and your feelings and good cheer lean toward it, and you consider it close to you, then I am closer to it than you. And if you hear hadith from me hadith that your hearts do not know, and your feelings and good cheer are repulsed by it, and you consider it distant from you, then I am more distant from it than you.

Musnad Aḥmad 15808, a very similar version is considered hasan by al-Albānī

The above hadith comes from wholly trusted and reliable transmitters.

We are in charge of whether we will be happy or wretched in the afterlife through choosing to accept God’s guidance or rejecting His guidance. As the Quran states, all humans attested to God’s oneness before they were born:

And when Your Lord summoned the descendants of Adam, and made them testify about themselves. “Am I not your Lord?” They said, “Yes, we testify.” Thus you cannot say on the Day of Resurrection, “We were unaware of this.”

The Quran, verse 7:172

This is the fiṭra (pristine original state of humanity) that all humans are born with, as the following hadith affirms:

Every child is born on the fiṭra but his parents convert him to Judaism, Christianity or Magainism...

Ṣaḥīh al-Bukhārī 1359, a similar version in Ṣaḥīh Muslim 2658 d

All human souls attested to God’s oneness before they were born, and they are born in that state, ready to either become believers or disbelievers as they age. God guides them to Himself through various means throughout life until they become convinced of the truth of His prophets:

We will show them Our signs on the horizons, and in their very souls, until it becomes clear to them that it is the truth. Is it not sufficient that your Lord is witness over everything?

The Quran, verse 41:53

Once they reach that conviction, they either choose guidance and God increases them in guidance and rewards them with Paradise, or they constantly choose disbelief and God causes them to be misguided and rewards them with Hell. This is the picture that the Quran and numerous hadiths draw for us and it is preferable to the fatalistic understanding of Islam that implies that people are needlessly thrown into Paradise or Hell without having any say in the matter.

Technical Details

Verification Methodology

I have used most existing books on the criticism of hadith transmitters in judging the trustworthiness of a transmitter. However, I have been more strict in my judgments than is typical of hadith scholars. If 10 scholars consider someone trustworthy but two respected ones consider them weak, then I have gone with the weak judgment. I have also seriously taken into account the statements of scholars that a person is trustworthy but cannot be relied on in legal judgments.

My strictness seems justified because when it comes to such a crucial and fundamental matter, it seems only right to only trust the transmitters with impeccable or nearly-impeccable reputations.

Fatalistic Hadith Narrations

There are so many fatalistic hadiths in this section that, from the face of it, it appears that they prove fatalism. But the section against fatalism later will also be supported by numerous hadiths.

Narrated Abū Hurayra:

The Prophet (ﷺ) said, "Moses argued with Adam and said to him (Adam), 'You are the one who got the people out of Paradise by your sin, and thus made them miserable." Adam replied, 'O Moses! You are the one whom Allah selected for His Message and for His direct talk. Yet you blame me for a thing which Allah had ordained for me before He created me?" Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) further said, "So Adam overcame Moses by this Argument."

Sahih al-Bukhari Vol. 6, Book 60, Hadith 262

This hadith comes from a single Companion. It does not have to be interpreted fatalistically; perhaps Adam was specially destined to make his error. That does not prove the same applies to all human choices. There is a weaker version of this hadith from ʿUmar b. al-Khaṭṭāb.

The following narration is from ʿAlī b. Abū Ṭālib:

We were accompanying a funeral procession in Baqi Al-Gharqad (graveyard in Al-Madinah) when the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) proceeded towards us and sat down. We sat around him. He had a small stick in his hand. He was bending down his head and scraping the ground with the stick. He said, "There is none among you but has a place assigned for him either in Paradise or in Hell." The Companions said: "O Messenger of Allah, should we not depend upon what has been written for us (and give up doing good deeds)?'' The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said, "Carry on doing good deeds. Every one will find it easy to do such deeds (as will lead him to his destined place) for which he has been created."

Al-Bukhari and Muslim, mentioned in Riyad as-Salihin Book 7, Hadith 945

This hadith only comes from ʿAlī. As other narrations will show later, even if someone is destined for Paradise or Hell, that does not mean this destiny cannot change. Therefore even if our place in Paradise or Hell is decided right now, if we choose to be good or evil later on, that place may change. This hadith therefore does not necessarily imply fatalism.

The next hadith is from ʿImrān b. Ḥuṣayn:

Has there been drawn a distinction between the people of Paradise and the denizens of hell? [The Prophet ] said: Yes. It was again said: (If it is so), then what is the use of doing good deeds? Thereupon he said: Everyone is facilitated in what has been created for him.

Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 2649 a

This hadith, despite being in Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim (a shorter version is also in Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 7551) has Yazīd b. Shurayk al-Ẓubbaʿī in all of its chains of transmitters, who was considered weak by Yaḥyā b. Muʿīn according to Ibn ʿUlayya and as being below the degree of authenticity by Abū Aḥmad al-Ḥākim. Below is a diagram of all existing chains of this hadith:

This hadith only comes from one Companion through a precarious chain. We have to take Muʿtarrif b. ʿAbdallah’s word for it that ʿImrān b. Ḥuṣayn really said that, and we have to take Yazīd b. Shurayk al-Ẓubbaʿī’s word for it that Muʿtarrif b. ʿAbdallah said that.

The next one is from Saʿd b. Mālik:

عَنْ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ قَالَ : مَا مِنْ نَفْسٍ إِلَّا وَقَدْ كَتَبَ اللَّهُ مَدْخَلَهَا وَمَخْرَجَهَا وَمَا هِيَ لَاقِيَةٌ ، فَقَالَ رَجُلٌ مِنَ الْأَنْصَارِ : فَفِيمَ الْعَمَلُ يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ ؟ قَالَ : اعْمَلُوا فَكُلٌّ مُيَسَّرٌ ، مَنْ كَانَ مِنْ أَهْلِ الْجَنَّةِ يُيَسِّرُهُ لِعَمَلِ أَهْلِهَا ، وَمَنْ كَانَ مِنْ أَهْلِ النَّارِ يُيَسِّرُهُ لِعَمَلِ أَهْلِهَا ، قَالَ : فَقَالَ الْأَنْصَارِيُّ : الْآنَ حَقَّ الْعَمَلُ

The Prophet said: "There is not a soul except that God has written for it its entrance and exit and what he will face." So a man from al-Ansar said: "So what is the purpose of deeds O Messenger of God?" He said, "Do [good] deeds for each person is eased [toward their destiny]. Whoever is of the people of Paradise is eased toward the deeds of its people, and whoever is of the people of Hell is eased toward the deeds of its people." So the man from al-Ansar said, "Now deeds have become obligatory [i.e. now the truth of the need to do good deeds has been shown]."

Al-Bayhaqī, al-Qadar 39

This hadith has Aḥmad b. Rusta in its chain, who is unknown.

This hadith is narrated by Surāqa b. Mālik:

قَالَ : فَحُدِّثْنَا عَنْ دِينِنَا هَذَا كَأَنَّا خُلِقْنَا لَهُ السَّاعَةَ نَعْمَلُ لِشَيْءٍ قَدْ جَرَتْ بِهِ الْمَقَادِيرُ وَجَفَّتْ بِهِ الْأَقْلَامُ أَمْ لِشَيْءٍ يُسْتَقْبَلُ ؟ قَالَ : بَلْ لِشَيْءٍ قَدْ جَرَتْ بِهِ الْمَقَادِيرُ ، وَجَفَّتْ بِهِ الْأَقْلَامُ ، قَالَ : فَفِيمَ الْعَمَلُ يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ ؟ قَالَ : اعْمَلُوا فَكُلٌّ مُيَسَّرٌ لِمَا خُلِقَ ، قَالَ : ثُمَّ قَرَأَ الْآيَةَ { فَأَمَّا مَنْ أَعْطَى وَاتَّقَى وَصَدَّقَ بِالْحُسْنَى } إِلَى آخِرِ الْآيَةِ

We were told about this religion of ours as if had been created for it this hour. "Do we work for something whose measures/predestination has come to be and from which the pens have dried, or do we [work for] something to be looked forward to [in the future]?" [the Prophet ] said, "No, rather for something that whose measure/predestination has come to be and from which the pens have dried." He said, "So what are deeds for?" He said, "Do good deeds, because everyone is eased toward that which he has been created for." Then he recited the verse, "As for him who gives, fears God and affirms the truth of the good..." to the end of the verse.

Al-Bayhaqī, al-Qadar 40

This hadith has Abū al-Zubayr Muḥammad b. Muslim in its chain, who is considered a non-hujja by Abū Ḥatim al-Rāzī, meaning his hadiths are not reliable enough to be used as proof-texts in legal debates. Sufyān b. ʿUyayna also appears to consider him weak.

Al-Bayhaqī in al-Qadar 390 mentions a similar narration that has ʿAṭṭāf b. Khālid in its chain who is considered weak by al-Dāraquṭnī. It also has an unknown person in its chain called Ṭalḥa b. ʿAbdallah b. ʿAbd al-Raḥmān. It also has Muḥammad b. Aḥmad b. Saʿīd al-Rāzī who is unknown and considered weak by al-Dāraquṭnī.

Next is the following strange hadith from ʿAbdallah b. ʿAmr:

The Messenger of Allah (s.a.w) came out to us with two books in hand. And he said: "Do you know what these two books are?" We said: "No, O Messenger of Allah! Unless you inform us." He said about the one that was in his right hand: "This is a book from the Lord of the worlds, in it are the names of the people of Paradise, and the name of their fathers and their tribes. Then there is a summary at the end of them, there being no addition to them nor deduction from them forever." Then he said about the one that was in his left: "This is a book from the Lord of the worlds, in it are the names of the people of Fire, and the name of their fathers and their tribes. Then there is a summary at the end of them, there being no addition to them nor deduction from them forever.' The companions said: 'So why work O Messenger of Allah! Since the matter is already decided (and over)?' He said: 'Seek to do what is right and draw nearer, for indeed the inhabitant of Paradise, shall have his work sealed off with the deeds of the people of Paradise, whichever deeds he did. And indeed the inhabitant of Fire, shall have his work sealed off with the deeds of the people of Fire, whichever deeds he did.' Then the Messenger of Allah motioned with his hands, casting them down and said: 'Your Lord finished with the slaves, a group in Paradise, and a group in the Blazing Fire."

Al-Bayhaqī, al-Qadar 41, Al-Tirmidhī Vol. 4, Book 6, Hadith 2141

This hadith has Abū Qābil Ḥuyay b. Hāniʾ in its chain who is considered weak by multiple scholars. Another version comes from Saʿīd b. Sinān who is also weak.

Below is a second hadith from ʿAbdallah b. ʿAmr:

 قَالَ : دَخَلْتُ عَلَى عَبْدِ اللَّهِ بْنِ عَمْرِو بْنِ الْعَاصِ وَهُوَ فِي حَائِطٍ لَهُ بِالطَّائِفِ فَذَكَرَ حَدِيثًا طَوِيلًا . قَالَ : وَسَمِعْتُ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ قَالَ : إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ خَلَقَ خَلْقَهُ فِي ظُلْمَةٍ ، ثُمَّ أَلْقَى عَلَيْهِمْ مِنْ نُورِهِ ، فَمَنْ أَصَابَهُ مِنْ ذَلِكَ النُّورِ يَوْمَئِذٍ شَيْءٌ اهْتَدَى ، وَمَنْ أَخْطَأَهُ ضَلَّ ، فَلِذَلِكَ أَقُولُ : جَفَّ الْقَلَمُ عَلَى عِلْمِ اللَّهِ

I entered upon ʿAbdallah b. ʿAmr b. al-ʿĀṣ while he was in a garden of his in al-Ṭāʾif, so he mentioned a long hadith. He said, "And I heard the Prophet say, 'God, Mighty and High is He, created His creation in darkness. Then He threw on them from His light. So whoever was struck by any of that light then he is guided. And whoever it missed became misguided. So that is why I said, 'The pen has dried upon God's knowledge.'"

Al-Bayhaqī, al-Qadar 43

This hadith comes entirely from trustworthy transmitters, but it comes only from one Companion, through a single transmitter ʿAbdullah b. Fayrūz al-Daylamī. In another hadith from the same transmitter as above, this same Companion denies that he has said a person is either wretched or blessed from his mother’s womb:

قُلْتُ لِعَبْدِ اللَّهِ بْنِ عَمْرٍو إِنَّهُ بَلَغَنِي أَنَّكَ تُحَدِّثُ أَنَّ الشَّقِيَّ مَنْ شَقِيَ فِي بَطْنِ أُمِّهِ ، فَقَالَ : أَمَا إِنِّي لَا أُحِلُّ لِأَحَدٍ أَنْ يَكْذِبَ عَلَيَّ ، إِنِّي سَمِعْتُ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ يَقُولُ : إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ خَلَقَ خَلْقَهُ فِي ظُلْمَةٍ ثُمَّ أَلْقَى عَلَيْهِمْ نُورًا مِنْ نُورِهِ ، فَمَنْ أَصَابَهُ شَيْءٌ مِنْ ذَلِكَ النُّورِ اهْتَدَى ، وَمَنْ أَخْطَأَهُ ضَلَّ

I said to ʿAbdallah b. ʿAmr that I have heard you say that a person is wretched who is wretched from his mothers womb. He said, "I do not allow anyone to make up lies in my name. I heard the Prophet said, 'God, Mighty and High is He, created His creation in darkness. Then He threw on them from His light. So whoever was struck by any of that light then he is guided. And whoever it missed became misguided.'"

Musnad al-Ṭayālisī 2394

It appears that ʿAbdallah b. ʿAmr is only denying having said that without denying its meaning, since what he says above is still fatalistic. Since both fatalistic hadiths come only from one Companion, only through ʿAbdullah b. Fayrūz al-Daylamī, they are not strong enough to be used as conclusive proofs.

Next is a hadith that comes from many Companions:

On the day He created Adam, God grabbed his offspring in two handfuls. All good ones fell into His right hand and all evil ones into His other hand. He then said, "Those who are the companions of the right and I do not care. They will enter Paradise. And those are the companions of the Hellfire."

However, none of the versions are actually very authentic:

  • The version from the Companion Abū Mūsa al-Ashʿarī has Yazīd al-Raqāshī in its chain of transmitter who is a weak transmitter. (Al-Ṭabarāni, al-Muʿjam al-Awṣat 11431)
  • The version from the Companion Abū al-Dardāʾ has Abū al-Rabīʿ Sulaymān b. ʿUtba who was considered weak by Yaḥya b. Muʿīn. (Musnad Aḥmad 26870)
  • The version from the Companion Muʿādh b. Jabal has the weak transmitter Barāʾ al-Ghanawī. (Musnad Aḥmad 21597)
  • The version from ʿAbd al-Raḥmān b. Qatāda al-Sulamī has Rāshid b. Saʿd who was considered weak by Ibn Ḥazm. (Ṣaḥīh Ibn Ḥibbān 339)
  • The versions from Anas has al-Ḥakam b. Sinān who is a weak narrator. (Musnad Abī Yaʿlā 3359, 3328)
  • The version from Abū Bakr al-Ṣiddīq has Fiṭr b. Khalīfa who was considered weak by Abū Dawūd and al-Juzjāni. (Al-Jāmiʿ li-Muʿammar b. Rāshid 701; al-Bayhaqi, al-Qadar 391)
  • The version from ʿUmar b. al-Khaṭṭāb has Muslim b. Yasār in it, who is unknown.
  • The version from Hishām b. al-Ḥakīm was transmitted by Rāshid b. Saʿd, who was considered weak by Ibn Ḥazm. It also has ʿAbdallāh b. Ṣāliḥ who was severely criticized and considered untrustworthy by many scholars (Al-Bayhaqī, al-Qadar 226). Another version of it comes through Baqīya b. al-Walīd who was considered a performer of tadl$is from weak narrators (he heard something from a weak narrator then said he heard it from a trustworthy person). Al-Bayhaqī himself says he is not a ḥujja (his hadiths are not strong enough to be used as proof-texts in legal debates). (Al-Bayhaqī, al-Qadar 227) Another version of it comes through Isḥāq b. Ibrāhīm b. al-ʿUlāʾ who was considered unreliable by al-Nasāʾī and Abū Dawūd.

The next hadith is from ʿĀʾisha:

ʿĀʾisha, the mother of the believers, said that Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) was called to lead the funeral prayer of a child of the Ansar. I said:
Allah's Messenger, there is happiness for this child who is a bird from the birds of Paradise for it committed no sin nor has he reached the age when one can commit sin. He said: ʿĀʾisha, per perhaps it may be otherwise, because God created for Paradise those who are fit for it while they were yet in their father's loins and created for Hell those who are to go to Hell. He created them for Hell while they were yet in their father's loins.

Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 2662 c

This hadith only comes to us through Ṭalḥa b. Yaḥyā, who is described by al-Bukhārī as munkar al-ḥadīth, meaning he narrates unique narrations that contain information not corroborated by any other hadiths, which is a cause for doubting his authenticity. Al-Qaṭṭān and al-Sājī described him as laysa bi-l-qawī (“not strong”), meaning that his hadiths are not of the highest quality (i.e. not saḥīḥ).

Next is a hadith that seems to completely contradict divine wisdom and justice:

قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ : هَؤُلَاءِ لِلْجَنَّةِ وَلَا أُبَالِي ، وَهَؤُلَاءِ لِلنَّارِ وَلَاأُبَالِي

The Prophet said, "[God said], 'Those are for Paradise and I do not care. And those are for the Fire and I do not care.'"

Al-Bayhaqi, al-Qadar, 54

This hadith has various versions and mentions that right after the creation of Adam, all of his offspring were brought forth and God divided them into the dwellers of Paradise and Hell before they were even born. The one above is transmitted by Naṣr b. Aḥmad b. Abī Ṣura al-Marwazī who is unknown and therefore cannot be relied on.

  • There is another version from Abū al-Dardāʾ’ (Musnad Aḥmad 26870) which has Abū al-Rabīʿ Sulaymān b. ʿUtba in its chain who was unknown and considered unreliable by Yaḥyā b. Muʿīn.
  • Another version mentioned a Companion named Abū ʿAbdallāh (Musnad Aḥmad 17250) which contains Abū Naḍra Mundhir b. Mālik who is known to have become unreliable in his memory in his old age. The hadith is strange in that it does not mention who heard the Prophet say his statement to Abū ʿAbdallāh, as if there is an anonymous hearer involved, which suggests that Abū Naḍra heard it from some anonymous source.
  • Another version from Muʿādh b. Jabal has the weak transmitter Barāʾ b. ʿAbdallāh al-Ghanawī (Musnad Aḥmad 21597).
  • The version from ʿAbd al-Raḥmān b. Qatāda al-Sulāmī has Muʿawiya b. Ṣaliḥ, who was considered not reliable enough for his narrations to be used as proof-texts by Abū Ḥatim al-Rāzī while Qaṭṭān and Yaḥyā b. Muʿīn considered his narrations unacceptable. It also has Rashīd b. Saʿd who was considered unreliable by Ibn Ḥazm.
  • The version from Abū Musā al-Ashʿarī has Yazīd b. Abān al-Raqāshī, who was considered matrūk (so unreliable that his hadiths should be abandoned) by al-Nasāʾī and Abū Aḥmad al-Ḥākim al-Kabīr (al-Ṭabarānī, al-Muʿjam al-Awsaṭ 11431)
  • The version from Anas has al-Ḥakam b. Sinān who is a weak transmitter. (Musnad Abū Yaʿlā al-Mawṣlī, 3359)
  • The version from Abū Bakr al-Ṣiddīq has Fiṭr b. Khalīfa who was considered weak by Abū Dawūd and Abū Saʿīd b. Yūnus al-Miṣrī. (Muʿammar b. al-Rāshid, al-Jāmiʿ 701)

Another version simply says:

Those are for that and those are for that. Then the people divided into groups, but they do not differ in predestination (qadar).

Al-Bayhaqi, al-Qadar, 53

This version has Muḥammad b. ʿAbdallāh b. al-Zubayr who is known to make errors in his transmissions from Sufyān al-Thawrī, and this hadith happens to be a transmission from Sufyān al-Thawrī.

We also have this extremely fatalistic hadith from Ibn Masʿūd, dealt with in the summary above:

ʿAbdallāh b. Masʿūd said :
The Messenger of Allah (May ) who spoke the truth and whose word was belief told us the following : The constituents of one of you are collected for forty days in his mother’s womb, then they become a piece of congealed blood for a similar period, then they become a lump of flesh for a similar period. Then Allah sends to him an angel with four words who records his provision the period of his life, his deeds, and whether he will be miserable or blessed ; thereafter he breathes the spirit into him. One of you will do the deeds of those who go to Paradise so that there will be only a cubit between him and it or will be within a cubit, then what is decreed will overcome him so that he will do the deeds of those who go to Hell and will enter it; and one of you will do the deeds of those who go to hell, so that there will be only a cubit between him and it or will be within a cubit, then what is decreed will overcome him, so that he will do the deeds of those who go to Paradise and will enter it.

Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 2645 a, a version is also in al-Bukhārī 7056

Its chain is fully authentic. A shorter version version of it comes from Anas:

Narrated Anas bin Malik:

The Prophet (ﷺ) said, "At every womb Allah appoints an angel who says, 'O Lord! A drop of semen, O Lord! A clot. O Lord! A little lump of flesh." Then if Allah wishes (to complete) its creation, the angel asks, (O Lord!) Will it be a male or female, a wretched or a blessed, and how much will his provision be? And what will his age be?' So all that is written while the child is still in the mother's womb."

Ṣaḥīh al-Bukhārī 318

The chain of this one is also fully authentic.

There is another version from Hudhayfa b. Usayd (al-Albāni, Ṣaḥīh al-Jāmiʿ al-Ṣaghīr wa-Ziyādatuhu 797) that lacks any mention of wretchedness or blessedness, and lacks mention of God determining his actions beforehand. Another version from Hudhayfa b. Usayd (al-Albāni, Ṣaḥīh al-Jāmiʿ al-Ṣaghīr wa-Ziyādatuhu 1984) says at the end “Then God makes him (yajʿaluhu) wretched or blessed”, which leaves room for interpreting it as a reference to divine guidance throughout a person’s life. Another version of his is as fatalistic as Ibn Mas’ud’s:

Hudhayfa b. Usayd reported directly from Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) that he said:

When the drop of (semen) remains in the womb for forty or fifty (days) or forty nights, the angel comes and says: My Lord, will he be good or evil? And both these things would be written. Then the angel says: My Lord, would he be male or female? And both these things are written. And his deeds and actions, his death, his livelihood; these are also recorded. Then his document of destiny is rolled and there is no addition to nor subtraction from it.

Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 2644

Hudhayfa b. Usayd’s non-fatalistic version could have been the original statement of the Prophet that was later enlarged by adding the fatalistic meanings. But I admit that this is one of the strongest pieces of evidence for the fatalistic argument.

Another fatalistic hadith from Abū al-Dardāʾ says:

فَرَغَ اللَّهُ إِلَى كُلِّ عَبْدٍ مِنْ خَمْسٍ ، مِنْ أَجَلِهِ وَمِنْ عَمَلِهِ وَرِزْقِهِ وَأَثَرِهِ وَمَضْجَعِهِ ، لَا يَتَعَدَّاهُنَّ عَبْدٌ

God has finished [dealing with five things in regards to His servant]: the timing of his death, his work, his provision, his footprint and his place of death. He will never be able to transgress these.

Al-Bayhaqi, al-Qadar, 64

This hadith is authentic but only comes from one Companion, through one transmitter.

Another hadith from Ubayy b. Kaʿb says:

إِنَّ الْغُلَامَ الَّذِي قَتَلَهُ الْخَضِرُ طُبِعَ كَافِرًا ، وَلَوْ عَاشَ لَأَرْهَقَ أَبَوَيْهِ طُغْيَانًا وَكُفْرًا

The boy who was killed by Khidr had been sealed with disbelief. If he had lived he would have overwhelmed his parents to with oppression and disbelief.

Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 2662 a

This hadith comes only from one Companion. It can be given a non-fatalistic interpretation: the boy may have been a few years past puberty (when a person becomes responsible for their deeds) and may have already committed so many evil deeds that his heart had been sealed by God. The Quranic verse, however, suggests that his death was based on a probabilistic judgment of his future evil nature, because it says “we feared”, rather than “we knew”, that he would overwhelm them with oppression and disbelief.

As for the boy, his parents were believers, and we feared he would overwhelm them with oppression and disbelief.

The Quran, verse 18:80

Another version from the same Companion takes away all fatalism:

وَكَانَ يَوْمَ طُبِعَ كَافِرًا

That day he was sealed with disbelief.

Sunan Abi Dawud 4706

Rather than saying he was sealed with disbelief from birth, it says he was sealed with disbelief on that day. This hadith comes from an authentic chain (authenticated by al-Albānī), but it has Isrāʾīl b. Yūnus who was widely considered authentic but considered unauthentic by Ibn Ḥazm and ʿAlī b. al-Madīnī.

Another fatalistic hadith from Ibn ʿAbbās says:

خَلَقَ اللَّهُ فِرْعَوْنَ فِي بَطْنِ أُمِّهِ كَافِرًا ، وَخَلَقَ يَحْيَى بْنَ زَكَرِيَّا فِي بَطْنِ أُمِّهِ مُؤْمِنًا

God created Pharaoh in his mother's womb as a disbeliever, and He created John son of Zechariah in his mother's womb as a believer.

Al-Bayhaqi, al-Qadar 69

This hadith has Yāhya b. Baṣtam in its chain who was considered unreliable by al-Bukhārī and Ibn Ḥibbān. Another version of it comes through Ayyūb b. Khawṭ in it who is also weak (al-Bayhaqī, al-Qadar 69). Another version of it comes from Ibn Masʿūd but comes through Naṣr b. Ṭarīf who is weak (al-Bayhaqī,, al-Qadar 70). Another version from Ibn Masʿūd has the weak narrator Abū Umayya b. al-Hābaṭī (al-Bayhaqī, al-Qadar 71). Another version has ʿUmar b. Ibrāhīm who is not perfectly authentic, it also has Shādh b. Fayyāḍ who is known to transmit munkar (unusual and doubtful) narrations through this type of chain. Another version also has ʿUmar b. Ibrāhīm and his son al-Khalīl b. ʿUmar b. Ibrāhīm whose hadiths from his father are also considered munkar. Another version of this hadith (al-Bayhaqī, al-Qadar 72) from Ibn Masʿūd comes through Abū Hilāl Muḥammad b. Sulaym al-Rāsī who is considered weak by Daraquṭnī and al-Qaṭṭān.

Another fatalistic hadith from Ibn Masʿūd starts with:

 الْعَبْدُ يُولَدُ مُؤْمِنًا وَيَعِيشُ مُؤْمِنًا وَيَمُوتُ مُؤْمِنًا ، وَالْعَبْدُ يُولَدُ كَافِرًا وَيَعِيشُ كَافِرًا وَيَمُوتُ كَافِرًا...

The servant is born a believer, lives as a believer and dies a believer, and the servant is born a disbeliever, lives as a disbeliever, and dies a disbeliever.

Al-Bayhaqī, al-Qadar 71

This hadith also comes from Shādh b. Fayyāḍ through ʿUmar b. Ibrāhīm, both of whom are of doubtful reliability.

Another fatalistic hadith from Abū Hurayra says:

The happy [in the afterlife] is the one who is happy from his mother's womb.

Al-Bayhaqī, al-Qadar 74

This hadith is authentic. But this statement only comes only from the two Companions Ibn Masʿūd and Abū Hurayra through questionable chains. Most hadiths attribute the saying to Ibn Masʿūd himself rather than the Prophet . The version from Abū Hurayra comes from a rather precarious chain:

This hadith only comes through the fourth transmitter above, making it rather doubtful. The version from Ibn Masʿūd is even worse (Ibn Māja 45). Its chain has Abū al-Aḥwaṣ ʿAwf b. Mālik who was a mudallis. The chain also has Abū Isḥāq ʿAmr b. ʿAbdallāh, another mudallis whose memory weakened in old age. It also has a third mudallis Musā b. ʿUqba. It also has the unknown transmitter ʿUbayd b. Maymūn. Both versions are therefore quite unworthy of relying on.

Another hadith from ʿĀʾisha says:

إِنَّ الرَّجُلَ لَيَعْمَلُ بِعَمَلِ أَهْلِ الْجَنَّةِ وَإِنَّهُ لَمَكْتُوبٌ فِي الْكِتَابِ إِنَّهُ مِنْ أَهْلِ النَّارِ ، فَإِذَا كَانَ قَبْلَ مَوْتِهِ تَحَوَّلَ فَيَعْمَلُ بِعَمَلِ أَهْلِ النَّارِ فَمَاتَ ، فَدَخَلَ النَّارَ ، وَإِنَّ الرَّجُلَ لَيَعْمَلُ بِعَمَلِ أَهْلِ النَّارِ وَإِنَّهُ لَمَكْتُوبٌ فِي الْكِتَابِ إِنَّهُ مِنْ أَهْلِ الْجَنَّةِ ، فَإِذَا كَانَ قَبْلَ مَوْتِهِ تَحَوَّلَ فَيَعْمَلُ بِعَمَلِ أَهْلِ الْجَنَّةِ ، فَدَخَلَ الْجَنَّةَ

A person performs the deeds of a person of Paradise while he is written in the Book as a person of Hell. Before his death he reverts and performs the deeds of the people of Hell, so when he dies he enters Hell. [And vice versa]

Al-Bayhaqi, al-Qadar 80

This hadith only comes through the little-known narrator Ashʿath b. Hilāl al-Jurjānī and for this reason it is doubtful. Another version of it comes from the weak narrator ʿUbaydallāh b. ʿAbd al-Raḥmān b. Mawhib (al-Bayhaqī, al-Qadar 79).

The next hadith is from the Companion al-ʿUrs b. ʿUmayra:

سَمِعْتُ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ يَقُولُ : إِنَّ الْعَبْدَ مِنْ عِبَادِ اللَّهِ لَيَعْمَلُ بِعَمَلِ أَهْلِ الْجَنَّةِ الْبُرْهَةَ مِنْ دَهْرِهِ ، فَتُعْرَضُ لَهُ الْجَادَّةُ مِنْ جَوَادِّ النَّارِ ، فَيَعْمَلُ بِهَا حَتَّى يَمُوتَ عَلَيْهَا وَذَلِكَ مَا كُتِبَ لَهُ . وَإِنَّ الْعَبْدَ مِنْ عِبَادِ اللَّهِ لَيَعْمَلُ بِعَمَلِ أَهْلِ النَّارِ الْبُرْهَةَ مِنْ دَهْرِهِ ، فَتُعْرَضُ لَهُ الْجَادَّةُ مِنْ جَوَادِّ الْجَنَّةِ ، فَيَعْمَلُ بِهَا حَتَّى يَمُوتَ عَلَيْهَا وَذَلِكَ لِمَا كُتِبَ لَهُ

I heard the Messenger of God say, "The servant among the servants of God performs the deeds of the people of Paradise for a period of his lifetime. Then a road of the roads of Hell are presented to him so that he performs acts according to it and dies in that state, and that is because of what has been decreed for him [by God]. [And vice versa]

Al-Bayhaqi, al-Qadar 82

This hadith’s chain has Yūsuf b. Yazīd who is considered to have had a weak memory, to make numerous errors and to have little knowledge of hadith. It also has Saʿīd b. Kathīr b. ʿUfayr who confused and mixed up narrations according to ʿAlī b. al-Madīnī. It also has the little-known transmitter Muḥammad b. ʿAbd al-Ḥakam b. Yazīd al-Ramlī.

The next hadith is from ʿAbdallāh b. ʿUmar b. al-Khaṭṭāb:

جَاءَ أَهْلُ نَجْرَانَ إِلَى النَّبِيِّ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ فَقَالُوا : الْآجَالُ وَالْأَرْزَاقُ تُقَدَّرُ ، وَالْأَعْمَالُ إِلَيْنَا . فَأَنْزَلَ اللَّهُ تَبَارَكَ وَتَعَالَى : { إِنَّ الْمُجْرِمِينَ فِي ضَلَالٍ وَسُعُرٍ } إِلَى قَوْلِهِ : { كُلَّ شَيْءٍ خَلَقْنَاهُ بِقَدَرٍ }إِلَى قَوْلِهِ : { وَكُلُّ صَغِيرٍ وَكَبِيرٍ مُسْتَطَرٌ }

The people of Najran came to the Prophet and said, "The death-timings and the provisions are decreed, but deeds are ours." So God sent down: "The wicked are in confusion and madness." to His saying, "Everything we created with a qadar." to His saying, "And everything, small or great, is written."

Al-Bayhaqi, al-Qadar 113

This hadith comes through al-Hudhayl b. Bilāl al-Madāʾinī, who was considered weak by Yaḥyā b. Muʿīn, Abū Dawūd, al-Nasāʾī and al-Daraquṭnī.

لَمَّا أَنْزَلَ اللَّهُ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ عَلَى رَسُولِهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ : { لِمَنْ شَاءَ مِنْكُمْ أَنْ يَسْتَقِيمَ } قَالُوا : الْأَمْرُ إِلَيْنَا إِنْ شِئْنَا اسْتَقَمْنَا ، وَإِنْ شِئْنَا لَمْ نَسْتَقِمْ . فَأَنْزَلَ اللَّهُ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ : { وَمَا تَشَاءُونَ إِلَّا أَنْ يَشَاءَ اللَّهُ رَبُّ الْعَالَمِينَ }

When God, Mighty and He is He, sent down upon His messenger : "For whoever among you who wishes to be upright", they said, "The matter is [in our hands]. If we wish we will be upright, and if we wish we will not be upright." So God sent down, "You do not will [a thing] except that God, the Lord of the Worlds, wills it."

Al-Bayhaqi, al-Qadar 116

This hadith comes from the transmitter Mālik b. Sulaymān who is considered weak by Abū Dawūd, al-Nasāʾī and al-Daraquṭnī. It also has an incomplete (mursal) chain of narrators since the first transmitter does not mention which Companion he heard it from. The chain also has Baqqiya b. al-Walīd, who is known to perform tadlīs from untrustworthy transmitters (he says he heard something from a trusted person but actually heard an untrustworthy person say that he heard it from a trustworthy person). The chain also has Muhammad b. Muṣaffā who is another performer of tadlīs and who is known to err often.

Narration 128 in al-Bayhaqī’s al-Qadar mentions the angels Gabriel, Michael and Isrāfīl arguing on the issue of qadar leading to a fatalistic conclusion. The hadith is unreliable: it has the transmitter Jaʿfar b. Muḥammad who was considered unreliable by Sufyan b. ʿUyayna and al-Wāqidī. The chain also has Abū Muslim Muḥammad b. al-Zubayr who was mentioned by Sufyan b. ʿUyayna and al-Sakhtiyānī as if they considered him unreliable.

Al-Bayhaqī in hadiths 134, 135 and 139 in his al-Qadar presents authentic narrations all of which say that belief in qadar, “its good and its bad”, is obligatory on a Muslim. The hadiths do not have a fatalistic meaning.

In hadith 149, al-Bayhaqī mentions a long fatalistic hadith that mentions the respected Successor Saʿīd b. al-Musayyab getting angry when someone says humans have free will to do good or evil. He narrates a Prophetic statement that says humans are created either for Paradise or Hell [from birth]. This hadith comes through the unknown transmitter ʿAṭīya b. ʿAṭīya and al-Dhahabī says it is a fabricated hadith.

In al-Qadar 306, al-Bayhaqī mentions a shorter version of this hadith from a different chain. The chain has ʿAmr b. Shuʿayb who is considered to be below the degree of authenticity by Abū Ḥātim al-Rāzī. The hadith also has ʿAbdallah b. Lahīʿa who is widely considered weak.

In al-Qadar 309, al-Bayhaqī mentions a narration from ʿUmar b. al-Khaṭṭāb in which he implies that God creates people for Paradise or Hell from birth. Its chain has Khālid b. al-Ḥadhdhāʾ who is considered not reliable enough for his hadiths to be used as proof-texts by Abū Ḥātim al-Rāzī. The chain also has Abū Bakr b. Isḥāq al-Faqīh who is unknown and whose hadiths are munkar (unique and doubtful) according to al-Bukhārī.

The hadith below appears to be fatalistic, but it actually can be used to argue against fatalism:

Narrated Abū Hurayra:

I said, "O Allah's Messenger (ﷺ)! I am a young man and I am afraid that I may commit illegal sexual intercourse and I cannot afford to marry." He kept silent, and then repeated my question once again, but he kept silent. I said the same (for the third time) and he remained silent. Then repeated my question (for the fourth time), and only then the Prophet said, "O Abu Hurayra! The pen has dried after writing what you are going to confront. So (it does not matter whether you) get yourself castrated or not."

Ṣaḥīh al-Bukhārī 5076

The Prophet says that what Abū Hurayra is going to face in life is already written. Yet he admits that Abū Hurayra has a choice in whether he castrates himself or not. This could actually be an affirmation of his free will. This hadith comes through Yūnus b. Yazīd who erred often in his narrations from al-Zuhrī (this one is such a narration) according to Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal. Another in the chain, ʿAbdallāh b. Wahb, was known to be a performer of tadlīs. This evidence is not sufficient to consider the hadith weak, but its chain is low-quality.

Next is a hadith from Ibn ʿAbbās:

I did not see anything so resembling minor sins as what Abū Hurayra said from the Prophet, who said, "Allah has written for the son of Adam his inevitable share of adultery whether he is aware of it or not: The adultery of the eye is the looking (at something which is sinful to look at), and the adultery of the tongue is to utter (what it is unlawful to utter), and the innerself wishes and longs for (adultery) and the private parts turn that into reality or refrain from submitting to the temptation."

Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 6612

This hadith is authentic, but it only comes from Abū Hurayra through a precarious chain:

A version comes directly from Abū Hurayra (Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 2658 a) but through Suhayl b. Abū Ṣāliḥ who was considered weak by al-Dāraquṭnī.

Narrated Ibn ʿUmar:

The Prophet (ﷺ) forbade vowing and said, "In fact, vowing does not prevent anything, but it makes a miser spend his property."

Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 6608

Another version of it comes from Abū Hurayra and explicitly mentions qadar:

Do not take vows, for a vow has no effect against qadar; it is only from the miserly that something is extracted.

Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 1640 a

Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī also has a hadith with the same meaning from Abū Hurayra (Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 6609) with a stronger chain. The authenticity of both hadiths seems established. But since no other Companions mention it, it falls short of the gold-standard of four Companions. And since vowing was very common in Arabia, it is strange that there are not any more hadiths where the Prophet forbids vowing.

However, assuming it is authentic, we can still give it a non-fatalistic interpretation. If we assume the possibility of change in qadar (as the Prophet affirms in other narrations), the Prophet is saying we cannot counter God’s qadar with vows. This does not mean that it does not have an influence on what God decrees. It is also likely that the Prophet was not laying down a theological idea but trying to discourage people from a practice he disliked. The Prophet is saying we cannot force God to do anything through vows (perhaps people assumed vows were binding on God). The Prophet is not necessarily stating that vows cannot have an influence on qadar if and when God chooses.

The next hadith (al-Bayhaqī, al-Qadar, 230) is authentic and from Ibn ʿAbbās. He says the Prophet said nothing will befall him except that which God has written for him, and that “the scrolls have dried and the pens have been lifted.” This hadith sounds fatalistic, but since it only mentions what befalls a person (rather than what they will do in life), it cannot be used to support fatalism with certainty. The Prophet may also be saying that, at this moment, the scrolls have dried and the pens have been lifted rather than saying there can never be any change in qadar in the future.

Next is a hadith that mentions multiple Companions:

Ibn al-Daylamī said :
I went to Ubayy b. Kaʿb and said him : I am confused about qadar, so tell me something by means of which Allah may remove the confusion from my mind. He replied : were Allah to punish everyone in the heavens and in the earth. He would do so without being unjust to them, and were he to show mercy to them his mercy would be much better than their actions merited. Were you to spend in support of Allah’s cause an amount of gold equivalent to Uḥud, Allah would not accept it from you till you believed in divine decree and knew that what has come to you could not miss you and that what has missed you could not come to you. Were you to die believing anything else you would enter Hell. He said : I then went to ʿAbdallāh b. Masʿūd and he said something to the same effect. I next went to Hudhayfa b. al-Yamān and he said something to the same effect. I next went to Zayd b. Thābit who told me something from the Prophet (May ) to the same effect.

Sunan Abī Dawūd 4699

This hadith has Muhammad b. Kathīr in its chain, who is considered weak by Yaḥyā b. Muʿīn, al-Jīlī and al-Baghdādī. A different version of it is narrated by al-Bayhaqī in al-Qadar 305. This hadith has Muʿāwiya b. Ṣāliḥ in its chain, whose hadiths cannot be used as proof-texts according to Abū Ḥātim al-Rāzī. It also has his son ʿAbdallāh b. Ṣāliḥ who has a worse reputation than his father. Al-Nasāʾī says he is not trustworthy and Ibn al-Madīnī said he avoids all narrations from him.

This hadith is therefore not high-quality. It also does not actually support fatalism since the Companions only affirm the meaning of qadar that is accepted by both sides. However, their saying that it would be just if God was to punish everyone in the heavens and the earth is strange and questionable. In al-Qadar 414 al-Bayhaqī mentions another version of this hadith with a weaker chain. The chain has Hishām b. Saʿd who was widely considered to be weak. It also has Saʿīd b. Hilāl who was considered below authentic by Ibn Ḥazm.

ʿUbāda b. al-Ṣāmit said to his son :
Son! You will not get the taste of the reality of faith until you know that what has come to you could not miss you, and that what has missed you could not come to you. I heard the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) say: The first thing Allah created was the pen. He said to it: Write. It asked: What should I write, my Lord? He said: Write what was decreed about everything till the Last Hour comes. Son! I heard the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) say : He who dies on something other than this does not belong to me.

Sunan Abi Dawud 4700 (sahih according to al-Albani)

The last transmitter of the above hadith is considered to have erred sometimes. Otherwise the hadith has an authentic chain. It does not have a fatalistic meaning since it does not say that the goodness or wickedness of humans was decreed then. It could be referring only to the decreeing of things that would befall humans.

Anti-Fatalistic Narrations

 لَا يَزِيدُ فِي الْعُمْرِ إِلَّا الْبِرُّ ، وَلَا يَرُدُّ الْقَدَرَ إِلَّا الدُّعَاءُ ، وَإِنَّ الرَّجُلَ لَيُحْرَمُ الرِّزْقَ بِخَطِيئَةٍ يَعْمَلُهَا

Nothing increases lifetime except righteousness, and nothing counters qadar except prayer, and a man may be forbidden provision because of a sin he commits.

Sunan Ibn Māja 90, authenticated by al-Albānī, Ibn Ḥibbān and al-Ḥākim al-Nisābūrī

This hadith has entirely reliable transmitters except for ʿAbdalah b. Abī al-Jaʿd, who is little-known but considered trustworthy by Ibn Ḥajar al-ʿAsqalānī. This hadith contradicts all fatalistic narrations that say nothing will ever change in a person’s qadar (“the scroll has dried”, etc.). A different version of the hadith adds the following (said by the Prophet ):

إِنَّ فِي التَّوْرَاةِ لَمَكْتُوبٌ : يَا ابْنَ آدَمَ ، اتَّقَ رَبَّكَ ، وَبِرَّ وَالِدَكَ ، وَصِلْ رَحِمَكَ ، أَمْدُدْ لَكَ فِي عُمُرِكَ ، وَأُيَسِّرْ لَكَ يُسْرَكَ ، وَأَصْرِفْ عَنْكَ عُسْرَكَ

It is written in the Torah: O child of Adam, fear your Lord, be dutiful toward your parents, be dutiful toward your relatives, and I will extend your lifetime, ease for you your ease, and take away from you your difficulty.

Musnad al-Rūyānī, 608

This version also comes from entirely trusted transmitters except for Sālim b. Rāfiʿ who is considered unknown by some and trusted by others. Since the saying is in the context of qadar, the concept of dynamic, changeable qadar is strongly suggested by it. What we choose to do, whether we do good or evil, changes what God causes to befall us. This is the opposite of fatalism.

Faʿḍāla b. ʿUbayd:

أَنَّ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ ، قَالَ : اللَّهُمَّ مَنْ آمَنَ بِكَ ، وَشَهِدَ أَنِّي رَسُولُكَ ، فَحَبِّبْ إِلَيْهِ لِقَاءَكَ ، وَسَهِّلْ عَلَيْهِ قَضَاءَكَ ، وَأَقْلِلْ لَهُ مِنَ الدُّنْيَا ، وَمَنْ لَمْ يُؤْمِنْ بِكَ وَلَمْ يَشْهَدْ أَنِّي رَسُولُكَ ، فَلَا تُحَبِّبْ إِلَيْهِ لِقَاءَكَ ، وَلَا تُسَهِّلْ عَلَيْهِ قَضَاءَكَ ، وَأَكْثِرْ لَهُ مِنَ الدُّنْيَا

The Prophet said, "O Allah, whoever believes in you, and bears witness that I am your messenger, then cause him to love meeting you, and ease your decrees on him, and decrease from him the worldly life. And whoever does not believe in you, and does not bear witness that I am your Messenger, then do not cause him to love meeting you, and do not ease your decree on him, and increase for him of the worldly life."

Ṣaḥīḥ Ibn Ḥibbān 208

This hadith has a wholly authentic chain. In it the Prophet speaks as if God’s decree is changeable, for he prays that it should be eased or not eased. There would be no point in this prayer if qadar was unchangeable.

ʿĀʾisha:

وَأَسْأَلُكَ أَنْ تَجْعَلَ كُلَّ قَضَاءٍ قَضَيْتَهُ لِي خَيْرًا

... and I ask you to make every decree You decree for me to be a good.

Ṣaḥīḥ Ibn Ḥibbān 870; Muṣannaf Abī Shayba 28767

The above hadith comes from two chains from wholly trusted transmitters. The first chain contains one individual whose memory weakened in old age. The second chain does not contain that individual. The Prophet again speaks as if God’s decrees are changeable. If God’s decrees never changed, the meaning of the prayer would be, “O God do what you would have done anyway.”

ʿAmmār b. Yāsir

أَحْيِنِي مَا عَلِمْتَ الْحَيَاةَ خَيْرًا لِي ، وَتَوَفَّنِي إِذَا كَانَتِ الْوَفَاةُ خَيْرًا لِي

... cause me to live while You know life to be better for me, and cause me to die if death is better for me ...

Sahih Ibn Hibban 2005, al-Mustadrak 1878

The above is a quotation from a long hadith in which the Prophet prays for a number of things. The hadith comes from two chains both of which are wholly authentic except that both contain a trusted individual who occasionally errs. If a person’s death-timing could never change, there would be no point in this prayer. It therefore appears that the Prophet believed that prayer could change qadar.

Narrated Abū Hurayra:

Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) said, "Every child is born on the fiṭra but his parents convert him to Judaism, Christianity or Magainism, as an animal delivers a perfect baby animal. Do you find it mutilated?" Then Abu Huraira recited the holy verses: "The pure Allah's Islamic nature (true faith of Islam) (i.e. worshipping none but Allah) with which He has created human beings. No change let there be in the religion of Allah (i.e. joining none in worship with Allah). That is the straight religion (Islam) but most of men know, not." (30.30)

Ṣaḥīh al-Bukhārī 1359, a similar version in Ṣaḥīh Muslim 2658 d

The above entirely authentic hadith seems to contradict those hadiths that say humans are divided into the dwellers of Paradise and Hell from before birth. All humans are born on the pure fiṭra (which according to Ibn Taymiyya means belief in a basic form of Islam), but later they become corrupted.

Narrated Abū Huraira:

Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) said, "Allah says, 'If My slave intends to do a bad deed then (O Angels) do not write it unless he does it; if he does it, then write it as it is, but if he refrains from doing it for My Sake, then write it as a good deed (in his account). (On the other hand) if he intends to do a good deed, but does not do it, then write a good deed (in his account), and if he does it, then write it for him (in his account) as ten good deeds up to seven-hundred times.' "

Ṣaḥīh al-Bukhārī 7501

If all human deeds had already been written and the “scrolls” had dried, what is meant by things being recorded and not recorded above? The above hadith suggests a dynamic timeline of life rather a frozen one as fatalism suggests.

Al-Barāʾ b. ʿĀzib reported Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) as saying that Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) said:What is your opinion about the delight of a person whose camel loaded with the provisions of food and drink is lost and that moves about with its nosestring trailing upon the waterless desert in which there is neither food nor drink, and lie wanders about in search of that until he is completely exhausted and then accidentally it happens to pass by the trunk of a tree and its nosestring gets entangled in that and he finds it entangled therein? He (in response to the question of the Holy Prophet) said: Allah's Messenger, he would feel highly delighted. Thereupon Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) said. By Allah, Allah is more delighted at the repentance of His servant than that person (as he finds his lost) camel.

Ṣaḥīh Muslim 2746, the most authentic chain at Musnad Aḥmad 18206

The above narration comes from entirely trusted transmitters in Aḥmad’s Musnad. It is strange that God would be so happy with a human’s repentance if He had pre-decreed that the person would repent anyway. But it would make perfect sense if the person had a choice between repenting and not repenting.

In the authentic narration below, the Prophet affirms that he has choice over his actions:

ʿĀʾisha said: "The Messenger of Allah used to divide his time equally among his wives then he would say: 'O Allah, this is what I have done with regard to that over which I have control, so do not blame me for that over which You have control and I do not.'"

Sunan al-Nasāʾī 3943 (authentic)

If the Prophet had been a fatalist, he would have said that he has no control over how he divides his time, since his choices are in God’s hands anyway.

Narrated Anas:

The Prophet (ﷺ) said, "Allah will say to that person of the (Hell) Fire who will receive the least punishment, 'If you had everything on the earth, would you give it as a ransom to free yourself (i.e. save yourself from this Fire)?' He will say, 'Yes.' Then Allah will say, 'While you were in the backbone of Adam, I asked you much less than this, i.e. not to worship others besides Me, but you insisted on worshiping others besides me.' "

Ṣaḥīh al-Bukhārī 3334, Ṣaḥīh Muslim 2805 a

The above only makes sense if God had not already separated the children of Adam into believers and disbelievers before birth. It is nonsensical that God would decree that some people should enter the Hellfire only to go on to blame them for not worshiping Him.

Below is a narration not from the Prophet but from Ibn ʿAbbās:

{ وَإِذْ أَخَذَ رَبُّكَ مِنْ بَنِي آدَمَ } الْآيَةَ قَالَ : خَلَقَ اللَّهُ آدَمَ فَأَخَذَ مِيثَاقَهُ أَنَّهُ رَبُّهُ ، وَكَتَبَ أَجَلَهُ وَرِزْقَهُ وَمَصَائِبَهُ ثُمَّ أَخْرَجَ مِنْ ظَهْرِهِ كَالذَّرِّ فَأَخَذَ مِيثَاقَهُمْ أَنَّهُ رَبُّهُمْ ، وَكَتَبَ أَجَلَهُمْ وَأَرْزَاقَهُمْ وَمَصَائِبَهُمْ

"And when your Lord took from the children of Adam"...the rest of the verse. [Ibn ʿAbbās said], "God created Adam and took his oath that He is his Lord. Then He wrote the timing of his death, his provision, and the catastrophes that would be fall him. Then He brought out [his offspring] from his back like dust specks and took their oath that He is their Lord. Then He wrote the timing of their death, their provisions and their catastrophes.

Al-Bayhaqī, al-Qadar 49

In this entirely authentic narration, there is no fatalism in Ibn ʿAbbās’s interpretation. What befalls humans has been written in their predestiny, but what they will choose in the future is not forced upon them there.

Narrated Anas:

Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) said," None of you should long for death because of a calamity that had befallen him, and if he cannot, but long for death, then he should say, 'O Allah! Let me live as long as life is better for me, and take my life if death is better for me.' "

Ṣaḥīh al-Bukhārī 6351

The above prayer would only make sense if qadar was changeable through prayer. Otherwise, if a person’s death-timing could never change, the prayer would mean “O God do what You would do anyway.”

Abū Hurayra:

سَمِعْتُ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ يَقُولُ : لَا يَدْخُلُ أَحَدٌ النَّارَ إِلَّا أُرِيَ مَقْعَدَهُ مِنَ الْجَنَّةِ ، لَوْ أَحْسَنَ لِيَكُونَ عَلَيْهِ حَسْرَةً ، وَلَا يَدْخُلُ الْجَنَّةَ أَحَدٌ إِلَّا أُرِيَ مَقْعَدَهُ مِنَ النَّارِ لَوْ أَسَاءَ لِيَزْدَادَ شُكْرًا

I heard the Messenger of God saying, "No one enters the Fire except that his seat he would be shown his seat in Paradise had he been a doer of good so that it becomes a cause of regret for him. And no one enters Paradise except that he is shown his station in the Fire had he been wicked so that he would increase in gratitude.

Musnad Aḥmad 10795, considered Ṣaḥīḥ by al-Albānī

This hadith’s chain has Ḥusayn b. Muḥammad b. Bahrām who is unknown. It also has ʿAbd al-Raḥmān b. Dhakwān who is considered weak by some scholars. I am putting it here to balance out all the low-quality narrations I mentioned in the pro-fatalism section. This hadith suggests that a person has a choice between Paradise and Hell since he has two places prepared for him. If it was decided for him that he would go to Paradise or Hell from before birth, then this hadith wouldn’t make sense.

Narrated Abū Hurayra:

Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) said, "The prayer of anyone of you is granted (by Allah) if he does not show impatience (by saying, "I invoked Allah but my request has not been granted.")

Ṣaḥīh al-Bukhārī 6340

The above hadith has an entirely authentic chain. The plain meaning of the hadith suggests that a person has two choices; either he waits patiently and God changes qadar in his favor, or waits impatiently and God allows qadar to stay unchanged.

Narrated ʿAbdallāh b. Masʿūd:

The Prophet (ﷺ) said, "Truthfulness leads to righteousness, and righteousness leads to Paradise. And a man keeps on telling the truth until he becomes a truthful person. Falsehood leads to Al-Fajur (i.e. wickedness, evil-doing), and Al-Fajur (wickedness) leads to the (Hell) Fire, and a man may keep on telling lies till he is written before Allah, a liar."

Ṣaḥīh al-Bukhārī 6094

This hadith comes from a wholly authentic chain. The hadith suggests that a person is not written as a liar to begin with unless they choose to constantly lie.

Narrated ʿAʾisha the mother of the faithful believers:

One night Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) offered the prayer in the Mosque and the people followed him. The next night he also offered the prayer and too many people gathered. On the third and the fourth nights more people gathered, but Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) did not come out to them. In the morning he said, "I saw what you were doing and nothing but the fear that it (i.e. the prayer) might be enjoined on you, stopped me from coming to you." And that happened in the month of Ramadan.

Ṣaḥīh al-Bukhārī 1129

This is another hadith with a wholly authentic chain. If the Prophet had been a fatalist, he should have believed that God had already decreed what would be obligatory on the Muslims. Here he acts as if he thinks his choices would affect God’s decrees.