Al-Qadaa wal-Qadr (Divine Decision and Decree)
Compiled by Dr. Ali Shehata
Definition of Al Qadaa and Al Qadr
When mentioned separately either one means the other, but when stated together these two terms differ in their meanings, hence when generalized Al-Qadr encompasses both Al-Qadr and Al-Qadaa in meaning and vice versa. But when it is stated Al-Qadr wa Al-Qadaa (or Al Qadaa wal Qadr) then Al-Qadaa refers to the decision of Allah concerning a specific matter, the knowledge of which is revealed to the angels, whereas al-Qadr refers to the predestined decree of Allah as recorded in the Preserved Tablet, and the knowledge of this is only with Allah.
Put another way, when mentioned together as Al-Qadaa wal Qadr, al-Qadaa is subject to change at Allah’s discretion whereas al-Qadar is that which is maintained in the Preserved Tablets written before the Creation and will never change. The matters of al-Qadaa are recorded with their respective changes in the Preserved Tablets.
To give an example let us review the hadith of the Prophet wherein he states,
"A man might be deprived of a provision (that was written for him) because of a sin that he commits; only supplication changes Al-Qadar (Predestination); and only Birr (righteousness) can increase the life span." An-Nasai and ibn Majah collected this Hadith.
Here the Messenger of Allah states that Du’a (supplication) can change the Qadr, whereas above we stated that al-Qadr can in no way change as this is what Allah has written in the Lawh al-Mahfooth (Preserved Tablet). But if we look closer we will notice that al-Qadr is here mentioned separate from al-Qadaa and thus the ruling is: when mentioned separately either one means the other.
So in this case we understand that the word Qadr in this hadith takes on the meaning/understanding of Qadaa, and this is why supplication, sinning, and righteousness all may effect the Divine decision, but nothing can affect what Allah has already written and decreed.
"No calamity befalls you on the earth or in yourselves but it is inscribed in the Book of Decrees (Al Lawh Al Mahfooth) before We bring it into existence. Verily, that is easy for Allah" [al-Hadeed 57:22]
And the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: "The pens have been lifted and the pages have dried." Narrated and classed as saheeh by al-Tirmidhi (2516), from the hadith of Ibn ‘Abbaas.
Al-Mubaarakfoori said: "The pens have been lifted and the pages have dried" means, What has been decreed has been written in al-Lawh al-Mahfooth (the Book of Decrees), and nothing else will be written after that is finished. " Tuhfat al-Ahwadhi, 7/186
The Prophet (sallallahu alaihi wa sallam) explained that "Allah had written the ordained measures (and due proportions) of the creation, fifty thousand years before the creation of the heavens and the earth and His Throne was on the water" (saheeh Muslim v4 pg. 1397)
Allah ordered The Pen (Al-qalam) to write the records of all preordained measures and qualities until the hour would be established.
Narrated Abee Hafsah: Ubaadah bin Saamit said to his son: "Oh son! You shall not get the true sense of eemaan (faith) until you know that what has befallen you was not going to miss you and what missed you was not going to befall upon you. I heard the Prophet (sallallahu alaihi wa sallam) saying:
"As soon as Allah created the pen, he commanded it saying: “Write!” It said: "what should I write my Lord?" Allah said: "Write the record of all things to happen till the establishment of the Hour". Oh my son I have heard Allah's Messenger (sallallahu alaihi wa sallam) saying: "He who dies believing other than this is not from me"(i.e. is not upon the Prophet’s belief) (Abu Dawud).
Understanding these points, we must further know that the writing is of two types: one kind which cannot be altered or changed, and that is what is contained in al-Lawh al-Mahfooth (Preserved Tablets); and another type which may be altered or changed, which is in the hands of the angels (al-Qadaa). And the ultimate outcome is what is written in al-Lawh al-Mahfooth. This is one of the meanings of the words of Allah when He says:
"Allah blots out what He wills and confirms (what He wills). And with Him is the Mother of the Book (Al Lawh Al Mahfooth)" [al-Ra’d 13:39]
Hence we can understand what was narrated in the Sunnah, that upholding family ties increases one’s lifespan or increases one’s provision; or that du’a (supplication) can alter the divine decree (as explained above). For Allah knows whether His slave will uphold the ties of kinship or make du’a, so He writes in al-Lawh al-Mahfooth that this person will have more provision or a longer life span.
Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyah was asked:
Can provision increase or decrease? Is provision what a person eats or possesses?
He replied: Provision is of two types:
1 – That which Allah knows He will provide, which cannot be changed.
2 – That which He has prescribed and told to the angels. This may increase or decrease depending on causes. If Allah commands the angels to write provision for a person if he upholds the ties of kinship, Allah will increase his provision because of that. It was proven in the authentic hadith that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: "Whoever would like his provision to be increased and his life span to be extended, let him uphold the ties of kinship."
Similarly the life span of Dawood was extended by sixty years and Allah made it one hundred years, after it was originally forty. This is as ‘Umar said: "O Allah, if you have decreed that I am to be doomed, then erase that and make me one of those who are to be blessed, because You blot out whatever You will and confirm whatever You will."
And there is a great deal of corroborating evidence. The means of acquiring provision comes under the heading of that which Allah has decreed. If it has been decreed that a person will earn his provision by means of his work and efforts, then Allah will cause him to work and strive, and that which is decreed for him by means of his work will not come to him without him working to earn it. And what has been decreed for him without his having to earn it, such as an inheritance, will come to him without him working for it.
Work or striving is of two types: striving in work for the sake of earning a living, such as industry, farming and business; and striving in du’a, putting one's trust in Allah, treating others kindly, and so on. Allah will help His slave so long as His slave helps his brother.
Majmoo’ al-Fataawa, 8/540, 541.
Moreover, it is part of the Sunnah to ask from Allah when supplicating to Him that he be Merciful to us concerning the Divine decision (al-Qadaa) and to change it if it is not so.
Hence Imam al-Bukhaari (may Allah have mercy on him) entitled a chapter in his Saheeh "Whoever seeks refuge with Allah from having an evil end to this worldly life and from having a bad decree, and the verse:
"Say: I seek refuge with (Allah) the Lord of the daybreak, from the evil of what He has created" [al-Falaq 113:12]."
Then he quoted the words of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him): "Seek refuge with Allah from the difficulties of severe calamities, from having a bad end and bad decree." (al-Bukhaari, 7/215, Kitaab al-Qadar).
Free Will and the Decree of Allah
The next matter we shall turn to is the understanding of the Decree as it relates to Allah’s Foreknowledge of all matters. Many people believe that there is no such thing as free will (Jabriya) due to their lack of a correct understanding of this point. How can it be that Allah knows what we shall do and has written it, and yet we still have free will?
I often try to remind my students of a very similar example in their own lives that can help them better understand this point. Undoubtedly anyone who reads this article now has at some point studied in a classroom of some sort, under the instruction of a teacher or a professor. Many of you also probably have attended a course along the years where on the first day of the class the teacher stated during the introduction to the course that routinely a certain percentage of the course will get an A, another relatively specific portion will get a B, and so on and so forth until he informs you – or rather threatens you – with the portion of people who fail the course.
Now do you think it would be fair, or that it would get you anywhere, to argue with this instructor at the end of the semester if you turned out to be among those that failed? Could you tell him that it was indeed his fault that you failed because he said a certain percentage would fail at the beginning of the term?
This teacher knows by his experience that there are those who take the class seriously and thus they routinely do well. Whereas others procrastinate and lack the necessary motivation and thus they fail. At the end of the day it was you that decided to either do what was necessary to pass or you that lazily procrastinated until it was too late and thus failed. You have the freedom to choose your path.
Another example illustrates the same point, but in a different way. Those of you that have younger siblings or those of you that are parents develop a unique and intimate knowledge of your siblings or children over time. It may even sometimes appear that you know them better than they know their own selves. Many of you can actually predict with an amazingly high degree of accuracy what they would do in any given situation.
Is it not then so difficult to understand that Allah, the All-knowing and Aware who knows what is in your hearts and minds; that He knows what you will do in the situations he places you in even before you do them – even before you are created? Is not the One who fashioned you and created you and then guided you unable to know what you shall do from His infinite knowledge and ability?
If you yourself can predict the behavior of students, or your siblings, or your own children that you raise through difficulty upon difficulty; is not then Allah, to whom belongs al-Mathal al-‘Alaa (the Most Supreme Example) able to predict your behavior through His knowledge even though there are no factors driving you beyond your own self to do whatever you choose to do? And moreover, He in His great and infinite Mercy does not bestow upon you a burden greater than that which you are capable of handling as he states,
“Allah does not burden any soul with more than it can bear” 2:286
as truly he knows you and your ability better than you know yourself.
Lastly, we do not know what has been decreed until after the fact. Allah has given us free will and freedom of choice, but we do not move beyond the framework of the will and decree of Allah.
To sum it up, there is no contradiction between freedom of our will and the idea that Allah decrees all things, which we do not know until after they happen. And Allah knows best, and to Allah belongs all the Praise.
The Four Levels of the Belief in al-Qadr, Dr. Saleh as-Saleh
Tafseer ibn Kathir
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