AFTER creating Hazrat Adam God asked all the angels to perform sajdah, or prostration, before him (2:34). Being the first human being, he represented all of humanity. Iblis, or Satan, was a jinn who had been so pious that he was placed in the company of angels, at which he became proud and refused to prostrate before Adam.
His argument was that he had been created from fire and, therefore, he was superior to Adam who had been created from clay (7:12).
Why was Adam given such a high station? The answer can be found in the accounts of Adam and Eve in paradise, when they are given the freedom to eat and drink whatever they desired, from wherever they desired and however much they desired, except for the fruit of one tree (2:35).
This forbidden fruit was placed within their grasp, making it a possibility for them to eat it, and for Satan to tempt them, symbolising the fact that of all the creatures in the universe, human beings and jinns enjoy a certain amount of freedom of choice.
Having no choice the angels bowed to Adam. But Satan showed his defiant attitude and did not comply. It is this choice that gives human beings and jinns the potential for a high station. All the other creatures have a fixed path and a fixed destiny.
Surah al-Ahzab says, “We offered this trust to the heavens and the earth and the mountains but, being afraid (of breaking the trust), they refused to bear it. But man accepted it. Indeed, he is unjust and ignorant” (33:72).
The ‘trust’ offered was the responsibility accompanying choice and free will. But the others were afraid of this heavy burden and of inclining towards transgression rather than obedience. Human beings accepted ‘free will’ and its accountability, but continue to betray the ‘trust’ that accompanies it.
Humans were created in ahsan-i-taqweem, or ‘the best of form’, given qualities of imagination, invention and mercy. But they can also become the asfala safileen, ‘the lowest of the low’, capable of self-centeredness, injustice and destruction. The ‘trust’, therefore, requires responsibility towards humanity, all creation and one’s inner self, based on rightful belief.
According to the Sufis, the human being has the best capability to bear this trust and must struggle to make his station purer.
Through the logic of the intellect and the burning of the veils by the fire of love, he is able to experience the gnosis of the Essence of the Divine Being and to progress to higher spiritual stations.One third of the Quran speaks of accountability, the Day of Judgment and Heaven and Hell, leading one to think that one will be judged by one’s belief and actions. If life is governed by laws, then where lies freedom of choice? Since God is omnipotent (2:20), how much blame do human beings deserve for their deeds? One also believes in naseeb, or destiny, and yet the successful person is lauded and the unsuccessful person is looked down upon. What is the relationship between the will of God and the will of human beings?
This question was asked and deliberated upon by many people in the early years of Islam. Soon two distinct schools of thought, the Jabariyah and the Qadariyah, emerged. Jabar means to enforce, or that helpless state of human beings in which they are forced to act in a particular manner. The Jabariyah school believed that all creation is under an absolute decree, which cannot be changed. They held God responsible for the actions of human beings.
Qadar means power. The Qadariyah school believed that human beings had absolute power and freedom and that there was no such thing as predestination. They felt that man’s actions were imperfect and, therefore, could not be attributed to God.
The others felt that the Qadariyah seemed to have taken away the power of God and, in a way, assigned partners to Him.
Hassan al-Basri, one of the most renowned tabieen, jurists and scholars of the eighth century, developed Qadari leanings. He thought that a belief in predestination should not be an excuse for inactivity or negative activity. He stressed individual moral responsibility which, he felt, was balanced by God’s mercy and His final control of man’s destiny. The Qadariyah school later found a balance between the omnipotence of God and the need for personal moral effort.
The truth has to lie somewhere between absolute decree and absolute choice. The answer is to be found in a hadith of the Prophet (PBUH), who asked a man who came to visit as to what he had done with his camel. The Bedouin replied, “I have left it in the care of God”. The Prophet said, “First tether the camel and then leave it in the care of God” (Tirmizi).
Human beings have been given a certain amount of ground for action. It is their duty to first do their best within that ambit and then attribute it to one’s destiny.
As one progresses spiritually, one’s will becomes aligned to the will of God. Perceived contradictions become dissipated and one’s will diminishes in inverse proportion to one’s submission to His will. There is a hadith, “Nothing can change the divine decree except dua” (Ahmad), that is, supplication can change destiny, hence the emphasis on prayers. Allama Iqbal said, “Raise your khudi, (nafs, or spiritual self), to such a height that God would ask before every decree, “Say, what is your desire?”
The writer is a scholar of the Quran and writes on contemporary issues.