Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Royal 'We' and God's Foreknowledge

The Royal 'We' and God's Foreknowledge

Shahul Hameed

Riyaz enquired the following:

1.The Qur'an clearly says that Allah knows everything. I have also heard that everyone's destiny is known to Allah. If this is the case, then is nothing in our hands? So whether we pray or not, whatever has to happen will happen? Moreover, if everything is already decided, then there is nothing called right and wrong. This is because; people who did wrong just do it as it was their destiny. What does Islam say about this?

2. In the English translation of the Qur'an, the word "we" has been used in many places. Example: “Verily We sent you ...” Who is this “We”? Did Allah appoint a group of heavenly angels whose job is to take care of the people on earth? Who sent the Qur’an to us on Allah's behalf? The Qur'an sounds like a group of divine beings telling us humans about the glory of Allah.

The first question is about “fate and free will”. This question points to one of the most intriguing topics in metaphysics and religion; and this has been adequately dealt with in the Noble Qur'an. The Qur'an says:

“Man shall have nothing but what he strives for” [An-Najm, 53: 39]

“… Allah will never change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves …” [Ar-Raad, 13: 11]

“Say: "With Allah is the argument that reaches home: if it had been His Will, He could indeed have guided you all."” [Al-An`am, 6: 149]

“Whoever has done an atom's weight of good shall meet with its reward and whoever has done an atom's weight of evil shall meet with its consequences.” [Az-Zalzalah, 99: 7-8]

The above ayat (verses) clearly underscore the fact that humanity has been given freedom, though within limits. It is by using the God-given faculties "within" the scope of his limited freedom, that people in this world can become creators in their own way. In other words, taqdir in the Qur'anic terminology stands for the latent possibilities with which Allah created humanity and all things of nature.

The fact that Allah has a foreknowledge of everything that He created does not mean that human beings have been completely deprived of the freedom of action. The foreknowledge of God is different from predestination. Otherwise, people would not have any freedom of will or action; and what is more, God Himself would then be inactive, as things happen according to the so-called predestination. But the Noble Qur'an clearly states that God is constantly active in creation, when it says what means:

“Allah. There is no god but He,-the Living, the Self-subsisting, Supporter of all. No slumber can seize Him nor sleep. His are all things in the heavens and on earth. Who is thee can intercede in His presence except as He permitteth? He knoweth what (appeareth to His creatures as) before or after or behind them. Nor shall they compass aught of His knowledge except as He willeth. His Throne doth extend over the heavens and the earth, and He feeleth no fatigue in guarding and preserving them. For He is the Most High, the Supreme (in glory).” [Al-Baqarah, 2: 255]

This verse indicates that God does not feel tired or sleepy in spite of the fact that He is constantly active.

The concept of taqdir therefore indicates that we must co-operate with God's plan and consciously submit to His will. Destiny as conceived by Islam therefore does not take away our freedom of choice and action. From this point of view, destiny can be a source of inspiration and encouragement to us and it really opens up vast fields of human activity.

Thus, from the Islamic point of view, people are free for all practical purposes, and therefore it is wrong to say that there is nothing in their hands. Irrespective of what Allah Almighty may decide, people have to go on working and praying. And if so, Allah will not let their efforts go wasted.

Also, I wouldn't agree with saying that there is nothing right or wrong as we humans have the freedom to choose between right and wrong. Because, the Noble Qur'an, as well as the teachings of all the prophets of God, clearly teach us what is right and what is wrong. In short our freedom works "within" the scope of the will of Allah. Allah knows best.

The second question is about Allah's use of "We" referring to Himself, in the Noble Qur'an.

First of all, know that Allah is One and Only. This has been emphatically and repeatedly stated in the Noble Qur'an. But look at just one of the many verses where Allah uses "We" referring to Himself:

“It was We Who created Man, and We know what dark suggestions his soul makes to him: for We are nearer to him than (his) jugular vein.” [Qaf, 50: 16]

All linguists, who have studied the nature and history of languages, know the use of the royal 'we' in most languages; i.e the use of 'we' by a king or an emperor in the sense of the first person singular; 'I'. Allah is the Lord of all dominion, the King of all Kings and no creation of His really deserves to use the Royal 'We'; only Allah the Almighty is entitled to its use, in the strict sense of Malikul Mulk, (i.e. the Lord of all dominion).

Therefore, "We" for "I" in the Qur'an does not signify plurality in any sense; and there is no question of "We" in such contexts meaning 'Allah and His angels, etc.'

And Allah knows best.

[Excerpted with minor modification from Q&A published in Islam Online -- Ask About Islam, 10thMay2006.]

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