Allāh Opens the Hearts of Which He Wills
By Ælfwine Mischler
Question: God opens the hearts of which He wills and likewise seals the hearts of others. I wonder if you could you help me to understand what these passages mean? Are there any verses that make as if people have no choice in religion? Has God created non-believers? (Ariff)
In the name of Allāh, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful;
All the praise and Thanks is due to Allāh, the Lord of al-'ālameen. There is none worthy of worship except Allāh, and that Muhammad, Sallallāhu alayhi wa sallam, is His Messenger.
Allāh Subhānahu wa ta’ala, opens the hearts of which He Wills and similarly Seals the hearts of others as He Wills.
The Qur’an mentions twice that Allāh seals the hearts of those who do not believe:
1. “As to those who reject faith, it is the same to them whether you warn them or not; they will not believe. God has set a seal on their hearts and on their ears, and on their eyes is a veil; great is the penalty they [incur]” [Surah Al-Baqarah, 2: 6 – 7]
2. “Then see the one who took as his god his own vain desire? God has, [knowing him as such], left him astray as he did not follow the guidance of his own knowledge, and God sealed his ears and his heart [and understanding], and put a cover on his sight. Who, then, will guide him after God [has withdrawn guidance]? Will you not then receive admonition?” [Surah Al-Jathiyah, 45: 23]
Or perhaps you are asking about a verse which means:
“The foolish among the people will say: “What has turned them from the direction to which they were praying [From Jerusalem to Makkah]?” Say: “To God belong both East and West: He guides whom He will to a straight path.”
[Surah Al-Baqarah, 2:142]
This phrase, here translated to mean that Allāh guides whom ‘He’ wills, is repeated many times in the Qur’an. Some scholars who interpret the Qur’an [the exegesis of the Qur’an] grasp the meaning of this phrase as: “God guides ‘he’ who wants to be guided.” This then directly relates to the many verses that describe who will not be guided as the unjust, rebellious, agnostic, etc.
However, if the Arabic is understood with the meaning that Allāh Almighty Guides whom He wills, we may well ask whether God has created believers and non-believers? This raises the question: is everything predestined or ordained in advance, or do we have a free will? The answer does not conflict with the first interpretation.
If Allāh Almighty did create or ordain our actions, then we would not have free will, and it would not be just to hold us accountable on the Day of Judgment. Likewise, it would not be just if it were ordained at our creation that we would end up in Paradise or Hell, no matter what our choices turned to be.
But one of the names or attributes of Allāh is Al-‘Adl, the Just. Allāh cannot and does not do anything unjust. Therefore we must reject the Doctrine of Pre-Destination other than stipulated in the Quran and Sunnah.
The Question of Free Will
So do we have a total free will? If we give this question careful thought and investigation, we might reach the conclusion that there are a few aspects of our life about which we have no say. We cannot choose when we are born, to which parents, nor when we are going to die, whether we are born into a rich or poor family, or what sex we are born into. But after that we can choose how to act, what moral code we abide by, what social and political responsibilities we fulfill or ignore.
There is a Hadith (tradition of Prophet Muhammad, Sallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam) on this subject that describes this. It was narrated by his companion ‘Abdullah [IbnMas'ud] (radhiallāhu‘anhu) as follows:
Allāh’s Messenger (Sallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam) said:
“Each one of you was collected within the womb of his mother for forty days, and then turns into a clot [or something that clings] for an equal period [of forty days] and turns into a piece of flesh for a similar period [of forty days] and then Allāh sends an angel and orders him to write four things, i.e., his provision, his age [at death], and whether he will be of the wretched or the blessed [in the Hereafter].
Then the soul is breathed into him. And by Allāh, a person among you [or a man] may do deeds of the people of the Hellfire till there is only a cubit or an arm-breadth distance between him and the Hellfire, but then that writing [which Allāh has ordered the angel to write] precedes, and then he does the deeds of the people of Paradise and enters it; and a man may do the deeds of the people of Paradise till there is only a cubit or two between him and Paradise, and then that writing precedes and he does the deeds of the people of the Fire and enters it.”
[Bukhari Vol 8, Book 77, Number 593]
Most people, when they read this, think that it means that when the angel writes these four things, Allāh Subhanahu Wa Ta‘ala is commanding these things to happen. However, scholars explain that while this is true for one’s age and provision - at least at birth - the angel is recording something that will happen, but that record does not ‘make’ it happen.
It simply reflects a conception of time and knowledge of Allāh beyond time and space. We have to always remember that God, Allāh Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala Says is never limited by the boundaries of time and space. He gives us free will, but He knows beforehand — even before we were created — what our choices and their consequences will be.
The Question of Guidance
Let’s examine the translation of a few more verses in the Qur’an related to the question of guidance:
“God disdains not to use the similitude of things, lowest as well as highest. Those who believe know that it is truth from their Lord; but those who reject faith say: ‘What means God by this similitude?’ By it He causes many to stray, and many He leads into the right path; But He causes not to stray, except those who forsake [the path]”
[Surah Al-Baqarah, 2: 26]
Then in following verses Allāh Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala Says:
“If We had ordered them [the hypocrites] to sacrifice their lives or to leave their homes, very few of them would have done it; but if they had done what they were [actually] told, it would have been best for them, and would have gone farthest to strengthen their [faith]; and We should then have given them from Our Presence a great reward; and We should have shown them the Straight Way.” [Surah An-Nisā’, 4: 66 – 68]
Allāh Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala also Says:
“Some He has guided; others have [by their choice] deserved the loss of their way, in that they took the evil ones, in preference to God, for their friends and protectors, and think that they receive guidance.” [Surah Al-‘Araf, 7: 30]
“Verily God will not deal unjustly with man in aught; it is man that wrongs his own soul. One day He will gather them together; [it will be] as if they had tarried but an hour of a day; they will recognize each other; assuredly those will be lost who denied the meeting with God and refused to receive true guidance.”
[Surah Yunus, 10: 44 – 45]
Then Allāh Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala Says:
“… Say: “Truly God leaves to stray whom He will; but He guides to Himself those who turn to Him in penitence.”
[Surah Ar-Raad, 13: 27]
These are but a few of the many verses in the Qur’an that speak of guidance.
In addition, in many verses the Qur’an says:
“Allāh guides not the people who are unjust…”
“Allāh guides not those who reject faith…”
“Allāh guides not the people who declare themselves enemies of His might…”
So, allow me to put it in a nutshell: Allāh Almighty not makes us believers or non-believers. Belief is based on free choice and accountability.
Finally, I’d like to quote another hadith. This one is a Hadith Qudsi, which means the Prophet (Sallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam) reported in his own words what Allāh Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala had revealed to him:
Abu Hurairah, (radhiallāhu‘anhu), narrated, Allāh’s Messenger (Sallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam) said:
“Allāh, the Exalted and Glorious, stated: ‘I am near to the thought of My servant as he thinks about Me, and I am with him as he remembers Me. And if he remembers Me in his heart, I also remember him in My Heart, and if he remembers Me in assembly I remember him in assembly, better than his [remembrance], and if he draws near Me by the span of a palm, I draw near him by a cubit, and if he draws near Me by a cubit I draw near him by the space [covered by] two arms. And if he walks towards Me, I rush towards him.’”
[Reported by Muslim]
So, search for Allāh Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala and you will find Him. Keep an open mind, keep reading and asking questions, and keep praying while you are struggling with your religious beliefs and identity. May Allāh Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala Guide us all to the Right Path.
And Allāh Almighty Knows best.
[Excerpted with minor modification from Islam Online (Ask About Islam), 24th.May 2003 as obtained via Q&A]