Understanding of Destiny and Man’s Free Will
Except for the human realm and Jinn, who have free will and therefore are accountable for their acts, Divine Destiny is the single absolutely and exclusively dominant factor in existence. In order to reconcile Destiny and man’s free will, the following explanations may be worth consideration:
a. Destiny is a title for Divine Knowledge. As explained before, God’s Knowledge comprehends everything within and beyond time and space. If you know beforehand that a certain thing will happen at a certain future time and that thing happens at exactly the time you predicted, it does not mean that that thing’s happening was caused by your knowing beforehand that it would happen. Since every thing and every event in the universe is comprehended in God’s Knowledge, He has written such a thing will happen at such a time and place, and it does. Although there is not the slightest difference between what God has written for a man and what that man does, this is not because God’s having written it forces man to do it, rather it is because man willed to do that and did it.
Consider this example: a train is traveling between Istanbul and Ankara, at a certain speed according to the characteristics of its manufacture and the conditions of the railway, and Istanbul is at a known distance from Ankara. Also, there are a certain number of stations along the way, at each of which the train stops for a certain time. Taking all these matters into consideration, a timetable is written in advance. The timetable’s being prepared in advance is not the cause of the train’s traveling.
Again, the time and duration of such heavenly events as the solar and lunar eclipses are known and written down beforehand through astronomical calculations. This does not mean that the sun or the moon is eclipsed at that certain time because astronomers knew it beforehand and recorded it. The truth is exactly the reverse: since astronomers knew beforehand when the sun or the moon would be eclipsed, they recorded it. There is the same relation between Destiny and man’s free will.
b. Man’s free will is not something excluded from Destiny; rather, Destiny includes man’s free will. For example, one asks you whether the clock in the next room is working or not. You hear its sound and answer that it is working. The one who asks you about the clock will not need to ask you whether the hands of the clock are moving. Because the working of the clock means that the wheel of the clock is working and its hand are moving. In an analogous way, Destiny and man’s free will are not independent of each other. As regards Destiny, man is neither a dried leaf blown by the wind, nor is he completely independent from Destiny. As Islam follows the middle way in every issue- for example, it allows neither debauchery nor intolerable self-denial, or it neither advises celibacy nor allows illicit intercourses, and so on- it has also established the right way in the issue of Destiny and man’s free will. In other words, Islam has explained the true relation between Destiny and man’s free will. According to its explanation, wills and does a thing, and God creates it.
c. Cause and effect are not separable in the view of Destiny. That is, it is destined that this cause will produce that effect. But, from there it cannot be argued that, for example, shooting a man dead should not be regarded as a crime because the dead man was destined to die at that time anyway so he would have died even if he had not been shot. Such an argument is baseless since that man is actually destined to die as a result of being shot. The argument that he would have died even he had not been shot mean that he died without a cause, and in this case we should not be able to explain how he died. It should be remembered that there are not two kinds of Destiny- one for the cause, and the other for the effect. Destiny is one.
d. People tend to, excluding themselves from the passage of time, imagine a limit for past time, which extends through a certain chain of things, and they call it “past eternity.” But to reason according to such an imagination is not right and acceptable. For better understanding of this subtle point, the following example may help:
Imagine that you are standing with a mirror in your hand, that everything reflected on the right represents the past, while everything reflected on the left represents the future. The mirror can reflect one direction only since it cannot show both sides at the same time as you are holding it. If you wish to reflect both directions at the same time, it would be necessary to rise high above your original position so that left and right directions are united into one and nothing remains to be called first or last, beginning or end. As already mentioned, Divine Destiny is in some respects identical with Divine Knowledge. It is described in a Messenger’s saying as containing all times and events in a single point, where first and last, beginning and end, what has happened and what will happen, are all united into one. And we are not excluded from it so that our understanding of time and events could be like a mirror to the space of the past.
e. Man cannot be the creator of his actions. For if he were the creator of his own actions, then he would himself be the ultimate cause of them, and his will would be cancelled. Since, according to logic, if a thing is not necessary, it will not exist. That means for something to come into existence there has to be a real complete cause, but a complete cause makes the existence of something compulsory so there will be no room for choice.
f. Although man’s free will is too inefficient to cause something to happen, Almighty God has made its operation a simple condition for the coming into effect of His universal Will. He guides man in whatever direction man wishes by the use of his free will so that man remains responsible for the consequences of his choice. As an example, if you were to take a child upon your shoulders, and then leave him free to decide where he would like to go and he elected for you to take him up a high mountain, and in consequence he caught cold, he would have no right to blame you for that. Indeed, you might even punish him because he wanted to go up the mountain. In like manner, Almighty God, the Most Just of Judges, never coerces His servants into doing something, and He has accordingly made His Will somewhat dependent on man’s free will.
We may summarize the discussion so far in seven points:
1. Divine Destiny, which you may call it Divine determination and arrangement, is dominant in the universe, while not excluding man from having a free will.
2. Since God is beyond all time and space and everything is included in His Knowledge, He encompasses time with its past, present and future divisions in a single, undivided point. This subtle point can be made easier to understand also through the following comparison, in addition to the one mentioned above in the argument d:
When you are in a room, your view is restricted to the room. But if you look from high enough, you can see the whole of the city in which you live. As you rise higher and higher, the scope of your vision will gradually be broadened. The world is seen from the moon as small as a blue marble. It is the same with time as it is with space. In some such way, God as a single, undivided point, into which the past, present and future are united, encompasses all time and space.
3. Since all time and space are included in God’s Knowledge as a single point, God (pre-) recorded everything to take place until the Day of Judgment. He copies out this record both as a whole in different -books- and individually for each person.
4. We do not do something because God (pre-) recorded that we should do it, but since God knew beforehand that we would do it, He (pre-) recorded it.
5. There are not two different destinies, one for cause, and the other for the effect. Rather, Destiny is one and relates to both cause and effect at the same time. Man’s free will as a cause of man’s acts, is included in Destiny.
6. God guides us to good things and actions, and allows and advises us to use our will power to good deeds, in return for which He promises us eternal happiness in Paradise.
7. Man possesses free will, which makes almost no contribution to his good acts, although it can cause deadly sins and destruction wherever it operates. Therefore, man should use his free will for his own benefit by praying to God continuously, so that he may enjoy the blessings of Paradise, a fruit of the chain of good deeds, and attain to eternal happiness. Further, man should always seek God’s forgiveness for his sins in order to refrain from evil deeds and to be saved from the torments of Hell, a fruit of the accursed chain of evil deeds. Prayer and putting one’s trust in God greatly strengthen the inclination to good, and repentance and seeking God’s forgiveness cut the inclination to evil and break its transgressions.
By M. Fethullah Gulen