Islamic Perspectives

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Islam and Determinism

By: Dr. Ahmad Shafaat

(2000)


C) SOME QUESTIONS RAISED BY DETERMINISM

 

Determinism has one consequence which shocks many people and that is that all of man's actions whether good or bad are caused ultimately by God. This implication of determinism raises several urgent questions that need to be addressed: What about man's experience of free will and a sense of freedom and responsibility that goes with it? If God is ultimately responsible for human actions, then does it not mean that He has a bit of evil in him and does it not make a mockery of the system of justice, reward and punishment whether executed by human society or by God on the day of judgment? And what about the motivation for man's moral and spiritual development?

In this section of the paper I examine these and other questions in the light of Islam.

First let us examine the experience of free will. Qur'an and Hadith do not explain how the experience of free will is created, but the following explanation is consistent with them:

Human mind often attributes events to some secondary causes without going into the consideration of the complex interplay of innumerable factors that produce an event. Thus rain is attributed to a few immediate factors such as the winds and clouds without going into the consideration of the whole set of atmospheric conditions that produce a rainfall. This is done because of the difficulty, indeed, impossibility, of providing a complete explanation of any event. Now there is little doubt that man exercises some intelligent control over himself and over a relatively tiny part of his environment. This intelligent control is a secondary or immediate cause of human choices and actions. Human mind simplifies the situation by attributing these choices and actions to itself. This simplification is necessitated by the fact that man has very little awareness of what goes inside his mind. And this awareness is even less when man's conscious mind is in the process of making a choice. Thus even if human mind wanted to explain its choices and subsequent actions by a reasonably complete set of factors, it could not do so. Hence the mind simplifies the situation by the model "I decided this", "I did this", just as it simplifies when it says "the clouds bring rain" or "the medicine cures". If a team of highly trained psychologists, psychiatrists, doctors etc could carefully watch every action of a human being from moment to moment, then they would be able to see clearly how some of his choices were as predictable as any other events in the universe, whereas he thought that he was making his choices freely. And if a person can mistakenly regard some of his choices as free, he could do the same for all of his choices.

Our mind not only simplifies the explanation of our own choices and actions but also that of others'. Not having any means of understanding the process by which another person makes his choices we concentrate on one secondary cause, the person himself, and say "he decided such and such" or "he did such and such". When others explain our choices and actions in this way, this further reinforces our sense of being causes of our choices and actions. Practical needs of society then further strengthens this way of explaining human choices and actions. These needs require that the society reacts to an individual's choices and actions without being much concerned with how or why those choices and actions take place. In particular, the society in order to control the individual stresses man's own role as a secondary agent in his choices and actions.

Thus the experience of free will arises out of man's ignorance about himself and a long tradition of simplified explanation of his choices and actions and society's practical needs to control the individual. It has no objective reality. However, this does not mean that man should try to rid himself of this experience. Some subjective and erroneous perceptions of reality are inseparable part of human life and it is neither desirable nor possible to get rid of them.

This may be illustrated by an example:

We know that colors have no objective existence. They simply represent certain effects within the human nervous system produced by the light waves reflected by the objects. There is no objective way to decide which color is more beautiful than which other. But this need not prevent us from living as if things do have colors, enjoying colors and exclaiming in wonder: "What a beautiful color!" We need not always say: "Colors are only in the mind, things have no color, they are only absorbers of light waves of certain frequencies." And, indeed, it would be impossible for all human beings to get rid of the experience of color, should some pure rationalist decided to do so.

Similarly, free will has no real existence. But it is neither desirable nor possible to get rid of this experience except in a rare mystical illumination (see below). The experience of free will is the product of man's ignorance about his mental processes, his practical need to simplify explanation of events and the society's practical need to control the individual and these cannot be removed. And what is impossible to achieve, it is not desirable to try to achieve. Only when we are concerned with objective reality and not just being human, we need to recognize that men in reality do not have any free choice just as when we are examining nature at a scientific level we need to know that things in reality do not have colors. This is precisely the Qur'anic approach. The Qur'an does not attempt to destroy man's experience of free will but rather aims to put it to a use. But it adds to man's knowledge the fact that in reality there is no free will [there is Divine hand behind our experiential shadows]. And if the experience of free will is not destroyed, then the sense of freedom and responsibility that goes with it also not destroyed.

Still it may be asked whether the knowledge that in reality there is no free will does not reduce man's sense of freedom which is needed for his development and his sense of responsibility which is needed for a moral conduct. How can, one may ask, man live a full, dynamic and creative life knowing that he is no more than a puppet in the hand of God? Would a belief in determinism not weaken human will and create a fatalist attitude? In this regard, it needs to be noted that any truth can have adverse consequences if one gets fixated on it and it is not seen in conjunction with other truths. If a person is overly preoccupied with determinism to the exclusion of an awareness of other truths about his condition, then it is bound to have some negative consequences. However, if we are aware of it as one of many truths within the overall teaching of the Qur'an, then there is no danger that it will have any negative effects on man's psychological or moral health or on his creativity. Once again we can illustrate this by the example of the experience of color. If a man is consumed with this single scientific truth that things do not have color, then his sense of beauty may suffer some loss. But this is not the case with an overwhelming majority of people. There is no evidence that men have lost their sense of beauty in any serious way because of this discovery. Similarly, the knowledge that there is in reality no free will may not reduce man's sense of freedom and responsibility.

In any case, within the Qur'anic thought sense of freedom and moral responsibility is created in other ways. Unlike some forms of atheistic determinism (Figure 1), the Qur'anic theistic determinism (Figure 2) denies determinability, that is, it denies the possibility that the universe can be described by a model knowable by man. All events including human choices are determined but man cannot determine or predict them by a scientific model or an astrological or other similar type of system. No one knows what he would do tomorrow and no one knows in which land he will die (31:34). This means that from a human point of view man lives in an essentially unbounded universe with all logically consistent possibilities in principle realizable. As the Qur'an puts it:

O company of jinns and men! If you are able to pass the bounds of the heavens and earth, then do so! You will not do so except with (Our) authority (sultan). (55:33)

The "bounds of the heavens and the earth" are the ultimate limitations from which man seems to suffer and yet even these can be overcome with divine authority. There is nothing impossible for man since there is nothing impossible for God. This gives man all the sense of freedom that he needs in order to develop himself.

In a way, man's sense of freedom is rooted into his inability to comprehend reality as a whole, that is, in his ignorance. For to say that such and such a thing is impossible is to assume a certain model of reality as a whole within which the said thing is inconceivable and since no such model is valid, it is impossible to say that something is impossible, unless of course the thing in question is logically absurd. This enables us to understand why the Qur'an says that man was a tyrant against himself and an ignorant one when he accepted the trust which was refused by the heavens and earth. The acceptance of the burden of intelligent existence without a complete knowledge and in particular without the knowledge of one's origin and one's destiny implies self-inflicted suffering and ignorance.

The Qur'an also has a way of inculcating moral behavior within a deterministic view. According to the Qur'an man is faced with two diametrically opposite fates: a state of total bliss (paradise) and a state of total misery (hell). Which one of the two fates will be his is ultimately predetermined by God and unknown to man. But, as noted earlier, there are some events that have been predetermined to take place prior to the final fate; these prior events can be viewed as secondary or immediate causes of that final fate. Secondary causes of a blissful final fate (paradise) include some changes within man. That is, something must happen within man in this world if he is to go to paradise in the hereafter.

From the verses already quoted we know that these changes include:

Now as long as man realizes in accordance with the Qur'an that such changes are secondary causes of his salvation, determinism cannot encourage fatalism or immorality.

This is seen by the example of medical treatment.

A man holding determinism may recognize that when he falls sick the primary cause of his sickness as well as his cure is from God. But if he realizes that a secondary cause of his cure is a medical treatment, then his belief in determinism would not prevent him from seeking treatment for his sickness.

Only if a person ignores the role of secondary causes and concentrates entirely on the primary cause, would a person refuse treatment.

Such an attitude has indeed been shown by some Christians and Muslims in the past and at the present time. Recently, parents of a child belonging to a Christian group were charged with the murder of the child because they failed to seek treatment for a fatal illness on the belief that God would heal the child. Now in a similar way, a man may believe in determinism, but faced with the prospect of hell and with the truth that escape from hell requires some striving on his part and a moral behavior as secondary causes would not sit inactive or engage in immoral behavior.

Only if a man ignores secondary causes would he be misled by determinism.

The reason that it is wrong to ignore secondary causes is that it implies presumptuousness on the part of man and also a rejection of the way God works.

Thus the parents who let their sick child die in the belief that God will heal him confused the fact that God can heal without medicine with the belief that God will so heal the child thus presuming things about God; they also refused to accept that God generally heals through medical treatment and sometimes through prayer and we do not know in advance what process, if any, He will follow in a particular case.

The Qur'an, it should be noted, is not unaware that determinism can mislead if it is used in a wrong way, that is, if secondary causes are ignored. In one verse we read:

Those who practice shirk say: Had God willed, we had not worshipped anything beside him -- we and our fathers, nor had we forbidden anything without him (i.e. without his permission). Those before them used to do the same. Then are the messengers (of God) charged with anything other than conveying in a clear way (the message)? (16:35; see also 7:148)

And they say: If the Most Gracious One had willed, we should not have worshipped them. They have no knowledge of that, they only guess. (43:20)

The deterministic position stated here by the idolaters is not rejected by the Qur'an because the same position is stated in the Qur'an in exactly the same terms:

Had God willed, they had not engaged in shirk. We have not set you (O Prophet!) as a keeper over them nor are you responsible for them. (6:107)

What is rejected in the Qur’an is the way the idolaters use determinism.

They concentrate too exclusively on this one truth. In particular the idolaters ignore the following truths:

1) There is always the possibility of God having willed a radically new development in man. Although idolaters are no doubt idolaters because God has so willed, but God in case of many idolaters had also willed that they should at some point cease to be idolaters.

2) If in some cases, God has willed that they do not cease to be idolaters, then God has also willed for them that they would undergo eternal and terrible suffering in hell. Would the idolaters feel as satisfied with this will of God as they do with His will that they practice idolatry?

3) God is the ultimate cause of their present idolatry, but there are also some secondary causes of it. It is true, the Qur'an would say, that had God so willed the idolaters would not have been idolaters. But God does not fulfill this will simply by saying "be idolaters" and they become idolaters; rather he first makes them blind to his signs and then let this blindness lead to idolatry and its perpetuation.

As for the disbelievers, it is all the same for them whether you (O Prophet!) warn them or do not warn them; they believe not. God has sealed their hearing, and on their eyes there is a covering. And for them there will be terrible suffering (2:6-7).

Had the idolaters looked at the secondary causes of their idolatry and its consequence -- hell, and recognized the possibility of new things happening according to God's will, they would not have used determinism to justify their ways.

The Qur'an also shows us the case of those who are guided by God. They are guided because they are open to the signs of God to which the universe and the messengers of God point out. But they realize that this openness is only a secondary cause of their being guided. The primary cause of their openness as well as their being guided is God. Hence

they say: All praise is due to God who has guided us to this (paradise). We could never have been guided if God had not guided us. (7:43)

The above considerations can also show that belief in determinism does not prevent any human activity; in particular, human creativity. Human creativity is manifested either in expansion of knowledge or in artistic expression or a combination of the two. Determinism does not mean that man remains always at the same level of knowledge and always sticks to the same behavior. This is perhaps the assumption of the idolaters who justified their ways using determinism. But in reality radical changes in man's knowledge and behavior can take place, no doubt, by God's will. The Qur'an says that God teaches man what he knew not and takes some men from darkness to light. Thus there is nothing in determinism that restricts an extraordinary enlightenment and brilliant expansion in knowledge. To the extent determinism does not prevent man from being what he is, it also does not stop the second type of creativity: artistic expression. For this type of creativity primarily arises out of man's self-expression. Islam may have hindered the development of some forms of artistic expression among Muslims but not because of its teaching of determinism but because of some misunderstood legal restrictions such as the prohibition of music and of paintings of living things. We do not know whether some very highly creative individuals are more inclined to believe in determinism or indeterminism, but it is a fact that such individuals are described by others as "gifted". This seems to be a recognition that creativity, at least of very high level, is something from God and may be predetermined. Man cannot by his effort and will manifest such a degree of creativity.

In short, determinism when understood properly along with the rest of the Qur'anic teaching would produce persons who view life as "being" what God has made them to be with the understanding that this being can involve radical developments in their life foreordained by God. To the extent that radical developments can take place in man, "being" can also be "becoming" but this "becoming" is not by man's free choice but by God's.

Earlier it was noted that any idea, if not balanced by other truths, can have negative effects. Indeterminism is no exception. If under determinism life is viewed as primarily "being", then under indeterminism it is primarily "becoming". It is not correct to say that when man believes in the freedom of choice he would necessarily become a responsible and moral person. For a person may feel that he freely makes his choices but either may not see that his choices are wrong or may not care whether they are right or wrong. If under determinism there is a danger of man becoming fatalist and failing to assume responsibility then under indeterminism there is a danger of him becoming alienated from his own nature and from God. For the view that he is not subject to the same type of determinism to which the rest of the universe seems to be subject can make him set himself apart from the universe rather than viewing himself as part of it. Also, an exaggerated stress on the idea that man makes his own destiny can make him pursue all kinds of objectives not in line with general purposes of the universe at large. In the name of self-reliance man can become self-centered and forget God. It can also create insensitivity to others, because misfortunes of others may be often seen as an indication that something is wrong with them when in fact they may be victims of circumstances. All this is illustrated in the Qur'an by the example of Korah (or Qarun). This person from the nation of Moses possessed an anormous amount of wealth. People counseled him to be generous to others just as God has been generous to him and thus make for himself a home in the hereafter without forgetting his share in this world. In his reply to this counsel, Korah says that he possesses all that wealth because he is smart:

I have been given it (the wealth) only on account of knowledge that I possess (28:78)

If some idolaters ignored secondary causes of their situation and used determinism to justify their idolatry, then Korah concentrates on the secondary cause of his wealth (his knowledge) and ignores the primary cause, God. He does not ask the question from where did his knowledge come. The result is that he sees himself as the source of his wealth. This makes him forget God and the hereafter and become insensitive to others.

Thus the key to the understanding of the Qur'an is to remember the importance of both the secondary causes of what happens to man and of the ultimate cause of everything, namely, God. To recognize that the ultimate cause of all that happens is God is determinism but this does not have any negative effect if the importance of secondary or immediate causes is also duly recognized. If we ignore the secondary causes like the idolaters who justified their idolatry using determinism or we ignore the primary cause like Korah who attributed his wealth entirely to his smartness, only then do we go astray. Jalal ad-Din Rumi is, therefore, not quite correct when he says:

The prophets came to cut the cord of causes:

They flung their miracles at Saturn. (Mathnavi, III, 2517)

In like manner, from the beginning of the Qur'an to the end,

It is the abandonment of causes; that is all. (Op cit. 2525)

Now we turn to another important question raised above which is also sometimes called the problem of evil and which in the context of present discussion can be formulated thus: if our choices are completely determined by God, then is not God responsible for our evil choices? And is it not cruel on the part of God and the society to punish them? In regard to this question it should be noted that indeterminism only deceptively provide a solution to this problem. For even if man has a genuine freedom to choose between good and evil, it is still God who is responsible for the possibility of an evil choice. Had God so willed he could have created a world in which it was impossible to choose evil. And if He did not so choose He is ultimately responsible for all the evil that is done and all the suffering that results. Moreover, it is within God's power to stop men from the path of evil and suffering but He evidently does not use that power. If we see a child about to do something that will destroy him, we try to stop him. If we do not, this will be judged wrong and even considered punishable at least in case of the guardians of the child. Similarly, if God watches some of us going on the path of self-destruction, and He lets us choose it and does nothing, then it is reasonable to maintain that He bears some responsibility for the evil done by us and the suffering that results from it. We can look at this in another way. A person who is in charge of a certain organization is responsible for what happens in that organization to the extent of his knowledge of those happenings and his power to determine them. God is in charge of the universe, knows everything and has power to do everything. Therefore He is responsible for all that happens in the universe, including all the evil and suffering that takes place in His universe, regardless of whether certain beings act out of a genuine freedom of will or are completely controlled by Him. One may say that under assumption of indeterminism the responsibility of God reduces and is partly shared by man. But that in no way solves the problem, for it is not in the least helpful to say that God is only partly responsible for evil and suffering.

It is noteworthy that the Qur'an never really raises the problem of evil much less clearly solve it. It does make statements like "And thy Lord is not a tyrant to his slaves" (41:46) or "God intends no wrong to the creatures (lit. "worlds") (3:108) or "God wrongs not humankind in aught; but humankind wrong themselves" (10:44). But these statements are not made in relation to any problem of evil. This is because within the Qur'an this problem is a pseudo-problem. For it assumes that right and wrong, good and evil are defined independently of God and that even God himself is subject to judgment according to these definitions. In Qur'anic thought, however, right and wrong is defined by God through certain limits that He has set for His creatures either through his books or through knowledge ingrained in the creatures. To do evil or to do wrong is to transgress these limits which is also called zulm. In this way of thinking there is no sense in which wrong can be attributed to God. Either God does not set any limits for Himself or He never transgresses those limits. "Wrong" is simply a property of the actions of creatures. The actions of the creator are by definition right.

It is in the above light that we have to understand statements like "God wrongs not humankind in aught; but humankind wrong themselves" (10:44). Read in itself the statement suggests indeterminism, but the context and other verses show otherwise. Let us read the statement in its context and in the light of couple of other relevant verses:

And of them are some who listen to you (O Muhammad). But can you make the deaf hear even if they do not apprehend? And of them is he who looks towards you. But can you guide the blind even though they do not see? Behold! God wrongs not humankind in aught; but humankind wrong themselves. (10:42-44)

Evil is the example of people who denied our revelations, and were wont to wrong themselves. He whom God guides is guided aright and as for those whom He leads astray, they are the losers. (7:177-178)

Notice how in the first passage the statement that it is not God but men who wrong themselves follows the deterministic statements that the deaf and blind cannot be made to hear and see. That the statement is to be understood within a deterministic framework is even clearer in the second passage where immediately after saying that deniers of revelation wrong themselves the Qur'an goes on to say that it is God who guides aright and it is He who leads astray. Thus the statement that "God wrongs not humankind in aught; but humankind wrong themselves" does not mean that man is genuinely free to make choices but that "wrong" is a characteristic of actions of creatures and cannot be applied to the creator no matter what He does. This explanation was early developed by the Muslims as is shown by the following report in as-Sahih of Muslim:

Abi al-Aswad ad-Dayli reports: 'Imran ibn Husayn asked me, "That for which people now do deeds and strive over, is it something that is already decided and is foreordained or is it something that will come about in future on the basis of what their prophet gave them and on the basis of proof?" I said, "But no, it is a thing already decided and foreordained for them." 'Imran said, "Is that not tyrany (zulm)?" I was greatly perturbed by this question. I said, "Everything is a creature of God and his property. No one can question what he does but others can be questioned." 'Imran said, "May God have mercy on you. I asked you only to test your ability to reason...."

We can express the idea in a more complete way as follows:

Man is born in ghaflah and it is by an act of God's grace that he comes out of it. A nafs in ghaflah and as yet not brought out of it by God's mercy does zulm on itself. But God for creating this nafs and then withholding His grace from it for any amount of time cannot be said to do zulm. For He is not obligated to give His grace to every one and to exactly the same measure.

Under determinism we can think of evil and sin as a kind of disease. Some sicknesses cause a temporary misery, some lead to death and some lead to hell. These last are spiritual sicknesses of the human heart, psyche or soul. No type of sickness is ultimately caused by man himself. If a man has physical sickness it does not bother us if we say that the sickness was caused by God. Why should it bother us if we say on the basis of the Qur'an that the sicknesses of the heart or soul also come from God? Man should try to escape or cure all forms of sickness rather than deny that they come from God.

Consequently, when the Hadith says that Adam's sin was foreordained and when on the basis of determinism we say that all sin is foreordained this need not encourage man to keep on doing sin. A man who is made physically sick by God, even after recognizing this fact, need not sit and do nothing about his sickness. Of course, it is known that some people go into a denial about their sickness and thus do not seek help. They are usually killed by their sickness. Similarly, some people may deny their spiritual ailments and do nothing about them. But the result of this may be hell. Men who are destined for Paradise do not say that since their sins are foreordained they should do nothing about them. Rather, they seek cure. They do tawbah, as Adam did. Of course, when man does tawbah, this is also according to foreordainment, just as when man takes medicine for a physical ailment he does so according to God's will. It is important for the understanding of the Qur'an that it views its purpose to heal as many as are destined to be healed from the sickness of sin and evil. Its language is formed for that purpose.

We now raise two more questions that determinism raises and discuss them briefly within the Qur'anic thought. The first question is: If all human choices and actions are preordained, then what is the purpose of God sending prophets and revelations to guide mankind? The question can be answered as follows: Pre-ordained events come to pass as a result of a certain process. Thus it may be preordained that the sun will rise tomorrow at 7:31h. But that does not mean that the sun will suddenly appear tomorrow above the horizon at this particular time. Rather, this event would be the result of a number of other events which can be described in terms of positions and velocities of various heavenly bodies and the configuration of forces that act on them; these events must happen before the event of sunrise tomorrow and in a sense cause it. Similarly, if certain human beings are preordained to choose the way that leads to salvation while others are preordained to choose the way of damnation, then these choices are normally the result of other events that must take place prior to those choices and in some sense cause them. This is stated in verses like the following:

And whomsoever it is God's will to guide He expands his bosom unto al-islam, and whomsoever it is His will to send astray He makes his bosom closed and narrow .... (6:125)

The coming of prophets and revelations are part of the process through which men are led to their foreordained destinies. Those destined for salvation are first exposed to revelation and then they develop beliefs, attitudes and practices that lead to salvation. On the other hand, those destined to damnation are either not exposed to revelation or if they are exposed, they misuse it and live in even greater disbelief and evil than before the exposure and eventually meet their destiny.

A question similar to the one discussed above is: What is the meaning of man praying to God and God hearing his prayer, if everything is already predetermined? Again we can use the idea that even preordained events have secondary causes. A man suffering from thirst in a desert searches for water, finds it and lives. This is not inconsistent with determinism because one could say that the man was preordained to live because it was preordained that he would search for water and find it. Now if instead of searching for water or after a tiring unsuccessful search for it a man prayed to God, then this act of prayer is no more inconsistent with determinism than searching for water. And if after the man prays, there is rainfall, this is also not inconsistent with determinism anymore than man's finding water after a search. We could say that man was preordained to be saved from thirst because he was preordained to pray and it was preordained that there would be rainfall after his prayer.

If the man prayed and there was a rainfall, then in religious thought one would say that God heard the man's prayer. To say that prayers can be heard simply means that prayers can be as genuine (secondary) causes of events as anything else. This concept can distinguish an atheist and a Muslim. Both can believe in determinism, but while an atheist would not admit prayer among the possible secondary causes of events, a Muslim would. If a sick man cried to God, as Ayyub (Job) did, saying:

Lo! adversity has afflicted me, and you (O my Lord) are the most merciful of all those who show mercy. (21:83)

and he is healed, as Ayyub was (21:84), then an atheist would explain it on the basis of chance or something like it but a Muslim would accept the possibility that a prayer acted as a secondary cause of healing in as real a way as the medical treatment sometimes does. But whatever the secondary cause of cure, it can be regarded as much preordained as the effect. Hence the concept that prayers are heard does not conflict with determinism.

Finally, a comment about spiritual and mystical development. Throughout the ages mystics of all persuasions have talked about the experience of union with God or becoming one with God. This is a wrong interpretation of the underlying mystic experience. The correct interpretation, which is also consistent with Islam, is that the highest mystic experience is the elimination of the experience of free will and the realization that God is active in everything that is taking place in man. The experience of free will is the last manifestation of ghaflah to be overcome. For when man experiences his choices and actions as originating from himself he is forgetting their real cause, God, which is what ghaflah is. That other things are coming from God is easy for man to realize but that his own choices and actions are also from God is the hardest thing for him to realize. When he does realize that, he has completely overcome ghaflah and he experiences God acting through him. Another way of expressing this is that man's false self is dissolved and his true self is manifested. Man's false self is closely linked to the experience of free will, for it is man's false self that says: "I chose this" or "I did this". His true self sees itself as totally a servant of God and sees God as the only active agent. It is about this self that the Hadith says: "He who recognized his self, recognized his Lord." This recognition of one's Lord comes when man comes completely out of ghaflah, when he sees that in reality he has no free will and when his false self is dissolved. At this point there is no evil since outside the state of ghaflah and of the false self there is no evil. But in a strict sense there is also no good at this point, only pure being. I say "in a strict sense" because it is natural for man to describe what is divine in "good" terms ("To God belong the best names, invoke Him by them" (7:180)). During the highest mystic experience man does not become one with God but with the created universe. The alienation that results from the experience of free will through which the false self sets itself apart from the universe is removed. Man's thoughts and feelings and actions become just like other events in the universe, although events connected with man include one exceptional event and that is consciousness. Everything in the heavens and the earth acts according to God's will but man alone among those on earth seems to be able to become conscious of this. In this way man is at least a step in the fulfillment of the divine purpose: "I was a hidden treasure and created the universe so that I may be known."


Umar ibn al-Khattab set out for ash-Sham and when he was at Sargh, near Tabuk, the army commander Abu Ubayda ibn al-Jarrah and his companions, met him and told him that the plague had broken out in ash-Sham. Ibn Abbas related, "Umar ibn al-Khattab said, ‘call the first Muhajir unto me.' He assembled them and asked them for advice, informing them that the plague had broken out in ash-Sham. They disagreed in their opinions. Some said, 'You have set out for something, and we do not think that you should leave it.' Others said, 'You have the companions of the Prophet, may God bless him and grant him peace, and the rest of the people with you, and we do not think that you should send them towards this plague.' Umar said, 'Leave me.' Then he said, 'Summon the Ansar to me.' They were summoned and he asked them for advice. They acted as the Muhajirun had and disagreed as they had disagreed. He said, 'Leave me.' "Then he said, 'Summon to me whoever is here of the aged men of Quraysh from the Muhajirun of the conquest.' He summoned them and not one of them differed. They said, 'We think that you should withdraw the people and not send them towards the plague.' Umar called out to the people, 'I am leaving by camel in the morning,' so they set out. Abu Ubayda said, 'Is it flight from the decree of God?' Umar said, 'Better that someone other than you had said it, Abu Ubayda. Yes. We flee from the decree of God to the decree of God. What would you think if these camels had gone down into a valley which had two slopes, one of them fertile, and the other barren. If you pastured in the fertile part, wouldn't youpasture them by the decree of God? If you pastured them in the barren part, wouldn't you pasture them by the decree of God?'

''Abd ar-Rahman ibn Awf arrived and he had been off doing something and he said, 'I have some knowledge of this. I heard the Messenger of God, may God bless him and grant him peace, say, "If you hear about it in a land, do not go forward to it. If it comes upon a land and you are in it, then do not depart in flight from it." ' Umar praised God and then set off." (Muwatta, kitab al-jami’, bab ma ja fi at-ta’un, Bukhari, kitab at-tib, bab ma yudhkira fi at-ta’un, Muslim, kitab as-salam, bab at-ta’un ...)


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