Verses from Surah Al-Anbiya’ (23-29)

[23] He is not questioned for what He does, but they shall be questioned.32


32. That is, He does what He will. At no point can He be questioned for what He does. In contrast, He has the right to question His slaves about anything that He likes. They cannot ask back a question in reply. The following is an interesting conversation between ‘Ali and another person. The man asked him, “Leader of the faithful! Does our Lord approve of it that He be disobeyed?” ‘Ali answered, “Is Our Lord disobeyed unwillingly? He asked, “Supposing He does not send me guidance, but instead, sends across the unsavory. Did He do me good or evil?” ‘Ali replied, “If He refused to give you your right then surely He did evil. But, instead, if He refused to bestow on you one of His blessings, then, obviously, it is His own blessing. He can bestow on whom He will. Then ‘Ali recited this verse, “He is not questioned for what He does but they shall be questioned” (Qurtubi).

And, Alusi adds, the Prophet has quoted Allah’s words in the same context, “.. O My slaves, it is your deeds that I reckon and then reward you against them. So if someone finds good, let him praise Allah. But if someone finds it otherwise, let him not blame anyone but himself. (This is part of a long hadith in Muslim and Tirmidhi: Au.).

By the first question the man tried to force `Ali to concede that the evil that men commit is by Allah’s own will. Ali countered him by saying that granted Allah enforces His will, but what answer do you have to another aspect, viz. when you disobey, do you do it willingly, well–pleased about it, or, are you displeased? If you are displeased, why do you do it in the first place? (Au.)

We might at this point add a short treatise by Ibn Rushd who tried to reconcile free will with predetermination, in the hope of enriching our discussion which is spread over several volumes in this work. The discourse is from his Al-Kashf `an Manahij al-Adillah fi `Aqaid al-Millah (Exposition of the Methods of Argument in matters of the Doctrines of the Ummah) as translated by Ibrahim Najjar:

“This question is one of the most difficult religious questions, for if the evidence of reported testimony supporting it is examined, it is found to be conflicting and the same is true of the evidence of rational arguments.

“The conflict in the reported proof exists both in the Book and in the orthodox tradition (al-sunnah). In the Book, we find many verses that indicate that every thing is predestined and that man is determined to act; and at the same time we find many verses which indicate that man earns credit for his actions and that his actions are not determined.

“The verse indicating that everything is necessary and   predetermined include the saying of the Almighty [54: 49]:

إِنَّا كُلَّ شَيْءٍ خَلَقْنَاهُ بِقَدَرٍ  [القمر : 49]

Indeed, We have created everything in measure,’ and His saying [13: 8]:

وَكُلُّ شَيْءٍ عِنْدَهُ بِمِقْدَارٍ [الرعد : 8]

‘And everything with Him is by measures,’ And His saying [57: 22]:

مَا أَصَابَ مِنْ مُصِيبَةٍ فِي الْأَرْضِ وَلَا فِي أَنْفُسِكُمْ إِلَّا فِي كِتَابٍ مِنْ قَبْلِ أَنْ نَبْرَأَهَا إِنَّ ذَلِكَ عَلَى اللَّهِ يَسِيرٌ [الحديد : 22]

‘Not a disaster befalls in the earth or in yourselves but is in a Book, before We created it. That for Allah is an easy matter’.

There are many verses indicating this notion.

“However, the verses indicating that that man earns credit and that existing things are contingent and not necessary, include the saying of the Almighty [42: 34]:

أَوْ يُوبِقْهُنَّ بِمَا كَسَبُوا وَيَعْفُ عَنْ كَثِيرٍ [الشورى : 34]

Or destroy them for what they have earned, while pardoning many,’ and His saying [42: 30]:

وَمَا أَصَابَكُمْ مِنْ مُصِيبَةٍ فَبِمَا كَسَبَتْ أَيْدِيكُمْ [الشورى : 30]

‘[Whatever calamity might hit you] is due to what your hands have earned,’ and His saying [2: 286]:

وَاتَّقُوا يَوْمًا تُرْجَعُونَ فِيهِ إِلَى اللَّهِ ثُمَّ تُوَفَّى كُلُّ نَفْسٍ مَا كَسَبَتْ وَهُمْ لَا يُظْلَمُونَ  [البقرة : 281]

‘Fear a day when you will return to Allah; then each soul will be rewarded fully for what it has earned; and none shall be wronged’.

And His saying [41: 17]: 

وَأَمَّا ثَمُودُ فَهَدَيْنَاهُمْ فَاسْتَحَبُّوا الْعَمَى عَلَى الْهُدَى فَأَخَذَتْهُمْ صَاعِقَةُ الْعَذَابِ الْهُونِ بِمَا كَانُوا يَكْسِبُونَ [فصلت : 17]

‘But as for Thamud, we extended guidance to them; yet they preferred blindness to guidance.’

“Sometimes in the same verse the conflict appears in this sense, as in the saying of the Almighty [3: 165]:

أَوَلَمَّا أَصَابَتْكُمْ مُصِيبَةٌ قَدْ أَصَبْتُمْ مِثْلَيْهَا قُلْتُمْ أَنَّى هَذَا قُلْ هُوَ مِنْ عِنْدِ أَنْفُسِكُمْ [آل عمران : 165]

‘And when a misfortune befell you after you had inflicted twice as much, you said: ‘whence is this?’say: ‘It is from yourselves.

Then He says regarding this calamity itself, [3: 166]:

وَمَا أَصَابَكُمْ يَوْمَ الْتَقَى الْجَمْعَانِ فَبِإِذْنِ اللَّهِ [آل عمران : 166]

And what befell you on the day the two armies met was by Allah’s leave,’ as well as His saying [4: 79]:

مَا أَصَابَكَ مِنْ حَسَنَةٍ فَمِنَ اللَّهِ وَمَا أَصَابَكَ مِنْ سَيِّئَةٍ فَمِنْ نَفْسِكَ  [النساء : 79]

‘Whatever good visits you, it is from Allah; and what ever evil befalls you, it is from yourself,

and His saying:

‘Say, everything is from Allah’.

“Likewise we find conflicting Prophetic traditions regarding this issue, such as his saying, God’s peace be on him:

مَا مَوْلُودٌ يُولَدُ إِلا عَلَى الْفِطْرَةِ حَتَّى يَكُونَ أَبَوَاهُ يُهَوِّدَانِهِ وَيُنَصِّرَانِهِ

‘Everyone is born in the state of nature (fitra), but his parents make him a Jew or a Christian;’ and his saying:

(إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ خَلَقَ آدَمَ ثُمَّ مَسَحَ ظَهْرَهُ بِيَمِينِهِ فَاسْتَخْرَجَ مِنْهُ ذُرِّيَّةً فَقَالَ) خَلَقْتُ هَؤُلاَءِ لِلْجَنَّةِ وَبِعَمَلِ أَهْلِ الْجَنَّةِ يَعْمَلُونَ (ثُمَّ مَسَحَ ظَهْرَهُ فَاسْتَخْرَجَ مِنْهُ ذُرِّيَّةً فَقَالَ) خَلَقْتُ هَؤُلاَءِ لِلنَّارِ وَبِعَمَلِ أَهْلِ النَّارِ يَعْمَلُونَ

‘I [Allah] made these for paradise, and thus they performed the actions of the people of paradise, and I made those for Hell and thus they performed the actions of the people of Hell.’

“The first tradition indicates that the cause of unbelief is the person’s upbringing, and the cause of faith is man’s original nature; while the latter indicates that God creates disobedience and unbelief and that the servant’s action are predetermined.

“That is why, the Muslim [community] split into two groups over this issue. One group, which is the Mu`tazilite, believed that man’s ‘earning’ is the cause of disobedience and good deeds, and it is for this reason that he is punished or rewarded. The other group, which is the Determinist, believes the opposite; namely, that man is predetermined in his action and is compelled to act.

“The Ash`arites however wanted to come up with an intermediate position between the two position and said that, although man had the power to  ‘earn’, what he earns thereby and the acts of earning are both created by God. But this is meaningless, because if God Almighty creates both the power to earn and what man earns, then the servant must necessarily be determined to earn it.”

“This is one of the reasons for the disagreement on this issue. There is a reason other than tradition for the disagreement; namely the conflicting rational proofs. For if we assume that man is the originator of his actions and their creator, then there must exist certain actions that do not occur according to God’s will or His choice, in which case there will be a creator other than God. But they object that this is a [breach] of the consensus of Muslim that there is no creator other than God Almighty. However, if we assume that [man] is not free [to ‘earn’] his actions, then he must be compelled [to perform] them [because there is no intermediate position between determinism and earning. Then if man is compelled in his action] religious obligation is intolerable. For, if the human being is obliged to perform what he cannot tolerate, then there would be no difference between imposing an obligation on him and on inanimate objects, because inanimate objects do not have any capacity to act. Similarly man would have no capacity to do what he cannot tolerate. That is why the common people came to believe that capacity (istita`ah) is a precondition of obligation, exactly as reason is. We find Abu al Ma` ali saying in his [treatise], al-Nizamiah, that man earns his actions and he has the capacity to act, basing this on the impossibility of imposing what is intolerable, but not on the same ground precluded by the Mu`tazilites. However, the early Ash`arites permitted the imposition of what is intolerable in an attempt to escape admitting the principle upon which the Mu’tazilites denied it – namely it’s being rationally abhorrent-but the [Ash`arites] disagreed with them on this point.

“Moreover, if man has no power to earn, then the order to make preparation for calamities that might occur would be meaningless; and likewise [the order] to seek good things. Thus, all the acts intended to bring about good things would be useless, like the art of agriculture and similar useful arts. The same applies to all the arts that aim at self-preservation and warding off harms, such as the arts of war, invigilation, medicine, and the like. But all this is beyond the grasp of human reason.

“It may be asked: ‘If this is the case, then how can one reconcile the conflict between what is based on tradition and what is based on reason?’

“We answer that it appears that the intention of the lawgiver is not to separate these two positions, but rather to reconcile them in an intermediate position, which is the true solution of this problem. For it seems that God, the Blessed and Exalted, has created for us the faculties by means of which we can choose between opposites. But since the choice of these things cannot be accomplished except through the propitiousness of the cause that God has made subservient to us from outside and after the removal of their impediments, then the actions imputed to us occur for both reasons. If this is the case then the actions imputed to us are performed through our will, together with the propitiousness of external forces, and that is what is referred to as God’s decree. These external causes that God has made subservient to us do not only complement or impede the action we want to do, they are also the cause of our choice of one of the two opposites. For the will is a desire that arises in us from imagining something or from believing something. This belief is not part of our choice, but is something that arises by virtue of the things that are external to us. An example of this is that if something desirable presented itself to us from outside, we would desire it necessarily without any choice, we would move towards it. Similarly, if something frightful descended on us from outside, we would necessarily hate it and run away from it. If this is the case, then our will is preserved by the things that comes from outside and is bound to them. [To] this is the reference in the saying of the Almighty [13: 11]:

لَهُ مُعَقِّبَاتٌ مِنْ بَيْنِ يَدَيْهِ وَمِنْ خَلْفِهِ يَحْفَظُونَهُ مِنْ أَمْرِ اللَّهِ [الرعد : 11]

‘There are guardian [angels] before him and behind him, guarding him by Allah’s command.’

“However, since the external causes occur in accordance with a definite pattern and a well-planned order, without the slightest deviation from what the Creator has decreed for them; and since our will and our action are not accomplished, and do not even exist, as a whole, without the concurrence of external causes, it follows that our actions occur according to a definite pattern – they take place at specific times and in a determinate measure. This must be the case because our actions are effects of the external causes. Now every effect that results from specific and determinate causes must necessarily be specific and determinate. This connection is not found between our actions and their external causes only, but also between [our actions] and the causes that God Almighty has created within our bodies. The determinate order of the internal and the external causes (those that do not fail) is the decree and foreordination (al-qada’ wa al-qadar) that God has prescribed for His creatures; that is the preserved Tablet. God’s knowledge of these causes and of what results from them is the cause of the existence of these causes. That is why no one but God encompasses the knowledge of these causes. He alone is the true knower of the unseen, as He says [27: 65]:

قُلْ لَا يَعْلَمُ مَنْ فِي السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ الْغَيْبَ إِلَّا اللَّهُ [النمل : 65]

‘Say: ‘No one in the heavens or on the earth knows the Unseen except Allah.’  The knowledge of the causes is tantamount to the knowledge of the Unseen, because the Unseen is the knowledge of the existence of existing entities or their non-existence in the future.

“Now since the disposition and order of the cause call for the existence of the thing or its non-existence at a certain time, it follows that the knowledge of the certain thing is equivalent to the knowledge of the existence of that thing or its non-existence at a certain time, and the knowledge of the cause absolutely is equivalent to the knowledge of what can exist or cease to exist from them at any particular time throughout all time. How marvelous is the One who encompasses all the causes of existing entities with His inventiveness and knowledge. These are the keys of the invisible world implied in His saying, [6: 59]:

وَعِنْدَهُ مَفَاتِحُ الْغَيْبِ لَا يَعْلَمُهَا إِلَّا هُوَ وَيَعْلَمُ مَا فِي الْبَرِّ وَالْبَحْرِ وَمَا تَسْقُطُ مِنْ وَرَقَةٍ إِلَّا يَعْلَمُهَا وَلَا حَبَّةٍ فِي ظُلُمَاتِ الْأَرْضِ وَلَا رَطْبٍ وَلَا يَابِسٍ إِلَّا فِي كِتَابٍ مُبِينٍ [الأنعام : 59]

‘With Him are the keys of the Unseen; only He knows them, and He knows what is on land or in the sea. Not a leaf fall but He knows it, and there is no grain in the dark bowels of the earth, nor anything green or dry, but is [recorded] in a clear Book.’

“If all this is as we have explained, then it is evident to you how we earn the merit [of our action] and how all our earnings are foreordained. This combination is what religion has meant by those general verses and Traditions that are thought to contradict each other, but if their generality were specified in the [above] manner, their contradiction would vanish. Similarly, all the doubts urged in this regards by which I mean the conflicting rational arguments to the effect that all the things that result from our will, in fact come to be by virtue of both factors – our will and the external causes. If the actions are attributed absolutely to one of these two factors, the previously mentioned doubts will arise.” [Faith and Reason in Islam translated by Ibrahim Najjar published by Oneworld (Publishers), Oxford, 2001, p. 105-110]

[24] Or, have they taken gods other than Him? Say, ‘Bring your evidence.33 This is the Message 34 for those with me and the Message of those before me.’ But most of them do not know the Truth, so they are turning away. 


33. Asad comments, Lit., ‘produce your evidence’, i.e., for the existence of deities other than God, as well as for the intellectual and moral justification of worshipping anything but Him.”

Thanwi sees the verse as refuting any kind of Association. Allah has no equal in His greatness, then, how can there be any partner to Him in His Person.

34. The translation of the textual “dhikr” as message follows the understanding of Razi and others who explain the word “dhikr” in this occurrence as “the Book.”

[25] And We did not send before you a Messenger but We revealed to him that ‘there is no god but I, so worship Me.’35


35. That is, the call to Oneness of God is nothing new. All previous Messengers raised the same call (Thanwi).

[26] And they said, ‘The Most Merciful has taken a son.’ Glory to Him. But rather (angels are His) servants, raised to honor.36


36. Qatadah has said that a few Jews and some others believed (like the Khuza`ah tribe: Razi) that God had reproduced the angels through intercourse with the Jinn. So Allah revealed this verse (Ibn Jarir, Qurtubi).  Majid adds: “This particular blasphemy has been world-wide, the Semitics being no exception. ‘That the angels, as “sons of God”, form part of the old Semitic mythology, is clear from Gen. VI, 2,4 (Robertson Smith, Religion of the Semites, p. 446).”

[27] They outstrip Him not in speech 37 and act by His command. 


37. That is, they do not speak without His leave (Qatadah: Ibn Jarir).

[28] He knows what is before them and what is behind them, and they intercede not except for those He approves of. Indeed, they tremble in awe of Him.38


38. (In reference to people not esteeming Allah the way He should be esteemed) the Prophet said, (in a report accredited by Haythami: Au):

أنه رأى جبريل عليه السلام ليلة المعراج ساقطاً كالحلس من خشية الله تعالى

“During his Nocturnal Journey and Ascension he saw Jibril lay fallen, like a (wet) piece of cloth worn down from Allah’s fear” (Zamakhshari, Razi).

Thanwi urges us to pay attention to the word “mushfiqun” rendered here as “in awe.” He says that the word promises pleasure rather than the pain of “fear” in His presence. (After all, to be awestruck is different from being in fear: Au.). This, Thanwi says, is the “fear” of the Near Ones.

[29] If any of them should say, ‘I am a god apart from Him,’ We shall reward him with Jahannum. That is how We requite the transgressors.39


39. Mawdudi has the following comment at the previous verse, “The Arabian polytheists used to worship angels for two reasons. First, they believed them to be God’s offspring. Second, they wanted to ingratiate themselves with them by means of worship so that they might intercede for them with God: ‘They say: “These are our intercessors with God” (Yunus 10: 18).’ ‘But those who take for protectors others than God say: “We only serve them in order that they may bring us near to God” (Al-Zumar 39:3).’ The verses in this surah show that both reasons, however, are false.”

 (To be continued)

About YMD

Past Issues