GOD IN HIS RELATION TO MAN
In our previous chapters we saw what a distorted and unworthy view of the person of God is furnished by the Qur'an and the Traditions, which picture Him as a sterile and unloving Monad, lacking in His own nature the essential attribute of self-sufficiency, and requiring the presence of something outside of Himself, viz., a created world, in order to the exercise of His own personality. The bold literalism and gross anthropomorphism which characterize the Islamic descriptions of God, whether of the Qur'an or the Traditions, is still more dishonouring to Him, and proves one of the greatest hindrances to true spiritual worship.
When we examine the teachings of Islam with regard to God's relation to the created universe, and to mankind in particular, the picture is seen to be still more distorted, and one ceases to wonder at the backwardness of Moslem nations or the lethargy and despair which often seize Moslem communities in times of danger. God in Islam is not a heavenly Father Who pities His children and remembers that they are but dust, but He is a far-away Autocrat Who rules His slaves according to His own arbitrary and self-measured decree, acknowledging no standard or limit save His own absolute will. Man himself is but a puppet whose every act, both good and bad, has been pre-destined from all eternity and written down upon the preserved table long before the creation of the world. This bold doctrine of fate, which, carried to its legitimate conclusions, makes God the author of evil, naturally tends to freeze the energies and paralyse the activities of all who believe in it, and the sad condition of all Moslem States to-day bears eloquent testimony to its petrifying and demoralizing power. That the picture here painted is not an exaggerated one, we now proceed to show from the authorities of Islam itself.
The Qur'an and Traditions contain repeated illustrations of the Islamic doctrine of fate, and again and again point out the absolute impotence of man for either good or evil. Thus in the Mishkat, we read that:—
«قَالَ: إِنَّ أَوَّلَ مَا خَلَقَ اللَّهُ الْقَلَمُ فَقَالَ لَهُ: اكْتُبْ، َقَالَ: مَا أَكْتُبُ؟ قَالَ: اكْتُبِ الْقَدَرَ، فَكَتَب ما كانَ ومَا هو كائنٌ إلى الأبَدِ».
“(The Prophet) said, Verily, the first thing which God created was the pen. And He said to it, write. It said, what shall I write? He said, write down the divine decrees (qadar); and it wrote down all that was and all that will be to eternity.” (Kitabu'l-Iman, Babu'l-Qadar.) Another saying of the Prophet to the same effect is found in the same book, and runs thus:—
«قَال رِسوْل اللهِ صَلع كَتَبَ اللَّهُ مَقَادِيرَ الْخَلَائِقِ قَبْلَ أَنْ يَخْلُقَ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضَ بِخَمْسِينَ أَلْفَ سَنَةٍ قَالَ وَعَرْشُهُ عَلَى الْمَاءِ».
“The Prophet of God said, Fifty thousand years before the creation of heaven and earth God wrote down the destiny of all creation. He said, and the throne of God was upon water.” With these traditions agree the express words of the Qur'an:—
«إِنَّا كُلَّ شَيْءٍ خَلَقْنَاهُ بِقَدَرٍ ... وَكُلُّ شَيْءٍ فَعَلُوهُ فِي الزُّبُرِ. وَكُلُّ صَغِيرٍ وَكَبِيرٍ مُسْتَطَرٌ».
“Verily, everything have we created by decree, .... and everything they do is in the books, and everything small and great is written down.” (Qur’an Al-Qamar 54:49-53).
Another passage which teaches still more clearly the doctrine that God is the author of sin is that found in Qur'an As-Saffaat 37:96, and which runs as follows:—
«وَاللَّهُ خَلَقَكُمْ وَمَا تَعْمَلُونَ».
“And God has created you and what ye do;” and yet again in Qur’an Al-Isra' 17:13 we read that:—
«وَكُلَّ إِنسَانٍ أَلْزَمْنَاهُ طَآئِرَهُ فِي عُنُقِهِ».
“Every man's fate (lit., bird) have we fastened on his neck.” There is also a mythical story concerning Moses and Adam and their disputes in Paradise which well illustrates the Muhammadan belief concerning the absolute predestination of all human actions whether good or evil. It is recorded in the Mishkat in the chapter on fate, and runs thus:—
“Adam and Moses were once disputing before their Lord, and Moses said, Thou art Adam whom God created with His hand and breathed into thee of His spirit and angels worshipped thee, and He made thee dwell in Paradise, and then thou didst make men fall down by thy sin to the earth. Adam replied, Thou art Moses whom God distinguished by sending thee with His message and His book, and He gave thee the tables on which all things are recorded. Now tell me, how many years before I was created did God write the Torah? Moses replied, Forty years. Then, said Adam, did you find written there that, Adam transgressed against his Lord. Yes, said Moses. Said Adam, Then why do you blame me for doing something which God decreed before He created me by forty years?” 23 Another tradition which teaches the pre-ordination of some to heaven and others to hell has been handed down by 'Ali and preserved in the Mishkat. It is as follows:—
«مَا مِنْكُمْ مِنْ أَحَدٍ إِلا وَقَدْ كُتِبَ مَقْعَدُهُ مِنَ النَّارِ أَوِ الْجَنَّةِ».
“There is no one amongst you whose place is not written by God, whether in the fire or in Paradise.” Yet another saying of the Prophet teaching the same doctrine of hopeless despair is as follows:—
«ِإِنَّ اللَّهَ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ فَرَغَ إِلَى كُلِّ عَبْدٍ مِنْ خَلْقِهِ مِنْ خَمْسٍ: مِنْ أَجَلِهِ، وَعَمَلِهِ، وَمَضْجَعِهِ، وَأَثَرِهِ، وَرِزْقِهِ».
“Verily God most high has ordained five things on each of His servants from His creation: his appointed time, his actions, his dwelling place, his travels and his subsistence.” 24 Little wonder that, with such a creed forced upon them, the Companions of the Prophet should ask in bewilderment “What use, then, of our striving at all!” To which the Prophet made the heartless rejoinder, “When God creates any servant for heaven, he causes him to go in the way of those destined for heaven until he dies, after which He takes him to heaven. And when He creates any servant for the fire of hell, then He causes him to go in the way of those destined for hell until his death, after which He takes him to hell!” 25 (Mishkatu'l-Masabih, Kitabu'l-Iman, Babu'l-Qadar.)
The same relentless doctrine of fate runs all through the Qur'an, and God is there also pictured as an almighty Despot subject to no rule but His own caprice, for:—
«يُضِلُّ مَن يَشَاءُ وَيَهْدِي مَن يَشَاءُ».
“He leads astray whom He will, and guides whom He will.” (Qur’an An-Nahl 16:93.) Here, too, as in the Traditions, God is said to create some men specially for hell. Thus in Qur’an Al-A'raf 7:179, we read:—
«وَلَقَدْ ذَرَأْنَا لِجَهَنَّمَ كَثِيراً مِّنَ الْجِنِّ وَالإِنسِ».
“We have created for hell many of the jinn and of mankind.” The reason for this un-Godlike proceeding is given in another part of the Qur’an, where it is said that:—
«وَلَوْ شِئْنَا لآتَيْنَا كُلَّ نَفْسٍ هُدَاهَا وَلَكِنْ حَقَّ الْقَوْلُ مِنِّي لأَمْلأَنَّ جَهَنَّمَ مِنَ الْجِنَّةِ وَالنَّاسِ أَجْمَعِينَ».
“Had we pleased we would have given to everything its guidance: but the sentence was due from me;—I will surely fill hell with the jinns and with men all together.” (Qur’an As-Sajdah 32:13.)
Not only does this absolute decree of God determine the final destiny of every soul, but it affects every detail of life, and leaves man a passive machine in the hands of the great Machinist. Thus, for example, we are told that:—
«مَا أَصَابَ مِن مُّصِيبَةٍ فِي الأَرْضِ وَلاَ فِي أَنفُسِكُمْ إِلاَ فِي كِتَابٍ مِّن قَبْلِ أَن نَّبْرَأَهَا».
“No accident befalls in the earth, or in yourselves, but it was in the book before we created them.” (Qur’an Al-Hadid 57:22.) Man has thus no power of choice either for good or evil, and his very power to will is conditioned by the Supreme will of God. Thus, for example, there is a classic passage, much used by the orthodox doctors in their discussions against the Mu'tazila heretics of Baghdad, which was supposed to effectually silence all arguments for free-will such as might be advanced by the Freethinkers of Islam. It runs thus:—
«فَمَن شَاءَ اتَّخَذَ إِلَى رَبِّهِ سَبِيلاً. وَمَا تَشَاءُونَ إِلاَ أَنْ يَشَاءَ اللَّهُ».
“Whoso will, let him take unto His Lord a way. But will it, ye shall not unless that God will.” 26 Such is the Muhammadan idea of God according to the repeated testimony of the Qur'an and the Traditions. What a caricature! Man, in such a system, is doomed to hopeless despair, for no amount of self-abnegation on his part, no measure of striving to know and do the will of God, can alter the irrevocable decree which went forth ages before he was born. Could any system be devised by the ingenuity of Satan which would tend more to render hard and callous the heart of man, and lead him to a life of epicurean debauch! Well might 'Umar Khayyam write:—
“The moving finger writes: and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all your piety or wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a line,
Nor all your tears wash out a word of it.”
Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die, may well be the motto of the Moslem, who has the satisfaction of knowing that however bad his life, he may yet be numbered amongst the favoured ones of Paradise; for has not the Prophet himself said that:—
«إِنَّ العَبدَ لَيَعْمَلُ عَمَلِ أَهْلِ النَّارِ وإنَّه مِن أهلِ الجَّنة، ويعمل عَمَلَ أهلِ الجَنَّة وإنَّه من أهلِ النارِ»
“Verily a servant may do the works of the people of the fire, yet he may be numbered amongst the people of Paradise; and he may do the works of the people of Paradise and yet he may be numbered amongst the people of the fire!” 27 (Mishkatu'l-Masabih, Kitabu'l-Iman, Babu'l-Qadar.) The logical result of such a system, and of such a conception of God and His government of the world can only be apathy and stagnation; for if man is in the grip of a cruel and unrelenting fate which takes no account of his actions, and works out its pre-destined course with unerring and unfaltering precision, then, manifestly, all effort upon the part of man, whether in the sphere of religion or morals, is vain and useless.
One is not surprised, after a study of the Islamic doctrine of fate, to find the Prophet urging his people to a passive and apathetic submission to the ravages of plague, instead of using energetic measures of segregation for the eradication of the fell disease. Thus he says:—
«الطَّاعُونَ رِجْسٌ... وَإِذَا وَقَعَ بِأَرْضٍ وَأَنْتُمْ بِهَا فَلا تَخْرُجُوا فِرَارًا مِنْهُ».
“The plague is a punishment .... and when it arrives at any place where you are, do not flee away from it.” 28 Modern sanitary science, no less than practical experience, teaches us that the ravages of plague may be much lessened by an early evacuation of infected localities; Islam says, stay where you are; your fate is fixed; and nought can delay the execution of a sentence which was passed in eternity.
We have not, in these pages, touched upon the Mu’tazila doctrine of free-will, or attempted even the briefest review of their historic struggles with the Ash'arians and other orthodox sects. The reason is obvious. The Mu'tazilas were a heterodox sect whose doctrines were repudiated and discredited by the orthodox; and this brief essay aims at no more than presenting a summary of the teaching of orthodox Islam with regard to the Being and attributes of God. To show that we have neither misunderstood nor misstated that teaching, we give below two extracts from the writings of authoritative Moslem theologians. In these dogmatic statements we have, in a nutshell, the teaching of Islam as based upon the explicit statements of the Qur'an and the Traditions. The first quotation is from the writings of Muhammad-al-Barkavi and runs as follows:—“It is necessary to confess that good and evil take place by the pre-destination and pre-determination of God; that all that has been and all that will be are decreed from eternity and written upon the preserved table; that the faith of the believer and piety of the pious and good actions are foreseen, willed, predestinated, decreed by the writing on the preserved table, produced and approved by God; that the unbelief of the unbeliever, the impiety of the impious and had actions come to pass with the fore-knowledge, will, pre-destination and decree of God, but not with His satisfaction and approval. Should any ask why God willeth and produceth evil, we can only reply that He may have wise ends in view which we cannot comprehend.” 29 In the celebrated Al-Maqsadu'l-Asna of the great theologian Imam al-Ghazali the doctrine is stated thus:—“He, praised be His name, doth will those things to be that are, and disposes of all accidents. Nothing passes in the empire, nor the kingdom, neither little nor much, nor small nor great, nor good nor evil, nor profitable nor hurtful, nor faith nor infidelity, nor knowledge nor ignorance, nor prosperity nor adversity, nor increase nor decrease, nor obedience nor rebellion but by His determinate counsel and decree, and His definite sentence and will: .... there is no reversing His decree nor delaying what He hath determined.” 30
Such is the Islamic conception of God, a conception, we need scarcely point out, which inevitably leads to the obliteration of all moral distinctions, and undermines all sense of human responsibility; for if man's every act is necessitated by the express decree and will of an all-powerful God, then, manifestly, the real author of human actions is God Himself. Under such circumstances, to punish would be an act of gross injustice. and to condemn to hell torments the work of an inhuman monster. Truly did the Mu'tazilas retort that, if God be the causer of infidelity, them He is an infidel! To such blasphemous lengths does the doctrine lead us.
The Bible, it is true, contains passages, which, teach a doctrine of election; but the student is preserved from a false exegesis by the clear statements of scripture which exhibit the Divine will as desiring that all should come to a knowledge of the truth, and teach that salvation is obtained through the action of man's free-will. Thus, to quote one or two from a wealth of passages, the Bible states that God, “Willeth that all men should be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:4.) He is “Long-suffering to you-ward, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3: 9.) “As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live.” (Ezekiel 33:11.) In the Bible God is pictured as a loving Father yearning over His children, and sending His only begotten Son to effect their salvation. In Islam God is represented as pointing out to Adam the spirits of his descendents yet unborn, and, dividing them into two bands, ranking one company upon Adam's right hand and one on his left, He says:—
«هَؤُلَاءِ في الْجَنَّةِ وَلَا أُبَالِي وَهَؤُلَاءِ في النَّارِ وَلَا أُبَالِي».
“These are for Paradise, and I care not; and these are for the fire and I care not.”
This is the picture of an oriental despot who, walking through the streets of the city, points to one and arbitrarily orders wealth and preferment, whilst to another he pronounces the dread sentence of death. It speaks of One of omnipotent power who plays the human pieces upon the chess-board of the world according to his own arbitrary will. But this doctrine of the “resistless sovereignty of an inscrutable God” which contains such unworthy, rather unmoral, representations of the Supreme is contradicted by the deepest instincts of the human heart, and gives the lie to those, who, in all ages, have been feeling after God if haply they might find Him. If the Muhammadan doctrine of fate be true, then our prayers and our fasts, our temples and our worship are alike useless, and the human heart, as it sighs for reconciliation with God, is only met by a mocking echo. But the very existence of conscience proves our responsibility, and the consciousness of guilt which accompanies wrongdoing affords a silent testimony to human freedom. The Qur'anic doctrine of fate, if truly believed in, would bring all human relationships to a stand still; for it is the belief that man is free which animates us in all our dealings with one another, and lies at the basis of all human government. Take away the belief in individual responsibility, and the world would soon become a veritable saturnalia, with every man a law unto himself; but in our next chapter we shall see that the instincts of the human heart have proved stronger than the words of either Qur'an or Traditions, and deep down in the heart of man there remains the belief in the efficacy of prayer and the Mercy of God.
23. See also, Al-Hadis, An English Translation and Commentary of Mishkat-Ul-Masabih With Arabic Text, Al-Haj Maulana Fazul Karim, Vol 3, Chapter XXXII, No 3, Pre-Destination, p. 101-102.
24. See also, Al-Hadis, An English Translation and Commentary of Mishkat-Ul-Masabih With Arabic Text, Al-Haj Maulana Fazul Karim, Vol 3, Chapter XXXII, No 452w, Pre-Destination, p. 116-117.
25. See also, Al-Hadis, An English Translation and Commentary of Mishkat-Ul-Masabih With Arabic Text, Al-Haj Maulana Fazul Karim, Vol 3, Chapter XXXII, No 14, Pre-Destination, p. 107.
26. Qur’an al-Insan 76:29-30
27. See also, Al-Hadis, An English Translation and Commentary of Mishkat-ul-Masabih With Arabic Text, Al-Haj Maulana Fazul Karim, Vol 3, Chapter XXXII, No 5, Pre-Destination, p. 103.
28. Mishkatu'l Masabih,,Kitabu'l-Jana'ja. See also, Sahih al-Bukhari, Book of Tricks, No 90, Playing tricks to run from the disease of plague.
29. Quoted in Edward Sell's “Faith of Islam,” (3rd ed.), p. 269.
30. Quoted in Hughes' “Dictionary of Islam,” p. 145.