God. He exists. He is the Creator of all that exists, and He is One in His Lordship of all. He is One in His Right to be worshipped, alone, without any partners. He is absolutely beyond comparison with any living thing and Is Unique in His Names and His Attributes.
From His boundless Mercy, He sent us prophets to teach us about Him and how to worship Him, and He sent His Books down to His Messengers, so that His words could exist and spread. He sent angels to teach His Words, to guard and keep watch over us, to make sure the all the various physical operations work as He Designed.
From His Most Perfect Justice, He has guaranteed the Day of Judgement, the day on which all humans and other sentient parts of the creation will be judged on our performance in this life: on our belief and our actions, the state of our hearts and our minds in this life. From our limited, human perspective, this Day of Judgment is a mystery; for God, it has already happened, so to speak. He is the Creator of all, the Sustainer of all, and He not only knows what you did last summer, He knows what you did next summer, and what state your heart was in when you did it: it’s all part of the sixth pillar of belief, the belief in the Decree of God, the good and the bad of it.For some, this concept of Qadr (Decree) is tricky. It’s really very simple, but it gets really tricky when we try to understand it in strictly human terms, and it might be the hardest belief to swallow.
I have a BA in Philosophy, and the senior seminar for my class was on free will. Free will is a tricky concept: we are always already constrained in our freedom by the simple fact of our personhood, both our physical bodies and the laws of nature, and by the facts of our backgrounds and the effects our experiences had on our psyches. Within those bounds, though, we more or less get to decide what we believe and what we do. That’s the sum total of free will: the freedom to believe, think, and do more or less whatever you want to do, within the bounds set by nature, nurture, and the state. We experience the external constraints, those exposed by the laws of nature and society, but we tend to be a bit blind to the ways our nurture constrains us. None of that really matters, though, since our experience confirms free will.
From a philosophical standpoint, there are two broad camps in contemporary thought (as far as I remember and understand). Pretty much everyone agrees that there is some determinism (the laws of nature and nurture). The question is whether this determination is compatible with our concept of free will.
From an Islamic standpoint, we were created with free will, and so Islamic belief about free will can be said to be a compatibilist position, philosophically speaking. But we go further than simply saying that our belief in freedom of will is compatible with our understanding of the determinations of nature and nurture. We also get to reconcile that with the belief that God Wrote everything down long long ago, before He even created the universe, and He always already knows exactly what we’re going to do… He knows all, because He created and ordained all.
I don’t pretend to understand it all, but there is a sense in which God ordained everything before He Created it. There’s also a sense in which God sends down His Decree annually, on the Night of Power at some point during the last 10 days of Ramadan. And there’s also a sense in which prayer and sincere acts of worship can influence the decree, or appear to influence the decree.* I can’t blindly believe, I have to come to some understanding of it, so here’s how I see it, and God knows best.
God Created all, He Sustains all, and He Knows all. He Ordained hardship and ease for us, in alternating stages. He ordained everything: from the birth of the universe to the birth of Jesus, peace be upon him, to the birth of you and me, to our deaths, the day when Jesus returns, and the Day of Judgement; from the orbits of the galaxies to the movements of electrons through the wires that keep this computer working and keep these letters appearing on the screen and winging their way through to the screen you’re reading this on.
In all of that, there is good, and there is bad. It’s easy to thank God and trust in God when things are good; it’s equally easy to blame God when things are not so good. It’s vital to understand what the good is and what the bad is, that both happen to us to test us, and that God only tests those whom He loves. And the trick is to thank God and trust in Him alone during times of hardship, and to seek forgiveness in times of ease: I, for one, want my reward for my belief and for my good actions to come in the next life, and I want all punishment for any incorrect belief and any errors and bad actions to come in this life, and God knows all and knows best.
But this is a bit outside of, or beyond, or too deep into God’s Decree, so let me make it as simple as I can…
Belief in the Decree of God, the good and the bad of it, consists in 4 parts:
- Believing that God knows all
- Believing that God has written all of it in the Book of Decrees
- Believing that anything and everything that happens, happens only by the Will of God
- Believing God created all, created everything: the spiritual, the physical, the emotional, everything.
Easy, right? There is much more detail available: islamqa and islamweb have reasonably accessible discussions, and get into more detail, and I encourage you to go read a bit more about it. The concept of God’s Decree is difficult, but think deeply about it, admit the possibility, and then look back at your life; or, look back at your life, admit the possibility, think deeply about it, and it’s probably obvious to you: it’s certainly obvious to me. Maybe your life has been totally random, with one moment tumbling after the next with no rhyme or reason. Or maybe you’ve decided and made everything happen yourself, through your own effort, with no help from anyone or anything. But life isn’t random and you didn’t decide to start breathing or to meet the best friend you had in third grade, or much of anything else. You may have made some decisions to do this or that, I certainly have, but I’m sure some things have been beyond my control, and some things that I thought I controlled were really (and obviously) way beyond mere me: I’m a bag of mostly water, some bone, and a whole lotta… meat. God is the Creator, the Sustainer, the Provider. He made all this, the stuff and the stuff that makes the stuff work. He is the only Controller, and while we plan, God Plans, and His is the Best and Only Plan.
That’s the Decree of God, and InshaAllah, this brings me to the end of this series on Iman. If I’ve made any errors or written anything untrue, it’s from me and the whispers of the devil and his buddies, and if I’ve written anything true or good or helpful, it’s from God alone.
*Well, not really… If we suddenly increase in our worship of Him and our sincerity for Him, He always already knew we were going to increase in our worship and sincerity. From our standpoint, perhaps it’s sudden; from God’s position, well, He’s outside of space and time, and not in any way subject to our limited perspectives, so He alone knows what it’s like, for Him.