Destiny and Free Choice

Syed Sharfuddin

The philosophical debate about destiny and choice has enchanted many people, including the believers. There is a view that if the outcome of every action is already predetermined and is in the knowledge of the Creator, then where is the freedom of choice for human being to act on his own and be responsible for it. The counter view is that the Creator knows in advance about the actions of human beings during their lifetime on earth but He gives them the freedom to choose the path they want to take to reach that pre-determined end. Allah promises in the Quran that the responsibility of providing livelihood (Rizq) rests with Him and he does provide His creation with what He has reserved for them until their appointed time on earth. Therefore, Allah knows what and how much one would earn at any given moment, day, week, month or year until the last breath. The following story illustrates this point more clearly. It is narrated that a saint was once travelling on his horse when the time for afternoon payers approached. The saint kept travelling until he saw the minaret and stopped upon approaching the mosque for prayer. He had arrived late at the mosque. The prayer was over and there was no one in the mosque. There was also no ledge or tree nearby to tie the horse. The saint did not want to leave the horse on its own because it would have meandered to look for grass and gone astray. While the saint was thinking how to secure his horse, he saw a man passing by. The saint requested the man to look after his horse while he offered his prayer. The man accepted the request and the saint entered the mosque to offer prayer. When the saint finished the prayer and came out, he saw his horse standing by the door of the mosque but the man was nowhere to be seen. The saint wondered what happed to the man. After some wait when the saint decided to mount the horse, he discovered that the saddle on the horseback was gone. It was apparent that the man had stolen the saddle and run away. The saint could not travel on the horseback without his saddle because there was still a considerable way to cover before he reached his destination. He regretted that he did not tell the man that he wanted to offer him 10 Dinars as his compensation for looking after his horse. He had planned to give the man this money after he had finished his prayer and was ready to leave.

So, the saint mounted on the horseback and proceeded slowly. He meet a few travellers along the way and found out that a couple of miles away there was a bazar. Hoping to buy a saddle for his horse, the saint slowly rode  to the bazar. There he found the same man whom he had entrusted the horse. The man was selling the stolen saddle. As there were many buyers the man forgot that his new customer was the same man whose saddle he had stolen a few hours before in the day. The saint asked the man the price of the saddle. The man said. “It is a bargain in 10 Dinars”. The saint gave him 10 Dinars and got the saddle. He belted the saddle on his horse and went riding away to his destination.

Look at the outcome of this man’s action. He was pre-destined to receive 10 Dinars from the saint the moment he saw him in front of the mosque. Allah had written that man’s Rizq and made it possible for the man to find the saint on that day. But Allah left the choice of how the man got his 10 Dinars from the saint. Had the man waited for the saint to finish his prayer he would have received 10 Dinars from the saint because the saint had already decided to compensate the man him for looking after his horse. But the man instead chose to steal the saddle and decided to sell it in the bazar for 10 Dinars. The man made the effort to walk to the bazar and waited for a buyer. The man also incurred a sin for stealing the saddle. And after doing all this, he only got the Rizq that was written for him.

Pre-destination and  freedom of choice are relative terms. In the broad scheme of things, man is only a three dimensional being. His free choice is nothing more than deciding whether he relies on his faith or on his mind. At the end, the result is only what is his destiny, whichever way he chooses to reach it.