Hazrat Mizra Ghulam Ahmad (as), The Promised Messiah & Imam Mahdi
The Promised Messiah (as) wrote over 80 books in Arabic, Urdu, and Persian. Excerpts of his collected works have been translated into English and organised by topic. The Review of Religions is pleased to present these excerpts as part of a monthly feature. Here the Promised Messiah (as) explains the two types of divine decree and their relationship with prayer.
Extracts from The Essence of Islam, Vol. II, 335-346.
It should be remembered that though everything has been determined by divine decree, yet this does not exclude science and knowledge as everyone has to acknowledge that the use of appropriate medicines, through the grace and mercy of God Almighty, benefits the patient. In the same way everyone who is bestowed comprehension of the Divine has to acknowledge as the result of experience that prayer has a relationship with acceptance. This is a mystery which has been demonstrated through the experience of millions of the righteous and our experience has demonstrated the hidden reality that our prayers have a magnetic quality which attracts the grace and mercy of God, though we may not be able to convince others of this verity through logical reasoning.
—Ayyam-us-Sulh, Ruhani Khaza’in, vol. 14, pp. 240-241
It is not within the power of man to transcend the bounds of divine decrees and scheme of things.
—Barahin-e-Ahmadiyya, Part V, Ruhani Khaza’in, vol. 21, p. 3
Man is subject to divine decree. If a human design should not be in accord with the design of God, no amount of effort can succeed in putting it into effect; but when the time of the design of God arrives, that which had appeared most difficult becomes easily available.
—Barahin-e-Ahmadiyya, Part V, Ruhani Khaza’in, vol. 21, p. 3
Two Types of Divine Decrees
Divine decrees are of two types; one may be described as suspended, and the other as absolute. The operation of a suspended decree may be averted by the grace of God Almighty through prayer and almsgiving. The operation of an absolute decree cannot be averted through prayer and almsgiving, though God Almighty bestows some other benefit in return for them. In some cases God Almighty causes a delay in the operation of a decree. The knowledge of these two types of divine decrees can be gathered from the Holy Qur’an.
—Malfuzat, vol. I, pp. 157-158
The Holy Qur’an has set out certain matters for the establishment of the principle that God Almighty is One and is the source and goal of everything from which foolish critics have deduced the doctrine of compulsion. He is the Causa Causans and is the Provider of all means. This is the reason why God Almighty has in some cases described Himself as the Cause of all causes in the Holy Qur’an, without mention of intervening means. A perusal of the Holy Qur’an discloses that at certain places these means have also been clearly specified so that man should pay heed to them.
Besides, the Holy Qur’an specifies the punishment of evil and lays down penalties. If there was to be an unalterable system of divine decrees and determination and man was to be under absolute compulsion what justification was there for these punishments and penalties?
Prayer and Divine Determination are Juxtaposed
It should be remembered that, unlike the atheists, the Holy Qur’an does not confine everything within the system of physical causes, but seeks to lead mankind to belief in the pure unity of God. Most people do not realise the true nature of prayer, nor do they comprehend the relationship between prayer and divine determination. God Almighty opens the way for those who have recourse to prayer and does not reject their supplications. Prayer and divine determination are juxtaposed to each other. God has appointed times for both. His Providence has directed:
ٱدۡعُونِيٓ اَسۡتَجِبۡ لَكُمۡ
Call Me, I shall respond to you.
That is why I have always said that the God of the Muslims responds to their supplications; but the god who has not created a single particle or who died under the scourging of the Jews, how can he respond?
تو کارِ زمیں را نکو ساختی کہ با آسماں نیز پر داختی
It is not wise to attempt reconciliation between choice and compulsion on the basis of one’s self-conceived and supposed logic and reasoning. This is a vain attempt. One must honour Godhead and Providence duly and an attempt to comprehend the mysteries of Godhead is disrespectful.
الطَّرِيْقَةُ كُلُّھَا اَدَبٌ
Two Aspects of Prayer
Divine decrees and determination have a close relationship with prayer. Prayer averts the operation of a suspended decree. Prayer is certainly effective against difficulties. Those who deny the effectiveness of prayer are under a misconception. The Holy Qur’an sets out two aspects of prayer. In one aspect God Almighty enforces His own will and in the other aspect He responds to the prayer of a servant. In the verse:
وَلَنَبۡلُوَنَّكُم بِشَيۡءٖ مِّنَ ٱلۡخَوۡفِ وَٱلۡجُوعِ
God Almighty requires obedience to His will. The meaning is that man’s response to an absolute divine decree must be:
إِنَّآ إِلَيۡهِ رٰجِعُونَ
The other time is of the upsurge of the waves of the grace and mercy of God Almighty; it is indicated in:
ٱدۡعُونِيٓ اَسۡتَجِبۡ لَكُمۡ
A believer should have knowledge of both these aspects. The Sufis say that a person’s absolute dependence upon God does not become perfect without his being able to distinguish the proper place and occasion for supplication. It has been said that a Sufi does not pray till he recognizes that it is time for prayer.
Sayyed Abdul Qadir Jilani (may Allah be pleased with him) has said that through prayer an unfortunate one is rendered fortunate. He has even gone so far as to affirm that deeply hidden matters, which resemble an absolute decree, can also be averted by prayer.
In short it should always be remembered in connection with prayer that sometimes God Almighty requires obedience to His own will and at other times He grants the supplication of a servant of His. In other words He deals with His servant like a friend. The prayers of the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be on him) were accepted on a grand scale and corresponding to this he stood very high in bowing to the will of God and in accepting it cheerfully. He lost eleven children, but he never asked “Why?”
—Malfuzat, vol. III, pp. 224-226
It is the way of Allah that when an action proceeds from man its effect is duly manifested by God Almighty. For instance, when we close all the doors of a room, this is our action and the result it entails, namely, that our room becomes dark is the effect of our action manifested by God Almighty. This is God’s eternal law. In the same way if we were to swallow poison in a fatal dose, this would doubtless be our action; our death following upon this action of ours would be God’s action in accord with His eternal law. Thus every action of ours is followed by a divine action that is manifested after our action and is its necessary result. This system operates both in that which is manifest and also in that which is hidden. Every good or bad action of ours creates an effect which is manifested after our action. The meaning of the verse of the Holy Qur’an:
خَتَمَ اللّٰہُ عَلٰی قُلُوبِھِمۡ
is that when a person does evil its effect is manifested by God Almighty on his heart and his countenance. The same is the meaning of the verse:
فَلَمَّا زَاغُوٓاْ اَزَاغَ اللّٰہُ قُلُوبَھُمۡ
that is to say, when they turned away from the truth God Almighty turned their hearts away from being in accord with the truth and in the end, in consequence of their hostility, a change was brought about in them and they were so corrupted that the poison of their hostility overwhelmed their natural light.
—Kitab al-Bariyyah, Ruhani Khaza’in, vol. 13, pp. 47-48
Man Will Have Nothing but What He Strives for
You have raised the objection that the Holy Qur’an shows that man acts under compulsion and is given no choice. You seem to have overlooked the verses which clearly indicate man’s choice and his acquisition of good or evil; for instance:
وَأَنْ لَّيۡسَ لِلۡإِنْسٰنِ إِلَّا مَا سَعٰی
This means that Man will have nothing but that which he strives for and striving is necessary for earning a reward. Then is it said:
وَلَوۡ يُؤَاخِذُ اللّٰہُ ٱلنَّاسَ بِمَا كَسَبُواْ مَا تَرَكَ عَلٰی ظَھْرِهَا مِن دَآبَّةٖ
meaning that if God were to punish people for all that they do by their free choice no living creature would be left on the earth.
Again it is said:
لَھَا مَا كَسَبَتۡ وَعَلَيۡھَا مَا اكۡتَسَبَتۡ
Each one shall have the benefit of the good he does and shall suffer the consequences of the ill he works.
It is also said:
مَّنۡ عَمِلَ صَٰلِحٗا فَلِنَفۡسِهِۦ
Whoso acts righteously, it is for the good of his own self and whoso does evil bears the burden thereof.
Again it is said:
فَكَيۡفَ إِذَآ اَصٰبَتۡھُم مُّصِيبَة بِمَا قَدَّمَتۡ أَيۡدِيھِمۡ
How will it be when they are afflicted with a misfortune on account of that which their hands had wrought aforetime.
All these verses show that man has choice in his actions. In this connection Mr. ‘Abdullah Atham has set forth the verse:
يَقُولُونَ هَل لَّنَا مِنَ ٱلۡاَمۡرِ مِن شَيۡءٖ
and argues from it that this proves compulsion. He is under a misunderstanding. In this verse the word amr means administration and governance. This verse sets forth the thinking of those who had said: Had we any share in matters of governance, we would have so planned that the trouble that was encountered in the battle of Uhud would have been avoided. In reply to them God Almighty said:
قُلۡ اِنَّ ٱلۡاَمۡرَ كُلَّهُ لِلّٰہِ
Tell them all governance belongs to Allah.
They were admonished to obey the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be on him) in all circumstances. This verse has nothing to do with choice or compulsion. The reference is to the thinking of some persons that if they had been consulted they would have proposed something different. God Almighty admonished them that the matter was not one for consultation but was a divine commandment.
It should be clearly understood that taqdir means only the determination of a measure; as Allah the Glorious says:
وَخَلَقَ كُلَّ شَيۡءٍ فَقَدَّرَهُ تَقۡدِيرٗا
He has created everything and has determined its measure.
This does not show that man has been deprived of choice. Indeed choice is a part of that measure. God Almighty having taken the measure of human nature and human capacity called it taqdir, and as part of it He determined up to what degree man would have choice in his actions. It is a great mistake to interpret taqdir as meaning that man is under compulsion not to take advantage of the faculties bestowed upon him by God. This might be illustrated by drawing attention to the mechanism of a watch which cannot continue to work beyond the measure determined by its maker. In the same way a human being cannot achieve anything that is beyond the faculties that are bestowed upon him, nor can he live beyond his allotted span of life.
God does Not Condemn People Without Cause
It is a grievous mistake to imagine that the Holy Qur’an has adjudged some people as deserving of hell as a matter of compulsion and that they have been compulsorily subjected to the authority of Satan. On the contrary God Almighty had said in the Holy Qur’an, addressing Satan:
إِنَّ عِبَادِي لَيۡسَ لَكَ عَلَيۡھِمۡ سُلۡطٰنٌ
O Satan! you will have no authority over My true servants.
Behold how clearly does Allah Almighty proclaim man’s freedom. This single verse should be enough to satisfy a just minded person. However, the Gospel of Matthew tells a different tale. Matthew states that Satan took Jesus (as) to tempt him. This would mean that Satan had so much authority that he led a holy Prophet by compulsion from place to place and directed him impertinently to prostrate himself before him. Again the devil took him to a high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the earth and their glory. See Matthew, 4:18.
Reflection would show that these verses illustrate that Satan possessed divine powers. He took Jesus (as) who was unwilling, to a high mountain by his own authority and exercised the power which belongs to God Almighty alone to show Jesus (as) all the kingdoms of the earth.
Your being convinced that the Holy Qur’an teaches that some people have been compulsorily condemned to hell or have their hearts sealed merely shows that you have never studied the Qur’an in a just manner. Consider what Allah the Glorious has said:
لَاَمۡلَاَنَّ جَھَنَّمَ مِنكَ وَمِمَّن تَبِعَكَ مِنۡھُمۡ أَجۡمَعِينَ
Addressing Satan, Allah says: ‘I will surely fill hell with thee and with those who follow thee from among them, all together.’
This shows clearly that God Almighty will not condemn people to hell without cause. He will so condemn only those who would have earned such condemnation through their misconduct. It is also said:
يُضِلُّ بِهِۦ كَثِيرٗا وَيَھْدِي بِهِۦ كَثِيرًا ۚ وَمَا يُضِلُّ بِهِۦٓ اِلَّا الۡفٰسِقِينَ
He adjudges astray many through this world and guides aright many, but He adjudges astray only those who chose to go astray and are guilty of misdeeds.
This means that man is judged by God according to his conduct; as when a person opens the window of his room that faces the sun the light of the sun naturally falls on his face, but when he shuts the window he creates darkness in the room by his own action.
As God Almighty is the Causa Causans, He ascribes both these consequences to Himself, but He has repeatedly expounded in His Holy Word that the misguidance which a person conceives is the consequence of his own misconduct, God Almighty does not wrong anyone as is said:
فَلَمَّا زَاغُوٓاْ اَزَاغَ اللّٰہُ قُلُوبَھُمۡ
So when they deviated from the right course, Allah made their hearts perverse.
At another place it is said:
فِي قُلُوبِھِم مَّرَضٞ فَزَادَهُمُ اللّٰہُ مَرَضًا
In their hearts was a disease, Allah caused their disease to grow worse. That is to say God tried them and made their condition manifest.
Then it is said:
بَلۡ طَبَعَ اللّٰہُ عَلَيۡھَا بِكُفۡرِهِمۡ
Allah set a seal on their hearts on account of their disbelief.
This objection of compulsion can, however, be raised against your scriptures. In Exodus, 4:21, God said to Moses (as):
I shall harden the heart of Pharaoh.
If his heart was hardened its consequence was that he was condemned to hell. See Exodus 7:3; Proverbs 16:4; Exodus 10:3 and Deuteronomy 29:4, ‘Yet the Lord has not given you an heart of perceive and eyes to see, and ears to hear, unto this day’.
Is this not a clear instance of compulsion? Then see Psalms 148:60, ‘He appointed a decree that cannot be averted’; and Romans 9:18, ‘Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, why hast thou made me thus?’ All these references show that your own scriptures are open to the objection that you have raised against the Holy Qur’an.
—Jang-e-Muqaddas, Ruhani Khaza’in, vol. 6, pp. 231-234
 The Holy Qur’an, 40:61.
 ‘You did not fare well in performing the tasks of this world; By what right, then, do you seek to handle the heavens.’
 ‘The way of the seeker is all respect.’
 ‘And We will try you with something of fear and hunger.’ – The Holy Qur’an, 2:156.
 ‘Surely, to Allah we belong and to Him shall we return.’ – The Holy Qur’an, 2:157.
 ‘Pray unto Me, I will answer your prayer.’ – The Holy Qur’an, 40:61.
 ‘Allah has set a seal on their hearts.’ – The Holy Qur’an, 2:8.
 The Holy Qur’an, 61:6.
 Holy Qur’an, 53:40.
 The Holy Qur’an, 35:46.
 The Holy Qur’an, 2:287.
 The Holy Qur’an, 41:47.
 The Holy Qur’an, 4:63.
 ‘They say: Is there for us any part in the government of affairs?’ – The Holy Qur’an, 3:155.
 The Holy Qur’an, 3:155.
 The Holy Qur’an, 25:3.
The Holy Qur’an, 15:43.
 This seems to be an error in the first edition. The reference should read: Matthew 4:1-8.
 The Holy Qur’an, 38:86.
The Holy Qur’an, 2:27.
The Holy Qur’an, 61:6.
The Holy Qur’an, 2:11.
The Holy Qur’an, 4:156.
 This seems to be a mistake in the first edition. The references should be Psalm 148:6 and Romans 9:20 respectively.