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Are We Predestined?

10 February, 2024
Q Before asking my question, I want to thank you for providing this very informative and interesting service. Over the past year, I have been learning a great deal about Islam - mostly from my husband – but, I also have been doing my own research and reading. During this time, I have been struggling with my religious beliefs and identity, yet I am finding it difficult to revert from what I have been – a Roman Catholic - to Islam. From time to time, I have read parts of the Quran and recently decided to read the entire book. I was immediately struck by some passages that indicated that God opens the hearts of whom He wills and likewise seals the hearts of others. Can you help me understand what these passages mean? The verses make it seem as if people have no choice in religion? Has God created non-believers? Thank you for your assistance.


Salam Dear Sister,

Thank you for this important question. I hope that I can give you a satisfactory answer.

The Qur’an mentions twice that Allah seals the hearts of those who do not believe. You can read this meaning in Surah 2, verses 6 – 7:

{As to those who reject faith, it is the same to them whether you warn them or not ; they will not believe. God has set a seal on their hearts and on their ears, and on their eyes is a veil; great is the penalty they [incur].}

Also, Surah 45, verse 23 reads:

{Then see the one who took as his god his own vain desire? God has, [knowing him as such], left him astray as he did not follow the guidance of his own knowledge, and God sealed his ears and his heart [and understanding], and put a cover on his sight. Who, then, will guide him after God [has withdrawn guidance]? Will you not then receive admonition?}

Or perhaps you are asking about verse 142, in Surah 2, which means:

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{The Fools among the people will say: “What has turned them from the direction to which they were praying [From Jerusalem to Makkah]?” Say: “To God belong both East and West: He guides whom He will to a straight path.”}

This phrase, here translated to mean that God guides whom ‘He’ wills, is repeated many times in the Qur’an. Some scholars who interpret the Qur’an [the exegesis of the Qur’an] grasp the meaning of this phrase as: “God guides ‘he’ who wants to be guided.” This then directly relates to the many verses that describe who will not be guided as the unjust, rebellious, agnostic, etc.

However, if the Arabic is understood with the meaning that God guides whom He wills, we may well ask whether God has created believers and non-believers? This raises the question: is everything predestined or ordained in advance, or do we have a free will? The answer does not conflict with the first interpretation.

If God did create or ordain our actions, then we would not have free will, and it would not be just to hold us accountable on the Day of Judgment. Likewise, it would not be just if it were ordained at our creation that we would end up in Paradise or Hell, no matter what our choices turned to be.

But one of the names or attributes of God is al-`Adl, The Just. He cannot and does not do anything unjust. Therefore we must reject the doctrine of pre-destination.

So do we have a total free will? If we give this question careful thought and investigation, we might reach the conclusion that there are a few aspects of our life about which we have no say. We cannot choose when we are born, to which parents, nor when we are going to die, whether we are born into a rich or poor family, or what sex we are born into. But after that we can choose how to act, what moral code we abide by, what social and political responsibilities we fulfill or ignore .

There is a hadith (tradition of Prophet Muhammad) on this subject that describes this. It was narrated by his companion `Abdullah (may Allah be pleased with him) as follows:

Allah’s messenger (peace and blessings be upon him), the truthful and truly-inspired, said:

“Each one of you was collected within the womb of his mother for forty days, and then turns into a clot [or something that clings] for an equal period [of forty days] and turns into a piece of flesh for a similar period [of forty days] and then Allah sends an angel and orders him to write four things, i.e., his provision, his age [at death], and whether he will be of the wretched or the blessed [in the Hereafter].

Then the soul is breathed into him. And by Allah, a person among you [or a man] may do deeds of the people of the Hellfire till there is only a cubit or an arm-breadth distance between him and the Hellfire, but then that writing [which Allah has ordered the angel to write] precedes, and then he does the deeds of the people of Paradise and enters it; and a man may do the deeds of the people of Paradise till there is only a cubit or two between him and Paradise, and then that writing precedes and he does the deeds of the people of the Fire and enters it.” (Reported by Bukhari.)

Most people, when they read this, think that it means that when the angel writes these four things, God is commanding these things to happen. However, scholars explain that while this is true for one’s age and provision – at least at birth – the angel is recording something that will happen, but that record does not ‘make’ it happen.

It simply reflects a conception of time and knowledge of Allah beyond time and space. We have to always remember that God is never limited by the boundaries of time and space. He gives us free will, but He knows beforehand — even before we were created — what our choices and their consequences will be.

Let’s examine the translation of a few more verses in the Qur’an related to the question of guidance. For example, in Surah 2, verse 26:

{God disdains not to use the similitude of things, lowest as well as highest. Those who believe know that it is truth from their Lord; but those who reject faith say: ‘What means God by this similitude?’ By it He causes many to stray, and many He leads into the right path; But He causes not to stray, except those who forsake [the path].}

Then in Surah 4, verses 66 – 68:

{If We had ordered them [the hypocrites] to sacrifice their lives or to leave their homes, very few of them would have done it; but if they had done what they were [actually] told, it would have been best for them, and would have gone farthest to strengthen their [faith]; and We should then have given them from Our Presence a great reward; and We should have shown them the Straight Way.}

Then in Surah 7, verse 30:

{Some He has guided; others have [by their choice] deserved the loss of their way, in that they took the evil ones, in preference to God, for their friends and protectors, and think that they receive guidance.}

Also in Surah 10, verse 44 – 45:

{Verily God will not deal unjustly with man in aught; it is man that wrongs his own soul. One day He will gather them together; [it will be] as if they had tarried but an hour of a day; they will recognize each other; assuredly those will be lost who denied the meeting with God and refused to receive true guidance.}

Then in Surah 13, verse 27:

{… Say: “Truly God leaves to stray whom He will; but He guides to Himself those who turn to Him in penitence.”}

These are but a few of the many verses in the Quran that speak of guidance.

In addition, in many verses the Quran says:

{Allah guides not the people who are unjust…}

{Allah guides not those who reject faith…}

{Allah guides not the people who declare themselves enemies of His might…}

So, allow me to put it in a nutshell: God does not make us believers or non-believers. Belief is based on free choice and accountability.

Finally, I’d like to quote another hadith. This one is a hadith qudsi, which means the prophet (peace be upon him) reported in his own words what God had revealed to him:

Abu Hurairah, may Allah be pleased with him, narrated, Allah’s messenger (may peace be upon him) said:

“Allah, the Exalted and Glorious, stated: ‘I am near to the thought of My servant as he thinks about Me, and I am with him as he remembers Me. And if he remembers Me in his heart, I also remember him in My Heart, and if he remembers Me in assembly I remember him in assembly, better than his [remembrance], and if he draws near Me by the span of a palm, I draw near him by a cubit, and if he draws near Me by a cubit I draw near him by the space [covered by] two arms. And if he walks towards Me, I rush towards him.’” (Reported by Muslim.)

So, search for God and you will find Him. Keep an open mind, keep reading and asking questions, and keep praying while you are struggling with your religious beliefs and identity.

Don’t hesitate to write again if you have more questions. May God guide us all to the right path.

Thank you again and please do keep in touch.


About AElfwine Mischler
AElfwine Mischler is an American convert to Islam. She has undergraduate degrees in physics and English, and a master's degree in linguistics and teaching English as a foreign language.