Republished from Islam Today.
If someone were to criticize some work of ours, claiming that we are fleeing from Allah’s decree, we would answer patronizingly with: “Allah help us! Who can flee from Allah’s decree?”
Nonetheless, the Rightly Guided Caliph answered this same accusation in a most eloquent manner, showing just how beautifully a pure heart can express itself. Some of the companions criticized him for refusing to enter Syria after hearing that the region had been stricken by plague. They saw him as trying to flee from Allah’s decree.
When they said this to him, he replied by saying:
This answer, or course, took them completely by surprise. It dispelled idea that the questioner had gotten the better of `Umar by criticizing him in this manner. Then `Umar went on to say:
“Yes! We are fleeing from Allah’s decree – to Allah’s decree.”
In this way `Umar explained what human effort is all about. It is not about surrendering to whatever we assume Allah has decreed for us, but rather to avoid misfortune by seeking what brings about good results.
It is about overcoming weakness by developing our capabilities, dispelling ignorance with knowledge, removing poverty by producing wealth, and curing illness to achieve health. It is about actively giving up sin and turning to righteousness. In all of these efforts, there are different ways and means that we can take to reach our goals.
It is true that everything happens by the decree of Allah. It is obligatory for a Muslim to believe this. The problem is how to understand it. Our belief should not lead us to a debilitating fatalism whereby the human being is dis-invested of all responsibility, even with respect to good and evil.
Most Western scholarship about Islam – as well as that of other non-Muslim researchers – misunderstands the Islamic concept of Divine decree. They depict it as a shrugging off of responsibility for one’s mistakes and a refusal to own up to them, either wholly or partially. They often arrive at the conclusion that the reason for the backwardness of Muslim civilization today is the Muslims’ belief in Allah’s decree.
It should come as no surprise to us that they have this understanding since this idea is indeed prevalent among the Muslim masses. It is not uncommon to hear Muslims invoking Allah’s decree to absolve themselves of personal responsibility for their shortcomings and for their future.
I recently read an article written by a group of scholars concerning the tragic deaths that happened in Mina during the Pilgrimage. They described the tragedy as “Allah’s decree and preordainment”.
Now, the meaning of this phrase is a noble and virtuous one. Indeed, it is good to remind people of this during times of tragedy to comfort them and to help ease their sorrows. Allah says:
No calamity can occur except by Allah’s leave. And if anyone believes in Allah, Allah guides his heart aright. (64: 11)
According to some of the pious predecessors, this verse is talking about a worshiper who, when stricken with calamity, recognizes that it is from what Allah has decreed for him, and because of this, accepts it and reconciles himself to it.
However, this in no way contradicts the idea of looking into the reasons why the calamity took place so we can do what we can in order to prevent it from happening again. It also does not prevent everyone who had a hand in the problem from having the courage to take complete responsibility for his share of it.
The relevant administrative agencies have their share of responsibility to assume. Likewise, those responsible for issuing Islamic rulings and giving religious guidance have theirs. The various pilgrim bureaus and the countries the pilgrims came from have theirs. The pilgrims themselves must also shoulder some of the responsibility for what happened.
Our grief on account of what happened should prevent us from shrugging off our responsibilities on the pretext of it being Allah’s decree.
It is Allah’s decree that the Jews would occupy Palestine just as it is His decree that the occupation would meet with resistance.
It is Allah’s decree that falsehood and deviance would spread among the Muslims just as it is His decree that we must work to dispel such falsehood with knowledge.
Though it is Allah’s decree that the horrors of extremism, violence, terrorism, and terrorist attacks would tragically exist in our midst, it is also His decree that we as Muslims must combat these abominations and do our utmost to rid ourselves of them.
The pilgrimage to Mecca is a testing ground for human rights on both the individual and collective level. Allah says:
Allah has made the Ka`bah, the sacred House, an asylum of security for people. (5: 97)
And the Sacred Mosque which We have dedicated to (all) humanity. (22: 25)
The Prophet’s farewell sermon that he delivered during the pilgrimage emphasizes the principle of human rights – that, among other things, the lives, property, and honor of the people are sacred.
Can we then permit this sacred occasion to be turned into a chance for people to violate these rights out of ignorance, imagined fears, or because of poor management or shortsighted Islamic scholarship that emphasizes lesser matters while subordinating the most fundamental ones?
The chaotic housing conditions in Mina as well as the fires that raged there has caused us to build tents in that area so that now Mina has become the largest tent city in the world.
Likewise, we should immediately find ways to facilitate the stoning of the jamarat, the movement of people into Mecca, and the circumambulation of the Ka’bah so that these rites become easy for the pilgrims to accomplish.
We must find ways to improve administration, hygiene, and public awareness. We have to share the responsibility for these matters so that the pilgrimage becomes many times easier and more spiritually meaningful for the people who undertake it. We want to present the best picture of ourselves to the nations of the world who are all watching the pilgrimage on television.
The sight of the Muslims in the sacred precincts conducting themselves in unison and in perfect harmony with each other is an impressive sight, one that inspires joy in the hearts of the Muslims and that endears the religion of Islam to other people.
We should undertake to make sure that our pilgrimage rites are indeed like that.
And Allah is the giver of success.