God’s Will – Dr. Mansoor Alam

Muslims often use the words “Insha Allah” ( “God willing” or “if God wills”) in their conversations. There is a general notion in the minds of pious Muslims that all Muslims should use these words every time they refer to a future action or promise. So it has become a habit of many Muslims to mechanically repeat “Insha Allah” in a routine manner, without paying any attention to or trying to understand the meaning and real significance of these words and their impact on life. Few realize that the words “Insha Allah” have come to signify a sense of uncertainty and lack of confidence. How “Insha Allah” is used in practice now can better be illustrated by an example.

A person wanted to invite some friends to his house for dinner. Many of his friends accepted the invitation by saying, “Insha Allah, I will come,” while others accepted without using the words “Insha Allah.” Some of his friends came on time for dinner, many came late (some with genuine reasons), and some came quite late. Most guests who were late (without any genuine reason) had said “Insha Allah” while accepting the invitation! This is a common scenario which repeats time and again among Muslims. So, now we have some Muslims who were on time, some late, and some not even showing up for the dinner, all of whom had said “Insha Allah, I will come.”

The concept of predetermination (originally a Zoroastrian concept) has a lot to do with the above situation. Since predetermination has become an integral part of Iman among Muslims, it has become embedded in their subconscious mind that nothing happens without God’s permission, no matter how much one tries. As a consequence, one is forced to think that he/she cannot say or do anything with confidence and certainty. In fact, under this prevailing atmosphere, it is considered disrespectful to God and even sinful, if one does not routinely use the words “Insha Allah” when referring to one’s future actions or promises.

But the real question is: How is our ability to be on time (or to keep a promise) affected by reciting the words “Insha Allah”? Do these words have any real and tangible impact on our lives? Do they have any purpose or function? The answers to these questions require a deeper analysis of the meanings of the words “Insha Allah” in the context of the Qur’an.

The phrase “Insha Allah” consists of three words: In—Sha—Allah. So, to understand the complete meaning of “Insha Allah,” we have to understand the meanings and the concepts underlying these words.

Let us begin our journey.

Consider two students Mohammad and Ahmed are preparing for their final semester examination. Both of them are very religious. Mohammad regularly attends classes, works hard, and submits all the homework on time. Ahmed, on the other hand, skips class, does not submit all the assignments and does not work hard. One day before the final exam, the Imam asked them after the Maghrib prayer how they think they will do. Both replied, “Insha Allah, I will do well.” Obviously, both had different mental interpretations of the words “Insha Allah.” Mohammad, having studied hard throughout the semester and being well prepared, said “Insha Allah” with confidence and certainty, while Ahmed did not, as he was not well prepared for the exam. So, what do the words “Insha Allah” have to do with one’s performance in an exam? We have to wait for the answer until we have fully understood the meaning of “Insha Allah.” But one thing is absolutely certain: Performance in an exam has nothing to do with fate, luck, or predetermination. A person’s exam score is in no way predetermined by an external authority (unless of course the system is corrupt). It depends on:

    1. following the correct syllabus,
    2. having a plan to utilize time in a creative manner,
    3. acquiring the necessary knowledge of the subject matter by hard work and regular attendance in the class
    4. not relying on second, third, or fourth hand notes but on the text book,

using one’s own creative potential and hard work.

These are the necessary requirements for obtaining excellent results (in an uncorrupt system) and there are no short cuts in this entire process. [By the way, this same procedure applies to the success (heaven) or failure (hell) in our life’s exam as well. It is always good to remember that short cuts are products of a corrupt system and there is no corruption in Allah’s system.]

The Imam (being the caring person that he was), was curious to find out the results of this important exam from Mohammad and Ahmed. When they came to the Masjid after their vacation from home, he inquired about their grades. Mohammad replied, “Alhamdulillah, I got an A,” whereas Ahmed said, “I failed but I am going to repeat it— Insha Allah!” [Well, there is a chance for Ahmed to repeat this exam, but there is no chance of repeating life’s exam. This shows how serious life’s exam is. Therefore, it should not be taken lightly or as a matter of play or joke—but this is another issue.]

Now, it is easy to see the difference between the “Insha Allah” of Mohammad and that of Ahmed. Mohammad’s success was based on following a proper procedure sustained by continuous effort. Ahmed, on the other hand, did not follow the right procedure and did not put in the necessary effort. So even before the exam, Mohammad was quite confident about his success, whereas Ahmed counted on luck or fate.

After hearing of Ahmed’s failure, the Imam asked him why he failed. Ahmed’s reply was the standard Muslim reply: Everything comes from Allah; success or failure in life is from Allah and a good Muslim accepts the verdict from Allah. The Imam then reminded Ahmed of the Prophet’s (P) saying about first tying the camel and then leaving the rest to Allah. Ahmed was trying to evade his own responsibility, and the Imam politely reminded him about it.

But suppose Mohammad followed the procedure correctly except that he had the wrong syllabus. Obviously, all his hard work, dedication, and perseverance will not result in a passing grade (let alone an A) because the questions on the exam will be based on a syllabus that Mohammad did not study. Therefore, it is extremely important to have the right syllabus, otherwise all our efforts will be wasted despite the right approach. [Continuing the parallel argument for the case of life’s exam, we can easily see the utmost importance of following the right syllabus, i.e., the Qur’an, as this is the only syllabus sent down to us by God. Remember, if we follow the wrong syllabus, then unlike the subject type exams here, there is no second chance in the case of life’s exam. In fact, our Prophet (P) will complain to Allah that this is my Ummah who had left the Qur’an (25:30).]

So, from this example of Mohammad and Ahmed, we see that it is not enough to say “Insha Allah” or “God willing” but it is also necessary to follow and act according to God’s Will (i.e., the right procedure for the desired result). Mohammad was quite sure of success because he was following God’s law of how to attain success. We can mention here a few examples from the Qur’an to illustrate this point. In Surah Ali’Imran Allah says:

“You (Muslims) will have the highest level of authority (of dignity and power in the

world), if you are momins.” (3:139)

[All the references to the Qur’anic verses are from Yusuf Ali]

Conversely, because you are Momins, it will never be the case that you will not have the highest position of authority and dignity in the world. It also means that if you do not have this exalted position in the world, then you are not Momins. In another verse Allah says:

“Because your program is according to Allah’s will (law), therefore, you will

definitely enter Mecca with peace of mind and without fear.” (48:27)

When Prophet Yousuf’s (P) parents and brothers came to Egypt:

“He said, enter Egypt, and because this (government) is according to Allah’s will (law), you will remain here in peace and security.” (12:99)

There is an element of certainty (in all of the above verses) because God’s will (law) is being followed and acted upon.

The word “sha Allah” in “Insha Allah” is translated as “God’s Will”. So, the question is: What is the meaning of God’s Will?

“Shaa—a” and “Ya—shaa—u” mean to intend or to will. It is important to distinguish between human will or intention and God’s Will or Intention. One thing is absolutely clear though: God’s Will cannot be understood without a proper understanding of the concept of God. So, the first question to address is: What is the concept of God?

Concept of God

Somehow, there is a notion in our minds that God, having absolute authority, does not have to follow any rules or regulations, any principles or system of laws. We feel that if God is subject to any laws, then His power will be restricted—and of course God cannot be imagined without absolute, unrestricted power over the universe and everything in it, including human beings. So, is God a Dictator?

For ages human beings have considered God as a glorified and magnified king having absolute power and authority. They thought His actions were like a dictator. God could punish or reward arbitrarily whomever He willed; He could give wealth or poverty to whomever He willed; or give dignity or disgrace to whomever He willed. He guided whomever He willed and misguided whomever He willed. And finally, He could send to Heaven whomever (lucky ones!) He willed and He could send to Hell whomever (unlucky ones!) He willed. And these things are decided by God even before the person is born. No one can question Him and there is nothing that human beings can do about it. Earlier, even in this century in our respective mother countries, people thought that using reason and intellect to improve the conditions and the way of life was against the Will of God since reason had no importance or influence over His actions (as emphasized by the Maulvis, Mullahs and Maulanas). This old idea of God as an absolute dictator still lingers in the minds of many religious people and totally obscures their vision.

With the increase in knowledge and growth of mental power, we have been able to subdue the forces of nature. We have gradually discovered the laws which govern natural phenomena in the external world. This has given us confidence to achieve new and improved ways of life, and in fact we cannot imagine what life would be like without these things. Thus, the idea of mankind having power, freedom, and a role in the world became prominent, slowly infringing upon the idea of God being a dictator and we His bound slaves, unable to change anything.

The old idea of God as a dictator should be cast aside from our minds and the idea of God presented by the Qur’an must be accepted. Allah is the true source of freedom, not slavery. Allah, according to the Qur’an, is all-powerful (6:18, 17:99, 51:58, 59:23) but is also all-wise (11:1, 6:139); He has the most severe grip (85:12) but is also merciful and compassionate (1:3, 7:56); He is the Master of the day of judgement (1:4) but is also just and fair (4:6, 4:86, 21:47). So God is not a dictator, but neither is He a helpless observer.

Allah’s Will According To The Qur’an

According to the Qur’an, there are two distinct domains in which God’s Will operates. These are:

    1. the domain of “Amr
    2. the domain of “Khalq” which can be further divided into
  1. the world of nature
  2. the world of human beings.

Let us take a deeper look at Allah’s Will operating in these different domains.


(i) Allah’s Will in the Domain of “Amr”

This domain is exclusive to Allah and is Allah’s alone. No human being can understand it let alone have a share in it because it is beyond space and time. God’s will in this domain is law unto itself. It cannot be influenced by external criteria:

“Verily, when He intends a thing, His command is: ‘Be,’ and it is.” (36:82)

“Allah does what He wills” (14:27)

“Allah does what He intends.” (22:14)

God’s Will is the fountain-head of creative power which releases its directive energy in the form of law. It is accountable to no one outside of itself:

“He will not be questioned as to that which He does, but they (everything in the universe including the human beings) will be questioned.” (21:23)

When the Divine directive energy released by the Divine Will in the domain of “Amr” enters the realm of space and time, it becomes manifest as “Khalq“. The universe and all the things in it are, therefore, in direct and intimate contact with the Divine Will every moment of their existence. The universe contains two different categories of beings—one self-conscious and possessing a free will (mankind), the other without self- consciousness and not possessing a free will (animate and inanimate matter). The Divine Will is related in different ways to these two categories of beings as each needs a different kind of sustenance and support. Allama Iqbal explains very clearly the Qur’anic distinction between “Khalq” and “Amr“:

“In order to understand the meaning of the word ‘Amr’, we must remember the distinction which the Qur’an draws between ‘Amr’ and ‘Khalq’. Pringle-Pattison deplores that the English language possesses only one word—creation—to express the relation of God and the universe of extension on the one hand, and the relation of God and the human ego on the other. The Arabic language is, however, more fortunate in this respect. It has two words—‘Khalq’ and ‘Amr’—to express the two ways in which the creative activity of God reveals itself to us. ‘Khalq’ is creation; ‘Amr’ is direction.”

(Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, 2nd ed. Jointly published by Iqbal Academy and Institute of Islamic Culture, 1989, page 82.)

An analogy to further illustrate this concept is that of an architect developing the idea for a building. This process is called Amr, and when the idea is used and enters the physical world outside of the architects mind, it enters the world of Khalq and eventually will manifest itself in the world of Khalq as the building. Of course, the architect’s Amr is limited whereas Allah’s is not, but this is just an example to illustrate the relationship between Amr and Khalq.

(ii-a) Allah’s Will in the World of Nature

All the laws of nature flow from the Divine Will and are at the heart of the constant order found in nature. Nothing can cross the limits of natural laws in this world and every object’s behavior is completely determined by these laws. These laws are completely preordained (or foreordained or predetermined) by Allah (via His Divine Will) and are, therefore, unalterable. This is a world in which freedom has no meaning. Be they planets or electrons, they must move in their prescribed orbits. Be they apples, or rain drops, they must fall to the ground. Fire must burn and ice must cool, and so on. Everything behaves in conformity with its natural properties in obedience to the laws which govern it. In several verses, our attention is drawn in the Qur’an to the rule of law and the order exhibited by nature. We are constantly exhorted by Allah to ponder the regularity of natural phenomena. This regularity is the reflection of the Divine Will which is free from any trace of internal conflict or contradictions:

“And unto Allah maketh prostration (submits to His rule/laws) whatever is in the heavens and in the earth of living creatures.” (16:49)

There is no object in the heavens or the earth that is not subject to His Will (i.e. to His Unchangeable Laws). Therefore, no human has the authority to change these laws and God does not change any of these natural laws for anyone (10:64, 30:30). Human beings can only discover the natural laws and make use of them.

“And He has constrained the night and the day and the sun and the moon to be of service unto you, and the stars are made subservient to His command.” (16:12)

(ii-b) Allah’s Will and Human Beings

Now, we come to the most important aspect of Allah’s Will, that is, Allah’s Will in relation to the world of human beings. How does Allah’s Will function in the world of human beings? This isthe critical question as far as human beings are concerned. Without a proper understanding of this question, it is not possible to find the straight path, the “Siraat-al-Mustaqeem,” we so earnestly seek and so eagerly want, that we ask Allah to help us find in every raka’a of every prayer. And how does Allah respond to this request?: By sending His guidance as a free gift to us in the form of Wahi or Revelation which is more valuable than anything else in the universe. Can there be any better gift to humanity from the Lord of all the worlds? Not only has He given this priceless gift (of the Qur’an) but God has also, in this process, raised the status of human beings in the universe to the level of “Ashraful Makhlooqat.” But this elevated status is not free, we have to earn it.

Thus human beings occupy a unique place in the universe. By virtue of possessing a human body, man is part of the material world. Thus, he is as much subject to natural laws as is any other object in the universe. Birth, growth, decay, and death of the human body are natural processes and so are governed by the laws of nature. But man is also endowed with a self or ego which expresses itself as free will, and freedom of choice is inherent in the self. Since the self is a special gift given to mankind by God, it is not part of the material body of man. Although it uses the body as a vehicle for its expression, it is not bound by space and time and, therefore, not subject to any physical laws. Since the essence of self is freedom of choice, the Divine Will in the sphere of man performs this function as guidance and not control, and human beings are free to accept or reject His guidance. The Qur’an is very clear on this point:

“The Truth has come from Allah. Then whoever will, let him accept, and whoever will, let him reject.” (18:29)

But this freedom of choice brings with it the responsibility of making that choice. No one can escape this responsibility and evade the results of his own actions. The Qur’an says:

“Verily, the grip of thy Rabb is severe.” (85:12)

No one can bear the responsibility of someone else:

“Whoever accepts guidance, it is only for his own self, and whoever goes astray, does so to his own loss. No bearer of burdens can bear the burden of another.” (17:15)

“Whoever commits wrong, commits it only against himself.” (4:111)

“Every soul draws the consequences of its acts on none but itself. No bearer of burdens can bear the burdens of another.” (6:164)

“Then guard yourselves against a day when no self shall avail another, nor shall intercession be accepted for it, nor shall compensation be taken for it, nor shall anyone be helped.” (2:48)

Therefore, according to these verses of the Qur’an, there is no place for the concept of intercession in Islam and there can be no intermediary between a man and God. People who believe in intercession are doing so in clear violation of the above verses of the Qur’an.

It is also important to note that the results of one’s actions cannot be wiped out or washed away. They are entered on the credit and debit side of the ledger kept by Him:

“And on every man We have fastened his record around his neck; and We will bring forth to him, on the day of judgement, a book which he will see wide open.” (17:13)

We can easily see from this verse that sins cannot be washed away no matter how much one tries. The whole idea of washing sins away is contrary to the fundamental principle of the Qur’an—the law of requital and accountability. A negative deed (i.e., sin) can only be countered by a positive (i.e., righteous) deed.

“Verily, good deeds annul ill deeds.” (11:114)

That is, sins can only be compensated by good deeds and not washed away by rituals. Remember the debit and credit sides of everyone’s ledger (as mentioned in the verse 17:13). So sins are entered on the debit side and can only be annulled by balancing them with good deeds on the credit side.

Does God Control Our Lives (Taqdir)?

As far as human beings are concerned, we have seen that God does not directly control their lives. In other words, God does not choose for us — we have to make our own choice. God has given us the freedom of choice and He wants us to exercise this choice based on reason in the light of His revelation. According to Iqbal:

“God Himself cannot feel, judge and choose for me when more than one course of action are open to me. He has [by His own choice], by permitting the emergence of a finite ego capable of private initiative, limited the freedom of His own free will.” (Reconstruction, page 80)

“Thus the element of guidance and directive control in the ego’s activity clearly shows that the ego is a free personal causality. He shares in the life and freedom of the Ultimate Ego who, by permitting the emergence of a finite ego, capable of private initiative, has limited his own freedom of His own free will. This freedom of conscious behaviour follows from the view of ego-activity which the Qur’an takes.” (ibid, pages 86-87) [Then he has quoted the verses18:29 and 17:7 to support his argument]

“No doubt, the emergence of egos endowed with power of spontaneous and hence unforeseeable action is, in a sense, a limitation on the freedom of the all-inclusive Ego. But this limitation is not externally imposed. It is born out of his own creative freedom whereby He has chosen finite egos to be participators of His life, power, and freedom.” (ibid, pages 63-64)

In all the three quotations above, Allama Iqbal mentions that God has limited His freedom by His own choice. It may sound strange to some people that God’s freedom can be limited. But there is nothing strange about it as Allah Himself says in the Qur’an:

“Allah has made obligatory on Himself the Rahmah” (6:12, 6:54)

Although a human being is free to choose the course of action he/she prefers, the freedom ends once the choice is made. Results are based on the course chosen; one cannot make one choice and bring about the result of another choice. This is the law of requital and it works inexorably in the entire universe, including the world of man. In the latter case, the result may come out in present life or in the Hereafter.

Our journey has also revealed that most Muslims use “Insha Allah” as if Allah will personally control their lives or choose the outcome of their affairs. This tendency of Muslims has made them passive observers to events caused and controlled by others. Muslims have only been reactive and not active or creative for more than a thousand years and this saying of “Insha Allah” has become a sign of weakness in Muslims today.

Self Diagnosis

Is there any sanctity in just repeating the words “Insha Allah?” When we say the words “If God Wills,” is it not our obligation to find out what is God’s Will? Let us learn from the Prophet (P) and the Sahaba (R). Allah says to Muslims in the Qur’an, “You should only wish what Allah wishes for you” (76:30, 81:29). This means we have to synchronize our wills with the Will of God. And where can we find the Will of God? Of course, in His book, the Qur’an (18:29, 65:5). Our Prophet (P) and Sahaba (R) synchronized their wills with Allah’s will and raised humanity to its highest levels. God’s Will is to give equal respect to all human beings (17:70); they gave their lives to fulfill this God’s Will. God’s Will is that no one will bear the burden of another (6:164, 17:15); they established a system in which even the Prophet (P) and Khalifa (R) did not shift their burdens to someone else. God’s Will is that everybody receive that which he/she works for (53:39); and history bears testimony that the Prophet (P) and Sahaba (R) did not amass any wealth or fortune for themselves. They lived a very simple life in this world. In fact, Khalifa Umar (R) fixed his salary equal to the poorest worker. God’s Will is always to do justice— even to one’s enemies (4:135, 5:8, 16:90); they did just that—no bias was shown even in favor of the son of the Khalifa or against any non-Muslim. God’s Will is to explore nature (2:164, 3:190-191, 22:63-65, 23:80, 24:43-44, 39:21, 80:24-32) and they became the founders of modern science. There are so many examples that one can go on and on ad infinitum.

Nowadays we use the words “God’s Will” mostly in a routine, mechanical way and find security and piety in the words rather than the deed. Remember, even if we repeat the words “If God Wills” millions of times, nothing will happen unless we find from the Qur’an what is it that God “wants” us to do and then we have to act on it.

It is also equally important to know the things that “God’s Will” does not want us to do.

“God’s Will” says do not create divisions in Islam and become sects (30:31-32). We, on the other hand, have ignored this and created (and keep on creating) many divisions and sects in Islam. “God’s Will” says that all Muslims are brothers (49:10), and we are at each other’s throats in almost all Muslim nations. “God’s Will” says that Muslims are to be role models and leaders and the best Ummah for the world (3:110). Instead of being role models, we have become the object of humiliation and suffering. Instead of being leaders, we have become followers of other nations in every department of life. Here again the list of our violations of “God’s Will” is endless.

No wonder our situation as a whole has become the worst in the world. In the words of Allama Iqbal:

Woh mo-a’zziz thay zamaane mein Musalman ho kar

Aur tum khwaar huey taarike Qur’an ho kar” (Transliteration from Urdu)

“Our ancestors had dignity and self respect in the world by being Muslims (by

following God’s Will). And you are suffering humiliation and defeat, and have

lost your respect and dignity because you have left the Qur’an (God’s Will).”

(Author’s translation)

And this is exactly what our Prophet(P) will also complain to Allah:

“And the Messenger(P) will say: “O Allah! Truly this is my Ummah who had left the

Qur’an” (25:30)

Self Reflection and Conclusion

What does leaving the Qur’an mean here? Obviously, we recite the verses of the Qur’an in every raka’a of every prayer. Also, most of us read the translations and the tafseer of the Qur’an. On the face of it, it does not seem that we have left the Qur’an. So, why is the Prophet (P) complaining to Allah about it? [And, please remember that it is we (Muslims) against whom he is complaining.] Actually, his complaint is that we have left the message of the Qur’an. We have corrupted its pure message over centuries with our own thoughts and ideas and labelled it as Islam. Allama Iqbal calls this corrupted version of Islam A’jami Islam to distinguish it from the pure Islam of our Prophet (P) and Sahaba (R).

Let us imagine the following scenario. We are facing Allah on the day of judgement and the Prophet (P) is telling Allah that we left His Book, THE QUR’AN; that we left its message and started following a corrupted version of it in the name of Islam. Do we have any answer or can we even face our Prophet (P) that day? Will anyone (whom we may be counting on in this world) be able to help us? Definitely not.[Please see the verse (2:48) quoted earlier where Allah says that no one will be able to help anyone on that day nor will intercession be accepted]. So, the Prophet(P) will not be able to help us (remember he is the one complaining against us). If this is the case, then shouldn’t we Muslims ask ourselves what we are doing wrong that has driven us away from the Qur’an and seriously reflect on it? This is what Allama Iqbal asks us to do:

“Ai Musalman apne dil se poochh Mullah se na poochh” (Transliteration from Urdu)

“O Muslims! Do not ask religious scholars, ask your own hearts.”

(Author’s translation)

So, let us go into our own hearts and ask ourselves this question: To what extent do we follow God’s Will (i.e., the Qur’an) in comparison to our own or someone else’s will everyday? Let us not be under the false impression (like the Jews) that we are the chosen people and therefore will go to heaven. Let us make a sincere effort to follow God’s Will—contained, of course in His Book, the Qur’an— in all aspects of our lives as shown by the Prophet (P) and the Sahabah (R). Let us make the words “Insha Allah” a symbol of life and certainty once again. May Allah give us the courage and the necessary strength in our efforts in this direction.

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