One of the most important principles that many of us have learnt over the years is that our Lord knows best, and that His Decisions for all of us are the best of Decisions. I suppose that during our previous period of jahiliyyah we had believed that we made our own personal histories. We did not even consider the large numbers of external factors within our families and communities that impinge on what we did and the direction in which we walked. Today when we think about that period in our lives we wonder how we could have been so naïve to believe that our personal decisions directed our life. This was an illusion that was encouraged in many of us.
When we look back we see how events not in our hands pushed us in certain directions. But how did these events come about? Were they just accidental? Were other people responsible for them? Or what was operating? You see, our personal lives and the direction of those lives tell us a lot about how circumstances and outside factors shape what we eventually did. Islam teaches that Allah Almighty is the First Cause of everything, whatever happens. “At the time of creation”, according to the Qur’an, He had mapped out the direction of all things and events in His Creation, or rather the direction that each thing and event would take. We refer to this as His Decree. And so, at some time, during the last course of the history of His Creation, His Decree is implemented according to His Will. So He decides the when, the how and the what with regard to all of us and all things and circumstances.
He has also allowed us the right of choice; to make decisions with regard to certain matters within the confines of His Decree. It is this elementary decision-making as the consequence of the right to choose that makes us responsible for our actions. That is why when Nabi Adam (a.s.) and Sayyidatuna Hawa (r.a.) were ejected from Paradise after giving in to the whisperings of Shaytan, in their repentance they said:
رَبَّنَا ظَلَمْنَا أَنْفُسَنَا وَ إِنْ لَّمْ تَغْفِرْلَنَا وَ تَرْحَمْنَا لَنَكُوْنَنَّ مِنَ الْخَاسِرِيْنَ
“Our Lord! We have wronged our own souls: if Thou forgive us not and bestow not upon us Thy Mercy, we shall certainly be lost (vii: 23).
Nabi Adam (a.s.) did not blame his Lord when he said: “O our Lord You have wronged our souls”. That would have been so disrespectful, so insulting. And so, he placed the blame where it belonged. He said, in fact, “O our Lord, we had a choice and we chose to injure ourselves”. They then appealed to their Lord for repentance, for repentance is His Domain.
In all of these there is very little understanding by all of us. We just know that certain things happen. We know that it appears that we have choices. We know that our Lord decrees. We know that He implements His Will. We know all of these. But the inter-relationship between all of these factors and how Allah Almighty sorts them out and changes and reshapes them, only He knows. The fact that our lives are within His Decision-making, cause much satisfaction to many of us. In the Qunut we plead “…fa innaka taqdi… Surely Thy Decision operates”.
You see, many of us have so much gratitude for the decisions that our Lord has made in our lives. If He had left us totally free to do what we please, where would we have stood today? I cringe just to think of it. When many of us look back at our lives, from the available evidence it appears that Allah Almighty has placed all of us on a path of guidance. It could so easily have been otherwise. It could so easily have been for each one of us that we could have gone astray and become of those people who have been misled and who are misleading.
One day I was coming out the Mowbray graveyard, and as I walked I read some of the headstones, which is not a very healthy practice. There came to me at the time the intense gratitude for the fact that our Lord has placed me and many others on the path leading to righteousness. I do not say that we are righteous. Please, we must be careful of this. I say that we are on a path under the guidance of our shaykh, as we say, to righteousness. Whether Allah Almighty is going to eventually grant that to us as a very special grace, and classify each one of us as very special servants, all lie in His Knowledge.
You see, most of the time, if not all the time, we do not know what our final destination is going to be like. Because on the path that we are on, and the desire in our hearts, and the calls to our Lord, there is the hope that this path would lead to righteousness. And when we call on Him, that He should not let us go astray, it is an expression of eternal gratitude for being on a path on which we can obtain very special blessings. This path is called the Straight Path in Suratul Fatihah.
Perhaps I should put this in another way. We know that our Lord is Most Merciful and Most Generous. We know this. We also know that His Mercy overrides His anger. And this, in a sense, gives us confidence and hope about our finality. If it were not like that, our clothes would be drenched in tears. The fact that they are not drenched, is an indication of how positive we feel about His Judgment on us. Of course, in the final analysis, what eventually happens to us depends on our Lord’s Mercy, and the Mercy He grants to Nabi Muhammad (ﷺ) for his intercession. So many things; so many complications. But perhaps it is not going to be like that. Perhaps it is going to be easier than we think. Of course, we hope for that.
I sometimes imagine (of course, again my imagination) that on the Day of Judgment, our Lord’s Mercy will just overwhelm everyone and everything, and other than those who did not believe in Him, all others will bathe in His Mercy. This is what my imagination tells me. Perhaps it is what I desire for myself and for each one of you; and that is, that when we stand ready for His Judgment, it will only be Mercy that we experience. What else then? What else then is the intercession of the Prophet (ﷺ) for us and for all others who need His Help? I ask Allah Almighty that He grants that to us; to be recipients of Divine and Prophetic Mercy, amin.
[Letters to Seekers on the Spiritual Path Vol 2 – Unpublished 2012]