What is Taqdeer and is it constant or changeable?
The question of Taqdeer has remained an enigma for philosophers and scholastics. Among Muslims, it was endlessly debated among rival schools of theology. In the Holy Qur'an it is presented as a much less complex belief, made tremendously complicated by the two thousand year old controversy on Determinism (belief that everything that happens is pre ordained and cannot be avoided) and Free Will (the idea that man is free to act and his life is not pre determined).
Islam divides the worldly happenings into three spheres to explain the limits of Determinism and Free Will.
Firstly, there is a sphere in which men do not have any freedom and are governed by the determinist forces. This is the area of Cosmic Determinism and involves decisions such as where a person was to be born, who would be his parents and all results flowing out from such situations in which we find ourselves. These include the fact that human beings have been given a particular physical being with physical and mental capabilities or disabilities as per decisions of God. When final accountability would be held, any limitations now imposed on a person, in this sphere would be discounted and nobody would be held accountable for what he could not do because of restrictions imposed by this cosmic determinism.
Secondly, there is a sphere in which human beings are perfectly free to choose. This is the area in which men intend to choose between moral options. Here men have a freedom to choose good or bad options. A person may make up his mind to kill an innocent child or he may make up his mind to spend the rest of his life working for the welfare of children. He has complete mastery in this sphere over his intentions. Even here, although he has the perfect freedom to choose, he is not free to carry out these intentions. A person who plans to murder an innocent child, makes up his mind and even starts overtly acting towards this end, may not finally succeed in doing so due to accidental happenings which are beyond his control. For example, he may find that his pistol simply did not fire, or he missed the target, or the child suddenly turned around and escaped the bullet. Similarly, he may work all his life with intentions to serve the community of destitute children, but fails to do so because he does not succeed in arranging enough money or enough workers to execute his scheme. In all such cases, he would be awarded for his intentions (which were within his control) and not for what he could or could not actually perform (something that was not within his control).
Thirdly there is a sphere in which things are neither predetermined nor left to the free will of human beings. These are situations in which happenings depend on a) our efforts; b) other's responses; c) a number of forces unleashed by God that constantly cross our paths; and d) interventions from Allah. In such situations if we do a certain act, the results would flow, other wise not. These are 'What if' situations. What would happen if one performs a certain act? I would succeed in the examinations if I work hard. Would I be able to spend a healthy life depends on my eating and activity habits. These are situations in which our actions, and other's responses, further unfold a number of possibilities, which were previously hidden. In every situation, man is accountable for moral choices that the situations offer.
Man is thus partly free and partly subject to deterministic forces. This however does not affect his accountability in the hereafter. He would be held accountable only for acts that he intended to do out of his free will. Of virtues he could not perform due to his limitations, he would not be asked. Man is therefore free to win heaven or hell. He can make his own destiny. He cannot complain that he is helpless in the face of brutal determinist and accidental forces of the world. He has been shown both the paths, of virtue and vice, of truth and falsehood. He has been given complete freedom of choice between the two. He has to exercise this freedom in a careful, responsible and thoughtful manner.
Note: This response is written by Mr. Nadir Aqeel