Dr. Syed Abdul Latif Ph.D.(London)


The following article is excerpted from a chapter on this topic in the book, titled “The Mind Al-Quran Builds” written by Dr. Syed Abdul Latif

Dr. Syed Abdul Latif (PhD) was born at Kurnool, a historic town in the state of Andhra Pradesh. Kurnool at one time was the capital of a small state ruled by Pathans of Panni tribe. Dr Latif was an eminent professor with doctorate in English from Oxford, and the head of the department of English at Osmania University (Hyderabad Deccan). He was also politically active in the freedom struggle and well known to the inner circle of The National Congress party.

Not a graduate of a traditional Islamic Institute, he was nevertheless a scholar of Islam. Besides having studied the religion on his own, he was thoroughly aware and well read in the occidental writings on Islam. Towards the later years of his life, he took up the translation of Quran titled “AL-QURAN” which he completed and published in 1969. His translation is ranked high among all the authentic translations. He passed away on 14th of Ramadan, 1391 A.H (4th November 1971) at Hyderabad.

Unfortunately Muslims have been made to believe that they should not discuss or reflect on the subject of Allah’s Will and related matters because any understanding on this topic, is beyond finite human mind and would lead one to go astray. This is absolutely a wrong impression, quite against the message of Quran which abounds with verses that call upon man to think and reflect. Only people who have ignored these verses because of their own suggestabilities, shortcomings and intellectual timidities could hold and promote such an opinion. They feel safe in outsourcing their understanding to a Mulla and cocoon themselves in a security niche.

Dr. Sahib has boldly shared his understanding about this difficult but important subject. He has very profusely, provided references to verses of Quran. Any serious study on this topic would require reflection on these verses. You have every right to disagree with his interpretations and ideas. Your educated disagreement is lot better than avoiding the subject because of a locked up mind.

Masood N. Khan M.D.

Believe and work righteously, is the comprehensive Quranic injunction – work informed by knowledge.

“They who believe and work righteously – for them is bliss and an excellent home to return to” (Q. 13:29).

But is man free to will and free to work?

Expressions confront us at every turn in the Quran proclaiming that nothing happens except as God wills. And yet responsibility is attached to man’s action: and hopes of reward or punishment are held out. And then, as against this, stand out a host of verses calling upon man to exert his mind and choose between right and wrong.

“God does not alter the state of people until they themselves make a move to change it.” (Q. 13:11)

“And that no man shall have anything except what he has strived for.” (Q. 53:39)

What is one to make of these apparent contrarieties crossing and recrossing each other? Is man free after all to will and act or not free at all? Is there a way out? Such were the questionings which in the early centuries of Islam divided the Islamic society broadly into two warring camps, one called Qadariyah or those who believed in the freedom of will and the other Jabariyah or those who believed in pre-determination or absolute divine control of human action.

Among the factors responsible for the shroud that has rested on the Quran, the most striking is the dismal failure on the part of the early doctors of religion, who laid the foundation of the mediaeval Islam (which we have inherited), to notice what was so clear, that the essential purpose of the Quran was to explain and interpret to man the Sunnat Allah or the ways of Allah. What absorbed the primary attention of these early theologians was not the Sunnat Allah but another sunnat, the sunnat of the Muslim Arab community, their customs and usages, modeled on what they believed to be the practice of the Prophet, years after the Prophet passed away- customs and usages of the Arabs codified under several systems of Fiqh covering every detail of life. So obsessed were they with this task that they could not give adequate attention to the study and exposition of the Sunnat Allah, or Fitrat Allah or Khalq Allah which indeed according to the Quran was “the right religion” (Q. 30:30)

Sunnat-Allah (which is unchangeable) is the course fixed by Allah to maintain order and harmony in life, of not only the whole universe but of every subject of creation. The Quran takes care to emphasize that this Sunnat or Khalq Allah is indeed Khalq-ar-Rahman, devised not by any uncontrolled and unsympathizing power or a pitiless tyrant but by “The Beneficent, The Forgiving”. It is this Sunnat which is the Will of God and man has but to conform to it for a life of peace and order.

Quran follows a method of its own to explain the Sunnat-Allah and employs diction appropriate to it: “Fadhakkir-bil-Quran”, or explain the Quran in the manner of the Quran, is the directive the Book itself gives. (Q.50:45). The directive was evidently necessitated by the fact that the Quran had primarily to be explained to the unlettered Arabs of the Prophet’s time among whom and whose language and idiom it was delivered, and had to be explained to them in a manner helpful to a clear grasp of its meaning. “Fadhakkir-bil-Quran” was never a subject of serious study in any Muslim theological seminar.

1. “Fadhakkir-bil-Quran” was meant to be a directive foremost to the Prophet to fulfill a monumental task of explaining the faith and Allah’s revelations to the unlettered Arabs of his time.

2. “Fadhakkir bil Quran” would also mean that Quran itself will help an individual understand it with wisdom and balance contained in the revelation (Kitab wal Hikmah and Kitab wal Mizan.) In other words, if any individual tries sincerely to reflect and understand a verse he will find complementary verses that will guide him to right understanding. The requisite is to put one’s own effort sincerely and use the mind that Allah has given.

3. “Fadhkkir-bil-Quran” would also mean that this wisdom and balance (which are synonymous), is taught by Muhkamat (the verses in Quran that reveal the truth in clear terms), and as for the Mutashabihat (the verses in Quran that are allegorical), they were only to be used as analogies in figurative speech and similitudes to facilitate the understanding of Muhkamat. A figure of speech , if it has any purpose to serve, has but to reinforce graphically what has been stated in plain words in Muhkamat so it should not be allowed to mean something abnormally different from what has been conveyed in the Muhkamat.

The basic concept of life which the Quran furnishes is that the entire world of creation and everything contained therein is sustained by certain definite laws inherent in each subject (in each entity’s existence) and in harmony with each other. These laws “Sunnat-Allah”, are necessarily unalterable and that man’s joy in life should lie in cooperating with these laws and inculcating them in his own life. These laws constitute the “Will of God” in the
phraseology of the Quran and the man is but to
try to the best of his ability to conform to them for
a life of peace and order. This to use the Quranic
expression is to resign to His Will (Q.2:131)

(The laws upon which this universe has been made to operate, are multi dimensional, for example when they relate to objects as they interact and work
in conjunction they are governed by a system of ‘Cause and Effect’ and when they relate to an object on its own absolute level, they follow a course determined by God, for example a seed at a given time will come out as a plant and follow its course benefitted and sustained by the system of Cause and Effect, yet by its own inherent laws determined by God, and at right time will perish from the world of creation having gone through stages of growth and gradual decay.)

The Quran emphasizes that God has not created “the heaven and the earth and that there is between them in sheer sport”(Q.44:38), but for a serious end, that each object of creation is made subject to the laws intrinsic in its nature in order that it might fulfill its function according to the system of creation and all of them to uphold the balance. God has declared that “man by nature fitted with
a sense of balance” (Q.91:7)
to conduct himself in accordance with the laws of his own being and in harmony with the laws governing the rest of creation. “So turn steadfastly to the Way, the way of God for which man (by nature) had been fitted. There is no altering in what God hath devised. That is the right way (of living); but most people know it not.” (Q.30:30)

So when the Quran asserts that nothing happens against the Will of God, it only means that the law inherent in the object concerned is at work and has its inevitable course and duration.

The Quran sometimes speaks of men who refuse to follow the right course and persist in this attitude and have grown hardened therein. The Book refers to them in this way: “They have minds but reflect not; they have eyes but they see not; they have ears but hear not; (Q 7:179). Here again the reference is to the neglect – the determined neglect – of the “balance set in the nature of man”. The law of life will then have its course, “God hath let them (by their own behavior) seal their hearts, and their hearings and a veil lieth over their eyes”
. That is the Quranic style of expressing the consequences.

(With the same token), the Quran speaks of men who in their pursuit of a wrong or in the course of their neglect of some law of life, pause and foresee the
nature of the consequences to follow, and wish to retrace their steps, or resolve to conform to the law, which they have so far neglected. Then the law or
force so courted acts in them with a revivified vitality to their advantage. Fate or the impending consequences are altered. The process is one of repentance
and forgiveness. In Quranic declaration, “God will guide to Himself, whoever cares to turn to Him” (Q. 13:27), or to the laws of life, to God’s ways. “Whosoever committeth a sin, committeth it to his own hurt” (Q. 4:11), stresses the Quran but adds characteristically, “Your Lord hath made
the exercise of Mercy incumbent upon Himself, so that if anyone of you commits a wrong in ignorance and afterwards repents and makes amends, surely you will find Him Forgiving and Merciful.” (Q. 6:54)
. “If a man but takes one step towards God”, adds the Prophet, “God takes two to meet im.” The point to note is that the initiative for movement and reform should lie with man. That is the law – His Will. So it is with individuals and so with nations. “God does not alter the state of a people until they themselves make a move
to change it.” (Q. 13:1)
. That such is the meaning or import of the Quranic expressions: We have willed; we have decreed; and so forth.

With reference to man’s freedom to will and act, it is unmistakably clear from the following verses which are couched in the plainest language, the
, which are to be taken in the literal sense. These are following: (Q. 29:69), (Q. 17:15), (Q. 3:195), (Q. 91:7-10). (we apologize to give only their references in order to contain the length of the article)

It must be clear by now that the Quran places no restrictions on man’s movement either in thought, or knowledge or action save those which should themselves suggest to him through a proper exercise of what the Quran calls the “sense of balance set in the nature of man”. (meaning restrictions are only those which laws of nature have imposed on man). The proviso is of primary importance. One must know one’s limits and at the same time appreciate the appropriateness of a move in a given situation. Observes the Quran, that man’s
movement towards moral and spiritual perfection is fraught with inevitable discomfort on the way. The discomfort is to try him and to press him into
a better mould.

And surely will we try you with somewhat of fear and hunger and loss of property and lives and crops, but give glad tidings to the steadfast in patience, who when a trouble befalleth them, say ‘We are resigned to God and to Him we are to return’.” (Q. 2:155-156). That is the law of existence, His sunnat, habit or practice and one has to bear it or “surrender to it”. That is in man’s own interest. It will elevate him. To question it is to deny oneself the opportunity for advance.

(So when one studies and reflects on the above referenced verses in order to understand what “The Will of God” means, we know that), Fate or “Taqdeer”
is used in the Quran in two broad sense: (The author has mentioned three but we have selected two very important ones for limitation of space and length of the article)

  1. Firstly, there is the field of what we may term the Divine Initiative or of the operation of the laws of nature – Fitrat Allah, or Khalq Allah or Sunnat Allah. (The system of cause and effect put in place by God is of course an important part of Fitrat Allah) They are signs of a plan of existence necessarily conceived in advance or pre-determined, even as every human plan is pre-determined before it is put into action, with this difference that whereas man’s knowledge of the nature of things entering his plan being limited, he changes it as experience warrants him, God’s knowledge of everything being
    perfect (and absolute), occasion cannot rise to alter the course He adopts. God does not alter His ways or the laws of nature or the fundamental bases of life, of its ebbs and flows. They form the exclusive domain of divinity, and man as man has no valid ground to question them, because he cannot grasp in right perspective the working of these laws or the reality about them. (He certainly can try to understand them and utilize them to his betterment and advantage and at the same time, having had a little understanding of them could unfortunately work anti to their set course and hurt himself. Such as we might understand, are the good and bad results of scientific explorations)
  1. Secondly there is the field of Human Initiative. “Whosoever goeth the right way, doth so for his own good; and whosoever staryeth from the right path, doth so to his own hurt” (Q. 17:15). Our own acts for good or ill are mightier powers. That too is taqdeer. Man here is the maker of his own fate. The
    balance set in the nature of man or the sense of discrimination ingrained in him, must in all circumstances be the final guide in distinguishing between what he ought and what he ought not to do. The Quran has laid down certain definite injunctions touching human conduct, as may easily be endorsed by reason and experience. They denote certain principles of life operating
    for peace and order and indicate what one has to avoid in life and what to observe. These directions or commandments reflect the principles of harmony
    subbsisting in the world of nature and for that reason may be taken to signify the Will of God, and one has to conform to them also. Conformity with them and nonconformity produce opposite results. Both are styled Taqdeer.