Foreordained Destiny and the Inefficacy of Material Causes-and-Effects

AL-BUTI: Commentary on the Hikam (#3)

Transcribed and adapted from a live lecture by Hajj Gibril Haddad

Eighth Lesson:

Foreordained Destiny and the Inefficacy of Material Causes-and-Effects (Al-Qadar wa Lafa`iliyya al-Asbab) (Ibn `Ata’ Allah, Hikam No. 3)

“The most truthful word any poet ever said is Labid’s: Lo! Everything other than Allah is vain.” Hadith of the Prophet – Allah bless and greet him.1

We had begun to speak about Ibn `Ata’ Allah’s Third hikma. In it he said – may Allah Almighty have mercy on him:

#3. The foremost energies cannot pierce the walls of foreordained destinies.

This hikma is in reality a completion for the hikma that comes before it. Ibn `Ata’ Allah – rahimahullah – had asked us to conform with the reality in which Allah has placed us. The measuring-scale for this reality is the most noble Law. If you see that Allah Almighty has placed you within the screens of ambient causes which are all forbidden: then Allah is testing you with dispossession (al-tajrid). What is required of you is to move away from these causes which Allah Almighty has not authorized, and rely on Allah for the obtainment of your wants. But if you see yourself placed within the screens of ambient causes to which the Law has unlocked wide and licit paths – and the way in which you use them is licit – then know, at that time, that Allah has placed you in the world of causes (`alam al-asbab). What is required of you is to interact with these causes, and not to substitute them with complete trust (tawakkul) in Allah Almighty. Complete trust is required anyway; however, you are obligated, in such a condition, to interact with those causes that are licit and, at the same time, trust in Allah. That is the gist of the previous hikma:

#2. Your asking for dispossession when Allah has placed you in the midst of causes is a surreptitious lust, and your asking [to handle] causes when Allah has placed you in dispossession is a decline from a higher level.

When Ibn `Ata’ Allah says this – we discussed it at length previously – one might infer that causes possess great efficacy (fa`iliyya) and that, when someone finds himself face-to-face with unproblematic, licit causes, he must interact with these causes in all his goals and all the essentials of life. One might therefore think that causes possess efficacy and influence, and that, therefore, one must interact with these causes and not say: “I shall substitute them with complete trust in Allah Almighty.” Because of this possibility – which might arise in the mind of whoever listens to the second hikma – Ibn `Ata’ Allah followed up with this third hikma and said: “The foremost energies cannot pierce the walls of foreordained destinies.”

This question is related to doctrine (al-`aqida). It is the basis from which we should set forth, whether we have been tested through dispossession, or we have been tested and asked to interact with causes. In both cases, there is a doctrinal reality which we must all acquire in our very beings. What is that doctrinal reality? It is that causes, whatever they are, are subservient to Allah’s foreordained destiny (qadar), and it is not Allah’s foreordained destiny that is subservient to causes. This we must know.

Causes that are represented by human endeavors to work, seek sustenance and so forth – such causes are troops among Allah’s other troops which all serve Allah’s qadar. These causes with which you interact, lead you to whatever Allah Almighty has foreordained for you. Whenever we have recourse to physicians and their medications, which are among the causes used to remedy illness, endeavoring to achieve a cure therefrom, we must know that the use of medication, the recourse to physicians – all this is subservient to Allah’s foreordainment (qada‘). This means that physicians, their remedies, their prescriptions, and all their means lead you, in the end, to whatever Allah has foreordained for you or against you. All the means with which you interact, those you use and seek after in order to obtain education or degrees, marry, start a family in the way you envisage, and whatever goals other than those – the Creator has filled the earth with causes! – you must know that these causes, whether you are now tasked with deprivation of them or with interacting with them – you must know that causes are troops which revolve around a single axis: execution of Allah Almighty’s foreordainment.

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