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

That is the meaning of Ibn `Ata’ Allah’s words: “The foremost energies cannot pierce the walls of foreordained destinies.” Have the highest energy you like. Exert the greatest skills in marshalling causes to your advantage. As skillful as you may get in gathering together causes according to your wishes, that energy of yours, which has marshalled all causes for your sake, can never overcome Allah’s foreordained destinies. Yes, it is as if these foreordained destinies were a kind of fortified wall – like the fortified wall around the city which everyone knows – while the causes with which we interact are like arrows we shoot at that high wall. Can the arrows of causes, whatever they may be, ever pierce the bastions of foreordained destinies and go beyond them? Never in any way whatsoever.

Each and everyone of us must know this doctrine. But first, what is the evidence for it? We do not want to open the file of doctrinal issues in the familiar style of the books of the science of Oneness (al-tawhid), theological discourse (al-kalam), and the like. Allah’s Book suffices for us, and the clear words which we use and repeat every day suffice for us. The Elect One – Allah bless and greet him – has taught us a sacred phrase which he ordered us to repeat always. What is that phrase? It is la hawla wa la quwwata illa billah - “There is no change nor power except by Allah.” What does this phrase mean? Reflect upon it. It means exactly what Ibn `Ata’ Allah is saying: There is no change for a human being, for causes, for means, for the universe and all that is in it – there is no change for all of that, nor power, except if that power comes from Allah Almighty. Is it not so?

Among the names of Allah Almighty is al-Qayyum – “The Sustainer of All.” What is the meaning of this name? “Allah! There is no God other than He, the Living, the Sustainer of All” (2:255, 3:2). That is: the Sustainer of the universes, Who controls them as He wishes and organizes them as He likes. Nothing at all moves except by His Sustainment (qayyumiyya). That is the meaning of the word qayyum. Is there any efficacy left for causes after this?

Our Almighty Lord says: “And of His signs is this: The heavens and the earth stand fast by His command” (30:35). It means that what you can behold of the movement of the celestial spheres – those we see and those we do not, – the ordering of the earth, all that is between the heaven and the earth, and all that lies within this universe, seen and unseen – it is one of His signs that “The heavens and the earth stand fast by His command.” It means that if you see in them causes and effects (asbab wa musabbabat), who is the one who threaded together these causes and effects, joining the former with the latter? It is Allah Exalted and Glorified!

To elaborate: the nature of combustion in fire – so to speak, for there is no such thing as “nature”2 but we have to make what we say intelligible through approximations – that nature does not exist inside fire. It is but a divine Force (quwwa rabbaniyya) that has marshalled fire for its purpose. So it is Allah Who is the author of combustion (al-muhriq), not the fire. Our Exalted Lord says: “Lo! Allah grasps the heavens and the earth, lest they cease, and if they were to cease there is not one that could grasp them after Him” (35:41). It means that the existence of these spheres suspended in their orbits, these arrangements by which He has made these orbits stand together with the earth, these cosmic laws and patterns which we see all around us, from the farthest celestial bodies to the earth and thereunder – all that is by Allah Almighty’s arrangement. “Lo! Allah grasps the heavens and the earth, lest they cease, and if they were to cease there is not one that could grasp them after Him.” If you believe – and believe firmly – that this is Allah’s speech, is there any efficay left for causes?

Our Exalted Lord says in His explicit disclosure: “And a token unto them is that We bear their offspring in the laden ship” (36:41). Have you reflected upon these words? The ship, externally, is a cause. Therefore it is the ship, apparently, which carries the people who board it, is it not? In our understanding, the phrasing should have been: “And a token unto them is that the laden ship bears them.” However, the divine disclosure came in a different form. “And a token unto them is that We bear their offspring in the laden ship.” Who, then, is the carrier for those who sought refuge in the ship? Is it the ship or is it Allah? So then, the ship possesses no efficacy.

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