Transcribed and adapted from a live lecture by GF Haddad
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.
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?
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