Educational Articles About Islam, May 2007
Five Islamic Issues: Predestination and Choice, position towards other religions, angels, and the End of Days
An Interactive Editorial
Five Islamic Issues, By Hassan El-Najjar and Chris Hatcher *
May 9, 2003
Updated on the 27th of Ramadhan, 1441, May 20, 2020
Dear Dr. El-Najjar,
Does Islam teach that mankind is predestined by God to believe or not believe in Him or does it teach that mankind is given free will to choose to believe? I believe I remember reading somewhere in the Quran that Allah will harden the hearts of those who disbelieve, but brings faith to those who will believe. This sounds like predestination to me, but if that is so, then it is not very compassionate, as some are predestined to suffer eternally for something they cannot control and that lack of compassion would go against the Names of God.
Throughout the Holy Quran, God says that life on earth is a test for human beings. They will be rewarded by living an everlasting life in Paradise if they pass it, or they will be punished in the hellfire if they fail it. This means that human beings have a choice to do right or wrong. If they have no choice, then there is no reason to reward or punish them by God, the Just, the Merciful, and the Compassionate.
Allah, praise to Him, knows what choices people are going to make. So, it's more accurate to desctibe that as foreknowledge, not predestination. In a famous Qudsi Hadith, the Prophet Muhammed (Peace and Blessing of Allah be upon him) said that when a person is in the womb, an angel will write his/her earnings, lifespan, deeds, and whether he/she will be happy or unhappy. This is a foreknowledge of how much people will earn, how long will they live, whether they are going to do good or bad, and whether they will be happy or unhappy as a result.
In response to your example about hardening the hearts of disbelievers (for example, Chapter 7, Verses 100-101) and bringing faith to believers, in either case, it happens after choices are made. First a person chooses to be a believer or disbelieve. This precedes God's responses to their choices.
The evidence from the Holy Quran for choice is tremendous. Here are few examples:
A. Throughout the Holy Qur'an, God invites people to call on Him, asking for changes in their life for better. He has promised to answer their sincere calls. So, there is a choice for people to call on Him or not, then there is a willingness and a promise on His own side to change their life for better. (Chapter 40, Verse 60; Chapter 7, Verse 55; Chapter 2, Verse 186; Chapter 27, Verse 62; Chapter 47, Verse 19; Chapter 14, Verse 41).
B. In the Day of Judgment, people will be judged by their deeds, even as small as a dust particle, good or bad (Chapter 99, Verses 6-8; Chapter 95, Verse 6).
C. The human soul is equipped with the ability to differentiate between good and evil. That is why life is a test. (Chapter 91, Verses 7-10; Chapter 90, Verse 10).
D. People's deeds are written in two different numbered records: Sijin for wrong doers, and Eliyeen for good doers. (Chapter 83, Verses 7-9, 18-0). Thus, people's deeds are recorded and will be the bases for judgment.
With what information we are given, are all nonbelievers doomed to the hellfire? Essentially, what I am asking is whether Islam is a merit-based salvation or a faith-based salvation?
From the evidence given in answering the first question, Islam requires a merit-based salvation for believers. You have to be a believer first for your deeds to be counted. Faith in God is the source of good deeds. However, the declaration of faith in God cannot stand alone. It has to be supported by good deeds, as the famous verse states, "Those who believe and follow that with good deeds," which is recurrent in many Chapters of the Holy Quran.
What is Islam's view of other religions? I know that there is a kinship with the other Abrahamic religions, but what about Buddhism, Hinduism, Self-Spiritualists, etc.?
Islam is the religion revealed by God to humanity in different times. It has guided people to the right path. It is what God instructed Adam and Eve. It is what He has revealed to Noah, Abraham, Ismail, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Jesus Christ, and Muhammed, peace of God may be upon all of them. They were all Muslims.
However, God has stated in the Holy Qur'an that there are other messengers of God who are not mentioned in the Book (Chapter 4, Verse 164: "Of some of the apostles, We have told thee the story; Of others We have not). One example is describing those (Babylonians) who attacked the Israelites as believers who worshipped God (Chapter 17, Verse 5). But there are no details about their messenger or message.
Muslims are required to open a dialogue with people of other faiths to introduce Islam to them. This is called "Da'awa." It has to be conducted in the wisest and finest way possible to avoid insulting or repelling people.
What does Islam describe the End of Days as like? Does it agree with Christianity in that the End will be a time when God expresses his wrath? Is there a War of Armageddon? I remember you telling me about the Mahdi and the return of Issa (Jesus Christ) as the Messiah. I've also read that Issa will slay the Dajaal (anti-Christ). Then God will begin the resurrection and judgment of the dead. Also, I read that during Judgment, the angel in charge of recording a person's deeds will present each person with a scroll of those deeds. If it is given to the left hand, that person is doomed to hellfire and that if it is given to the right hand, they are rewarded with paradise. Is this true?
The End of Days prophecy is narrated in one of the Prophet's Hadiths. The anti-Christ will be defeated and slain by Jesus Christ, the Messiah, after his return. The battle will be in Palestine, now called Israel, near Lod, part of Tel Aviv now. When Jesus Christ returns to Earth, he will go to Jerusalem to pray with Muslims at Al-Aqsa Mosque, where he meets with Al-Mahdi, the guided one. Then, Jesus Christ rules the Earth for forty years, in peace and prosperity, which continue seven years after his death.
Before the Day of Judgment comes, all people and creatures including angels die. When they are resurrected, they are held accountable to their deeds as explained in the first answer. While scrolls (records) of believers are given to them in their right hand, scrolls of disbelievers are given to them in their left hands. So, receiving scrolls in the right or left hands is on basis of being a believer or not. It is not by luck or by accident, like what you expressed in your question.
Why does God use angels? He is All-Powerful, so why does he need servants? I once theorized that angels could be seen as manifestations of Him, but then I realized that such a thought probably borders on henotheism, which I assume is inappropriate for Islamic beliefs.
Chapter 42, Verse 51 states: "It is not fitting for a man that God should speak to him except by inspiration, or from behind a veil, or by sending a messenger to reveal, with God's permission, what God wills: for He is Most High, Most Wise." Thus, a major answer to your question is that God has used angels as mediums between Him and humans. People cannot endure direct communication with God. Their limited characteristics do not allow them to do so. Thus, the angel Jibril (Gabriel), peace to him, used to be sent as a medium between Allah and His Messengers. He would inspire God's revelations to them. Angels also appeared (and can appear) before people, as if they are people themselves.
God also has created angels to praise and obey Him in all what He instructs them to do. It is His will to be worshipped in return for the life given to his creations.
With regard to henotheism (shirk), God Almighty has said that He is willing to forgive all sins except taking partners with Him. He is the only God in the universe. There are no other Gods beside Him. There is nothing equal to Him. He was never born and He has never given birth to anyone (Chapter 112: 1-4).
The Holy Quran is full of evidence that it has not been authored by a human being. The scientific evidence in the Quran refers to the verses that explain facts about the universe, Earth, humans, and other intelligent beings. For example, there is an invitation for humans to fly, indicating the possibility of flying, more than 1400 years ago. Earth is described as egg-shaped. One verse explains that it is the female bee that makes honey. Many books and research articles have been written about the topic. Here are some examples:
Sources about the Scientific Evidence in the Holy Quran:
4. El-Naggar, Zaghloul. 2012. “The Scientific Connotations in the Holy Quran: The six days of creation of the Universe, as viewed by applied sciences.” Al-Jazeerah, June 1.
5. Bucaille, Maurice. 1986. “The Bible, The Quran and Science: The Holy Scriptures Examined In The Light Of Modern Knowledge.” Archive.org (The English translation was by Alastair D. Pannell and the author, published first in Delhi: Taj).
6. Ibrahim, I. A. and 12 others. 1996. “A Brief Illustrated Guide to Understanding Islam.” Darus Salam.
7. Alam, Shah Manzoor. 1999. “Scientific significance in selected Quranic verses.” Al-Imam Muhammad Ibn Saud Islamic University.
* Dr. Hassan El-Najjar teaches sociology and anthropology at a north Georgia college. Chris Hatcher was one of his students.
Opinions expressed in various sections are the sole responsibility of their authors and they may not represent Al-Jazeerah's.