Inshah Allah (Allah- So- Willing) —The Islamic Metaphysics of the Future
In the life of devout Muslims, a day never passes without using the Arabic phrase, Insha Allah (God So Willing) at the end of any conversation about future events. Without an understanding of the meaning of this phrase, we cannot begin to comprehend God’s relationship with His creatures, the concept of Creation, and the role of free will. Nor we can offer a rational, internally consistent argument against the materialist’s exclusion of God in the evolution of life and the universe.
Materialist scientists argue that biological evolution is an “inherently mindless purposeless process.” They preach that impersonal laws rule the universe, and atoms are at work in the operation of life. Biologist and atheist Richard Dawkins insists that contingency and natural selection, operating over a long period of time, account for evolution. Dawkins assumes that blind forces of physics, chemistry, and natural selection are sufficient to explain the origin and expansion of life. He asserts that the unfolding of life is the result of selfish desires of genes to increase their opportunities for survival and reproduction.
Similar opinions prevail among other practitioners and admirers of science who argue that there is no reason to include God in the evolution of life. One extremist states, “…materialism is absolute [and] we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.”
Such fervency stems from an unshakable, unwavering faith in the Law of Causality, which most people acknowledge and which states that a given cause always produces the same effect. Gravity always pulls an apple down to the earth; spring season melts snow; drought brings destruction of crops. Chemical reactions in any organism, amoeba or human, are explainable by the same laws of physics and chemistry that govern the universe.
Based on causality, scientists maintain that the future is predetermined and can be predictable through accurate knowledge of past causes. The laws of nature, they argue, are invariant, and scientific observation reveals the past as the product of those laws. Any natural event that departs from the anticipated effect of a uniform cause is classified as an “accident.” However, scientists’ predictions based on observation of matter and invariant laws of nature are limited by their own earlier conclusions and experiences.
To gather data, scientists peer into nature, from atoms to stars, amoebas to humankind, fungi to maple trees, from any other phenomena of our universe. Science has categorized the collected data, defining disciplines such as paleontology, comparative anatomy, biogeography, embryology, molecular genetics, and so on. The materialists’ claim that the unfolding of life is a “purposeless mindless process” is based upon inferences from separately catalogued extrapolations of past experiences. John F. Haught, professor of Theology at Georgetown University, calls such materialistic metaphysics “metaphysics of the past.”
With unflinching and, on the surface, contradictory faith that God created everything, many Muslims also believe that the past determines the future. In the Islamic universe, unlike that catalogued by materialist science, the past and the present are not the creators of the future, nor are humans or any other creatures, because “…Allah is the creator of everything. ...”(Qur’an 13:16) Even creations that we claim as our own emanate from Allah. The Qur’an states, “And God created you and what you make.” (Qur’an 37:96) Allah created everything—computers, airplanes, cars, and even the atom.
A few important questions Muslims might ask are: If God is the creator of what humans make, is God not also the creator of our good and bad deeds? Why should there be reward for the pious and retribution for the impious if Allah is the source of our actions? If Allah has sealed the heart of disbelievers from receiving divine guidance (Qur’an 2:7), why does God hold us accountable for our actions on the Day of Judgment? The answer to these questions lies in Islamic metaphysics of the future.
The experienced past is irretrievable; the present is only a fleeting moment that we cannot hold. On the other hand, we experience the continuous coming of the future. Future does not exist until it is created. Future is not simply the birth of a moment. Future means the yet-to-be-born or -created moment packed with contrasting or diametrically opposite possibilities as information. Each moment brings each of us hope or fear, success or failure, pain or pleasure, routine or surprise events. Each moment presents itself to us as different kinds of information simultaneously. Islamic faith decrees that Allah is the source of all information. Therefore, Muslims pray, “My Lord, augment me in knowledge.” (Qur’an 20:114)
The Qur’anic teachings regarding the coming of future events are grounded in the phrase Insha Allah (God so willing) and the verse, “And never say about anything, ‘Behold, I shall do this tomorrow,’ without [adding] ‘if God so wills.’” (Qur’an 18:23) Muslims say Insha Allah after every statement pertaining to the future, even for simple tasks such as meeting a friend at 4 P.M. tomorrow. Muslims must believe that the future is not simply born without cause. It occurs only when and if Allah creates it as information within arriving moments and if His creatures act upon the information to actualize it into visible realities in their material world. Our planning and our desires may or may not be what Allah is going to present to us in our future. Allah states regarding Jewish scheme: “…and they contrived, and God contrived, but God is the greatest of contrivers.” (Qur’an 3: 54)
All creatures participate in actualizing the possibilities contained within future moments into visible monuments of God. All creatures live in the present. The present is the pivotal moment between past and future. Allah tests us by asking us to make moral choices of possibilities—the good, bad, and neutral, the moral and immoral—that are contained in each approaching moment only as information. These choices have no negative or positive charge in the material world until creatures actualize the possibilities into material world realities. Thus we are necessary participants in the ongoing process of creation. Otherwise the stream of future moments would remain only as idle information and possibilities. Allah calls humans to account for our act of choosing from the alternatives within the arriving future moments.
Each moment is different for each individual, and the lessons of the past and present are tools that can help us make the right choices. Allah revealed His words to the prophets and provided holy books to both humans and jinns (beings who inhabit the different plane of existence). These scriptures explain what is right or wrong, moral or immoral, preferred or not preferred, and rewarding or punishable. Allah narrates stories of the past in the Qur’an in order to help humans and jinn—both of whom He has graced with limited free will—use lessons from history in conjunction with revelations to make the right choices.
Living creatures have the freedom to actualize only possibilities contained as information in each moment of future arriving from God. To label the above belief, we shall borrow John F. Haught’s phrase “metaphysics of the future” and modify it to read “Islamic metaphysics of the future.” If a future moment arrives lacking in novel possibilities, humans and other creatures cannot change their present condition, which then becomes stagnant and may remain so for an unlimited period of time. Even when Allah sends our way moments with novel possibilities, we will remain unchanged if we do not accept His offerings and revelations.
In Islamic metaphysics of the future, the universe is always within Allah’s providence. Therefore, Allah is the creator of all things and the one who brings the possibilities of each moment in the form of information. Nothing comes into existence without the information about it being initially available. Similarly, inventors and technicians provide the information they receive to various sectors of society—such as politicians, heads of corporations, and others—guiding them to the scientific basis for managing their vocations. Those who understand the information can then actualize it into cars, airplanes, nations, and so on.
I like to use the metaphor of the factory worker to illustrate our relationship to God. While the ordinary assembly-line worker can choose the manufacturing plant in which he wishes to be employed, factory workers have no freedom to manufacture any products of their choice; they must assemble a product using components coming through the conveyer belt of the factory.
The physical and spiritual universe is the manufacturing plant of Islam owned by Allah, the supreme Scientist and Technician. Here creatures at large, and humans in particular, are like assembly-line workers. The chain of flowing moments of the coming future is the conveyer belt, which delivers the raw materials (possibilities as information) necessary for the making of many products. In this factory the worker is free to select any of the components (possibilities) from the conveyer belt (arriving future) and actualize those possibilities into visible monuments of Allah’s creation. If there is no flow of information from scientists and technicians, the assembly-line worker is unable to produce anything. Even the factory would not exist. Likewise, human or any other creatures cannot produce or act upon the world until the future moment arrives with possibilities as information from Allah.
Belief and disbelief in God also come as possibilities in the flow of moments from the future. If human beings choose and accept disbelief in God, their minds become unreceptive to divine revelations until they are willing to give up their disbelief. Consequently individuals opt to receive reward or retribution in the hereafter universe (al-Akhirah) based upon their earthy choices.
The universe from Big Bang to Big Crunch is maize. On both ends there is singularity where all matter is condensed into a mathematical point. The maize is made out of allies, roads, highways and byways that lead to different futures for the universe and its components. Allah has already mapped out (created) all the possible and available futures that we can choose, but it is still up to humans and other components of the universe, day by day, to decide which allies or roads or highways to step into. Allah, the Merciful and Benevolent, does not interfere or force us into making choices by voluntarily limiting His Absolute Power as stated in the Qur’anic verses: “…Verily never will Allah change the condition of a people until they change it themselves (with their own souls)…”(13:11). “And had your Lord willed, whoever in the earth would have believed altogether. Will you then coerce the people to become believers?” (Qur’an 10:99).
These verses convey the message that Allah voluntarily limits His Omniscience also. He knows that free will would be non-existent for His creatures without limitation of His omnipotence and omniscience. Creatures would not be able to choose when future arrives with possibilities from God without voluntary self-control of His power and absolute knowledge. Therefore, Al-Rahman (The Beneficient) and Al-Rahim (The Merciful) God set a voluntarily self-imposed limitation on His omniscience and omnipotence to create free will for His creatures. Because the self-imposed limitation is voluntary it does not imply any inherent limitation in Allah’s ultimate power and omniscience. At the same time, even though we are free to choose and actualize any of the worldly possibilities available to us—atomic power, computer technology, biological engineering—our future is limited by possibilities that Allah has in store for us. In another words, Allah knows the available futures for creatures, but Allah, being the Most Merciful and Most Benevolent, voluntarily opted not to know which path His creatures would choose to step into until it is done to establish free will. Furthermore, His omniscience is maintained by Allah being origin of all messenger moments with possibilities and by His knowledge about the maize that the universe and its components could travel between the Big Bang and the Big Crunch.
In mandatory daily prayers, Muslims recite the opening chapter of the Qur’an, al-Fatihah: “Guide us (O Lord) to the path that is straight, the path of those You have blessed, not of those who have earned Your anger, nor of those who have gone astray.” These verses imply to many Muslim and non-Muslim minds that Allah does lead some of us astray. Based upon the Islamic metaphysics of the future, Allah presents contrasting and diametrically opposite possibilities within arriving moments of future, and He also states in his revealed books which possibilities please Him or draw His anger. We are thus graced with guidance as to how to travel in the righteous path, by choosing righteous possibilities from the arriving moments of future. Similarly we are offered guidance about which creaturely choices from the possibilities in the arriving moments of future lead us astray.
Even though Allah is the source for the good and sinful possibilities as well as the guidance for selection or rejection of possibilities that are righteous or evil respectively, the possibilities remain as idle information until we actualize any of the information from the arriving future into the reality of the material world. Allah does not interfere in the free choice of His creatures from among the available possibilities within arriving future moments.
The sinners’ own confession, as repeatedly mentioned in the Qur’an, is that their great leaders or the Devil misled them. Not once do they put forward the excuse that God Himself misled them: “And they (shall) say, ‘Our Lord, we obeyed our masters and our notables, but they led us astray from the path.’” (Qur’an 33:67) “And those who disbelieved shall say, ‘Our Lord, show us those who led us perverse of men and jinn, and we shall put them under our feet that they may be at the bottom.’” (Qur’an 41:29)
If God had really led them astray, the sinners’ best excuse on the Day of Judgment would have been that they did not deserve to be punished because God Himself led them astray. Therefore, based upon the Islamic metaphysics of the future, the phrase “God misled” means that God simultaneously creates opposite possibilities as information within the arriving future and gives guidance that instructs His creatures what choice draws His anger or blessing.
Based upon the far-reaching meaning of the phrase Insha Allah and the concept of “metaphysics of the future,” accidents or contingencies are novelties coming from Allah, even though these novelties appear random to a human mind fixed in the materialist “metaphysics of the past.” For example, God created for Hind d. Utba, one of the foremost enemies of the Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him), the possibility of joining the distinguished company of the Prophet (pbuh), as Hamzah did, or the decision to kill and mutilate Hamzah. Allah did not compel Hind to choose any one of the paths. Allah created good and bad choices in Hind’s arriving future, and she decided to actualize the bad choice to kill and cannibalize.
The Qur’an supports the above when it states: “Surely God does not wrong anyone, they wrong themselves.” (Qur’an 10:44) No conflict arises, therefore, between the belief that Allah is the creator of the world and all its creatures and the belief that human beings and other creatures are endowed with limited free will within the bounds of possibilities that come through the flow of moments from the future. Each arriving moment of time is a messenger carrying information from Allah.
Such a construction of the universe and limited free will for His creatures along with merciful voluntary limitation of His power and omniscience distances God as a tyrant. If we take a global picture of all earthly creatures, we witness a universe filled with a mixture of pain and suffering as well as happiness and peace. A western theologian and biochemist Arthur Peacocke describes the universe as a musical play wherein actors (God’s creatures), at their individual hierarchical ranks, freely choose their roles from possible scenarios presented to them by the choreographer (Allah). Chance and unpredictability are inevitable and are, in fact, built in to such an atmosphere. There is no free will without chance and unpredictability. In real life, however, the pain and suffering we experience as a result of the free choices of all creatures for their selfish benefits are God’s way of testing, perfecting, and preparing us for the eternal world of absolute happiness and peace.
Sufi poet Jalaluddin Rumi describes this universe as a battlefield where atom struggles with atom like faith against infidelity. In this struggle some benefit and others suffer. The Islamic metaphysics of the future blends chance, unpredictability, and creatures with limited free will to form our universe within the context of the existence of a Most Compassionate, Most Just, Omnipotent, Islamic God known as Allah. In this universe Allah proposes and humankind and other creatures together dispose. Allah’s rewards or retribution in the Hereafter world is based upon our intention and choice of the beneficial or the evil information within the arriving messenger moments from God and its actualization into visible monuments God’s creation in the material world.
Wallahu Ahlam (Allah know best).