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What is the meaning of Divine Decree (Qada) and Measure (Qadar) in Islamic terminology?
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The term qadar in the Arabic language means 'measure' and 'por­tion'; and qada pertains to that which is definite and decided. The eighth Imam, Imam Rida (as), said by way of commentary upon these two terms: '

Qadar is to be understood as the measuring out of a thing in relation to its subsistence (baqa') and its extinction (fana'); and qada' is the bestowal upon a given entity of its defini­tive capacity to actualize itself.'[1]

Commentary on Qadar

Each creature, insofar as it is a contingent being ( mumkin al-wujud) has a particular existential limit and extent. All things other than God exist in a particular way, are limited in differing degrees, take on different modes of existence: minerals have a particular existential measure or 'cut', differing from that of plants and ani­mals. Just as the very existence that is apportioned to all things is itself a creature of God, likewise, the initial measuring out (taqdir) of all things comes from Him. Therefore, this measuring out of existence can be understood as an act of God: it is referred to as 'active determination and apportioning in act'. This, in turn, is to be understood in the light of the following: Before creating a thing, God already knows it in its unmanifest state of latency or potenti­ality; this being referred to as 'determination and apportioning in knowledge'.

Belief in qadar is tantamount to belief in the creatorship of God as regards the particular properties of all things, and His 'active determination' of things rests upon His pre-eternal knowl­edge; in consequence, belief in the divine knowledge of qadar is but a function of belief in the eternal knowledge of God.

Commentary on Qada

Qada is to be understood as the bestowal of definitive existence upon an entity. Naturally, the process by which this definitive existence is attained rests upon the operation of the law of cause and effect. A thing receives its existence as a re­sult of the complete actualization of the cause of its existence. Insofar as this law of causality derives ultimately from God, the reality of the definitive nature of each existing entity rests upon the power and will of God. There is an 'active' qada which oper­ates at the level of creation, and an 'essential' qada which pertains to God's eternal knowledge of all things-such as they are before they come into being.

Qada is to be understood as the bestowal of definitive existence upon an entity. Naturally, the process by which this definitive existence is attained rests upon the operation of the law of cause and effect. A thing receives its existence as a re­sult of the complete actualization of the cause of its existence. Insofar as this law of causality derives ultimately from God, the reality of the definitive nature of each existing entity rests upon the power and will of God. There is an 'active' qada which oper­ates at the level of creation, and an 'essential' qada which pertains to God's eternal knowledge of all things-such as they are before they come into being.

What has been said so far has been in relation to creative qada' and qadar-whether in essential or active mode. But both princi­ples also apply to the realm of religious dispensation, in that the principle of religious obligation is also determined by divine qada'; and the particular properties of these obligations-as regards what is necessary, forbidden, and so on-also derive from 'religious pre-determination' ( taqdir tashri'i). In reply to someone question­ing the reality of qada' and qadar, Imam 'Ali referred to this ontological level and said:

'The meaning of qada' and qadar per­tains to commanding obedience and forbidding disobedience; the bestowing of power upon man to perform good works and renounce evil works; the provision of grace to increase nearness to God; delivering up the sinners to their own [inner] states; the making of promises and threats-all these relate to the qada' and qadar of God in regard to our actions. [2]

We can see from this reply that the Imam restricted himself to speaking about qada' and qadar in relation to religious dispensa­tion, possibly on account of his awareness of the need for the questioner-and those present at the gathering-to cultivate the particular attitude and state of soul that the questioner lacked. For, at that time, the issue of existential predestination, and its implications as regards human action, was leading towards an ab­solute pre-determinism (jabr), and there with the negation of free will (ikhtiyar). Evidence for our interpretation is given by the fact that the hadith continues as follows:

'Do not speculate on anything other than this, for such speculation will nullify your actions.'

The meaning here is that the value of man's actions is predicated upon his free will; and a belief in the absolute pre-determinism of ac­tion annuls this freedom, and hence the value of human action.

To conclude: qada' and qadar are applicable both to creation and to religious dispensation, and each of these two realms com­prises two modes: an 'essential' mode, related to divine knowledge; and an 'active' mode, related to manifestation.

Divine predestination and human free will

Divine predestination is not in the least incompatible with hu­man free will. For what God has ordained for man is, precisely, free will, the very feature which distinguishes him from the ani­mals; man has been ordained a free agent, capable of choosing to perform or to abstain from his actions. The divine decree in re­gard to human action is that, once the will and desire to perform a given action are established, the action will follow decisively. In other words, the very creation of man inherently comprises free­dom as regards human will, along with its capacity to evaluate and judge; in this respect, · the divine decree is that whenever man decides upon an action, and possesses the necessary means to perform it, a divine power brings into effect the accomplishment of the action in question.

Divine predestination is not in the least incompatible with hu­man free will. For what God has ordained for man is, precisely, free will, the very feature which distinguishes him from the ani­mals; man has been ordained a free agent, capable of choosing to perform or to abstain from his actions. The divine decree in re­gard to human action is that, once the will and desire to perform a given action are established, the action will follow decisively. In other words, the very creation of man inherently comprises free­dom as regards human will, along with its capacity to evaluate and judge; in this respect, · the divine decree is that whenever man decides upon an action, and possesses the necessary means to perform it, a divine power brings into effect the accomplishment of the action in question.

There are those who believe that their sinfulness is the prod­uct of divine predestination, and that it was never in fact possible for them to have chosen any path other than the one which they in fact followed; but both intellect and revelation alike repudiate such an opinion. From the intellectual point of view, man deter­mines his destiny by means of his own decisions; from the religious point of view also, man is deemed to have the capacity to be ei­ther pious and grateful or impious and wicked, as the Qur'an says:

Verily, We have shown him the way, whether he be grateful or disbelieving. (Sura al-Insan, 76:3)

 At the time of the Revelation, one party of idolators attributed their idol-worship to the will of God, arguing that were it not His will, they would not have worshipped idols; The Qur'an relates their fanciful notion thus:

Those who associated with Allah will say, "If Allah had willed, we would not have associated [anything] and neither would our fathers, nor would we have prohibited anything."

The response then follows:

Likewise those before them lied, until they tasted Our might. Say, “Do you have any knowledge that you can produce for us? You follow nothing but conjecture, and you only guess.” (Sura al-An'am, 6:148)

To conclude this discussion, let us remind ourselves that the universal pathways established by God in the created universe­ some terminating in the ultimate felicity of man, others in his utter ruin-these pathways are but manifestations of divine pre­destination; and man, alone, has the freedom to choose either one of these paths.

1. al-Kulayni, al-Usul min al-kafi, vol. 1, p. 158.
2. al-Majlisi, Bihar al-anwar (Beirut, 1403/ 1982), vol. 5, p. 96.

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Do not let your brother be stronger than you are in your amity for him.