Wednesday, January 19, 2011

All About Fate

After many many years of teaching the Articles of Faith, the most difficult is to explain the last one: Belief in the Divine Will of God. By the very nature of its content and our limited knowledge of the Divine, the beloved Prophet (pbuh) discouraged an in-depth discussion of this abstract concept of faith. Over the years, I have approached this topic in various ways, but most consistently through the reflection of the story of Prophet Moses and Khidr encapsulated in Chapter 18 of the Qur'an (Al-Kahf/The Cave) 18:60-82.

Many years of exchanges with many other teachers of varying levels have not provided me with a satisfactory approach (as opposed to explanation) of this concept. While most teachers explain this from the perspective of a mature Muslim to another Muslim (on its own, this approach carries with it various baggage), none have been able to package this to those new to Islam or to non-Muslims. Generally, these discussions always lead to two main positions: the orthodox are of the view that in reality mankind has no freedom of choice as God has absolutely determined everything, while the other thought view mankind as having an (almost) absolute freedom of choice. Personally, both of these positions are not tenable to me, and I am not even sure of the accuracy of these understandings, elucidating the details of which are not the intend of this entry.

Being bored of my usual approach, I decided to introduce this from another perspective in my class today. My students are either non-Muslims, those new to Islam, or Muslims who are re-introducing Islam back into their life. I came across Idries Shah's story of Mulla Nasruddin, and decided to make this a productive introduction in class as to the meaning of Fate. The Mulla was asked: "What is the meaning of fate?” The Mulla replied, "Assumptions.” "In what way?" the man asked again. The Mulla looked at him and said, "You assume things are going to go well and when they do not, you call that bad luck. You assume things are going to go badly and when they do not, you call that good luck. You assume certain things are going to happen or not happen a certain way, but you do not know what is going to actually happen. You assume the future is unknown. When you are caught out (things do not work out for you), you call that Fate."

Thereafter, I took inspiration from a movie and a television series to explain Divine Will: "Lord of the Rings" and "Lost." The specific clips are attached herewith. With the exception of "Lost," I only managed to embed a (very) short version from the movie "Lord of the Rings" due to copyright issues, but the essence is captured in this mere 13 seconds clip.

Alhamdulillah, the class was highly receptive of this movie/multimedia/lecture approach. As for me, I merely wish to make these lessons more practicable for them, so that they may apply these concepts beyond the classroom setting and not merely restricted to a theoretical understanding of Faith. A bigger picture then ensued: if Faith is indeed perfect, then its approach and applicability remains universal. So it made me proud when a few of them came up to me after class and commented that watching a movie now will never be the same again: that beyond the obvious, there are many latent wisdom that can be derived. One finds what one looks for.

The summary of the lesson today on Divine Will was simply this: that we are placed on Earth to realize and discover our great potential of being human, in order for us to know God through knowing our own selves. That to me is the essence of existence. The rest are mere details, and we should not get lost in the details while missing the main point. In the wonderful book by Paulo Coelho, "The Alchemist," he wrote: "Remember that wherever your heart is, there you will find your treasure. You’ve got to find the treasure, so that everything you have learned along the way can make sense." And in another chapter, he said: "To realize one's destiny is a person's only obligation."

I think I will stick to this new approach, at least for a few more semesters, until I find a better one.


Omar said...


It might be in another Idries Shah book that I read of a dervish & a seeker secretly observing a farmer. The dervish correctly foretold the farmer's actions for the next short span of time. When questioned, the farmer said he did as he did because he felt like it. This eluciated any queries I had concerning freedon of choice.

TheHoopoe said...


Please share the story with us on Monday :)

Omar said...

Insha Allah, I will look for it.