It is not befitting for a Muslim to think that there are contradictions between the primary texts of the Shari‘a. Supplication is a great form of worship with a powerful effect. God has commanded us to this by saying, “Call on your Lord with humility and in private: for God loves not those who trespass beyond bounds.”
This form of worship is something that the Messenger of God engaged in and never left. How many tribulations have been lifted by supplication, whoever leaves supplication has closed many doors of good. Imam al-Ghazali has stated regarding this matter:
One may ask “what is the point of supplication if destiny is set?’” Know that destiny includes preventing tribulation through supplication. Therefore, supplication is a cause of preventing tribulation and attracting mercy just as a shield prevents arrows from striking and water is a cause for plants to come forth from the ground.
So just as the shield prevents the arrow and the two of them meet and struggle with one another, likewise supplication and tribulation vie with one another, and there is no contradiction between belief in destiny and carrying military equipment in battle.
As for the hadith that people think contradict sound faith in destiny, they in reality assimilate perfectly with belief in destiny. This becomes clear when one consults the commentaries of the great scholars who commented on these texts. We will, in what follows, mention two hadiths that summarize all these hadith and discuss their commentaries in order to further elucidate the matter.
The First Hadith
The Messenger of God said, “Destiny is not repelled except by supplication, and nothing increases one’s lifespan except piety.” Al-Mubarkfuri has commented on this hadith by saying:
Destiny means the ordained thing and the meaning of this hadith, is that if one means by destiny those things that one fears and expects them to befall, if this person is directed to supplication, God prevents them from befalling. In this case the word destiny is used figuratively. This is also made clear from the hadith of the Messenger of God concerning healing by Qur’an saying “it is from the destiny of God”. God has also commanded us to use medicine and make supplication even though that which has been destined will befall, except that it is hidden from man.
And when ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab reached the Levant and was told that that there was a great plague, he returned to Madina. Abu ‘Ubayda then said to him “do you flea from the destiny and decree of God O leader of the faithful?” ‘Umar said “If only someone else had said this statement! Yes we flea from the destiny and decree of God to the destiny and decree of God.”
Another meaning of “repels destiny”, if in fact it was literally meant, making the situation lighter and easier to the point that it is as if it never befell. This meaning is given strength by the hadith narrated by al-Tirmidhi from the hadith of Ibn ‘Umar that supplication aids in that which befalls and that which does not befall. It is mentioned in al-Kashaf that a person’s lifespan does not increase or decrease except in the eternal book, and this is done it being written, for example, if so and so does not perform the pilgrimage or of so and so engages in this certain battle his lifespan will be forty, and if so and so performs the pilgrimage and engages in this certain battle then his lifespan will be sixty years. So if the person does both he will have a long lifespan of sixty years, and if he engages in one without the other he will have a short lifespan of forty years so his lifespan has decreased from the sixty.
This same theme has been touched on in Ma‘alim al-Tanzil. As for piety it is mentioned that if someone is pious his life will not be wasted so it is as if it has been extended. It is also said that the destiny and decree of piety is a cause for an elongated lifespan just as the destiny and decree of supplication is a cause for repelling harm.
So supplication for one’s parents and one’s relatives increases in one’s lifespan in the sense that it either gives one extra grace in his own life so that in a short time he is able to engage in copious amounts of pious works which another person having a longer lifespan cannot engage in. Here the extra life is figurative since an actual elongation of life is impossible. Al-Tayiby has stated, “know that if God most high knows that Zayd will die in the year 500, it is impossible for him to die before or after it, so it is impossible for life spans which are in the knowledge of God to increase or decrease. It becomes necessary, then, to understand the increase as being from the perspective of the Angel of Death or other angels who have been commissioned with taking people’s souls.”
The second Hadith
The Messenger of God said that God says, “The son of Adam vows only what I have destined to occur, therefore this destiny corresponds to what he vowed and through this vow I extract from the miser (what he otherwise wouldn’t have given away).”
Al-Hafidh ibn Hajar says regarding this hadith the following:
Al-Baydawi says that the habit and custom of people is that vows are connected to receiving good things and repelling harmful things so it is an act that has been prohibited since it is the sign of the miserly people. The generous person if he desires good strives to achieve this himself, however the miserly person will not give anything from himself except if he receives something in return first then he can give since he is now obliged.
And this does not effect destiny since nothing good will come his way except that it has been destined and nothing will repel harm that was destined to befall him. The vow, however, can match something that is destined so the miserly person will give something that he would not normally give.
Ibn al-‘Arabi has stated that “this hadith has proof that one who vows must adhere to what he has vowed since the hadith says ‘as extracting something from a miserly person’ since if he was not obliged to do what he vowed then the description of being miserly would not be befitting concerning the vowed act. If one were free to act upon a vow or not then the person would remain a miser even without acting.”
As for the hadith of Tirmidhi narrated from Anas that “charity repels a bad state of death”, the prima facie reading contradicts the hadith, “vows do not repel destiny”. However, one can combine both hadiths to mean that charity is a cause to repel bad states, and causes are destined and decreed just as effects are. The Messenger of God said to the one that asked about healing through Qur’an, “does it repel anything from the destiny of God?” and he responded, “it is from the destiny of God.” This hadith has been narrated by al- Hakim and Abu Dawud.
Ibn al-‘Arabi has stated that, “vows are similar to supplication in that they do not repel destiny, but rather are a part of it. And vows are discouraged while supplications are commended and the reason being is that supplication is a form of worship that express one’s incapacity and ultimate weakness in front of God, while vows involve delaying an act of worship until something happens first.”
From all that has preceded, it is clear how one can combine these prophetic texts and sound belief and faith in the destiny of God, which should not be subjected to any kind of wavering. May God grant us true faith and good works, and God is most high and all knowledgeable.