The original Arabic word translated as 'destiny' is 'Qadar', meaning, in its derivations, determination, giving a certain measure and shape, dividing and judging. As a term, it is defined by Islamic scholars as Divine measure, determination and judgement in the creation of things.
Before proceeding to go into details relating to the subject of Divine Decree and Destiny, we had better give the translation of some relevant verses:
With Him are the keys of the Unseen. None but He knows them. He knows what is in the land and the sea. Not a leaf falls but He knows it, not a grain amid the darkness of the earth, naught of wet or dry but it is in a Manifest Book. (al-An'am, 6.59)
There is nothing hidden in the heaven or the earth but it is in a Manifest Book. (a1-Nanzl, 27.75) It is We Who bring the dead to life.
We record what they send (of their lives and conduct to the Hereafter) and what is left of them. All things we have kept in a Manifest Record. (Ya Sin, 36.12)
They say: 'When (will) this promise (be fulfilled), if you are truthful?' Say: 'The knowledge is with God only, and I am but a plain warner.' (al-Mulk, 67. 25-6)
Nay, but it is a glorious Qur'an. On a Preserved Tablet. (al Buruj, 85. 21-2)
In a sense, Decree and Destiny are of the same meaning, but in another, Destiny means pre-determination or pre-ordinance, while Decree means execution of this ordinance or putting it into effect.
To define more clearly and elaborately, Destiny means that from the microcosm (atoms) to the macrocosm (the universe as a whole), from particles to galaxies, God Almighty, Who knows everything down to the minutest and Whose Knowledge includes all space and time while Himself is absolutely beyond all time and space, gives existence in His Knowledge to all things or beings and assigns to each a certain shape, life-span, function or mission and certain particularities. This can be understood by an analogy-God's is the highest comparison, and He is absolutely beyond all comparisons and different from whatever a man conceives of Him -with an author's having the full and exact knowledge of the book he will write and arranging it in his mind in chapters, sections, paragraphs, sentences and words before writing it. In this sense, Destiny is almost identical with Divine Knowledge or Destiny is a title of Divine Knowledge, and is also called the Manifest Record or the Supreme Preserved Tablet.
Destiny also means that God makes everything according to a certain, particular measure and in exact balance. The Qur'an declares:
God knows what every female bears and what the wombs absorb and what they grow. And everything with Him is measured. (Al Ra'd, 13.8)
The sun and the moon are made punctual according to a calculation. The stars and the trees adore, in subservience to Him. And the sky He has uplifted; and He has set the balance, that you exceed not the balance, but observe the balance strictly, nor fall short thereof. (al-Rahman, 55. 5-9)
The exact balance and harmony in the universe clearly show the existence of Divine Destiny; that is, the universe, as a whole and with all the individual things or beings in it, which display an exact measure, balance, order and harmony, shows that everything is determined, measured, created and governed by God Almighty. Assertions like determinism, which is upheld by many, including even the supporters of the Marxist ideology, in explaining the order and operation of the universe including the human kingdom, are a tacit admission of Destiny, even though absolute determinism is incompatible with Islam in explaining the actions of man.
All seeds, fruit stones, measured and proportioned forms, and the extraordinary order and harmony of the universe, and its operation for billions of years without displaying the slightest breakdown or deviation in any part of it, all this demonstrates that everything takes place according to the absolute determination of God Almighty, Who is the All-Knowing and the All-Powerful. Each seed or fruit stone and even each ovum fertilized by a male sperm is like a case formed by Divine Power into which Divine Destiny has in-built the future life-history of a plant or an animal being. Divine Power employs atoms or particles according to the measure established by Divine Destiny as building blocks in growing the particular seed into the particular plant and the particular fertilized ovum into the particular being. This means that the future life-history of that plant or the animal being and the principles to govern its life are pre-recorded in the seed or the fertilized ovum as determining factors and processes.
Although the basic materials from which plants and animal beings, including human beings, are formed are the same, there is an almost infinite variety between species and individuals. The plants and animals that grow from the same constituent basic elements display such harmony and proportion, and yet such abundant diversity, that man cannot help but conclude that each of them is individually given its particular form and measure. It is Divine Destiny which establishes this measure.
A single seed displays Destiny in two ways: one by demonstrating the Manifest Record (Imamun Mubin), the other by displaying the Manifest Book (Kitabun Mubin). The Manifest Record is, as was pointed out above, another title for Divine Knowledge and Command, comprehensive of the universe both as a whole and with all its parts, big or small, and all the events in it. As everybody knows, the seed of a plant is also its 'memory'. That is, a plant which grows from a seed also results in multiple seeds, in which the entire life-history of the plant have been recorded so that they can grow into new plants, which are almost identical with the original because plants do not have conscious spirits endowed with free will. Thus, besides demonstrating the Manifest Record and therefore Divine Destiny and Knowledge in which everything is present or exists with all its individualized particularities, a seed also indicates the Supreme Preserved Tablet (Lawhun Mahfuz) and corresponds to human memory in the human kingdom. By the way, since it indicates that the life-histories of creatures are recorded, a seed also points to afterlife.
The Manifest Book is another title for Divine Will and God's creational and operational laws of the universe. If we call the Manifest Record Destiny Formal or Theoretical, the Manifest Book can be referred to as Destiny Actual. The future full- grown form of a plant or an animal being, which displays all the content of the seed or fertilized ovum, can be understood as its Destiny Actual.
In short, like seeds or plants or fertilized ovums and animal beings, everything in the universe clearly points to Divine Destiny, determining, judging, giving measure, particularizing and individualizing. True dreams which bring news of certain future events, are another, undeniable indication of Destiny or Divine 'pre-determination'.
Why is belief in Destiny included among the essentials of faith?
Because of self-conceit and the weakness of devotion, man tends to attribute to himself his accomplishments and good deeds and feels proud of himself. Whereas, as the Qur'an explicitly states, God creates you and what you do (al-Saffat, 37.96), it is the Divine Compassion which demands good deeds and the Power of the Lord which creates them. Whoever ponders over his life, he will realize and confess to himself that God has directed him to good acts, usually prevented him from doing wrong deeds and by endowing him with the sufficient capacity, power and means required for any accomplishment, favoured him with many accomplishments and good deeds. God guides man to good deeds and makes him succeed in willing and doing them, so the real cause of a man's good deeds is the Divine Will. A man can possess and own them by means of faith and sincere devotion and by praying to God to be able to deserve them, consciously believing in the necessity of doing them and being pleased with what God has ordained for him. He can never be boastful of his good deeds and accomplishments and put on airs among people; what behoves him is to always be thankful to God and humble.
On the other hand, while attributing to himself his accomplishments and good deeds, man likes to absolve himself of his sins and misdeeds by ascribing them to Destiny. However, since God never likes a sin or wrong act, nor approves it, it is man himself who causes sins and commits them by his free will. Yet it is God Who creates sins (in the sense of enabling them to take place or giving them external existence) as well as good acts, simply because if He did not do so, the free will with which He has endowed man, would be annulled. Man wills to commit his sins. As was explained earlier, God calls man to good deeds, guides him to them and always inspires them in him, but man commits sins of his own free will and disobeys his Creator. Therefore, man is completely responsible for his sins and misdeeds. However, in order to protect himself against sins and the temptations of Satan and his carnal self, man must both try to remove his inclinations towards sins through repentance and asking forgiveness for them, and direct and exhort himself to do good deeds through prayer, devotion and trust in God.
In short, man has free will and is enjoined to follow the religious obligations and refrain from sins and wrong deeds. He cannot by any means ascribe his sins to God. Divine Destiny exists so that the believer does not grow proud of his good deeds by ascribing them to himself. Rather he must be thankful to God because of them. Man has free will so that the rebellious carnal self does not rid itself of the consequences of its sins by ascribing them to Destiny.
A second, important point to mention is that man usually complains about past events and the misfortunes that have struck him. Worse than that, he cannot save himself from falling into despair and abandoning himself to a dissipated life. He may even go so far as to complain against God. However, Destiny exists so that a man should relate past events and misfortunes to it in order not to be driven to despair and provide himself with relief, security and consolation. On the other hand, as will be discussed below, since Destiny does not exclude human free will, man is responsible for his future life and whatever he does consciously and intentionally.
In sum, whatever is (including misfortunes) should be considered in the light of Destiny, and what is to come, and sins and questions of responsibility, should be referred to human free will. In this way, the extremes of fatalism (jabr) and the denial of the role of Destiny in human actions (i'tizal, the view of the Mu'fazila) may be reconciled.