The Prophet says that at the sixth week of the embryo's development in the mother's womb, God sends an angel who writes whether the person to come into the world will be righteous and prosperous or wicked and condemned. What does this mean, and how can we reconcile it with man's having free will?
The explanations made earlier to reconcile destiny with man's free will must suffice for an answer to this question. However, in order not to leave the question unanswered, we will say a few words concerning it.
As was pointed out earlier, destiny is a title of Divine knowledge. It is not something that annuls man's free will and forces him to behave in a preordained way. Since God knows beforehand how each individual will behave in the world, He has an angel pre-record the person's life history. Man behaves according to the dictates of his free will, not because God preordained his life.
Destiny is related to cause and effect. There are not two separate destinies, one for the cause, the other for the effect. God's pre-knowledge of the individual's behavior in a given circumstances does not contradict man's having free will.
No one except God knows whether a person will go to Paradise or Hell. Although unbelief deserves eternal punishment, we may not judge an unbeliever as being destined for Hell, for it is possible that one day he or she will accept faith and ultimately go to Paradise. There are numerous people who, although once atheists, have embraced Islam. Islam came to guide unbelievers to faith and worship, and thereby make them worthy of eternal happiness in Paradise.
What does Islamic fitra (primordial nature) mean?
In an authentic hadith, the Prophet Muhammad says that every new-born is born in the Islamic fitra, after which his parents cause the child to become either Christian or Jew or a member of another religion.
The hadith means that everyone has the innate potential to become a Muslim. Meaning peace, salvation and obedience, Islam is, first of all, the natural religion of all creatures. Since everything in nature has been created to render absolute obedience to God and functions according to His laws, all creatures are Muslims. Considered from the viewpoint of their bodily structure, every human being and jinn, whether Muslim, Christian, Jewish, or of another religion, is Muslim since all bodies operate according to the laws determined for them by God. If a new born could lead a completely monastic life free of environmental effects, he would remain a "natural" Muslim. This hadith has another meaning: The mind of a new-born is like a tape on which everything can be recorded, like dough that can be molded to any shape, or blank paper on which anything can be written. If one could be protected from any external effect that would make one's mind impure, one could easily receive anything related to Islam and become a perfect Muslim. But if the mind impure with many adverse elements, or if Christian or Judaic tenets of belief and conduct are injected into it, the person will become either a Christian or a Jew or suffer great impediments to becoming a good Muslim.
Every new-born is like a seed to grow a good Muslim; in other words, everyone comes to the world as the seed of a future Muslim. Adverse conditions cause this seed to be deformed or spoiled and, consequently, to become either a Christian, a Jew, a member of another belief or, according to the nature of the conditions, a person without religion. There- fore, in order to produce a good Muslim, improving one's family and environmental conditions is vitally important. After a child has reached the age of puberty, sins are a primary factor in deforming the seed. For this reason, it is said that every sin has the potential to guide the sinner to unbelief. So, one must try his or her utmost to protect himself or herself against sins. Family, education, and environment are also of great importance for this purpose.
What does "guidance" mean, and how can one guide another?
Guidance is a light kindled in one by God as a result of one's use of free will in the way of belief. As pointed out earlier, only God can guide one to the truth. There are many verses in the Qur'an that state this explicitly. For example:
If God willed, he could have brought them all to the guidance. (al-Anam, 6:35)
If it had been your Lords will, all who are on the Earth would have believed, altogether. (Yunus, 10:99)
You do not guide whom you like, but God guides whom He wills. (al-Qasas, 28:56)
For verily You cannot make the dead to hear, nor can you make the deaf to hear the call when they have turned to flee. Nor can you guide the blind out of their deviation. You can make none to hear save those who believe in Our Revelation so that they surrender and become Muslims. (al-Rum, 30:52-53)
Since it is God Who guides, we implore Him in every rak'a of our daily prescribed prayers, saying: "Guide us to the Straight Path." God's Messenger says: "I have been sent to call people to belief. It is none but God only Who guides them and places belief in their hearts."
Besides the verses above and many other similar ones, we also see in the Qur'an other verses stating that God's Messenger calls and guides people to the Straight Path:
Surely you call them to the Straight Path. (al-Mu'minun, 23:73)
Thus We have revealed a Spirit to you from Our Command. You did not know what was the Scripture, nor what the Faith was, but We have made it a light whereby We guide whom We will of Our servants. You are indeed guiding to a Straight Path. (al-Shura, 42:52)
These verses are not contradictory. As we have pointed out in the last question, God creates everyone with the potential to accept belief. However, the family, educational, and environmental conditions have a certain role in one's guidance or misguidance. So, in order to call people to belief, God sent Messengers throughout human history and gave some of them Books whereby people could reform themselves. The Prophet Muhammad, the last of the Messengers, received the Qur'an from God by means of revelation. This Qur'an is the last of the Divine Books, and it has remained uncorrupted. The Book contains the principles of guidance, and, whether through the Book or through his personality and conduct and good example, the Messenger functions as a means to guidance. He recites the Divine Revelation to people, snows them the signs of God, and he purifies them of their misconceptions, superstitions, and sins. As a matter of fact, every thing and event, every phenomenon in the universe, is a sign pointing to God's existence and unity. Therefore if one desires to believe sincerely and without prejudice, and struggles against carnal desires and the temptations of the evil-commanding self, and if one uses his or her free will to find the truth, surely God will guide him or her to one of the ways leading to Him. He declares in the Qur'an:
Be aware of God and seek the means [of approach to and knowledge of] Him, and strive in His way in order that you may succeed and be prosperous [in both worlds]. (al-Maida, 5:35)
As for those who strive in Us [in Our way and for Our sake and to reach Us], We surely guide them to Our paths; and verily God is with the good. (al-Ankabut, 29:69)
Whoever is aware of God [and keeps his duty to Him], He will point a way out for him. (al-Jumu'a, 62:2)
In order to find or to deserve guidance, one must strive for it sincerely and search for the ways leading to it. Those whom God has blessed with guidance should first of all represent guidance personally, set good examples for others, and then call others to guidance by using every possible lawful (Islamic) means. In many verses of the Qur'an, God commands His Messenger to do just that:
Warn your tribe of near kindred [of their end and the consequences of their deeds and of the punishment of Hell]. (al-Shu'ara, 26:214)
Remind and give advice, for you are one to remind. (al-Ghashiya, 88:21)
Proclaim openly and insistently what you are commanded. (al-Hijr, 15:94)
Call to the path of your Lord with wisdom and fair exhortation, and reason with them in the most courteous manner. (al-Nahi, 16:125)
Surely in the Messenger of God you have a good example for him who hopes for God and the Last Day, and remembers God oft. (aI-Ahzab, 33:21)
Gods Messenger communicated God's Revelations to people and called them to belief in the best and most effective way possible. He also bore all difficulties and persecutions in this way. He did not care at all for the most alluring bribes offered to him to give up calling people to belief in God: rather, he continued his mission without expecting any worldly reward. Since his aim was to obtain God's good pleasure and to cause people to be prosperous in both worlds, when he conquered Makka (an event marking his triumph in his holy struggle to) and made God's Word in it prevalent, he forgave those who had bitterly persecuted both him and his followers for 21 years, saying: "No reproach this day shall be on you. God will forgive you. He is the Most Merciful of the Merciful. Go! You are free."
The Prophet Muhammad once said to 'Ali: "If someone finds guidance at your hand, this is better for you than having red camels." (Bukhari, Jihad, 102; Muslim, Fada'il al-Sahaba, 35.)
According to the rule that "the one who causes is like the doer," the one who leads another to guidance receives the same reward as the new believer earns, without any decrease in his own reward. Similarly, God's Messenger says: "Whoever establishes a good path, he receives the same reward as those who follow that path thereafter until the Last Day, without any decrease in their reward. Whoever establishes an evil path, he is burdened with the same sins as those who follow it thereafter until the Last Day, without any decrease in their burden. (Muslim, Zakat, 69; Ibn Majah, Muqaddima, 203)
One who leads another to guidance should never remind him of it, by saying, for example: 'If I had not been a means to your guidance, you could never have found guidance." This is a grave sin and shows one's ingratitude to God, for only God guides and causes one to lead another to guidance. Similarly, one who has found guidance by means of another should never attribute his guidance to that other and say, for example: "But for you, I could not have found guidance." Instead, the one who leads another to guidance should think: "Praise be to God, for He has made me, a poor and needy person, a means for so meritorious a deed as leading another to guidance. God is so powerful, so merciful to His servants and so munificent that He creates clusters of grapes on wood. As wood has no right to ascribe to itself the grapes growing on it, I am no more than that wood to attribute another's guidance to myself." As for the one who found guidance, he should think: "God, my Master, has seen my need and helplessness and made one of His servants a means for my guidance. All praise be to Him." Nevertheless, it is proper for the one led to guidance to feel thankful to the one through whom God led him to guidance. After all, since God is the Creator of us and of whatever we do, He also creates the means that enable guidance and misguidance. However, this does not negate or diminish man's free will in relation to his guidance or misguidance.