Destiny and Religion
What or who controls destiny? In the ever dynamic religious world, the answer to that question routinely fluctuates between designed by God – manipulated by man and orchestrated in entirety by God. Regardless, however, unlike the growing populations of atheist and deists, the religious community as a whole accepts unilaterally that there is an unwavering force of destiny, it’s the extent of its effect on our lives as humans that has remained a talking point for centuries past. The holy books of the world’s many religions present today all paint a picturesque picture of an omnipotent being who has the world in his palms; controlling every event in it. From the daily rising of the sun and its setting to the cycle of life and death and all the possibilities that occur within that life cycle. This being is God, and for the most part, he is the author and finisher of destinies.
Destiny and Fate in the context of the Religious setting
Destiny and fate are two words often used to describe a predetermined course of events set by a superior force over which we as humans have no control. In the context of a religious setting, however, these two can be substantially differentiated from each other. The fate of man is his apportioned lot in the grand scheme of things. Fate abhors individualism, the belief that we as humans are specially created instead it emphasizes our existence as a means to fulfilling an end – the natural order of things. Destiny, within the confines of Religion, on the other hand, regards man as unique creature set in a specified framework with the right tools and implements to fulfill a desirable outcome or otherwise. Within the context of destiny, man does not act as the proverbial cog in a wheel in the natural order of things; he is more of a wilful participant capable of influencing the course of his destiny within a specified context. In other words, he is apportioned his lots but very much involved in the fulfillment of this lot.
In the religious world of today, a divide exists consequent of this discrepancy. On the one hand is the school of thought who nestle the belief that we as humans do not influence our destinies (fate) and on the other hand are those that believe that destiny can be influenced at least to an extent within confined boundaries. Which of this, is right?
From the Christian perspective
If anything bible verses like Jeremiah 29:11
‘For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for, to give you a future and hope. For those that seek the Lord’ resonate the concept of fate (destiny).
Consider the life of Saul, for example, the tormenter turned ambassador.
Born in Tarsus of Cilicia, Saul of the tribe of Benjamin was a staunch Hellenistic Jew and member of the Pharisees – the same group that for a long while questioned the teachings of Jesus Christ the Nazarene. Unlike his co-Pharisees, however, Saul was not only vocal with his discrimination against Christians but also violent. For Saul, Christians were meant to be prosecuted and jailed – the religion and its followers were to be obliterated from the face of the earth, and this was exactly what he went about doing. On his way to Damascus, where he was scheduled to conduct another passage of tormenting and persecution, he was however confronted with his true destiny; that of being an ambassador of the Christian fate. Below an excerpt from the Bible on Paul’s conversion.
‘And it came about that as he journeyed, he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; 4 and he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” 5 And he said, “Who art Thou, Lord?” 139 And He said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, six but rise, and enter the city, and it shall be told you what you must do.” 7 And the men who traveled with him 140 stood speechless, hearing the voice, but seeing no one.141 8 And Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; and leading him by the hand, they brought him into Damascus. 142 9, And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank.’
From a harbinger of death, Saul was transformed into the spreader of the Christian faith even though the tools he had accumulated from birth, sharpened him for persecuting Christians. After a name change to Paul, he went on to be one of the most courageous and fervent preachers of the Christian faith. For him and ultimately for the concept of destiny in Christianity, the Bible verse Proverbs 16:9 give a succinct summary;
‘The mind of a man plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps’ (Proverbs 16:9)
The Islamic Perspective
Destiny in Islam is more of an established concept, for a fact, Qadar or the Decree of Allah as it is called is one of the pillars of the religion’s faith. However, unlike the Christian religion where the emphasis is on a predetermined set of events already set in stone (fate), the Muslim idea of fate takes the form of Destiny- compared to fate as was earlier described where individuals have a particular role to play.
Allah (SWT) says: (54/49) Indeed, all things. We created with predestination.
However, this predestination acts like some boundary that regulates the extent of man’s destiny – not a command.
‘Allah (SWT) says: (7/168), And we divided them throughout the earth into nations. Of them some were righteous, and of them, some were otherwise. And We tested them with good [times] and bad that perhaps they would return [to obedience]’
As it turns out, subscribers of the Muslim fate are constantly under a test, a test to determine their level of subservience to Allah. In the context of this test and within one’s environment, the life of a man, and what he turns out to be in future, and how he dies is subject to his own decisions. It is important to note that there are right or wrong decisions, actions, and inactions defined by Allah. These good or bad decisions are the blueprint of a man’s destiny; whichever paths he follows leads to a destined end befitting decision. Whatever the end is, Allah already knew.
Engineering Destiny – the tale of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Ruler of Iran.
An apt example of how men conduct their destinies to an extent in Islam is in the life of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini 20th century leader of Iran. Born as Ruhollah Mousavi in 1903 to a thriving family of religious intellectuals, Khomeini had a superb head start in life. Unfortunately for him, this excellent head start was to be followed by a series of unfortunate events. Five months after his birth Ruhollah’s father was murdered and in 1918 at the age of 15 his mother and aunt passed on after contracting Cholera.
Born to religious scholars with a claim to the lineage of Mohammed, Ruhollah had been given the tools to achieve a great destiny; his test, however, was the loss of both his parents and immediate aunt. How he chooses to respond to these events would define the outcome of his destiny here on earth.
After the learning of how his father died, he could have taken up the responsibility of exerting revenge on the assailants; just as he could have fallen into the warm embrace of depression after the death of his mother. He chose neither of the two paths but instead went on to serve under his brother, Seyed Mourteza. Mourteza was a religious scholar, and he impacted on the young Ruhollah the teachings of Islam and philosophy. Under the tutelage of Mourteza, Ruhollah flourished beyond expectations. He was an all-rounder, displaying adeptness in poetry, Islamic education, philosophy and even sports. Spotting the raw talent in Ruhollah, his brother Mourteza sent him off to Sultanabad where he met Yazdi Ha’iri a renowned Islamic scholar who groomed Ruhollah to perfection. From this point, Ruhollah would slowly but steadily rise through the political ranks of Iran, bolstered by his profound knowledge of all things related to Islam. In 1979, he usurped the then leader of Iran Reza Shah. Although Iran under Ruhollah was not the ideal definition of peaceful, with many describing his reign as undemocratic, there’s no doubt that he fulfilled his destiny.
Whether destiny is subject to human influence is a debate that would continue to thrive among religious scholars. One thing that is nonetheless certain is the fact that it is a force superlative to human will. It is ordained and enforced by supernatural beings well above human comprehension, and for the most part, even if man will affect it, it is more or less a complementary effect than it is a definitive one.