Acceptance of truth is up to a person’s own will

Friday Khutba by Dr Zahid Aziz, for Lahore Ahmadiyya UK, 24 February 2023

“Surely this (the Quran) is a Reminder; so whoever wishes may take a way to his Lord.” — ch. 73, v. 19

اِنَّ ہٰذِہٖ تَذۡکِرَۃٌ ۚ فَمَنۡ شَآءَ اتَّخَذَ اِلٰی رَبِّہٖ سَبِیۡلًا ﴿٪۱۹

“Surely this is a Reminder; so whoever wishes, let him take a way to his Lord. And you do not wish, unless Allah please. Surely Allah is ever Knowing, Wise.” — ch. 76, v. 29–30

اِنَّ ہٰذِہٖ تَذۡکِرَۃٌ ۚ فَمَنۡ شَآءَ اتَّخَذَ اِلٰی رَبِّہٖ سَبِیۡلًا ﴿۲۹  وَ مَا تَشَآءُوۡنَ اِلَّاۤ اَنۡ یَّشَآءَ اللّٰہُ ؕ اِنَّ اللّٰہَ کَانَ عَلِیۡمًا حَکِیۡمًا ﴿٭ۖ۳۰

“It is nothing but a Reminder for the nations, for whomever among you who wishes to go straight. And you do not wish, unless Allah please, the Lord of the worlds.” — ch. 81, v. 27–29

اِنۡ ہُوَ اِلَّا ذِکۡرٌ لِّلۡعٰلَمِیۡنَ ﴿ۙ۲۷  لِمَنۡ شَآءَ مِنۡکُمۡ اَنۡ یَّسۡتَقِیۡمَ ﴿ؕ۲۸ وَ مَا تَشَآءُوۡنَ اِلَّاۤ اَنۡ یَّشَآءَ اللّٰہُ رَبُّ الۡعٰلَمِیۡنَ ﴿٪۲۹

These three sets of verses that I have recited are very similar in their beginning. The beginning tells us that the Quran is a reminder, dhikr or tadhkira, meaning a reminder of what is right and wrong, and what is good and bad, and a reminder of the previous revelations that came before the Quran, and a reminder to human beings of what is already in their nature as created by God. After this, all these passages say that the Quran has come so that whoever wishes may take the path which leads to God or the straight path. The first verse which I quoted, ch. 73, v. 19, is not followed by anything further on this subject. In the second two cases, in ch. 76 and ch. 81, after mentioning that whoever wishes may follow the path prescribed by the Quran, it is added: “And you do not (so) wish, unless Allah please”. This is generally taken to mean that it is only if God pleases and wills it, that a person can choose to follow the right path. If God does not will and decree that a certain person should follow the right path, then that person will choose not to follow it.

 So the question is: Does Allah ever decree about certain persons that they should not wish to follow the right path? The third passage I recited above des­cribes the Quran as a “Reminder for the nations”. There are no people on earth who can be excluded from the “nations”. Therefore, there cannot be any person about whom Allah has passed the decree that he will not choose to reach Allah or to follow the right path. According to the Quran, the prophet Noah said to his people: “Do you wonder that a reminder has come to you from your Lord through a man from among you, that he may warn you and that you may guard against evil, and that mercy may be shown to you?” (7:63). The same, of course, was the message of every prophet. The whole purpose of the reminder, or the Book of God, was to teach people to guard against wrong-doing so that God may show them mercy. It is clear from this that God did not decree or pre-ordain about anyone that they reject His message. The next verse says: “But they called him a liar, so We delivered him and those with him in the ark, and We drowned those who rejected Our messages. Surely they were a blind people!” (7:64). Their rejection of the message from God was their own action.

In another place the Quran tells us that Allah will address the guilty ones in the next life as follows: “Did I not charge you, O children of Adam, not to serve the devil? Surely he is your open enemy. And that you serve Me. This is the right way. And certainly he (the devil) led astray numerous people from among you. Could you not then understand?” (36:60­–62) This means that God commanded every human being “not to serve the devil”, but to consider him as an enemy, and to serve God. This command was conveyed through the prophets of God and also directly through human nature itself in the creation of human beings. Moreover, God gave human beings the power of understanding, and it was because of not using that power that they were led astray by the devil. So, it cannot be that there were any people about whom God did not please that they should follow the right path. Just before these verses it is stated about the Day of Judgment: “So this day no soul is treated unjustly in the least and you are only rewarded for what you did” (36:54). If there was any soul which did not find the right path because God did not will that he should follow it, through no fault of that soul, then that soul would have been treated unjustly. And this verse adds that a soul’s reward, good or bad, comes from its own deeds, good or bad.

It is mentioned again and again in the Quran that God judges with justice. For exam­ple, about the Day of Judgment it is said: “And the judging on that day will be just; so as for those whose good deeds are heavy, they are the successful. And as for those whose good deeds are light, those are they who ruined their souls because they disbelieved in Our messages” (7:8–9). The judgment of God is based on what people did and their practical actions. If their good deeds are light because God pre­vented them from doing good deeds, then the judgment against them cannot be called just.

The idol-worshipping opponents of the Holy Prophet put forward an argument to him, saying to him: “If Allah pleased we would not have worshipped partners (with Him) nor would our fathers” (6:148). They meant that since Allah did not stop them and their ancestors from idol-worship it shows that this act has His approval and is in accordance with His pleasure. The Quran refutes this by saying to them: “Have you any knowledge so you would bring it forth to us? You only follow a conjecture and you only tell lies”. They have no sound basis to jump to the conclusion that God approves of their idol-worship by letting them do it. Then they are told: “Then Allah’s is the conclusive (or winning) argument; so if He had pleased, He would have guided you all” (6:149). The meaning is that if Allah was going to impose His will on people, as to what beliefs they should follow, He would have made all of them to follow the right guidance. He would not have forced any of them to go on the wrong path.

Regarding various nations whom Allah punished, it is stated seven times in the Quran: “Allah did not wrong them but they wronged themselves” (3:117, 9:70, 11:101, 16:33, 16:118, 29:40, 30:9). If God Himself had withdrawn from them the choice to follow the right path, this repeated statement could not be true.

So the question is: what is the meaning of the verses I recited at the beginning, that the Quran is a Reminder for anyone who wishes to take the road which leads to God, or take the straight path, but “you do not wish, unless Allah please”, i.e., unless Allah pleases, you won’t choose this path. This statement can have several meanings. One is that this wish arises in the heart only because Allah has been pleased to put this feel­ing inside every human being to follow the right guidance, and He has granted all the means by which to achieve this wish. The words “unless Allah please” don’t necessarily mean that Allah will sometimes apply the principle which He has laid down and sometimes He will not. An example of this is that when Abraham was arguing with his people against their idol-worship he said to them: “And I do not fear in any way those that you set up with Him, unless my Lord please” (6:80). The words “unless my Lord please” certainly do not mean that Allah might possibly change this so that Abraham starts fearing the idols worshipped by his people. They only mean that it is by the will of Allah that Abraham has no fear of the idols. Similarly, the words under discussion here, “so whoever wishes, let him take a way to his Lord. And you do not wish, unless Allah please”, do not mean that there are some people to whom Allah has granted that they choose to follow the path which leads to the Lord but others have been barred by Allah from following that path. These words mean that people have this choice of following the right path only because Allah has provided them with it by sending His guidance.

Another plausible meaning is that if you wish to take a way to your Lord you have to do what pleases Allah. The words in Arabic for  “and you do not wish, unless Allah please” are: wa mā tashā’ūna illā an-yasha’ Allāh, which can construed as: “you have no will except the will of Allah”. The same word sha’ is used for the person and for God. It amounts to saying: If you wish to reach God, the only way is to make your will to be whatever is the will of God. The more you follow the will of God, the more you will progress along the path to Him.

There is another, perhaps simpler point to remember. When it is said, “Surely this is a Reminder; so whoever wishes, let him take a way to his Lord”, what any person can do depends on his or her circumstances, much of which are beyond their control. He may not have the opportunity to acquire proper knowledge of the Word of God. His wish is limited by his circumstances of life. That may be the reason for these next words: “you do not wish, unless Allah please”. To take an example, a person wants to be educated. That wish can only be fulfilled to the extent of the opportunities avail­able to him. If there are no learning facilities accessible to him, or only very basic facilities, then his progress will be limited. A person’s will and wish is not by itself sufficient for his advancement. External circumstances which are beyond his control place a limit on what he can do. So a person’s will acts only within the limits set by Allah’s will. This is the medium or middle position which the Quran teaches us, in contrast to the extreme, on one side, of thinking that it is only a person’s will which determines his course of life, and the opposite extreme of believing that God has ordained every­thing and a person’s will doesn’t matter. And it is because what a person can do is limited by the circumstances brought about by Allah’s will that the Quran repeatedly states that Allah does not impose on any soul any duty, requirement or expectation beyond its ability or capacity, or beyond what Allah has given it (see 2:286, 6:152, 7:42, 23:62 and 65:7).

May Allah enable us to remain in the middle position in our beliefs and not go to opposite extremes, ameen.