Q. Muhammad Shahrur explains in his book "The Qur'an, Morality and Critical Reason" that to know the outcome of an act beforehand, before the act has been carried out, would mean that Allah can work Himself through history from the end towards the beginning, against the flow of history, regressing in time. But this is, according to Shahrur, a logical impossibility, since even God has to obey the law of evolution and progression of time. The imam mubin (clear record), Shahrur says, stores the events in history in a kind of historical archive, but nowhere are future events and developments recorded. Acts are not predetermined, only determined after they have been done. Strictly speaking, the notion of the divine predestination of human acts and events in nature and society contradicts Allah’s objective law of existence and is, hence, to be rejected both theologically and empirically.

Shahrur is basically saying that Allah does not know the outcome of future events, however, this goes against the mainstream belief that Muslims have held for centuries, i.e., that Allah knows everything, including the past, present, and future. Verses from the Qur'an are sometimes cited to make this case, e.g., when Allah said to the angels that he would create Adam, and the angels asked why create someone who would spread mischief on earth, and Allah responds that He knows what the angels do not, seemingly indicating that He knows the future behavior of His creation. Another example is the Qur'an predicting the Byzantine victory over the Persians. How does one reconcile this apparent dichotomy?

A. Shahrur's idea is pre-Muslim theology, this idea of foreknowledge came later. It is true that in the Qur'an, God says he knows things before they happen, but that was in a totally different context. Fazlur Rahman touched on this when he was talking about the three brothers in hell; the argument is that God can know the outcome based on data. The other argument is since God made us khalifas on earth, then that means we are FREE to do as we please because only then can we be called to account. With the angels, the issue is about generalities, not particulars, in much the same way one knows, goes the example, that a good person can go to heaven, but the particulars are not there. The law of scientific analysis works on that premise: we have rules and regulations, but there are always seeming anomalies. A true scientist can explain the anomaly, the average one cannot. This basically is a quasi Mu'tazilite position. Before Shahrur's take, there were the Jabariyyah and Qadariyya positions, opposed to each other. This argument is in all Abrahamic religions, forgetting that the idea is not so much about God's knowledge, but rather about OUR responsibility. We talk about fate to appease a grieving person, we speak of freedom when we want to make someone think about doing an action.

Posted August 29, 2015