© Written by Atabek Shukurov
Edited by Sonia Nisa
Source; Maturidi College Journal (http://www.maturidi.co.uk/l/destiny-with-no-free-will-or-al-methaq)
The history of ‘Al-Meethaq’ or also known as the ‘Primordial Covenant’ has been the source of endless contemplation among both the Muslims and Non-Muslims. This story is widely accepted by majority of Islamic Schools of Ahl Sunnah including many Hanafi Scholars. It has spurred much diverse discussions amongst the Historians of Religion, which are contradicting and spring confusion.
In this article, we will briefly outline the different interpretations and understandings amidst different Schools of Ahl-Sunnah. The ‘Muslim Historians’ (Muhaddiths) build the foundations of this apocryphal on the following verses:
And [mention] when your Lord took from the children of Adam – from their loins – their descendants and made them testify of themselves, [saying to them], “Am I not your Lord?” They said, “Yes, we have testified.” [This] – Lest you should say on the day of Resurrection, “Indeed, we were of this unaware.”Or [lest] you say, “It was only that our fathers associated [others in worship] with Allah before, and we were but descendants after them. Then would You destroy us for what the falsifiers have done?” [7; 172-173]
According to Hanafi jurisprudence who follow the Maturidi School of Thought in Theology, ‘Al-Meethaq‘ is predominantly accepted. We have a narration from Ubay bin Ka’b (RA):
“God has accumulated mankind who will live until the Day of Judgement and formed them into souls. Shaped them and gave them the ability to speak. He then took their testimony against themselves and asked them, “Am I not your Lord?” They (mankind) responded, “Indeed, you are!””
God then said, “I made it to happen, so that you will not say On the Day of Judgement ‘we were unaware of this’ or ‘It was our forefathers who practiced paganism and we were just their descendants. Will you punish us for something that wrongdoers were practicing?‘ [God continued:] “Here, I am making the heavens and Earths and your father Adam to bare witness against you, so that you cannot claim that you were heedless about it. Then I will send you my Prophets and Messengers who will remind the oath that you gave me, and I will reveal my books to you!”
They responded, “We bare testimony that you are our lord and we will not practice paganism!”
[Hakim and others]
In another narration, Hazrat Umar (RA) was once asked about the same verse in the Quran (7: 172), and he said, “I heard the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) saying, “When God created Adam, He wiped Adam’s back and brought out a group of his descendants. Then He said, “I have created those for Paradise, so they will act according to that (Heaven).” Then again, He wiped Adam’s back and brought out another group of his descendants, and then He said, “I have created those for Hell, so they will act according to that (Hell).”“
Someone asked Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), “Then why should one practice?” the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) replied, “When God creates a human for Paradise, He empowers that person to act accordingly so he lives on it, dies on it, and enters into Paradise. Similarly, when He creates a human for the Hell, He empowers that person to act accordingly so that so he lives on it, dies on it, and enters into Hell.”
[Malik and others]
This above narrative is called ‘Al-Meethaq’.
Furthermore, there are more stories presented by Religious Historians in regards to this issue what seems to be pre-existence, that God addresses humanity asking us, “Am I not your Lord?” while the archetype or potential of all future generations of humanity responds with the loving reply, ‘Yes.’ This promise we made in the realm of souls mentioned in these narratives is termed as ‘Al-Meethaq.’ However, according to linguists of Arabic language, the root word of Meethaq (wathaaq) means ‘tying something’ and ‘Meethaq’ literally means an agreement, covenant/oath, or a contract.
Our Scholars of tafseer and different Schools of Thought unanimously agree upon the occurrence of ‘Al-Meethaq’ but they differ on the interpretation and understanding.
The above narrative of ‘Al-Meethaq’ is presented by Historians of Religion and accepted by vast majority of Ahl Sunnah, including Malikis, Shafis, Hanbalis and a large group of Hanafis.
This indicates that the predominant majority of Sunni Schools habitually accept and follow the viewpoint or narratives of the Religious Historians (who are experts of History). Henceforth, from here we analyse that vast majority of Sunni Muslims accept and believe in ‘Jabr.’ For those whom do not know the meaning of ‘Jabr‘, it is to believe that God has pre-destined everything and we do not have a free will. In other words, God has chosen everything for each one of us and we do not have a choice of our own. In conclusion, all we can really do is have hope that we fall under the first category of people who came out of Adam’s back after God wiped it the first time. Otherwise, if reluctantly, we came out of Adam’s back when God wiped it during the second time, then we actually do not have an option but to enter Hell!
No doubt, this sounds very depressing, as one can spend days pondering over whether he is from the first mentioned group or the latter. With our current depressing global climate, I do not want to add another issue on top of the voluminous predicaments we are currently facing. However, we can be relieved of this depression, as fortunately there is another opinion, which is stemming from the Hanafi/Maturidi school of thought, on this particular issue. In which the above mentioned apocryphal is rejected by the Maturidi school as is mentioned in ‘Tafseer Maturidi’.
Delving into ‘Tafseer Maturidi’ we find that Imam Abu Mansur al-Maturidi, the head of the Maturidi school of thought, rejected the above narratives based on these reasoning’s:
Firstly, he rejects the notion that the descendants of Prophet Adam (AS) were taken out from his back because the Quran clearly says that they were taken from each other (in plural).
Secondly, if the above-mentioned covenant (the promise we made to God) was actually to be taken from us all in the state of us understanding everything happening, then how come no one remembers such a thing and we have all forgotten the occasion? In reality, no one can recall this covenant, even if he wills. Such a matter cannot be explained or justified in any way or form.
Thirdly, this Meethaq narrative contradicts the verses in the Quran. In the Quran, the verse says, “We made it so that you do not say ‘our forefathers were pagans.’” Our fathers ascribed partners [to Allah] before [us] and we were descendants after them. Will You then destroy us because of what the falsifiers have done?”
Lastly, the Meethaq narrative enlightens us that when God wiped Adam’s back and he destined the created humans for Heaven or Hell. We say this is not acceptable as God does not create humans for Heaven nor Hell, but the humans will enter either of both depending on their choices they made on earth. Is this not the concept of free will?
Unfortunately, we are aware that there were numerous attempts to defend these above narratives of ‘Al-Meethaq.’ This is not the first time, for some reason we Muslims have an unusual habit of not testing the texts we blindly follow. Instead, strangely we do our best to defend them. I say, this approach is absolutely irrational and objectionable. Islam is a religion based on intellectualism, logic, rational thinking, provided with infallible evidences. Therefore, primarily, it is crucial to test the authenticity of the texts and principles, which we apply to find the truth. Even if these texts and principles are in accordance to intelligence and common sense, we still need to test them.
I think our Non-Muslim friends have managed to escape out of this dilemma of accepting each and every text and principle without actually testing it. They have learnt from their mistakes from the past. For example, the idea of a geocentric (Earth being the center of the Universe) was believed and accepted globally based on common sense. Until later, Nicolaus Copernicus (Polish Astronomer, Scientist, Mathematician 1473-1543) opposed this ideology and invented his ‘heliocentric’ ideology, meaning the Sun is at the center of the Universe. I am sure, Mr N Copernicus must have faced a lot of cowardly acquisitions and discrimination from the people of his time. Later on, this same rejected heliocentric (sun-centered) theory of Mr Copernicus was accepted globally. It was known as the widespread and common sense opinion. From History, we know that the heliocentric ideology was also rejected and the latter 17th century scientists presented Milky Way’s galactic center as the center of the Universe.
There is a famous saying that ‘one becomes wiser and learns from their mistakes’. Therefore, I say similarly the Non-Muslims have learnt a great lesson from their mistakes in the past and do not trust anything before testing it. They have woken up!
Having that in mind, I hope that one day, we Muslims too will wake up and test every text using our stipulated principles to derive interpretation and understanding. Even though the narrative or the ideology is intellectually fathomable or common sense, we still will and need to test it. Until then, we will continuously get bombarded with endless questions with no intelligible answers.
Majority of us are even dishonest with ourselves and hide these doubts in our hearts and pretend as if they do not exist. We should question ourselves, is this not classed as hypocrisy? On the other hand, even when the genuine Scholars of Islam will speak out against these type of issues academically and respond to them based on correct understanding of Quran and Authentic Sunna, we will be hasty to issue fatwas and class them amongst the apostates.
I conclude with the sad truth we live in today, where the vast majority of us who live in doubts will hope that one day a savior such as the Mahdi (as) or Isa (as) etc will come one day to solve these problems we face intellectually. I say, wake up Muslims and use that organ in your body, we call the brain that God has given you as a blessing. Use it to first study Islam and the intellectual sciences or tools you need to understand it. Then lets tackle these issues and discuss them academically without letting emotions, bias or a blind following mentality get in the way.