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What is the “Middle Way”?

By: Ayatullah al-Uzma Shaykh Nasir Makarim Shirazi

1. ‘Conferring’ as opposed to ‘Fatalism’
Of course, opposing the belief in fatalism, which is one kind of an extreme, is the school of ‘conferring’, which is at the other extreme.
Those who accept this school believe that God created us and then put everything at our disposal and that, in general, He is not responsible for anything that we do and in this way, we are completely independent in choosing what we do.
Doubtlessly, this belief does not agree with monotheism because monotheism has taught us that God rules the entire world and nothing is beyond His control. Even our free will and free choice cannot be beyond His realm, otherwise polytheism would, of necessity, result.
In other words, we cannot believe in two gods, one, the great Creator of the universe and the other, a small one who is the human being who is free to do whatever he or she wishes, completely free and independent and even God cannot affect what he or she wishes to do.
This is duality and polytheism. What is important is that we know human beings have freedom of choice and free will at the same time that we know God to be the Ruler over all persons and deeds.

2. The School of the “Middle Way”
The fine point to recognize is here, that we not imagine that there is a contradiction between the two. The fact is that we both accept God’s justice as well as the freedom and responsibility of His servants as well as unity and His rule over the entire universe of existence and this is that very thing which is known as the ‘middle way’ (something which is between two extremes).
Let us clarify this with an example as the issue is a very complicated one. Let us assume that you are traveling on an electric train and you are the driver of the train.
A strong electric cable has been placed along the line of the train and the train is connected with a link to this electric cable and moves and moment after moment the electricity is passed to the locomotive in such a way that if for just one moment, the electricity to the locomotive stops, the whole train will stop.
Without doubt, you are free. You can stop wherever you want and you can move at your own speed. But in spite of all of this freedom, the person who is sending the electricity can, at any moment, make you stop because all of your power and strength is that very electricity and he holds the key.
When we note this example with care, we see that even though one has such freedom, choice and responsibility, one is completely at the disposal of the power of another and these two do not contradict each other.
Another example: Assume that the hand muscles of a person as the result of illness or the occurring of an unforeseen event, do not work and he does not have the power to move his hand but if we connect that to a very small amount of electricity, the nerves will be warmed and become capable of movement.
Whenever such a person commits a crime with that hand, for instance, and in that very state, strikes another person in their face, strikes a knife in an innocent person, it is clear who the person responsible is because he both had the power and the choice and a person who has will power is responsible for what he does.
But at the same time, that person who gives his hand electricity and creates his power and strength, rules over him and while he is free and has a choice, he is in his grasp.
Now let us return to the main point.
God has given us physical power or strength and from moment to moment, it continues and if it is cut off for even a moment, and our connection with Him be cut off, we would be destroyed.
If we can do anything it is because we have strength which He has given us and it continues moment by moment and even our freedom and choice is also from Him. That is, He willed that we be free and by making use of this great Divine kindness, one can transform one’s self.
Thus, at the same time that we have free choice and a free will, we are in His grasp and we will never move beyond His realm. At the same time that we have strength and power, we are dependent upon Him and without Him, we will be destroyed and this is what ‘the middle way’ means because neither have we recognized any creature to be equal to God, which would bring multitheism nor do we believe creatures are obliged to act as they do which would bring oppression.
We have learned this lesson from our pure Imams, peace be upon them. Whenever they were asked, “Does anything exist between fatalism and conferring?” They said, “Yea. More extensive than the distance between heaven and earth.” (See Usul al-Kafi, vol. l, p. 121)

3. The Holy Qur’an and Fatalism and Free Will
The Holy Qur’an states this issue directly and proves the free will of human beings and there are hundreds of verses which talk about free will.
a. All of the verses which relate to commanding to virtue and preventing vice are all proof of the free will of human beings because if a person was obliged to do so, doing so would make no sense.
b. All of the verses which blame and reproach the evil doers and praise the good doers are proof of free will because if one was obliged to do whatever one did, blame or praise would make no sense.
c. All of the verses which talk about the questioning on the Day of Judgment and the Judgment in that Court and then the rewards and punishments and heaven and hell are proof of free will because if one was to assume that everything was predestined then questioning, judging, rewards and punishments would all be oppressive.
d. All of the verses which say that a human being is responsible for his or her deeds: “Every soul will be (held) in pledge for its deeds.” (74:38)
“(Yet) in each individual in pledge for his deeds.” (52:21)
e. Verses like: “We showed him the Way: whether he be grateful or ungrateful (rests on his will).” (76:3)
“But you will not except as God Wills...” (76:30)

Think and Answer
1. What is meant by ‘conferring’ and what error is hidden in it.
2. Describe , in a clear way, the ‘middle way’ which we learned from the Imams and give examples.
3. What does the Holy Qur’an say about free will and predestination?
4. If we accept the idea of fatalism, what happens to spiritual rewards and punishments and heaven and hell?
5. Is the verse, “But you will not except as God Wills... “ (76:30), a proof of fatalism?

Guidance and Error are in God’s Hands

1. The Parts of Guidance and Error
A traveler has an address in his hand. He meets you and asks you to help him find the address. You have two choices before you: First, to go with him and complete your good deed by accompanying him to his destination and then say good-bye and leave him.
Second, indicate with your hand and giving various signs guide him towards his destination.
It is evident that in both cases, you have guided him towards his destination but there is a difference between these two; the second one is just expressing way and the first, is taking one to one’s destination. The Holy Qur’an and Traditions of Islam mention both ways.
On the other hand, sometimes guidance only has legal quality to it, that is, formed by means of laws and rules and sometimes it has an instinctive quality, that is, by means of facilities provided by creation like the guidance of a seed to becoming a complete human being and both of these ways are mentioned in the Holy Qur’an and the Traditions.
By clarifying the means of guidance (and, naturally the point opposite it, leading astray or error), we return to the main discussion.
We read in many of the verses of the Holy Qur’an that guidance and leading astray is God’s work. Doubtlessly, the ‘indication of the way’ comes from God. Why? Because He sent the Prophet and sent the heavenly Book to show people the way.
But ‘reaching the goal’ through coercion or force clearly does not agree with free will and choice but because all power and strength which is necessary to reach one’s goal God gives us and it is He Who gives us success upon this way, this sense of guidance is also from God, that is, preparation of the equipment and the preliminaries and providing them is at the disposal of humanity.

2. An Important Question
Now, an important question arises, and that is what we read in many verses of the Holy Qur’an: “God guides whom He wills and misleads whom He wills. “(14:4)
Some people, without considering other verses of the Holy Qur’an, and the interpretation which one verse has with others, immediately, upon seeing this verse, object and say, “If God guides whom He wills and misleads whom He wills, what are we supposed to do in the middle?”
The important point is that the verses of the Holy Qur’an must always be studied in relation to each other in order to understand them in truth. Here we will recall several other verses about guidance and leading astray so that you can study them in relation to the above verse: “God will establish in strength those who believe, with the Word that stands firm in this world and in the hereafter; but God will leave, to stray, those who do wrong: God does what He wills. (14:27)
“Thus does God leave to stray such as transgress and live in doubt. “ (40:34)
“And those who strive in Our (Cause), We will certainly guide them to Our paths: for verily God is with those who do right. “ (29:69)
As we see, God’s will is not unaccountable. He neither gives the success of guidance to a person nor does He deny a person success. Those who undertake the jihad upon God’s Way, war with their difficulties and show strength and firmness of purpose, have been promised guidance and this is justice.
But those who create oppression and suppression and those who take steps towards extravagance, doubt, injustice and causing temptation in hearts, God takes away their possibility of guidance.
Their hearts, as a result of these deeds, are darkened and they will not be able to succeed in reaching the station of well-being. This is how the Creator leaves the results of our deeds in our own hands and this is justice.

3. Knowledge of the Eternal is a cause to Arise
The last point which we feel should be mentioned here in the discussion of predestination and free will is the excuse used by some fatalists as knowledge of the eternal of God.
They say, “Does God know that so and so at such and such an hour on such and such a day will kill someone or will drink an alcoholic beverage?” If we say, “He does not know,” we have denied God’s knowledge and if we say, “Yes, that person must do this, otherwise God’s knowledge will be imperfect.”
Thus, in order to preserve God’s knowledge, a person is obliged to sin and obey God!!
But the fact is, this excuse was fabricated in order to cover over the sins they wanted to commit but they have forgotten the fact that we say that God knew from eternity whether we would be inclined towards free will and choice and will obey or sin. That is, our will or choice was also part of God’s knowledge. Thus, if we are obliged to sin, God’s knowledge will become ignorant. (Pay careful attention here).
Allow us to put forth some questions on this point to clarify them. Assume that a teacher knows that a lazy student will fail at the end of the year and the teacher is one hundred percent sure of this fact because of years of experience as a teacher.
When the student fails, can the student take the teacher to task and say, “Your knowledge and what you foresaw caused me to fail.”
Or, let us assume that he is a sinless and pure person and he knew of a murder which would take place on such and such a day and interferes to prevent it, does the knowledge of this pure person take away the responsibility of the criminal, obliging the criminal to commit the crime?
Or, assume that a new machine has been invented which can predict the occurrence of an event several hours before it happens and it can say that so and so at such and such an hour in such and such a place will commit such and such an act. Does this oblige that person to do this?
In summary, Gods knowledge never obliges anyone to do anything.

Think and Answer
1. How many kinds of guidance are there? Describe them.
2. Recite the verses of the Qur’an which describe God's guidance and leading astray.
3. What is the interpretation of God’s guidance and leading astray?
4. What is meant by Gods eternal knowledge?
5. Does this knowledge withdraw our duty and responsibility? Give an example.

God’s Justice and the issue of Eternity
We know that the Holy Qur’an directly speaks of the eternal punishment to be given to the kuffar. That is, it speaks about eternity.
“God has promised the hypocrites, men and women, and the kafirs, the fire of hell,’ therein shall they dwell,’ sufficient is it for them; for them is the curse of God, and an en during punishment. “(9:68)
Just as in the verse following that, the Qur’an promises the believing men and the believing women gardens in Paradise forever.
“God has promised to believers, men and women, gardens under which rivers flow, to dwell therein and beautiful mansions in gardens of everlasting bliss. But the greatest bliss is the good pleasure of God, that is, the supreme felicity.” (9:72)
This question then arises and that is, how can one accept that in one’s lifetime of eighty or one hundred years, one commits evil deeds and then for eternity — millions of years — is punished.
Of course, this is not important as to rewards because the ocean of God’s Mercy is very great and however much greater is the reward, it shows greater virtue and mercy but as to evil deeds, they are punished for eternity because of limited sins. How can this be reconciled with God’s justice? Should a balance not exist between punishment and reward?
Answer: In order to reach a final solution to this discussion, several points need to be noted:
a. Punishments on the Day of Resurrection do not resemble punishments in this world. For instance, a person is found guilty of aggression and plunder and he spends some time in prison whereas the punishment at the Judgment takes the form of efforts of one’s deeds and the particularities of a person’s acts.
In clearer terms, the difficulties which one bears in the other world are the direct result of his deeds. The Holy Qur’an explains this very clearly where it says, “Then on that Day, not a soul will be wronged in the least and you shall but be repaid the meeds of your past deeds. “(36:54) “
With one simple example, we can visualize this truth that a person who goes after narcotics and alcoholic drinks and no matter how much one explains that these things will ruin him, and sicken his heart and destroy his nerves, he does not listen.
He spends several weeks or months drowned in these killing pleasures and gradually develops ulcers, heart disease, nerve disease and then he spends tens of years until the end of his life suffering because of this and he groans night and day.
Can one object here why does a person who only sinned for several weeks or months have to suffer for tens of years?
It is readily stated in response that this is the result of his own actions. Even if he were to live longer than the Prophet Noah and were to live for tens of thousands of years and we were to continuously see him in pain and anguish, we would say that this is something he brought upon himself with his deeds.
Punishment on the Day of Judgment is like this.
Thus, no one can object to the justice of the situation.
b. This is wrong that some people assume that the time limit of the punishment must be the same extent as the sin because the relation between a sin and punishment is not a temporal one. It depends upon the result and quality of the sin.
For instance, it is possible that a person in one second kills an innocent person and according to the laws of some countries, he is given life imprisonment. Here we see that the time of the sin was one quickly passing second, whereas the punishment is for tens of years. No one considers this to be oppressive.
Why? Because the question here is not one of days or weeks or months or years. It depends upon the quality of the sin and its result.
c. Eternity in hell and eternal punishment only belongs to those people who have closed all doors to salvation for themselves and they have drowned themselves in corruption, licentiousness, kufr and hypocrisy so that the darkness of sin takes over their entire being and, as a result, that person takes on the color of sin and kufr.
The Holy Qur’an says: “Nay, those who seek gain in evil and are girt round by their sins — they are companions of the fire: therein shall they abide (forever). “(2:81)
These kinds of individuals have completely cut off their connection with God and have closed all doors to their salvation and well-being.
These kinds of individuals are like birds which purposefully break their own wings, pull out their feathers, are obliged to walk forever upon the earth and are deprived of flying through the skies.
Noticing the three points given above clarifies the issue that eternal punishment which belongs to a particular group of hypocrites or kufar does not oppose the principle of justice. This is the ominous result of their deeds themselves. The Divine Prophets had previously told them that their deeds would have these results.
It is clear that if individuals are ignorant and the invitation of the prophets not are known to them and if they commit evil deeds out of ignorance, they will not receive such a difficult punishment.
It is also necessary to point out that verses of the Holy Qur’an and Islamic Traditions are used because the ocean of Divine Mercy is so great and extensive that a large group of transgressors are included. Some by means of intercession; some by means of forgiveness and some because of small, good deeds which they performed. God, in His greatness, gives great reward for those small, good deeds.
And another group, after they have been punished for a time in hell, and have been purified, they will return because of Divine Mercy.
The only group remaining is the one which has enmity towards the truth and commit oppression, corruption and hypocrisy so that their whole being is covered in oppression, kufr and faithlessness.

Think and Answer
1. How is it that some people think that eternity does not conform to Divine Justice?
2. Are the punishments in the other world similar to the punishment in this world? If not, what are they like?
3. Does justice demand that there be a balance between the time of a sin and its punishment?
4. Who will receive eternal punishment?
5. Who will receive Divine Forgiveness?

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