A Series of Unfortunate Moments
Issue 5, Volume 113
I am a Muslim, nurtured by Islam. This sentence sounds like a wonderful proclamation of identity, but if I revise it to “I was born into Islam and have been raised a Muslim,” the phrase tells a different story. The latter sounds forced, a surface-level truth hiding what’s beneath. I am the son of Muslim parents. I’ve been taught how to read the Quran and pray five times a day. I’ve fasted every Ramadan since fourth grade, and I celebrate every Eid. I am a Muslim to my parents, extended family, friends, and everyone but myself.
Along with the rules upon rules and customs upon customs that I’ve been taught, one thing that went without saying was unquestionable faith. That ideal is the ultimate goal of any religion: to have an unbreakable belief to the point where any sliver of doubt is absurd. Don’t get me wrong. Islam promotes curiosity and questioning, but it’s difficult to question something that’s been a constant throughout your entire life. It is deemed the parents’ fault if their children are raised without Islamic guidance, even if within Islamic rules. It is a sin to not raise your children as proper Muslims. While I understand my parents’ point of view during our many arguments, I struggle to express that several concepts of Islam and religion in general frustrate me. Teenagers, who want to develop independent morals and thoughts, should be given the space and encouragement to question their religion.
No religion is perfect, and no single religion can precisely match the ideals and beliefs of every person. We are bound to disagree with something. I can’t possibly cover all my disagreements on the vast aspects of Islamic ideology in one article, but the main concept I’ve always struggled with is fate. Fate is what’s predetermined by God (Allah in Islam). It goes hand in hand with creation. Every human’s life, every event in history, the birth of the cosmos, and all that has happened and is destined to happen are precisely written out by Allah. I don’t believe in fate, though I wish I were as certain about that as I like to think I am.
Fate is certainly not unique to Islam, which is among the youngest of today’s major world religions. In fact, my inspiration to pen this article came from Marcus Aurelius’s “Meditations.” The Roman emperor expresses his Stoic philosophy in these personal journals that were never meant to be published. He had an ironclad belief that one divinity rules all of nature and our fate. Aurelius emphasizes accepting what happens to you, good or bad, and welcoming what has been planned for you with open arms. Fate and destiny are popular beliefs because people find them comforting. These concepts allow them to live their lives however they want, whether by strictly following the rules of their religion or being reckless in their choices. They follow the blind belief that they’ll be guided to their telos (ultimate function), regardless of their decisions. It’s comforting to think of a bad experience as part of your written fate, rather than your own doing.
However, I think this perspective is delusional. While it’s true that no one can possibly control all the events and actions of others that contribute to your life and its direction, your choices still have the heaviest impact. Religion argues that even though you may think you control your choices, whom you associate with, and where you are, these things were already written out for you. I believe that your achievements are caused by the steps you deliberately take. If you end up in heavy debt because of gambling, it can’t just be chalked up to fate. Religion says you were meant to perform good deeds or you were meant to be the evil in other people’s lives. But it’s preposterous to think that you were meant to become a neurologist from the moment you were born or that your prewritten path is to be a dictator who kills millions.
Instead, I believe that everything in the universe is part of an intricate wave of moments crashing and intertwining. It’s not fate, but it’s not chance either. Every effect has a cause that can be traced. From the small scale of every event in your life to the unfathomable scale of the events in the world and universe, all are led by a chain of moments, not a divine providence. A counter-argument I’ve faced is that if all effects have a cause, then the beginning of the universe has no scientific explanation. To this challenge I ask, weren’t phenomena explained by religion until science eventually came in? Even though the specific causes of the Big Bang are not yet clear, we will eventually get there through reasoning that is backed by solid evidence rather than a comforting story. Religion has a tendency to provide an “explanation” for what we can’t fathom, when sometimes we have to accept that there are still unanswered questions.
If there is an almighty being orchestrating all these events and people and if our destinies are already written, there is no point in Heaven and Hell. If Islam and other religions proclaim all things are predetermined, aren’t your good and bad deeds already known? Consequently, isn’t your spot in Heaven or Hell (Jannah and Jahannam in Islam) already figured out? The argument against this point is that we have the “free will” to believe or not to believe in a religion, and that choice determines our sins in life. Aristotle says that we have the power to do or not to do, so our “fate” is not entirely reliant on a predetermined system—thus the agency of “free will.” I argue that then, it’s not really fate at all, because this statement—to say your life path is already made for you but it’s your “free will” to take or not to take it—contradicts. If two paths are provided to you, aren’t you fated to take a specific one? This illusion of “free will” is a way religions attempt to solidify the point of Heaven and Hell, when, in actuality, true free will exists without fate. Our choices and wrongdoings are based on our own accord, making the afterlife nothing but a false incentive.
Religion is supposed to be freeing, something to rely on when there’s nothing else left. Instead, it feels like a cage I’ve been put into. Whether you’re a grounded atheist, firm believer, or something in between, religion will resurface throughout your life, and it’s good to continuously question one’s values. I will continue exploring my value of fate and sort through the messy harmony and clash I have with Islam. I strongly believe that fate is an illogical concept, but I have haunting doubts about the purpose of praying and frustration with the prospect of forbidden love. Fate isn’t real, but hopefully, I’m destined to figure these things out.