On the authority of Abū ʽAbdur-Raḥmān, ʽAbdullāh bin Masʽūd, who said: The Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه وسلم), and he is the truthful, the believed,23 narrated to us:”Indeed, the creation of one of you is brought together in his mother’s belly for forty days in the form of a zygote, then he is a clinging clot for a like period,then a morsel of flesh for a like period, then there is sent to him the angel who blows the [human] soul into him and is commanded about four matters:24 to write down his provision, his life span, his actions, and [whether he will be]unhappy or happy. And by Allah, other than whom there is no deity, indeed,one of you does the deeds of the people of Paradise until there is not between him and it except an arm’s length, but the decree overtakes him so he does the deeds of the people of the Fire and enters it. And indeed, one of you does the deeds of the people of the Fire until there is not between him and it except an arm’s length, but the decree overtakes him so he does the deeds of the people of Paradise and enters it.”(Narrated by al-Bukhāri and Muslim)This ḥadīth deals with the condition of man from beginning to end and his states
from before his entrance into the world to after his departure from it. It also confirms the concept of qadar (decree or predestination).The first stages of development mentioned correspond to those given in the Qur’ān. The bringing together or gathering of one’s creation in his mother’s belly may refer to the combining of the male and female substance within the womb or to the
formation of the embryo; however, most scholars prefer the view that although its beginnings may be observed in the second stage, the actual formation takes place during the third stage of development when the fetus resembles a “chewed lump of flesh.”25 At the end of the three 40 day periods, i.e., after about four months, a human soul is bestowed upon the fetus through an angel who has the additional duty of recording what Allah (subḥānahu wa taʽālā) has predestined for that individual.26 23 Believed as to what came to him of divine revelation.24 Literally, “words.”
25 For a detailed study, see Introduction to Embryology by Dr. Keith Moore (1988).26 Although some scholars have permitted a woman to abort an embryo before it is endowed with the human soul, others reject this view, stating that it remains a crime against a living being that has already been conceived and possibly formed and cannot be compared to preventative measures
where a child has not been conceived.11Specifically, four aspects are recorded concerning his destiny:1) His provision (rizq), i.e., the extent of his share or allotted portion of sustenance and other blessings from Allah, both material and otherwise 2) His life span (ajal), i.e.,
the extent of his appointed term upon the earth or the time of his death 3) His deeds (`amal), or more literally, work, or those deliberate actions in which intention is involved 4) The result or outcome of his life – whether he will ultimately be prosperous, blessed and in a state of well-being or unprosperous, distressed and in a state of adversity The ḥadīth states that the final and permanent condition of every person is predestined and that it is the consequence of his deeds. `Ali bin Abī Ṭālib reported that the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) said, “There is no soul given life but that Allah has decreed its place in Paradise or Hellfire and decreed that it will be unhappy or happy.” A man said, “O Messenger of Allah, should we not then leave it to our decree and cease working?” He replied, “Work, for everyone is disposed toward that for which he was created. As for the people of happiness, they are disposed toward the deeds of the people of happiness,but as for the people of unhappiness, they are disposed toward the deeds of the people of unhappiness.” Then he recited verses 5 through 10 of Sūrah al-Layl.27Therefore, one should not submit passively to what he supposes to be his fate, for he has no knowledge of that. Nor should he surrender to adverse situations, for numerous ḥadīths prohibit such behavior. Rather, every effort is obligatory upon the believer to make the best of each situation and avoid harm to the best of his ability,whether in this world or the Hereafter, and Allah (subḥānahu wa taʽālā) will hold him responsible on the Day of Judgement for negligence to do so. The latter part of the ḥadīth emphasizes the importance of one’s final deeds.Several other traditions state that deeds are judged according to how they are sealed,i.e., concluded. An important precept derived from this is that one cannot judge by outer appearance whether any person is among those destined for Paradise or those destined for Hell, as in the Prophet’s saying, “You must not be impressed by anyone until you observe that by which his life is sealed…”28 This is so because the destiny decreed by Allah is concealed from the knowledge of mankind, whereas a person’s deeds and actions are often visible. So although one might possibly be deceived by the deeds of a hypocrite, for example, his final deed will often expose the reality of his intention.Another ḥadīth illustrates:During a particular encounter with the polytheists, a man among the Prophet’s companions showed great enthusiasm in pursuing and striking the enemy soldiers – so much so that they remarked, “No one fulfilled his duty today as much as he did.” But the Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه وسلم) observed, “He is among the people of Hellfire.” Someone among them said, “I am his friend, so I will follow [i.e., observe] him.” Then the man in question was severely injured, and he became impatient for death. He braced the handle of his sword against the ground with the point between his breasts and threw 27 Narrated by al-Bukhāri and Muslim. 28 Narrated by Aḥmad – ṣaḥeeḥ.
12himself upon it, killing himself. The man [who had seen him] returned to the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) and said, “I bear witness that you are the messenger of Allah” and related what had occurred. The Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) said, “Indeed, a man may do the work of the inhabitants of Paradise – as it appears to the people – while he is from the inhabitants of the Fire; and a man may do the work of the inhabitants of the Fire – as it appears to the people – while he is from the inhabitants of Paradise.”29Perhaps the key to this issue is in the words “as it appears to the people,” for only
Allah knows the true motivations. The words are explicit in indicating that those deeds referred to in the ḥadīth are in reality not as they are presumed to be. What appears to be righteousness and piety could possibly be a great amount of deeds invalidated in the sight of Allah by the person’s seeking of worldly recognition and praise instead of His acceptance. And what appears as sinful may not be so in particular circumstances,as illustrated by the story of Prophet Mūsā and al-Khidhr.30If, on the other hand, it is assumed that the deeds mentioned in this particular ḥadīth are actually as described, then further conclusions can be drawn. Since it is most unusual for a person to change abruptly at the end of his life, the ḥadīth states a mere possibility and not a general rule. Further, it has been repeatedly observed that among these few cases, those who repent and correct themselves in their last days far outnumber those who suddenly turn to evil, indicating Allah’s great generosity in His acceptance and forgiveness of such individuals even after a lifetime of ingratitude and wrongdoing.Since ending a good life with an evil deed remains a possibility, however remote, the believer is warned against complacency and the temptation to rely on past deeds for salvation. He is advised to continually check his intentions and continue his efforts toward righteousness up until his last breath as long as his mental facilities are intact in order to seal his lifetime of work with goodness and earn the approval of his Lord, who will assist him in what he intends. Allah, the Just and Merciful, has provided mankind with guidance and has willed to give him a free choice within certain capabilities. He (subḥānahu wa taʽālā) will not take man to account except for that within his control and only to the extent of his ability.The decision, by Allah’s will, belongs to every individual who will eventually reap the fruits of his choice. And thus, by Allah’s will, every man is responsible for his own ultimate destiny.