A Muslim must believe in Divine Decree or destiny — qadar in Arabic. The concept of qadar used in the Qur’an means a measure or the latent possibilities with which Allah (God) created human beings and all things of nature. When Allah created each thing, He determined when it would come into existence and when it would cease to exist. He also determined its qualities and nature. And everything in the universe, the seen and the unseen, is completely subject to the overriding power of Allah. Nothing can happen outside His Will.
As for human beings, they are not completely masters of their fates, nor are they puppets subject to the hazards of destiny. Allah gave humans limited power and great freedom, including the freedom of choice. That autonomy makes each individual accountable for his or her deeds.
We cannot know our future and, to a large extent, we cannot control it. But we can make decisions within the limits of what we can control, based on our understanding of the way the world works. If someone chooses to punch his fist into a brick wall, he cannot claim any injustice when it hurts. He knows that the wall exists and that it is hard. That is the reality — the “laws of nature” — he has to deal with. Yet the ultimate reality is that Allah could make the wall disappear just before one’s fist reaches it.
Just as Allah created nature and its laws, He made moral laws, and we cannot claim any injustice if we get punished for disobeying or ignoring those moral laws.
The concept of qadar, therefore, indicates that we must seek harmony with Allah’s rules of human nature and nature at large, and consciously submit to His will. Destiny as conceived by Islam, therefore, does not take away our freedom of choice and action. It is our willful choice of those actions from our inherent possibilities that are in harmony with Allah’s will that earns us our reward from Allah.
Yet, when Allah set certain rules in His decree as to how things evolve, even these things can be changed through prayers. The Prophet stressed that only sincere prayers can change the way events unfold, and that true worship and sincere submission to Allah can raise the believer above the normal ways of nature. Prayers can and do result in “personal miracles” — events or experiences that we consider almost impossible and certainly highly improbable.
From an Islamic point of view, human beings are free for all practical purposes. A person has no excuse for making the wrong choice and then blaming qadar or destiny, any more than a man punching his fist into a wall can blame the laws of nature. He knew the consequences of his actions for all practical purposes and he shouldn’t expect a miracle!
We should not worry about what Allah has written for us, since we can never know it. But our duty is to strive for the best in this world and the next. Then, good results will follow, if Allah wills.
As for the question of whether humans are predestined to enter Paradise or Hell, we must remember that Allah transcends the limits of time. He is All-Knowing of the past, present and future. Thus He knows in advance which path — good or evil — each individual will choose and what will be his or her final destination — Paradise or Hell. But such knowledge does not mean that He makes each person choose a certain path.