What does destiny mean to Muslims and does it mean that Muslims are a feather in the wind blowing it the way it wants?
Belief in destiny is one of the articles of belief in Islam. It is the most apparent article of faith and its basis is taken from the verse: “Verily, all things have We created in proportion and measure.” , and the statement of ‘Ibada ibn Samit to his son:
My son you will never taste true faith until you realize that what hit you was not going to miss you, and what missed you was not going to hit you. I heard the Messenger of God say “the first thing that God created was the pen and He said to it ‘write’, and the pen said ‘what shall I write?’ and God said ‘write the destiny of everything up until the final hour.’ My son I heard the Messenger of God say ‘whoever dies believing something other than this then he is not from my followers.’”
Also the statement of the Messenger of God to Ibn ‘Abbas, “Know if all of the nations gathered to benefit you with something they will not be able to benefit you except if God has written it for you, and if they gather to harm you they will not harm you unless God has written it for you. The pens have been raised and the pages have dried.”
The Muslim must have firm conviction that there is no causer or mover except God and that everything that occurs, has occurred, and will occur in the universe is from the cause and will of God, and all these occurrences have been written by God in eternity.
There is a great wisdom in destiny and that is the test of contentment with the decree of God. Man does not know what will befall him tomorrow; therefore he hopes for and strives to realize that which is good and prescribed. When the opposite occurs, then true faith manifests since if what God has decreed is more beloved than what one had hoped for, then these are the signs of the true believed. If on the other hand one becomes upset and complains, then these are the signs of the ignorant sinner and can eventually lead to one leaving the folds of the faith and we ask God to protect us from this.
Belief in destiny is the actual expression of belief in God. If you believe in the existence of God and in His traits of perfection, greatness, and beauty, then it becomes incumbent on you to believe in the results and effects of these traits, which are His actions and will. Therefore belief in the actions and will of God means believing that nothing happens except God allows it, and that you become content with all that occurs by the will and decree of God in the universe. Only then you become a true servant of God.
There is no contradiction between one believing that God is the sole actor in the universe and one possessing free will as the decisions of man and his will are observable and cannot be denied by anyone, and anyone who denies this has denied the observable and tangible. This is also to deny the Qur’an which has established man’s free will, “We have shown man the two highways” , and “Among you are some that hanker after this world and some that desire the Hereafter.” The correct position regarding this issue is that man has free will, however one should have firm conviction that nothing occurs in this universe outside the will and decree of God.
Destiny is a secret that God has placed amongst His creation. This is why we find some of the Gnostics like Abi Abbas al-Harithi say, “whoever looks at creation through the eye of the Shari‘a or the revealed law abhors them, and whoever looks at creation through the eyes of the haqiqa or the ultimate reality will pardon them.” Therefore the Gnostic sees through the eyes of God and His secrets in His creation, and God is most high and most knowledgeable.