In a hadith of our Prophet (PBUH), he says that dua’a (supplication) can reverse the qada’a (predestination) and that berr (good deeds) can make the Muslim’s life longer. How true is this hadith and to what extent is this valid? What is the real meaning of berr? Thank you for your useful help to understand it! Salam
I really liked your question because of two main things.
First, it touches upon a very constructive theme that encourages people to engage actively with life and be good, nice and helpful with those around them.
Second, it is an optimistic question that sees life within the framework of being a way delivering to the Hereafter.
We, Muslims, sometimes fail to see this beauty and try to live our life within the boundaries of the Hereafter, and not in a constructive way. Rather, we live it in a more funereal context that does not make the use of this life to prepare for the Hereafter, while we read in the Quran what means:
(And seek by means of what Allah has given you the future abode, and do not neglect your portion of this world.) (Al-Qasas 28:77)
Coming to your question, I would like to explain that there are two types of qada(divine predestination).
One is called qada mubram (unchangeable divine predestination) and the other is called qada muallaq (conditional divine predestination).
As appears from its name, the first one is unchangeable; it is sealed and already decided in a way that it cannot be changed at all. An example of this type is the gender of the person, if he will be a male or a female. Another example is his name or whether he will live or not.
The second type which is conditional is subject to change; yet, this change does not mean that Allah (Glory be to Him) is unaware of it. On the contrary, Allah knows everything about it before it happens but as part of His mercy, He has made it conditional to encourage people to work hard and exert efforts and develop their life.
The second type is what is referred to in the hadith you quoted, which is narrated by Ahmad, At-Tirmidhi and Ibn Majah and classed as sound. An example of this type is the length of man’s life.
To explain this, let’s suppose that it is predestined for a certain person to live seventy years if he was good to his parents and commits himself to good deeds and these seventy years will shrink to sixty years if he does not do any good deeds.
This basically does not contradict with the knowledge of Almighty Allah because Almighty Allah already knows if this person is going to be good to his parents or not, if he is going to be righteous or not, if he is going to be an obedient servant of God or not.
Here there are two things then, one of them is the conditional divine predestination which we have discussed which is subject to change and the knowledge of Almighty Allah which covers everything and is not subject to change. We need to bear in mind that these are two separate things and by doing so the whole mystery will be definitely solved.
The hadith, thereby, carries its validity factor within it as if telling every single human being anywhere on this planet: If you would like to have a long life, simply stick to good deeds and each one of you knows what good deeds do suit his time
Putting it this way helps people to be creative in thinking what good deeds they can offer and spare no efforts in doing so. For a married person who has his parents alive, his good deeds will vary from being good to them, caring for their needs to striking a balance between parents and wife and children and caring for all at the same time.
In addition to this, he will also have a chance to be patient in the face of the many difficulties he will suffer from. Birr is thus a very flexible term that suits everyone everywhere. Besides, birr has got an individual dimension and a community dimension and both will be as efficient to elongate life as each other.
Let’s take a very simple example. If someone is sick and doctors told him that his life will be in danger if he does not eat adequate amounts of food that can provide vitamins and proteins to his body, then the birr in this situation will be to eat balanced food and keep himself fit. It is very obvious that by doing so, he is maintaining his health and definitely elongating his life.
In society, if someone is told that if he steals or commits a crime, he will be punished either by chopping his hand or imprisonment. In prison, he will suffer from malnutrition and his health will definitely deteriorate. The birr in this situation will be to avoid committing crimes, which inevitably secures longer, safer and happier life for him.
In the meantime, it makes the society cleaner and crime free. Even on the level of nations, the nations, where good relationship between members of the society and between the government and people is the norm, are normally successful nations that stay for long and never collapse.
Nations where justice is applied do enjoy stability, advancement and security as everyone in the society will feel safe and that his life is not threatened and thus long. The society itself will be there as long as they stick to justice. Justice is by all means one of the great forms of birr which is covered by the hadith.
One final example to show that birr covers also the Hereafter. If someone leads a life of disbelief, introducing him to Islam and showing him the right way is going to save him from the wrath and the punishment of Allah in the Hereafter.
This means that he will be enjoying a long happy life there as well. Such a thing, that is, showing him the right path is definitely an action of birr which is covered by the creative and wide terms of the hadith.
Let’s pray to Allah to guide our ways and save us from evil deeds and show us how to stick to birr.
I hope this answers your question. Please stay in touch.