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Deeds are by Their Final Actions
On the authority of Abdullah ibn Masud (may Allah be pleased with him), who said: The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him), and he is the truthful and the believed, narrated to us:

Verily the creation of each one of you is brought together in his mother's womb for forty days in the form of a drop, then he becomes a clot of blood for a like period, then a morsel of flesh for a like period, then there is sent to him the angel who blows the breath of life into him and who is commanded with four matters: to write down his sustenance, his life span, his actions, and whether he will be happy or unhappy (whether or not he will enter Paradise).

By Allah, other than Whom there is no deity, verily one of you performs the actions of the people of Paradise until there is but an arm's length between him and it, and that which has been written overtakes him, and so he acts with the actions of the people of the Hellfire and thus enters it; and verily one of you performs the actions of the people of the Hellfire, until there is but an arm's length between him and it, and that which has been written overtakes him and so he acts with the actions of the people of Paradise and thus he enters it.

[Bukhari and Muslim]

عَنْ أَبِي عَبْدِ الرَّحْمَنِ عَبْدِ اللَّهِ بْنِ مَسْعُودٍ رَضِيَ اللهُ عَنْهُ قَالَ:

حَدَّثَنَا رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه و سلم -وَهُوَ الصَّادِقُ الْمَصْدُوقُ-: "إنَّ أَحَدَكُمْ يُجْمَعُ خَلْقُهُ فِي بَطْنِ أُمِّهِ أَرْبَعِينَ يَوْمًا نُطْفَةً، ثُمَّ يَكُونُ عَلَقَةً مِثْلَ ذَلِكَ، ثُمَّ يَكُونُ مُضْغَةً مِثْلَ ذَلِكَ، ثُمَّ يُرْسَلُ إلَيْهِ الْمَلَكُ فَيَنْفُخُ فِيهِ الرُّوحَ، وَيُؤْمَرُ بِأَرْبَعِ كَلِمَاتٍ: بِكَتْبِ رِزْقِهِ، وَأَجَلِهِ، وَعَمَلِهِ، وَشَقِيٍّ أَمْ سَعِيدٍ؛ فَوَاَللَّهِ الَّذِي لَا إلَهَ غَيْرُهُ إنَّ أَحَدَكُمْ لَيَعْمَلُ بِعَمَلِ أَهْلِ الْجَنَّةِ حَتَّى مَا يَكُونُ بَيْنَهُ وَبَيْنَهَا إلَّا ذِرَاعٌ فَيَسْبِقُ عَلَيْهِ الْكِتَابُ فَيَعْمَلُ بِعَمَلِ أَهْلِ النَّارِ فَيَدْخُلُهَا. وَإِنَّ أَحَدَكُمْ لَيَعْمَلُ بِعَمَلِ أَهْلِ النَّارِ حَتَّى مَا يَكُونُ بَيْنَهُ وَبَيْنَهَا إلَّا ذِرَاعٌ فَيَسْبِقُ عَلَيْهِ الْكِتَابُ فَيَعْمَلُ بِعَمَلِ أَهْلِ الْجَنَّةِ فَيَدْخُلُهَا".

[رَوَاهُ الْبُخَارِيُّ] ، [وَمُسْلِمٌ] .
Commentary Summary
Written commentary compiled by volunteers utilizing Sh. Jamaal Diwan's audio commentary above and English translation of Ibn Daqiq Al-Id's commentary on The Forty Hadith of Imam al-Nawawi.

This hadith is among many of the miracles in the life of the Prophet (sas). It gives unwavering credibility to the revelation of the words of Allah (swt): the Quran.

This hadith sums up the life of man from nothingness, showing the early relationship between the physical and the spiritual components of human existence, the encounter between a piece of flesh (mudgha) upon which the spirit (ruh) is breathed. Man must then navigate through a predetermined course of life (Al Qadaa wal Qadar), at constant risk of wavering in his actions, with significant consequences for him on his return to nothingness at death.

This hadith presents the physical and abstract components of man by its depiction of the embryonic stages of life and the explanation of predestination.

Proof for Truth
The narrator Abdullah ibn Mas’ud (ra) starts this hadith with a comment on the truthfulness of the Prophet (sas) as proof for the authenticity of the content of the narration. During the time of the Prophet (sas), the attribute of Al-Amin (the trustworthy one) was the reason for his followers’ belief in the message he was spreading. In recent times, the confirmation of the hadith’s contents and the Quranic texts on the same issue (Chapter 23 verse 14) as described by modern science should remove any doubt in anyone’s mind about the authenticity of the message of Islam and its messenger.

Truth behind the Seen and Unseen
We can proceed to examine the concept of Al-Qadaa Wal Qadar, or predestination. The hadith talks about the spiritual encounter between the flesh-like human and the angel who conveys Allah’s decree of the four most important things: provision, lifespan, deeds and the abode in the afterlife: Paradise or Hell-Fire.

The Qadaa Wal Qadar is dictated in the "Lawh al-Mahfudh”, the preserved tablet where Allah (swt) has written the predestination of his creation, and will manifest itself physically throughout the course of one's life. Every human will enjoy the sustenance that Allah has decreed for him. Each will be a witness to how his life is spent. At the exact moment of death, it is again a physical encounter as we learn from other narrations that the human will see the Angel of death when he arrives to take his soul. Even though this moment is very physical for him, he is unable to share its experiences nor recount it to another human. This ultimately brings us back again to the world of the unseen- the encounter after death.

This encounter was revealed to the Prophet, who is known only to speak the truth, and because of this we believe in what has been conveyed to us from him-both the physical and abstract alike.

The Seen vs. the Unseen
The hadith concludes by emphasizing the concept of predestination. It reinforces in the mind of the believer the purpose of revelation in general: to illustrate the greatness of Allah (swt). The ‘here and now,’ the physical, is compared to the ‘future,’ the unseen, belittling the former in the greatness of the latter.

A man will do so much good all his life and when he is near death, he changes his ways and does actions that are characteristic of the inhabitants of hell and vice versa. We can perceive an action as being either good or bad, but the intention behind the action is beyond our perception. In essence, a person may perform a seemingly good deed but if his intentions are not right, he may end up among the losers. Some scholars have taken these words literally. We know too well through our own experiences that this is the reality of human nature: people change, as they say, overnight! The story of the second caliph Umar ibn Al-Khattab (ra) is a golden example of this concept. The accounts of his early life cannot explain him being among the ten who were promised Paradise.

Allah (swt) is not limited by time because He (swt) created the mind that is limited by time. We must know that the way we perceive our lives {years} is not comparable to the way it is in the sight of Allah (swt). He is not limited by the limits of our understanding- He is as complex as He has allowed it to be. However, out of His wisdom, He has not allowed us to wallow in this abstractness. He has given a proof for this abstract truth {Al Qadaa wal Qadar) in the example of the life of the Prophet.

A Few Lessons
This hadith introduces the concept of fear and hope. Let fear overcome you in the matters of your good deeds as by Allah’s decree, one bad deed that follows may negate them. Conversely, let hope overcome you in the matters of your bad deeds as by Allah’s decree, one good deed that follows may purify you from their harm.

The concept of Al Qadaa Wal Qadar does not limit other hadith or negate Quranic texts that command the believer to continue to perfect his deeds hoping for the good in the hereafter. As described, this concept should help us understand the greatness of Allah, His limitless knowledge and our limits in comparison.

Finally, this hadith presents evidence that will help scholars in deriving fatwa on such complex issues of embryonic studies and other ethical issues such as abortion. The ultimate knowledge of all affairs is with Allah Alone, may He be glorified.

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