Sir Syed Ahmad Khan (1817-1898) was a neo-Mu’tazilite and modernist thinker who founded the Mohammedan Anglo-Oriental College (now the Aligarh Muslim University), and was an apostle of modernism and English education among the Muslim community.
According to Sir Syed, the meaning of Allah hearing and answering prayers is that He accepts the act of worship from His servant. Sir Syed argued that the doctrine of pre-destination or the divine decree is incompatible with the idea that a person’s prayers to Allah could result in a divine intervention or a positive change in his life. Sir Syed claimed that when a person prays to Allah, for example, to grant him a son, his prayer does not actually contribute to Allah granting him a son, because it has already been pre-determined whether he will have a son or not, and no amount of prayers or petitions to God can change the pre-determined outcome. Therefore, whenever the Holy Qur’an speaks of God hearing and answering prayers, the meaning is that God is accepting the worship. Hadrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian in his book Barakat ud-Du’a beautifully refuted this absolutely erroneous concept promulgated by Sir Syed, and decisively proven that Allah does indeed hear and answer people’s prayers, and that their prayers benefit them in the sense that Allah grants them in both this life and the hereafter the things which they pray and ask Allah for. Sir Syed summarized his view by stating:
پس اگر استجابت دعا کے معنی سوال کا پورا ہونا قرار دیے جاویں تو خدا کا یہ وعدہ کہ
ان سوالوں پر جنکا ہونا مقدر نہیں ہے کسی طرح صادق نہیں آسکتا۔
“If the meaning of answering of prayer is the fulfilment of supplication, then God’s promise ‘call upon Me, I shall answer you’ concerning those supplications whose fulfilment has not been pre-determined, will in no way be truthful.”
Reference: Ad-Du’a wal-Istijabah; pp. 4-5
However, when confronted with examples from the Holy Qur’an where it is explicitly stated that a Prophet prayed to Allah to grant him a son, especially in extraordinary circumstances, and Allah answered the prayer by actually granting him a son (such as the examples of Prophets Abraham and Zechariah), Sir Syed Ahmad claimed that Allah only said He answered their prayers in a metaphorical sense, because it was already pre-destined that they would have sons.
Reference: Ibid; p. 6