Free Will and Predestination in Islam

This article asks the question; can there be such a thing as “Free Will” in Islam?

Introduction

The discussion of Free Will and Predestination in Islam must begin with certain presumptions concerning the character of Allah. It must further be acknowledged that these presumptions are all orthodox Muslim dogma.

Four Premises

1. Allah is omniscient.
2. Nothing happens except by Allah’s will.
3. Allah Himself has free will.
4. Allah cannot make a mistake.

If these statements are all presumed true, then they can serve as the logical starting points for determining their consistency with the concept of a “test for salvation.”

Analysis

A. Because nothing happens except by Allah’s will, all human beings are created only according to Allah’s will.

B. Because Allah is omniscient, Allah knows the eventual fate of every person even before the moment of their creation.

C. Because Allah has free will, he has the free will to create or not create any human being he chooses.

D. Therefore, at the moments of creation, Allah is choosing to create some people that he already knows will be saved, and others that he already knows will be condemned to hell.

E. Therefore, since the results of every lifetime are already known even prior to creation, the “test” for salvation is already complete even before the created individual is born.

Q.E.D. Life on earth cannot be a test for salvation. The test is already complete before life on earth takes place.

Further Analysis

F. If a human being were capable of doing anything to change his fate from the one Allah already determined, then Allah would have made a mistake.

G. Since Allah cannot make a mistake, a human being cannot do anything to change his fate from the one Allah already determined.

Q.E.D. Human beings cannot have free will.

Sahih Ahadith

Now, not only is this a logical conclusion based on the concept of Allah himself, but it also a position that is formally expressed in several Sahih ahadith. At least four times in Sahih Bukhari,[1][2][3][4]and once in Sahih Muslim,[5] we find versions of the following hadith:

Narrated ‘Abdullah bin Mus’ud: Allah’s Apostle, the true and truly inspired said, “(The matter of the Creation of) a human being is put together in the womb of the mother in forty days, and then he becomes a clot of thick blood for a similar period, and then a piece of flesh for a similar period. Then Allah sends an angel who is ordered to write four things. He is ordered to write down his (i.e. the new creature’s) deeds, his livelihood, his (date of) death, and whether he will be blessed or wretched (in religion). Then the soul is breathed into him. So, a man amongst you may do (good deeds till there is only a cubit between him and Paradise and then what has been written for him decides his behavior and he starts doing (evil) deeds characteristic of the people of the (Hell) Fire. And similarly a man amongst you may do (evil) deeds till there is only a cubit between him and the (Hell) Fire, and then what has been written for him decides his behavior, and he starts doing deeds characteristic of the people of Paradise.”

[edit]Qur’an

Do we find any similar indications in the Qur’an itself to indicate that “free will” might not exist? Actually yes. A number of ayaat are quite explicit that the choice of being saved or condemned belongs not to the human, but to Allah alone.

Yusuf Ali: If it had been thy Lord’s will, they would all have believed,- all who are on earth! wilt thou then compel mankind, against their will, to believe! No soul can believe, except by the will of Allah, and He will place doubt (or obscurity) on those who will not understand.Pickthal: And if thy Lord willed, all who are in the earth would have believed together. Wouldst thou (Muhammad) compel men until they are believers? It is not for any soul to believe save by the permission of Allah. He hath set uncleanness upon those who have no sense.Shakir: And if your Lord had pleased, surely all those who are in the earth would have believed, all of them; will you then force men till they become believers? And it is not for a soul to believe except by Allah’s permission; and He casts uncleanness on those who will not understand.

Yusuf Ali: This is an admonition: Whosoever will, let him take a (straight) Path to his Lord. But ye will not, except as Allah wills; for Allah is full of Knowledge and Wisdom.Pickthal: Lo! this is an Admonishment, that whosoever will may choose a way unto his Lord. Yet ye will not, unless Allah willeth. Lo! Allah is Knower, Wise.Shakir: Surely this is a reminder, so whoever pleases takes to his Lord a way. And you do not please except that Allah please, surely Allah is Knowing, Wise;

There are several others that less directly support this understanding:

For example Al-Qur’an 37:96 tells us that even our own actions, accomplishments and “handwork” are not really ours, but are determined by Allah instead:

Yusuf Ali: “But Allah has created you and your handwork!”Pickthal: When Allah hath created you and what ye make?Shakir: And Allah has created you and what you make.

And Al-Qur’an 17:13 implies that the very actions for which we will be judged on judgment day are fated ahead of time, rather than the results of a life on earth that preceded by free will:

Yusuf Ali: Every man’s fate We have fastened on his own neck: On the Day of Judgment We shall bring out for him a scroll, which he will see spread open.Pickthal: And every man’s augury have We fastened to his own neck, and We shall bring forth for him on the Day of Resurrection a book which he will find wide open.Shakir: And We have made every man’s actions to cling to his neck, and We will bring forth to him on the resurrection day a book which he will find wide open:

Note in particular Yusuf Ali’s translation where the word “fate” is explicitly used, and Pickthal’s use of the word “augury.” An augury is, of course, a predictive sign of what is yet to come in the future.

Al-Qur’an 7:178-179 goes further by telling us there are men and jinn made with the express purpose of damning to hell:

Yusuf Ali: Whom Allah doth guide,- he is on the right path: whom He rejects from His guidance,- such are the persons who perish. Many are the Jinns and men we have made for Hell …Pickthal: He whom Allah leadeth, he indeed is led aright, while he whom Allah sendeth astray – they indeed are losers. Already have We urged unto hell many of the jinn and humankind …Shakir: Whomsoever Allah guides, he is the one who follows the right way; and whomsoever He causes to err, these are the losers. And certainly We have created for hell many of the jinn and the men …

The same idea is repeated in other ayaat. For example:

Yusuf Ali: If We had so willed, We could certainly have brought every soul its true guidance: but the Word from Me will come true, “I will fill Hell with Jinns and men all together.”Pickthal: And if We had so willed, We could have given every soul its guidance, but the word from Me concerning evildoers took effect: that I will fill hell with the jinn and mankind together.Shakir: And if We had pleased We would certainly have given to every soul its guidance, but the word (which had gone forth) from Me was just: I will certainly fill hell with the jinn and men together.

So in fact, it appears that the Qur’an and the hadith are in complete agreement that there is no free will when it comes to salvation or damnation. These decisions are made ahead of time by Allah and assigned to humanity. This is in fact the mainstream Islamic understanding, and the implications of this are enormous.

Conclusion

Just scratching the surface we must conclude that, according to Islamic beliefs:

  1. Life on earth is not a test for salvation. For what is there to test if the results are known ahead of time and there is nothing we can do to change them?
  2. Qiyamah, the Islamic Day of Judgment, is a farce. For we are not being judged based on our behaviors, but on Allah’s previous decision.
  3. People are not led to Islam because it is superior message or religion, but because Allah decided that they would become Muslims whether they wanted to or not.
  4. Since the vast majority of human beings who have ever lived, and who are living today are not Muslim, Allah must have created the vast majority of human beings for the express purpose of condemning them to Jahannam. Therefore the primary purpose of creation must be hell and suffering, not paradise and salvation.

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