Sadly, we observe a level of confusion among the youth -in the West in specific- in the issue of Free Will, which is lately emanated and revived by some atheists, philosophers and deviated sects who affiliate themselves to Islām. Unfortunately, their arguments resonated with the youth and sounded enticing due to their lack of the basic Islāmic precepts.

Their confusion emerged from failing to reconcile between Allāh’s (SWT) and humans’ will. This is specifically stated by some Islāmic deviated sects.

The first pretension states:

If Allāh’s (SWT) will is dominant then we are coerced to do whatever He wills. Practically, we are robots manipulated by Allāh (SWT). Another sect tried to make it sound logical, but they ended up having the same conclusion. Their analogy is: when it is said “the sun rises”; it is metaphorical. In real it is Allāh (SWT) who raised it. Similarly when a person cuts an apple, it is Allāh (SWT) who made the cutting and not the knife according to their claim. This group is called causality deniers.

The second opposing pretension states:

Humans’ will is dominant, hence humans create their actions and Allāh (SWT) has no authority over humans’ deeds.

The Sunni Muslim position is not in favor of any of the above pretensions.

We say to them: we do see plenty of verses in the Qur’ān ascribing will to Allāh (SWT) and similarly ascribing will to humans. And, obviously, the above two contentions are based on ascribing will to one and negating it from the other, which conflict with the explicitly evident verses of the Qur’ān that affirm will to Allāh (SWT) and humans.

One example –out of many- in two consecutive verses; Allāh (SWT) said:

(لِمَن شَاءَ مِنكُمْ أَن يَسْتَقِيمَ ( 28 ) وَمَا تَشَاءُونَ إِلَّا أَن يَشَاءَ اللَّهُ رَبُّ الْعَالَمِينَ)

(For whoever wills among you to take a right course) (The Qur’ān: At-Taqweer, 81:28); this affirms will to humans.

(And you do not will unless Allāh wills – Lord of the worlds.) (The Qur’ān: At-Taqweer, 81:29); and this affirms will to Allāh (SWT).

Simply, to bring the meaning of the divine will closer, compare it to the word permission[1]. So, when Allāh (SWT) wills for something to happen it means He permits it to take place. Hence, when a person does something whether it was good or bad it cannot happen without Allāh’s (SWT) permission. And that person did it with his own free will without any coercion.[2]

Some may oppose by saying: But you Sunni Muslims, also believe that Allāh (SWT) created everything including our deeds. Hence, there is no escape from asserting that humans, by nature, are coerced in their deeds.

We say: True, we believe that Allāh (SWT) created everything including our deeds, but we believe that we are not coerced in our actions in any way; rather we have full choice to do or not do.

Amongst the proofs for that Allāh’s (SWT) statement:

(اللَّهُ خَالِقُ كُلِّ شَيْءٍ وَهُوَ عَلَىٰ كُلِّ شَيْءٍ وَكِيلٌ)

(Allāh created everything, and He is, over all things, Disposer of affairs.) (The Qur’ān: Az-Zumar, 39:62)

and that means everything which came to existence was created by him including our deeds.

Reflect on the following example –and to Allāh is the highest example- on how our deeds are created, yet it is done by us.

A car manufacturer built a car with all of its features. The car can speed up, slow down, turn right, turn left, make a U-turn, and go reverse and many other features. So when someone drives that car, we say the ability to move it forward or backward is completely “made” by the manufacturer but who takes the decision when to move, stop or make a turn is the one driving it and not the manufacturer.

Unquestionably, we all agree that our bodies and abilities are created by Allāh (SWT). So, raising your hand, lifting your foot, eating with your mouth, seeing with your eyes, smelling with your nose, hearing with your ears, and many other abilities are all created in you by Allāh (SWT). Let’s call these human being abilities as features. Thus, when you raise your hand to eat you are using a feature created in you by Allāh (SWT). But bear in mind, it is you who decides to raise your hand and not Allāh (SWT); and it is you who does the action and not Allāh (SWT). So the feature is “made” (i.e. created) by Allāh (SWT) but it’s done by you. And this is what is meant by “Allāh created our deeds”, which rationally confirms that there is no coercion involved.

Remember again, nothing can take place in this universe without Allāh’s (SWT) permission. Therefore, Allāh (SWT) is the one who allowed (willed) for the action of raising the hand to take place. And this is the meaning of the verse (you do not will unless Allāh wills).

Finally, here are some more arguments to substantiate that determinism and fatalism are logically and legitimately incoherent and conflicting with the mere Islāmic precepts:

1. We know that amongst Allāh’s (SWT) beautiful names are the All-Knowing, the All-Wise and amongst His perfect Attributes is Justice.

(إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَا يَظْلِمُ مِثْقَالَ ذَرَّةٍ ۖ وَإِن تَكُ حَسَنَةً يُضَاعِفْهَا وَيُؤْتِ مِن لَّدُنْهُ أَجْرًا عَظِيمًا)

(Surely, Allāh, doesn’t do wrong (or unjust) not even the weight of an atom (or a small ant), but if there is any good (done). He doubles it, and gives from Him a great reward.) (The Qur’ān: An-Nisaa’ 4:40)

Hence, to hold some one liable for his involuntarily deeds that he has no control of, contradicts the meaning of the previous verse and the essence of Allāh’s names and attributes.

2. To deny the human will and the ability to choose, which Allāh (SWT) has created in us, is totally absurd and irrational. For we see with our own eyes and sense with our own minds that our movements are not like the non-living things, which are moved and controlled by others.

In fact we can distinguish between the involuntarily actions that occur within our bodies, such as the blood circulation and the heart beats; and the voluntarily actions such as standing, sitting, eating, thinking, talking and even fighting.

3. It ascribes injustice to Allāh (SWT); and categorically, Allāh (SWT) is free from any flaws. The Qur’ān presents multitude of evidences that ascribe to mankind the ability to do and determine. In fact, Allāh (SWT) in many occasions in the Qur’ān speaks to the minds and rationale of human beings; and this kind of speech is only directed to someone who has free will and consciousness.

Allāh (SWT) said:

(إِنَّ فِي ذَٰلِكَ لَآيَاتٍ لِّقَوْمٍ يَتَفَكَّرُونَ)

(Verily, in it are signs for a people who think deeply) (The Qur’ān Aljathiah 45: 13)

(إِنَّا هَدَيْنَاهُ السَّبِيلَ إِمَّا شَاكِرًا وَإِمَّا كَفُورًا)

(Verily, We showed him the way, whether he be grateful or ungrateful) (The Qur’ān Al-Insaan 76: 3).

Humans have the choice whether to be grateful or ungrateful to Allāh (SWT).

Logically, is it fair to coerce someone to do something wrong and then punish him for doing it?!

4. It opens the door widely to evade from any guilt. Ibn Timiyyah reported that a thief stolen something (and he tried to use the fatalism argument to escape punishment). He said to the caliph Omar t: “I’ve stolen by Allāh’s decree”; Omar said to him: “and I shall cut your hand by Allāh’s decree”[2]

To expand on this topic I recommend the following Arabic references:

  1. Ibn Al-Qayyim: Shifaa’ Al-Alil fi Masa’el Alqadaa’ wal Qadar wal Hikmah wat-Ta’leel
  2. Abdur-Rahman Al-Mahmud: Al-Qadaa’ Wal Qadar in the light of the Qur’ān, Sunnah and people’s sects. (Contemporary Book)
  3. Ibn Abi Al-Izz Al-Hanafi: His exegesis on Al-Aqeedah At-Tahawiyyah

[1] Of course, what is meant by permission here is Allāh’s universal permission “Al-Idhin Al-Kawni”

[2] Ibn Timiyyah, Minhaj As-Sunnan An-Nabawiah (3/234)