How can divine destiny and human free will be reconciled?
This subject is quite difficult and has long been discussed by exacting scholars
who have attached to it great significance.
The Divine Destiny and man’s free will can be reconciled in seven ways.
The absolute order and harmony displayed by the whole of creation bear witness
that God is All-Wise and Just. Wisdom and Justice demand that man should possess
free will so that he may be chastised or rewarded for his acts. Although we
cannot know the exact nature of this free will, and we may not be able to reconcile
it properly with Divine Destiny, this does not mean that free will does not
Every person feels himself to possess free will, and perceives it to exist.
Knowing the nature of something is different from knowing that it exists. There
are many things the existence of which is obvious to us while their nature is
not understood. Man’s free will may be one of them. Also, existence is not restricted
to the number of the things of which we know, so our ignorance of something
does not indicate that it does not exist.
Man’s free will does not contradict Divine Destiny, rather, Destiny confirms
the existence of free will. Divine Destiny is in some respects identical with
Divine Knowledge, which goes parallel with man’s free will, in determining his
actions, thus it confirms free will, and does not nullify it.
Divine Destiny is a kind of knowledge, and knowledge is dependent on the
thing known. That is, conceptual knowledge is not fundamental to determine the
external existence of what is known. The known in its external existence is
dependent upon the Divine Power, acting through the Divine Will.
Also, past eternity is not, as people imagine, just the starting-point of
‘time’ so that it be-comes essential for the existence of things. Past eternity
is in fact like a mirror in which the whole of time, past, present and future,
is reflected. People tend to, excluding themselves from the pas-sage of time,
imagine a limit for past time which extends through a certain chain of things,
and they call it azel—past eternity. But to reason according to such
an imagining is not right and acceptable. For better understanding of this subtle
point, the following example may help:
Imagine that you are standing with a mirror in your hand, that everything
reflected on the right represents the past, while everything reflected on the
left represents the future. The mirror can reflect one direction only since
it cannot show both sides at the same time as you are holding it. If you wish
to reflect both directions at the same time, it would be necessary to rise high
above your original position so that left and right directions are united into
one and nothing remains to be called first or last, beginning or end. As already
mentioned, Divine Destiny is in some respects identical with Divine Knowledge.
It is described in a Prophetic saying as containing all times and events in
a single point, where first and last, beginning and end, what has happened and
what will happen, are all united into one. And we are not excluded from it so
that our understanding of time and events could be like a mirror to the space
of the past.
‘Cause and effect’ are not separable in the view of Destiny, that is, it
is destined that this ‘cause’ will produce that ‘effect’. It cannot
therefore be argued that, for example, ‘killing a man by shooting him’
should not be regarded as a crime because the slain was destined to die at
that time anyway so he would have died even had he not been shot. Such an
argument is baseless since that man is actually destined to die as a result
of being shot. The argument that he would have died even if he had not been
shot would mean that he died without a cause, and in this case we should not
be able to explain how he died. It should be remembered that there are not
two kinds of destiny—one for the cause, and the other for the effect.
Destiny is one. Having been deceived by such a paradox,
the Mu’tazili school of thought concluded that ‘the man would not have died
if he had not been shot’ (forgetting that it was his destiny to be shot) while
the Mujabbira (Fatalists) argued that he would have died even if he had not
been shot. The Ahl al-Sunna wa’l-Jama‘a follow the correct view by judging that
‘we do not know whether he would have died or not if he had not been shot’.
The followers of Imam al-Maturidi, one of the sub-schools of the Ahl al-Sunna
wa’l-Jama‘a, regarded man’s inclination upon which his free will is based as
having nominal value and existence, and accordingly originating in man himself,
while the Ash‘arites do not ascribe that inclination to man because they consider
it to have a real existence. According to them, man has, however, a nominal
or theoretical disposal of that inclination and, because of this, the inclination
and man’s disposal of it are a relative matter, not having a definite external
existence. Something of nominal and relative existence does not require a perfect
efficient cause which would annul man’s free will in his actions; rather, when
its cause acquires the weight of preference, it might have an actual existence.
In which case, where the Qur’an says, ‘Do not do this, because this is
evil’, he may refrain from committing it. If man were the creator of his own
actions, then he would himself be the ultimate cause of them, and his will
would be cancelled. According to the science of established principles or
methodology and logic, if a thing is not necessary, it will not exist. That
means there has to be a real complete cause before something can exist, but
a complete cause makes
the existence of something compulsory so there will be no room for choice.
Man’s actions are the result of his preference between two alternatives,
which is of nominal significance. If a necessary cause does not exist which
forces him to make a preference, then this means that the act of preference
takes place without a necessary cause. Is it not a logical impossibility which
contradicts one of the most important principles of theology?
It is not an impossibility that man makes a preference without a necessary
cause, it is an at-tribute of his free will to do such things. It is, however,
an impossibility that something can be preferable by itself without a necessary
cause for its preference.
According to Arabic grammar, the active participle functioning as the subject
is derived from the infinitive, which denotes a relative affair or deed, not
from another word derived from the infinitive which expresses an established
fact. Therefore, since it is man himself who does the deed denoted by the infinitive,
he is the murderer.
That is, man wills to do something and accordingly does it, so he is the
doer or agent of his acts. It is the man himself who does the act of killing,
so he should be called the murderer. God creates man’s acts in that He gives
external existence to them; He does not perform those acts. It would have been
meaningless for man to have free will if God had not created the acts which
are the outcome of that free will.
Although man’s free will is too inefficient to cause something to happen,
Almighty God, the absolutely Wise One, has made its operation a simple condition
for the coming into effect of His universal Will. He guides man in whatever
direction man wishes by the use of his free will so that he remains responsible
for the consequences of his choice. As an example, if you were to take a child
upon your shoulders, and then leave him free to decide where he would like to
go and he elected for you to take him up a high mountain, and in consequence
he caught cold, he would have no right to blame you for that. Indeed, you might
even punish him because he wanted to go up the mountain. In like manner, Almighty
God, the Most Just of Judges, never coerces His servants into doing something,
and He has accordingly made His Will somewhat dependent on man’s free will.
In sum: As man, you do possess free will, which makes almost no contribution
to your good acts, although it can cause deadly sins and destruction wherever
it operates. Therefore, exploit your free will for your own benefit by praying
to God continuously, so that you may enjoy the blessings of Paradise, a fruit
of the chain of good deeds, and attain to eternal happiness. Further, you should
always seek God‘s forgiveness for your sins in order to refrain from evil deeds
and to be saved from the torments of Hell, a fruit of the accursed chain of
evil deeds. Prayer and putting one’s trust in God greatly strengthen the inclination
to good, and repentance and seeking God’s forgiveness cut the inclination to
evil and break its transgressions.
We may summarize the discussion so far in seven points:
- Divine Destiny, also called Divine determination and arrangement, dominates
the universe but does not cancel our free will.
- Since God is beyond time and space and everything is included in His
Knowledge, He encompasses the past, present and future as a single,
undivided point. For example: When you are in a room, your view is restricted to the room.
But if you look from a higher point, you can see the whole city. As you rise
higher and higher, your vision continues to broaden. The Earth, when seen
from the moon, appears to be a small blue marble. It is the same with time.
So, all time and space are encompassed by God as a single, undivided point,
into which the past, present and future are united.
- Since all time and space are included in God’s Knowledge as a single point,
God re-corded everything that will happen until the Day of Judgment. Angels
use this record to prepare a smaller record for each individual.
- We do not do something because God recorded it; God knew beforehand we
would do it and so recorded it.
- There are not two destinies: one for the cause, the other for the effect.
Destiny is one and relates to the cause and the effect simultaneously. Our
free will, which causes our acts, is included in Destiny.
- God guides us to good things and actions, and allows and advises us to
use our will-power for good. In return, He promises us eternal happiness in
- We have free will, although we contribute almost nothing to our good acts.
Our free will, if not used properly, can destroy us. Therefore we should use
it to benefit our-selves by praying to God, so that we may enjoy the blessings
of Paradise, a fruit of the chain of good deeds, and attain eternal happiness.
Furthermore, we should al-ways seek God’s forgiveness so that we might refrain
from evil and be saved from the torments of Hell, a fruit of the accursed
chain of evil deeds. Prayer and trusting in God greatly strengthen our inclination
toward good, and repentance and seeking God’s forgiveness greatly weaken,
even destroy, our inclination toward evil and transgression.