Role of the free will

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How can you explain why so insignificant a thing as free will causes one to deserve eternal paradise or hell?

Compared with God’s acts and creation and humanity’s function in existence, the role of the free will is really insignificant. It is because of this that some have gone so far as to deny it, and those who follow the “middle path” in this matter have concluded that the free will is an inclination or something like inclination or, less than being an inclination, it is humanity’s preference between the inclinations they feel in themselves and putting one of them into effect. It is actually like pressing the switch to light a house or a city.

Before asking about the reason why God Almighty may condemn us to eternal Hellfire because of our misuse of our free will in so short a time as a life-span, we should think about whether we can really deserve eternal Paradise by using our free will in the right way. Should we not consider how we can ever adequately perform the duty of giving thanks to God for the bounties pouring down upon us? If we worshipped Him incessantly during our whole life-time, still we would not be able to pay our debt of thanksgiving for only our eyes. Again, as pointed out earlier, a single pomegranate or a cherry, costs the whole of the universe, for its growth or production requires the cooperation of air, water, earth, and the sun, none of which, coming together to cooperate, even the whole of mankind could produce. Furthermore, God Almighty asks us to assign only a small portion of our time for worship. The time we spend on daily prescribed prayers hardly exceeds one hour, one-twenty-fourth part of a day. The amount of the wealth which we are enjoined to give as prescribed alms is, in most cases, one-fortieth. We are obliged, if indeed we can afford it, to go on pilgrimage only once in our whole life-time. All the rest of our life and wealth goes on worldly things. Despite this, God, the All-Merciful, promises us eternal Paradise, the blessings and beauties of which are beyond imagination. So, we should, first of all, think about God’s infinite mercy which enfolds us and invites us to Paradise.

Now, we can discuss how a human being deserves eternal punishment in so small a time as life-time, and why God admits him/her to Paradise in return for his/her meritorious acts.


Intention has a prominent place in our actions. The Messenger of God, upon him be peace and blessings, says:

Actions are judged according to intentions: whatever someone intends to do, he gets the reward thereof. So, whoever emigrates for God and His Messenger, has emigrated for God and His Messenger; and whoever emigrates to acquire something worldly or to marry a woman, his emigration is to what he intends. (Sahih al-Bukhari, Bad’u l-Wahy, 1; Sahih al-Muslim, ‘Imara, 155.)

Intention is the spirit of our actions, without which any action will not be rewarded. If one remains hungry and thirsty from daybreak to sunset without intending to fast, he/she is not counted as having fasted. If one fasts without intending to obtain God’s good pleasure, he/she does not get any reward for his/her fasting. While one who is killed in a war in which one has participated in order that the Word of God may be exalted or may have the upper hand, dies a martyr and goes, by God’s will, to Paradise, another who fights for another cause like fame or wealth, does not die a martyr and will most probably not be admitted to Paradise. So, whatever one intends, one gets the reward thereof. One who has firm belief in God and other pillars of faith and has the intention to believe in them [as if one were to live eternally] will be rewarded with eternal felicity in Paradise. Another one who, having already removed from his/her heart the in-born tendency to believe, is determined not to believe even he/she were to live until eternity, he/she will be the victim of his/her eternal determination and deserve the eternal punishment. About the people in whose being unbelief is deeply ingrained and who have lost the capacity to believe, the Qur’an says:

As for the unbelievers, it is the same whether you warn them or warn them not. They will not believe. God has set a seal on their hearts and on their hearing, and on their eyes there is a covering. (al-Baqara, 2.6-7)

Punishment is judged according to the nature of the crime

Punishment is judged according to the nature and result of the crime and the intention of the criminal in committing it, not to how long it took the criminal to commit the act.

The punishment of murder, which in most cases takes five minutes or even seconds, ranges from imprisonment for many years or for life to death. What is considered here is the nature and result of the crime, not the duration of its committal. Unbelief is infinitely more grave than murder. If you accuse a truthful, innocent one of lying and deception, he/she will be very angry with you. Likewise, unbelief means the denial of the true testimony of innumerable creatures, from atoms to huge galaxies, to the existence and Unity of their Creator, and accusing them of lying or false testimony. Again, unbelief is the denial of God, Who is the Unique Creator, Sustainer and Administrator of the whole of existence, and degradation of His innumerable works of art. Unbelief is also an accusation of more than one hundred thousand Prophets, who, according to the testimony of history and the people of each, are the most truthful of humankind, of the most abased form of lying, deception and trickery. Again, unbelief means accusing the followers of the Prophets of following the greatest tricksters of human history. It is also an insult to, and accusation of deception and deviation against, innumerable believing men from the time of Adam. For all these and other similar reasons, it is pure justice to condemn unbelief to the eternal punishment of Hell.

Unbelief is an infinite destruction

However insignificant the part of the free will seems in our actions, and however slight a sin unbelief may seem to some at first sight, it is a denial and negation and therefore destructive. Remember that we likened the part of the free will in our actions to turning on or off the switch to illuminate or darken a room. So, by turning off a switch you can reduce a whole city to darkness. To cite other examples, by lighting a match you may burn to ashes in a few minutes a huge, magnificent palace which hundreds of workers constructed over several years. Remember that it was a single bullet fired by a Serbian which ignited the fire of the First World War, and led to millions of lives lost and massive destruction.

Also, suppose there is a garden with flowers and trees of all kinds on the branches of which birds sing, and in which all kinds of animals live. All those plants and animals subsist on the water reaching them through canals, and a person is in charge of irrigating the garden by letting the water flow to the canals from a big reservoir. What kind of sentence do you think would be appropriate if this person were to let the garden with all the plants and animals therein die of thirst by simply turning off the flow of water? The act of unbelief is equivalent to such an act but on the scale of the creation as a whole.

Unbelief is an unforgivable ingratitude

Unbelief is an unforgivable ingratitude. The one who denies Him Who brought him/her into existence from non-existence and endowed him/her with many kinds of faculties like reason, intellect, heart, memory, and insight, and inner and outer senses, and Who nourishes him/her with numerous varieties of food and drink, has doomed himself/herself to the punishment equal to his/her action. As pointed out earlier, if all the people in the world came together to create a single fruit or leaf or even a single blade of grass, they could not do it. So, denial of the One Who created this huge universe and subjugated it to the use of humanity is the severest and most abominable kind of crime which deserves the most lasting and severe kind of punishment. Also, Satan always tries to deviate us and invites us to unbelief and dissipation. Our evil-commanding soul was given to us so that we could rise to the highest of the high by refining it. We have the faculty of conscience which innately feels the existence of God, the Creator and Sustainer of beings, and feelings which long for eternity and can be satisfied only with eternity. An unbeliever is he/she who, following in the footsteps of Satan, has submitted to the desires and seduction of his/her evil-commanding self, closed the doors of his/her conscience to innumerable signs of God in both himself/herself and the universe, extinguished his/her, and more than all, blinded himself/herself to the most manifest signs of the Creator, namely the Qur’an and the Prophet Muhammad and other Prophets, upon them be peace.

Punishment varies according to the one who committed the crime

The punishment for breaching a trust is proportional to the significance of the trust and its true owner. The punishment given to a child who has broken the window of an ordinary building is not like that of the aide-de-camp of a king who has lost or broken the crown of the king. If, again, a private and an army commander spent the capital that was given to each according to his rank on petty things and wasted it away, the commander would certainly be tried at a court-martial and sentenced to a much greater punishment than the private. Likewise, if a scientist responsible for carrying out scientific investigations behaved like a shepherd and spent the resources assigned to his/her investigations on trifling things, certainly he/she would not be treated the same as a shepherd who spent resources assigned to him/her for feeding sheep to meet his/her own needs.

Animals spend the capital of life assigned for them in the world without any misuse or waste; they fulfill whatever they must: some carry burdens, some give milk and meat, and still some others produce things like honey or silk for the use of human beings. It is only a human being that may spend whatever is given to him/her in either the right or the wrong way. So, despite being the most honored of beings endowed with many faculties like conscience, intellect, consciousness, memory, and powers of thinking and reasoning, as well as with numerous inner and outer senses and feelings, if a human being wastes all these faculties, senses and feelings, he/she will certainly deserve a severe punishment. Particularly, if he/she lets his/her evil-commanding self dominate over his/her heart, which must overflow with knowledge and love of the Creator, he/she will undoubtedly be reduced to being a kind of fuel for Hell.


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