My friend continued, expressing his delight in our misfortune, imagining that he has held me from the neck, and that there’s no escape for me this time:
You people say that God manages everything in his creations through destiny and divine providence, and that he has already preordained our deeds. If that’s my case, and my deeds were all predetermined by him, why does he judge me then?
And please do not tell me, as I am used to hear from you, that I have a choice, and let me ask you: Did I have a choice in my birth? Gender? Length? Width? Color? Home country?
Do I have a choice in sunrise or moonset?
Do I have a choice when this divine providence descends on me, or when death surprises me, or when I fall into a huge calamity leaving me with no choice but to commit crime?
Why would God force a certain deed on me, and then holds me accountable for it?
And if you say that I am free, and that I have a will beside God’s will, wouldn’t you fall in polytheism by saying so? Since you are compelled to admit the multiplicity of wills?
Then what can you say about the deterministic environment and circumstances, as well as the various forms of inevitabilities that historical materialists advocate?
My friend fired these bullets, followed by a sigh of relief, imagining that I have ended completely, and that all what’s left is to prepare the shroud.
I replied calmly..
You have fallen into several fallacies. Your deeds are foreknown to God in his record, but they are not preordained for you against your will. They are only preordained in his foreknowledge just as you may foresee, in the light of your knowledge, that your son will commit fornication and he actually goes on to do it. Have you forced him to do it? Or was it, in fact, a foreknowledge which came true because it founded on your comprehension of the situation?
Concerning your talk about freedom and that it is false, while verifying your point by the fact that you had neither choice over your birth, nor your gender, length, color, home country, nor do you have any control over the sun, is another confusion.
The reason behind your confusion this time, is that you visualize freedom in a different way than how we believers tend to see it.
You are, in fact, talking about absolute freedom; hoping that you could create yourself white, black, long, or short, or being able to move the sun or stop it in its orbit. And you ask: Where is my freedom?
And we reply: You’re seeking absolute freedom; the freedom of manipulating the universe, and that belongs to God alone. We, Muslims, do not assert in such freedom.
And your Lord creates what He wills and chooses; not for them was the choice” (Quran 28:68)
Concerning the issue of ‘creation’, no one has the privilege of choice, because it is God who chooses and creates what he pleases.
God won’t judge you on your length, neither will he blame you for being short, nor will he punish you for not stopping the sun in its orbit. Instead, the domain of judgment, is the domain of the tasks assigned; and you, within this domain, are free. These are the bounds we should be discussing.
You are free to silence your lust, place a bridle on your anger, resist yourself, yell at your ill intentions and encourage your good ones.
You are able to use yourself and your money generously.
You are able to be truthful and to lie.
You are able to refrain yourself from dealing with forbidden money.
You are able to deflect your eyes away from people’s privacies.
You are able to prevent your tongue from curses, backbiting, and defamation.
In this domain, we are free; in this domain, we are held accountable and judged.
The freedom that our hunt revolves around is the relative freedom, and not the absolute one. The human freedom resides inside the domain of the tasks assigned, and this freedom is true. Our proof that it exists, is our instinctive feelings. We feel responsible, remorse after doing wrong, happiness and serenity after doing good. At each moment we feel that we have a choice, and we actually balance between several possibilities. In fact, the primary function of our mind is favoring and getting to choose between alternatives.
We clearly distinguish between when our hand is moving in tremors, and when it is moving while writing a letter. The former is involuntary and forceful, while the latter is voluntary and freely. We wouldn’t have been able to distinguish them if we were determined in both cases.
Another solid proof that this freedom exists, is the impossibility to force a heart on something it refuses under any circumstances. You can force a woman to take off her clothes by threatening and beating her, but you can never force her to love you from her heart under any threatening. This clearly shows how God has completely liberated our hearts from any form of oppression or obligation, and that he has created the heart to be ‘free’.
For that reason, God has set the heart and intention to be the foundation upon which all tasks are assigned. A believer who repeats words of disbelief or polytheism under threat or torture is not accountable for them, for as long as his heart is serene with belief from the inside. God has ruled out this example from the blame.
Except for one who is forced [to renounce his religion] while his heart is secure in faith” (Quran 16:106)
Another side of the confusion, is that some people see their freedom as a form of superiority over God’s will, singly taking hold of the situation. So they start to accuse the asserters of such freedom of being polytheistic and asserting peers to God, ordaining like he does and ruling like he does. And that’s what you’ve understood by mentioning the multiplicity of wills, and that is a misconception.
Human freedom does not rise above God’s will. A human can utilize his freedom in doing what counters God’s acceptance, but he cannot do what counters God’s will. God gave us the freedom to rise above his acceptance by disobeying him, but he never gave anyone the freedom to rise above his will; and here we witness another side of the human relative freedom.
Everything that comes from us is included among God’s will, even if it counters the divine acceptance and religious legislations. This freedom that we have, was given to us as a gift from God with his choice. We did not acquire it against God’s will; our freedom substantiates his will.
Here comes the meaning of the verse:
And you do not will except that Allah wills” (Quran 76:30)
Our will is included in God’s will, it’s a gift from him with his generosity and grace. It is among his will, neither a secondary nor a contradictory one, nor are we competing against his ordains and rule. Asserting of such freedom does not deny monotheism, nor does it mean asserting peers to God ordaining like him and ruling like his rule. Instead, our freedom was what truly substantiates his will, ordains, and rule.
A third side of the confusion, is that some of whom who tackle the topics of acts of providence, fate, free will and determinism, have understood that fate is something forced upon man against his own nature and tendencies; and that is another misconception that you’ve fallen into as well.
God has clearly denied about himself any form of compulsion or oppression in the verses:
If We willed, We could send down to them from the sky a sign for which their necks would remain humbled” (Quran 26:4)
And the meaning is clear; that he could have forced people to believe in the presented signs, but he hasn’t; and the reason is because oppression and compulsion aren’t included in God’s practice.
There shall be no compulsion in [acceptance of] the religion. The right course has become clear from the wrong” (Quran 2:256)
And had your Lord willed, those on earth would have believed – all of them entirely. Then, [O Muhammad], would you compel the people in order that they become believers?” (Quran 10:99)
Oppression and compulsion are not part of God’s practice.
On the other hand, it is not right to understand divine providence and fate as forcing people against their own tendencies and nature. On the contrary, God’s ordains on each of us are founded upon our intentions, and his will is founded upon ours as well. There isn’t any duality. God’s predestination is identical to the worshiper’s freedom of choice, because God predestines every man according to his own desires and intentions.
Whoever desires the harvest of the Hereafter – We increase for him in his harvest. And whoever desires the harvest of this world – We give him thereof” (Quran 42:20)
In their hearts is disease, so Allah has increased their disease” (Quran 2:10)
And those who are guided – He increases them in guidance” (Quran 47:17)
While he addresses the hostages of war:
If Allah knows [any] good in your hearts, He will give you [something] better than what was taken from you” (Quran 8:70)
God predetermines and preordains, and he works them according to the heart and intentions: if they are evil, man will come to evil; if good, good will be his fate. Neither is there duality, nor contradiction. He predestines us to what we have chosen with our hearts and intentions; no injustice, no oppression, and no subjection to what is against our natures.
As for he who gives and fears Allah, And believes in the best [reward], We will ease him toward ease. But as for he who withholds and considers himself free of need, And denies the best [reward], We will ease him toward difficulty” (Quran 92:5-10)
And you threw not, [O Muhammad], when you threw, but it was Allah who threw” (Quran 8:17)
Here, the throw of man meets the predestined throw of God to become one throw, and that is the key for the ‘fate and destiny’ puzzle; the worshiper’s part is to intend, while God’s part is to enable; evil for evil, and good for good.
And the human freedom is not fixed; it’s relatively subject to increase.
Man can increase his freedom through science and knowledge. By inventing the tools and means of transportation, man was able to fold terrains, conquer distances, and penetrate restrictions of time and space. By studying the laws of the environment, he was able to control it and utilize it for his needs; for he has known how to conquer the hot, the cold, darkness, and by that he multiplies his freedom in terms of performance.
Science and knowledge were a tool in breaking the chains and releasing freedom.
Religion was the second tool; asking God for help by getting near to him, and utilizing it in obtaining inspiration and support from him; and this was the tool that the prophets, as well as those who walked in their path, used.
Suleiman utilized the Jinn, rode the wind, and spoke with the birds with the aid of God. Moses split the sea, while Jesus revived the dead, walked on water, and cured the blind and the leper.
We read about the pious worshipers of God, who enjoy an elevated degree of faith that exceeds those of common people, thus enjoy special blessings from God, and for whom the terrain is folded and the unknown made known.
These levels of freedom were attained by perseverance in God’s worship, and by endearing themselves to him; thus he responds by endowing them with emanations of his hidden knowledge. Once again we encounter ‘knowledge’, but this time it is a type of knowledge that is particular to God.
For that Abu Hamid Al Ghazali summarizes the problem of Determinism vs Free Will in two sentences: Man is free in what he knows, determined in what he doesn’t know.
Meaning that as the knowledge of man increases, so does his freedom, regardless to whether this knowledge is worldly or a one that is particular to God.
Materialistic thinkers commit a huge mistake by thinking of man as a prisoner of class and historical determinism, turning him into a chain inside a series of chains that has no exit, and that there’s no escape from submitting one’s self to economic laws and social movements, as if he was a straw in a moving current without any arms, without any will.
The term that they repeat tirelessly and as if it was a law, is the ‘inevitability of class conflict’; and that statement when analyzed scientifically, is false; for there are no inevitabilities in the human domain, but instead it consists of chances and probabilities. That is what distinguishes humans from machines and gears, or physical objects.
We can predict a solar eclipse with its precise minute and second, as well as the sun’s movement over the course of days and years. Yet we cannot know what a person keeps in his mind and intentions, nor can we know what he does tomorrow or the day after, and it is impossible to know for certain. Such factors can only be known in the form of possibilities and guessing, provided the availability of enough information aiding in our judgment.
All the prophecies of Karl Marx, for instance, have proven wrong; communism did not rise in an advanced country, as he predicted, but in an underdeveloped one. The conflict between capitalism and communism did not intensify, instead both sides approached each other to a state of peaceful co-existence. Even more than that, the communist countries have even gone so far as to open their doors before American capital. The contradictions in the capitalist society haven’t led to its bankruptcy as Marx expected, on the contrary, the capitalist economy has prospered while discord and dispute has occurred to the socialist camp itself.
All Marx’s calculations are mistaken, proving an error in his deterministic system. And we saw that the conflict of our age that is altering history is the non-class confrontation between the Soviet Union and China, not the class struggle that was the entitlement of Marx’s approach.
All of this indicates failure of materialistic thinking in understanding man and history, and its confusion in calculating the future. This came as a result of a crucial mistake; the materialistic conception of man as a fly in a web of inevitabilities. They totally forgot that humans are free, and that their freedom is true.
Moving on to what materialists say about the societal, environmental, and circumstantial factors, and that man does not live alone, meaning that his freedom does not move in vacuum.
We simply say in reply to all of this: Factors of society, environment, and circumstances acting as a resistance to the freedom of the individual, actually empowers this meaning that we’re asserting about it. Freedom of the individual can only assert its existence when placed in the face of a resistance that is aiming its displacement. On the other hand, if man was moving in vacuum with no resistance of any kind, then he would not be considered free with the understood meaning of freedom; there wouldn’t be any obstacle to overcome and through which he would emphasize his freedom.
This is my (Mohamed the blog owner) first attempt to translate Arabic books that I find interesting and worth reading, in a simple and easy way to follow. If you have any comments please don’t hesitate to leave them, and of course feel free to share this wherever and whenever you like.