The concept of free will in Islam
As Muslims, we believe in the concept of free will, that humans are free to choose their path and destiny. We do not believe that we are controlled like robots, devoid of choices, and doing what we want.
In Islam we also believe in something called divine decree, and this is often referred to as the Islamic version of pre-destination, though not to the exact. When we say pre-destination, people automatically think of everything being pre-determined, that is after all what predestination is about. However when it comes to the Islamic concept known as divine decree, or ‘qadr’ in Arabic, this definition doesn’t really apply to it.
As Muslims, belief in God’s qadr, or divine decree, is one of the six articles of faith, essentially all Muslims are required to believe in divine decree alongside the five other articles of faith (God, his books, his messengers, his angels, judgment day).
So what is divine decree, or God’s qadr? Essentially, according to Islam, all of our actions and deeds have already been recorded and written down by God, and this recording has been done even before we were ever created. Furthermore, according to divine decree, everything that happens only happens by the will of God, therefore God has willed everything we are doing/have done.
The Quranic verses that speak of this are the following:
“Verily, We have created all things with Qadar [al-Qamar 54:49]
“No calamity befalls on the earth or in yourselves but it is inscribed in the Book of Decrees (Al Lawh Al Mahfooz) before We bring it into existence. Verily, that is easy for Allaah” [al-Hadeed 57:22]
Some may argue that this belief constitutes the classical definition of predestination, and that we as humans according to the Islamic concept, don’t really have free will, since everything has already been recorded.
So does the Islamic concept of divine decree contradict free will? Not at all. In order to grasp the issue here, we need to explain things properly, and then finally we will be able to see that divine decree does not contradict the issue of free will.
Now as we all know, God is all-powerful, and he is all knowing. Now if God possesses these attributes, and possesses these attributes to perfection, which is what we would expect from God, then he would naturally know everything that happens before they happen by virtue of his all knowing perfect knowledge. God does not need to wait until you do something for him to learn about it, if that were the case, that God didn’t know what you would do until you do it, this would then mean that God is not all knowing, and if God is not all knowing and is not perfect in his knowledge then he cannot be God. So again, based on the fact that God’s knowledge is perfect, that he knows everything, this means he also knows what you will do before you even do it because his knowledge is perfect.
So for example, God knew you would read this article before you ever read it based on his perfect attribute of being all knowing, however so he didn’t force or compel you to read this article. You by your own free will and choice, decided to come and read this article, God simply knew you were going to read it before you read it, because he is all knowing, God didn’t need to wait until you read this article to learn about the matter.
Now even though God has already recorded everything that will happen, again this is based on his perfect attribute of knowledge, you yourself are not privy to that recorded document. So while God knows what you will do today, tomorrow, and next week, you yourself do not know. Hence people cannot use this as some excuse that their free will is somehow determined and they can’t really do anything because what will happen will happen, indeed what will happen will happen, but you don’t know what will happen now do you? Hence what happens is based on your choices, you can’t simply put your hands up and say ‘well hey my actions have already been recorded so who cares’ because you have no idea about your future actions, at the end of the day it’s your choices that are being made that lead to the actions you are doing.
So what is recorded, is based on what you yourself chose to do, you were not forced to do it, you yourself chose to commit that action, but God in his perfect knowledge, knew you would make that action and take that choice before you did either and already recorded it down.
The best and final way to prove that this doesn’t constitute or contradict free will is by giving a final example. Let us say you somehow managed to time travel into the future, say you managed to travel 50 years from now, all the way into 2064. Now when you reached 2064, you decided to record down what you saw, so you started recording down the actions of what those people were doing in 2064, you had managed to gain some insight into what would be happening in the future thanks to your time travel. Now let’s say you managed to come back to 2014, and you had that book or tablet in which you recorded what the people of 2064 were doing, would that mean that a person alive now or born now, who would also be alive in 2064, the very same person you managed to record seeing what they were doing etc, has no free will just because you have managed to catch a small glimpse into their future? The answer is quite obvious, and it’s a no, just because you know or saw what somebody was going to do, and you recorded it down, doesn’t at all infringe on that persons free will or choice, as we had said, it was the persons choice that eventually led to their action.
So in conclusion, according to Islam God knows everything, this therefore means he knows what you will do before you do it, he doesn’t need to wait for something to happen in order to find out, he already knows due to his perfect knowledge. With this perfect knowledge of his, he has recorded down everything that will happen, however so just because everything has been recorded down, does not mean you are negated your free will, what has been recorded down is based on God’s perfect knowledge of what you will do based on the choices you made, it is not based on what God will force you to do, and this is the key to understanding this.
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