Question: Asalaam Alikum I would like if someone can explain to me free will and predestination. I would like to know if there is free will or since because the decree has already been written there isn’t a thing as free will?
As Muslims, we must believe in the concept of free will and that of predestination. This is the belief of Ahlus Sunnah Wal Jamaah (Sunni Muslims) and well established in Islam.
It is part of a Muslim’s faith to believe in predestination which is called ‘Qadha’ ad ‘Qadr’ in Islamic texts. In the hadith, the Prophet (s.a.w) is reported to have said, ‘Imaan (faith) is to believe in Allah, His angels, His books, His messengers, and the last day, and to believe in divine destiny, both the good and the bad thereof’. (Muslim, Abu Dawood, Tirmidhi).
A Muslim is required to believe that Allah, Has perfect and complete knowledge of all things that will come about and take place in the future from among the actions of His slaves. It is also essential for a Muslim to believe that Allah willed/desired the coming about of such things at a specific time.
While commenting on the concept of ‘Qadha’ and ‘Qadr’ (predestination), Imam An Nawawi writes in his commentary of Sahih Muslim, ‘Al Khatabi said, ‘Many people assume that the meaning of ‘Qadha’ and ‘Qadr’ (predestination) is that Allah compels man to act in accordance with His ‘Qadha’ and ‘Qadr’. But this is not the case as some may assume. The meaning is that He (Allah) knows what will occur to the person in the future and thus issued a decree for him. (Sharh An Nawawi of Sahih Muslim).
So Allah Has complete knowledge of everyone and everything. He knows everything his servants will do, and He knows what will emerge and happen. It is on account of this complete and perfect knowledge which He Has of man, He Has written everything about the actions and choices man will do and make in his life. Predestination is not about forcing man to do that which is written for him. Instead, it is the prior knowledge which Allah Has of man that He Has written.
Regarding the fact that things have been written and ordained, Imam Abu Hanifa (A.R) wrote in his famous book of Aqeedah (beliefs) ‘Al Fiqh Al Akbar’, ‘There is in this world nothing, nor in the next, except through His (Allah’s) will, knowledge, ordination, decree, and in accordance with His writing it in the Preserved Tablet. Yet, His writing entails descriptions, not commands’ (Al Fiqh AL Akbar). While explaining this statement, Mulla Ali Qaari (A.R) quoted the hadith in which it is stated that the Prophet (s.a.w) said, ‘The first thing Allah created was the pen, after which He commanded it to write. The pen asked its Lord what it should write. Allah said, ‘Write all that which is to occur Until the Day of Resurrection.’ (Tirmidhi). It is about this, the verse of the Holy Quran points out when it says, ‘And everything they have done is noted in records. And everything, small and big, is written down.’ (Surah Al Qamr (54) Verses 52, 53). (Commentary of Al Fiqh Al Akbar – Mulla Ali Qaari. Pg. 41 – Qadeemi Kutub Khana Karachi Pakistan).
Further, while explaining the statement, ‘Yet, His (Allah’s) writing entails description, not commands’, Mulla Ali Qaari writes, ‘It means that Allah wrote, with respect to everything, that such and such will occur (while describing the occurrence of something in the future), and He did not write ‘Such and such must occur’ (in a manner as giving an order or command). This means that at the time of writing, things were not present and existing. As such, the writing in the Sacred Tablets is upon the manner of the description that things will occur in accordance to how Allah Knows that they are (His Qadha), not in a manner that He commands it and says, ‘Be in this way’. (Commentary of Fiqh Al Akbar – Pg. 41).
Predestination is from Allah’s eternal attributes, the realities of which are known only to Allah. Regarding this, the belief upheld by the Ahlus Sunnah Wal Jamaah states, ‘Ordaining, decreeing, and willing are His (Allah’s) attributes in pre eternity without description.’ (Al FIqh Al Akbar). While explaining the above text, the great scholar, Mulla Ali Al Qaari writes, ‘It means that these three attributes are from eternity and are evident from the Quran and Sunnah. They are from the Sifaat Mutashabiha (attributes of Allah that have ambiguous meanings) and their descriptions are unknown to the servants. It is therefore essential upon the believer to believe in these attributes and to know that human reasoning (Aql) is incapable to grasp their meanings. (Commentary of Fiqh Al Akbar – Mulla Ali Al Qaari Pg. 42).
Man has been given a ‘Free will’ and on account of this, he can make choices in his life. However, this act of making a choice is fully under Allah’s decree and will, since, nothing falls out of Allah’s decree and will. While explaining the fact that Allah’s creation of an act does not deprive man of choice and free will, the scholars have stated, ‘There are two types of creation. The first is creation where one is not a receiver of that thing, and this is identified as everything in the creation that occurs by way of compulsion and force, such as the movements of planets, the growing of plants and humans, and many of the functions of man, such as sleep, consciousness, the beating of the heart, death and similar examples. In these matters there is no connection concerning reward and punishment. These things occur based on Allah’s control and man has nothing to do with these, and he is also not required to render an account for any of these. In general, man is not taken into account for anything that entails coercion or force.
The second is creation that is acquired and obtained by man due to his acquisition and choice of that thing, such as one’s choice to eat, drink, study, as well as the various ways and manner that one may choose to turn towards. Man has a free will in these matters.’
Imam Abu Hanifa states, ‘The actions of mankind that relate to the movement and stillness of whatever aspect it may be, such as belief, disbelief, obedience or disobedience are in truth, their acquisition of such things (that is, they were not forced to act; rather it was by their choice depending on what they preferred and desire, and Allah is the Creator of their actions.’ (Commentary of Fiqh Al Akbar – Mulla Ali Qaari).
Therefore, there is predestination and there is also a ‘free will’ given to man which enables him to make choices in his life. When man chooses that which is good, he is rewarded for it and benefits from the good result of it, and when he chooses that which is bad/evil, he is punished for it, and must bear the consequences for doing it. Therefore, rewards and punishments are based on the choices a man makes in his life. These choices are made on account of the free will which he has been given by Allah. However, everything occurs under the decree of Allah.
And Allah Knows Best.
Mufti Waseem Khan.