Free Will and Predestination in Islam
This article asks the question; can there be such a thing as “Free Will” in Islam?
The discussion of Free Will and Predestination in Islam must begin with certain presumptions concerning the character of Allah. It must further be acknowledged that these presumptions are all orthodox Muslim dogma.
1. Allah is omniscient.
2. Nothing happens except by Allah’s will.
3. Allah Himself has free will.
4. Allah cannot make a mistake.
If these statements are all presumed true, then they can serve as the logical starting points for determining their consistency with the concept of a “test for salvation.”
A. Because nothing happens except by Allah’s will, all human beings are created only according to Allah’s will.
B. Because Allah is omniscient, Allah knows the eventual fate of every person even before the moment of their creation.
C. Because Allah has free will, he has the free will to create or not create any human being he chooses.
D. Therefore, at the moments of creation, Allah is choosing to create some people that he already knows will be saved, and others that he already knows will be condemned to hell.
E. Therefore, since the results of every lifetime are already known even prior to creation, the “test” for salvation is already complete even before the created individual is born.
Q.E.D. Life on earth cannot be a test for salvation. The test is already complete before life on earth takes place.
F. If a human being were capable of doing anything to change his fate from the one Allah already determined, then Allah would have made a mistake.
G. Since Allah cannot make a mistake, a human being cannot do anything to change his fate from the one Allah already determined.
Q.E.D. Human beings cannot have free will.
Now, not only is this a logical conclusion based on the concept of Allah himself, but it also a position that is formally expressed in several Sahih ahadith. At least four times in Sahih Bukhari, and once in Sahih Muslim, we find versions of the following hadith:
Do we find any similar indications in the Qur'an itself to indicate that “free will” might not exist? Actually yes. A number of ayaat are quite explicit that the choice of being saved or condemned belongs not to the human, but to Allah alone.
Pickthal: And if thy Lord willed, all who are in the earth would have believed together. Wouldst thou (Muhammad) compel men until they are believers? It is not for any soul to believe save by the permission of Allah. He hath set uncleanness upon those who have no sense.Shakir: And if your Lord had pleased, surely all those who are in the earth would have believed, all of them; will you then force men till they become believers? And it is not for a soul to believe except by Allah's permission; and He casts uncleanness on those who will not understand.
Pickthal: Lo! this is an Admonishment, that whosoever will may choose a way unto his Lord. Yet ye will not, unless Allah willeth. Lo! Allah is Knower, Wise.Shakir: Surely this is a reminder, so whoever pleases takes to his Lord a way. And you do not please except that Allah please, surely Allah is Knowing, Wise;
There are several others that less directly support this understanding:
For example Al-Qur’an 37:96 tells us that even our own actions, accomplishments and “handwork” are not really ours, but are determined by Allah instead:
Pickthal: When Allah hath created you and what ye make?Shakir: And Allah has created you and what you make.
And Al-Qur’an 17:13 implies that the very actions for which we will be judged on judgment day are fated ahead of time, rather than the results of a life on earth that preceded by free will:
Pickthal: And every man's augury have We fastened to his own neck, and We shall bring forth for him on the Day of Resurrection a book which he will find wide open.Shakir: And We have made every man's actions to cling to his neck, and We will bring forth to him on the resurrection day a book which he will find wide open:
Note in particular Yusuf Ali’s translation where the word “fate” is explicitly used, and Pickthal’s use of the word “augury.” An augury is, of course, a predictive sign of what is yet to come in the future.
Al-Qur’an 7:178-179 goes further by telling us there are men and jinn made with the express purpose of damning to hell:
Pickthal: He whom Allah leadeth, he indeed is led aright, while he whom Allah sendeth astray - they indeed are losers. Already have We urged unto hell many of the jinn and humankind ...Shakir: Whomsoever Allah guides, he is the one who follows the right way; and whomsoever He causes to err, these are the losers. And certainly We have created for hell many of the jinn and the men ...
The same idea is repeated in other ayaat. For example:
Pickthal: And if We had so willed, We could have given every soul its guidance, but the word from Me concerning evildoers took effect: that I will fill hell with the jinn and mankind together.Shakir: And if We had pleased We would certainly have given to every soul its guidance, but the word (which had gone forth) from Me was just: I will certainly fill hell with the jinn and men together.
So in fact, it appears that the Qur’an and the hadith are in complete agreement that there is no free will when it comes to salvation or damnation. These decisions are made ahead of time by Allah and assigned to humanity. This is in fact the mainstream Islamic understanding, and the implications of this are enormous.
Just scratching the surface we must conclude that, according to Islamic beliefs:
- Life on earth is not a test for salvation. For what is there to test if the results are known ahead of time and there is nothing we can do to change them?
- Qiyamah, the Islamic Day of Judgment, is a farce. For we are not being judged based on our behaviors, but on Allah’s previous decision.
- People are not led to Islam because it is superior message or religion, but because Allah decided that they would become Muslims whether they wanted to or not.
- Since the vast majority of human beings who have ever lived, and who are living today are not Muslim, Allah must have created the vast majority of human beings for the express purpose of condemning them to Jahannam. Therefore the primary purpose of creation must be hell and suffering, not paradise and salvation.
- Predestination - A hub page that leads to other articles related to Predestination
- Qadar (Divine Decree/Preordainment) - Muslim site
- "Narrated 'Abdullah bin Mus'ud: Allah's Apostle, the true and truly inspired said, "(The matter of the Creation of) a human being is put together in the womb of the mother in forty days, and then he becomes a clot of thick blood for a similar period, and then a piece of flesh for a similar period. Then Allah sends an angel who is ordered to write four things. He is ordered to write down his (i.e. the new creature's) deeds, his livelihood, his (date of) death, and whether he will be blessed or wretched (in religion). Then the soul is breathed into him. So, a man amongst you may do (good deeds till there is only a cubit between him and Paradise and then what has been written for him decides his behavior and he starts doing (evil) deeds characteristic of the people of the (Hell) Fire. And similarly a man amongst you may do (evil) deeds till there is only a cubit between him and the (Hell) Fire, and then what has been written for him decides his behavior, and he starts doing deeds characteristic of the people of Paradise."" - Sahih Bukhari 4:54:430
- "Narrated Abdullah: Allah's Apostle, the true and truly inspired said, "(as regards your creation), every one of you is collected in the womb of his mother for the first forty days, and then he becomes a clot for an other forty days, and then a piece of flesh for an other forty days. Then Allah sends an angel to write four words: He writes his deeds, time of his death, means of his livelihood, and whether he will be wretched or blessed (in religion). Then the soul is breathed into his body. So a man may do deeds characteristic of the people of the (Hell) Fire, so much so that there is only the distance of a cubit between him and it, and then what has been written (by the angel) surpasses, and so he starts doing deeds characteristic of the people of Paradise and enters Paradise. Similarly, a person may do deeds characteristic of the people of Paradise, so much so that there is only the distance of a cubit between him and it, and then what has been written (by the angel) surpasses, and he starts doing deeds of the people of the (Hell) Fire and enters the (Hell) Fire."" - Sahih Bukhari 4:55:549
- "Narrated 'Abdullah: Allah's Apostle, the truthful and truly-inspired, said, "Each one of you collected in the womb of his mother for forty days, and then turns into a clot for an equal period (of forty days) and turns into a piece of flesh for a similar period (of forty days) and then Allah sends an angel and orders him to write four things, i.e., his provision, his age, and whether he will be of the wretched or the blessed (in the Hereafter). Then the soul is breathed into him. And by Allah, a person among you (or a man) may do deeds of the people of the Fire till there is only a cubit or an arm-breadth distance between him and the Fire, but then that writing (which Allah has ordered the angel to write) precedes, and he does the deeds of the people of Paradise and enters it; and a man may do the deeds of the people of Paradise till there is only a cubit or two between him and Paradise, and then that writing precedes and he does the deeds of the people of the Fire and enters it."" - Sahih Bukhari 8:77:593
- "Narrated 'Abdullah bin Mas'ud: Allah's Apostle the true and truly inspired, narrated to us, "The creation of everyone of you starts with the process of collecting the material for his body within forty days and forty nights in the womb of his mother. Then he becomes a clot of thick blood for a similar period (40 days) and then he becomes like a piece of flesh for a similar period. Then an angel is sent to him (by Allah) and the angel is allowed (ordered) to write four things; his livelihood, his (date of) death, his deeds, and whether he will be a wretched one or a blessed one (in the Hereafter) and then the soul is breathed into him. So one of you may do (good) deeds characteristic of the people of Paradise so much that there is nothing except a cubit between him and Paradise but then what has been written for him decides his behavior and he starts doing (evil) deeds characteristic of the people of Hell (Fire) and (ultimately) enters Hell (Fire); and one of you may do (evil) deeds characteristic of the people of Hell (Fire) so much so that there is nothing except a cubit between him and Hell (Fire), then what has been written for him decides his behavior and he starts doing (good) deeds characteristic of the people of Paradise and ultimately) enters Paradise." (See Hadith No. 430, Vol. 4)" - Sahih Bukhari 9:93:546
- "Abdullah (b. Mas'ud) reported that Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) who is the most truthful (of the human beings) and his being truthful (is a fact) said: Verily your creation is on this wise. The constituents of one of you are collected for forty days in his mother's womb in the form of blood, after which it becomes a clot of blood in another period of forty days. Then it becomes a lump of flesh and forty days later Allah sends His angel to it with instructions concerning four things, so the angel writes down his livelihood, his death, his deeds, his fortune and misfortune. By Him, besides Whom there is no god, that one amongst you acts like the people deserving Paradise until between him and Paradise there remains but the distance of a cubit, when suddenly the writing of destiny overcomes him and he begins to act like the denizens of Hell and thus enters Hell, and another one acts in the way of the denizens of Hell, until there remains between him and Hell a distance of a cubit that the writing of destiny overcomes him and then he begins to act like the people of Paradise and enters Paradise." - Sahih Muslim 33:6390