Are Our Actions based on Free Will or Are They Predestined?
Do we, as humans, operate freely, or does God predetermine our actions and fate, and we are merely carrying them out?
Muslims have adopted a number of views. Shia Muslims believe, that humans do not exclusively have free will or are predetermined, but the real answer lies somewhere in the middle. They believe that while God knows what people will do in their lives, his knowledge of this, does not affect or decide the decisions we take, especially as he is not restricted within time or space, and he is the essence of justice. They believe that there are many factors in life, like our parents, the colour we are, our ethnicity, gender etc. These factors are ones that have already been determined, however, the choices we make are all ours to take.
This is clarified in the following verse in Surat al-Ra’ad: God does not change the conditions of the people, unless they change what is in themselves. [Quran 13:11]
Imam Ja’afar al-Sadiq (as) is narrated to have said: “It is not TOTAL Free Will, nor is it TOTAL Fatalism; rather, it is a matter between [those] two matters.”
This shows that while Allah has the power to, he does not change anything, unless the people decide it themselves that change needs to take place.
The act of change thus, comes from the human, which shows that individuals must use their free will to decide upon which path they want to go.
Many modern Sunni scholars move to believe in something similar. These scholars believe that God knows all of the actions that will be taken by a human, and has written in them in the lawh al-Mahfoodh, the preserved tablet, using verse 22 of Surat al-Hadid:
“No calamity befalls on the earth or in yourselves but is inscribed in a decree (al-lawh al-mahfoodh), before We bring it into existence. Verily, that is easy for Allah.” [Quran 57:22]
However they argue, his knowledge of this does not determine the actions of the human, as Allah is not limited to time and space.
While the Quran does speak about God’s knowledge encompassing all of fate, it would be against God’s justice to destine someone to hell if the person does not have free will to decide their actions. In verse 14 of Surat al Hadid, Allah explains how the blame of any action falls on the human, as he or she is allowed to select the path in which they go”
“They will cry out to them: Were we not with you? They shall say: “Yes! but “you caused yourselves to fall into temptation, and you waited and doubted, and vain desires deceived you till the threatened punishment of Allah came, while the arch-deceiver deceived you about Allah.”
This is also mentioned in verse 23 in Surat al-Anfal:
“And if Allah had known any good in them He would have made them hear, and if He makes them hear they would turn back while they withdraw”.
Thus, Quranic scholars say that God’s characteristic as being all-knowing and all-just can only be explained by saying that Allah knows what will take place, but his knowledge does not affect the decisions, as we must take the decisions to do good and evil ourselves.
If an individual chooses the path of evil and falsehood, he or she will be punished, those however, who choose a path of goodness, and truth, on the day of judgement Allah would place them in Heaven with his prophets, messengers and the righteous, through his divine justice and mercy.