Does God choose to guide people or do we have free will?
One of the most disconcerting concepts in Quran is the concept of predetermination (jabr). According to Islam, believing in Allah is the sole purpose of a human’s life in this world.
“I did not create Jinn and Men except that they may worship me” [Qur’an 51:56].
Also in a Hadith, generally cited by the Sufis, Allah says, “I was a hidden treasure and wished to be known, so I created the people to know me and to worship me”.
Upon this recognition depends our chance to enter the paradise. Failing to recognize Allah would bring eternal damnation and the hellfire. This is very important to Allah. He does not like to be ignored and has no mercy on those who do so. This belief is not exclusive to Islam. The Bible also presents a vengeful and a jealous God.
The problem is that being able to pass this test of faith and to gain admittance to paradise is not in our hand. It is again Allah who chooses those whom he pleases to guide and lead astray those whom he wants.
In one verse, the Qur’an affirms that if Allah so willed, he could certainly have brought every soul its true guidance. But that won’t happen as he makes it clear that he does not want to guide everyone and vows to “fill the Hell with Jinns and men all together.”
” If We had so willed, We could certainly have brought every soul its true guidance: but the Word from Me will come true, “I will fill Hell with Jinns and men all together.”(Q.32.13)
The first question that comes to mind is “why”? Why should a loving God not guide his own children (or as Muslims put it “slaves”)? Why should he leave them to themselves and then come upon them with such a wrath filling the Hell with those whom he purposefully did not guide? This defies logic.
In response Muslims say that we have free will to accept God or reject him. But this is not what the above verse is saying. As this verse clearly explains, if Allah wanted to guide people, he certainly could have done it. Yet, he decided not to guide some and then fill the Hell with all those who he did not guide. This verse tells that human beings have no control over being guided at all. It all depends on God’s pleasure or whim.
Some verses in the Qur’an indicate that even if one wants to be guided, he cannot, because Allah has sealed his heart.
”….Such are men whose hearts Allah has sealed.” (Q.47.16)
This is reminiscent of the bargaining of Moses with Pharaoh for the release of the Israelites. Each time Pharaoh conceded and let Moses take away the Jews, God intervened and “made his heart stubborn” then he kept sending a new calamity to the poor people of Egypt who had nothing to do with Pharaohs decisions, until Pharaoh accepted the departure of the Jews, but again God made his heart stubborn and sent upon the wretched innocent people, another calamity.
In another verse Allah curses his creatures and instead of giving them insight makes them blind and deaf.
”Such are the men whom Allah has cursed for He has made them deaf and blinded their sight.” (Q47.23)
This behavior is not befitting of the creator of this universe. Even if these people whom Allah chose to mislead, did something wrong why he, instead of opening their hearts should seal them? Why he made them deaf and blind, instead of giving them sight and hearing and then punish them? Is this justice? What would you say of a king that cuts the feet of his subjects and orders them to run and then burns them for not running. Wouldn’t you say such a king is a psychopath? Would the almighty God act like a psychopath?
The riddle becomes more confusing when in the next verse the responsibility is shifted on the people themselves who “lock” their own hearts!
“Do they not then earnestly seek to understand the Qur’an, or are their hearts locked up by them?” (Q.47.24)
Is it God that seals the hearts of the people or they do it themselves? Obviously these two statements don’t add up.
Sometimes the Qur’an contradicts itself in the same verse.
“This is an admonition: whosoever will, let him take a path to his Lord. But ye will not, except as Allah wills … He will admit to his mercy whom He wills. But the wrongdoers – for them has he prepared a grievous penalty.” (Q.76:29-31)
The first part of this verse gives the idea that people have free will to choose between taking the path or not. Then immediately that is contradicted and it says that Allah “will admit to his mercy whom HE wills.” Either we choose to be guided or Allah chooses. Only one of these statements can be true.
The next question is how can Allah punish people with a “grievous penalty” if He has chosen not to guide them?
If the choice of being guided is made by us, then the verse 32:13, 47:16 and 47:23 are wrong. But if they are right and indeed it is Allah who chooses to guide anyone that he pleases, then there is a tremendous injustice in the way Allah deals with his servants. If being guided or not entirely depends on Allah’s will, then what is our fault? He assigned to us our destiny and he cannot punish us for what he has willed for us. This is clearly unjust, which belies another claim of the Qur’an that says Allah is a just god.
”… And Allah means no injustice to any of His creatures.” (Q.3.108)
Why a god who is able to guide people chooses to lead them astray, and then fill the Hell with those whom he himself has misled?
Muslims criticize the Christians for the irrationality of their belief in trinity. However with some degree of imagination, one can make sense of this Christian dogma. Yet with no stretch of imagination one can make any sense of this puzzle.
Allah’s Split Personality
The confusion does not end there. The following verses assert that Allah misleads people by making their deeds pleasing to them.
As to those who believe not in the Hereafter, We have made their deeds pleasing in their eyes; and so they wander about in distraction. [27:4]
“Nay! to those who believe not, their pretence seems pleasing, but they are kept back (thereby) from the path. And those whom Allah leaves to stray, no one can guide.” [13:33]”
Yet, in other places it is Satan that makes their sinful act seem alluring to them.
“..On the contrary their hearts became hardened, and SATAN made their (sinful) acts seem alluring to them. [6:43]
Remember SATAN made their (sinful) acts seem alluring to them, and said [8:48]
By Allah, We (also) sent (Our messengers) to Peoples before thee; but Satan made, (to the wicked), their own acts seem alluring: He is also their patron today. [16:63]
So isn’t it logical to deduce that Satan is a partner of Allah, helping him in his daily work of misguiding people? Or perhaps Allah has a split personality that sometimes reveal itself as Satan! .
Explaining the Unexplainable
This confusion whether it is Allah that seals the hearts of the people or they themselves do it has fueled heated debates between Muslims throughout the centuries. It caused schisms and a lot of bloodshed.
On one hand the bulk of the Muslims adhered to the concept of predetermination (jabr=compulsion). The more radical of these “jabrians” were the Asharian who denied all free agency in man. Arguing:
“Nothing can happen in the world, whether it respects the conditions and operation of things, or good or evil, or obedience and disobedience, or faith and infidelity … that is not contained in the written tablet of the decree of Allah.” (“Dictionary of Islam” by T.P. Hughes, pages 472-473).
On the other hand the Qadrias and the Mutazilites advocated the free will of man and therefore were rejected as heretics. They argued that man has absolute freedom of will and is responsible for his own actions. If not so rewards and punishments for virtuous acts and sins have no meaning. They quoted the verse (42:30) that says;
“And whatever affliction befalls on you, it is on account of what your hands have wrought.” (42:30)
In fact there are many verses that give an impression that men are responsible for their actions.
“Because Allah will never change the grace which He hath bestowed on a people until they change what is in their (own) souls” (8.53)
“ Allah does not change a people’s lot unless they change what is in their hearts. But when (once) Allah willeth a people’s punishment, there can be no turning it back, nor will they find, besides Him, any to protect.” (13.11)
Those who strive in His path, are guided in the right path, while those who persist in denial and sinful living have their hearts sealed against faith (ii. 7, 26; iv. 155; v;.i. 102).
Allah does not compel belief and leaves the people free to believe or disbelieve (6: 35, 150; xvi-. 9).
Whoever has done an atom’s weight of good shall meet with its reward and whoever has done an atom’s weight of evil shall meet with its consequences (99: 7-8).
Thus, each person could find something in Qur’an that corroborated his preference in this baffling dilemma of Islamic concept of predetermination (jabr) and free will (Ikhtyar)
Most modern Muslims tend to side with the free will of man but their opinion is drastically in contrast with many verses of Qur’an that alarmingly maintain that Allah’s decisions are completely arbitrary.
“Allah blots out and establishes what He pleases.” (3:39).
“Allah has power over all things.” (3:159).
Many are the verses that confirm the idea of a despotic Allah who would not adhere to any norm of conduct and therefore his actions are whimsical and unpredictable.
“If Allah had willed he would have made you one nation. But he leads astray whom he will and guides whom he will. But you shall certainly be called to account for all your actions.” (16:93).
Here again, Allah is in charge. He is the one who guides whom he wills. What is unclear is how people could be accountable for their actions if it is Allah who has chosen not to guide them. This is like a play director assign good and bad roles to some actors and then punish and reward them for their roles.
The same concept is conveyed in the following verse.
“It is equal to them, whether you warn them or not, they will not believe. Allah has put the seal upon their hearts.” (2:6-7)
The above verse renders futile the whole idea of prophethood. If Allah has put the seal upon the people’s hearts and warning or not warning them makes no difference, then what is the point of sending messengers? It simply does not make sense that a wise God seal the hearts of the people and send messengers to guide them knowing that they will not be guided thanks to his little operation on their hearts.
“Whomsoever Allah guides, he is rightly guided, and whom he leads astray, they are the losers! We have created for Gehenna many jinns and men …” (7:178-179)
Here again it is Allah who guides or leads astray people. But this verse goes even further. It gives the impression that Allah has deliberately created some jinns and some men and purposefully leads them astray in order to use them as fuel in his Gehenna (Hell). Just to make sure that we have not misunderstood the concept, let us study other verses.
“Do ye desire to guide him whom Allah led astray? Whom Allah leads away, you will find no way for him.” (4:88).
“If Allah willed he would have made mankind one nation, but they continue in their differences, excepting those on whom your Lord has mercy. To that end, he created them and perfectly is fulfilled the word of your Lord: ‘I shall assuredly fill Gehenna with jinns and men altogether.'” (11:118-119).
“Allah leads astray whomsoever he will and guides whomsoever he will.” (14:4).
“For Allah leaves to stray whom He wills, and guides whom He wills. So let not thy soul go out in (vainly) sighing after them: for Allah knows well all that they do!” (35:8)
“… Thus doth Allah leave to stray whom He pleaseth, and guide whom He pleaseth:. (74:31)
“With Allah is the argument that reaches home: if it had been His will, He could indeed have guided you all.” (Sura 6:149).
Predestination in Hadith
There are many hadiths that ratify the concept of predestination.
Sahih Muslim Book 32, Number 6392:
Narrated Hudhayfah ibn Usayd:
Allah’s Apostle (peace_be_upon_him) said: When the drop of (semen) remains in the womb for forty or fifty (days) or forty nights, the angel comes and says: My Lord, will he be good or evil? And both these things would be written. Then the angel says: My Lord, would he be male or female? And both these things are written. And his deeds and actions, his death, his livelihood; these are also recorded. Then his document of destiny is rolled and there is no addition to and subtraction from it.”
If every aspect of the life of an individual in predestined to such detail as it is given in the above hadith, it is unclear where is the free will of man and why he should be punished for doing something wrong that was predestined for him even before he was born?
However, the above hadith contains some more errors that are scientifically wrong. The gender of the fetus in not determined forty or fifty days after conception. It is determined at conception itself. Some sperms carry an X chromosome and some a Y. The sex of the child depends on which one hits the egg. Now, parents can choose the gender of their child with the help of a doctor quite easily by selecting the sperms that carry the right chromosome. So people can change what Muhammad thought is predestined and unchangeable. This is another strong argument that many Islamic dogmas, are baseless.
In another hadith we learn that Allah has created the Hell and the paradise and their denizens already.
Sahih Muslim Book 32, Number 6435:
Narrated Aisha: A child died and I said: There is happiness for this child who is a bird from amongst the birds of Paradise. Thereupon Allah’s Apostle (peace be upon him) said: Don’t you know that Allah created the Paradise and He created the Hell and He created the dwellers for this (Paradise) and the denizens for this (Hell)?
This hadith conveys the idea that the child won’t go to paradise automatically because he was a child and had not committed sins. Whether he goes to paradise or not depends whether he was created to be a dweller of paradise or the denizen of hell. The concept of predestination as explained by Islam embodies an injustice that did not escape even the prophet’s contemporaries.
Sahih Muslim Book 32, Number 6406:
Narrated Imran ibn Husayn: AbulAswad reported that Imran asked me: What is your view what the people do today in the world, and strive for, is it something decreed for them or preordained for them or will their fate in the Hereafter be determined by the fact that their Prophets brought them teaching which they did not act upon? I said: Of course, it is something, which is predetermined for them and preordained for them.
He (further) said: Then, would it not be an injustice (to punish them)? I felt greatly disturbed about that, and said: Everything is created by Allah and lies in His Power. He will not be questioned as to what He does, but they will be questioned. Thereupon he said to me: May Allah have mercy upon you, I only meant to ask you in order to test your intelligence.”
This kind of reaction is typical of the Muslims when they are asked questions that they cannot answer. If someone asked a question concerning an absurd tenet of Islam that Muslims cannot respond to, the only answer he would get is frown, in the best case and punishment by death in the worse case.
The idea of God controlling the mind of his subjects, inspiring in them sin or piety and then punishing or rewarding them for what they had no control is clearly unjust. But when the questioner speaks out his mind he is scolded and has to change his attitude least he be branded as heretic an suffer the consequences.
“Two men of the tribe of Muzaynah came to Allah’s Apostle (PBUH) and said: Allah’s Apostle, what is your opinion? That which the people do in the world and strive for, is something decreed for them, something preordained for them? And will their fate in the Hereafter be determined by the fact that their Prophets brought them teachings which they did not act upon and thus they deserve of punishment?
Thereupon, he said: Of course, it happens as it is decreed by Destiny and preordained for them, and this view is confirmed by this verse of the Book of Allah, the Exalted and Glorious: “Consider the soul and Him Who made it perfect, then breathed into it its sin and its piety.” (91:8). (ibid)
The verse 91:8 that is referred to in this hadith states that it is Allah who inspires in people sin (fojur) and piety (taqva), which is in conformity with another verse in the Qur’an that clearly states all good things and bad things are from Allah.
“… Wherever ye are, death will find you out, even if ye are in towers built up strong and high!” If some good befalls them, they say, “This is from Allah”; but if evil, they say, “This is from thee” (O Prophet). Say: “All things are from Allah.” But what hath come to these people, that they fail to understand a single fact? (4.78)
Sahih Muslim Book 32, Number 6407:
Narrated AbuHurayrah: Allah’s Apostle (PBUH) said: Verily, a person performs deeds for a long time like the deeds of the people of Paradise. Then his deeds are terminated like the deeds of the people of Hell and, verily, a person performs deeds like the denizens of Fire for a long time, then this deed of his is ultimately followed by the deeds of the people of Paradise.
Muslims argue that since Allah is the owner of this universe, he can do whatever he wills with it without having to respond to anyone, just as a farmer is entitled to do whatever he wishes with his gardens. A gardener is free to prune any tree, to transplant it and even to cut it and burn it. Since he is the owner of his property his decisions are law. Despite this, unless he is completely crazy, the gardener’s actions are predictable. No gardener would chop and burn the trees that produce good fruits, nurture trees that bring forth bitter fruits, or destroy his garden without any reason. He is free to do whatever he wishes but if he is not out of his mine he would follow the norms of logic and therefore his actions are predictable.
Of course, God can do whatever he pleases. However he will not act crazy. He cannot be unjust or stupid. He can but he won’t. You and I can do a lot of things that no one would ever find out, like steal or lie or even kill someone we don’t know for no reason and get away with it. However if we are not psychopaths we will not do such things. By the same token, even if God can be unjust he will not be because he is not a psychopath God. The fact that he can do anything he pleases and there is not law above him to keep him accountable is no excuse for him to act his this insane way. Shouldn’t God be reasonable in his deeds? Shouldn’t his actions make sense? Why should a just God throw into hell a person who has committed no crime and reward one who has done no good? This goes against any sense of justice, as we know it.
Why did Muhammad depict his Allah in this way? It is because Allah was Muhammad’s own alter ego. Allah was everything the narcissist Muhammad wanted to be. Narcissists want to be loved, feared, respected, and be free to do as they please and respond to no authority. Muhammad lived his wet dream though his sockpuppet Allah.
Book 32, Number 6416:
Narrated Abdullah ibn Amr ibn al-‘As: I heard Allah’s Apostle (PBUH) as saying: Allah ordained the measures (of quality) of the creation fifty thousand years before He created the heavens and the earth, as His Throne was upon water.
Modern Muslim apologists reason that the idea that Allah has a foreknowledge of everything that He created and the fact that the events unfold exactly according to what he predicted, does not imply that human beings have been completely deprived of the freedom of action. The foreknowledge of God is an acknowledged fact, but it should not be interpreted in the sense of predestination, for if we do so we shall have to conceive of eternity as a storehouse of ready-made events, from which they drop one by one like particles of sand in a glass hour. If we take the foreknowledge to be a reflecting mirror we shall have to deprive the Creator and the Controller of the Universe of His Creative activity.” This view contradicts the Qur’an and many hadiths that unequivocally affirm that destiny is predetermined and it cannot be changed.
The Quran also teaches that potentialities are pre-fixed too. For example if a person is born with a physical defect, that is what God has preordained for him and nothing can change it. Nevertheless, with the advancement of the medicine, many physical defects can be overcome. Some physical deficiencies can be rectified even when a child is still unborn. Should we conclude that man is changing what God had determined as the destiny and recorded in his book as unchangeable?
Book 32, Number 6420:
Narrated AbuHurayrah: The polytheists of the Quraysh came to have an argument with Allah’s Apostle (PBUH) in regard to Destiny and then this verse was revealed: “On the day when they are dragged into the Fire upon their faces; taste the touch of Fire. Surely, We have created everything according to a measure”
According to Muhammad even accidents are the works of God. If a person makes a mistake, say for example passes through the traffic light, which causes an accident; we think that he is responsible. But the prophet of God used to think it is the work of God.
Book 32, Number 6441:
Narrated AbuHurayrah: … and if anything (in the form of trouble) comes to you, don’t say: If I had not done that, it would not have happened so and so, but say: Allah did that what He had ordained to do and your “if” opens the (gate for the Satan.
Men are, therefore, completely subordinate to the overruling power of God, they cannot do anything unless God wills so.
The idea of predetermination is clearly expressed in a story told in the Qur’an. (18: 60-82) It is a story of Moses meeting Khidhr, a man wiser than himself. Moses accompanies Khidhr for enlightenment and is puzzled when Khidhr, among few other bizarre things, slays an innocent boy. When he enquires, Khidhr explains that the lad would have grown up to become an obstinate and a rebellious person, hence becoming a disappointment to his pious parents. So he killed the boy to spare his parents from future anguish of having a disbelieving son.
So the boy was punished for a crime that he had not yet committed. This story eliminates any chance that the boy could have chosen to become a pious person. Which raises the question, if his destiny was predetermined and the only way to save his parents from the torments of his future misdemeanor was to kill him before he grow up, why Allah made him in the first place? And why he does not kill all the people whom he knows would commit sin sometime in the future? Wouldn’t it be nicer if God killed all the baby’s that he knows would be disbelievers (the biggest crime) when they grow up as soon as they are born? Then the question remains, why he makes them in the first place? Why he destines for them this sin when they are still a 40 day fetus? The following hadith is in confirmation of the above verse
Book 32, Number 6434:
Narrated Ubayy ibn Ka’b: Allah’s Apostle (peace_be_upon_him) said: The young man whom Khadir killed was a non-believer by his very nature and had he survived he would have involved his parents in defiance and unbelief.
From all this, we can either conclude that God is a psychopath lunatic or that Muhammad was a liar and had no understanding of God. Which one makes more sense to you?