Predestination and Free Will as Essay

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Therefore, they are compelled to choose what they do in order to instantiate God's foreordainment of history. It wouldn't seem to make sense, therefore, for the person to attempt to change their circumstances or to fight against fate. Affliction, tragedy and evil would be just what God wishes to throw at an individual, who could scarcely escape its occurrence. This seems to suggest a response of futility toward life in which all is merely endured and passes almost robotically. At the same time, one might interpret it as comforting, for it eliminates the human's striving and desire to achieve something before the eyes of God. Or if God allows good to enter a life, this good is not deserved or merited, but is purely random. God's character would appear fickle, if not even unjust, for subjecting people to a predestined fate they cannot hope to change. Perhaps the main problem with this view is that it gives rise to the idea that oppressive actions and conditions are God-created, and thus one's only option is to accept and endure them without any real hope.

Free Will in the Qadarites

The other movement in the early debate on predestination was the Qadarites. Those in this camp were dissatisfied on moral grounds with the Jabrites' position. What incensed them was the thought that denying free will implicated God in evil and impugned His righteous character. Speaking of the Qadarites, Mahmoud says, "At the heart of their philosopho-theological commitment to the notions of free will and human responsibility lay the notion of divine justice."

After all, how could a good, wise, and loving God predestine someone for evil and Hell? How could God initiate unjust action in the world? It didn't make sense to the Qadarites that God could be blamed for the injustice and suffering in the world. They found it intolerable to assess the presence of evil in the world as being a result of God's will. If people suffer, only humans could be blamed for that evil.

Nor did it make sense to them that God could assign someone to Hell who had no free choice. How could God will that humans act against his decrees and then discipline them for it? How could humans be held to account for unjust acts that they didn't willfully commit? It seemed more palatable to the Qadarites to believe that humans must be free and accountable for their actions because they have choice. Only free will creates the condition of accountability. Therefore, humans could be blamed for evil and God could be removed from seeming injustice. God's judgment had to be based on whether humans have chosen wickedness or goodness.

The Qadarites used Qur'anic verses that indicate the possibility of free will to combat the Jabrite position. They stressed texts that emphasize a person's choice to accept or reject God's word (18:29). Another text seemed clearly to state that belief is a human choice and a free possibility: "Then whosoever will, let him believe, and whosoever will, let him disbelieve" (18:29). They pointed to other verses that gave humans the capacity to rebel against their original choice and turn aside to disbelief after once having believed (e.g., 3.86). One text goes so far as to say, "Whatever good happens to you, it is from God; but whatever evil happens to you, it is from your own soul" (4:79). What sense would it make, they wondered, for God to ask an account on Judgment Day (16:39) of one's actions on earth if in fact humans had no option in the matter? In these texts, the Qadarites believed, the burden of responsibility is clearly placed on the individual who has free will to follow the righteous path of God or to renounce it.

With few exceptions, the Qadarites believed that it was impossible to say that God is the agent of human action. God helps humans to choose the right path. Summarizing Bishr b. al-Mu-tamir's view on omnipotence, Mahmoud writes:

He argued that God has infinite grace (lutf) that could, had He willed, turn all people into believers. God, however, is not obliged to grant humans this grace. Moreover, because God's goodness has no limit and as, at every given moment, there is always something better than what is good and more advantageous for humans, God is not obliged to do what is best for them. What God can do is to endow humans with the capability to make choices and to remove any impediments standing in their way by sending His prophets and revealing His messages.

The view here seems to be that God creates action but humans acquire (kasb) those actions of their own will. They are their own creators. Without wishing to negate divine decree, this camp asserted against the Jabrites that humans have the power of choice and are morally accountable.

The Qadarite position can be criticized for allowing too much freedom. How could God be omniscient if the choices humans make are not predestined, and therefore somehow already unalterably established in God's knowledge of the future? What does God's eternal decree mean if humans can alter its plot? This seems to move in a direction away from the Qur'anic evidence that suggests that God has known all things since the beginning. It places too much power in the hands of humans to control destiny and shape final events.

This debate was played out in the context of the repression rule of the Umayyad rulers who used the Jabrite denial of human freedom to gain warrant for their reign and to and commit crimes against their subjects. In this context, Hasan al-Basri wrote a document around 700 CE called Ris-la. In this epistle, he refutes the view that God is the only creator of man's actions and argues for human free will, which implies the possibility to challenge the ruling party.

Walt states that "the Ris-la makes it clear that he believed that human beings can choose freely between good and evil."

Walt presents a view of Hasan al-Basri's that gestures toward the notion that the Qur'an should be considered as a whole, not just proof-texted, and that, taken as a whole, the sacred text shows that "the determination of human activity by God follows on some act of human choice and is a recompense for it."

In other words, God determines what happens, but how a person responds to those events is not determined except by the person. This seems to be the beginning of the fusion of free will and predestination in early Islam.

As one of the first Islamic ascetics, Hasan provides a good transition to later mystics who were likewise challenged by the question of fate vs. freedom. His piety and poverty gave him time to reflect upon and to teach how to live by the precepts of the Qur'an. Apparently he lived in constant fear of facing God for his actions at the Day of Judgment, perpetually sad at his own failings and at the misery of the world he saw around him. He taught renunciation of the world and reliance upon the notion that, if one knew the Prophet's word, one would laugh less and weep more.

Its result in his life was constant pleading for divine assistance with hope, remaining abstinent, devoting himself to active holiness, and repudiating the world, which he thought was perishing and not worthy of care. This could be seen as a result of his advocacy for human choice, for the more freedom one possesses, the more anxiety one has at the chance of going astray. It is easy to see how such a view could sustain a sense of fear. One would perpetually be wondering whether or not they were acting in the will of God and worried about the consequences of their behavior. The freedom to act guarantees judgment in the end and one's eternal destiny hinges on how moral one has succeeded in acting and deciding. There is no sense in this view of eternal security. Hasan was never certain about where God's inscrutable decree was leading him. In his view, actions are motivated primarily by the desire to escape God's wrath through choosing what He deems and has decreed to be the right path, without ever knowing whether the prayers, fasts, vigils, and denials are doing the trick. This put limitations on his viewpoint and created the conditions out of which the mystics strove to produce a form of predestination that cohered more aptly with free will.

Determinism and Free Will in the Mystics

According to Schimmel, the entry point for understanding the Muslim mystic's comprehension of volition and predestination lies in the notion of covenant.

By this she means the promise of mutual love between human and God, which has the potential to take away the bite of determinism and eliminates the mystic's anxiety and fear about the divine judgment. The practices of the mystic are designed to bring the practitioner from an evil…[continue]

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