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Are We Entirely Free?

12 January, 2023
Q Salaam, I have been a proud Muslim all 16 years of my life here, and I do research about many religions and the miracles I see in Islam are really wonderful. An atheist once proposed a question about ‘free will’ in Islam. He told me that if I were to be stuck somewhere with one person with no food or water, eventually I'd kill that person and eat him. Is that true? I've heard it from a few people and would that be free will when your mind kind of, takes over like this? Thank you very much for taking my question and may God's blessings be upon you!


Salam Dear Karim,

Thank you very much for your question and for contacting Ask About Islam.

Whether humans have free will or not is one of the most debated questions in philosophy and religion. The problem can be stated thus: If God is in full control, humans cannot have freedom, as everything is pre-determined by God. So either God is not in full control, or humans have no freedom of will and action.

God’s Ambassador

From the Quranic point of view, Man is the khalifah (vicegerent) of God on earth and everything here has been created for him. This means that Allah has given Man certain abilities to act here as His ambassador. These gifts of Man will be useless unless he has freedom, so God has given him freedom too. Yet, it is within limits, as human abilities too are limited.

It is clearly stated in the Quran that life on earth is a testing ground for Man. And we know that any test requires that the tested should have the freedom to act on their own initiative. Otherwise, there is no meaning in such tests.

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As the chief faculty of Man is his reason, he can use it to good purpose. He can study the world around him as well as assess his own potential and scope of action. On that basis, Man strives to achieve the objectives and goals he visualizes.

Allah (swt) says in Surah 99, verses 7-8:

{Whoever has done an atom’s weight of good shall get its reward and whoever has done an atom’s weight of evil shall meet with its consequences.}

Also in Surah 53, verse 39:

{Man shall have nothing but what he strives for.}

Freedom & Divine Guidance

Everything is accounted for, and nothing is wasted in God’s scheme of things. Allah (swt) in His infinite mercy has given Man guidance too. This is to help him use his freedom and faculties to his own benefit and live a meaningful life here.

Allah wants Man to use the freedom He has given in accordance with His guidance. This means that the scope and potential of Man’s freedom is within the framework of God’s jurisdiction and control. For this reason, we may say that Man is not a master of his fate; nor is he a mere cog in the wheel of destiny.

God says in Surah 13, verse 11:

{Allah will never change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves.}

So ‘taqdir’ used in the Quran does not signify that Man is deprived of free will. It stands for the latent possibilities Allah has invested in the nature of things. It also signifies God’s grand design of creation as well as His foreknowledge; but it does not imply that human beings have been completely deprived of freedom of will or action.

For this reason, Man’s freedom of will – if he ignores divine guidance – can lead him to do wrong things, as suggested by your atheist friend. That exactly is the reason why we need divine guidance; to keep ourselves upright and steady in times of extreme trials.

Thus, from the Islamic point of view, it is our willful choice of those actions from our inherent possibilities, that are in harmony with God’s will that earns us our reward from Him. Our efforts should always be to see that our choices and actions are in agreement with God’s guidance.

Thank you again for your question and please keep in touch.


(From Ask About Islam archive)

About Professor Shahul Hameed
Professor Shahul Hameed is an Islamic consultant. He also held the position of the President of the Kerala Islamic Mission, Calicut, India. He is the author of three books on Islam published in the Malayalam language. His books are on comparative religion, the status of women, and science and human values.