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Are We Entitled to Our Own Free Will?

15 October, 2016
Q I wish to know , whether or not human beings such as myself are entitled to our own free will or are we just living life that has been set out for us by God but we don't notice it? maybe for every finger we lift that we think is of our own control is already planned to happen? I hear sometimes people saying that anything good comes from God and anything negative that humans does comes purely from themselves. However if you think about it , when we hear all those stories of the disbelievers living in the age of the prophets and whatnot , they have been obliterated by God for their shameful behavior. How are we supposed to learn a lesson and to know better had they not commit these sins? How are we to know any better if the disbelievers before hadn't been punished the way they were? Regarding to the matters of Heaven and Hell , we are told that the sinners who commit sins and do not repent shall be punished in Hell correct? What if a person is born in a Christian family for example , he was raised as a Christian , lived his life like one , and does everything that we know is not permitted by Allah and does not receive an approval from Allah because this man did not recognize Allah as his God , he was brainwashed by the Media to hate Muslims , to belittle the Prophet of the Muslims etc. and along the way he was never being warned by a Muslim to repent and realize his sins and when he dies he ends up where he should be , in Hellfire of Jahannam. Where is his chance to change? This man has done so many negative things in his life , therefore indicating his actions cannot be of God's plans but of his own consequence right? But i thought that every man or woman has their own fate that was laid out for them before birth? the "taqdeer"? I wish to know how people are being justified for their actions in this case , be it for a Muslim individual or not.


Salam Dear Muhammad,

Thank you for your interesting question and for contacting Ask About Islam.

Belief in the divine destiny is one of the main articles of the Islamic creed. When asked by angel Gabriel about faith, the Prophet (peace be upon him) replied:

“…It is to believe in Allah, His angels, His Books, His Messengers and the Last Day, and to believe in al-qadar (the divine decree) both good and bad…”(Muslim)

We, Muslims, believe that whatever happens in this universe has been decreed by God and He has full knowledge of it. Nothing happens without His knowledge. God says:

{We have created all things in due measure.} (Al-Qamar 35:49)

{No misfortune can happen, either in the earth or in yourselves, that was not set down in writing before We brought it into being–that is easy for God.} (Al-Hadid 57:22)

Abdullah ibn Masoud (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) who is the most truthful (of the human beings) and his being truthful (is a fact) said:

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“Verily your creation is wisely done. 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…” (Muslim)

Despite this fact, God has given man a free will by which he chooses the good and leaves out the bad. Based on this free will, man will be held accountable on the Day of Judgment. The things we do in this world are actual things we do out of our free will.

Islam has made reason and non-coercion two main conditions for holding people accountable. Therefore, insane people and people under coercion are not held accountable in Islam.

It is out of God’s mercy that if He takes from man what he granted him, i.e. reason and free will, He does not hold him accountable for his deeds.

On humans’ free will to do things, we read in the Quran what means:

{…when it is God who has created you and all your handiwork?} (As-Saffat 37:96)

{…for those who wish to take the straight path.} (At-Takwir 81:28)

Answering your question on whether we are free or not, we can say that we are free in the sense that God has given us reason, knowledge, and will.

Through these things which God bestowed on us we can choose what is suitable for us and leave out what is not suitable. Based on this free will, we are rewarded for our good deeds and punished for our bad ones. God says:

{We created man from a drop of mingled fluid to put him to the test; We gave him hearing and sight; We guided him to the right path, whether he was grateful or not.} (Al-Insan 76:2-3)

If we say that man does not have free will, it is because nothing of the things we do falls outside what God has decreed for us. God says:

{But you will only wish to do so by the will of God, the Lord of all people.} (At-takwir 81:29)

A simple answer to the issue of whether man has free will or not is that did anyone force you to ask this question? Or when you decide to buy a car, does anyone force you to buy a certain model?  When you marry, does anyone force you to marry a certain woman?

If the answer is NO, then you have a free will, but this free will is subject to the will of Allah, and nothing can take place in the universe that is not decreed by Allah.

With regard to the issue of the previous disbelievers, they had a free will to choose the right path. No one forced them to be disbelievers. They acted in a real sense and they had a control over their actions.

Our belief in the divine destiny should not be an excuse to make mistakes and do bad things.

The question that might arise is that what about things that happen to us or things that we do without choosing them such as sickness, death and accidents? The answer is that they are divine will and we do not have control over them.

With regard to the issue of non-Muslims who do not follow the right path because no one told them about the truth or warned them against the bad consequences of their disbelief, you answered the question yourself when you said they were brainwashed by the media.

The child you are talking about will not remain a child. At a certain point of time he will become mature and can choose for himself. Then it is for him to decide which path he will tread. He can question the different beliefs of Christianity and then he can search for the truth.

It is also the responsibility of Muslims to reach those non-Muslims who do not know about Islam and present Islam to them.

I personally advice you not to ask about the details of the issue of divine will. Think about what gets you closer to God. It suffices that you believe in the qadar whether it is good or bad as indicated by the Prophet in the above mentioned hadith.

You have to believe that God is just and wise. You should know that qadar is God’s plan for his creation. You have to believe in what God has shown you of this plan and accept what He has hidden from you.

I hope this answers your question.

Salam and please keep in touch.

About Dr. Mohsen Haredy
Dr. Mohsen Haredy holds a PhD in Hadith literature from Leiden University, the Netherlands. He is the former Executive Manager and Editor-in-Chief of E-Da`wah Committee in Kuwait, and a contributing writer and counselor of Reading Islam. He graduated from Al-Azhar University and earned his MA in Hadith literature from Leiden University.