Free Will by Abdul Quayyum Khan Kundi

Free will is a subject that occupied Muslims philosophers since the early years of Islam. It is an important subject to discuss because development of a dogma introduced a tendency among Muslims to find escape from assuming responsibility for their actions. Every misfortune that befalls a person through his own actions is being labelled as a will of God rather than being analyzed so that similar mistake does not happen again. Off course God is qadir a mutlaq with an absolute authority but in Quran God makes it clear that a man earns misfortune through his own actions. Secondly God granted men intellect and knowledge to make informed decision. Thirdly God sent prophets and books to guide mankind in making the right decisions. It is from this perspective we have to look at the question of free will. As a person of faith I will be approaching this question from that angle most of the time.

To understand the limits of free will we have to look at the story of Prophet Adam (AS). To enjoy his abode in heaven he was required to refrain from tasting the forbidden fruit. That was the only condition and in return he could live and enjoy every bounty available there without working for it. God did not erect any barriers or stationed any guards around the tree to restrict Adam (AS) from tasting the fruit. It was left to Adam (AS) to make a choice between transgressing or refraining from it. In this equation there is another entity Iblis that refused to accept supremacy of Adam (AS) as a creature and swore to be an enemy to misguide. Iblis built curiosity in the mind of Adam (AS) and suggested benefits that could accrue from tasting the forbidden fruit.

As we know Adam (AS) decided to taste the fruit. This situation give rise to two challenges. First would he transgress if Iblis was not there to make suggestion? We don’t know if Adam (AS) would have transgressed in the absence of Iblis but it is immaterial because the similar condition exists for us as well. Second, if God wanted to prevent him from tasting it then it would never happen. The answer to these challenges is important to understand the free will of men. When Adam was introduced to heaven the contract was clearly stated to him to which he consented. When Iblis made suggestions to Adam, he should have rejected it outright without even considering the transgression because the instructions were clear not to taste the forbidden fruit. By accepting the suggestion from Iblis to taste, Adam had already compromised the contract and it was only a mechanical action left to execute it. God could have stopped the act but permitted it because Adam (AS) already decided to act. That is the reality of Free will. It is the intention to act that has been granted to men.

Now comes the next challenge if God could prevent wrong acts from happening then why does He let it happen and why men has to be judged for his actions when his only authority is intention to act. This was one of the main point of contention between Mutazilite (rationalist) and Asharite (orthodox) during the early years. Another complexity arise from prayer. Prayer has a role to play from religious perspective. Quran instructs men in many verses to seek mercy of God in our actions. A person can pray to God to prevent all those actions from becoming reality that are not beneficial. There could be parents or other loved ones praying for their kids to make good deeds.

Another challenge is related to acts that concern only ourselves and acts that have impact on others. When Adam (AS) tasted the forbidden fruit he performed injustice (zulm) to himself. The consequence of it was that he was required to spend a period of time on earth in which his condition was such that he has to struggle to make a living and show that he has repented fully by not committing further transgression. The challenge in that is why any other person should bear consequences of acts of Adam (AS). This brings us to the social condition of men. Since we live in a society our actions have impact on others so we have to use our right of free will keeping in mind that it will have impact on others.

In Hindu and Buddhist philosophies the soul keep returning to earth through reincarnation to achieve the spiritual purity. In that state of purity the free will can only be used to do good deeds. In a way attain the state in which Adam (AS) was in heaven before he committed the original sin.

In atheist belief system there is no life before or after our existence on earth. All our acts expire with death. An atheist arrives at this conclusion because whatever he/she wills happens and there is apparently no divine entity that impedes the actions. But since a person lives in a society a free will of one person could be limiting the free will of another person. To resolve this dilemma a set of laws and rules have to be developed to ensure social justice and prevention of injustices. The moral force to derive these laws are humanism. There is no society in existence where it can be ensured that no apparent or invisible injustice happens between members of a community. Atheists consider this a necessary condition of existence and propose that all injustices expire with death. There are many other social ills that can emanate from this approach but since it is not subject of this piece I leave it to that and let you judge for yourself if this is a working model. China is an atheist society and secular model of democracy is also built on humanism. You can use these examples to make a judgement.

In Quran, Sura Asr is the best representation of free will. It proposes that the dynamics of free will are so complex that it is not possible for any human being to have knowledge and wisdom to be sure their acts will only produce good. He has to seek God’s mercy and guidance to prevent bad from happening in exercise of free will. But in the end he is responsible for all his actions because he has tools available within him to raise an alarm to judge good from bad acts. The awareness of his nakedness after tasting the forbidden fruit was the rise of conscience in Adam (AS) to guide his future acts and was the final piece of his evolution.

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