What does Islam say about free will and determinism/predestination?


What does Islam say about free will and determinism/predestination? Is there a contradiction?


Shi’a theologians following the teachings of Ahlul-Bayt (a.s) reject both the dogma of absolute determinism as well as absolute free will. They believe in a matter in between. That means man has a free will in the matter of his actions although his free will is by divine decree. Because God is the ultimate and independent cause of all causes it is correct to relate all that exists to God (monotheism in acts). Similarly, because God has granted man free will in his actions, it is also correct to relate the actions of man to his own choice. For instance, God states in the Quran that He is Sustainer of all that is in the earth (11:6) and at the same time holds man responsible for the sustanence of his family (2:233).

Imam Sadiq (a.s) said: “Whatever that you could blame man for it, is his action and whatever you could not blame him for it, is the act of God. God blames man for drinking alcohol, committing adultery etc. Thus, these are the acts of man. However, God does not blame man why he is sick or why his skin colour is black or fair. Thus, these are the acts of God.” [Beharul-Anwaar vol.5 p.58].

The Imam was also asked about the meaning of ‘a matter in between’. His reply was: “The example of it is, if you see a man committing a sin and you advise him to refrain from it, yet he does not pay any heed to your advice. Surely, just because he didn’t listen to you, it cannot be said that you forced him to sin.” [Ibid, p.83]

Imam Hadi (a.s) quoting from Imam Sadiq (a.s) said: “People with regards to ‘destiny’ are of three categories: The first is the one who assumes that Allah has given full authority to him. This (person) has weakened God in His kingdom, thus, he is perished. The second is the one who assumes that God has forced people to sin and He has held them responsible over things that they have no power over. This (person) is unfair to God in His judgment, thus he is perished. The third is the one who assumes God has held people responsible for what they do and does not hold them responsible for what they have no power over. Then when he does something good, he praises God and when he does something evil, he seeks God’s forgiveness. This (person) is a mature Muslim.”

A Muslim should also believe that the decree of God on the matters that are beyond one’s choice, is always eventually beneficial for a believer. The Prophet of Islam (P) once so smiled that his blessed molar teeth were shown. The Messenger of God was asked for his smile. He replied: “I wonder about the affairs of a Muslim that there is no divine decree about him but eventually it will be to his benefit.”

Answered by: Sheikh Mansour Leghaei