DO WE HAVE FREEDOM OF CHOICE OR IS EVERYTHING WE DO PREDETERMINED IN OUR FATE?
Has God pre-determined the fate of people? Is all the good or bad happening to us in life pre-written for us in our fate? Belief in predestination is advocated in many faiths, and some people even claim that it is a central belief of Islam. Critics often raise the query upon reading certain phrases in the Qur’an, claiming that according to them, belief in fate and destiny is furthered. E.g. The expression “Then GOD leaves to go astray whom He wills and guides whom He wills” occurs in numerous locations, and by just taking this portion people reach the conclusion that God’s will is acting arbitrary on people, and He has decided beforehand who will attain salvation and who will have eternal damnation.
So rigid is this belief, that many (specially in the East) wholeheartedly surrender to the notion, and any outcome, or result is attributed to Divine will. When driving a car, if met by an accident, people proclaim that what could they do, it was God’s will that their car got smashed! Was God behind the driving seat, they do not mention. People even get into the habit of remaining in misery and ignominy, because they feel that its all a part of the Divine plan and no matter what they do they cannot change their circumstances, hence give up the struggle to change. Their own actions and efforts are meaningless; because only that will happen that God has willed, say the faithful.
That people do not have any free will of their own and rather, everything that they do is not a result of their own intention and choice but was divinely ordained for them in their ‘fate’ or ‘destiny’. Such beliefs on predestination are found in almost all faiths, e.g. Karma in Buddhism, Kismet in Hinduism, Qadar in Sufism, and more. By this belief, people think that no matter what they do, they can not change their ‘destiny’, and should instead accept their circumstances as they are.
However, what is the Muslim position regarding this matter? Let us see what does the Quran say whether we have the free will to choose our line of action or is everything we do pre-planned for us?
THE FREEDOM TO DO AS WE WILL
The following verses inform us clearly:
18:29 “And say: The truth is from your Lord, so let whoever desires believe, and whoever desires reject…”
Above verse clearly states that, to accept or reject the truth rests on a persons free will.
76:3 We have guided him to the path, either to be thankful or to reject.
73:19 This is a reminder, so let he who wishes take a path to his Lord.
25:57 Say: “I do not ask you for any wage; but for whoever chooses to make a path to his Lord.”
The above verses clearly establish that human beings do have the free will to choose either way, or any path of action according to his own discretion. God further informs;
29:69 As for those who strive in Our cause, We will guide them to Our paths. For God is with the pious.
Had our fate already been decided or sealed, God would have never mentioned that man is to strive in His cause, as it would have been meaningless to strive and struggle for something, which has already been decided. Hence by informing that to strive in His cause we would be guided to His ways it is confirmed that it is our struggle and action that will lead us to the path and pleasure of God and not what has been pre destined for us in our ‘fate’. We are further reminded:
39:7 If you reject, then know that God is in no need of you, and He is displeased with rejection for His servants. And if you are thankful, He is pleased with it for you. And none shall carry the burdens of another. Then to your Lord is your return, and He will inform you of everything you had done. He is fully aware of what is in the chests.
If our fate was already decided, God would have never said; “…and He is displeased with rejection for His servants..” As it would not be fitting to say that a certain action is not pleased by God when it is God himself who has written that action for man in that persons fate !
Again we are reminded that to take guidance of God rests upon a persons free will and choice, and he is not under any compulsion, but it is entirely up to him whether he chooses God’s guidance or not. God informs us through His messenger:
80:11 No, this is but a reminder.
80:12 For whoever wills to remember.
Finally God in clear terms informs us that you have the freedom to act according to your choice, but your actions are under the supervision of God’s laws of requital.
41:40 “…Do whatever you wish; He is Seer of what you do.”
God gives you the freedom to work as you will. The above verses are proof that you have the freedom of choice when it comes to selecting the path of God and you are not under any pre ordained compulsion or any state of helplessness that what ever you are doing is not because of your will but was already decided in your ‘fate’. You very much have the freedom to chose the path you wish and use your free will in chalking out a line of action for yourself.
WE ARE FREE TO ACT, BUT OUR ACTIONS PRODUCE RESULTS
Every action you do produces a result. An action consistent with the laws of God produces a good result and working against those laws produces a negative result.
You have been given the free will to chose as you wish, but it is not in your hands to change the results of the actions you did , i.e. you have the freedom to eat very dangerous toxic substance or poison, and as a result you can die. You did that act of your own free will, but it is not in the scope of your will to change the result of that action, i.e. it is not possible that you consume poison and as a result get very good health, instead of dying or harming your physical condition. Whatever law God has framed for that poisonous substance, you will get the results of that law. The type of act you do, that type of result you will get;
53:31 And to God belongs everything in the heavens and everything on the earth. He will requite those who commit evil for their works, and will reward the righteous for their righteousness.
ALL ACTIONS ARE REWARDED OR PUNISHED ACCORDING TO THEIR NATURE
45.22 And God created the heavens and the earth with truth and that every soul may be rewarded for what it has earned and they shall not be wronged.
If you do an act consistent or in consistent with the laws of God, you will get its result on your self. You cannot transfer the results of your wrong doings to anyone else. You have to pay for what you did. You have to carry your own weight Some other person can not be held accountable for what you did.
45:15 Whoever works good does so for himself, and whoever works evil will suffer it. Then to your Lord you will be returned.
The type of results you get is not because God had already decided your fate and you had no say in it and were helpless. The results you get depend on the actions and deeds you do.
27:90 And whoever comes with the bad deed, their faces will be cast in Hell. Are you not being rewarded for what you used to do?
37:38 You will taste the greatest of retribution.
37:39 And you are only recompensed for what you have done.
If your actions and deeds where not consistent to the laws and commandments of God, you will get the results for those deeds as God has ordained:
52:13 The Day they will be called into Hell, forcibly:
52:14 “This is the Fire which you used to deny!”
52:15 “Is this magic, or do you not see?”
52:16 “Enter it, whether you are patient or impatient, it will be the same for you. You are only being requited for what you used to do.”
If your actions were consistent and in accordance with God’s laws you will get their results likewise;
52:17 The righteous are in gardens and bliss.
52:18 Delighted by what their Lord has granted them; and their Lord has spared them the retribution of Hell.
52:19 Eat and drink happily because of what you used to do.
Each and every action will be recompensed and rewarded. Whether it is done by a man or a woman:
3:195 “Their Lord answered them: “I do not waste the work of any worker from among you, whether male or female, you are all as each other…”
You will most certainly be held accountable for the type of actions you chose to do, and the blame is definitely not on God.
And those who deny Our revelations and the meeting of the Hereafter, their works have collapsed. Will they not be recompensed except for what they used to do?
7:148 And the people of Moses, in his absence, made from their ornaments a sculpture of a calf that emitted a cry. Did they not see that it could not speak to them, nor guide them to any way? They took it and they were wicked.
If you chose to behave in the manner described in the above verse, then you will be turned away from the signs of God according to the law of God which is expressed as His will. You are to blame yourself for this as you chose to behave in this manner by your free will. It is you yourself who is responsible for the negative results you get for your actions and God is not to be blamed. He reminds in clear terms;
10:44 God does not wrong the people in the least, but it is the people who wrong themselves.
The following verses are more specific in informing that in case you do an act inconsistent with God’s law because of that you will be held accountable, and it is not God who is to blame:
16:33 Are they waiting for the angels to come for them, or a command from your Lord? It was exactly the same as what those before them did. God did not wrong them, but it was their own souls that they wronged.
16:34 Thus is was, that the evil of their work has afflicted them, and they will be surrounded by that which they used to mock.
You are yourself responsible for your actions, and in case you do wrong then the blame is on you, not on God, as the verse reminds;
41:46 Whoever does good works does so for his own soul, and whoever works evil shall have the same. Your Lord does not wrong the servants.
GOD’S WILL IS NOT ARBITRARY BUT ACCORDING TO PRECISE LAWS
God has expressed His will as His laws. His laws are ordained and in action in the physical universe, i.e. in the phenomena of nature as well as in the form of His guidance for Mankind contained in Al-Quran, which governs human affairs, and which also is unchangeable and permanent. Now the will of God is expressed in the Quran, but God has given us the free will to either accept those laws and derive the benefit from them in this world as well as the next life. Or go against those laws and suffer the consequences again in this world as well as the next. On one hand the Quran gives us the description and results of following the commandments of God, while on the other it also describes what would be the consequences of going against them. Both ways, if we select the path of God, or reject it, the results have been defined. Remember, the will of God is manifested by His permanent laws in the physical universe as well as human affairs.
It is the law of God which is permanent and fixed, not the fate of mankind. If man follows the commands of God he will get the results as ordained in law, if he goes against them he will again get the results as in God’s law. Man has been given the free will to select either way. Follow the commandments or go against them. In both ways the results will be produced accordingly, and those results cannot be changed. Now I’ll give examples of this from general science as well as Quranic verses
God has ordained the law for fire that if we put our hand in it, our hand will get burned. The burning properties of fire are ordained as a law by God. It isn’t possible that we put our hand in fire and get the result as if we had placed it in a cool place. Our burned hand will not get healed unless we treat it with medicine, and apply another law of God in the form of healing properties of the medicine. Putting our hand in the fire was an act which we committed by ourselves. It was our job to know and be aware that fire can burn, and in case we didn’t, then it is our own fault, and not the consequences of our fate.
Coming to the portion of the verse which is causing confusion:
14:4 “… But God misguides whom He wills, and He guides whom He wills. And He is the Noble, the Wise.”
Now who are the people who are astray and what are their characteristics, this is abundantly clarified in the Quran at many places. Some verses that define those who are astray according to the law (will) of God are given below. Do note, if you have the qualities as mentioned in those verses then you are also astray according to God’s laws.
THE TYPE OF BEHAVIOUR IN PEOPLE THAT MAKES THEM GO ASTRAY?
(1) Those who are Disobedient (fasiqoon):
2:26 God does not shy away from putting forth the example of a mosquito, or anything above it. As for those who believe, they know that it is the truth from their Lord. As for the rejecters, they say: “What does God intend with this example?” He strays many by it, and He guides many by it; but He only strays by it the wicked.
(2) Those who take shayateen (satans) as friends and protectors:
7:30 A group He has guided and a group have deserved misguidance; that is because they have taken the devils as allies besides God; and they think they are guided!
22:4 It was decreed for him that any who follow him, he will mislead him, and guide him to the retribution of Fire.
(3) Those who disobey God and His messenger:
33:36 “… And anyone who disobeys God and His messenger, he has gone far astray.”
(4) Those who are oppressors/unjust (zalimun):
14:27 God makes firm those who believe with firm sayings in the worldly life, and in the Hereafter. And God misguides the oppressors/unjust, and God does what He wishes.
(5) Those who do not use their faculties of reasoning and listening to analyze the message of God:
25:44 Or do you think that most of them hear or comprehend? They are just like livestock. No, they are worse off.
(6) Those who follow the opinions of their noble ones and greatly admired men instead of the message of God
33:67 And they will say: “Our Lord, we have obeyed our noble and our greatly admired men, but they misled us from the path.”
(7) Those who are blind and heedless to the message of God:
17:72 And whoever is blind in this, then he will be blind in the Hereafter and more astray from the path.
(8) Those who follow the opinions of the people who are in a majority:
6:116 And if you obey most of those on the earth they will lead you away from the path of God; that is because they follow conjecture, and that is because they only guess.
(9) Those who follow their desires:
6:56 Say: “I am prohibited from serving those you call upon other than God” Say: “I will not follow your desires, otherwise I would go astray and I would not be of those guided.”
The above verses describe who are those people who are led astray. Anyone who has above mentioned qualities manifested in him (or her) is astray according to the law of God. Compare above with what Quran says about who are the people who will get God’s guidance? See these verses 39:18 , 13:27 , 6:125 etc.
Above verses are clear in establishing that man has the freedom of choice to select right or wrong in his life. He will be rewarded according to the type of actions he does. God is not to be blamed for his wrong doings but he is to blame himself. People are led astray not because God wants them to go astray but by choosing those qualities for themselves which God has termed to be of those who are astray from his path. Their free selection of those qualities e.g. transgression, disobedience, following desires, not using reasoning and intellect in ascertaining the truth etc is what is making them astray and not God.
It will be apparent from engaging into a deep study of the Quran and by cross referencing its verses that it does not require belief in fatalism nor in predestination, but only in pre-measurement; that is to say the fixity of the laws and the intelligence to follow them. Human beings have the free will to follow whatever course of action that they have decided to choose for themselves, however the results of their actions will be in accordance with the laws that have been measured for such actions. If they suffer, then it is because of their own choices, and they should not put the blame for their misgivings on God.