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Freewill and Pre-destination
God and Monotheism
Saadia Malik


‘Qada wa Qadar!’ Those were the times of the Umayyad caliphs. Anarchy prevailed. The anarchists were the rulers, their banner being: ‘Our actions are part of God’s decree’. The state-appointed scholars would preach and vindicate claims of predestination in the defence of the caliphate. Following those times, the history of Muslim philosophy began to predominantly overflow with debates over the question of destiny, and the role it plays in the lives of humans.

If one were to generalise the sincere stances transpiring thereafter: the Mutazilite scholars have predominantly been emphasizing the importance of ‘freewill’ and its relevance to our judgement in the Hereafter; the Asharites, on the other hand, propagate that ‘predestination’ alone can define the happenings and workings of this world, a denial of which is tantamount to the denial of God’s attributes.

Hasan Basri’s Point of View

The Mutazilites emerged as a group under Wasil Ibn ‘Ata, a student of Hasan Basri.1 This man was a beautiful product of his times. While the Murjites were accepting the Umayyad rulers in whatever they stood for, keeping in view their highly tolerant view of ‘postponement’ of verdict till the Day of Judgement, Hasan Basri stood up to declare what, in his opinion, was the most convincing truth. As a Qadarite, he propagated ‘freewill’, and invited all Muslims to act, rather than be led astray and abandon the message of Allah, in favour of some contemporary ruler. He is believed to have said once:

Allah outweighs the Caliph, the Caliph cannot outweigh Allah…Do not confuse the civil power established by Allah with His religion, for no obedience is due to a creature who disobeys Allah.2

Basri argued forcefully from the Qur’an. His strong point was that if man was given the Qur’an to follow and to act accordingly, while being given a moral choice, he had to have freewill. If the Qur’an forbade something3, and if someone were to indulge in it, then it would be the factor of freewill that would justify his punishment in the Afterlife. With predestination, on the other hand, in matters of action, the belief of a Just God would be betrayed. In verse 41:40, Allah tells men and women, ‘Do you what you wish,’ which, according to Hasan Basri, is reason enough to believe in freewill. As for those arguing against him, while citing Qur’anic verses such as, ‘He leads astray whoever He wishes’ (13:27), he maintains that people here referred to, are entirely another group, which does not fall within the general purview of mankind. According to him, the verse actually alludes to worsening the state, by Allah, of those who choose to tread the wrong path out of their own freewill; reference to the context enables this understanding.4

Of course, he acknowledges, that in matters not involving human volition, but rather, accidents in the material world, like natural calamities, predestination plays a role, for there quite clearly, Allah ordains it to be, and it is.

Ash‘ari’s Point of View

Ash‘ari, on the other hand, discounted this concept of freewill, while justifying still, the significance of man’s responsibility and his accountability in the Afterlife. As O’Leary puts it, Ash‘ari is of the opinion that:

God creates power in the man and creates also the choice, and He then creates the act corresponding to this power and choice. Thus, the ‘action’ is acquired by the creature.5

 Ash‘ari, earlier a Mutazilite, eventually generated a new school, independent of the role of philosophy in matters of belief. In 300 A.H., he is known to have publicly abandoned his earlier position, thus:

…I used to hold that the Qur’an was created, that the eyes of men shall not see God, and that we ourselves are the authors of our evil deeds; now I have returned to the truth; I renounce these opinions...6

 In his view, therefore, making a person responsible for creating and causing his actions and deeds amounts to calling him a co-creator with the Creator, and such dualism, he says, is unacceptable. He opines that it is God who creates both Qudrah (power) and Ikhtiyar (choice), and man comes in with responsibility when he acquires the choice already delineated (Kasb).7

The Author’s Inclination

Considering all the foregoing arguments, I do not feel inclined to believe that to proclaim having been given a choice to create action amounts to dualism or to any form of Shirk (polytheism). If that were the case, why would God have created us with the capabilities that we have? And since He did, in fact, create us, what would be our purpose as functional human beings if we were to act like programmed robots? The reality of being able to do something negates the very notion of immaculate predestination. To ‘acquire’ is a possibility, but plausible only so long as such acquiring is subject to a choice presented.

If creation falls within the purview of dualism, why not acquiring? In reality, it is the act of acquiring which gives ‘actual existence to an action’ – something more tangible and palpable. The Qur’an illustrates the mistakes committed by some of the prophets. Were they not the best of believers? Were they not supposed to set examples for both their immediate followers and for all mankind? And yet they erred though definitely out of their sincerity with Truth and Goodness. Had an absolute programming of the Lord been in full action, all the Prophets would have acted in a perfectly stainless manner. Reality, however, is that making it through this life is but a test – for Prophets and ordinary human beings, alike.

The Holy Qur’an has declared this life to be a test (67:2). If we were to take the choice element out of this test, this life would be nothing but a puppet show played by the Lord. One must also keep in mind that all human beings, in the eyes of Allah, are equal – the only ‘hierarchy’ can be with respect to Taqwa (piety). Individuals who feared Allah as He deserves to be feared, were granted prophethood; and not vice versa. God did not make them fear in the previous phases of their lives, although it can be said without any doubt that He knew all that had happened in their lives, all that was happening and all that would happen.

All these arguments point me in the direction of accepting Hasan Basri’s opinion on the matter. Furthermore, what makes an even deeper impact in his case is his presentation. To argue on the basis that the Qur’an is the most acceptable form of argument and his interpretation of verses sound most convincing. 





1. Caesar E. Farah, Islam, (New York: Barron’s Educational Series, Inc., 1994), p. 203.

2. David Waines, Introduction to Islam, (Cambridge: University Press, 1996), p. 112.

3. See the Qur’an  (6:151).

4. David Waines, Introduction to Islam, (Cambridge: University Press, 1996), p. 113.

5. De Lacy O’Leary, Islamic Thought and Its Place in History, (New Delhi: Goodword Books, 2001), p. 215.

6. Ibn Khallikan, ii. 228

7. Mohammad Hashim Kamali, Causality and Divine Action: The Islamic Perspective at Accessed September 29, 2003.

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