Islamic Views on Freedom and Determinism

Islamic Views on Freedom and Determinism

In the past decades, the problem of freedom and determinism has been a fundamental discussion by the philosophers and the theologians. Predestination has been in collision with freedom or simply, the social spirit vis-à-vis the individual spirit (Narain, 2014). Ideally, if Islam was to dismiss the social spirit as purely a hypostatized concept and believe in absolute freedom (individual spirit), there will be possibly no place for the social determinism. Shi’a theologians dispute both the dogma of absolute determinism as well as unconditional free will based on Ahlul-Bayt‘s teachings (Narain, 2014). This gives rise to the belief in the issue of both freedom and determinism. This implies that any man’s freedom is governed by a divine decree.


 Islam recognizes freedom as a natural right to all human beings. Ideally, life turns out to be devoid of value in the absence of freedom (Bhat, 2014). Freedom in Islam is much elevated such that it has come to be termed as the best way of recognizing the existence of God. God states that there is no coercion in religion and that guidance is apparent from error. This verse dismisses the application of compulsion in religion since religious beliefs are the most valuable possessions of a human being. This implies that humans are independent of their possessions and should not be subjected to other people’s wills (Bhat, 2014). An individual has free choice and will. Human beings are rational beings rewarded with the special quality of freedom.  With this, one should act independently without intrusion from other people as they are not owned by anyone or by any social group.
According to The Quran: 2: 256, religious beliefs are related to the heart and soul thus one should not be compelled or imposed to adhere to them (Fazli, 2012). Perfectly, a conviction can never be achieved through coercion. A belief can hardly be subjected to a rule so that it could be expressed legally. It is based on reason, and as long as there is a reason backing it up, it will remain. If the rationale behind it is changed, it will also be altered. In simpler terms, if the justification for it is proved erroneous, the belief fades away (Fazli, 2012).
Islam teaches that after creation, God gave some commandments. He said that He would reward those who adhere to them and punish those who break them (Aftab, 2015). If religion was to advocate determinism, it would simply be contradicting itself by stating that God rewards the obedient and punishes the disobedient. If the course of manhood is predestined, the commandments will be devoid of worth since man has no freedom of choice and cannot change his course of life (Aftab, 2015). When one is predestined to a certain fate, there is no choice for other options. Basically, humans will be preprogrammed just like machines; lacking ability by themselves to change their fate.
`           Essentially, the whole concept of religion is destroyed without freedom (Druart, 2010). If the justice of freedom is denied, divine revelations will be rendered worthless. It would be useless to send out prophets to teach the humankind. If a person is predestined to be an atheist, he or she can definitely not change and a prophet engaging him will be worthless for it will not change his or her belief (Druart, 2010). An individual predetermined to be antisocial or a criminal will not transform into a good citizen whatsoever. This will, therefore, make the religious teachings unnecessary. Human freedom is defined by the conception of religion majorly through beliefs.


Philosophy and religion are the major conflicting ideas in the great debate of freedom and determinism. Philosophy is chiefly inclined to freedom and religion is in support of determinism. Ibn Rushd was a firm subscriber and defender of the philosophy of Aristotle which opposed the Ash’ari theologians headed by Al-Ghazali(Iqbal, 2013). Although Ibn Rushd was a legal scholar of the Islamic law, his thoughts were converse. His philosophical views were controversial in the Ash’arite Muslim circles (Iqbal, 2013). While Ghazali argued that all human acts of natural phenomenon happened merely because of the will of God, Ibn Rushd argued that phenomenon followed the natural laws created by God.
Supremely, the core objective of the Islamic religion is not to train individuals on systemic philosophy but rather to institute a substantial relationship with God and establish communities deep-rooted in God’s consciousness (Kamali, 2014). Basically, determinism implies a strict sense such that all the events of the natural world including the human decisions are inevitable simply because there are no substitutes for the events. Determinism in simple terms means that all the occurrences are fully determined by the will of God.
Determinism, often referred to as jabr in Islam does not necessarily imply the sense of coercion (Kamali, 2014). For Islam, human choices are similar to other natural phenomenon and a similar language ought to be used to refer to all of them. We barely say that the rains are forced by God to fall. Similarly, we should not say that God forces our decisions. He only acts as a facilitator. Even though the Quran Uses Jabbar to refer to God, it should not be expanded to make definite conclusions.The Islamic Neoplatonism, deep-rooted in the ideas of Plato, advanced by Aristotle and Plotinus, stressed the ideology of the Quranic God, transcendence and ignored the creative. The Neoplatonists argue that all the events emanate from divinity. Al –Kindi often known as the father of Islamic philosophy, partially subscribed to the Neoplatonic ideology. This doctrine however reached intellectual maturation after the developments made by Ibn Sina and al-Farabi(Adedeji & Rufai, 2013). Their thoughts views were better developed by Ibn al-‘Arabi and al-Suhrawardi. Although both al-Ghazali and Ibn Rushd were opposed to Neoplatonism, Rushd attacked Ghazali due to his unsurpassed opposition to the philosophers (ZAKARIA, 2015).
As much as we embrace freedom in our daily basis, it is also necessary to be cognizant of the fact that there are some conditions that cannot be caused by human will. For instance, man has no control over conditions of sicknesses and death (Koovackal, 2010). These are some of the areas which indicate the ultimate absence of human freedom. They do not come by choice but are rather obvious.
It will take forever for the Islam community to solve the controversies surrounding freedom and predestination if they do not integrate both into their systems. The two are intertwined and when combined will obviously lead to harmonious living. The revolutionary Muslim analysts argue that the Quran should only be used for holistic purposes but not religious conquests. Extracting specific verses and using them in interpretation contexts is not allowed whatsoever. These acts are contrary to the religion as they make it seem as if in conflict within itself. The Quran holistically endorses human freedom in decision-making, and all human beings are held responsible for their actions. In my opinion pre-destination in Islam implies that Allah has a prior knowledge of human actions. However, the deictic knowledge does not in any way force human beings into specific actions. Precisely, predestination should guide our freedom in such a way that we realize the outcomes of both deviation and conformity.

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