Reconciling the Divine Decree and Free Will in Islam
Published: July 31, 2017 • Updated: February 14, 2023
Author: Justin Parrott
بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمٰنِ الرَّحِيْمِ
In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.
The Nature of Divine Providence
This is truly a glorious Qurʾan [written] on a Preserved Tablet.
Are you [Prophet] not aware that God knows all that is in the heavens and earth? All this is written in a Record; this is easy for God.
Verily, Allah Almighty created His creation in darkness and He cast over them His light. Whoever is touched by that light is guided, and whoever misses it is astray. Thus, I say the pens have been dried upon the knowledge of Allah.
It is He who has control over the heavens and earth and has no offspring—no one shares control with Him—and Who created all things and made them to an exact measure.
The creation of each one of you is in his mother’s womb for forty days or nights, then as a clot for a similar period, then as a piece of flesh for a similar period, then the angel is sent to it to announce four decrees. He writes his provision, his life span, his deeds, and whether he is blessed or damned. Then, he breathes the soul into it. Verily, one of you acts with the deeds of the people of Paradise until he is not but an arm’s length away from it, yet the decree overtakes him, he acts with the deeds of the people of Hellfire and thus enters Hellfire. And one of you acts with the deeds of the people of Hellfire until he is not but an arm’s length away from it, yet the decree overtakes him, he acts with the deeds of the people of Paradise and thus enters it.
Be mindful of Allah and He will protect you. Be mindful of Allah and you will find Him before you. If you ask, ask from Allah. If you seek help, seek help from Allah. Know that if the nations gather together to benefit you, they will not benefit you unless Allah has decreed it for you. And if the nations gather together to harm you, they will not harm you unless Allah has decreed it for you. The pens have been lifted and the pages have dried.
The researchers among Ahl al-Sunnah say that ‘will’ in the book of Allah is two types: a will that is preordained, universal, and creative, and a will that is religious, commanding, and legislating. Thus, the legislative will includes what Allah loves and is pleased with, and the universal will is what is willed, including all things that occur.
The origin of the error is from equating between the will of desire and the will of enacting, and between love and pleasure. Thus, the Jabarites and the Qadarites equate them both, then they disagree. The Jabarites said all of existence is by decree and measure, so it is loved and pleasing to Allah. The Qadarites said sinful disobedience is not beloved and pleasing to Allah, so it cannot be ordained and decreed by him; it is outside of His will and creation. Yet the distinction between what is willed and what is loved has been made in the Book, the Sunnah, and sound instinct.
There is a time decreed for everything. God erases or confirms whatever He wills, and the source of Scripture is with Him.
Everyone in heaven and earth entreats Him; every day He attends to some task.
Among His affairs are forgiving sins, relieving hardship, raising a people, and debasing others.
What proceeds from the knowledge of Allah does not change and is not replaced. That which is allowed to change and be replaced is what appears to people of the deeds of the doer… Thus it falls under wiping away and affirming, such as the increase and decrease in lifespan. As for the knowledge of Allah, it is not wiped away or affirmed, as all knowledge is with Allah.
Human Will, Action, and Responsibility
Each soul is responsible for its own actions; no soul will bear the burden of another. You will all return to your Lord in the end, and He will tell you the truth about your differences.
This is a message for all people; for those who wish to take the straight path. But you will only wish to do so by the will of God, the Lord of all people.
This is a reminder. Let whoever wishes, take the way to his Lord. But you will only wish to do so if God wills—God is all knowing, all wise.
Among what was agreed upon by the predecessors of this nation and its leaders regarding their faith in the divine decree and providence, is that Allah created all things, that what He wills comes to be and what He does not will cannot come to be, that Allah misguides whomever He wills and guides whomever he wills, and that the servants have will and ability, acting upon their ability and their will according to what Allah has enabled for them. Indeed, the servants do not will unless Allah wills.
Good works protect from evil fates. Charity in secret extinguishes the wrath of the Lord, maintaining family ties increases lifespan, and every good deed is charity. The people of good in the world are the people of good in the Hereafter, and the people of evil in the world are the people of evil in the Hereafter. And the first to enter Paradise are the people of good.
Verily, good deeds bring brightness upon the face, a light in the heart, an expanse of provision, strength in the body, and love in the hearts of the creation. And evil deeds bring blackness upon the face, darkness in the grave and in the heart, weakness in the body, a restriction of provision, and hatred in the hearts of the creation.
Whoever is pleased to have his provision expanded and his lifespan extended, then let him keep good relations with his family.
Whoever fears his Lord and maintains family ties, his life will be prolonged, his wealth will be enriched, and his family will love him.
Nothing repels the divine decree but supplication, and nothing increases lifespan but righteousness.
There is no Muslim on the earth who calls upon Allah in supplication but that Allah will grant it to him or divert some evil away from him, so long as he does not ask for something sinful or to cut off family ties.
O Allah, guide me among those You have guided, secure me among those You have secured, protect me among those You have protected, bless me in what You have given me, and save me from the evil You have decreed. Verily, You alone decree and none can issue decree over You. Verily, he cannot be humiliated whoever is protected by You. Blessed are You, our Lord, the Almighty.
The Prophet ﷺ would seek refuge in Allah from the evil of the divine decree, from falling into misery, from his enemies rejoicing at his misfortune, and from a difficult trial.
O Allah, if You have written me among the blessed, then affirm it therein. And if You have written me among the sinful and the damned, then wipe it away and affirm me among the blessed. Verily, You wipe away and affirm whatever You will, and with You is the Mother of the Book.
O Allah, if You have written me among the damned, then wipe it away from me and affirm me among the blessed.
O Allah, if You have written us among the damned, then wipe it away and record us among the blessed. And if You have written us among the blessed, then affirm it for us. Verily, You wipe away or affirm whatever You will, and with You is the Mother of the Book.
Would that another had said so, O Abu Ubaidah! Yes, we are fleeing from the decree of Allah to the decree of Allah. Do you not see that if you had camels descending in a valley with two fields, one of them fertile and the other barren, you would graze in the fertile field by the decree of Allah or you would graze in the barren field by the decree of Allah?
If he does so, then it was from the decree of Allah, and avoiding what harms him has been commanded. Allah ordains its occurrence while he flees from it. If he did it or left it, it would be from the decree of Allah. Hence, there are two perspectives: the perspective of reliance upon Allah and the perspective of holding to causes.
If you were to rely upon Allah with reliance due to Him, then He would provide for you just as he provides for the birds. They go out in the morning with empty stomachs and return full.
Let not one of you refrain from working for his provision, supplicating to Allah to provide while he knows that the sky does not rain gold and silver.
Do not say of anything, ‘I will do that tomorrow,’ without adding, ‘God willing.’
The servant has two states of being in relation to what is decreed: a state before the decree and a state after the decree. It is a duty upon him before the decree to seek refuge in Allah, to depend upon Him, and to call upon Him. If the result of the decree is not from his actions, then he must be patient over it and satisfied with it. If it was the result of his actions and it is a blessing, he praises Allah for that. If it was the result of sin, then he seeks forgiveness from Him for that.
If something befalls you, then do not say, ‘If only I had done something else.’ Rather say, ‘Allah has decreed what he wills.’ Verily, the phrase ‘if only’ opens the way for the work of Satan.
None will enter Paradise but that he will be shown the place he would have occupied in Hellfire if he had done evil, so that he may be more thankful. None will enter Hellfire but that he will be shown the place he would have occupied in Paradise if he had done good, so that it may cause him sorrow.
The Mystery of Divine Providence
The principle of providence is the secret of Allah Almighty in His creation that has not been given to an angel near Him, nor to a prophet or messenger. Exaggeration (al-ta’ammuq) and debate regarding it leads to failure, progressive denial, and a degree of transgression. Take every precaution against that kind of debate, thinking, and insinuation.
With this I have commanded you? With this I was sent to you? Verily, the people before you were destroyed when they argued over this matter. I am determined for you not to argue over it.
The way of knowledge in this topic (of providence) is to suspend judgment (al-tawqif) at the Book and the Sunnah without resorting to pure analogy or reason. Whoever turns away from stopping (at the texts) will be misled and will stray into a sea of confusion. He will not achieve what heals the mind, nor what satisfies the heart, for providence is a secret among the secrets of Allah Almighty.
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