Do humans have free will or are their actions predetermined?

"In Islam the Faithful believe in Divine justice and are convinced that the solution of the great problem of predestination and free will is to be found in the compromise that God knows what man is going to do, but that man is free to do it or not."

– Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh Āgā Khān III, (Islam: The Religion of My Ancestors, extract from The Memoirs of Aga Khan: World Enough and Time)

"Free will versus predestination was an important theological debate, with political implications, in Muslim society dating back to Omayyad times. The Ismailis adopted an intermediate position in these debate and eventually accommodated the relevant issues within their theological doctrines. At one extreme, a variety of Islamic movements and schools of thought espoused the predestinarian view, initially designated as Jabriya, holding that man's deeds as well as good and evil resulted from God's decrees and pre-ordination. At the other extreme, there were those, originally designated as Qadariya by their opponents, who recognised the freedom of human will and the individual's moral responsibility for his deeds. Both the Jabriya and the Qadariya based their arguments on verses from the Koran that supported their views, By early 'Abbasid times, the Mo'tazilites took over the Qadarite belief in human free will and argued that man can establish the truths of religion on the basis of reason, without any need of divine guidance. In other words they held that God in the Islamic revelation had shown the believers the "right path" for attaining salvation and reward in paradise, and had then left it to man to determine rationally what was good or evil. Thus, man's ultimate destiny as a rational and free agent depended on himself. However the majority of Sunni traditionalists, representing the mainstream of Muslim thought, eventually rejected Qadarism and adopted a form of predestinarianism as propounded by Ash'arism."

– Farhad Daftary and M. Faquir Hunzai, "Free Will in Ismaili Shi'ism," Encyclopædia Iranica, online edition, 2000, (accessed on 8 April 2024).

"The Imami position itself, representing an intermediate position between constraint (jabr) and empowerment (qadar), is attested to by a Hadith reported from Imam Jaʿfar-al-Ṣādeq (d. 148/765). Concerning human free will versus predestination, the Imam had said “lā jabr wa lā tafwīż [qadar] wa lāken amr bayn amrayn” (see Kolaynī, I, pp. 159-60)."

– Farhad Daftary and M. Faquir Hunzai, "Free Will in Ismaili Shi'ism," Encyclopædia Iranica, online edition, 2000, (accessed on 8 April 2024).

"All the major Ismaili authors of the Fatimid period held that man's destiny is not predestined as, in a sense, he is responsible for choosing between good and evil. However, they also refuted the Qadarite position by believing that man by himself is not capable of making the right choices rationally for moving along the spiritual ladder of salvation towards knowing God and his own origins in the universe because he lacks the required knowledge. In every age or dawr (q.v.), therefore, man is in need of the guidance of a divinely-appointed and protected hierarchy of authoritative teachers - the prophet and after him the rightful Imam of the time. In its classical statement, Ismaili theology, thus, remained essentially revelational rather than rational, despite its promotion of a personal quest for knowledge and the importance attached to philosophical inquiry by many learned Ismaili theologians."

– Farhad Daftary and M. Faquir Hunzai, "Free Will in Ismaili Shi'ism," Encyclopædia Iranica, online edition, 2000, (accessed on 8 April 2024).

Nasir Khusraw has addressed in detail the age old dilemma of free will and predestination in his Gushāyish wa-rahāyish (Knowledge and Liberation). In this work Khusraw cites an example where Imam Ja'far al-Sadiq was asked this very question on whether man's actions are predetermined (if so, then how can man be punished for them?) or if man has free will — allowing him to prevail over the will of God. Imam Ja'far responded about man's position as follows: 'It is between two positions in which he is neither determined nor free.' Nasir Khusraw went on to provide the fascinating ta'wil of the Imam's words:

"[188] The sayings of the Imams have ta'wil, just as the Speech of God and [the sayings of His] Messenger have ta'wil, because they are the witnesses of God over the people. Thus, it must be known that the [inner] meaning of this saying [of the Imam Ja'far al-Sadiq] is that the position of mankind is between that of an animal and an angel, because in man there is the carnal soul as well as the rational soul; the former belongs to the animal and the latter to the angel. In the case of an actual angel, it cannot willfully disobey, [and in the case of an animal] it cannot [willfully] obey, because both of them are determined [by God] in their dispositions. Consequently, the angel is not rewarded for obedience and the animal is not punished for disobedience, whereas man, whose status is [intermediate] between these two positions, is [both] rewarded for obedience and punished for disobedience.

[189] God has given mankind the perceptive intellect which can distinguish [he ugly from the fair, and He has also endowed it with [a sense of] modesty and shame (sharm) which does not allow humans to act as animals do. It must be known that man is not free as animals are because his nature is endowed with modesty and shame. Then God sent His Messenger to the peo- ple with [guidance and] the promise to reward them for their obedience and to punish them for their disobedience. Now, since man's position is between animality and angelicity, [we say that] with respect to his rational soul, man is determined because it urges him to do only the good and to obey [God], and the wise person cannot do other than this; however, with respect to his carnal soul, man is free because it is not constrained by [obedience and] disobedience, [good and] evil, [right and wrong], or reward [and punishment]. Peace."

– Nasir Khusraw, Knowledge and Liberation (tr. Faquir M. Hunzai), 113-114

Ultimately, the problem is related to God's relationship with time. If God is above time and the temporal process, then from His point of view, everything is predetermined since He knows the courses of all events and all the different possible scenarios (i.e. outcomes A/B/C/D resulting from choices A/B/C/D). In fact, from God's point of view  that is, in the Universal Intellect, all possible choices and outcomes are already actualized in the Intellect.

However, from the point of view of the creature who dwells within time, only certain choices and resulting outcomes will be actualized in the life of that creature. Furthermore, the creature  based on its capacities  only gets to actualize from a limited or fixed set of possibilities (reflecting a partial predetermination), but, it is still the real agent making a real choice (reflecting a partial free will).

Absolute Free Will and Absolute Predestination are rejected because only God is Absolute and these two positions are, in essence, one and the same  since the Absolute is One and only One.

Man's free will is limited and only truly free insofar as it is in harmony with God's Will – which is absolutely free.

 "If God is the infinite and unconditioned source of all things, then His creative intention — whether He creates only one world, or many, or infinitely many — can be understood as an Eternal Act that involves no temporal change within Him…And His timeless donation of being to creatures need not be conceived as involving a mechanistic determinism but can be thought of as the creation of a contingent reality containing truly free secondary causes (creation from nothingness, after all, is not a kind of causation like any of which we are capable)…God’s knowledge of something created is not something separate from His Eternal Act of creating that thing; so He is not modified by that knowledge in the way that we are necessarily modified when we encounter things outside ourselves." 

– David Bentley Hart, (The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss, 136)

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