Free Will and Fatalism


This article deals with the perplexing issues of Free Will and Fatalism. Both viewpoints, the Sunnis's and Shia's, will be presented, as the purpose is to be as fair and objective as possible. This is a VERY sensitive subject, and needs a lot of attention.

I will NOT cover every detail such that I am not qualified, nor do I have all the resources. Nonetheless, I will cover as much as is necessary for you to understand your responsibility before Allah (SWT).

Now, to get to the topic at hand, I will start with what the Sunnis believe, and then state what the Shia believe. This peace is taken from Dr. al-Tijani's second book "Ma'ah al- Sadeeqeen -- With the Truthful Ones (1989)", pp 133-148. I have quoted him where appropriate, and added my own remarks elsewhere. Please refer to those pages for consultation, as well as the books of history, hadith, and philosophy.


Dr. al-Tijani starts out by expressing his own experience with the concepts of Free Will (Qadariyyah) and Fatalism (Jabriyah). He was always baffled, as I was, by what the Sunni scholars preach in sermons and by what their books state about EVERYTHING being the Will of Allah (SWT): Drinking wine is the Will of Allah (SWT), sleeping, killing, evil, adultery, marriage, knowledge, health, accidental death, and even whether you end up in hell or heaven was judged before you were born! How can that be? How can Allah (SWT) state in the Quran:

"Allah is never unjust in the least degree: If there is any good (done), he doubleth it, and giveth from His Own Self a great reward. [4:40]"

Then Allah (SWT) states:

"Whoever works righteousness benefits his own soul; whoever works evil, it is against his own soul: Nor is thy Lord ever unjust (in the least) to His servants. [41:46]"

Again, among many other places, Allah (SWT) asserts:

"Verily Allah will NOT deal unjustly with man in aught: It is man that wrongs his own soul (and other souls). [10:44]"

How can these verses be reconciled with what the Sunnis preach? It is either that Allah (SWT) is right, and the scholars are wrong, or vice versa? Of course, for the believer, the answer to that question is quite obvious. However, the Quran also states:

"But ye will not, except as Allah wills; for Allah is full of Knowledge and Wisdom. [76:30]"

And Allah (SWT) states:

"...For Allah leaves to stray whom He wills, and guides whom He wills...[35:8]"

What kind of contradiction is this? Exalted be Allah (SWT) from contradicting Himself. It is this kind of mental torture and struggle that I went through every day: On the one hand, Allah (SWT) asserts His (SWT) Justice, yet on the other He (SWT) asserts His (SWT) Will to do as He (SWT) pleases because He (SWT) is the Creator (SWT).

Note that I agree with Dr. al-Tijani regarding this mental struggle, and I have seen how it is destroying the fabric of our society, especially the youth.

Dr. al-Tijani continues: I was not alone in this struggle, and that's why many scholars and sheiks when asked about Qada Wa Qadr (Destiny), they simply brush off the subject and say that it is not for us to decide this matter.

Then the scholars state that the Prophet (PBUH&HF) said that we must believe in Qada Wa Qadr whether it is good or bad. Now, if an inquiring mind asked those scholars how can Allah (SWT) force someone to commit adultery, for example, and then condemn him to hell, they would claim that the questioner is a disbeliever that has abandoned his religion!

It is this kind of avoidance of the crucial issues in one's existence and religion that has fostered intellectual decay in the Ummah of Muhammad (PBUH&HF).

The Sunnis and The Question Of Destiny

Dr. al-Tijani narrates a brief encounter with a Sunni scholar that asserts that EVERYTHING is the will of Allah (SWT). So Dr. al-Tijani countered his argument with the following: First, marriage is NOT the Will of Allah (SWT) because Allah (SWT) says:

".....Marry women of YOUR CHOICE.....[4:3]"

Second, divorce is NOT "written -- i.e., not the Will of Allah (SWT)" either:

"A divorce is only permissible twice; after that, the parties should either hold together on equitable terms, or separate with kindness....[2:229]"

That is, the parties are AT LIBERTY to separate or maintain a relationship; they are NOT forced or coerced. Third, adultery is NOT the Will of Allah (SWT) either:

"Nor come nigh to adultery: For it is an indecent (deed) and an evil way. [17:32]"

You are AT LIBERTY to commit or refrain from adultery. Fourth, drinking alcohol is also NOT the Will of Allah (SWT):

"Satan's plan is (but) to excite enmity and hatred between you, with intoxicants and gambling, and hinder you from the remembrance of Allah, and from prayer: Will ye not then abstain? [5:91]"

You are AT LIBERTY to abstain. Fifth, as for killing a human being, it is also NOT the Will of Allah (SWT), for Allah (SWT) says:

"If a man kills a believer INTENTIONALLY, his recompense is Hell, to abide therein (for ever); and the wrath and curse of Allah are upon him, and a dreadful chastisement is prepared for him. [4:93]"

Again, Allah (SWT) says:

"....TAKE NOT LIFE, which Allah hath made sacred, except by way of justice and law: Thus doth He command you, that ye may learn wisdom. [6:151]"

Your freedom in these matters is most apparent. Sixth, as for eating and drinking, they are also NOT the Will of Allah (SWT), for Allah (SWT) said:

" and drink, but waste not by excess, for Allah loveth not the wasters. [7:31]"

You are AT LIBERTY to eat or not to eat, to drink or not to drink, and to waste or not to waste. Dr. al-Tijani said to the scholar: "How, then, can you claim that EVERYTHING is the Will of Allah (SWT), when the Quran is clear about that matter?"

The scholar answered that Allah (SWT) does whatever He (SWT) pleases, as the Quran states:

"Say: O Allah! Lord of Power (and Rule), thou givest Power to whom thou pleasest, and thou strippest off power from whom thou pleasest: Thou enduest with honour whom thou pleasest, and thou bringest low whom thou pleasest: In Thy hand is all Good. Verily, over all things thou hast power. [3:26]"

Dr. al-Tijani answered: "We are not quarreling about whether Allah (SWT) CAN do whatever He (SWT) wishes or not; we are debating whether or not Allah (SWT) FORCES people to do things, and then punishes them for it?"

The scholar answered: "You have your religion, and I have mine!" and the discussion was over.

Two days later, Dr. al-Tijani returned and said: "So if your belief is that Allah (SWT) executes EVERYTHING, and His (SWT) servants have NO choice whatsoever in the matter, why, then, don't you apply the same reasoning to the matter of the Caliphate; and [surrender to the point] that Allah (SWT) chooses whomever He (SWT) wishes?" The point that Dr. al- Tijani is trying to drive across concerns the belief by the Shia that al-Imam Ali (AS) was chosen by Allah (SWT) to be the successor to the Prophet (PBUH&HF).

The scholar said: "YES! I do believe that; because Allah (SWT) has chosen Abu Bakr, then `Umar, then `Uthman, and then Ali (AS)."

Dr. al-Tijani said: "Now you have fallen in the trap of your own logic!"

The scholar said: "How so?"

Dr. al-Tijani said: "Either you say [and believe] that Allah (SWT) has chosen the first four Caliphs, and then left the matter for the people to decide upon. Or you say [and believe] that Allah (SWT) has not left the matter of the Caliphate for the people to decide upon; and it is He (SWT) Who chooses ALL the successors [of the Prophet (PBUH&HF)] from the day of his (PBUH&HF) death till the Day of Judgment?"

The scholar answered by quoting the Quran:

"Say: O Allah! Lord of Power (and Rule), thou givest Power to whom thou pleasest, and thou strippest off power from whom thou pleasest: Thou enduest with honour whom thou pleasest, and thou bringest low whom thou pleasest: In Thy hand is all Good. Verily, over all things thou hast power. [3:26]"

Dr. al-Tijani contended: "So you believe that EVERY King or Leader, whether now or in the past, who has fought against Islam has been appointed by Allah (SWT)?"

He (the scholar) said: "Yes! No doubt about it!"

Dr. al-Tijani said: "Subhan Allah (SWT) -- Vindicated from ALL Impurities/Imperfections Be Allah! How, then, do you defend the Sunnis in their contention that the Prophet (PBUH&HF) died and left the matter for THE PEOPLE TO DECIDE?"

The scholar said: "Yes, I do believe that, and I will continue to believe it (forever), In Sha' Allah (SWT) -- Allah Willing!"

Dr. al-Tijani said: "How do reconcile Allah's (SWT) Will with that of the people?"

The scholar said: "Since the Muslims chose Abu Bakr, that means that Allah (SWT) has chosen him!"

Dr. al-Tijani said: "How did the Muslims know that Allah (SWT) wanted Abu Bakr?"

The scholar said: "Because if Allah (SWT) wanted anybody else, neither the Muslims nor the scholars would be able to prevent what Allah (SWT) wanted!"

At this stage, Dr. al-Tijani realized the futility of conversing with such men; and that if we abide by what these people say, we will never be able to forward a veritable scientific or philosophical theory or contention.

(Note that I have skipped some of the dialogue between Dr. al- Tijani and the scholar for purposes of maintaining the attention span of the reader. However, the parts I skipped in NO WAY affect the clarity or message of the conversation.)

It is this kind of attitude that has destroyed the youth and the intellectual curiosity among humanity in general. For if we believe as this scholar believes, then we will never accomplish anything! Why?

Because if we abide by the above fatalist approach, we would genuinely believe that the current state of the Ummah is what Allah (SWT) wants, and the massacring of Muslims is what Allah (SWT) wants, and the ignorance that prevails, and to fail on an exam at school, and to have a car accident are ALL the Will of Allah (SWT); and, as such,

we cannot change anything until Allah (SWT) wants, so let's sit and wait while the nonbelievers have invaded outer space and reached the other planets!!! This is exactly what the enemies of Islam want!

Dr. al-Tijani traces this concept of Fatalism to the Ummayads, who were the clan of `Uthman Ibn `Afan, the third caliph. He states that during these days, when `Uthman was caliph, and due to his corruption in politics and government, the Muslims requested that he step down from the leadership of the Ummah. `Uthman replied:

"I shall not undress a shirt which has been clothed on me by Allah."

The "shirt" here refers to the leadership of the Muslims; and the opinion of `Uthman that Allah (SWT) is the One (SWT) Who clothed him the shirt, indicates that it is the Will of Allah (SWT) that `Uthman is the caliph. And that the "shirt" shall only be undressed as a consequence of `Uthman's death (i.e., when he dies.).

We also find the same attitude from Muawiyah, who is a relative of `Uthman, at a later point in time. For Muawiyah had said, as Ibn Kathir narrates in v8, p131:

"I didn't fight you to pray, fast, and pay charity, but rather to become your leader and control you, and Allah (SWT) has given me that, even if you dislike it!"

This is an indication that he never cared about any of Islam's mandates, nor Allah's (SWT) orders; rather his war was politically motivated to gain control of the region and become the appointed leader.

Again, Muawiyah has claimed that he is the leader of the Ummah because Allah (SWT) has made him so. However, Muawiyah's claim is more far-reaching [and damaging] than that of `Uthman; for Muawiyah's claim lends credibility to the evil contention that Allah (SWT) has aided and abetted him (Muawiyah) in killing [innocent] Muslims. Allahu Akbar! (Allah is Great!)