Part 1 - History & Thought
Mu'tazila use of reasoning in early Islamic debates
There were religious disagreements and debates in the early phases of Islam, before it coalesced into a unified religious creed with definitive positions on important religious questions, which only occurred a few centuries after Muhammad. So even after the many submitted verses were collected, selected and organized into a finalized Quran, there were still open questions regarding how to interpret various ayats and how to understand the overall meaning of this revelation. There was of course, a lineage of religious teachers who proceeded from the closest students of Muhammad, but many theological questions about God and creation, and ethical questions about man's responsibility, were not yet answered with any unified consensus. In other words, many questions were still in discussion.
First, there were the moral and legal questions raised by a picture of God’s overwhelming supremacy in the world as depicted in the Qur’an and its bearing on the responsibility of human agents. Second, there was the necessity of safeguarding what one may call the unity of the Islamic view of life, which could not be achieved without a systematic attempt to bring the conflicting data of revelation into some internal harmony. The attempt to grapple with these complex problems is at the basis of the rise and development of Islamic scholastic theology.
Third, there was the inevitable confrontation of Islamic teachings with pagan and Christian beliefs, both at Damascus and at Baghdad. Because Islam had now encountered many learned men of other cultures and religions, in those regions now conquered, this new religious movement of Islam had to answer the perennial religious questions posed by its challengers. So, a good deal of the work of the earliest theologians consisted in the rebuttal of the arguments leveled at Islam by pagans, Christians, and Jews, and scholastic theology arose as a means of buttressing Islamic beliefs by logical arguments and defending them against attack. The Mu'tazili became a significant defending force for Islamic revelation, because they were able to argue and discuss contentious issues with reason and logic. Significantly, the early Mu‘tazili are often commended for their defense of Islam against the attacks of the Materialists (al-Dahriyah) and the Manichaeans.
From the early days of Islam and into the seventh century, many theological discussions centered around questions of divine justice and human responsibility; such as whether the evils, as perceived in the world, were created by God, and also the issue of predestination versus free will. Discussions also concerned whether the Qur'an was created or eternal, and whether God's attributes in the Qur'an were to be interpreted allegorically or literally.
The earliest religious and ethical discussions in the 7th and 8th centuries appear to have centered most specifically on the question of 'qadar', which could equally mean: 'predetermination' as predicated of God, or 'capacity' as predicated of man. The term, 'qadar' would most literally mean 'measuring out' or 'setting out portions'; which some followers interpreted as God measuring out our fate and what shall happen in the world, while others (Qadarites) interpreted as God measuring out our human capacity for both knowledge and making good choices (vs. bad choices for which we also have a capacity).
The early so-called Qadarites of Damascus also raised the question of qadar in the context of the moral responsibilities of the Umayyad caliphs, who justified their most oppressive policies on the ground that they were part of the divine decree (qada' wa qadar). Qadaris were critical of the Umayyad Caliphs for their sometimes unjust autocracy. However, the Umayyad argued in favor of predestination and that all events must be God’s Will, a theological position which very nicely justified the righteousness of everything the Umayyad did, since everything is God’s Will. They could then say ‘our actions and their consequences are part of God’s Decree’. Countering this, the Qadaris insisted that man has free will, sometimes doing good but other times not, and that we should not accept lies and injustice as being a necessary part of God’s Decree.
In the next centuries following, the Mu‘tazila continued the Qadarite line of questioning, asserting the freedom of the individual on the one hand and the justice of God on the other. And although they naturally supported their positions by quotations from the Qur’an, their general tendency was to advance arguments of a strictly ethical or rational character in support of these positions. Subsequently, the Mu'tazili theologians of Basra and Baghdad refined upon the speculation of their Qadarite predecessors, and they offered a rationalist approach for discerning right from wrong, as well as an explanation of God's justice and decrees.
Mu'tazili theologians stressed God's wisdom and goodness and exonerated Him of the responsibility for evils and injustices in the world, even what some called 'apparent' evil or apparent 'injustice'. They argued that there are, indeed, human actions without any divine reason or good purpose, and that all such evils and injustices are 'created' by humankind, rather than caused by or willed by God.
Significantly though, their explanations were expressed in 'reasons'. However, their disapproving [traditionalist] rivals did not believe that qur'anic explanations had to be supported by any rational reasons, but instead they insisted that people simply believe what they preached since they had a true religious knowledge. Therefore, the Mu'tazila use of reasoning, for use in discussion and argument, was essentially rejected by the 'traditionalists' – who tried to persuade more simply by their own positions of religious authority and also with references to the literal statements in revelation.
Mu'tazili were not willing to simply accept what the current political-religious authorities claimed as being the absolute truth or the absolute right moral law. Instead, they believed that the 'words of Allah' require interpretation and that man must apply reasoned thinking to this task; otherwise, the religious authorities or those who happen to be favorites of the current political regime will dictate their own interpretative views to the people in the guise of absolute God's truth. For without the freedom of reasoning, argument, and debate; the intended meaning of God's Message could be kidnapped or falsified by those claiming to be the righteous authorities of meaning.
Thus, the Mu'tazili were courageous in challenging other theologians, even those with political power or ties, to debating the true meaning of qu'aranic statements. But the judge of truth for the Mu'tazili was human reason, in combination also with revelation and with spiritual intuition, because they understood that the only alternative to using reason was religious authoritarianism. However, many of those disagreeing with Mu'tazili conclusions refused to use reasoning in debates, claiming that reason was incapable of knowing the truth of revelation; so they sought to persuade people of their interpretation on the basis of their special religious knowledge and position of simply of knowing what the Quran means. In contrast, The Mu'tazili sought the agreement of others by the power of their reasoning and logic, rather than gaining agreement by either an appeal to being the absolute religious authority or by popularized emotional appeals.
The Mu'tazili sought to ground the Islamic creedal system in reason; though with the Quran and a foundational faith in Islam as their starting point and ultimate reference. Mu'tazilis intentionally applied logic and some aspects of Greek philosophy, but the accusations leveled against them by rival schools of theology that they gave absolute authority to extra-Islamic paradigms reflect more the fierce polemics between various schools of theology than any objective reality.
It was the later Muslim philosophers, not the Mu'tazili theologians, who took Hellenistic philosophy as a starting point and conceptual framework for analyzing and investigating reality. Moreover, the actual translation of Greek philosophical texts had not yet been started by the time the founder of the school, Wasil ibn 'Ata, launched this theological movement in the second century AH. However, earlier Qadarite theologians in contact with Christian theologians, such as John of Damascus and his disciple Theodore Abu Qurrah, were most likely influenced by the scholastic methods of discourse that Syriac-speaking Christian scholars had been applying to theological questions prior to the Arab conquest of Syria, Egypt and Iraq.
The actual degree to which the later period of Mu'tazilite theology and ethics were influenced by Greek philosophy cannot be fully determined. Within the few Mu'tazilite writings surviving their historical obliteration, one might find a few hints of Aristotelian logic or metaphysics implied, but the overall content of Mu'tazila teachings were distinctly theological and founded on Qur’anic sources. In the newly discovered 11th Century texts of the Mu'tazili writer, 'Abd al-Jabbar, there is little of any Greek thought to be found in it, and the author obviously has the voice of a Muslim theologian.
As has been well underlined by Ahmad Amin, in his al-Islam (1936), the Mu'tazila are not philosophers but theologians, even though their speculations touch on philosophy. Intimately involved in the internal debates of Islam, they reckon (just as their adversaries do) to represent the true orthodoxy - (in other words, what they consider, as Muslims, to be the correct interpretation of the qur'anic revelation). So most essentially, the Mu'tazili were sincerely devoted to Islam, the Qur'anic Revelation and to the Prophet. As such, they were not merely philosophers or hedonists challenging the new religion of Islam. Rather, they were people who were not satisfied with religious “truths” unless also coherent with human reason. Thus, rather than holding any particular 'Greek system of thought', the Mu'tazili were merely inspired in a general way by the Greek philosophical passion for inquiry into truth and of applying reasoning in order understand what is true. And what unites the movement, most essentially, is its belief that any religious truth would have to be consistent with common sense logic and human experience, and also that coherent reasoning has to be used to interpret any spiritual revelation.
One might then consider the Mu'tazila as 'rationalists', but it is necessary then to show precisely what is to be understood by this term. They are not rationalists in the sense of those who claim to formulate a system solely by the exercise of reason, independent of all revelation. In other words, the Mu'tazili are not building a philosophical system of truths based on just reason. But the Mu'tazila are rationalists, in their belief that spiritual understandings are accessible to man by means of his intelligence and reason. Some of the Mu'tazili, but not all of them, might have even ventured to say that any significant spiritual understanding can be acquired by reasoning and our higher intelligence, even in the absence of, or prior to, any revelation. But the vast majority of Mu'tazilite were, most evidently, theological rationalists rather than secular rationalists. They all accepted the revelations from the Prophet and had a spiritual faith based on the reality of God, as known in the heart. Overall, they believe: that human reason can discover spiritual truths, that reason is useful in complementing spiritual intuition, and that reason is actually necessary for rightly interpreting any prophetic revelation. This is why the first of the obligations given to man is for us to use our God-given reasoning.
Revelation helps humanity to use reasoning by pointing out truths that we can then verify with reason. For example, reason enables us to establish that God exists as the Creator of our world and our being, since everything that exist implies that a First Power or Ultimate Power has brought everything real into being. Reason also informs us concerning God's nature. Since we are living, He must be living, because all that lives must be dependent on a Living Source. God is most Powerful, because He creates us to be powerful creative agents. Or in other words, the fact that man has creative power in the world proves that God must be most Powerful in order to bestow such power. God must be endowed with all-hearing and all-sight, because every living being is capable of hearing and seeing, though in a limited capacity. God is Wise is proven by how nature so skillfully acts, and also by our own human capacity to gain wisdom. And because He is loving and just, He would not do or will anything other than what is good. Reason can also inform us that since God is transcending and infinite, he could not be confined in a delineated body. Moreover, it would be said in the Mu'tazila view, that reasoning shows Muhammad is authentically a Messenger of God and that the qur'anic revelation is indeed true, because this revelation will indeed confirm that which reason has established. In addition for the Mu'tazili, there are no contradictions between revelation and reason, because any apparent contradictions can be resolved by a reasonable interpretation (ta'wil) of the revealed text.
In summary, the historical labeling of Mu'tazili as proponents of Greek philosophy, or as Aristotelians, or even worse as secularists attempting to debate against the Qur’anic revelation, is a fictional depiction invented by their opponents for the purpose of dismissing them as insignificant to early Islamic history, and also for the purpose of justifying their mysterious disappearance from the Islamic timeline. As can be inferred or at least reasonably speculated, their disappearance could well have been forced by absolute political repression or even more likely, elimination by execution and their writings burned, for there are plenty of examples of such political-religious agendas in the early history of Islam. For the first hundreds of years in early Islamic history, it appears that religious debates were tolerated and maybe sometimes encouraged. But as politics and religion become further tied together, and more authoritarian as well in order to insure uniformity and compliance, the once-upon-a-time tolerance for debate and disagreement must have been finally disallowed, for the purposes of religious doctrinal unity and political expediency.
In addition, the very history of early Islam must have also come under authoritarian guidance and shaped by political and religious intentions; thus creating the historical narratives passed down and accepted by both the masses and scholars. For the historical scholars were simply relaying the narratives as told by those who heard it from those who heard it was true, etc; or in other words, from indirect sources who heard it from indirect sources. And thus, history is then written and shaped by the winners, as it were. For in this case, one theological group overcame the other, burying it and its books with a despicable eulogy; but not because the defeated group lacked in their reasoning or that their views were too obscure or without merit. Rather, the Mu'tazilite were defeated by a religious/political authoritarianism, which then labeled them as being Hellenistic or as philosophical rationalists, as a convenient way to dismiss and devalue them in the annals of history. And this all worked quite well, because most Islamic historical accounts still carry on the tale as they heard it.
The Mu'tazila movement emerged in the Umayyad Era, and reached its greatest popularity in the Abassid period. Scholarship on the movement stagnated for centuries, owing to an absence of sympathetic accounts (and an abundance of hostile accounts) of the movement, and because its strongest adherents and main texts were eliminated.
Then, after centuries of suppression and systematic misrepresentation in Sunni Islam, Mu'tazilism was 'rediscovered' at the beginning of the 20th century, when the 11th century texts of 'Abd al-Jabbar al-Qadi were unearthed in Yemen. Formerly, any academic research regarding the Mu'tazila depended solely on information drawn from the polemics of the opponents of the Mu'tazila. Since its defeat at the hands of the fundamentalists in 850, the Mu'tazilite school of thought has been outlawed and its teachings were no less extinct than its teachers and their writings. For awhile they survived in Zaydi Yemen, where they lived on in secret exiled isolation and without any further influence to the world of Islam. Shibli Nomani, one of modern Islam's most outstanding theologians in the Indo-Pak subcontinent, rightly said that were it not for some references and hints in a few books we would not even know that such a school ever existed. Such was the extent of its suppression in Islamic history.
But since then, a significant trend towards its
rediscovery and rehabilitation has been observed. Ahmad Amin, in his
book al-Islam (1936), devoted to some two hundred pages to this,
where he shows that the Mu'tazilis were before all else men of
religion, committed to the defense of Islam, and concludes with this
unequivocal statement: 'In my opinion, the demise of Mu'tazilism was
the greatest misfortune to have afflicted Muslims; they have
committed a crime against themselves'. Also notably, Zuhdi Hasan jar
Allah, whose book al-Mu'tazila (Cairo 1947) is an eloquent plea in
favor of the school, the author considering its historical
elimination as a 'victory of obscurantism' and the cause of decadence
in the Arab history.
In order to understand the origin of the Mu'tazila, it is necessary to know the historical background of the social, religious and political conditions of that time. Muhammad and his early companions, the Sahabah, always insisted on the concept of the 'Sovereignty of Allah', and the 'freedom of human will', based on the doctrine that man would be judged by his actions. However, according to one historical view, due to public hatred after the tragedy of Battle of Karbala, the sack of Medina, and many political blunders committed by the Umayyad Caliphate, the political elite were in need of a 'theory of Predestination' or 'fatalism' (jabr), that whatever happens is from the Will of Allah, as decided from before time, and that whatever happens has a divine purpose (or a necessary reason for happening), even if certain occurrences of mistakes or of injustice do not appear to be just or perfect from the human view.
So, with some political help, a school of thought emerged and was called " Jabria ". The founder of this school of thought was Jahm bin Safwan. He maintained "that man is not responsible for any of his actions which proceed entirely from God." The Arabs of pre-Islamic days also believed in this concept of unavoidable fatalism, so it was easy for them to accept these ideas. This concept was challenged by Ma'bad al-Juhani, Eunas al-Aswari, and Gilan Dimishki, and there emerged a school of thought known in the history of Muslim philosophy as 'Qadria', who believed in the freedom of human will, based on the doctrine that man is responsible for and will be judged by his actions. Many leaders of this movement were eventually put to death by the Umayyad Caliphate for heresy.
The alleged founder of Qadarism and the first to openly discuss the question of qadar was Ma'bad al-Juhanî, who took part in the uprising of Ibn-al-Ash'ath in 701 and was executed around 704. Another important proponent was Ghaylân ad-Dimashqî, who was a critic of the regimes of 'Umar ibn-'Abdal'azîz (717-20) and of Hishâm (724-3). Ghaylân argued that evil-doing, or ethically wrong action, is certainly possible, and that this wrong-doing is Not by God’s determination (qadâ wa-l-qadar). But he was also captured and executed. His followers, however, helped the reformist Yazîd III to occupy the throne for a few months in 744.
So in the Umayyad period, the free-will debate had political overtones. The Umayyad authorities favored predestinarian views in order to support their claim of divinely given authority. Their argument, especially as put forth by the poets Jarîr and al-Farazdaq, was that the Umayyads inherited the caliphate from 'Uthmân as his blood-heirs, and God decreed (qadâ) their authority and made them his representatives on earth. The Umayyads claimed to be the caliphs of God (khalîfat Allâh), in this way changing the word 'caliph' from meaning “successor” (of Muhammad) to mean “deputy” (of God), as Adam was God’s deputy in Qur’ân 2:30. Everything the Umayyads did was therefore decreed by God and should be accepted as such by God’s subjects. In this context, the Qadariyya were considered opponents of the regime.
Soon next, the Mu'tazila religious movement emerged, founded in Basra in the first half of the 2nd/8th century by Wasil b. 'Ata (d. 131/748), who was originally a disciple of al-Hasan al-Basri, a prominent figure in the Qadariyya movement. It was only after the death of al-Hasan (110/728), that 'Amr b. 'Ubayd, an even more eminent disciple of al-Hasan, decided to join Wasil 'Ata, and after the death of Wasil in 131/748, it was 'Amr 'Ubayd who took on the leadership of this new movement.
The Mu'tazila theses were essentially the same as those previous in the milieu of the Qadariyya, to which al-Hasan belonged: such as rejection of the doctrine of predestination and the absolute responsibility of every individual with regard to his transgressions – which could not be, in any sense, the 'work of God'. Also in line with their Qadari predecessors, Mu'tazilites were also opposed to the Kharijites (who had broke from the ranks of Ali), who were strong traditionalists insisting that all Muslims must perform all religious obligations in the exact way as modeled by the Prophet, else the people could not be considered Muslims (but rather infidels) and were deserving of death. Mu'tazila theologians insisted that those of the Muslim community who failed to sufficiently perform their obligations were sinners (fasiq), rather than being demoted to infidel, and thus held an intermediate position between a praiseworthy servant of God and an infidel.
Their rivals were: Literalists (no metaphor in holy texts; just literal meanings), Determinists (Jabriyah) (all actions and events are determined by Allah – at each moment of time or predestined from the beginning), and Traditionalists (who relied only on the Quran and Hadith to determine truth). Most of their rivals were a mixture of all three. Determinists were led by ibn Safwan (d.745), but the main Mutazilite rivals tended to be traditionalists, especially the conservative legal schools of Maliki and Hanbali, founded by Malik ibn Anas and Ahmad ibn Hanbal, respectively.
So the Mu'tazila were, essentially, an extension and renewal of the Qadariyya, yet with a larger scope and agenda that included many more debatable concepts in Qur’anic hermeneutics (interpretation) and theology. Most likely, the Mu'tazila never began as a movement that was really distinct from the Qadariyya; rather, it was more of an expansion, but its new leaders were definitely interested in more debatable issues than their theological predecessors.
Yet, however new this actually was, it was certainly an organic evolution from those before it, the Qadariyya. It could even be that the name Mu'tazila simply replaced the name Qadariyya. The origin of the term, i'tizal, has the semantic sense of those who 'separate themselves', or who 'stand aside', or who 'go astray'. So the name itself might simply be what was given to them by the ruling Umayyad, denoting their political and theological opposition. For no doubt, there was a declared Mu'tazila hostility in regards to the Umayyads, and vice versa. So did this new movement have political objectives? No doubt yes, but theological truth was their main concern, event though within their theology were political implications for political reforms and social justice.
Soon though, near after the Mu'tazila founder Wasil died, the Abbasid overthrew the Umayyad and came into power in 750, with some help from the combined opposition of Qadariyya/Mu'tazila followings.
In the first Abbasid century, Mu'tazili theology enjoyed the favor of the Abbasid caliphs of Bagjdad and also became well established in Basra and in numerous other regions of the Islamic world, especially in Persia. Mu'tazilism was elevated to the status of the state creed. Thus, it was now the eminent theology of Islam, and its leaders were the most revered lecturers and theologists of Islam. In this time of elevated acceptance, Mu'tazila ideas on theology and their rational approach to Qur’anic interpretation had an expanding influence on the intelligentsia, and it especially brought a new spirit of openness and freedom for the newly emerging Islamic culture, which then produced a nurturing cultural atmosphere for new discoveries and scientific speculations.
This new spirit of discovery and science especially accelerated in the twenty year period of Abbasid Caliph al-Ma'mun (813-33), a great patron of learning and sciences. He commissioned Bait al-Hikma, the House of Wisdom, an institution for translating Greek, Egyptian, Byzantine, and Persian texts into Arabic. Groups of the greatest scholars and translators were employed to translate texts on pre-Islamic philosophy, ethics, and the sciences. This made the ideas of Aristotle, Plato, the neo-Platonists and many others, more accessible to the Arab speaking public, which brought new ideas into Islamic thought and became an inspiration for the use of reason and intellect by proceeding Islamic thinkers, as well as by the emerging new generation of 'scientists'.
So, emerging out from this new open-minded attitude in theological interpretation combined with these new discoveries more ancient texts, came a very new kind of movement – that of a newly experimental scientific inquiry, ranging from physics to astrology, mathematics to numerology, and medicines to alchemy. This was the very beginning of a brand new revolution in thought, focusing on discoveries from nature but also open-minded to new ideas as gathered from earlier Hellenic teachings. This was the beginning of 'Islamic science', and also the beginnings of a new philosophical metaphysics as mostly based on neo-platonism, which many sufi orders encoded into their teachings.
This new scientific spirit and open-mindedness (which is needed for the scientific spirit) required a relaxed theological closed-mindedness, which the Mu'tazili provided and encouraged. For an essential Mu'tazilite premise is that all divine revelation, including the 'book of nature', is open to question (inquiry) as to how it is rationally interpreted and understood, and also as to how man can apply what he learns to practical manifestation. It could be said, in fact, that the Mu'tazila approach to theology helped nurture and spark this newly emerging scientific movement. For no doubt, it would never have occurred (or been able to), if the theological-political climate had remained in the hands of the Umayyad, or in the hands of the traditionalists and conservativists, who were closed-minded and repressive of differing or new ideas.
So during their most thriving time, during the 'House of Wisdom', the Mu'tazila were part of an even much larger movement, the beginnings of the Islamic philosophic and scientific movement, which then carried forward, in spite of much theological opposition over centuries proceeding, to later on become a great pride for the whole Islamic civilization, even influential to the European renaissance and enlightenment. The pursuit of free thought, speculation and science required a supportive Islamic theological context, which the Mu'tazila provided with their own open-inquiry into divine truths and ethical understandings, combined with their use of reasoning, along with their outspoken conclusion that each individual man is endowed by God with an inherent intelligence to both discover and discern the truths of this world. Thus, the Mu'tazila were the influential theology behind the very spirit and origin of 'Islamic science' (and what was later called the 'Islamic renaissance').
A great example of this was the polymath genius of Jābir ibn Hayyān (722-804), scholar and new scientist, who was able to pursue his passion for inquiry and scientific speculations due to the Abbasid-Mu'tazila revolution. Abu Mūsā Jābir ibn Hayyān became a prominent mathematician, a chemist and alchemist, astronomer and astrologer, engineer, geographer, philosopher, physicist, and pharmacist and physician. He even later became renown in Europe, known simply as 'Geber'.
Jābir was a spiritual follower of Ja'far al-Sadiq (702-765) – prominent Muslim jurist and descendant of Ali. The Shi'a Muslims consider Ja'far al-Sadiq to be the sixth Imam or leader and spiritual successor to Muhammad, but he was also highly respected by Sunnis for his great Islamic scholarship and pious character, and he is still revered by the Naqshbandi Sufis. Ja'far Al-Sadiq was known for his liberal views on learning, and was keen to have discourse with Scholars of other views. Ja'far was a contemporary of and friend with Wasil ibn Ata (700–748) – the leading founder of the Mu'tazila and who was also a jurist. Wasil initially studied under Abu Hashim, a grandson of Ali. Later, he traveled to Basra in Iraq to study under one of the Qadariyya leaders, Hasan al-Basri, who was also one of the Tabi'in, contemporaries of the Companions.
The point here is that Jābir, the new scientist, was of the new generation inspired by Ja'far al-Sadiq (the 'sixth iman'), and Wasil ibn Ata (the Mu'tazila founder), who themselves were just one step from the Tabi'in with whom they had studied. Ja'bar and Wasil were connected in friendship and in influence as teachers for this new generation of thinkers who began the Islamic 'scientific renaissance'. Jābir actually experienced first hand the Abbasid revolution. He was just 28. And no doubt because he was part of the revolution, he was rewarded with a patronage for his range of studies. No one will know for certain to what extent Jābir and his generation were influenced by the Mu'tazila, but he obviously had contact with Mu'tazila theology, not only through his association with the Abbasid House of Wisdom, but also in his early years as student of Ja'far al-Sadiq and those associated with him such as Wasil.
Yet, this pursuit of the sciences might not have ever gotten off the ground, if the Ash'arites had been the leading theology. Their theory of nature is that God, in each new moment, creates the world in just the way He wills, such that everything which happens is by His decree, moment by moment. First of all, this assumption tends to lead one's mind to think of God as the sole cause of everything, such that nothing in the world is a cause in itself. Nothing of this world, including man, causes anything at all to happen, for only God is a cause of anything. This idea in itself is a science-stopper; for why then would anyone look for things causing other things? Yet all science is based on inquiries and discoveries of causes and their consequential effects.
Second, science is based on the presupposition that nature (creation) has uniform consistency, or in other words, nature goes according to natural laws – which are the consistent regularities and forces (causes) within nature. Science cannot proceed an inch further, unless this is assumed. But in Ash'arism, nature is not necessarily consistent, since God can make anything happen without it necessarily related to any previous physical cause and without any logical consistency; and thus our reasoning (as based on observed and inductive consistency) about nature cannot be trusted. God creates, in nature and in this world, whatever He wants, and we should not presume that His will can be reasonably understood or known. Which, again, is a non-starter for any scientific inquiry.
Thus, the very pursuit and inquiry of scientific discovery requires a supportive theological or metaphysical context (or underlying supportive belief structure), which Ash'arism fails to provide but which Mu'tazilism does provide.
The Mu'tazila thrived for awhile and were able to influence the subsequent Islamic movements of science and philosophy, but their status of state creed did not last too long. Nonetheless, the Mu'tazila school continued to gain strength in many regions. So even when deprived of the patronage of the Abbasid caliphate, they subsequently found other leaders or influential persons (under the Buyids, in particular) to support them. This begins a second stage of the movement. In this later period the Mu'tazila were predominately in two places, 'those of al-Basra' and 'those of Bagjdad'. But these geographical locations became more used as conventional references to slight differences in those 'schools of thought', rather than being about those specific places.
During the third century (ah) and thereafter, there was opposition to the Mu'tazila doctrine coming from many directions, in some ways politically motivated but in other ways due to serious theological differences. The whole of the third/ninth century was a time of reaction. The orthodox Muslims (and among them were the Traditionists [the Muhaddithin]), the Zahirites (the followers of Dawud ibn `Ali), and the Muslim jurists (fuqaha') adhered strictly to Tradition and literal interpretation of the Qur'an and the Sunnah, and refused to admit any "innovation" (bid'ah) in the Shari'ah (the Islamic Code). Any theological discussion or debate was considered an "innovation" and was as such a cause of displeasure to them.
The strongest traditionalist reaction came from two leaders, both Baghdad doctors and jurists, namely Ahmad ibn Hanbal (d. 855) and Da’ud al-Zahiri. Each of these men founded a unique legal school, though the Zahiri school never gained much momentum. However, the Hanbali school had a strong following in Iraq and Syria all the way to the Ottoman conquest. The Hanbalis were traditionalists opposed to the ‘innovations’ of the other legal schools, and of course opposed to Mu'tazila interpretations of scripture and their Hellenic reasoning. The Hanbali school were especially opposed to the Mu'tazila denial of predestination, the compelling power of God, and the eternalness of the Qur’an.
Excessive reaction against reliance on rationality was partly due to a fear that new philosophies, which were being introduced to the realm of Islam, might jeopardize the Islamic viewpoint. It was suspected that the use of reason might lead to movements that would ultimately deviate from the orthodox Islam. Hence, all such movements with rationalistic leanings were dubbed as Ilhadi, or innovative, which is a derogatory term because it implies deviation from the right path. The concern of the rigid orthodoxy was also reflected in the term they used to describe the rationalist group, referring to them as Mu'tazilah (meaning, those who had strayed from the true path and become Ilhadi).
But in spite of all these many oppositions in and after the third century ah, this period could be described as the true 'classical period' of Mu'tazilism from the point of view of elaboration. A thorough exposition of the Mu'tazili doctrine was formulated by Abu 'l-Hujayl. Abu'l-Husayn al-Basri (d. 1085) was a Mu'tazili faqih (expert in Islamic jurisprudence). He wrote al-Mu'tamid fi usul l-fiqh, a major source of influence in the field of usul. He was a physician, as well as a disciple of the Qadi Abd al-Jabbar in Rey. He challenged some of his master’s teaching and eventually compiled a two volumes, 1500 pages, critical review of the arguments and proofs used in Islamic Scholastic Theology. This he summarized in al Mu'tamad (The Reliable), which also included a critique of the qualifications a scholar of Islamic law needed to practice.
This later period of Mu'tazila lasted approximately from the last quarter of the 3rd/9th century to the middle of the 5th/11th century (until the arrival of the Saljuqids).
Soon after this, Mu'tazilism disappeared from Islamic history. For in the next generations of history texts, the Mu'tazila movement and its ideas were either not mentioned at all, or else mentioned with disdain and disingenuous labeling; and thus, most Muslims regard the Mu'tazila in the way they were taught about it.
Rise of Ash'arites and fall of Mu'tazilites
The eventual disappearance to the Mu'tazila movement had several causes. Firstly, they lost the political and financial support of the caliphs. Secondly, predestination and ‘it's all God’s Will’ was the more popular belief among common folk, which is partly why the Mu’tazila failed to gain full recognition among ordinary people and define mainstream Muslim thought. Thirdly, the traditionist-Sunni opposition to the Mu'tazila found an elegant spokesman in Abu al-Hasan al-Ash'ari (d.935), who himself had previously been a Mu'tazilite. Al-Ash'ari's new school of theology, along with the kalaam of Abu Mansur al-Maturidi (d.945), provided a new basis of orthodox Islamic theology, which has continued on to the present. And fourthly, there is historical evidence to suggest that the Mu'tazili movement was, after the 11th century (ad), rubbed out and removed from Islamic education and thus also from conventional Islamic history, as its adherents were either killed as heretics or were forced to shut up, and its texts were either destroyed or secretly buried.
But Ash'arite theology did not supervene right away over the Mu'tazilite school. Al-Ash'ari started writing and lecturing in the later part of the 10th century, but his movement was not fully embraced until almost a century later. Soon after the writings of Al-Ash'ari were gradually shared among scholars, it became clear that the Mu'tazilite school had a worthy rival in rationally debating the many questionable issues of Islamic theology. Previously, the main rivals to the Mu'tazilite intellectuals were the Qu'ranic literalists and the various traditionalist legal schools. But at first, in its beginning decades, the Ash'arite movement was slow to grow, because its followers would have to be new converts from either the anti-rational literalists or from the Mu'tazilite school which it set out to oppose.
Ash'arite arguments and logic were far from being convincing to most Mu'tazilite thinkers, who regarded Ash'arite reasoning as predominately a veiled theology of fatalism, whereby everything that happens (even the bad and unjust) is actually by divine decree and has a divinely justified purpose. Yet its middle position, between the traditional and common views regarding fatalism and the Mu'tazilite view of man's free choice and responsibility, did have an attractive appeal. Its reconciling ideas were attractive to the average Muslim, who believed they did have free choice and self-responsibility, but at the same time did not want to abandon their comforting belief that all happenings, even if horribly bad or seemingly evil, were nonetheless part of the divine destiny or the will of God. So, even though much of Ash'arite reasoning might seem to be philosophically murky, Ash'arism is appealing to the masses because it accepts human freedom as well as God's absolute power and decision in everything, such that people could then feel comfortable in believing in both, and avoid thinking about the contradictions involved. Though of course, Ash'arism did not become the orthodox theological view on account of 'popularity among the masses'; for it was not the average Muslim who ever read any of these theological discourses, but rather the only people interested in such theological issues were either theologians or political rulers.
So what mostly propelled the Ash'arite view into eventual dominance was its attractiveness to the political rulers. It managed to be the perfect theology for the Islamic political authorities. For on the one hand, this theology reminded people of their personal responsibility – to perform their given duties and maintain a harmonious order in society. While on the other hand, the view of Ash'arism is that 'whatever happens' in society and in the world is, most absolutely, God's Will, God's Plan, the Divine Destiny, which also has a compassionate and wise divine purpose– (for why else would God create this to be?), even if the happening seems to be evil, or caused by ignorance, or without a loving good purpose.
The political powers must have adored this theological view; for consequently, any action taken by the government and any result of such actions upon the people would then be viewed as divinely intended and with a necessary divine purpose. The political powers would have encouraged such beliefs in its masses, even to the point of making it the orthodox doctrine in religious education.
In contrary, the Mu'tazilite view is that government officials and political rulers must be held accountable for any mistakes and injustices caused by their actions, and that people should not naively think that whatever happens to them is by the hand and justice of God; since many events and outcomes in their lives can be traced to political or government causes, which sometimes are decided stupidly or by greed. The Mu'tazili were, from their very beginnings, critics of the political establishment if those political powers breached any reasonable idea of justice. Basically, the Mu'tazili demanded real justice and wisdom in political leadership, and they would criticize leaders for their mistakes and injustices; rather than remaining simply obedient and passive, in a view that all that is done and made to be is by the hand of God. No, they said; much that we experience in our lives is by the hand of political rulers or by rulers of commerce, and not necessarily approved nor willed by God. Bad people produce bad outcomes; not God. And the manifest effects by bad government or poor decisions is not the effect of God, but instead is the effect of man. Thus, the Mu'tazili view held government and leadership accountable, as well as persons, to a reasonable sense of justice and also to the precepts of the Qur’an.
So it can be understood how Ash'arism was politically preferred over Mu'tazilism. But Ash'arism had to also gain wide acceptance from the orthodox theologians. Ash'arism did employ reasoning and logic to the understanding of theological issues, and it did accept analogy and metaphor in the Qur’an, so it was not congruent with the literalists. Yet in the issue of predestination and divine will in everything, Ash'arism veered in the theological direction of the traditionalists. Thus, within about a century, Ash'arism became the orthodox view, while Mu'tazilism disappeared from any further serious discussion and also somehow disappeared from Islamic history, except as being a caricature of the heretical use of reasoning in theology.
The Ash'arite view
The Ásháriyyah school of thought is indebted to Abu al-Hasan al-Áshári (260–330 AH, 865–935 AD). During the last two decades of his life, al-Áshári attracted a number of disciples, and thus a school was founded.
Ál-Áshári had previously been part of the Mu'tazila movement. His own teacher, Al-Jubbai (d. 303 AH), was one of the leading Mu'tazilite scholars of the time, and Ál-Áshári himself was a skilled logician. But then in a turn around, he used his skill in reasoning and his knowledge of Mu'tazila positions, in order to argue against the Mu'tazila and to also develop his own school of thought. His intention, it seems, was to apply reason in order to reconcile the Mu'tazila views with the traditionalist views. Some would praise him for this; but the Mu'tazili considered his reasoning to be insufficient and unconvincing.
Towards the middle of the 5th/11th century, the Ash'ariyya were persecuted by the Buwayhid sultans, who favoured a combination of the views of the Mu'tazila and Shi'a. But with the coming of the Saldhuqs the tables were turned, and the Ash'ariyya received official support, especially from the wazir Nizam al-Mulk. Despite initial opposition from the most conservative traditionalists, the Ash'ariyya became the dominant school in the Arabic-speaking parts of the 'Abbasid caliphate (and perhaps also in Khurasan). In general they were in alliance with the legal school of al-Shafi'i, while their rivals, the Maturidiyya, were almost invariably Hanafis. From this time on, until perhaps the beginning of the 8th/14th century, the teaching of the Ash'ariyya was almost identical with orthodoxy, and it has remained so until the present time.
The ideas and arguments of al-Ashari began to build more followers, probably because he tended to take a middle position between the more liberal thinking of Mutazilah and the conservative theology of the legal traditionalists. Al-Ashari accepted the Mutazilite use of logical reasoning (kalam) and common sense to discuss controversial issues and work out practical interpretations of Revelation and Hadith, which the conservatives were admonishing as unworthy and deceptive. He made use of the dialectical method for the defense of divine revelation. Yet on the other hand, al-Ashari rejected many of the Mutazilite core positions regarding the freedom of a human being, so in regards to basic theological beliefs he argued more in favor of the traditionalists. Ash'arite theology gained ground over the years and was eventually accepted by mainstream theologians. It was also accepted by most Sufis, led by the philosopher-turned-Sufi, al-Ghazâlî (d. 1111). Its views have continued on through the present to be orthodox Sunni theology (or kalam).
Al Ash'ari maintaines an intermediary position between the two diametrically opposed schools of thought prevailing at the time. He had to fight against both the opposing parties. At the one side were the Mu'tazilites, who held reason to be a main criterion of truth. Then on the other side were the orthodox groups, particularly the Zahirites, the Mujassimites (anthropomorphists), the Muhaddithin (Traditionists), and the Jurists, all of which were wholly opposed to the use of reason or Kalamin defending or explaining religious dogmas and condemned any discussion about them as innovation.
Al Ash'ari attempts to justify theological discussions about matters of faith. He tries to meet these objections in three ways. First, by turning the objections of the orthodox against themselves by pointing out to them that the Prophet had not said that those who would discuss these problems were to be condemned and charged as innovators. Hence, their charging or condemning others as innovators was itself an innovation, for it amounted to discussion about matters which the Prophet did not discuss, and condemn the action of those whom the Prophet did not condemn.
Next, on the question of free-will or on the ability of man to choose and produce actions, the Ash'arites took an intermediary position between the libertarian and fatalistic views, held by the Mu'tazilites and the Jabrites respectively. The Jabrites and also the traditionalists maintained a pure fatalistic view. They held that human actions are predetermined. and predestined by God. Man has no power to produce any action: "Everything is from God." God has absolute power over everything including human will and human actions. The Mu'tazilites and the Qadarites, on the other hand, held that man has full power to produce an action and has complete freedom in his choice, though this power was created in him by God.
The Ash'arites held that God is the only real cause of everything; He alone possesses real and effective power and this power is unlimited; His will is absolutely free and not determined by anything. Whatever power human beings apparently possess is given by God. Man does not possess any real and effective power. God, being absolutely free in His action, is not bound to act on rational purpose. He is not bound to do what is best for His creatures; for He does whatever He wills. But as He is an absolutely intelligent and just being, and His actions are always full of wisdom.
The whole question of qadar is one of the focal points of al-Ash'arî’s opposition to Mu'tazilism. The starting point of Ash'arite thought is a particular understanding of the shahâda, the fundamental statement of Islamic belief. The shahâda begins: “Lâ ilâha illâ llâh”, “There is no divinity but Allâh”. This is an exclusive statement and is meant to exclude the theoretical existence of other divinities and the practical worship of such. The latter is the sin of shirk, associating other divinities with God. As the Ash'arites understand the shahâda, whatever pertains to God is exclusively his and cannot be shared with a creature. This applies particularly to the attribute of power. God alone is sovereign and powerful, and so there is no natural power in creation distinct from God's power. Otherwise, creatures would be partners with God - having a power to choose that is not identical to God's choice.
This total lack of power in creatures applies also to human choice. As-Sanûsî (d.1490) says that man has a feeling of freedom, power and choice; but this has no effect on his act whatsoever, for in reality he is forced (p. 37). He goes on to say that God rewards obedience and punishes disobedience by his own free decision, not because of any obligation of justice (p. 38).
“You become aware of the impossibility of anything in the world producing any effect whatsoever, because that entails the removal of that effect from the power and will of our majestic and mighty Protector, and this necessitates the overcoming of something from eternity by something which came into being, which is impossible. Therefore a created power has no effect on motion or rest, obedience or disobedience, or on any effect universally, neither directly nor through induction.(p. 35).”
So in the Ash'arite view, God is unlimited in power and the only power there is. God’s Will is irreversible and measured out with exact decree. So there is no real human freedom to choose against God’s decrees. Therefore, all good or evil is the result of God’s decree and fore-ordination, which no human can escape or alter. This of course looks much like a traditionalist Muslim view of determinism or predestination.
However, al-Ashari argued that a human being is still responsible for their actions, because the human being is participating in that divinely compelled trait or action. So, in order to avoid a fatalistic position, the Ash`arites introduced the doctrine of 'acquisition' by which, they thought, they could account for man's free-will and lay responsibility upon him.
Dirâr ibn-'Amr (d.c. 800) was originally a Mu'tazilite, but differed on the question of free will. He said that God determines man’s acts, but man “acquires” the act, so that the same action can be attributed to both God and man. This concept of “acquisition” (kasb) became an important part of Ash'arite theology. Dirâr explained that man acquires his acts, and is therefore responsible for them, because they proceed from an ability (istatâ'a) which God creates in him enabling him to choose. Later Ash'arites denied that man has the power of choice, but only the power to act (according to God's decree), and so they upheld the notion of divine determinism.
Husayn an-Najjâr, who lived in the time of al-Ma’mûn, was a vigorous anti-Mu'tazilite. He is strongly deterministic whenever he speaks of goodness or evil in the world or in human choice. He accepts the idea of acquisition (kasb), but says that the ability (istatâ'a) to act exists only at the time of the act, not before in choice. In this sense, 'acquisition' of power is merely the ability to perform actions, but has nothing to do with a freedom to choose one act over another. Ibn-Karrâm (d. 869) was a sûfî and a preacher with many followers, known as Karrâmites, who were influential chiefly in Persia, and they held the same view as an-Najjâr.
Over time, the concept of 'acquisition' became part of the Ash'arite doctrine, whereby a distinction was made between creation (khalq) and acquisition (kasb) of an action. God, according to the Ash'arites, is the creator (khaliq) of human actions and man is the acquisitor (muktasib). "Actions of human beings are created (makhluq) by God, the creatures are not capable of creating any action." Al-Ash'arî repeats an idea developed by previous anti-Mu'tazilite thinkers, that God determines man’s acts and gives him the power to act only at the time of acting. This power to act gives man the appearance of freedom, though fundamentally he is not free, because the power does not cause but only occasions the act. Yet al-Ash'arî says that this power is the basis of kasb, which gives him a title to claim the act as his own.
Al-Ash’ari said, "The true meaning of acquisition is the occurrence of a thing or event due to derived power, and it is an acquisition for the person by whose derived power it takes place." God is, thus, the creator of human actions and man is the acquisitor. Man cannot create anything; he cannot initiate work. God alone can create, because absolute creation is His prerogative. God creates in man the power and the ability to perform an act. He also creates in him the power to make a free choice (ikhtiyar) between two alternatives between right and wrong. This free choice of man is not effective in producing the action. It is the habit or nature of God to create the action corresponding to the choice and power created by Himself in man. Thus, the action of man is created by God, both as to initiative and as to production or completion. Man is free only in making the choice between alternatives and also in intending to do the particular action freely chosen: Man, in making this choice and intending to do the act, acquires (iktisab) either the merit of appreciation and reward from God if he makes the right choice, or the demerit of condemnation and punishment if he makes the wrong choice.
This became known as the theological ‘theory of acquisition’. It was obviously intended to solve the difficult contradiction in believing that God Wills everything that happens, while also trying to believe in human choice and responsibility, and also reconcile how God could justifiably punish wrongdoers, or even admonish them, if God was actually the one responsible for deciding this to be. Al-Ashari’s acquisition theory, or reasoning, did not impress most Mutazilite thinkers, but many came to accept this in Sunni theology because it apparently reconciled divine determinism with human responsibility.
The Ash'arite school further developed the idea of divine determinism, or divine decree, by basing it on a principle of atomism. The idea goes back to pre-Socratic Greek philosophy, developed by Democritus. It was introduced to the Muslim world by al-Kindî (c. 840) and taken up by Hishâm ibn-al-Hakam. The idea was later reiterated by al-Ghazâlî (d. 1111) and other later Ash'arites.
Ashari theologians, starting with al-Baqillani (d.1013), redeveloped this theory of atoms, in order to explain how God works in our world. They borrowed this idea from the Greek atomistic philosophers; except their new theory proposed that atoms cannot endure longer than a moment, so God must re-create these atoms and the world as well in each moment. In other words, God creates or re-creates the atoms of things each moment, for as long as He wishes something to exist; so at any moment anything could disappear completely, ceasing to exist. This theory of manifestation places God in a supreme position of being the creator and re-creator of everything in every moment, and it also gives credibility to a faith that everything manifest, in any one moment, must be the Will of God.
Atomistic occasionalism, for the Ash'arites, means that all physical beings are simply gatherings of atoms with particular qualities, and that all of these last only an instant and must constantly be recreated by God. They therefore have no power to act on their own, but all apparent activity or causality that seems to be theirs is really God’s direct action, and they are only the occasion. For instance, the sun does not cause heat and light, but God does so directly when the sun happens to be shining.
Asharism made another reconciliation in regards to how Traditionalists and Mutazilites spoke about justice. Mutazilites said that God must be just and good, and so He could only Will justice and goodness, and thus not every manifestation in our world is Willed by God since not everything is just. Traditionalists argued back that God can create whatever He Wishes, be it good or bad, beauty or wrath. The Ashari middle position was that whatever God commands or creates must be just and good, so everything is really good or part of a greater good. Whatever God commands is by definition just, and whatever He prohibits is by definition unjust. This is the kind of reconciling thinking that Asharism came to popularize.
A Mu'tazila response from 'Abd al-Jabbar
[From the teachings of the Mu'tazila, 'Abd al-Jabbar (935
– 1025 ad)] - (the 11th
century texts of 'Abd al-Jabbar al-Qadi were unearthed in
Yemen in the early 1900s)
Mu'tazilis call themselves Ahl al-Tawhid wa al-'Adl ("People of Divine Unity and Justice"). The Mu'tazili principle of the 'necessary justice of God' is that He Wills and Does only that which is morally good (hasan), and He is not responsible for any act which is morally bad (munazzah 'an kull qabih). These notions of good and bad are interpreted in the same way as the notion of 'justice'.
The principle of divine justice is the knowledge that God is removed from all that is morally wrong (qabih) and that all His acts are morally good (hasana). This is explained by the fact that you know that all human acts of injustice (zulm), transgression (jawr), and the like cannot be of His creation (min khalqihi). Whoever attributes that to Him has ascribed to Him injustice and insolence (safah) and thus strays from the doctrine of justice.
The fact that God is exempt from any evil act implies in particular that He is 'wise' (hakim) and not 'foolish' (safih). This means essentially that, of necessity, He acts for a certain motive, towards a certain end. Consequently, if God has created men and imposed Law upon them, Law which men regard as reasonable, with reason and purpose, and which makes sense morally, it follows that God does not do this in order to then torture men by the logical contradiction of then Willing that actions take place which are contrary to His Laws and the moral reasoning He gave to men.
For the Mu'tazili, our moral reason makes us spontaneously recognize acts as bad in themselves – such as injustice, deceit, ingratitude. And all the more so is God aware of these, since by nature He is omniscient. that which is just or unjust for us, by our moral perception and reason, tells us what is the same for God. Thus, what is logically or reasonably unjust is, in fact, unjust and not good, rather being part of divine justice or from the divine will. God gives us our natural moral perception and sensitivity, and He gives us this capacity so that we can know what is good and just, vs. evil and unjust. In this way, and by this perception, we can make righteous choices and act according to His Will.
And you know that God does not impose faith upon the unbeliever without giving him the power (al-qudra) for it, nor does He impose upon a human what he is unable to do, but He only gives to the unbeliever to choose unbelief on his own part, not on the part of God. And you know that God does not will, desire or want disobedience. Rather, He loathes and despises it. He only Wills obedience, which He wants and chooses and loves.
In addition, God must have created in us the powers necessary for the fulfillment of acts which His law imposes upon us. Any form of obligation to the impossible (taklif ma la yutaq) would be contrary to His justice. The powers in question are specifically among those 'graces' which He is must grant to all those subject to His Law. Not only must God leave to men the freedom of choosing between belief and disbelief, and thus deciding their future lot, but it is further necessary that He gives to all the same means of believing, that He offers them all the same 'aid'. God, in the name of His Justice, is bound to grant 'graces' to all equally.
While God does not create the voluntary human act, He does at least create in the man the power (qudra, istita'a) corresponding to this act. But it could not be the case, as thought by the adherents of kasb, that a power of free agency comes into being only when the act is put into effect, which God creates simultaneously with this act. To claim, as do the adherents of the theory of kasb, that man can be in some way the agent, or the one responsible for an act, yet without causing it to be, is meaningless.
One who has power to 'choose and act' must also have the power of 'not choosing that for which he has the power to do'. A typical formula of al-Jubba'i and his son Abu Hashim was that “whoever has the power of a thing can equally well do it or not do it”. In other words, every power implies equally the power of an act and of its opposite. Hence, the power cannot be other than prior to the act; if it were concomitant with it, owing to the fact that it is at the same time the power of an act and of its opposite, its coming into being would entail the simultaneous realization of opposites, which cannot be. On this question of the priority (or non-priority) of the power in relation to the act, Mu'tazila and Sunnis are opposed, the Qur'an itself being invoked in support of both arguments.
Mu'tazila reasoning and doctrine
(From Ash’arism by M. Abdul Hye, M.A, Ph.D, Professor of Philosophy, Government College, Rajshahi (Pakistan)
Ibn Hazm frankly said, if man were to be regarded as absolutely determined in his actions, the whole edifice of Shari'ah and all divine ethics would tumble down.
God Almighty's justice necessitates that man should be the author of his own acts; then alone can he be said to be free and responsible for his deeds. The same was claimed by the Qadarites. The Mu'tazilites accepted totally the theory of indeterminism and became true successors of the Qadarites. If man is not the author of his own acts and if these acts are the creation of God, how can he be held responsible for his acts and deserve punishment for his sins? Would it not be injustice on the part of God that, after creating a man helpless, He should call him to account for his sins and send him to hell?
Thus, all the Mu'tazilites agree in the matter of man's being the creator of his volitional acts. If a man is regarded as the author of his own acts, it would mean that it is in his power either to accept Islam and be obedient to God, or become an unbeliever and commit sins, and that God's will has nothing to do with these acts of his. God, on the other hand, wills that all created beings of His should embrace Islam and be obedient to Him; but this will of God is not deterministic upon man.
For the Mu'tazila, the principle of divine justice has to imply free choice (ikjtiyar). Only an autonomy of the human agent can justify the fact that in this world God imposes a law upon him, and that in the next he will be rewarded or punished according to whether he has observed it or not. Obligation and sanction can only be understood in reference to a responsible being. So according to Mu'tazili thinking, the only one authentically responsible for an act is the one who is the author of it, who, therefore, 'makes it to be'.
Essentially then, the justice of God logically demands that men have control over their voluntary acts, rather than being absolutely fated or willed by the power of God. Thus, the Mu'tazili argued against the thesis of the 'coercionists' (al-mujbira), according to which all acts and historical events are created by God. In other words, men must be the producers of their own acts, in order for God's judgment of injustice or wrong-doing to make any sense; which would not make any sense if God were judging man wrong by the unjust actions that God Himself produced or led man to do or predestined man to do.
Facing the problem of evil and injustices in the world, the Mu'tazilis pointed at the free will of human beings as its agency and cause, so that evil is defined as something stemming from the errors in human acts. God does no evil, and He demands not from any human to perform any evil act. Of course though, no Muslim theologian has ever asserted the contrary and described God as 'unjust' or 'doing evil'. But to teach humanity that 'all is God's Will' would, say the Mu'tazili, indirectly imply a contradiction between God and the good. It might also imply that there really are no injustices in the world, from God's view.
For example, al-Áshári (founder of Asharism in the late 10th century AD) says that God is necessarily just whatever He does; even if it seems unjust to our human reasoning and ethical feelings. God, according to al-Áshári, is not subject to any rules nor to any moral logic. So for al-Áshári, whatever happens in the world is the justice of God: even such acts as murder and government corruption. But the Mu'tazili argued against the belief that all events in creation are God's Will, even those appearing to be unjust or evil, because this would consequently mean either: that there really is no evil or injustices in the world of men, or else that God 'wills' and 'does' evil and injustices.
If man's evil or unjust acts were from the Will of God, or if man always performs God's Will no matter what he does, then God's condemnation regarding wrong-doing would be meaningless and so would any punishment for wrong doing. Or if all that happens in our world is really from God's loving will and is part of a divinely wise plan, then all which we perceive is evil or unjust would, instead, be merely 'apparent' wrong or bad, since each and every action is 'really' part of a loving and wise scheme. This is the kind of thinking which the Mu'tazili had argued was false and contradicting the true qur’anic message.
Since man is the author of his own acts, it is necessary for God to reward him for his good deeds; for then, this reward can be justly claimed by this man. As al-Shahrastani puts it: "The Mu'tazilites unanimously maintain, that man decides upon and creates his acts, both good and evil; that he deserves reward or punishment in the next world for what he does. In this way the Lord is safeguarded from association with any evil or wrong or any act of unbelief or transgression. For if He created the wrong, He would be wrong, and if He created justice, He would be just."
The justice of God makes it incumbent upon Him not to do anything contrary to justice and equity. It is the unanimous verdict of the Mu'tazilites that the wise can only do what is salutary (al salah) and good, and that God's wisdom always keeps in view what is salutary for His servants; therefore, He cannot be cruel to them. He cannot bring into effect evil deeds.
Wasil adopted the creed of Ma'bad al Juhani and Ghailan al Dimashqi and said that since God is wise and just, evil and injustice cannot be attributed to him. How is it justifiable for Him that He should will contrary to what He commands His servants to do? Consequently, good and evil, belief and unbelief, obedience and sin are the acts of His servant, who is their author or creator and is to be rewarded or punished for his deeds.
Additionally, in the next world, God must of necessity reward those who have merited His reward, and punish those who have merited His punishment. The Qur'an states that He 'pardons whom He wills and punishes whom He wills' (II, 284; III, 129). But the Mu'tazili do not interpret 'His will' as ever arbitrary or without good reason, for that would mean that God is sometimes unjust or unfair. So, for the Mu'tazili, there is no possibility that He will reward those who do not merit it, nor punish those undeserving of punishment. God would not punish those who have not merited it, since 'to punish someone when there has not been an offense (on his part) is injustice' (Sjarh, 477, ll. 15-16). Pardon, as well, is only justly reasonable where there has previously been repentance on the part of the unbeliever or the sinner. Conversely, God would have to pardon the man who repents. 'Accepting repentance', so long as it is sincere, is for Him an obligation.
Also for the Mu'tazila, the justice of God excludes any notion of predestination . It would be unjust on the part of God, they say, to decide in advance the fate of every man in the Hereafter and to ordain that one will be saved and another damned, without either having merited this by his actions. It is for humans to decide their future lot, according to whether they choose to believe or not to believe, to obey or to disobey the Law. God would be unjust if He Himself were to determine faith or disbelief, the fact that some are 'well guided' and others 'astray'.
It is true that the Qur'an states that God 'leads astray (yu·illu) whom He wills and guides (yahdi) whom He wills' (XIV, 4; XVI, 93). But these terms can be interpreted otherwise than envisaged by the proponents of predestination. Either, by 'to guide' it is to be understood that God 'shows and makes clearly seen' where the truth is, in which case it will be said that He 'guides' all men equally (otherwise He would be unjust). Or, if His 'guidance' applies only to the believers, given that it can only intervene following the free choice which the latter have taken to believe, this could signify either that God 'says and judges' that they are 'well guided', or indeed (the interpretation preferred by al-jubba'i) that in the other world, God will 'guide' them on the road to Paradise, hada having, in this context, the sense of 'to reward'. Conversely, when the Qur'an says that God 'leads astray', this can only concern those who, of their own accord, have chosen 'to go astray'; thus, this phrase means that God 'says and judges' that they are astray (cf. Maqalat, 260 ll. 9-11).
The Mu'tazilites interpreted Qur’ânic phrases indicating God’s “leading astray” as his declaration that sinners are astray, his “guidance” means the sending of prophets with warnings and promises, and he gives “help” as a reward to those who are good or because he knows they will use it well. In every case predestination of human acts is avoided.
According to the Ash'arite, a person's action is not 'caused by' what is written in the Preserved Tablet, but rather – the action is already known by God, for He knows all occurrences without the restrictions of time, and thus what is preserved in the Tablet of Destiny is what God knows will happen. Many Mu'tazili agreed with this, that God has prior knowledge of what people will believe and do, but they argued that this foreseen knowledge has nothing to do with the false idea that everything which happens has been already planned out by God, with divine love, wisdom, and divine purpose. In other words, God simply knows omnisciently the actions that man freely chooses throughout time. But this does not mean that all is planned by God or that all events are really good and determined by God's wisdom. The Mu'tazila position is that, first, man has real free choice and, second, that there can be real injustices and evils in the world as caused by man - without having any 'divine good purpose' and without being 'willed' by God.
God's relation to reason and moral laws
One often neglected difference between the Mu'tazilites and the Ash`arites was that Mu'tazila reasoning reflected a believed premise that God, God's works, and what God asks of us are all reasonable and coherent, rather than divinely arbitrary or logically inconsistent (as if God is not rational and consistent). In other words, the Mu'tazili had a foundational faith in the intelligent rationality of God, which God would have shared with man, so that man could use his God-given reason and sensible moral perceptions in order to know God's reason and God's sense of what is good.
Furthermore, they believed that God would not 'fool' man with an event being reasonably perceived as obviously unjust or bad, but really being just or good by God's eyes. So they rejected the Ash`arite-Sunni concept of 'Divine Decree', whereby Muslims are supposed to simply have blind faith that every event in life is by Divine Decree (i.e, by the decision and power of God); even IF the event is, by our human reasoning and moral sensibilities, most obviously unjust or bad.
The Mu'tazala say that God 'must' be guiding men towards justice and that God can only produce good in the world. This is consistent with the Mu'tazala insistence that God could not possibly produce any evil, nor lead men to bad or unjust deeds. God has to be reasonable. So the Ash'arites interpreted Mu'tazala theology as suggesting that God had to follow reason and justice; thus implying that reason and justice are 'greater' than God. In addition, Ash'arites interpreted this as a limitation of God's power. So they counter-argued that God is not bound by reason nor by any laws of justice. They argue that God can decide anything and do anything; thus, God is beyond any reason and ethical laws. God can do anything He wishes and for any reason at all; He could even produce evil if He wishes, even if irrational and without any purpose. So they proudly held to a belief that God, and God's power, is beyond any sort of limitation, even beyond reason or any reasonable sense of goodness and justice.
But this kind of interpretation does not sufficiently reflect the Mu'tazala view. It is true in Mu'tazala theology that God would only Will men towards justice and good in the world, but this is not because Mu'tazalites believed that reason and justice are 'above' God, nor that God's Will is 'bound' by higher laws of justice and ethics. Rather, the Mu'tazalites believed that God would be consistent with our reasoning and moral sense of goodness and justice. First of all because God gave us our reasoning and our moral sense, and the only reasonable purpose for this would have to be for us to use it in order to rightly know what is good and just; and thus it would be irrational for us to believe that God would then act irrationally by producing good in the guise of bad or expect us to believe that reasonably perceived unjust events are really part of the divine justice.
Secondly, God would have to be consistent with His own attributes of compassion, wisdom, goodness and justice. That is, God's decisions, His guidance and His will, all must be consistent and coherent with the attributes of His own Being. So because His Being is purely compassionate, wise, good and just; it follows that His actions will also be. So if we perceive any happenings in the world or consequences of human action that are not compassionate, wise, good and just; then these could not be decisions or actions of His Will.
A fundamental belief of the Mu'tazala, in regards to God, is that God's being is reasonable, good and just. Whereas the Ash'arites would argue that God, Who is absolute in His Power, could always act arbitrarily or decide without reason; just because He can do whatever He pleases, and so His Will can act contrary to reason. But for the Mu'tazala, this Ash'arite idea is ridiculous. God would act arbitrarily, without any just or intelligent reason? This is nonsense for the Mu'tazala. God would never produce or will anything that is incoherent with His own beautiful attributes. By our own good reasoning, we must reasonably believe that God's Being and God's actions are coherent. Thus, God decides and acts with logical consistency – in coherence with His own qualities of love, intelligence, and goodness.
Thirdly, the Mu'tazala argued God would have to be consistent with His own instructions and edicts to man. Within the holy Qur’an and also within many previous teachings of His prophets, are His moral instructions and guidance for the human being. In these teachings, God points out divinely ethical principles and the righteous path, while also admonishing what is unrighteous, unjust, and not good. Therefore, it would be unreasonable and inconsistent for God to then confuse man by divinely willing events in the world which are clearly unjust and bad, as according to His revelations of guidance, but which are really divinely good or with a divinely intended purpose. For why would God so confuse us by these inconsistencies? Or why would God ask man to follow X and Y principles, but then God Himself acts against these given principles? For the Mu'tazala, it is unreasonable and incoherent for us to believe in the unreasonableness and incoherence of God.
Fourthly, according to the Mu'tazilites, things are not good or evil because God 'declares' them to be so. No, God makes the distinction between good and evil on account of their being good and evil. Shameful and unjust deeds are evil in themselves; therefore, God has banned indulgence in them. It does not imply that His putting a ban on them made them shameful and unjust deeds. Beauty and ugliness are qualities belonging intrinsically to what is beautiful and ugly.
Part Two - Free will or Determination?
Debates over free will and predestination
Debates over free will and divine predestination (a position held by Quranic literalists and Medinian traditionalists) went on for centuries after the Prophet. Many tried to reconcile these opposing views in some form of explanation, but the logical incompatibility of these views kept haunting the debate.
The position held by believers in predestination is that we have no power over our actions and that everything in fact is a creation of God. 'He guides whom He wills and leads whom He wills astray.' His hands determine everything we do. In Muslim theology this position was first held by the Jabriyya (Jabriyyun), which later was upheld by Ash’arite theology and is now the majority view among Sunni Muslims and also among most Sufis.
Those who believe in 'free will' are referred to as Qadariyyun or the Qadariyya. This view is found among the early philosophical theologians, the Mu’tazilites, and also constitute the majority view among the Shiites, especially among those of the twelver and the Ja’fari school of jurisprudence. The critics of this view, (the Jabriyya, the Ash’ari, and most traditionalists), argue that to presume man is in control of 'some things' makes him a partner unto God in His creation. But the Qadariyya, or Qadari school, reject the claim that they have made man a partner unto God and point out that what man does is by 'power granted him by God', and if God wills He could take away this power.
For the Qadari, man has been made by God to be responsible for his moral choices and actions. Allah, in His omnipotence, has permitted man to have power over some things; and thus, man is responsible for at least some of his actions. A section of this school, the Mufawwida, hold that they are able to do things because they have been entrusted through God's delegation of power (tafwid). In regards to evil, the Qadari argue that evil is inconsistent with an all-Good and Just God. So evil must come from man. God has 'given us the power' to choose between good and evil, but He also sends messengers to tell us what is right and wrong, which we then have the free power to accept or not. Finally, He rewards those who do good with paradise, yet the evil doers receive a grievous chastisement.
The Jabriyya argue that God creates everything, including all actions and events in the world. Therefore, nothing really is evil since everything comes from God’s love, wisdom and power. Things may seem evil to us because we do not understand and appreciate the Divine compassionate wisdom (or hikmah) and purpose behind those things. We are all servants of Allah and He does with us as He wishes; which is always good and for the best. In other words, this world we live in is the 'best all possible worlds'. This view, thus, removes the fundamental contradiction between evil and the all-powerful creative God, by assuming that evil does not really exist at all, but is only a delusion borne of our incapacity to adequately understand God's loving, wise and purposeful production of everything that happens. All that ever happens is by Him and for His reasons. In the extreme form of Jabriyya, it is even suggested that when we sin, we are acting out as God's servants, doing the action that was really ordained by Him.
For the Jabriyya then, faith (in the power and dominion of Allah, as well as in the Prophet and his Message) is more important than works (what people actually do). The Jabriyya, in fact, insisted that the very essential requirement of any Muslim (Believer) was his belief. This essential belief is that Allah is Great and All-powerful and that every moment and event of His creation is according to His Will (His Decision and enacting Power). The true believers, subsequently, are those who believe that everything happening, no matter what, is by His Compassionate Will. To believe this is an essential part of one's belief in God (as all-powerful and all-dominating). Concurrently, this emphasis on 'faith' also suggested that what people actually do is not so consequential. In fact, a man enters heaven by his devout faith in God's Power and determinism (Allah Akbar!)), rather than by the quality of his deeds. This is coherent with their doctrine of determinism, since a man has no real power over is actions (he is fated) – rather it is God really deciding man's actions.
The pre-Islamic background to this discussion is important. In a land where rainfall and weather are completely erratic, it was natural for them to have more of a fatalistic outlook, whereby people had little control over general life circumstances. Pre-Islamic poetry often referred to an impersonal Force which determined everything, especially man’s ajal (term of life, or his ‘time’) and rizq (man’s sustenance, or what nature provides). On the other hand, the Arabs greatly honored human achievement, though they tended to consider any specific achievement as a result of local gods (or forces) favoring some people over others.
The orthodox interpretation of the Qur’ân retains the notions of ajal and rizq, but teaches that these are determined by One all-powerful God. Such determinations are known as His 'decrees', which are also regarded as His designs based on His love and mercy for mankind. This is how most Muslims generally believe things are, according to the interpreted ideas of divine determination and decree. However, in its teaching concerning God's judgment of man, the Qur’ân also implies that there is human responsibility, that people are responsible for their good deeds and bad deeds. Yet there would be no sense in God judging and faulting man for his poor deeds, if it was really God Who determined or compelled man's actions to occur. This is one of the arguments pointed out by those favoring a free-will interpretation of the Qur'an. For there is a problematic contradiction in the Qur'anic narrative, if one is to believe that every human action is determined (or predetermined) by Allah yet also believes that we are later judged for what we did.
The Qadariyya and Mu'tazila questioned such contradictions and tried to solve them, but without abandoning their absolute faith in the Qur'an.
The meaning of qadar – capacity or determinism
Often, the debates regarding free will and determinism hinged on the right interpretation or meaning of 'qadar', as it was used in various ayats of the established orthodox Qur’an. The literal meaning of 'qadar' was ‘to measure out’, as in measuring out portions in a recipe or to a group; so orthodox theologians interpreted its meaning as God deciding and dishing out man's fate, and what shall be in the world.
“We hold the store of everything and we send it down in an appointed measure”. (Surah al-Hijri, 15:21)
“Surely We created everything by measure”. (Surah al-Qamar, 54:49)
“Allah has set a measure for all things”. (Surah al-Talaq, 65:2)
“Of a small seed He created him, then He made him according to a measure”. [80.19]
“Glorify the name of your Lord, the Most High,
Who creates then makes complete, and Who makes (things) according to
a measure, then guides (them) to their goal,” [87.1-3]
The Jibraya and the orthodox interpreted such ayats as proof that God exactly measures out everything in the universe according to His Will (by His Decision and Power); and also that all things and all of man’s acts are predetermined by God. The Hadîth movement in the early 8th century was strongly predestinarian. Determination of the circumstantial aspects of man’s life is expressed, for example, by the Hadîth: “What reaches you could not possibly have missed you, and what misses you could not possibly have reached you.”
The Mu'tazila did not agree with this meaning. For them, the most reasonable and coherent meaning of qadar is that God measures out our capacities for free choice and action, and we are made (by God) responsible – responsible to seek harmony with God's laws of nature and consciously submit to His Will. Our destiny, then, depends on our own willed choice – to be in harmony with God's moral edicts and also with nature, as God created nature to be, or else to not.
As well, this kind of understanding about the freedom of man also has relevance to the everyday events we all experience in life, because so many things happen in our lives that are, in some manner, a result of human actions – whether it be good/wise actions or bad/unwise actions. Thus, if things happen to people as a result of human decisions and actions, and if many of these human decisions and actions are not really decided or determined by God, then these many events could not be decided or determined by God, but instead would be the result of human freedom.
So the Mu'tazilites could refer to Quranic revelation [in their interpretation] to argue that God does indeed determine and grant our natural capacities, but leaves a responsibility to us as to if and how we might actualize such capacities. God gives us our provisions, but does not compel us in how we use them. God can still help us by guiding us on the straight way, through revelation and spiritual conscience; but it is our responsibility to ask for His Mercy and Guidance, and to hear and follow the way of Good (the way of God, or 'God's Will'). Mu'tazilites also maintained that reasoning and a developed intellect are crucial for man, needed to complement revelation and faith.
Thus, with their alternative interpretation of the Qur'an, Mu'tazilites explained human freedom by positing that God has measured out a power (qudra) to man – a power to freely decide and act, that is not absolutely determined by God. This power precedes the act; it includes the internal decision of man in his action and also the power to produce the external act itself. So both good and bad actions can be made from man, yet through an ability (istatâ'a) or power (qudra) given to man by God. God gives this ability or power to man, but He does not determine what man will do with this power.
Essentially, the Mu'tazilite interpretation of qadar was that God measures out to man his distinct human capacities (or powers), including intelligence and reason, spiritual intuition and heart, as well as man's capacity/power to make decisions and act independently (even at times, independent of God's Will and without God's determination). Moreover, it is man’s own responsibility to develop and actualize his God-given capacities. Influenced by reading Greek neo-platonic metaphysics, Mu'tazili viewed this world as an imperfect representation of the Good, though in a working progress towards it, and whereby Justice is an Ideal for the religious devotee to work toward. In this sense, Goodness and Justice are divine potentials that man is religiously encouraged to manifest.
On the subject of
divine justice and free will, the Mu’tazila generally held
these three related theses:
(1) God wants only good for humans; so He would not ‘will’ or ‘create’ evil, murder, lying, etc.
(2) God offers guidance in the right path, but does not compel humans to do what is right, nor compel humans to go astray or do any wrong deeds.
(3) Immoral human actions are not ‘willed’ by God.
Mu'tazilites believed that Allah commands the right and prohibits the wrong, which is the meaning of God's Will, but God does not compel people do one or the other. In other words, God's commands are moral injunctions given to man, which man is asked to follow, but these are not 'commands' in the sense of determining all actions and events. Mu'tazilites argued that if Allah did compel or predetermine everyone and everything, then man could not logically be held responsible for that which he had no real free choice in doing. Allah cannot hold people accountable for actions over which they have no control. The Quran’s revealed ideas of forgiveness, after-life accountability, and even our need for prophetic guidance to save us from sin would then all be redundant. Thus, Allah commands the right and prohibits the wrong, but does not compel people do one or the other. Those who are faithful and God-conscious listen to these commands and follow them; but others do not. And thus, many circumstances and events in our lives are due to people not following God or doing what is contrary to God's compassion and wisdom.
The Mu'tazilites argued that divine-determinism (or predestination) would logically entail that man has no real free will. They argued that free will, ethical responsibility and political justice are all logically incompatible with a religious belief in determinism or predestination, as espoused by the literalists, the traditionalists, also the Ash'arites. The Mu'tazila were logically concerned that free choice be maintained in theology and that people feel a sense of responsibility for their decisions and actions, rather than suppose that Allah is responsible for and determining everything. One of the aims of Mu'tazilite theology was an affirmation of Allah’s Justice; that the righteous people and those performing good deeds will deserve just reward for their unselfish decisions, devotion, and service to God, while those who choose against God will not enjoy the same reward. This is true justice, and these promises are evident throughout Muhammad’s divine revelation.
But this very concept of justice and one’s religious obligations (taklif) become a mockery by the determinists, who claim that everyone and all events are compelled by God, meaning that there is no real free human choice, and so people could not be held accountable for their decisions and actions. For the determinist, everything that ever happens in life is an example of God's Justice, which also includes everything decided and enacted by all political authorities. So for them, nothing is ever unjust, since they have faith that everything is just. Whereas for the Mu'tazili, God's Justice is the consequence for a man's actions in life, depending on how well the man followed the guidance and edicts of God. So what we find in our world may not be justice, but instead the contrary to justice. Though man is given (by God) the potential to be just and to make justice, and to struggle against injustice (as imposed by the unfaithful, the unlistening, and the unfaithful of God).
So in order for God’s 'promises and threats' (as written in the Qur’an) to be significant, humans must be able to discriminate between right and wrong, and in addition freely choose their actions. Otherwise, the very significance of a needed revelation and the whole idea of 'divine justice' becomes irrelevant. In the Mutazilite view, God is Justice and Goodness. He is His attributes. But this does not mean that all world happenings are necessarily just and good; because He created the world (and man) with limited measures of power and freedom to produce either good or bad. His divine intention is for the world to be full of goodness and justice; yet He allows this Ideal to unfold and perfect itself through the gradual history of social evolution.
Relevant verses from the Qur'an
Some verses of the Holy Qur'an do seem to express the rule of destiny. They appear to state that nothing happens in the world without the Will of Allah and that everything is brought upon by Allah. Other verses indicate that man is free and with some choice in making his own destiny, his own future; rather than it all being determined by Allah. Some verses could be put into one or the other category, depending on how it is interpreted. Many scholastic theologians of early Islam saw that the two categories of verses contradict each other. Accordingly, it was necessary for each theological 'school' to emphasize verses of one category, while explaining away or re-interpreting verses of the other category. So in early Islam, scholars and religious leaders divided on how to deal with these holy verses that appeared to have contradicting implications regarding the issues of human responsibility and choice, destiny and divine power. As such, there were many divisions and arguments about how to correctly interpret certain verses.
What follows here are a number of selected verses from the Qur'an, categorized into the two divisions – one group depicting Allah as all-deciding in human affairs and/or as destiny being predetermined (decided already), while the other category of verses depicts man as free to choose the right or the wrong way, and Allah as measuring out justice in response to human choices and actions.
Here are some verses of the Holy Qur'an that suggest determinism and/or predestination. They suggest that nothing happens in the world without the Will of Allah and some verses state that every event is already recorded in the ‘Book’. Other verses may not directly express predestination, yet nonetheless suggest that Allah is precisely determining and measuring out everything in the world, which could be moment by moment (rather than predestined at some beginning).
“With Him are the keys of the invisible. None but He knows them. And He knows what is in the land and the sea. Not a leaf falls, but he knows it, not a grain amid the darkness of the earth, nor anything green or withered but is recorded in a clear Book”. (Surah al-An'am, 6:59)
“Every affliction that falls on the earth or yourselves, already exists in a Book before it is brought into being by us. No doubt that is easy for Allah to accomplish”. (Surah al-Hadid, 57:22)
“Say: Allah! Owner of Sovereignty! You bestow sovereignty on whomever you will and you withdraw from whomever you will. In your Hand is all that is good. No doubt you have power to do everything”. (Surah Ale Imran, 3:26)
“Then it is for Allah to have in error whom He will and to guide whom He pleases. He is the Mighty, the Wise”. (Surah Ibrahim, 14:4)
The following verses apply the concept of 'measure', or 'measuring out', which is especially significant to the overall meaning of the verse, but this will depend on how the word is interpreted. Very different kinds of interpretation are discussed in the Mu'tazila chapter.
"And there is not a thing but with Us are the treasures of it, and We do not send it down but in a known measure.(biqadarin).” [15.21]
“Allah has set a measure for all things”. (Surah al-Talaq, 65:2)
“Surely We created everything by measure”. (Surah al-Qamar, 54:49)
[9.51] Say: Nothing will afflict us save what Allah has ordained for us;
[42.27] And if Allah should amplify the provision for His servants they would certainly revolt in the earth; but He sends it down according to a measure (biqadarin) as He pleases; surely He is Aware of, Seeing, His servants.
[54.12] And We made water to flow forth in the land in springs, so the water gathered together according to a measure (qudira) already ordained.
[54.49] Surely We have created everything according to a measure (qudira).
[80.19] Of a small seed; He created him, then He made him according to a measure (fa qaddara hu).
[87.1-3] Glorify the name of your Lord, the Most High, Who creates, then makes complete. And Who makes according to a measure, then guides.
This next following verse, which also has a strong flavor of divine determinism, is one of the verses often recited after some harsh losses in the field of battle, and it seems to originally be an explanation to Muhammad's followers as to why they were defeated.
(from Surah Ale Imran, 3:154) “They [the followers] said: Do we have any say in the matter? Muhammad, tell them: All matters belong to Allah..... Even if you had been in your houses, those appointed to be slain would have been slain by your sworn enemies while you were in your beds”.
Again, this particular verse would support the idea of predeterminism and predestination, since it implies a theological belief that God has determined the time of death for each person, which in itself implies a strong view of determination and a very weak view of personal freedom.
On the other hand, there are different verses that suggest man's freedom, indicating that people are free to chose between right or wrong, and that people are not strictly determined by the Power or Will of Allah. In this free-will ethical interpretation, there is a right path and wrong path (or at least there is better vs. worse), and every person is responsible for choosing one or the other, while his choices (and actions) are not decided or strictly determined by Allah.
“Allah never changes the condition of a nation unless it change what is in its heart”. (Surah al-Ra`d, 13:11)
“its people denied the favours of Allah, so He afflicted them with famine and fear because of what they used to do”. (Surah al-Nahl, 16:112)
[in other words, God afflicted them because of their denial; meaning that the people's choices determined God's response.]
“Allah did not do injustice to them, but they had wronged themselves”. (Surah al-Ankabut, 29:40)
“Your Lord does no injustice to His slaves”. (Surah Fussilat, 41:46)
“We have shown man the right path. Now it is up to him to be grateful or thankless”. (Surah al-Dahr, 76:3)
“Muhammad say: This is the truth from your Lord. Let him who believe in it, and let him who will reject it”. (Surah al-Kahf, 18:29)
“Corruption has become rife on land and sea because of the misdeeds of the people”. (Surah al-Rum, 30:41)
“Whoever seeks the harvest of the hereafter, We shall give it to him in abundance, and whoever seeks the harvest of the world, We give him a share of it. But in the hereafter he shall have no share”. (Surah al-Shura, 42:20)
People make poor choices or do wrong, which then God responds to or punishes. This implies free choice, rather than determinism. God is not determining that those people shall do wrong. Instead, they are doing wrong by their own power and choice. Then, God responds in a just way, meaning that God then rewards those who do good and punishes those who do wrong (though in many cases, the punishment will be in the afterlife). Thus, God's actions are in response to our actions, and God is simply being fair. This is not determinism nor predestination.
Interpreting Qur'anic meaning by the overall context
There can be no argument that there are some particular verses in the Qur'an which imply divine determinism and/or predestination. But in counter to this, there are many other verses which almost explicitly suggest free will and choice, and that man is the cause of his actions and is thus responsible. Moreover, the overall whole of the Qur'an has a sub-text or contextual theme of human responsibility and our need to make spiritual choices vs selfish choices. In other words, there is really very little in the overall Qur'an which suggests divine determinism or that all is God's Will or by God's hand. Yet there is a whole lot to suggest that man, not God, is determining his own path and the fate of our world; and thus, man needs to make better choices and follow the path of righteousness, not the path of those who go astray.
So it can be argued, in favor of the free-choice and non-determinist category, that it has much more abundance of contextual-support in the Qur'an than the opposing position. That is, if one reads through the Qur'an, or even opens randomly for readings, one discovers similar recurring themes, again and again, which support the belief in human freedom and non-determinism, and which would not make any pragmatic or logical sense if God were actually determining man's actions and all world events.
For example, Allah is very often admonishing those who oppose His messages, guidance and decrees. Either they are not listening, or they are not choosing to follow the Righteous Path as brought to humanity by His Messengers. They are not choosing to follow God's Will. And so God is admonishing them, or will punish them at some time for their lack of obedience and poor choices. All of this implies man's free choice, man's capacity to either follow the good path or go astray from God's Will; rather than implying that God has pre-arranged these choices or determined man and the world to be what it is and turn out how it does. Implied is man's capacity to oppose His messages, guidance and decrees. And it would make no rational sense for God to punish people for a spiritual crime that was actually decided and determined by God Himself.
Throughout the Qur'an are –
- Warnings about wrong choices and actions
God warns people about what is right and wrong, what is good to do or bad to do; -- but why need to warn people about their choices if all is predestined, predetermined anyways? If people had no free choice because all actions and events were decided and determined by God, then it would not make any sense to warn people about their choices, or about what they should or should not do.
- Condemnations of wrong choices or actions
Yet if people had no free choice because all actions and events were decided and determined by God, then such condemnations wouldn't make any sense – since God would be condemning His own decisions or predeterminism.
Stories of those who have pleased Allah
Also found in the Quran are praises for those who have chosen to do God's Will and struggle for righteousness. Yet if people had no free choice because all actions and events were decided and determined by God, then such praises wouldn't make any sense – since God would merely be praising His own predetermined world or praising those who He compelled to do what they did.
- Allah is pleased with some, but not with others
It wouldn't make any sense if God were determining everything - yet was pleased with some parts but not with other parts. It does not make any sense if God determines everyone's life, yet then is pleased with some lives but not others. God is determining that some people are displeasing to Him? or that some of His God-determined events are displeasing to Him?
- Distinctions made between right and wrong, and an attempt to influence people towards righteous action.
In fact, one of the underlying meta-themes of the whole Quran is to help lead people towards the rightoeous path, while warning people of the unrighteous path. Yet this underlying agenda of the Quran wouldn't make any sense if people had no free choice or if God were always determing how everything is. Thus, the belief that 'all which happens is God's Will', or 'all which happens is absolutely determined by God', is in direct contradiction to a belief in human free will (or the human power to choose either good or bad).
- Obedience to Allah
Throughout the Quran is a subtext of our need to be obedient to God, that is, to be obedient to God's Will, God's Commands, God's Laws. The Quran is intending to tell humanity about God and God's Will and how to live a righteous spiritual life. Its intention is to give guidance and also to persuade people to be obedient to God and His revelation of guidance. Yet this very intention or agenda of the Quran wouldn't make any sense if God were determining everything, including our human choices and actions. For in a purely determined world (whereby every detail is determined by God's decision and causal action), or in a pre-destined world (whereby every detail and event of life is already pre-determined or set-into-place), there would then be no need for a textual revelation of divine guidance or divine commands and also no need for any concept of obedience – since obedience only really makes sense and is only needed in a world of free choice, which would include man's capacity to not-follow God's Will and God's Commands. Because if everything were absolutely determined by God (and therefore inferred to be ultimately for-the-good), then man would not have any real capacity to not-follow God's Will and Commands. Yet if man has no capacity to not-follow God's Will or guidances, then the very concept or theme of 'obedience' ceases to make any sense, or falls into unnecessary redundancy.
- Divine injunctions and commands are made
Yet if people had no free choice because all actions and events were decided and determined by God, then such commands wouldn't make any sense – because there is no practical reason for making commands or commandments if people are already being determined or predestined to do what they do.
The truth of free will, and the untruth of absolute determinism, is shown by the very fact that there are divine injunctions and revealed laws in the Quran, which implies that we need to hear this and to realize this, for otherwise we might be more tempted to go astray. If God were absolutely determining our choices and what we do in the world, then the whole Quranic revelation would cease to have any real importance at all.
Also to add is that most events which happen in the world, whether horrible or satisfying, are by the hand of man. So if one believes that all 'events' are by God's hand, or by His choice, His Will, or by His determination; then one has to be implicating that the people who pull the trigger, so to speak, are doing so as determined by God, and by His choice and His Will, and that their hands are determined by God's hand. This would then imply that God is choosing and determining what people do, even murderous people.
Yet people nonetheless still believe like this, even though it shows God to be quite cruel in so many instances, and the logic they next employ to justify this belief is that what we see in the world as horrible or wrong is, in reality, for the greater or long term good, or in other words, the appearance of harm and cruelty in the world is really compassion and divine intelligence at work, but we just don't understand it. This circuitous logic is meant to settle any arguments, because we ought to simply admit that we cannot understand God's mercy and intelligence, so we ought to just have faith that all things which happen, no matter what it is or how cruel it is, is in reality part of a greater predetermined plan and is actually full of compassion and wisdom. This then becomes the counter-argument to our own human sensitivity to what feels to be right or wrong, and what this argument says is that humans are incapable of understanding God's higher intelligence and compassion, either by reason or by common sense, and therefore humans must simply have faith that God is fully in charge of everything or deciding everything, all with absolute wisdom and compassion. In other words, this counter-argument is fundamentally claiming itself to be absolutely correct and saying that those in disagreement to it are making the mistake of using reason and common sense instead of simply having faith [in the very argument itself]. This is a great example of circular logic 101. Their argument is based on a particular logic (or premise), but then defends itself by claiming that reason and logic cannot understand it, and therefore any dissenting view is because of a lack in faith [in their logic or reasoning].
- Worship only Allah, rather than oneself or the material world
Once again, this implies human choice and the capacity (or possibility) to not worship God. It implies that there are two possible paths (or at least fundamentally two) and that these are in opposition. And again, it implies that man has to make a choice. Also implied in this, as an underlying subtext, is that there are actual forces in the world and in man as well which tend to lead us astray from God and cause us to forget about God, or to choose self-gratification and material gain, rather than worshiping God. Yet none of this makes any sense in a world that is purely and absolutely determined by God's wisdom, love and power. It only makes sense in a world with freedom and without absolute determinism.
Now one pro-deterministic argument might then be that it must be presumed that God is completely in charge and determining all things, since God must be all-powerful. And that if there were 'other forces' or 'other causes', such as worldly attractive forces or psychological forces of self-indulgence, then this would imply that God is not all-powerful. Yet this argument is flawed, since one could envision God (in all His Absolute Power) deciding to provide freedom in the world, even the freedom to oppose or impede divine wisdom and guidance, and to measure out degrees of free-choice; all in the larger divine vision that man will eventually choose God and worship God over self-ego, self-gratification, and worldly obsession. In other words, it is quite possible to envision God's Power and Wisdom in a different way, rather than simply assume (as in determinism) that God's Power has to equate to absolute authoritarian determinism as modeled by absolute dictatorial rulership – which, by the way, 'coincidentally' happens to be a religious belief-premise that is effectively favorable to regime dictatorship and political authoritarianism.
An example of Mu'tazila logic
- For example, a person harms someone.
- This is the person's choice, or the person's mistake as it were; as God gives each person a choice to do good or bad, or the freedom to make mistakes.
- God does not force someone to do bad or to disobey divine edicts.
- God does not guide someone to do evil or to make choices that hurt others.
- So by a choice and by a fault of the acting person, he/she harms someone.
- Thus, this harm done to someone is by the power of someone's bad choice.
- So, a person can make a bad choice or action that is AGAINST God's Will and guidance.
- Then, if this poor choice or action results in harm to another, it is the fault of that person doing the act.
- Therefore, if harm comes to a person, it does not make sense to believe that this must be by divine decree or by God's Will; because the action could possibly be the result of someone acting AGAINST God's Will and guidance.
God, please guide us on the straight way
It would be undebated from anyone familiar with the Qur’an and its message, that a major underlying theme and purpose in it all is to inform man of God's Will and what God asks of us and how to be a religiously good person. In simplest terms, the Qur’an is overall intended to guide man onto a straight path, so that man will not (instead) go astray from God. “Guide us on the straight way,” …not on the way of 'those who go astray' (Al-Fātiĥah).
But this very intended purpose, inherent in the whole Qur’an, only makes sense if man is truly free in his will and actions, and that it is possible for man to go astray or to not follow God's Will. Yet there is no real human freedom and there is no real possibility of going astray, if it is true that God decides, compels and determines everything that happens. For what sense would there be for God to give us the Qur’an, or any divine guidance whatsoever, if man is already determined in everything he does? And if this were so, then what sense would there be in God 'willing' that a man to go astray or do the specifically bad things that God Himself asked man to not do?
Some Muslims might then argue back that God does allow man freedom to follow God's Way or not; but nonetheless, they think that all events are determined by God. But then what about events involving a man's actions? If all events are determined by God, then God must also determine the actions of every man involved in each event.
Once again, from the first chapter of the Qur’an is the prayer, Al-Fātiĥah: “Guide us on the straight way, ...(not on the way of those who go astray).” Every true Muslim asks God to guide them, so to not go astray. For they could be led astray by un-spiritually awakened forces in their own self (their nafs), or by social influences of unbelievers and corrupted ones. So one of the main purposes in this most essential Muslim prayer is to ask for God's guidance.
For for what purpose would one ask God to guide us, if God were already and always determining every action anyway? And such a prayer would also be pointless if man were incapable of not being guided, or of not following God's guidance. That is, it would have to possible for a man to do otherwise than what God guides, in order for this prayer ('to be guided') to make any purposeful sense. In other words, one is asking God to guide oneself on the straight path because it is quite possible to not have guidance and to actually go astray from what God guides or to do what God says is not good. Thus, it is possible to
God would not cause a man to do what is not good, nor would God cause or lead a man to go against what He guides. God would not guide a man to do His Will, but then decide and cause this same man to go astray from what He guided and act in a way that results in harm or injustice to others. Surely, it makes no sense at all to believe that God would do this! Yet when harmful events happen in life, as a result of men, the religious teachers ask the victims to regard such events as God's Will, or caused by God, and with a good purpose. So these bad events, as caused by men who transgress against God's guidance (and many there are who go astray and do not follow the righteous way), are said (by those teachers) to be really caused by God's Decision and Power. But would God really cause all these contradictions against His own guidance?
Part Three - Re-thinking
Orthodox misrepresentation of the Mu'tazila
The mainstream view of the Mu'tazila, as coming from the Ash'arite opposition, through much of later history and even current to the present, was that the Mu'tazila were 'rationalists' trying to sway Islam away from the qu'arnic revelation and into Greek philosophical ideas. It would be true that most of the Mu'tazili were knowledgeable about Greek philosophers and Aristotelian logic, and it could also be true that they sometimes brought such knowledge into their theological discussions. But neither reasoning nor Greek logic were at the foundation of their discussions. Rather, these were sincere and intelligent theologians of the Islamic faith, who were sincerely inspired by and devoted to the revelations of the Prophet. However, in being acquainted with other texts, as from the Greeks and the Christians, they realized that any text or revelation is in need of correct interpretation, since the words themselves can be understood by a variety of meanings. So they were primarily opposed to interpreting the Qu'ran literally. And since there is this inevitable need for interpretation, one needs to use the reasoning mind that God gave to us.
If we consider the average repeated criticism of Mu'tazilism, as voiced by contemporary orthodox scholars, we can transparently see their conditioned Ash'arite bias. The following is taken from Ash’arism, by M. Abdul Hye, M.A, Ph.D, Professor of Philosophy, Government College, Rajshahi (Pakistan); taken from http://www.muslimphilosophy.com/hmp/14.htm
This is an example of Islam's [mainstream] biased historical account of the Mu'tazilites. This might be true for some Mu'tazili, but certainly not most. Would the Mu'tazili, in general, regard reason as “the source of truth”? Of course not. Would they think that reason, on its own, can discover the whole theological and spiritual truth? If that were so, then they would not have even bothered with the Islamic revelation, and why then would they be Islamic theologians? The false assumption in the above critique is that the Mu'tazili were merely rationalist philosophers, who believed that revelation had nothing in it to inform them of truth, and that they were simply out to study revelation as a kind of rationalist hobby. But in fact, the Mu'tazila were Islamic theologians at heart, and Islamic theology as revealed by the Qur’an was their life interest. So it is obvious that they did not regard reasoning as the “source of truth”, nor that reasoning is “more fundamental” or “preferred to revelation.” However, it would be true to say that Mu'tazilites were starting from a rationalist premise - that all spiritual truth is, in fact, rational and coherently consistent, and also that God is as well; and thus, revelation must also be.
Now if this Sunni-Ash'arite assessment of Mu'tazilite beliefs were true, then this would be adequate grounds for Islam orthodoxy to reject Mu'tazilite theology, and it would be a valid explanation for the Ash'arites historically winning over the Mu'tazilites and suppressing them from any further discussion. Yet this assessment is biased and disingenuous.
Here are parts of the Sunni scholarly assessment:
The Ash`arites held
that revelation is more fundamental as the source of ultimate truth
and reality, and reason should merely confirm what is given by
held that reason is more fundamental than revelation and is to be
preferred to revelation.
This is disingenuous. The Mu'tazilite's basis and starting point for reasoning was the revelation; or in other words, they were using reasoning in order understand revelation – with the premise that revelation is fundamentally true. Ash`arites were essentially doing the very same; except that their reasoning about the revelation happened to agree with the political and theological establishment of that time, while the Mu'tazilite reasoning did not.
Here are further
parts of this Sunni scholarly assessment:
prefer revelation to reason, in case of a conflict between the two.
- The Mu'tazilites preferred reason over revelation.
Again, this is misrepresented, AND it misses a larger point – which is that revelation (as a coherent whole) cannot be adequately understood without some use of reason or some kind of reasoning, unless it is all interpreted just literally. So it's not that the Mu'tazilites preferred reasoning, but rather that they understood the necessity of sound reasoning in order to understand the fundamental truths as divinely revealed. To say that “Ash`arites prefer revelation to reason, in case of a conflict between the two” would imply, in this context, that Ash`arites preferred to abandon sound reasoning in instances of revelation not making any reasonable sense or when incoherent or contradicting itself, rather than applying sound reasoning in order to understand revelation coherently.
The author goes on to repudiate Mu'tazilism: “Islam is based on certain fundamental principles or concepts which, being suprasensible in nature, are incapable of rational proof.” This disingenuously suggests that Mu'tazilites were attempting to use reason for 'proving' revelation or that revelation needed a rational proof before it could be faithfully believed. But there is no evidence in Mu'tazilite writings that this is true. The very suggestion is a subtle attempt to categorize Mu'tazilites as being rationalist philosophers, who would only be interested in any divine revelation if it conformed to their a-priori reasoning.
The author goes on to write that 'pure reason or analytic thought'
should not be the sole source or basis of Islam as a religion; as
though the Mu'tazilites would ever be in favor of that. And finally
from this Sunni scholar: “Reason must, therefore, be
subordinated to revelation, and [should] not question the validity or
truth of the principles established on the basis of revelation as
embodied in the Qur'an and the Sunnah.” The Mu'tazilites
did, in fact, question the validity of certain interpretations
as held by the orthodoxy or by the common thinking of their time,
because they understood that “validity or truth of the
principles” is an assumption (or viewpoint) based on human
reason, or based on one kind of reasoning, which may or may
not be fully coherent and logically consistent.
To summarize some of the above points, Mu'tazili regarded the revelation as primary and worthy of acceptance on its own account. Yet they realized that the words and phrases of revelation required interpretation, since any exactly literal interpretation cannot simply be assumed if analogy and subtlety might be involved. So, any process of interpretation will require reasoning. In addition, the believed that God gave to humankind the power/capacity of reasoning, which God has asked man to make use of in understanding His truth and His world. So the Mu'tazili saw that our reason is a God-given tool, and to be used in order to understand what is true, what is good, and what is real justice. Yet, God has also supplied us with revelations, received by certain people (prophets) through their God-given spiritual intuition and vision. So God gives to humanity these two significant gifts for understanding His truth and what He sees as good. These two gifts are revelation and reason; and both are meant to be used in complement to one another for the purpose of understanding God, His Will, and our human responsibilities.
[repeated here from a previous section, 'God's relation to reason and moral laws']
One often neglected difference between the Mu'tazilites and the Ash`arites was that Mu'tazila reasoning reflected a believed premise that God, God's works, and what God asks of us are all reasonable and coherent, rather than divinely arbitrary or logically inconsistent (as if God is not rational and consistent). In other words, the Mu'tazili had a foundational faith in the intelligent rationality of God, which God would have shared with man, so that man could use his God-given reason and sensible moral perceptions in order to know God's reason and God's sense of what is good. Concurrently, they believed that God would not 'fool' man with an event being reasonably perceived as obviously unjust or bad, but really being just or good by God's eyes. So they rejected the Ash`arite-Sunni concept of 'Divine Decree', whereby Muslims are supposed to simply have blind faith that every event in life is by Divine Decree (i.e, by the decision and power of God); even IF the event is, by our human reasoning and moral sensibilities, most obviously unjust or bad.
The Sunni-Ashari 'Divine Decree'
The Asharites use their own kind of reasoning to make conclusions that are not specifically stated in the Quran. This is exemplified in what is called, 'The Divine Decree', which is sometimes referred to as the sixth pillar of Islam. But in fact, the idea was invented in the Islamic 3rd century and so latter included in Sunni doctrine, though this general idea was probably a part of Islamic thinking very early on, and it was also an important issue of debate for the earliest Islamic theologians .
Belief in Divine Decree is stated as follows
(from its believers):
A person believes that God alone controls everything, so he trusts and relies on Him. Even though a person tries his best, at the same time he relies on God for the final outcome. Finally, a person attains peace of mind in the realization that God is the Wise and His Actions are dictated by wisdom. Things don't happen without a good purpose. If something happens to him that seems to be negative, he realizes it must really be good, or at least it has a necessary lesson. If something good misses him, he realizes it was never divinely intended to be. With this realization, a man achieves inner peace.
But, (say those who follow this reasoning and belief), this is not fatalism and it does not contradict the concept of free choice. We have free choice; but nonetheless, everything that happens is by the Will of God – is decided by God and produced by God, and all such happenings in the world are enacted by His loving compassion and intelligent wisdom. Therefore, everything that ever happens is decided/willed by God from His absolute love and wisdom, and thus everything is ultimately good and with divine wise purpose, even events brought about by man's actions that are apparently bad or unjust.
All of this is distinctly Ash'arite; for it maintains God's determinism but also human free will and responsibility; while maintaining all along that there is no contradiction between these.
(from islamonline.net) “A Muslim must believe in Divine Decree or destiny — qadar in Arabic. The concept of qadar used in the Qur’an means a measure or the latent possibilities with which Allah (God) created human beings and all things of nature. When Allah created each thing, He determined when it would come into existence and when it would cease to exist. He also determined its qualities and nature. And everything in the universe, the seen and the unseen, is completely subject to the overriding power of Allah. Nothing can happen outside His Will. As for human beings, they are not completely masters of their fates, nor are they puppets subject to the hazards of destiny. Allah gave humans limited power and freedom, including the freedom of choice. That autonomy makes each individual accountable for his or her deeds.”
What is evident in the above discourse is the author suggesting that Muslims must believe in divine destiny, and that everything occurs by the overriding power and will of Allah; yet, concurrently, Allah gave humans some power, freedom and choice, which is why humans are accountable for their deeds. This is the usual, orthodox narrative, which attempts to rationalize a dual belief in both divine determinism and human freedom, even though this concurrence is contracting and incoherent. And it tends to avoid any in-depth thinking about these two beliefs being true simultaneously at the same time.
For if God gives man some freedom of choice and action, then surely (if there is any real meaning in 'freedom'), this would entail that in these 'some cases' man is free from being divinely determined. Thus, not all events in life would be divinely determined nor predestined by God's Will. And we could truthfully say, then, that (at least) some occurances in the world are decided by the 'freedom of man', or by the mistakes of man, and that these occurances might then not be works of God's Will nor of God's wisdom and purpose.
Belief in “Divine Decree” is based on four main ideas - (as interpreted from revelation, but not taken directly from revelation):
1.– العلم Al-'Alam – Knowledge: that Allah knows what His creation will do, by virtue of His eternal knowledge, including their choices that will take place.
2.– كتابة Kitabat – Writing: that Allah has written everything that exists prior to creation, including the destiny of all creatures.
3.– مشيئة Mashii'at – Will: that what Allah wills happens, and what He does not will does not happen. There is no movement in the heavens or on earth but happens by His will. This does not mean that He forces things to happen the way they happen in the area of human beings' voluntary actions. It means that He knew what they will chose, wrote it and now lets it happen, and He can always change it if He wants.
4.– الخلق Al-Khalaq – Creation and formation: that Allah is the Creator of all things, including the actions of His servants. They do their actions in a real sense, and Allah is the Creator of them and of their actions.
The meaning of God Wills
First of all, there are some obviously confusing parts in the above summary, (which is copied here from its believers). First consider the very strong statement, “There is no movement in the heavens or on earth but happens by His will.” This suggests that everything which happens 'is by His Will'... “and what He does not Will does not happen.” This would then mean that every instance of human injustice or human cruelty in the world 'happens by His Will'. And if He did not Will it, then it would never have happened. But then in (3), it immediately goes on to say that this does not mean that He forces things to happen in the area of our human voluntary actions. So after very definitively stating that everything happens by His Will, it proceeds (without any embarrassment over the obvious contradiction) to explicate that He does not force human actions (maintaining that these are 'voluntary actions'). So when things happen in our world, as produced by human actions or by human businesses; are these voluntary choices not forced by and produced by the will of God, or are these events decided by and willed by God? This is left ambiguously unclear.
Also ambiguously unclear is (4): “Allah is the Creator of all things, including the actions of His servants. They do their actions in a real sense, and Allah is the Creator of them and of their actions.” First, it seems to again affirm that God creates the actions of 'His servants', that Allah is the creator of His servant's actions. In addition, this is also unclear as to the meaning of 'His servants'; does this include those human beings who do not really serve Him?
Second, there seems to be a confusing equivocation here between 'what Allah wills' and 'what Allah knows'. In many orthodox teachings there seems to be a wavering between two different views and an indecision as to which one is the true faith, regarding predestination and God's decision in all worldly events. In one view, God already knows all that will happen from the hand of man, due to His eternal omniscience, and this is the meaning of predestination. The other meaning of predestination is that God has pre-decided everything man does, as well as being all-knowing. So in this second meaning, God really does determine (or pre-designs) all of man's actions and all worldly events, such that everything is by the decision of God. In this second meaning, then, it difficult to see how man would have any free will if all of his actions were already 'destined'.
In the first view, though, God does not actually cause every event in the world, for man could go against God's Will and cause an unjust, un-divinely event, that was not actually Willed by God. In other words, man could cause evil, injustice, or events without loving and wise divine purpose, as unsanctioned and uncaused and un-Willed by God (except in the sense that God gives man the free power to do what is not loving, just or good). Yet, God already KNOWS what shall be. God, with Omniscience through all time, knows what will happen, and thus whatever shall be is recorded in the Tablet of Destiny that is beyond linear time This is the meaning of 'predestination' (in this particular view). Actions and events are recorded in the beginning of time, as though they had already occurred; yet God has not compelled these actions nor has He necessarily decided that a certain action or event shall occur. So if something happens, it is not necessarily by the decision of God, for it could be due to the decision of a man going astray from God.
The other view, which is actually more popular in the minds of most Muslims, is that God really is the Cause of all events, which He has decided (either now or at the beginning of time) and He Wills, by His Infinite Compassion and Wisdom. And since He is the cause of all events, He must also be the cause of all human actions – since so many events in the world are caused by human actions. In other words, this view holds that any event in life, even if seemingly caused by wrong-doing men, is really caused ('decided' and 'put into effect') by God; which must also mean that God causes those human actions that made the event happen (for how else could the event ever happen without the man's action?). It is in this view, then, that a believer would say of anything or any event that it is by the decision of God, Who decides all events by His infinite compassion and wisdom, and thus whatever happens must be loving and wise, even if it seems by our moral sensitivity and reasoning to be unwise and unloving.
So these are the two views, each different, which most Muslims confuse and mix together. The first view does not necessarily deny that God already knows what shall come about, or that there is an eternal Tablet with all the events of time already known on it. But this view does not accept that all actions are decided and determined by God. The second view also accepts that all is known by God and all is known on the Tablet of history; however in this view, God does decide and determine all actions, all events. Many Mu'tazila would agree with the first view, but none with the second view.
If Allah 'knows' what people will freely choose in their life, then this does not necessarily entail that God 'willed it to be'. In fact, if God had 'willed it to be', in respect to all of our actions, then we did not actually freely choose our own action. Instead, our actions would be Willed by God. And if God is all-powerful in His Will, then how could we do otherwise than His Will if our own will is puny in relation to His Will? This then is the contradiction between the idea of free will and an absolute enacting Divine Will.
Furthermore, if all things happening in the world are decided by His Will and also have a divine (goodly) purpose, then all that happens by the hand and will of man would also be decided by Him and would also have a divine-good purpose. Consequently then, whatever harm one might receive from the hand of man would have to regarded as from the Will of God and this harm done would also have a divine purpose. For example, suppose that a man sins against the divine moral law, as revealed by God to man, and in doing so the man hurts people. Would the pain and occurrences inflicted by the sinful man be Willed by God, or decided by Him and also have a good purpose?
In addition, if God reveals to man a moral law which He asks man to follow, but then He Wills there to be a breaching of this in the world; then what sense is this? As well, if man can be guided by God, but the man refuses to listen to this guidance and instead goes against it; then how would it be so that the man's actions against God's guidance would be regarded as Willed by God? Would God Will a man to breach His own guidance, or to sin against His own revealed laws? Such are more of the contradictions in the orthodox Sunni/Ash’ari concept of 'divine decree'.
A Mu'tazila premise, which helps explain their views, is that God’s Will is not absolutely compelling. Rather, it is prescriptive. God’s Will is what is 'asked of us', or what 'should' ethically be. Then we are free to obey this or not. Thus, for the Mu'tazila the meaning of 'divine decree' is what God asks of man. The divine decree is a proscription, an ethical injunction, an ethical law, or rule to live by. It is a bidding of man to act according to these decreed principles.
So in this sense of understanding God's Will as 'what God asks of us', there is coherent meaning in the question, “am I following God's Will, or not?” And also there is sense in the question, “is this action God's Will, or not?” Whereas these questions do not make any logical sense at all, if every action or event is always God's Will.
Yet in contrast, the Ashari and traditionalist logical assumption is that God’s Will necessarily implies whatever is manifest; since they presuppose God as an absolute power in control of or micro-managing everything. For the Ashari, God’s Will is a done deal; for it is impossible for anything to happen that is not God's Will. Thus, these two very different assumed meanings of 'God's Will' make for two very different views about life.
In addition for the Mu'tazila, 'God’s Plan' is the 'divine intention', having potential to be complete, but not for certain. The meaning of 'God's Plan' is not a pre-determined set world. It is a 'plan', in the sense of something intended to be; yet not necessarily happening. Justice is an Ideal in the Mind of God, seeking to be manifest. It is a potential waiting to be born, and it has to be born through the receptive mind and active will of human beings. Justice is not whatever we find in the world, in the presumption that God has decided and created everything in this world each and every moment.
Ideas about God's power and will
Ash'arism claims that God has absolute power, and thus it is concluded that man does not really have any individual power to chose an action, unless this action has or is already chosen by God. In other words, man cannot possibly chose an action other than the action chosen by God; because God is the only absolute power. To think that man could even act in way not compelled by or determined God would amount to believing that man is not under the absolute power of God. The thought here is that, since God has absolute power, then man could have none; so then if man has no real power (but only God), then only God could have the power to decide and make things happen in His creation, not man. A lesser strict version of this logic is that man could have a given-power to 'make' action (like any moving/doing animal), but not any real choice in deciding actions – since such power of decision would entail that man is capable of making history, or really choosing and producing events in creation – and that would mean that someone other than God is creating the history of our world. Yet, if one reads various narratives in the Qur’an, it very much seems that man is creating parts of history, such that the Prophet and his people are being asked to fix those deviations.
Much of Ash'arite thinking about God presumes a distinctly compelling form of divine power, or that God has to be like an 'absolute-determining ruler'. The Ash'arite assumed conclusion is that God, having 'absolute Power', must therefore mean that God is 'absolutely determining' or that God absolutely rules as an absolute dictator. This presupposition about God is surely skewed by the folk mentality as conditioned by their historic ruling powers. Most likely as well, this kind of thinking and reasoning would have been surely encouraged by the political rulers of the time, as it is a conveniently favorable attitude for the masses.
Also, in relation to God's Power, people often make unnecessary conclusions about the meaning of 'God's Will', and these two ideas are often misunderstood to mean the same.
“Nothing happens but by the power of Allah.” The meaning of this is often misinterpreted. The problem is when divine power is falsely assumed to be synonymous with divine will. Power is an energy in action and is essential in making things happen. Will in involves a decision or choice; so if God Wills something, this means that God decided it or chose it to be. But power does not necessarily involve will or decision. For example, nothing living exists on earth but by the power of our sun. This is scientific and ecological fact. Without sun-energy, or sun power, nothing can live on earth. But this does not entail that sun-power is 'willing' things to be as they are, nor that all things are decided and directed by the sun's power. Rather, the sun gives its energy to life, then life does what it will with this energy. Likewise, our human capacities [for choices and actions] are given to us and fueled by God's power; and without God's power we would have no such choices nor any ability to act.
So the concept of divine power does not have to simply equate with the power of a ruling dictator; in such a way that everything that happens is dictated by and decided by this almighty power (even if He is also loving and wise). For this would be a very limited and unnecessary idea of God, as based on an idea of power having to be manipulative rather than allowing of freedom.
As well, there is no compelling reason why the premises of 'God is the only Power' and 'Nothing other than God' (the unity of Being) have to necessarily entail that everything and all events must be 'decided' or 'willed' by this Power. God's Power could be enacted as a 'giving of creative capacity' in His creatures, including a God-given capacity to man for him to decide and act by his own freedom of choice. Or in other words, man then has a divinely acquired power to choose between good or bad actions, even a power to somewhat mess with the world in a negative way and without any divine purpose. Man's acquired power and choices could then be seen as 'within the unity' of God's power. This would have to at least be possible of God's power, since to argue otherwise would be to limit the possibility of God's power. Or in another sense, this could be understand as a Divine Power which delegates power, in addition to it also delegating intelligence and also love, all of which is given to man in measured and limited amounts in the larger process of world evolution, or as part of His divine plan. This is all within the unity and power of God; so there is no breaching of the fundamental premises (given by revelation) of Divine Unity and the Power of God.
If “God is the only Power” means that God is the only power that ever makes decisions and actions, then it is impossible for man to have any independent power of his own decisions and actions. Thus, man has no real freedom in his decision and action. Freedom would imply that man has some independence in his decision and action, but this cannot be so if every decision and action must depend on God’s decision and action.
In other words, if God is deciding everything and every action of man is caused by God’s decision and will, then nothing can happen except by the Power of God, and so any decision and action of man must be created by the only real Power there is, which is God. In this view of reality, man has no freedom of decision and action, and free-will is but an illusion.
Added to this strict monotheistic logic is a devotional rhetoric of “Only God is Great, it is all from Him, and praise be to God for whatever happens.” But if everything is from God’s power and decision, and should be so praised, then we should also praise every decision and action of any man or woman… since those actions were really decided and caused God.
Yet this view of reality contradicts the belief that man should be held accountable for his decisions and actions, since the former view perceives that everything is caused by God – and so nothing that man thinks or does could be independent of God’s decision and power. Furthermore, this view of reality contradicts the notion that man may be wrong at times in his actions or that man might sometimes make mistakes, since everything is caused by God’s decision and power.
If God is deciding and empowering (enforcing) everything that happens, then man cannot really be held accountable for the decisions and actions of God working through him. As well, there would be no sense in asking for God’s forgiveness in man’s actions, if it was really God who decided and performed the action through oneself. As well, there could be no mistakes, if everything were intended and brought to be by God.
But some people believe a different view of reality; that man does have some degree of individual freedom, or some degree of independently free power of decision and action. They believe that God has given man some degree of independent power in his decisions and actions, free of God’s compelling, such that man can make right or wrong choices, so that man must learn discernment between right and wrong, good and bad. This power of man is given by God, but man’s decisions and actions may not be in accord with God’s wisdom and purpose.
God is still guiding man, both from within and by teachings of prophets and enlightened masters; yet this guidance is not strictly compelling, but rather suggestive and inspiring. So even though God is guiding, through prophets and also from our intuition and conscience, there is no absolute compulsion for a man to follow it. Thus, nothing is ever compelled by God, and nothing specific is absolutely predestined.
This view sees God as not strictly in control of everything and not strictly enforcing of everything; such that not everything is caused by God’s decision, and not everything is in line with God’s Will or Purpose, and not everything is ordained by God. Man has a power and control over his fate, and man must learn discernment and hopefully choose a good path instead of a wrong path. It is possible for God’s Love and Wisdom to work through people, and for man’s decisions and actions to perfectly reflect God’s Will; but only when/if man freely decides to be guided by God and serve God’s Will, and only when the lower self-ego is not in control.
Those aligned with God’s Will bring about goodness and the many positive divine qualities; while those dis-aligned with God or in denial of God, bring about corruption and negativity and harm in the world. So what we find in the world are degrees of positive goodness, but also degrees of negative harm; depending on the divine alignment and understanding of people, and depending on their decisions and actions.
Thus what comes about in the world is often caused by the distorted ego of oneself and other people; or in other words, it all depends on the level of divine understanding and divine alignment of those involved. If many events are caused by people, and if many of these people are only serving their own own interests or are making dumb mistakes; then it simply follows that many events are caused by self-interest or stupidity, rather than caused by God’s Will or by a Divine Plan (unless one believes that God’s Will or the Divine Plan is intentionally causing self-interest, cruelty to others, and stupidity).
The Mu'tazila hold a religious intuition that God is always Good and so would always Will-the-good in any moment. An Ashari counter argument might then be that God is indeed willing the Good in every moment, but our limited minds simply cannot understand the hidden good in what we see, or that whatever happens even if troubling is nonetheless part of a greater plan of Good. Mutazilites might then counter-argue that if one accepts this Ashari belief, then one would naturally accept every human action and every political decision as being actually good, even though we cannot yet see it as so.
Finally, this question of free will vs. determinism is not just a metaphysical topic for debate, but rather an issue that has practical and social implications – because political leaders, and ordinary Muslims as well, could justify their actions and attitudes in life according to one or the other of these contradicting beliefs about man in relation to God. How one views the answer to this question affects one’s practical life and attitude. The attitude of a man seeing his actions and the events of the world as strictly determined or predestined, is often different from one who believes he is free and responsible for much of his destiny. Such differences in attitude often make a difference in how one acts in relation to the world.
How important is prayer?
If one presumes a belief of predestination and divine determination, then the belief that “God responds to our prayers” is logically problematic. First, if it were true that everything is predestined, then how could our prayers make any difference to the predestined future? If we pray, would anything that was already predestined and pre-decided by God really change? Or if we did not pray at all, would anything really change either? This is the particular problem with believing in predestination and, at the same time, believing in the importance of prayers.
But even if one rejects predestination yet still believes that God decides and creates all that happens, there could still be a logical problem. For if it were true that God decides and determines all things, then what difference is there in praying for this or that? God will do what He wishes or what He sees is best, and so how would His decision (or Will) change due to our prayers? Our prayers would still not matter.
Unless that is, if God changes His mind after hearing our prayers? If this happens, then the logical problem disappears because prayers could then be significantly effective in relation to what happens in our lives. However, this view would have to abandon any firm belief in pre-destination, because there is a logical incompatibility in believing, simultaneously, that God decided all events in creation from time's beginning and believing that God will re-decide outcomes based on the prayers or actions of free human beings in each moment of time. In other words, a belief in predestination (that everything is divinely predeterminined from outside of time) is incompatible with a belief in moment-by-moment divine determination – that outcomes are being decided or 'willed' moment by moment, depending sometimes on what man does or how man prays. The two beliefs are literally contradicting one another.
This latter kind of belief is still a 'deterministic' belief, but it is also compatible with human free will and responsibility in what happens; since God's determination of events can be, at times, contingent on the prayers and actions of man, as a kind of divine response to man's free will. So this would be a coherent understanding for the kind of divine determinist who does not hold to the idea of predestination, but instead believes that God is an ever-dynamic power in time, Who decides and creatively acts with power in each moment, in moment by moment decisions, and Who responds to both prayers and to the events of ongoing time. But this makes no sense for the believer of pre-destination, since predestination means that everything is already decided from before time and is not thus contingent on human choices in time.
So, in this non-predestinarian view, God may decide and make things happen after hearing our prayers, or after we neglect to pray. In other words, 'what actually happens' by God's power depends on the sincerity and devotion in our prayers and in our hearts, or the lack of such. This then would make our prayers very significant indeed. For then, God's 'decrees' would depend on the sincerity and soundness of our supplications. His decision for 'what shall be' could also be dependent on 'who we are as a person' and 'what we do'. This would then mean that we have responsibility in what happens in life and in how God (the Divine Intelligence and Power) responds in the present world.
This would mean that humans do, in fact, have a responsibility and power in regards to what happens in the world; since human prayers can actually alter the course of divine activity, or of how God responds. Thus, in summary, if our prayers are really efficacious, then this has to imply at least some degree of human responsibility and power in how things unfold. That is, at least some of what will happen to people will depend on the prayers made either by them or by others; due to the divine response to such prayers. This could then be a possible understanding for divine determinists, in that they could hold onto the idea that God does everything and that all is by the hand of God, while also accepting the efficacious-ness of human prayer in petitioning God's decisions, moment by moment.
Still though, this view contradicts itself by believing both in divine determination and in freely made prayers. Because those prayers would have to be undetermined in order for the view to make any sense. Moreover, if God is always the one 'determining' what happens (as in, 'thus was the will of God') – depending on what humans freely choose to do or depending on prayers freely made by man to God, then God could not be the one who absolutely determines what humans do or if they pray or how they pray. If God's absolute determination of events is now in response to man's freely willed prayers and actions, then God could not be absolutely determining those prayers and actions. A 'divine response' to what man does, or to how he behaves, cannot be (at the same time) a determination of what he does or how he behaves. Thus, a belief in absolute divine determination, even if believed as a 'divine response', is still a logical contradiction to a belief in free will.
Or perhaps it could be believed that God determines everything, moment by moment, except for prayers? But at this point it seems we are scratching desperately for some coherent belief in divine determinism mixed in with some degree of free will. It would be much simpler and clearer to just accept that God measures out creative power to His creatures, while also bestowing divine guidance and intelligence, so that this delegated power has the potential to act wisely, or not. And also that our prayers can help make things better, with God's agreement and power, and even perhaps that we can help to heal others and the world by our prayers.
So, there is much to think about as to the relation between human prayer and divinely enacted power. Of first major importance is that the very idea of prayer and the very act of prayer makes no sense at all if simultaneous with a belief in predestination, because if all things are decided well before time, then what's the point of praying, since God has decided everything already. There is a logical disconnect here.
Second, prayer makes sense only in conjunction with a belief that God empowers better outcomes based on our human prayers, plus our sincerity of faith in Him. In other words, those who pray, love God, and have faith in God, should receive more divine favors in life, than those who do not. This is the inherent assumption and meaning in prayer. Prayer makes a better life and better world, than a lack of prayer. If this were not so, then the significance of prayer has disappeared. The significance also requires that God has not yet made up His mind, and that He would help our circumstances depending on the quality and sincerity of our prayers. It also requires that those who do not pray, or who are not sincerely devoted to God, will not receive the same degree of grace. But this last requirement fails if everything, no matter what, is equally produced by God's Compassion and Wisdom.
Now it might be so that many Muslims would say, 'wait just a minute, we believe that people are responsible for their actions. We don't believe that people are mere puppets of God. But we do believe that all that happens to us and in the world is by God's Will according to His Compassion and Wisdom, and that every event in our world has a 'divine purpose' or is 'meant to be.'
Many Ash'arites and orthodox Sunnis do not deny that there is evil in the world, nor that mistakes can be made, nor that humans have some degree of freedom in their choice and action, and that each person is ethically responsible. However, they nonetheless believe also that everything is by God's Will and there is a divine purpose in every event, even sometimes believing too that everything that ever happens has been planed out (part of 'His Plan') and is thus divine destiny.
Having all of these beliefs together is common in Ash'arite thinking. In other words, the very basics of Ash'arite thought is to believe in BOTH human responsibility and divine determinism. And this is why it acquired such mass popularity – because it 'reconciled' these two opposing theological viewpoints of early Islam, of human free will and divine determinism. These two views were polarized in early stages of Christianity, in Judaism, and then of course in Islam. And the two views appeared to be irreconcilable in their logical contradiction.
But Ash'arism resolved this conflict quite quickly and with popular appeal. It resolved it all by appearing to sound reasonable, yet its actual approach was obscurity, in that it simply denied that there was any contradiction. In modern parlance, they would have simply declared the contradiction to be a divine paradox. Or in other words, our human reasoning cannot grasp the truth as God knows it; so what appears to be a logical contraction is just something that humans cannot understand with their powers of reason.
So the Ash'arite doctrine on this issue, in the final analysis, requires faithful acceptance, beyond reason and common sense logic. Because with any persistent reasoning, (rather than its alternative which is not bothering to really think seriously about the problems), it will be discovered that the contradictions are not so simply dissolved by just ignoring them or by referring to them as 'divine paradoxes'.
We could use any
number of examples to think about. So these are but a few.
- A corporation has been polluting the water and air. (business harm)
- A group of men set off a bomb that kills hundreds. (group harm)
- A man drinks excessively, then kills someone in a car accident. (indiv. harm)
If we first consider the moral responsibility of any of these happenings, most Muslims (except for the most radical determinists) would agree that the person, persons, or corporation is 'ethically responsible' for their actions, and also that their actions were 'bad and harmful'. Most will agree that something bad happened and that these people behaved badly. Yet for many Muslims, simultaneous to this belief is their other kind of belief – that these events were 'created' or 'willed' by God, 'decided' or 'planned' by God, and that they therefore have a divine purpose or divine reason.
This means, then, that these events (as well as ALL events) are really produced with divine compassion, wisdom and goodness; since God is compassionate, wise and good. In other words, these events then are wise and good; since they are created or willed by the all-powerful God of wisdom and goodness. In addition, these events have a 'divine purpose' (or 'divine reason'). The events might seem to us as not having a good purpose at all, but this is due to our lack of divine knowing or because we cannot comprehend the perfect compassion, wisdom and goodness in such events, or we cannot understand with reason how they really fit into a greater divine scheme or plan. Thus, according to this belief, these events were not really bad at all, since they were part of the greater divine plan and wisdom. In fact, what event could be 'bad', if all events are divinely good?
For if an event is assumed to have a greater divine purpose or to be part of a divine plan, then this event would also have to be good – since God is good, and the divine purpose is good, and any divine plan must be good. Maybe not good from a personal or human perspective, but at least good from the divine perspective. And of course, if something is good from the divine perspective, then it must really be good (objectively good). So then, all events would be assumed as good, if every event is believed to have a greater divine purpose, and if the divine purpose of each event is assumed to be a good purpose – as intended, willed and created by the compassionate and wise God. Once again, what event could be 'bad', if all events are really divinely good?
Additionally, if there is a divine scheme at work every moment in the world or if every manifested event is by God's decision and will, then the actors in this divine scheme would have to fulfill their particular roles with perfection. Because in order for this 'Plan' or 'Will' or 'Divine perfection' to work out in day to day events, each actor (character or agent) in this divine scheme would have to perform their particular role with absolute perfect agreement to this Divine Plan (His Will); otherwise, if anyone were to mess up by not doing what is Planned or Willed, then some things would not be according to His Will or to the divine plan. In other words, for the divine determination to actually work out perfectly or according to plan, each person would have to perfectly do what God (the Designer or Director) makes them do, so that each particular event (which is believed to be of 'His plan' or having a 'divine purpose') does in fact manifest. That is, each manifestation (each event) of 'His loving and wise Will' would require all people involved in this event to perfectly fulfill a particular action in that event. Otherwise, the event would not manifest.
So is it possible for a person to not fulfill God's Will and Plan, or to do otherwise than what God Wills to be good? If so, then there is human free will; but then some (or many) events in the world would not be fulfilling God's Will and Plan and would not have a 'divine purpose' or divinely good reason for happening. In other words, if it is possible for someone to actually make a divine mistake, or to not follow God's Will, then this does mean there is free will, but it also means that God's Will and Plan is not getting manifested in those instances, so those events (when people mess up or go against God's Will) would not be good and would have no divine intention or purpose in them. Yet, on the other hand, according to the determinist belief, if each event is by God's Will and thus divinely good, then it must be that everyone (doing those events) is fulfilling God's Will and is, thus, divinely good; which means then that everyone in the whole world is divinely good and fulfilling God's Will. Since it would be impossible for all events in the world to be divinely willed, unless all agents of such events were also divinely willed.
Hence, it is important to see this very obvious connection between the event, which one is regarding as being decided and made by the divine Will and as having a divine Purpose (a good and larger reason for happening), and the needed actions by those who actively participated in the event. For example, the event of an exploding bomb requires certain people to make the bomb and explode it; the event of polluted water killing those who drink it requires someone(s) to actually do the polluting. And a person killed by a drunk driver required that the driver got drunk and drove. So, in any event happening to us or in the world, save for completely natural events, there are someone(s) having to do certain actions in order for this event to actually occur. This is such simple logic, that it seems amazing that it even has to be stated. So even if one believes that God 'does everything', it must still be true that men and women are very often involved. Someone had to actually pollute the river, set the bomb in place or pull the trigger.
When an event happens, whatever event it is, people are usually involved. People have to do something, or pull the trigger as it were, in order for this event to occur. It is not like God just makes these things happen. Thus, people are involved and people are the agents. So for the Mu'tazila, people are responsible and need to be held accountable as being the cause of so many bad events; not merely attributing every event to God or to His Will or as having a greater divine purpose (or greater good). Ash'arism, on the other hand, acknowledged man as an agent in the action but not as a true cause, since God is the only power and thus the only cause of anything.
Therefore, from the view of Ash'arism, there really is no human responsibility in these harmful actions, since man is merely acting in fulfillment of the divine will, or as an agent for manifesting the divine purpose and plan; even if a man pulls the trigger and kills people. Because from the view of Ash'arism, men and women are merely agents of God's Will – God's decisions and power. And God's Will, as well as God's enacted Power, is always Loving and Wise; meaning also that everything happening is always loving and wise. So in addition, this sort of belief entails that there really is no human freedom of choice and action, since God is the ultimate decider and cause of everything that happens – and everything that happens is 'caused by Him' Who is most absolutely Compassionate and Wise.
Mistakes in life: the bad and the stupid
In any thinking about divine destiny or divine determinism, we should not neglect the fact that some humans make bad or stupid actions – and these bad or stupid actions often make what happens in the world and in our lives. So if we accept that people can and do make bad or stupid actions, at least sometimes; then the question is this: are these stupid or bad actions determined by God? Or are they undetermined by God, but rather determined by the people themselves? Or, is the whole idea of 'bad and stupid actions' really illusionary, since God absolutely determines everything and of course God is loving, wise and good.
It would seem logically odd and empirically delusionary for anyone to actually believe that there really are no 'bad and stupid actions', since all that ever happens in the world is really good and wise. Yet many seem to hold onto this super-rationalized view.
There is one particular belief (or approach) that tries to reconcile this problem, but this too fails to finally make sound sense. This belief is as follows. It is believed that there are, in fact, bad and stupid actions made by man, and in addition, the physical and social ramifications of these actions are also accepted as bad. So this view accepts the possibilities of stupid and bad in the world, by way of man. Yet this view also maintains that God is determining such actions and events, and that each of these occurrences has divine purpose. Now, as has been pointed out a few times already, anytime we assume that an action or event has divine purpose, or is part of a greater purpose or plan, then this also entails that the action or event 'is Good', since it would not make any sense that something 'with divine purpose' is not good.
However, this view brings in a subtle twist, which is that all of those bad and stupid actions are brought into effect, by God, so that we will learn from them. For example, when one makes a mistake, this was actually brought into effect by God (or perhaps it is also part of the divine plan), so that we would learn from this mistake. Thus, each mistake (and all bad actions would be included as mistakes) is produced by the divine, for the divine purpose of learning. Furthermore, all those bad actions happening in the world, all of the harm and injustices found in the world, are produced by God so that we can learn from them, and also so we can appreciate the good from the bad. Thus, God is making all of the bad and stupid things occur, so that we can learn from them.
So this kind of belief is an interesting twist on the determinist belief, because it simultaneously holds together divine determinism with an acceptance that bad and stupid actions are quite possible in the world. God is determining these bad and stupid actions, but for a greater divine purpose that we might learn from these mistakes.
But this view still fails to reconcile free will with divine determinism, since it assumes that all actions and events in the world are divinely determined. Moreover, this view boils down to the ridiculous. For why would people need the divine power to produce mistakes? First of all, people themselves are quite capable of making their own mistakes, their own bad and stupid actions, without God making it be. Sure, people need some power to act, but God can give us this power without also having to decide what we do with it.
It is confounded to believe that God would produce or determine the mistakes we make, and thus the bad and stupid events of the world, just so that we might learn from these. The whole concept of 'learning from our mistakes' is that we would learn to not make those mistakes again, and that we would then make better actions in the future as based on our previous learning. But this all becomes incoherent if one believes that God makes and determines everything, including the mistakes.
In summary of the scenario of divine determinism, mistakes are produced by the divine intelligence, not by the person, and so any learning from such God-given mistakes would have to be given by God as well. It is believed that the divine intelligence (God) creates our mistakes – under the divine purpose of 'learning' from these mistakes.
Yet, most of the time, people do not really learn from their mistakes. It is hoped that people will learn from their mistakes, and perhaps this learning is inevitable, eventually. But people do not necessarily learn from their mistakes right away or in any instance of making a mistake. So whenever a mistake is made, there is no guarantee that one will learn from it and make subsequent changes to fix the mistake. Many times the mistake is overlooked or ignored, and many times mistakes are repeated – usually repeated until the person seriously sees themselves as responsible and freely able to make needed changes by way of personal will.
So why would God bother to produce our mistakes and then neglect to have us actually learn from these mistakes and correct them? This another absurd consequence of the divine deterministic belief.
But the worse part of the determinist belief is in the attitude that it fosters, in regards to mistakes and corrections, because the determinist will tend to deflect responsibility for the mistake to God as its creator, thus avoiding self-responsibility, and also deflect to God the responsibility for correcting the mistakes. For the general attitude of a determinist is that God produced the mistakes, and God will correct those mistakes at a time when He wills it to be or when He decides is the best time. This attitude will tend to produce a fatalistic acceptance that 'whatever' happens is by the Will of God and by His Compassion and Wisdom, which is then regarded as a “spiritual attitude”; as well as fostering a passively waiting attitude, waiting for God to correct the mistakes in oneself or in the world, rather than the person holding an attitude of needing to self-assertively correct one's own problems and even problems in the world.
In truth, we each have to be the real causal agent of our own mistakes (and its effects in the world), so that when we see that we indeed made a mistake, we then make a responsible decision and action to correct the mistake or to change our way of acting. We need to believe in our own self-responsibility; and, as well, we need to believe that other people are responsible for various mistakes, bad and stupid actions. For if God is the only responsible power, then those people and our own self are not really responsible. Alternatively, if we believed that we and others are truly responsible for our mistakes, rather than God, then we will be truly motivated to actually try to learn from our mistakes. We might then seriously observe our self in behavior and action, with a view of self-responsibility rather than a view of divine determination, and we might then responsibly change our own actions, because we believe that we can, and not that this change depends on God doing. Additionally, in regards to the world around us, if we believe that people are responsible for their mistakes, not God, then we must hold people and institutions as responsible for the many mistakes, bad and stupid actions, and injustices, as found in the world.
We learn from our own mistakes, because we see that they are 'our own mistakes' (and not simply produced by God). And we learn to makes changes in our own lives, because we learn from our mistakes and because we accept that we must self-responsibly make those changes by our own self-assertive volition, rather than wait for God to do it. And finally, we learn from seeing bad and stupid actions in the world, and from this we use our power to make social justice changes in our world, not wait for God; and we do not simply see whatever happens as God making it so or as having a divine purpose.
We can be guided by God to not make mistakes, yet we can also learn from observing our own mistakes (and also the mistakes of others). God guides us to not make mistakes; but in our free will, we might still make mistakes due to our not listening to this guidance and not following it. God then guides us in how to correct our mistakes, but we might still not listen. Yet eventually, we can learn a better path by our own combination of intelligence and spiritual intuition. At any moment we can be guided and helped by God, but nonetheless we can also learn on our own. And we do not believe that God leads us to make mistakes or to follow any bad or stupid paths; for these are by our own free will, undetermined by God.
So, under the scenario of free-will there is a possibility of eventual human learning and its eventual consequence of personal and social evolution. A theory of free-will is coherent with this belief in human learning in relation to human evolution. That is, human and social evolution is a consequence of learning from life and from outcomes, then responsibly making needed changes and adaptations. With free-will, we can freely makes mistakes; yet, we can learn from these mistakes, to then become a better person and do better in action.
Creation: an undetermined work in progress
The preceding thoughts, reasoning, and arguments have been meant to show the very obvious contradictions in certain popular Muslim beliefs; though the believers would resist any serious thinking about this. This resistance has psychological reasons. Basically, there is a human tendency to resist or deny the contradictions of their personal or group beliefs, and people tend to favor comfort and adherence in belief; rather than questioning. But all of these arguments are directed against the false belief (and faith) that ALL events are God's Will, God's Plan, decided by God, and having a good divine purpose (and would a divine purpose be anything other than good?).
What has not yet been considered is that SOME events (just not all) could be of God's Will, God's Plan, decided by God, and having a good divine purpose. That is, our human actions can be inspired by God and thus divinely good. We can be following God's Will, and we can be fulfilling God's Plan. Our actions, and the events following, can have divine purpose. We can listen to God's guidance, either through our inner given intuition or by outward divine revelation, and then follow this guidance into action, thus producing divinely inspired events, (rather than 'un-divine' events).
The Mu'tazila view is not denying that some events are produced specifically by the power of God, as long as these instances do not violate the principle of man being able to decide and act freely (though any such “freedom” will be relatively limited to the person's social circumstances as well as to their intellect).
We can be agents of God, thus producing events in align with God's Will. These events, then, can truly be called 'divine events', or events from His Will. But this only happens when the person/agent is aligned with the Divine Will (Love, Wisdom and Goodness); rather than just acting from personal interest, personal ego, false self-conditioning, or from God-deviant social influences. Thus, it is possible for a person to be God-inspired and God-directed, and therefore instigate divinely inspired and purposeful events; but this only happens if the person is sufficiently pure in heart, detached from any socially conditioned ego, sincerely dedicated to God, and personally aligned with God.
In addition, although the arguments above were showing the incoherence of believing that God decides and creates every single event in the world, it is coherently possible to believe in the power of God to decide and create SOME events (just not all). So the Mu'tazila view is not denying that some events may be produced specifically by the power of God and by His Compassionate Wisdom, such as the possibility of divine healing, protection, and divine revelations. And of course, there is possibility for man or woman to produce events that are divinely inspired or divinely guided. So there is no denial that divine goodness or God's Will is possible to manifest in the world.
The Mu'tazila are just denying that this happens ALL of the time, and our common sense backs up this Mu'tazila view. For our common sense tells us that there are, in fact, bad things happening at times, injustices and harmful actions that are not part of a higher divine purpose or plan. And that there are people who are not following God's guidance or God's Will, who are therefore producing events that are not divinely sanctioned and without any good divine purpose.
Nonetheless, the Mu'tazila believe that God's Compassionate Wisdom and Justice is possible in the world, which does sometimes manifest – sometimes by way of human beings in alignment with God, but also at times by 'direct divine intervention' (or directly 'from Above'). Thus, there is possibility for God directly intervening in our lives at any moment, or in other words, of God's Compassionate Will (and Power) to directly produce a spiritual outcome at any time. But again, the Mu'tazila are only arguing that this is not happening all of the time. For the Mu'tazila accept that God is all-powerful, meaning that God has the Power to create anything at any time, and they accept that this supra-divine power is sometimes at work in the world. But they also believe that humans can create events that are not God-decided and not God-willed.
Thus, God the all-powerful can create anything at any time, but God does not use this power at each moment, because God mostly allows man to freely-independently decide and act, even if man produces events that are contrary to His Will. God allows this, so that man can learn from his experiences and mistakes, in order to naturally evolve intelligently and ethically. Man, thus, is responsible for his bad or unjust actions, and it is man who must correct the injustices of this world; just as God asks His Messengers to help correct the mistakes of the people and produce more evolved institutions of justice and help bring divine guidance into society.
So, this possibility of God sometimes intervening in the world, then opens the door for God's Help in our lives and in the world at large. This very significantly relates to prayer and to worship. Because if God can creatively intervene with His Compassionate Wisdom Power, and does so at times, then our prayers become evermore important. For if our heart and motive is pure in our prayers, then God will answer those prayers with His Compassionate Wisdom Power. But our prayers become insignificant and unimportant – if God already has plans in place for everything or if everything is already pre-planned. Or, if God is determining everything anyways, with all His creatures just doing what He Wills, then what difference is there in our prayers?
What makes most sense is that the ongoing drama of the world and the unfolding of our lives has not already been absolutely determined by God, such that each new moment is actually undetermined and open to possibility at each moment, yet in each undetermined moment God can produce anything in the world by His Power. This instant intervening power is possible for God, but not usually actualized by God, since mostly the Divine Power is allowing humans to freely choose and act according to each person's level of love and wisdom. God could guide and help anyone and at any moment, but this usually does not happen unless the person is sincerely asking and listening, rather than neglecting or resisting God.
Therefore, our prayers and our worship, our remembrance and openness to God are significantly important, for this itself could be a deciding factor in how the Divine Power responds in our lives and in the world in general, since God can and will intervene accordingly. But God's compassionate intervention does not always happen, and one reason is that people are not yet deserving, due to their lack of respect and attentiveness to God. On the other hand, if a person is respectful, mindful, sincerely devoted to God, and humble enough to ask for His help; then God will indeed help.
God, in His Power, responds to our prayers and actions; and thus, our actions and our prayers are most important, as they effect how God will respond in our world. So if our prayers are sincere, with love and with faith, God answers these prayers with His absolute compassion and power. On the other hand, if we do not pray or ask help from God, or if we treat God with disdain or neglect, then God might simply leave us alone.
In addition, “O you who believe, if you help Allah, He will help you and make firm your feet (47:7).” All of the great Messengers have emphasized the importance of prayer, worship, and asking for help, as well as having a sincere intention to help God. For then, God will respond generously with His Power, Love and Wisdom.
Of course though, our Compassionate God is always offering guidance and help, but not forcing nor compelling this upon us. “There is no compulsion in religion (2:256).” It is up to each of us to make our relationship with God. 'As you turn to God, God turns to you.' God gives us free will, so that we might come to Him with true sincerity of heart, not compelled by Him nor by anyone. Thus, God the Powerful is not always compelling us, nor is God deciding that any person will make harm in the world – producing negative events in the world. God is only guiding people towards the good, the wise and the loving.
But inevitably there will be those who do not listen to God and who do not adhere to His Will, Love and Wisdom. These people are left to do as they will, by their mistaken and unmindful choices, even though they might produce un-divine events in the world. They will have to eventually learn from their mistakes. Hopefully, an organic human learning takes place, person by person, society by society, leading towards the divine vision of the Good.