Allah’s Decree, Free Will, and Our Sins
Sheikh Salman al-Oadah
Everything in existence is subject to Allah’s will and power. For Muslims, this goes without saying. It is an essential tenet of every Muslim’s faith. Allah says: “Indeed, Allah has power over all things.”
However, this is no excuse for human beings to evade responsibility for their own decisions. No one can argue that it was their fate to sin. We know this from firsthand experience. We know instinctively that we make our own decisions. We choose to do some things and refrain from doing other things. We carry out intentional actions. We intend, for instance, to travel or stay at home, to eat or to sleep. When we carry out these and other intentional actions, we recognize that we are doing so of our own volition.
It is on the basis of these intentions of ours that Allah judges us. We are not judged for the involuntary actions of our bodies, nor for what we are forced to do under compulsion or duress.
This is why we see that Allah says: “Whoever disbelieves in Allah after having believed – save one who is coerced (to make an utterance of unbelief) but whose heart is still fully resolved upon faith – but whoever finds ease in unbelief: on them is Allah’s wrath, and they will have an awful punishment.” [Sūrah al-Nahl: 106]
Whoever is coerced into something to the point that he or she has no choice but to comply, then he or she is legally exempt for that action in this world and sinless for it in the Hereafter. We are taken to account for what we do of our own free choice.
Many people put forth questions about free will and predestination with the sole aim of justifying their sinful tendencies. Whenever someone admonishes them for their sins, they say: “What I did was fated for me. It was Allah’s will. I had no choice.”
When we consider what the Qur’an says about our actions, we see that Allah connects our free will to His permitting us to carry out actions by our own choice. Allah says: “But you do not exercise you will, except that Allah wills it; for Allah is full of Knowledge and Wisdom.” [Sûrah al-Insân: 30]
We are furthermore told in the Qur’an that no one could believe or disbelieve except with Allah’s permission. Allah has permitted us to make the choice. If Allah had willed to subdue our wills, He could have compelled us to do one thing or another. Instead, He has permitted us to make our own choices and formulate our own intentions. This means we cannot avoid taking responsibility for the decisions we make.
Allah, in His wisdom, has given us an indisputable proof of our free will. This proof is our own unavoidable recognition that we make our own decisions. We can tell the difference between the involuntary movements of our body, like our heartbeats, and the free choices that we make. Therefore, those who wantonly goes about sinning, exercising their free choice all the way, cannot then turn around and say that Allah compelled them to sin.