Praise be to Allah, Lord of the worlds, and the most honorable prayer and peace be upon the master of the first and the last, our master, Muhammad, the chosen, the trustworthy, and upon his pious and pure family, his faithful companions, and those who followed them in goodness until the Day of Judgment, may Allah Almighty be pleased with them all.
This article is about a theological aspect, an aspect which might create certain misunderstanding due to the conceptual vagueness of the Quranic ayahs related to freedom of choice on the one hand, and the written predestination which is a basic pillar in Islam.
This is a very important, although very old, discussion. It is the result of a misunderstanding pertaining to the attributes of Allah. Most attributes have certain attachments or extra meaning, which are diverse and interact accordingly. Muslim theologians have written many books, some short and others long and detailed, to explain the basic and necessary attributes of Allah. They divided the attributes of Allah into the divine essence and the divine attributes. The divine essence is exclusive to Him. That means that it is impossible for any other being to have one or more of these attributes, and it is impossible for Allah to be without them. They are as follows:
- Existence: as it is impossible for Him not have existed, since all creations exist already, then their creator must and have preexisted them. Likewise, His existence is not limited in the past, which means that He exists before all creation, and He is still exists now, and He will also exist after all creation turns to nothingness.
- Pre-eternity: He has always existed, even before time, as time is a creation of His. Allah says in the Quran: “Who originates creation, then brings it back again, who gives you sustenance from the heaven and the earth, is there a god with Allah? Say: ‘Bring us your proof if you are among the truthful” (Surah 27, ayah 64)
- Ever-lasting: It is impossible for Him to be non-existent in any point in time in the future. Allah says in the Quran: “Allah, there is no god except He, the Living, the Everlasting. Neither dozing, nor sleep overtakes Him” (Surah 2, ayah 255).
- Unlike creation: All His creation is dependent on Him. He is unlike any of his creation, as every creation has certain deficiency, and Allah Has none. As the Quran says: “There is nothing like Him. He is the Hearer, the Seer” (Surah 42, ayah 11)
- Self-subsistence: Allah in not dependent on anything, whether be it a place, or time. He exists on his own, as Allah says in the Quran: “People, it is you who are in need of Allah. He is the Rich, the Praised” (Surah 35, ayah 15).
- Oneness: As he is unique, alone without a second, without a similar, and He is One without division, Allah says in the Quran: “Say: ‘He is Allah, the One. The called upon. Who has not given birth, and has not been born. And there is none equal to Him” (Surah 112, ayah 1-4).
As for the divine attributes, they are perfect and eternal. We can find them all over the Quran, as Allah describes Himself with them. They are as follows:
- Life: He is alive, was, still and will always be. Death is impossible to Him. Allah says in the Quran: “Put your trust in the All Living who never dies, and exalt with His praise, He is sufficiently aware of His worshipers’ sins” (Surah 25, ayah 58).
- Power: Allah is omnipotent and possesses the infinite power. He is able to do everything possible, that is neither obligatory -as Himself-, nor impossible -as killing Himself or creating another God like Him.
- Knowledge: He knows everything, all that has existed, exists, will exist and those things which did not exist. Allah says in the Quran: “With Him are the keys of the unseen, none knows them but He. He knows that which is in the land and sea. No leaf falls except He knows it, and there is no grain in the darkness of the earth, fresh or withered, but is recorded in a clear Book” (Surah 6, ayah 59).
- Will: whatever He desires is and what He does not is not. Allah says in the Quran: “Allah indeed does what He will” (Surah 22, ayah 14).
- Hearing: He hears all sounds without depending on organs.
- Seeing: He sees all forms of creation without depending on organs. He says in the Quran: “There is nothing like Him. He is the Hearer, the Seer” (Surah 42, ayah 11).
- Speech: As His hearing and seeing, His speech is nothing like ours, He does not depend on organs. Allah says in the Quran: “Certainly, Allah talked to Moses” (Surah 4, ayah 164).
After this short explanation of the attributes of Allah let us go in some details into the limited knowledge of man and that of Allah, the Almighty. In Islam, Allah knows everything before he even created His creation. This knowledge is perfect and absolute, as being a true God requires this. Knowledge is an eternal and existential attribute that exists in His essence, the Exalted, that has attachment to a thing in a way that encompasses what it is without a hidden precedent. This is the only relation which Knowledge has. So, it has no effects on anything.
Allah who created us in perfect knowing of all that humanity is and would be has shared knowledge through his revelations and holy scriptures with us about himself and the way for humans to live in peace with him and with other humans. Unlike animals he also gave humans, and jinn as well, the freedom of choice. All humans, and jinn also, have the ability to consciously choose right or wrong, good or evil and as such they are responsible for that choice. This is one of the reasons we have so much evil and discord in this world. Allah did not create automatons or force anyone to follow or worship Him. Everyone is free to choose good or evil, to follow Allah or to reject Him, and those that do may prosper for a short time in this world, but in the end our God will bring justice to all, gathering the believers to himself and casting out those who chose not to be with Allah. Likewise, Allah knows the choice of everyone before he/she makes it, even before he created any of us. This knowledge has no impact whatsoever on our choice, just that Allah knows us and our destiny before we even willingly choose it. Thus Allah created each of us with full knowledge of how some of us would bring sin and grievance into the world, how others would seek to heal those injustices and how in the end Allah himself would sort through his creation. Even knowing some of his creation would go astray, Allah chose to create all of us making us free to choose to follow or reject his righteous path. If His foreknowledge had any impact on our choice He would not be the Just, and His judgement on doomsday would be an act of unfairness and injustice. Allah says in the Quran: “Say: ‘This is the truth from your Lord. Let whosoever will, believe, and whosoever will, disbelieve it” (Surah 18, ayah 29). He also says in the Quran: “Surely, Allah shall not harm so much as the weight of an atom, and if it is a good deed He will double it, and give from His Own a great wage” (Surah 4, ayah 40).
Praise be to Allah the Lord of all Creation