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.
In Islam, we believe that Allah (subhanahu wataala) created humans on this earth to worship Him, and subjected everything in this world to be utilized for their benefit, as the Quran says: “He has subjected to you whatsoever is in the heavens and the earth; all is from Him. Surely, there are signs in this for people who contemplate” (Surah 45, ayah 13). He granted them the freedom to choose whether to worship him or not, as the Quran says clearly: “Say: ‘This is the truth from your Lord.’ Let whosoever will, believe, and whosoever will, disbelieve it” (Surah 18, ayah 29).
A question may arise here, which is: “Is there a real freedom of choice in Islam in regard to belief and disbelief? Doesn’t that create a conflict regarding Allah being an All-knowing-God? In other words, if Allah knew from the beginning, that is, before creating everything, who is going to believe and who is going to disbelieve, and knows who is going to Paradise and who is going to Hell, then where is the freedom of choice?”
This is a very good and very old question. It is the result of a misunderstanding pertaining to the attributes of Allah. Most attributes have certain attachments or extra meanings, and they diverge and interact accordingly. The attribute of knowing, which is one of the essential attributes of Allah, indicates that Allah knows everything from eternity; there is nothing existed or did not exist out of the knowledge of Allah. This attribute has only one attachment, which is the realization of everything from eternity. It has no effect on existence.
There is a very good example of that, which clarifies the misunderstanding that might happen when thinking about God, his attributes, and reality. Imagine yourself watching a movie once or twice, and you remember certain incidents in the movie. Now imagine that you and your friend are watching that same movie, and your friend is watching it for the first time. When you know what will happen and you tell your friend (spoiler!) about what you know, does that affect the incidents on the movie? Of course not! Your knowledge has no effect whatsoever on the movie. The same can be said about the knowledge of Allah. Being God means that He must know everything, otherwise He wouldn’t be God. Freedom of choice, on the other hand, is real and we can feel it when making our decisions. No one can claim that there is a hidden power which obliged him to choose a thing over the other.
Another aspect is that freedom of choice is the essential component which makes the day of judgement a logical destination. If humans did not have freedom of choice, why would they be judged before Allah? Why would He ask them about their choices in this life? Why would He grant Paradise to those who made the right choice and Hell to those who made the wrong choice, if He programmed them to make these choices? This is a pure nonsense. Allah is the Wise, and He is the Just; with these two beautiful attributes we are sure that Allah does not inflict injustices on his creatures. The Quran clearly say that humans have the choice, we can find that in many ayahs, such as: “Indeed, We have guided him to the path, he is either grateful or ungrateful” (Surah 76, Ayah 3), and: “Say: ‘O people! The truth has come to you from your Lord. Whosoever is guided is guided only for himself, and whosoever goes astray, he is astray for himself. I am not a guardian over you” (Surah 10. Ayah 108), and: “And to you We have revealed the Book with the truth confirming the Book that was revealed before it, and a guardian over it. Therefore, give judgment among them in accordance to what Allah has sent down and do not yield to their fancies from the truth that has come to you. We have ordained a law and a Path for each of you. Had Allah willed, He could have made you one nation but that He might try you by that which He has bestowed upon you. Race with one another in good works, to Allah you shall all return and He will declare to you what you were at variance” (Surah 5, Ayah 48).
To conclude this article, let me exemplify the whole story in simple words. Allah created all humans on this world. He granted them the gift of mind which enables them to think. He sent messengers to guide humans, and supported them with miracles. With all this in mind, He gave humans free choice. He rewards those who obeyed Him and His messengers with Paradise and He punishes those who disobeyed Him with Hell. Our Prophet peace be upon him said, quoting Allah as saying: “O My servants, I have forbidden oppression for Myself and have made it forbidden amongst you, so do not oppress one another. O My servants, all of you are astray except for those I have guided, so seek guidance of Me and I shall guide you, O My servants, all of you are hungry except for those I have fed, so seek food of Me and I shall feed you. O My servants, all of you are naked except for those I have clothed, so seek clothing of Me and I shall clothe you. O My servants, you sin by night and by day, and I forgive all sins, so seek forgiveness of Me and I shall forgive you. O My servants, you will not attain harming Me so as to harm Me, and will not attain benefitting Me so as to benefit Me. O My servants, were the first of you and the last of you, the human of you and the jinn of you to be as pious as the most pious heart of any one man of you, that would not increase My dominion in anything. O My servants, were the first of you and the last of you, the human of you and the jinn of you to be as wicked as the most wicked heart of any one man of you, that would not decrease My dominion in anything. O My servants, were the first of you and the last of you, the human of you and the jinn of you to rise up in one place and make a request of Me, and were I to give everyone what he requested, that would not decrease what I have, any more that a needle decreases the sea if put into it. O My servants, it is but your deeds that I record for you and then recompense you for. So let him who finds good, praise Allah, and let him who finds other than that blame no one but himself.” (Sahih Muslim, book 45, Hadith 70).
Praise be to Allah, Lord of the worlds