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Islamic Theology: Full Power (Tafwidh) and Determinism (Jabr), Chap: 6 A


Author: Sheikh Mansour Leghaei

Full Power (Tafwidh) and Determinism (Jabr)


In the Holy Quran there are many Ayaat which seem to endorse the dogma of fatalism as there are many other Ayaat that appear to condone the concept of man’s free will.

From the second half of the first Islamic century a group of Muslim theologians suggested that man in his actions enjoys free will and the right to choose. Thus, they regarded the Ayaat that seemed to condone fatalism as ambiguous. They interpreted those Ayaat according to their concept of free will. On the other hand another group argued that every phenomenon in this world including man’s actions is predetermined by God and hence man in reality has no free will. Unlike the first group, they interpreted the Ayaat which seems to suggest man’s free will in accordance to their theory of determinism.

The first group was known ‘al-Qadari’ (free will) and the latter were called ‘al-Jabri’ (Determinists or fatalists). With the emergence of the Mu’tazili and the Ash’ari schools, the followers of free will joined the Mu’tazili school and the determinists united with the Ash’aris.


Historically the tyrant rulers have been advocating and promoting fatalism to justify their tyranny and suppress their subjects. Thus, the Umayyad dynasty were the promoters of fatalism and since the kingdom of al-Motowakkil, the Abbasid King, the Ash’ari school was declared the official theological school of Muslims.


The Argument

Every sensible person knows that man at least enjoys some freedom. There are many instances wherein two or more choices are genuinely open to us and we make a choice. This is a self-evident knowledge, and the denying of which is rather fallacious. However, as we learnt in the chapter four one of the dimensions of monotheism is monotheism of acts. The application of this notion is that all that comes to exist including man’s actions is in essence the act of God as He is the only independent influential power in the universe. The question therefore arises as to how could possibly the notion of monotheism in acts and the self-evident knowledge of man’s free will be reconciled?


Failure to find a proper reconciliation between the two ideas, both the Ash’aris and the Mu’tazilis went astray. The Ash’aris denied their common sense by denying man’s free will, and the Mu’tazilis denied the monotheism in acts to justify man’s freedom in his actions.


Problems of Absolute Determinism

1) Determinism is the denial of common sense.

2) If everything is predestined the divine law of rewarding the pious and punishing the vicious people would be void. The righteous people would not deserve praise nor would the criminals be blamed. In fact, it would be unfair to punish a criminal for it was predestined that he commits the sin. Thus, the righteous people would deserve more blame, as the criminals would be more worthy of mercy.

3) Divine command and prohibition to a man who has no freedom of action would be unwise. Imam Ali (a.s) said to the one who believed in determinism:

"Do you assume He Who (Allah) prohibits you, is cunning you?" [Behar vol.5 p.58]

Problems of absolute free will

1) Absolute free will is against common sense. We did not choose our parents, skin colour and physical appearance, health or sickness etc.

 2) It is contrary to monotheism in acts and limits the might of God in the realm of man!

Reasons for determinism and their responses

1. Epistemic determinism (or, the problem of foreknowledge): Determinists allegedly argue:

P1. God is Omniscious over everything before they occur including man’s actions.

P2. The knowledge of God is inevitable. Thus, the foreknowledge of God is incompatible with man’s free will. The answer is God has the full knowledge of the law of causality and hence He knows which option man would choose when exercising his free will.

2. Man’s action is determined by genetic code and/or societal factors. The answer is although genome and environmental influences contribute to the personality of man, they can be modified by the same factors or by man’s exercise of free will.

3. Man’s free will contradicts the religious notion of al-Qadha (the divine decree) and al-Qadar (the divine measure). Allah states in the Quran:

" Say: Nothing shall ever happen to us except what Allah has ordained for us." [9:51]

The answer of this argument lies under the correct understanding of the meaning of al-Qada and al-Qadar.

The meaning of al-Qadha and al-Qadar:

Al-Qada means there is a divine decree for all that comes to existence. When God decrees on something, He also gives it a measure (al-Qadar) to specify its limits, shape and form, time and place, etc. However, the divine decree (al-Qadha) and His measure (al-Qadar) are based on the law of causality that He has introduced for this world. Thus, when God decrees something to happen, it does happen through the chains of causes and effects among which is the will power of man. For instance, when a man commits a sin, the sin takes place because God had decreed that man by utilizing his free will, so chooses to commit the sin. The divine decree does not warrant the sin to necessarily happen as the man still could exercise his will power and choose the good instead of evil deed, although whichever he chooses will be according to the divine decree.


According to Sheikh Tousi (died in 460AH), al-Qada and al-Qadar also means that God has commanded the good and forbidden the evil. [Beharul-Anwaar, vol.5 p.97]


This chapter continues to Chapter 6B  click here.

Further readings :

1. Maxims of Imam al-Hadi in reply to fatalists and indeterminists: Tuhaful-Uqool, p.539

2. Man and destiny: Ayatollah Motahari

3. Prof. N. Swartz http://www.sfu.ca/philosophy/swartz/freewill1.htm

The title of ‘al-Qadari’ is used in the text following the common expression of theologians, whereas in fact none of the two groups accepted the title for themselves. This was due to a Hadith narrated from the Prophet (P): "The Qadaris are the Magus of this nation." In fact the expression of ‘Qadari’ in the Ahadith is more applicable for determinists. For instance, Yazid said to Imam Sajjad (a.s) after the tragedy of Karbala : "How did you see the act of God against your father?!"

Many Prophetic narrations states: "Supplication changes a firm decree." Or "Those who die because of their sins are more than those who die due to their natural death. Similarly, those who live because of their good deeds are more than those who live due to their natural life."

Other Links:

Islamic Theology: Definition and History Chap 1

Islamic Theology:  Towards a meaningful life Chap 2

Islamic Theology: Proofs for the Existence of God-Chap 3 Part A

Islamic Theology: Proofs for the Existence of God-Chap 3 Part B

Islamic Theology: Unity of God; God’s Names and Attributes Chap 4 A

Islamic Theology: Unity of God; God’s Names and Attributes Chap 4 B

Islamic Theology: Justice of God Chap: 5


Author: Sheikh Mansour Leghaei



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