Man and Freedom of Choice

Man and Freedom of Choice

Man is a being, who is independent and has freedom of choice, because be performs his functions from the aspect of reason and intention. Man is not like a piece of stone, which is thrown up without any choice and which falls to the earth without an intention. It is also not like a tree, which absorbs nourishment from the earth without any intention, grows up and gives fruits. Man is also not a beast that acts due to instinct and has no self control over internal inclinations and selfish motives and that submits to inclination without thinking about the consequences.

On the contrary, the actions of man arise from knowledge and intention. He does what he intends to do. At the outset itself, he is aware of the advantages and disadvantages very well; then he decides whether to act or not; he chooses one option and fulfills it.

On the basis of this, man is a being that is independent and has freedom of selection. He always sees himself at the crossroads and considers himself to be free in choosing one option; that is why he contemplates on it.

One of the evidences of the freedom of choice of man is praise and condemnation of intellectuals. They consider some actions as good and praise the doer of those acts and they regard some acts as evil and condemn those who commit them. If man had not been free in his choice of his acts, positive and negative moral values would have been meaningless.

Islam also considers man to be independent and having freedom of choice. We have numerous verses and traditions with regard to this matter and we present some of them as follows:

The Holy Quran says:

إِنَّا خَلَقْنَا الْإِنسَانَ مِن نُّطْفَةٍ أَمْشَاجٍ نَّبْتَلِيهِ فَجَعَلْنَاهُ سَمِيعاً بَصِيراً *إِنَّا هَدَيْنَاهُ السَّبِيلَ إِمَّا شَاكِراً وَإِمَّا كَفُوراً

“Surely We have created man from a small life-germ uniting (itself): We mean to try him, so We have made him hearing, seeing. Surely We have shown him the way: he may be thankful or unthankful.” (76:2-3)


وَمَن يُرِدْ ثَوَابَ الْدُّنْيَا نُؤْتِهِ مِنْهَا وَمَن يُرِدْ ثَوَابَ الْأَخِرَةِ نُؤْتِهِ مِنْهَا وَ سَنَجْزِى الْشَّكِرِينَ‏

“…and whoever desires the reward of the hereafter I shall give him of it, and I will reward the grateful.” (3:145)


وَقُلِ الْحَقُّ مِن رَّبِّكُمْ فَمَن شَآءَ فَلْيُؤْمِن وَمَن شَآءَ فَلْيَكْفُرْ

“And say: The truth is from your Lord, so let him who please believe, and let him who please disbelieve…” (18:29)


وَمَآ أَصَابَكُم مِّن مُّصِيبَةٍ فَبِمَا كَسَبَتْ أَيْدِيكُمْ وَيَعْفُواْ عَن كَثِيرٍ

“And whatever affliction befalls you, it is on account of what your hands have wrought, and (yet) He pardons most (of your faults).” (42:30)


ظَهَرَ الْفَسَادُ فِى الْبَرِّ وَالْبَحْرِ بِمَا كَسَبَتْ أَيْدِى النَّاسِ لِيُذِيقَهُم بَعْضَ الَّذِى عَمِلُواْ لَعَلَّهُمْ يَرْجِعُونَ

“Corruption has appeared in the land and the sea on account of what the hands of men have wrought, that He may make them taste a part of that which they have done, so that they may return.” (30:41)


لَا يُكَلِّفُ اللَّهُ نَفْساً إِلّا وُسْعَهَا لَهَا مَا كَسَبَتْ وَعَلَيْهَا مَا اكْتَسَبَتْ

“Allah does not impose upon any soul a duty but to the extent of its ability; for it is (the benefit of) what it has earned and upon it (the evil of) what it has wrought.” (2:286)


إِنَّ الَّذِينَ يُلْحِدُونَ فِى آيَاتِنَا لَا يَخْفَوْنَ عَلَيْنَآ أَفَمَن يُلْقَى‏ فِى النَّارِ خَيْرٌ أَم مَّن يَأْتِى آمِناً يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ اعْمَلُواْ مَا شِئْتُمْ إِنَّهُ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ بَصِيرٌ

“Surely they who deviate from the right way concerning Our communications are not hidden from Us. What! is he then who is cast into the fire better, or he who comes safe on the day of resurrection? Do what you like; surely He sees what you do.” (41:40)


In these verses, the acts of man are related to his self and their consequences are also considered to be the results of his acts. On the basis of this, man in the view of Quran is a being that is free and having freedom of selection.

Traditions also clarify the independence and freedom of man.

Ibrahim says in a traditional report: I asked Imam Ali Reza (a): Does Almighty Allah compel His servants to commit sins? He replied: On the contrary, He has given them freedom of choice and respite, so that they might repent. I asked: Has Almighty Allah imposed on His servants duties that are beyond their capacity? He replied: How can He do this when He Himself says: “Allah is not unjust to the servants”. Then Imam (a) said: My father, Musa Ibne Ja’far has narrated from his father, Ja’far bin Muhammad that he said: One who thinks that Allah compels men to commit sins, or that He makes them responsible to do that, which they are not capable of, do not eat the meat slaughtered by them, do not accept their testimony, do not pray behind them and don’t give Zakat money to them.[102]

On the basis of this, according to the confirmed religious laws and testimony of intellectuals, supported by verses and traditions, man is having complete freedom in choosing his good or bad deeds.

At this juncture, it is necessary to hint at two important points:

First point: It was previously stated that freedom of choice is in the meaning that his actions are performed with sanction of reason and intention, but we should know that it does not necessary imply that acts and deeds of man are beyond the absolute and universal laws of cause and effect and which are delegated by his own self. On the contrary, they also are having special causes that without their existence, actions and deeds of man cannot be performed. It is true that man is able to imagine the issue at the beginning itself, at that time he adopts it according to exigency, but the same attention and understanding of advantages and disadvantages and decision to do or not to do it, which are the prefaces of intention, will not be according to cause. On the contrary, perceptions, affections, internal inclinations, habits, views, family training, social circumstances and conditions and particular atmosphere of life and personality influence his style of thinking and selection. Each of them also in their own turn is the effect of its particular cause.

This chain of cause and effect also exists, so that divine will may continue in the same way; because the material world is created in this way and special laws have been made to control it. Allah desired that acts and deeds of man should be performed after contemplation and freedom of choice. On the basis of this, freedom of choice of man implies that his selection and intention is a part of the final cause of his action and the committing of act rests on him.

Second point: From that, which is mentioned, actions of man are connected to his own self and he has complete freedom in choosing them, it must not be concluded that actions are independently performed by man himself and that he is completely needless of God. On the contrary, since man is needful of the Glorified God in his existence and survival, in his acts and deeds also, he is needful of the favors of Almighty Allah. Thus if support of Allah is no more, there would be no actions or deeds as well.

That is why, in spite of the fact that actions of man are his own, sometimes they have also been related to God. The final activeness of God in this instance comes under the length of the activeness of man and not in its width.

Therefore, Almighty Allah says in the Holy Quran:

وَمَآ أَرْسَلْنَا مِن رَّسُولٍ إِلَّا بِلِسَانِ قَوْمِهِ لَيُبَيِّنَ لَهُمْ فَيُضِلُّ اللَّهُ مَن يَشَآءُ وَيَهْدِى مَن يَشَآءُ وَهُوَ الْعَزِيزُ الْحَكِيمُ‏

“And We did not send any apostle, but with the language of his people, so that he might explain to them clearly; then Allah makes whom He pleases err and He guides whom He pleases and He is the Mighty, the Wise.” (14:4)


In the same way, He says:

قُلِ اللَّهُمَّ مَلِكَ الْمُلْكِ تُؤْتِى الْمُلْكَ مَنْ تَشَآءُ وَتَنْزِعُ الْمُلْكَ مِمَّنْ تَشَآءُ وَتُعِزُّ مَنْ تَشَآءُ وَتُذِلُّ مَنْ تَشَآءُ بِيَدِكَ الْخَيْرُ إِنَّكَ عَلَى‏ كُلِّ شَى‏ءٍ قَدِيرٌ

“Say: O Allah, Master of the Kingdom! Thou givest the kingdom to whomsoever Thou pleasest and takest away the kingdom from whomsoever Thou pleasest, and Thou exaltest whom Thou pleasest and abasest whom Thou pleasest; in Thine hand is the good; surely, Thou hast power over all things.” (3:26)


He also says:

وَلَوْ شَآءَ اللَّهُ لَجَعَلَكُمْ أُمَّةً وَحِدَةً وَلَكِن يُضِلٌّ مَن يَشَآءُ وَيَهْدِى مَن يَشَآءُ وَلَتُسْئَلُنَّ عَمَّا كُنتُمْ تَعْمَلُونَ‏

“And if Allah pleases, He would certainly make you a single nation, but He causes to err whom He pleases and guides whom He pleases; and most certainly you will be questioned as to what you did.” (16:93)

On the basis of this, misguidance and guidance, giving the kingdom and taking it away, giving honor and being degraded, all of this is attributed to Almighty Allah. Contrary to the previous verses, faith and disbelief, intention of reward of the world or rewards of the hereafter, performing good or bad acts, mischief in land or sea and the calamities that befall man, are attributed to man.


Although sometimes an act is attributed to God as well as to man, when He says:

فَلَمْ تَقْتُلُوهُمْ وَلَكِنَّ اللَّهَ قَتَلَهُمْ وَمَا رَمَيْتَ إِذْ رَمَيْتَ وَلَكِنَّ اللَّهَ رَمَى‏ وَلِيُبْلِىَ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ مِنْهُ بَلَآءً حَسَناً إِنَّ اللَّهَ سَمِيعٌ عَلِيمٌ‏

“So you did not slay them, but it was Allah Who slew them, and you did not smite when you smote (the enemy), but it was Allah Who smote, and that He might confer upon the believers a good gift from Himself; surely Allah is Hearing, Knowing.” (8:17)


In the same way, He says:

وَمَا تَشَآءُونَ إِلَّا  أَن يَشَآءَ اللَّهُ رَبُّ الْعَالَمِينَ‏

“And you do not please except that Allah please, the Lord of the worlds.” (81:29)


Therefore act and will are also attributed to man as well as to God.

On the basis of this, there is no compulsion in action, as the acts are performed at the discretion and intention of man. Delegation is also not there, because the doer is not needless of the bestowals of God; on the contrary, it is a matter between the two, which in the terminology of Masoomeen (a) is introduced as ‘Amrun baina amrain’ (A matter between two matters).

When in the presence of Imam Ali Reza (a) conversation turned towards free will and destiny, he said: Shall I not mention to you a basic rule in this regard, so that you may never differ about it among yourselves and with which you may defeat your enemies? They said: Yes, please do. He said: Allah, the Mighty and Sublime is not obeyed through compulsion and is not disobeyed through force. He has not left His servants helpless in His kingdom. Allah is the owner of that, which He has given to the servants and He is powerful over that for which He has empowered the servants. If servants obey the command, Allah does not obstruct them and if they want to commit sins and Allah wants to prevent it, He does so. And if He does not prevent and they commit the sin, Allah has not urged them to commit that sin.[103]

Muhammad bin Ijlan says: I asked Imam Ja’far Sadiq (a): Has Almighty Allah delegated actions to men? He replied: Almighty Allah is greater than that He should leave the actions of servants to Himself. I asked: Has he compelled people to their acts? He replied: Almighty Allah is more just than that He should compel His servants to commit an act and then punish them for it.[104]

[102] Biharul Anwar, Vol. 5, Pg. 11
[103] Biharul Anwar, Vol. 5, Pg. 16
[104] Biharul Anwar, Vol. 5, Pg. 51