I would like to talk about one of the articles of faith in Islam and that is to believe in the Divine Plan. I translated it as the Divine Plan, which is known in the Islamic tradition as Qadar. Qadar comes from the Arabic word “qadara” which means to measure out basically. In other words, everything that is created is measured out. Whatever we see is measured. There is no randomness in the universe as if there is a blueprint for everything.
And whether it be human beings, plants, or be animals, there is a program. And everything is moving based on that program. Now this does not mean that human beings do not have free will. As I will explain, basically human beings have free will and they have free choice. And they are able to do what they want. But despite this, there is a divine plan that encompasses everything. And that is the meaning of Qadar, as one of the articles of faith.
For example, if we look at the leaves of a tree let’s say. There is a certain level of it, a certain size of it. When it comes to that size, it stops. Why? There might be some scientific explanation for it, but theologically speaking it means that, that was the size that the Divine Plan has provided for it. And therefore when it comes to that point, it stops. Similarly we look at our hair, let’s say and at our eyebrows. Our hair grows so fast, so quickly, but our eyebrows are not so fast. Why? Well there might be some scientific explanations. For example when hormones are going to that side more and to eyebrows less and therefore it does not grow so quick.
However there is also a question of why. So the Islamic understanding of Qadar responds to that. Well, imagine that you need to go to the barbershop every two weeks for your eyebrows. Imagine how difficult that would be. There is a Divine Plan for everything that really makes a sense for the things that are around us. That organization, that program is a Divine Plan.
When we come to the concept of whether human beings have free will or not and how human beings’ free will can be reconciled with the encompassing will of God, there are various discussions on this and Muslim scholars have developed on this topic. But if we do not have free will religiously speaking, theologically speaking, human beings are not accountable. So basically if human beings are accountable, it means that they have to have free will. They have to have the freedom of choice, then they will be accountable.
And perhaps we can feel that when we do something, we are not compelled to do it. We do it through our free choice. If I’m going to give an analogy to help us understand this, I would give an analogy of elevator. Let’s say we got into an elevator and there are several buttons. One says restaurant, one says wild life, etc. a variety of places. And then instead of pressing on restaurant, we pressed on something that says wildness or wild life. And when we entered that place, we realized that it is actually not a good place and actually a dangerous place.
So can we really complain and say that the reason I am here is this elevator? If there were no elevator, I would not be here. Well yes and no. We are here, we are there because we pressed on that button. The elevator is not guilty because we are there. We choose by ourselves, our place. And we could have chosen actually the button of the restaurant and we would have delicious food. So it is the same way when we make a decision, we feel that we are free of making our decision.
And therefore we shouldn’t complain about God and say, well God forced me to do this. Islamically speaking, theologically speaking, there is no way to claim that God has forced us to do something. Actually we are free to make our own decisions. I know that this is not an easy topic because many scholars have written books on the subject. But maybe through some analogies, we might understand this concept better, especially the idea of free will.
Al-Ashari, Imam Al-Ashari, a very famous Muslim theologian, in fact he is one of the most important Muslim theologians, elaborates on this greatly. Al-Maturidi elaborates on this greatly. And we have actually some schools of Islamic thought that are not considered mainstream. Some have said that we do not have free will. We are under the par of God. Whatever God commands us, we have to actually follow it. We have no choice to do the opposite.
This is really not a mainstream understanding of Islam. Because they say we, before the power of God or before the Divine Destiny, are like leaves before wind, before the wind. When the wind blows, leaves act or move according to the direction of the wind. So they say we have no power, we have no choice.
Another group said well God has nothing to do with our actions. And we have complete free will. We are independent from God. That’s also not the mainstream understanding of Islam. And the main understanding I would say 90% of the Muslim theologians would say that yes God has encompassing will and that will of God is encompassing everything. But it does not force us to do something.
We have free will and we can act according to our free will. We have to know that in Islam life is a test. There are several Quranic verses suggesting that, “We have created you o human beings, to test you. Whether you will do good deeds or bad deeds”. You can do both. You have the capacity, the capability of doing both. And you can choose whatever you want. But there will be a test for you. So basically, you are expected to do what is good, not what is bad.
So if you prefer to do what is good, or what is beautiful, then there will be a reward for you. God will reward you because you used your free will in the right direction. You could have used it in a different direction. And we are not like angels. We are human beings. So human beings are, their spiritual level increases and decreases because of their choice. Angels, because they do not have free will, they do not have free choice, their level is static. They do not have increase in their level. It is always high. They are always in a high place.
They cannot even disobey God basically according to Islamic theology. And therefore, since life is a test and since we have free will, we can understand the encompassing will of God. And also we can understand the Divine Plan, but we should be aware that Divine Plan does not force us to do something. God has put in our nature, our free capacity, our freedom of choice.
So we can actually choose freely what we want and we can avoid what we don’t want. In fact if it becomes kind of compulsory for us, then for example if someone forced you to do something then accountability is lifted. That person is no longer accountable because he didn’t have free choice. And that’s a very important principle in Islamic theology. Thank you.