(part 1 of 2): Freedom, an invaluable gift
“Of God’s gifts, free will is the most difficult to understand and apply. The person who gives up selfish freedom and agrees to be God’s servant will always be truly free. ”
Freedom is one of the most valuable things there is, although most of us have no idea how precious it is until we suffer from its loss. It is seen as a fundamental human right and denying this right without a legitimate reason is a grave sin. We all like to think that we are free and that we have free will when we choose something in life – but let’s think briefly about the reality of this situation. Are we actually born to be free? And if so, in what way? What does this mean for us?
The amount of freedom we actually have is far more limited than we may be aware of. Let’s start with simple examples that we can all understand; Things that affect our bodies. How much freedom do we have about yawning or sneezing or sweating or bleeding or breathing or digesting or exiting? How much freedom do we have about what we can see or hear or feel or how we move our muscles and limbs to work? I used to run to the bus and climb mountains – but no matter how hard I insist that I still have the freedom to do this, I can’t. I can’t even get up; if I have typed for a long time, my legs become so stiff that I simply cannot. I have absolutely no control over what happens inside my body – how my kidneys excrete substances or how they know exactly what is needed and what is not. I have no idea what will make my heart beat or when it will stop. I cannot choose whether to salivate or urinate, whether my blood clots, my cells multiply or whether I get old and decompose!
And just think of the people I’m related to. I haven’t had the freedom to choose my parents or grandparents, or my brothers and sisters. I couldn’t choose my genes. I tried when I had children myself, but it didn’t work the way I expected it to. And I had no idea what gender my children would be or what they would be like. Some people think that it will only be a matter of time before we will be able to use genetics to produce children as desired, but then, of course, this little produced person will not have the freedom to determine how or what he or she wants to be. So when you think about all of this – it actually doesn’t seem like people have a lot of freedom, does it?
And belief in the freedom of the human spirit is one of the keys that God has revealed at all times. Islam tells us that this is something that God has given to people, but He has not given it to angels. We cannot choose our body, but we have to choose how our soul behaves. What God wants us to do is get ourselves under control and make a choice and act in a certain way – but He never forces us to do it. We don’t even need to believe in him and we can choose to ignore him or disobey him. Millions of people do this.
But we are not programmed robots. We don’t respond to different situations in the same way; some of us are more selfish, generous, forgiving, helpful, and willing to cooperate than others. But we don’t have to be. When we see an old lady struggling with heavy packages on the street, we can choose whether to help her, whether to knock her down and steal her packages, whether to pretend we don’t see her or whether we will they insult and run away. This leads us to interesting considerations. We can think about what any particular individual could do with the old lady with the packages. But we all have a sense of what „should“ be done; we think we know what act a good person
Whenever we say that a person should do something, we assume that that person is actually free and able to do it. It would be pretty pointless to say someone should help her who is locked up in prison, for example, or who is unconscious, or who lives in a distant country. ‚Should‘ implies ‚can‘. Well, if God can do whatever He wants, He would obviously be able to influence our minds and choices. This is a matter that lies in the abilities of the people themselves, and it would be easy for God. However, the fact that He allows people to choose not to believe in Him and not do what He wants shows that God does not robotize people’s minds.
(part 2 of 2): What God wants from us
Every prophet, including Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad, taught people that if they make a choice out of belief in God and obedience to God, it will make a very big difference to them have final outcome of their affairs. Humans have tremendous abilities to love and be kind, or to hate and destroy. This means that although they were all born with souls of equal value, they do not remain the same. Free will is really the most difficult gift to understand and use from God. The purpose of free will is to give meaning to human morality – without something like good or bad behavior, we would simply be machines.
If we couldn’t really make a free choice, the court couldn’t be held over us – that would be absolutely unfair. Whenever people cannot make a free choice, they cannot be held responsible. Aisha reported that the Prophet, God’s blessings and peace be upon him, declared that those whose freedom or reason is limited, for example because they are too young or too ignorant or because their mental balance is disturbed – not for their deeds can be held responsible, be it in a Shari’ah court (or a German court) or on the day of the court.
So what is the Muslim concept of al-Qadr, the doctrine of God’s complete and final control over the fulfillment of events or destiny? How can you reconcile the idea that God knows absolutely everything with that of free will? If God already knows everything that will happen, then the whole life of a person must be predetermined? Furthermore, if God does not intervene to stop certain things that are happening, then one could say that He is responsible for them. This is related to the problem of evil. Who is responsible for evil when God is ultimately responsible for everything? A thief might plead that he was innocent because he was destined to steal,
Many people think that Muslims are fatalists who believe, because after all ´Everything is prescribed´ anyway and God knows everything beforehand – so everything has to be predetermined. No human brain has actually been able to fully unravel this problem – and certainly not mine – but the fact that God has sent messengers with revelations clearly shows that people are expected to hear and then choose meet and align their lives accordingly. (Quran 6:91; 23:73). God has revealed:
„Certainly, God does not change the situation of a people until they themselves change what is in their hearts.“ (Quran 13:11)
This clearly shows that people have the power to change something through their free will and these decisions change their fate. It must be true that God knows everything and every possibility but does not know people. Therefore, if a person chooses a certain thing, that particular thing will lead to a certain conclusion. If the person chooses a different course of action, the outcome and the ending will be different. If you choose to swallow a pack of painkillers, you will die this afternoon; but if you decide to take only two, it could help your migraines and you could still be a hundred. God knows all possible outcomes, but He gives you the choice. We cannot understand
The real truth is in the al-Ghayb realm [things that are beyond human imagination]. All that believers can do is ask for guidance in our path of life. We may not be able to see the way in the distance, but we can ask God to show us the next step, one step at a time. If people were not able to choose because their future and destiny were already certain, then God would not only be unjust, but it would make no sense for us to try to live a good life. Fatalism leads to hopelessness and helplessness, pitifulness and would prevent people from straining to improve their own lot or that of others.
What does God want from us? He wants us to be happy and successful. He wants us to find true freedom. When true freedom makes happy, things seem to be what most people think. I could be very happy to have a relationship with a different partner every week or if I stuff myself with tasty but unhealthy food or if I would spend a fortune on jewelry or pop CDs or if I would smoke or stay away late in the evening and mean Would scare parents or avoid unpleasant jobs or homework or or if I could laugh at my enemies or if I would earn a lot of money dishonestly or if I was famous and admired by many people. Are these the things that make people happy?
How easy it would be if it were. It is so easy for Satan to mislead people – the way to ruin is so tempting and pleasant. But wait, think about it. Many of the richest and most powerful people in the world are the loneliest. People who stuff themselves suffer from all problems and the misery of being overweight. Those who are lazy and avoid learning and practicing in their youth will wake up later and find that they have wasted their lives. Smokers who happily peep behind bicycle stands will die young of cancer or heart failure – to the great sorrow of those who love them. People who have frequent interactions usually end up with a heart attack and the children that develop from it are neglected,
Real happiness is to see what God has given us for this short time and put into custody – our bodies, our families, our abilities, our empathy for others. This does not mean being free to indulge in our desires and desires, because, as we know only too well, these things will only hurt us and others in the long run. But this is exactly where we come up with – the one who gives up this kind of selfish freedom and agrees to be God’s servant is really always free. He will know that he has always done his best; his conscience is clear; his interior is content and full of hope and he will never be the slave of his ego, another person or thing.