Predestination and Free Will as These Concepts Essay

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¶ … Predestination and Free Will as These Concepts Were Understood in Islam by the Jabrites and the Qadarites

An Insight into Prestination and Free Will in the Jabrites and Qadarites

One of the dilemmas that continues to hold resonance for religious thinkers is the question of fate vs. freedom. This question has had an intrinsic appeal throughout the ages. It is sometimes spawned out of the sense that there may be forces beyond human control -- whether benevolent or hostile -- which influence a person's capacity to choose and to act.

From a theological perspective, this dilemma raises important questions that have played out in Islamic debates over predestination and free will. Does the divine decree eliminate choice? Are humans masters of their own destiny who can change the future or just pawns that God moves around at will and whose destinies are already set in stone? Are humans ultimately responsible for their actions in spite of the fact that God has decreed them? How one answers these questions affects how one interprets situations and responds to events. A view one way or the other can affect whether a person despairs or hopes in a context of suffering.

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Two early Muslim movements, the Jabrites and the Qadarites, attempted to state clear positions on this complex subject. At the heart of the controversy between these movements was whether or not God gives humans real agency to effect the outcome of their lives. The Jabrites affirmed a strong version of determinism that denied freedom and attributed all human action to God. By contrast, the Qadarites suggested that humans have free will and create actions. Both camps tended toward an extreme position and quoted sacred text for the basis of their views. Further, both views provided an important model and legacy for subsequent discussion.

It is worth analyzing briefly some of the evidence and arguments put forth for the respective positions. In particular, some benefit may accrue by looking at the resulting view of ethics implied in the two positions and how these may have influenced later Islamic mystical attempts to deal with the problem of suffering.

TOPIC: Essay on Predestination and Free Will as These Concepts Assignment

The main contention of this essay is that the dilemma of predestination vs. free will was inadequately solved by the Jabrites and the Qadarites. Both groups failed to provide a coherent and comprehensive perspective in which the notion of human responsibility was aligned with what was believed to be the character and power of God. Neither used an adequate concept of time to discern how the contradiction between fate and free will could be reconciled. Without discussing the Asharites who formed their own middle path in the debate, the argument will show that it was left to later mystics in the Sufi tradition to propose a more adequate solution using a nuanced concept of time related to the experience of suffering.

Predestination in the Jabrites

W. Montgomery Walt has drawn attention to the concept of an impersonal force, or Time (dahr), that existed in the beliefs of nomadic pre-Islamic Arabs.

This power was thought to control life's triumphs and failures, to determine whatever fortune befell one's life, and to fix the term and measure of each person's existence. It functioned perhaps as a coping device to calm the soul through shifting and uncertain circumstances.

Perhaps foreshadowed by such preconditions, the Jabrites adopted a strongly fatalistic attitude regarding what controls human life. Dalya Cohen-Mor states, "They took their name from jabr, which means necessity or compulsion, as they were convinced that human beings are inevitably compelled to act as they do, by force of God's eternal and immutable decree."

They based their view on Qur'anic texts related to God's decree rather than strictly on theories of Time. They could point to verses where it says, "It is God who makes you live, then makes you die" (45:24, 26; 57:22). The notion of Time is here changed into the concept of a personal God and is linked up with divine decree. Elsewhere the Qur'an states, "Nothing will befall us except what God has decreed for us" (9:51). Selecting proof-texts such as these for support, the Jabrites formulated the belief that all events, actions, and decisions that occur in the world are foreknown and foreordained by God, and therefore are never freely adopted.

At the root of this belief was the idea that God is the only true creator of action. He has created and caused all things. Thus, His all-encompassing will since the beginning of time has decreed what shall happen and is as binding as an unalterable law. Referring to Al-Shahrastani, Mahmoud writes, "Pure Jabrites attribute no action to human beings and no capability of action in the first place."

Any activity they pursue is simply the working out of God's act and will.

Humans in this perspective are not only ignorant of God's action, because they cannot know the future, but they are also deprived of any real power to decide or to act of their own accord. Whatever they do, God has made them do. A human cannot alter these decrees which have been written since before their birth. The most that a human can expect is to submit to this external and sovereign controlling force. The Jabrites seem not to have argued directly from a concept of time such as that espoused by Afroz Ali, who says that God created, exists outside of, and is not bound by time.

Possibly this view is implicit.

The Jabrites reinforced their fatalism by reference to the image of writing. Every person's death is set in stone as verse 3:145 implies: "Nor can a soul die except by God's permission, the term being fixed as by writing." A text on God's absolute knowledge ends with "there falls not a leaf but He knows it, nor a grain in the darkness of the earth, nor anything green nor dry but (it is all) in a clear book" (6:59). God's decrees are thus written down in an eternal book. As a result, they are immutable and cannot be compromised.

The Jabrites further emphasized divine sovereignty using a common refrain in the Qur'an that indicates that God guides or refuses to guide by His own choice. "God leads astray those whom He pleases, and guides whom He pleases" (2:284, 6:125, 14:4, 16:93, 35:8, 39:23, 74:31). One can read this phrase as an indication of a lack of human freedom. Humans do not have the capacity to follow the guidance of God without God first granting that capacity. Divine decree alone is decisive for whether mercy or harm is enacted toward an individual. If God chooses not to open that door, it remains shut and the person has no hope of currying His favor by his or her own will. Thus, God in this view is in total control over whom He will or will not guide.

One might ask: has God predetermined the lot of those who end up in Hell and Paradise? The Jabrites affirmed this textually. God causes people to err (7:178) or keeps them on the wrong path (11:34). "He will admit to His mercy whom He will" (76:31). Whether one believes or not is predestined (10:99-100). Another common refrain is, "He forgives whom he pleases and chastises whom he pleases" (2:284, 5:18, 40). In the Jabrite position, therefore, God has predestined whether a person will enter the reward of Paradise or the punishment of Hell. This means that nothing they do can change the outcome of their eternal fate.

The Jabrites used tradition as well to endorse their fatalistic view. The Prophet describes life in terms that suggest that, even before breath is breathed into a human, all his or her actions are preordained, written down, and therefore unalterable. Even before spirit enters a body, an angel, according to this tradition, descends and inscribes the person's works, appointed time, and eternal fate.

This suggested to the Jabrites an absolute predestination of the person. One has no choice in when they will die, what they will do, how they will eat, or whether they'll go to paradise or fire.

The problem with this position is that it relieves the individual of the burden of choice. If God has preordained goodness, benefit, and Paradise from the beginning for someone, or alternately, evil, disadvantage, and Hell, nothing can change that. Repentance and attaining Paradise are matters that God controls, not the individual. It seems to contradict Mohammed's assertions about the possibility of human repentance and divine forgiveness. If there is only compulsion to act justly or unjustly, then how can God hold humans liable for their actions? Morally, this view falls down because it fails to recognize that a human's obligation stems not from the power to create actions, but from the freedom to choose which actions to create.

The position as a whole seems from an ethical angle to fail. It imposes an almost absolute limitation on a human's agency. Everything a person does has been known and… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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