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Divine Will and Human Freedom -- Part I. Divine Predestination: How Far Real?

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The idea that God never discriminates between people except on the sole criterion of righteousness is also antithetical to the idea of predestination. The Quran is emphatic that all that really matters to God for a man or a woman is righteousness (taqwa):

7:26 O children of Adam! We have indeed inspired unto you (the need for) clothing to cover your shame, as well as for your adornment, but the clothing of righteousness is what the best is.

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49:13 Verily the most honorable in the sight of God is the most righteous.

The idea of predestination is also incompatible with God's mercy and compassion. The Quran contains advice for human beings not to despair of His mercy:

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39:53-54 Say: O my servants who have transgressed against their souls! Despair not of the mercy of God. Verily God forgiveth all sins. Verily He is Ever-Forgiving, Most Merciful. And turn unto Him repentant, and surrender unto Him before the punishment cometh unto you, when ye cannot be helped.

12:87 (Joseph's father addressing his other sons says): O my sons! Go forth and try to obtain information about Joseph and his brother; and do not give up hope of God's spirit (life-giving mercy or support); none but people who deny the truth can ever despair of God's spirit.

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Any evildoer thus has a way out for him to shun all evil deeds and become good. Of course, he will have to atone for his past evil deeds, repent and mend his conduct. He needs to replace his bad deeds with what are really good. With proper and adequate repentance, he should seek, and can expect to receive, God's mercy and forgiveness of his sins.

Additional statements in the Quran reinforce the idea that God does not will or act in the popular sense. God says that if He willed, He could have guided all of us (6:149), that if He willed, He could have made humankind one nation (5:48), and that if He willed, all would have believed (10:99). The import of all these verses is that God does not directly determine our affairs. He does not help anyone unless he or she deserves it by his or her own individual effort, or by a sustained combined effort of heredity and/or environment. A good example of the fruit of a sustained combined effort of heredity is the Prophet Jesus who was a prophet from the day he was born (19:2934), while the Prophet Muhammad was predominantly the result of his individual effort. It would be a folly to think, by literally reading the verse 49:13, that the division of human beings into, say, nations and tribes is God-made. However, to distinguish between what is God-made and what is man-made is a tricky thing to do. We discuss this question more fully in Part 2 of this article under the topic of what God's will really means.

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Abdur Rab is the author of "Exploring Islam in a New Light: An Understanding from the Quranic Perspective" (To know about the book, visit the website: Abdur Rab, Ph.D. from Harvard, has had a long career in economic research (more...)
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Divine Will and Human Freedom -- Part I. Divine Predestination: How Far Real?