The Human Will
We have previously mentioned that moralists have described man as a moral being;
s/he has a self-binding or binding system of values, which s/he respects.
This means that man has a free will to choose a behavior s/he sees in agreement/disagreement with her/his ethical values.
This does not preclude the effects of some influential factors in the formation of human ethics, such as genealogy and environment. However, they do not deprive man of freewill and freedom.
We feel our freewill and freedom of choice in our statements and acts.
Unless man was free to choose what is good or decide on what is evil, the ethical duties, commands and proscription would be a form of vanities. Had it been the case, the religious promises of rewards and praises or threats of punishments and blames would have been all meaningless.
Freedom is actually a fundamental condition for all moral practices and their related willful aims, intentions and moral stands.
It is impossible to discuss ethics unless man has the necessary freedom, which enables her/him to observe good deeds and abstain from evils.
If we have no freewill to choose between what is good and bad, it will be neither possible to call us into account for our actions, nor to praise or dispraise us for them.
The question of human freewill has been a debatable issue between philosophers and religious scholars.
Since the ancient times, two doctrines appeared on this issue.
The supporters of the first doctrine hold the view that man is endowed with freewill and freedom of choice, whereas the advocates of the second doctrine deny the human freedom of choice, for they see it powerless and predetermined.
A review of the Islamic thought shows that the intellectual schools that appeared also represented these two viewsHowever, there is also a third doctrine, which neither admits human absolute freedom, nor attributes humankind to absolute disability and powerlessness.
Anyway, conscious freedom is the foundation upon which ethics depends. Without the existence of freedom, it would be impossible to identify responsibility or describe an action as moral and another as immoral.
It is beyond the scope of this discussion to explore the details of the complicated disputes between the advocates of fatalism and the proponents of freedom. We only wish to pay attention to the fact that God has created two types of creatures as mentioned in a previous chapter;
one is powerlessly created without any choice in full subjugation; and this type only obeys and yields to the commands. This includes all the creatures except humankind.
The other consists in the human beings, who are entrusted with duties that entail responsibility,
which can only be based on one’s freedom to choose to do or not to do. In the words of the Noble Qur’an,
“Whoever decides then let her/him believe; and whoever decides then let her/him disbelieve.” (Qur’an, 18:29)
In consequence, the rewards or punishments follow:
“Whoever does righteous deeds– it is for her/his own soul and whoever does evil— it is against her/his own soul.” (Qur’an, 41:46)
It is true that God knows all beforehand about the details of good deeds and misdeeds and the believers and the unbelievers, but His eternal Omniscience is that of certain awareness of the would-be realities and acts of individuals, not of compulsion and fatalism. God does not force anyone either to do or not to do an act.
As to the act itself, it occurs by human willful freedom.
No conflict is ever imagined between the realities of human beings and the belief in Divine Predestination; the fact that everything is divinely decreed is indubitable
but God creates man with freewill, which is also part of the Divine Decree.
Furthermore, we all acknowledge the effects of good education, refinement and discipline on changing human behavior. Likewise, we enact laws, reward the doers of good and punish the offenders. Were fatalism not the law to explicate human deeds, there would be no need or rather no benefit for education, refinement, religious advice and guidance. Likewise, needs to legislation of laws and to rewards and punishments would disappear. Simply, all these procedures presume that a human individual is endowed with freewill and, then, can respond positively or negatively
The belief in determinism locks all the doors of hope in the face of human beings. Surely, a hopeless individual cannot achieve any progress in life or develop knowledge. When one suffers the loss of hope, s/he becomes inclined to isolation and their loss stunts their potential abilities, bringing life to a halt and paralyzing the dynamic course of humanity.
In contrast, religion fills us with vivid hopes and deepens human self-confidence to make change without idle reliance on the intervention of heavens. Change is the child of human freewill and decision.
Nothing is more accurate in expressing this law than the Qur’anic verse:
“Surely God does not change what is in a people until they change what is in themselves.” (Qur’an, 13: 11)
Evidently, the change of the self is independently attributed to human beings in the same manner that success and failure are the outcome of human freewill Qur’anic verses put it this way:
- “S/He has succeeded who purifies it [the soul].” (Qur’an, 91:9)
- “S/He has failed who spoils it.” (Qur’an, 91:10)