This subject is quite difficult and has long been discussed by exacting scholars who have attached to it great significance.
The Divine Destiny and man’s free will can be reconciled in seven ways.
The absolute order and harmony displayed by the whole of creation bear witness that God is All-Wise and Just. Wisdom and Justice demand that man should possess free will so that he may be chastised or rewarded for his acts. Although we cannot know the exact nature of this free will, and we may not be able to reconcile it properly with Divine Destiny, this does not mean that free will does not exist.
Every person feels himself to possess free will, and perceives it to exist. Knowing the nature of something is different from knowing that it exists. There are many things the existence of which is obvious to us while their nature is not understood. Man’s free will may be one of them. Also, existence is not restricted to the number of the things of which we know, so our ignorance of something does not indicate that it does not exist.
Man’s free will does not contradict Divine Destiny, rather, Destiny confirms the existence of free will. Divine Destiny is in some respects identical with Divine Knowledge, which goes parallel with man’s free will, in determining his actions, thus it confirms free will, and does not nullify it.
Divine Destiny is a kind of knowledge, and knowledge is dependent on the thing known. That is, conceptual knowledge is not fundamental to determine the external existence of what is known. The known in its external existence is dependent upon the Divine Power, acting through the Divine Will.
Also, past eternity is not, as people imagine, just the starting-point of ‘time’ so that it becomes essential for the existence of things. Past eternity is in fact like a mirror in which the whole of time, past, present and future, is reflected. People tend to, excluding themselves from the passage of time, imagine a limit for past time which extends through a certain chain of things, and they call it azel—past eternity. But to reason according to such an imagining is not right and acceptable. For better understanding of this subtle point, the following example may help:
Imagine that you are standing with a mirror in your hand, that everything reflected on the right represents the past, while everything reflected on the left represents the future. The mirror can reflect one direction only since it cannot show both sides at the same time as you are holding it. If you wish to reflect both directions at the same time, it would be necessary to rise high above your original position so that left and right directions are united into one and nothing remains to be called first or last, beginning or end. As already mentioned, Divine Destiny is in some respects identical with Divine Knowledge. It is described in a Prophetic saying as containing all times and events in a single point, where first and last, beginning and end, what has happened and what will happen, are all united into one. And we are not excluded from it so that our understanding of time and events could be like a mirror to the space of the past.
‘Cause and effect’ are not separable in the view of Destiny, that is, it is destined that this ‘cause’ will produce that ‘effect’. It cannot therefore be argued that, for example, ‘killing a man by shooting him’ should not be regarded as a crime because the slain was destined to die at that time anyway so he would have died even had he not been shot. Such an argument is baseless since that man is actually destined to die as a result of being shot. The argument that he would have died even if he had not been shot would mean that he died without a cause, and in this case we should not be able to explain how he died. It should be remembered that there are not two kinds of destiny—one for the cause, and the other for the effect. Destiny is one. Having been deceived by such a paradox, the Mu’tazili school of thought concluded that ‘the man would not have died if he had not been shot’ (forgetting that it was his destiny to be shot) while the Mujabbira (Fatalists) argued that he would have died even if he had not been shot. The Ahl al-Sunna wa’l-Jama‘a follow the correct view by judging that ‘we do not know whether he would have died or not if he had not been shot’.
This article has been adapted from Risale- i Nur Collection.