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Predestination and Free will in the View of Iqbal and Nursi


Dr. Yasien Mohammad


This paper deals with the concept of divine predestination (qadar) and human free will (iradah) as conceived by two modern Islamic thinkers, Muhammad Iqbal (1876-1938) and Said Nursi ( 1873-1960). I attempt, perhaps for the first time, a comparison, of their views concerning divine destiny and free will, and try to link their views with the classical theological positions.

Various groups within the Islamic legacy have dealt with the problem of freedom (huriyyah), choice (ikhtiyar) and free will (iradah). The jurists are more concerned with the rights and liberty that are the outcome of conformity to the divine law (shari’ah); Sufis seek inner freedom through liberation of man's bondage to the lower self and his union with God; philosophers assert the reality of the human free will and approach it from the standpoint of al-Farabi's (d. 970) political philosophy; and the theologians (mutakallimiin) are mainly concerned with the relationship between the human will and the divine will and the extent to which the latter limits the freedom of the former.


1. The Classical Perspectives

In this section, I shall concentrate on the views of the theologians; especially the early predestinarians (jabarites), libertarians (Qadarites/Mucazilites) and those who attempt to reconcile these two extreme positions (Ashcarites). My concern is not with historical issues; interlay, the opposition against the Umayyads who provided the context for the emerging Qadarites, the pre-Islamic context of the predestinarian and libertarian verses, and the influence of Christian debates on the subject. Rather, I will limit my discussion to general theological trends mainly in the classical period. This background, I believe, is essential for one to discern the extent to which Said Nursi and Muhammad Iqbal were directly or indirectly influenced by these early trends.

Theology (Kala’m) is what concerns us. Amr ibn 'Ubayd (d. 761) refers to this science as al-fiqh al-akbar (The Greatest Insight) as it concerns the principles of faith. The Kalam specialists were concerned about defending the truth of the Qur'an, but it was more of an intellectual science undertaken by sophisticated thinkers. One of the issues that they have discussed is, does God predetermine human activity or are human beings free to act. This is not merely a theoretical issue that concerned theologians of the past, but it has puzzled man throughout the ages. In present times, the debate between nature and nurture among modern social scientists and philosophers concerns whether nature determines human development, or can people change themselves substantially through education and training. People often do not realize that contemporary debates continue in the same manner as earlier classical theological debates. A discussion on Iqbal and Nursi's views on predestination and free will should reveal similar tendencies in the classical period.

For the theologians (mutakallimiin), the discipline was important for the defense of the faith and its preservation from falsification. Ghazzali (d. 1111)although he did not reject it, was critical of its over rational approach, and considered profitable knowledge one that will prepare the believer to encounter God. Ghazzali’s autobiography reveals that he was convinced that this goal could be achieved through the way of the Sufis.

The early Muslim community had no time or inclination to indulge in the theological controversy surrounding divine determinism and human free will, which emerged as a later development. By the end of the seventh century, two views emerged: first, the predestinarian view that was held by the predestinarians (jabarites) who were inspired by Qur'anic verses that stressed the absolute power of God over all human actions; second, the libertarians (Qadarites) who were inspired by verses that placed accent on the will of man and his responsibility. This division continued within Islamic theology (kalam) with those who retained the original predestinarian view and those who retained the original libertarian view. The Muctazilites succeeded the latter school of thought held by the Qadarites. I shall now briefly explain the positions held by these two conflicting schools.

Jahm ibn Safwan was among the first to formulate a doctrine of human action before the middle of the eighth century. This doctrine of compulsion emphasized the sovereignty of God, and appealed to the predestinarian scholars. Jahm ibn Safwan maintained that there is no difference between things that happen in the world in general and the actions of human beings; they are all continuously and directly created by God. Man’s actions are like the movements of natural phenomena with the difference that man possesses power (quwwah), will (ira’dah) and choice (ikhtiyar). These are human qualities which in any case are created by God in man, and which therefore makes man compelled (majbur) in his actions; leaving him without will and choice in matters even of religious obligation. The predestinarian scholars adhere to this view, and they base their arguments on verses of the Qur’an and Prophetic Traditions which imply God’s absolute power. Verses such as: To Him belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth. He brings to life and causes to die, and He has power over everything (Q. 57:2), and, Say: nothing will befall us except what Allah has decreed for us. (Q. 9:51) And Traditions such as:

Verily the creation of each one of you is brought together in his mother’s belly for forty days in the form of seed, then he is a clot of blood for a like period, then is sent to him the angel who blows the breath of life into him and who is commanded about four matters: to write down his means of livelihood, his life span, his actions, and whether happy or unhappy. By Allah, other than whom there is no god, verily one of you behaves like the people of Paradise until there is but an arm’s length between him and it; and that which has been written over-takes him and so he behaves like the people of Hell-fire until there is but an arm’s length between him and it, and that which has been written overtakes him and so he behaves like the people of Paradise and thus he enters it.

In reaction to the extreme fatalism of the predestinarians (Jabarites), Macbad al-Juha’ni (49/669) and his followers, who were the first to discuss qadar (predestination) at Basra, rejected the interpretation of the predestinarians. They were called Qadarites. Their recognised leader was Hasan al-Basri (110/728) who disagreed that God predetermined human action. He believed that moral action presupposes human freedom; and that guidance comes from God, but error from man.

The libertarians (Qadarites) made a distinction between the acts of nature and human actions. The former are from God, and the latter from man. Their main argument in favour of human free will was that divine justice required it. Some libertarians even believed that God endowed man with it from the time of his birth; others that God gives man this power before each act. The assertion of free will gives rise to the problem of God's foreknowledge and power. I shall discuss first the question of God's power.

The majority of the libertarians hold that God has no power over the power he endowed man with. Man's power is therefore not conditioned by God's power. Free will therefore meant a delegation of power by God to man as a rational creature; a power that possesses a free action of God. Needless to say, such a view conflicts with the predestinarian perspective of an omnipotent God.

Another view is that human actions are created by God, but acquired by man. Two Muctazilites, Dira’r and Najja’r, held this view. The former held that God gave man the power to act freely from birth; while the latter held God creates both man’s power and his act of acquiring. Some predestinarians identified with Dirar’s view, and others with Najja’r. The Asha rites adopted Najjar’s notion of human acquisition.

The third solution, held by Shahha’m, was that man’s action might come either from God (depriving man of free will) or from man (from his own free will). His student Jubba i followed him in this respect. Hasan al-Basri was a precursor of Wa’sil ibn ATa’ (131/748) and Amr ibn Ubayd (145/762), who were the earliest representatives of the Muctazilites.

According to Watt, the Muctazilites succeeded the Qadarites from 800 AD, and eventually became almost synonymous with them. They affirmed that man has power over his action, but were reluctant to describe man as creator (khaliq) of his action. The later Muctazilites maintain that man is the creator of his own deeds - good or bad - and he is deserving of reward or punishment in the Hereafter for whatever he does. They believe that man has the power to act, but that power is not independent of God. There are two views as to how it comes to man. One is that God endows man with it from birth; another is that God creates it in man with each act; enabling him to act freely; either good or bad. Another group holds that noble acts come from God and wicked ones come from man.

On divine foreknowledge, some libertarians believed that it would nullify man’s free will and responsibility. However, there are clear verses in the Qur’an that point to God’s foreknowledge: He knows all things (Q. 57:3); He is fully cognizant of what ye do (Q. 63:11); Allah surely has the knowledge of the Hour and He sends down the rain. He knows what is in the wombs, whereas no soul knows what it shall earn tomorrow; nor does any living soul know in what land it shall die. Allah is all-knowing, Well-informed (Q. 31:34). This last verse makes mention of God’s knowledge of what is in the womb, and it corresponds with a Tradition (see above) that explicitly mentions the five things that God has decided upon.

Concerning the bearing of God’s foreknowledge on human action, the libertarians came up with two views. One is to restrict God’s knowledge to five things as mentioned in a Tradition, but they do not pertain to human actions. They say that God does not know a thing until it is. The Shabibiyyah and the Rafidites represent this view. Hisham ibn Hakam, a Rafidite, denies God’s knowledge of any future events, for he explicitly says that one cannot properly be a knower, unless an object of knowledge is already existent. Furthermore, he argues that if God had foreknowledge of what men do, there would be no test and no free choice. Some Muctazilites, instead of denying God’s foreknowledge of human action, deny its causative function. That is to say, that is to say, it does not cause the generation of the thing. This principle that God’s foreknowledge does not compel was used to resolve the antimony of God’s foreknowledge and man’s free will.

The head of the Muctazilite school of Baghdad, Bishr ibn al-Muctamir (d.210/ 825), originated the theory of generation. He argued that generated actions as the pleasure caused by eating are of our own doing; they come from causes that emanate from us. Therefore we are responsible for them.

The Ashcarite school, founded by Abu’l-Hasan al-Ashcari (324/935), a former Muctazilite, reacted against the Muctazilite denial that human acts were created by God. He held that man's acquisition is created by God, but is due to a power in man. He also accepted God's absolute power and will, but did not agree with the predestinarians who denied man's free will. He accepted the reality of a human free will, but not the libertarian view that limits God's foreknowledge of particular events, including human actions. To harmonize divine power with human responsibility, he introduced the doctrine of kasb (acquisition), an idea started earlier by Najja’r. He held that acquisition is a power created in man by God at the very moment of the act. This created power is an essential element of voluntary human action, and by virtue of it, man acquires the act which God alone can bring into existence. Man’s appropriation of the act created by God gives him a free will and makes him responsible for his actions.

The Ashcarites denied causality within nature to support the arbitrariness in God who cannot be bound by natural law, which would limit God’s power. Furthermore, God does not command evil human action, but His will is written on the Eternal Tablet before the creation of the world. God is the author of moral law, but he is not subject to it. He can create evil, without thereby being evil, just as he can create motion without moving. There is no inconsistency between God’s existential permission of evil and His moral forbidding of evil. The fact that God allows evil does not mean that he commands it. Thus, the existence of evil does not reflect on the moral nature of God.

The Ashcarite solution to the determinism-freedom problem have appealed to the majority of the Sunni Muslims today who adhere to the belief of the ahli sunni wa l jamact. In response to the question as to why God should punish man for actions which he has no control, they advanced the doctrine of kasb (acquisition).

Another argument presented to them is why acquisition is called a power when it has no influence upon the object of power. Attempts to reply to this question came from Ba’qilla’ni, Juwayni and Ghazzali. Ba’qilla’ni (404/1013), in his Tamhid, asserted that man is able (mustatic) to earn (kasb) the credit of his action. Man instinctively distinguishes between a voluntary action such as standing up and an involuntary action such as trembling. He also knows that 'the two types of action do not differ in point of genus, place or will, but rather in point of the power created in him by God at the very moment of performing the voluntary action.'

Ghazzali tries to explain how power need not have an influence upon its object. He states that man's power to acquire what God creates should be seen in the light of God's power to create before the creation as a power without an object influenced by it. To him, 'acquisition' is both a choice and a compulsion for man is the locus (mahal) of both conditions as the compulsion in the case of acquisition comes from himself and not from anything external to him. There is only one eternal power that determines all these as the First Cause of all created things, God. There are three types of human actions: firstly, natural (?abic?), as when a man stands in water and the water moves away; secondly, volitional (iradi), as when a man breathes through his lungs; and thirdly, selectional (ikhtiyari) as when a man writes with his hands. The third type of action depends on choice and knowledge that guides man's will. Man's knowledge and decision are explained by the doctrine of acquisition (kasb). An external agent guide the act of fire, but God's act comes from His absolute will. Man's action lies between these two; it is neither completely guided by an external agent (as with fire), nor is it absolute (as with God's action). Man is the intermediary of God's will and power that creates the will and power within him. This is acquisition. Thus, to al-Ghazzali nature's action is by necessity, God's action by absolute choice, and man by compulsory choice, for he is compelled to choose.

Al-aturidi, in his Kitab al-awhid, gave an elaborate exposition of his theological system, and tried to harmonize the extremism of both the traditionalists and the rationalist. He reacted against the determinism of the Jabarites and the libertarianism of the Muctazilites and some points of the Ashcarites. He states that man is not the same as the physical universe, he has been endowed with reason and with the capacity to choose. His freedom is a reality, and therefore God made him accountable for his actions; he does not punish man for an act of which he has no control. However, all acts are from God, good or bad; for He alone has the power and knowledge over that action. Consequently, God also wills all the actions, but is not accountable for them. Divine will proceeds from divine knowledge and 'he creates the action when a man in the free exercise of his reason chooses and intends to perform an action'.

Although evil action follows from God's will, it does not follow from his command and desire. Sin is therefore not against God's will, but against His law and command. Man's responsibility lies in his freedom to choose (Ihtiyar) and the freedom to acquire an action (Iktisab). As for eternal divine decree (kaza' and qadar), it is from God's foreknowledge; God decrees the act that He knows from eternity, but man is still responsible for his actions, as God has given him a limited freedom consistent with his obligation. Thus, Maturidi places great stress on freedom of choice and acquisition. Divine decree and divine foreknowledge cannot deprive man of his free will.

Unlike the Ash'arite view where man only acquires the action created for him, the Maturidis view is that man's act comes from his free choice, although God who gave him the means to acquire it, creates it. A Maturidite, Abu Laith al-Samarqandi, in his commentary of Abu Hanifa's 'Greatest Insight', states that God created man's acts because he has endowed man with an ability, and man's reward or punishment is in accordance with his use of it, and not the origin of the creation. (a - ability is something created with the act, not pre-existing before birth. Man is therefore acting in reality and not metaphorically as he uses his God-given ability, which enables man to do good or evil. Although God creates it in man, he does not command man to do evil, only good acts. This ability is therefore concurrent with man's action and not innate in man; so his actions can change distress to happiness and vice verse.

To conclude, with the impact of ancient Greek works, came the need to defend the faith as noted by the Muctazilites who used reason. They were opposed by the conservatives represented by Ashcari (d. 936) and aturidi (d. 944), and used the Muctazilite methods of reasoning, but were skeptical of Aristotelian metaphysics. Ghazzali introduced Aristotelian logic into Kalam to challenge the batinite agnostic attitude of skepticism and the Muslim critique of dialectical reasoning. After Ghazzalimost important were Adud al-Din al-'ji (d.1355), Sacd al-Din al-Taftazani (d. 1390)-lengthy commentaries on Kalam literature. From fifteenth century theological booklets have been written remarkably mostly from Sufis, including Kamal al-Din ibn al-Humam (d. 1456) and Kamal Pasha Zada (d. 1534).


The Modern Perspectives

Although the focus in this section is on Muhammad Iqbal and Said Nursi, it would be fitting to provide some background to the modern attempts to reconstruct Islamic theology, especially in India and Turkey, where Iqbal and Nursi comes from.

In discussing the contemporary attempts at reviving Islamic theology, Watt mentions the contribution of Ameer Ali, Muhammad Abdu and Muhammad Iqbal. However, he makes no mention of Said Nursi, probably because English translations of Nursi’s works have only recently become available. The revival of Islamic theology, according to Watt, requires one to integrate traditional concepts with relevance to contemporary problems. The traditional or modern Muslim intellectual cannot do it. I suppose, for Watt, the scholar that can make such a contribution would have to combine both traditional and modern knowledge.

Nineteenth century theologians who felt the impact of modern philosophy and science, were convinced that the classical arguments based on logical argumentation were not sufficient to challenge the new forces of materialism, and that there is a need to respond to the new challenges. Thus, in India, Ahmad Khan argued that doctrines are today proven by natural experiments not by analogical arguments as in former times. Since he believed in the immutability of scientific experimentation, he proposed a Kalam that is in harmony with science and religion. Shibli Nucmani (1914) who was more concerned with the challenges of atheism and the religious experiences of mystics, questioned the relevance of Kalam arguments, such as the creation of the Qur’an, the relation between attributes and essence, and whether actions affect faith or not. He proposed that spiritual method should also be recognized as part of Kalam. Furthermore, classical Kalam discussions after Ghazzali, such as creation of Qur’an, relation between attributes and essence, whether actions affect belief, should be avoided. Shibli was critical of Asharism; which does not emphasise reason and denies deterministic causality. Furthermore, he proposed that the Sufis spiritual method should form part of Kalam. Both Khan and Shibli relied heavily on Muslim philosophers such as Ibn Sina. In Turkey, theologians who were concerned with the revival of Islamic theology were Izmirli Ismail Haqqi (d. 1946) and Abdullatif Kharpu’tu (d. 1916). The Turkish poet and socioligist, Ziah Gokalp (d. 1925), was more concerned with an Islamic social theory than with an Islamic theology of individual free will.

Kharpu’tu calls for a revival of theology by examining modern thought selectively according to Islamic principles. He states, 'Just as early Mutakallimun reacted to Aristotelian philosophy selectively, today's Mutakallimun should study modern thoughts accurately and choose according to Islamic principles what is necessary from them so that a new contemporary ilm al-kalam can be established'. This would represent the third wave of Kalam after the pre-and post Ghazzalian Kalam. In his al Kalam (Selection in Theology) he sat out his new Kalam programme and suggested that his successors improve upon it. He viewed modern materialism as the new threat to religion and proposed a revelation- centred Kalam. In this sense, Kharpu’tu is a precursor to Nursi; he challenged modern materialism and his Treatise of Light is a commentary of the Qur'an.

Haqqi revitalized Islamic theology in his yeni Ilm-I-Kalam (New Theology), wherein he wrote on epistemology and divinity. He was inspired by French works of Descarte and Comte, and used them to supplement his classical Islamic sources. Kalam evolves with the needs of the time; just as Baqillani’s Kalam was replaced by Razi s, the latter Kalam should give way to a new one that is relevant to the modern age. Thus, the post-Ghazzali Kalam which relies on Aristotle’s philosophy, should be replaced by one that addresses the contemporary needs. One of these needs is to explain Islamic beliefs with scientific methodology and modern logic. Haqqi is not asking for change in the essentials of Kalam, which he believes to be unchangeable, but in its means which are changeable.

Both Kharputi and Haqqi were convinced that the old arguments theological arguments were not convincing for this new age; they should be based on scientific criteria. The problem however is that instead of defending the faith with science; the faith itself might change. A case in point is the way Iqbal compromised on basic Islamic belief concerning divine knowledge and power. This modern tendency for basing arguments on scientific criteria is evident in Kharputi, Izmirli and Shibli. Instead of producing classical arguments for the existence of God, they pay more attention to the perfect design of universe. Thus, the general trend in modern theology is to harmonize religion and science and to bring about revival and reform through education.


2.1 Muhammad Iqbal (1876-1938)

Following the new trend started by Khan and Shibli, Iqbal attempted to reconstruct Islamic theology and bring it in harmony with modern thought. I shall illustrate this with respect to Iqbal’s concept of predestination and free will. The conservative trend (identified with the Sunni view) is to maintain the sovereignty of God, and the modern trend is to maintain the autonomy of man. Muhammad Abdu exemplifies the modern trend, and stresses that man has a freedom of choice, which he exercises by a power within himself, and which makes him responsible for his actions. Iqbal goes further by asserting the uniqueness of the individual ego, which has the capacity for an undetermined freedom, which is akin to the divine freedom. God, according to Him, has limited his own freedom for the sake of man’s freedom. Clearly, it is a view that not only conflicts with the conservative theological view of the Ash'arites, but it is direct conflict with the clear teachings of the Qur’an, which teachings the omnipotence of God. It is a view of undetermined human free will, which has its parallels with the view of the Qadarites.

Iqbal was inspired with a passion for philosophy, and expressed his thought in a series of poetical works, mainly in Persian. His aim for Muslims was to throw off lethargy and the inhibitions of the past…and to prepare for the emergence of the superman. Iqbal attempted a revision of Islam in accordance with modern European thought which he regarded as a further development of some of the important phases of the culture of Islam. Furthermore, he suggests that we examine European thought with an independent spirit, and see how it can help in the reconstruction of theological thought of Islam. In reviving Islamic metaphysics Iqbal drew upon the teachings of two contemporary philosophers, Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947) and Henri Bergson (1859-1941). Iqbal imitated the antirational philosophy of Bergson, but not entirely.

Concerning the impact of Iqbal’s philosophical thought, Gibb states:

Though it has strongly influenced the younger intellectuals of India, I cannot think it has yet had any deep effect upon Muslim thought as a whole. Indeed, had it not been for Iqbal’s prestige a poet and leader in Indian Islam, it is doubtful whether so revolutionary and heretical a work would ever have been published.


2.2 The Ego and free will

In this section, I shall deal with two aspects of Iqbal’s thought; his conception of the human ego and his concept of free will. An understanding of the former is essential for an understanding of the latter.

Iqbal departs from the classical philosophers such as Ghazzali who regard the ego as a simple immutable soul-substance; different from our group of mental states and unaffected by the passage of time. This view of experience according to Iqbal does not reveal itself in experience, where the ego invades the environment and the environment invades the ego. It is a single act of perceiving, judging, willing. Iqbal supports his view with the following verse: And they ask you concerning the soul. Say, the soul proceeded from my lord’s command [amr] (Q. 17:87). This verse defines God’s relation to the human ego. Thus, the human ego has a directive energy which comes from God, and therefore capable of willing independently as suggested by the verse; Every man acteth after its own manner (Q.17:86). Man is not a thing in space; he has will, attitudes, and aspirations; he is made of fine clay (Q. 23: 12-14) and of another make (Q. 23:12-14).

There is no dichotomy between body and soul. The experience of the ego is the experience of a system of acts. The ego is spontaneous, but the body is repetitive. It [the body] is not its vehicle, it is the state of the soul. This state is of a lower order and not detached from it. Out of matter emerges the ego of a higher order, an ego that evolves from the lower to the higher level. The mental comes from the physical, but becomes increasingly independent of it as it evolves to the higher level. For Iqbal, then, the soul is tied to man’s physical experience, but it can transcend it as it matures to a higher state of consciousness.

The ego is self-determined, not determined like the physical universe. Physical laws of nature are predetermined; they are created with a fixed destiny as they have a fixed potential, but this does not apply to man. To support his view that the ego acts freely and independently, Iqbal quotes verses such as, No soul shall labour but for itself, and no one shall bear another’s burden (Q. 6: 164). Prayer keeps man in tune with the Divine source of freedom, which liberates man of mechanism. Adam’s fall does not signify man’s downfall, but his rise to self-consciousness. This free nature constitutes man’s destiny, as all things have a destiny determined by its own nature, man too has a destiny that is determined by his own nature, but it is a destiny determined by itself, not by any sort of external compulsion. In his Javed Nama, Iqbal states:

The inhabitants of the earth lost their ego, and did not understand the secret of taqdir (fate). That secret is simply this; it (fate) alters when you reform yourselves. If you become mere dust, fate scatters you in space. But if you turn into stone, it drops you on the glass. If you become dew, your life is evanescent like the drop; but if you become an ocean, you survive forever.

Thus, man’s destiny is the outcome of his own initiative, his own reform. Man’s continuous creativity enables him to be in intimate contact with God in so far as his initiative determines God’s will. Symbolically, the arrow man throws, comes from God. Fatalism is like a narcotic drug that puts man to sleep. Man must change his own destiny; his own fate. Even his prayers to God can change his own fate, which is potentially one fate from an infinite number of fates.

Tawakkul or Trust is to make one’s effort, and leave the result to God. Poem: The seed by nature does not want to remain within the darkness of the soil, but to grow out. Similarly, man must not suppress the function of his nature. This is not submission.

The believer is torn between freedom and determinism. If one takes surah 37, verse 94, which points to predetermination; and surah 25, verse 5, which points to free-will, one finds that there is an apparent contradiction in these two statements. And according to Siddiqi, Iqbal has not really made this point clear, and the reader is still left in doubt.

Iqbal is the first to reconstruct Islamic metaphysics on Qur’anic lines in recent times, but the structural elements of his thought are alien to the Qur’an. Iqbal did not however imitate the European philosophy slavishly. He follows Bergson, but not blindly. For example, Bergson rejects teleology, but Iqbal affirms it. For Bergson the future remains open and the vital impulse is not directed at a future end, but it is undirected and unforeseeable in its behaviour; teleology would render the free creative impulse a mere illusion. Iqbal agrees with Bergson that we need to be free rather than constrained by that kind of teleology. However, Iqbal suggests that there is a need for another kind of teleology, where man’s will is not governed by a predetermined end; experience proves otherwise as man is directed by desires and an unforeseen end. Man is a free agent. Iqbal leaves the portals of the future open to reality, though he accepts teleology. The universe is an organic unity of will and purpose; it tends to the future, constantly self-evolving. Man’s self-creativity affirms his ego and God does not interfere with it. Evolution is the unfolding of individual creativity, and man’s destiny was to be more and more like God. And the more he is like God, the more individual he becomes.


2.3 Divine knowledge and free will

To Iqbal, the Ashcarites focussed on the defence of Islamic belief, and the Muctazilites have reduced religion to logical concepts, rather than considering man’s concrete experience. But like the Muctazilites, Iqbal defended the freedom and responsibility of man; and like a section of them; he held that divine foreknowledge, as a kind of passive omniscience will render man devoid of free will and responsibility. According to him, divine knowledge suggests:

A single indivisible act of perception which makes God immediately aware of the entire sweep of history, regarded as an order of specific events, in an eternal now. …There is an element of truth in this conception. But it suggests a closed universe, a fixed futurity, a predetermined unalterable order of specific events which, like a superior fate, has once and (sic) for all determined the directions of God’s creative activity. In fact, Divine knowledge regarded as a kind of passive omniscience is nothing more than…a sort of mirror passively reflecting the details of an already finished structure of things which the finite consciousness reflects in fragments only.

I am not at all sure what Iqbal means when he says there is an element of truth in this, but what is clear is that Iqbal does not agree with this view of divine knowledge. He rejects it on account of the fact that it encroaches on human freedom; but it seems to me that Iqbal conceives of this concept of divine foreknowledge as something that leads to fatalism as it suggests that all things have already been pre-determined. Furthermore, the use of the term passive suggests that the human actions that follow from this knowledge are inalterable. By contrast, an active knowledge of God would imply that God’s knowledge is dynamic and changes with the changes in human action. Divine knowledge to Iqbal is creative; it is subject to the existence of an object. The creativity of God’s knowledge and perception presupposes an organic relation between God’s creative activity and man’s creative action. Furthermore, the unforseen action of man implies man autonomy on the one hand, and God’s self-imposed limitation of his free will. Iqbal states:

Divine knowledge must be conceived as a living creative activity to which the objects that appear to exist in their own right are organically related. By conceiving God’s knowledge as a kind of reflecting mirror, we no doubt save his fore-knowledge of future events; but it is obvious that we do so at the expense of His freedom. The future certainly pre-exists as an open possibility, not as a fixed order of events with definite outlines. …Nor is it possible, on the view of Divine knowledge as a kind of passive omniscience, to reach the idea of a creator. If history is regarded merely as a gradually revealed photo of a predetermined order of events, then there is no room in it for novelty and initiation. Consequently, we can attach no meaning to the word creation, which has a meaning for us only in view of our own capacity for original action. The truth is that the whole theological controversy relating to predestination is due to pure speculation with no eye on the spontaneity of life, which is a fact of actual experience. No doubt, the emergence of the egos endowed with power of spontaneous and hence unforeseeable action is, in a sense, a limitation on the freedom of the all-inclusive Ego. But his limitation is not externally imposed. It is borne out of his own creative freedom whereby He has chosen finite egos to be participators of His own life, power, and freedom.

The directive nature of the finite ego proceeds from the directive energy of God, from His Spirit, which makes man a free personal entity akin to God. In providing man with private initiative, God limited His own free will. In support of this assertion Iqbal quotes the following verses: The Truth is from your Lord; Whoever wishes, let him believe, and whoever wishes, let him disbelieve (Q. 18:28); If you do good, you do good for yourselves, and if you do evil, you do it for yourselves too (Q.17: 7)

Iqbal rejects the view of divine knowledge that suggests the predetermination of particular events as this would imply a limitation of human free will. The notion of a future exists in God’s mind only as an open possibility. Iqbal gives the analogy of a person who has an idea in his consciousness, and who is aware of it as a complex whole; but the intellectual working out of it is a matter of time. The possibilities of the idea are present in the mind intuitively; and if a person does not know it at that time, it does not mean that that person’s knowledge is defective, but that there is not yet a possibility to become known. Likewise to Iqbal, man as a creative being would make no sense if one considers God’s knowledge as passive.

From the foregoing we gather that Iqbal is presupposing two things: One is that divine knowledge has a causal link with human action. In other words man is compelled to act according to divine knowledge which renders him devoid of human freedom. The other is that divine knowledge of the possibilities of human action is possible, but not the details of human action, which have not yet been performed. These presuppositions are problematic for two main reasons. Firstly, it implies a limitation on Divine knowledge, and therefore, power of God, although Iqbal suggest that it is self-imposed by God Himself (This self-imposed limitation is meant to allow man to be a participator in God’s creative freedom). Secondly, Iqbal’s analogy of human foreknowledge is not appropriate as God’s perception is not the same as man’s visual perception of future details.

Like the libertarians, Iqbal holds that God has no power over man’s innate freedom. The libertarian, Dira’r, holds this view as it accords with Divine justice; however, his view does not (as with Iqbal) compromise God’s foreknowledge. Ibn Sina and al-Farabi held the view of God’s limited knowledge of particulars which is only known with sense perception. God’s perception cannot be reduced to a human kind of perception. This does not mean that they do not have a perception of the particulars; they have it, albeit in a universal way. In his Tahafut al-Falasifah, Ghazzali attacked Ibn Sina on this very point as he conceived it as repugnant to the Islamic notion of an all-knowing God. The question is whether these early philosophers inspired Iqbal. I think not. Iqbal’s concern was not to prove that God cannot have perceptual knowledge; if it was so, he would have taken the line of argument of the early philosophers whose view was that God has knowledge of the particulars only in a universal way. Iqbal did not adopt this line of argument. It could have saved him from the blasphemy of limiting God’s particular knowledge of future events; not His universal knowledge. Ibn Sina denied God’s perceptual knowledge only. Iqbal limited the future knowledge of God of all human actions, the universals and the particulars. He provides an analogy of man who has knowledge of possibilities intuitively, and he compares it with God who also has a sort of intuitive knowledge of possibilities. But this is not like the universal knowledge of particular possibilities as conceived by the early philosophers.

Rather, to Iqbal the knowledge of these possibilities is subject to their existence; if they exist in time, then they can be known. He states: If a specific possibility, as such, is not intellectually known to you at a certain moment of time, it is not because your knowledge is defective, but because there is yet no possibility to become known.

Iqbal then rejects the traditional notion of Destiny as Divine predetermination of human action. Destiny to him is inward reach of a thing, its realizeable possibilities which may actualize themselves without any feeling of compulsion from without. Thus each creature is endowed with a fixed potential which it is free to realize or not. Man’s creative capacity is evidence of his freedom, which is opposed to mechanism. Iqbal therefore views predetermination as a potential given to each living creature, including man who alone can realise this potential through his own free will and initiative.

To justify free will Iqbal quotes explicit verses from the Qur’an. Clearly, there are also clear verses from the Qur’an suggesting divine determination, but Iqbal conveniently ignores these verses in order to save man’s freedom. But he does so at the expense of God’s freedom and power. The classical libertarians (Qadarites) have done the same.

Thus, Iqbal’s limiting of divine power is not new to classical Islam. The Qadarites and some Muctazilites parallel it. But I cannot say whether they inspired Iqbal, and there is no evidence to suggest that he does. Iqbal does not quote them in support of his own views in the manner in which he finds support in modern philosophers such as Nietzsche, Whitehead and Bergson. As for divine knowledge, Iqbal does not make the distinctions that are made by the classical Muslim philosophers between universal knowledge and particular knowledge, which indicates that Iqbal did not depend on them to support his arguments.


2.2 Said Nursi

Said Nursi was a contemporary of Iqbal, but there is no evidence to suggest that they met or influenced each other. Iqbal did not know Turkish and Nursi did not know English. They have reacted to the intellectual challenges of the twentieth century in essentially two different ways. Iqbal reacted to the extreme fatalism of Indian Muslims and Nursi responded to the secularism of Turkish Muslims. Thus Iqbal emphasised man’s capacity for undetermined free action. Nursi emphasised God’s unlimited predetermination and arbitrary power. However, he was concerned with providing an intellectual defence of orthodox faith, and emphasised Divine destiny as a vital principle of Islamic faith. Unlike the Jabarites, Nursi acknowledged human free will and responsibility, but it was a determined free will.

In the case of Iqbal, I have attempted to show that his views are akin to those of the Qadarites who held that man has an undetermined free will. In the case of Nursi, I will attempt to show that he rejected the extreme Jabarite view that man is completely determined, and the extreme Qadarite view that man is completely undetermined. He supported the middle view of the Ashcarites who tried to reconcile these two opposing views. Unlike Iqbal, who derived inspiration from modern philosophy, Nursi seem to have been inspired by the classical Sunni view, which became the point of departure for his critique of the other extreme classical positions and the modern views of individualism and liberty.

I deal with Nursi’s view of predestination and free will in two parts: firstly, his explanation of Divine destiny; and secondly, his explanation of divine destiny in relation to human free will.


2.2.1. Divine destiny in relation to divine knowledge and divine will

Said Nursi quotes the following verses in support of divine destiny: There is nothing for which We do not have the store-houses and sources, and we send it down only in a well-known measure (Q. 15:21); With Him are the keys of the Unseen. None but He knows them. He knows what is in the land and the sea. Not a leaf falls but He knows it, not a grain amid the darkness of the earth, naught of wet or dry but it is in a Manifest Book (Q. 6:59); It is We who bring the dead to life. We record what they send and what is left of them. All things they have kept in a Manifest Record (Q. 27:75). To him, divine destiny applies to the whole of creation including man’s actions, which has free will.

Nursi believes in divine determination (qadar) of all things before their creation. We also call it predestination or divine destiny. To Nursi, it is a pillar of Islamic belief and is suggested in the verses quoted above. Destiny is almost identical to divine knowledge, which is called in the verse above the Manifest Record (imamun mubin). This is called divine theoretical, where everything is pre-recorded on the Preserved Tablet. Nursi cites sura 6, verse 59, which to him is confirmed by the harmony of the universe. All seeds, fruit stones, measured proportions and forms demonstrate that everything is pre-determined before its earthly existence. The form of a seed is already determined in the factory of “kun fa ya kun (Be and it is) of divine destiny. In this seed is the in-built life-story of the plant. Its growth into that of a plant is due to Divine power, which arranges the right ingredients for the shaping of the tree. These ingredients have already been measured by divine destiny. Divine destiny makes up different proportions from the elements of plants and animals that are required for a particular form.

The verse 59 refers to the Manifest Record, which Nursi explains as follows:

The Manifest Record, which relates rather to the world of the Unseen than to the material world, is a description of one aspect of Divine knowledge and commands. That is to say, it relates rather to the past and the future than to the present. It is a notebook of Divine destiny which contains the origin, the roots and seeds of things rather than their flourishing forms in visible existence.

Divine destiny therefore means that God knows all things to the minutest; everything within space and time, although He Himself is beyond space and time. God gives existence in His knowledge to all things, and assigns to each a certain shape, life span and certain peculiarities. Destiny therefore also means that God makes everything according to a certain measure.

Knowledge depends on the thing known, and divine destiny is like the kind of knowledge of the known; but there is no causal relation between divine knowledge and the thing that is known, for the thing known acts through divine power, not divine knowledge. Divine knowledge is pre-eternal knowledge; it is like a mirror that reflects the past, present and future all at once, and humans cannot claim to fall outside this. Nursi then gives the analogy of a mirror to illustrate his point about divine knowledge, where the past and present are all united in one.

The destiny of a single seed has two aspects to it: One way of a seed displaying destiny is by divine knowledge and command, which is the Manifest Record (Imamun Mubin); the other way is by the divine will, which is the Manifest Book (Kitabun Mubin). Said Nursi calls the former, Destiny Theoretical, as the growth of the tree is written in the seed (in accordance with divine knowledge); and the latter, Destiny Actual, as the seed is actualised in the form of a tree (in accordance with the divine will). Gulen explains this distinction between God’s knowledge and God’s power as follows: Everything eternally exists in God’s knowledge. God knows all things with the exact peculiarities of each, and Divine Power clothes a thing in material existence according to Divine Will.

Thus, divine power registers man’s deeds with the pen of destiny. They are lodged in his memory so he could recall them on the Day of Reckoning. From the many tablets, God writes the spiritual identities of mortals. If plants, having the simplest form of life, are dependent on predestination, then surely, humans too, could be. Thus, since divine destiny governs all creatures, it also governs man who is perfect creation and vicegerent of God who bears His trust. Although man’s life history is also within Divine Destiny and Knowledge, it does not compel him to act in a certain way.

That divine destiny is applicable to man as much as it is to the universe is clearly stated in the following passage:

Know, O distressed, restless soul! Like the rising of the sun in the morning and its setting in the evening, whatever will happen to you throughout your life, in whatever conditions you will be, has all been pre-determined by the Pen of Destiny and inscribed in your forehead. If you wish, you may strike your head against the anvil of Destiny but only to see your distress and depression increase. Be convinced that the one who is unable to penetrate the regions, the depths, of the heavens and the earth, must willingly consent to the Lordship of the One Who has created everything and decreed its destiny.

The concluding statement of this passage suggests that it is man that cannot penetrate the heavens and earth, and should therefore consent to Divine authority. God alone knows everything and has destined all things. Man’s reason cannot fathom the mystery of Divine destiny.

One other aspect needs to be mentioned concerning divine destiny, that is, the relation between divine destiny and divine decree. The former pertains to divine knowledge and the latter to divine will which brings that knowledge into reality at the level of the seen, material world. The question is whether God is compelled to bring all His knowledge and decrees into actualisation. Said Nursi holds that God cannot be compelled as he is absolutely free and powerful, so he sometimes withdraws the execution of his decrees. Thus, the Law of destiny is sometimes prevented from enactment by His decree, and sometimes a universal law, which is the destiny of a species or group, is not enacted for a special member of that species. Nursi gives the example of a baby who survives a calamity that has brought destruction to many. This signifies that God is so free that He does whatever He wills and decrees however He wishes. It is on account of the principle of divine sparing that something is excluded from the law of decree, and decree is sometimes excluded from the law of destiny. God may therefore make changes to whatever He has recorded in the Manifest Book or to Preserved Tablet; God effaces whatever He wills and confirms whatever He wills, with Him is the Mother of the Book. (Q. 13: 39). Thus, an awareness of such a possibility will lead the believer to appeal to God to spare him of whatever calamity God has decreed for him.

I turn now to Nursi’s view on the purpose of believing in Divine destiny.

In response to the question as to whether Divine destiny burdens the free spirit, Nursi answers in the negative. Instead, it provides the soul with comfort and security. Otherwise, the soul will have to bear a burden as heavy as the earth itself in favour of a temporary and limited freedom. With belief in divine destiny man can throw his burdens on the ship of divine destiny and roam freely within its perfection. It removes the illusion of a free carnal soul, and breaks its hold over man. A man who acknowledges the king’s authority enjoys all the privileges of the palace. But the one who does not, and interferes with the affairs of the palace, will suffer. Similarly, man’s acceptance of God’s authority and predetermination will lead to his happiness, even if he faces calamities. From difficulty comes ease, and sometimes hardship revives the light of one’s existence. Misfortune and pain should therefore be viewed as flashes of divine wisdom.


2.2.2 Divine Destiny in relation to Man’s free will

In the foregoing, I have explained Nursi’s view of divine destiny in relation to divine knowledge and divine will, but not his view on the relation of divine destiny on human free will, which I will deal with in this section.

It is clear from the above that belief in predestination is not merely a theoretical issue, but it has practical value in that it provides security and comfort even in the face of calamities. Furthermore, it prevents pride and self-conceit in a person who has to attribute all his good deeds and achievements to God. However, it is easy to take this view to the extreme and believe that even one’s sins directly caused by God, which makes us not responsible for them. Nursi therefore states that one should acknowledge the reality of human free will so that one can take responsibility for one’s actions, especially one’s sins. Man, according to Nursi, has been gifted with the Divine Trust, which means that his human self has been endowed with a free will. It is an honour given to man so that he might consider himself accountable for his actions. Nursi cites the verse; Does man think he will be left to roam at will, that he will be left uncontrolled (Q. 75: 36) to substantiate his point about human free will. God has promised, Nursi states, citing surah 4 verses 87, that man will be held to account on the Day of Resurrection. It is not becoming of God’s dignity to go against His promise. So indeed, man is held to account as God records all man’s deeds, good and evil.

Man’s action of free will, such as speaking, is but a small portion of all his acts. If his free will is so limited; and he plays a small role in his acts, in spite of being the most honoured of creatures, endowed with a will and a consciousness, then how small a part is there not for the inanimate particles of the universe. This further points to the Unity of the Divine Being.

If God destines all things, including human actions, then how is it that man should be made responsible for his actions on the Day of Judgement? Man is responsible as he has a free will, which is attested by human experience. Man therefore has an intuitive sense of his capacity for free will. He feels a sense of wrong when he does something wrong, makes choices all the times, and when he is wronged then he seeks justice in the court of law. Furthermore, the Qur’an makes it clear that man possesses a free will, and there are many verses suggesting that man is being tested. God would not test someone who does not have a free will; and who cannot distinguish good and evil, lawful and unlawful. History is a result of man’s choice, but God creates the simple condition by which man can bring into effect His universal will.

Man, because of his carnal soul, tends to deceive himself; thinking that good is from himself and evil from God. This is an attempt to escape responsibility, but a man who believes correctly in divine destiny, will not have this attitude, and will rather take responsibility for the wrong he has done, and employ his free will in a positive way; to obey and thank God. Man wills to commit sin, which makes him the source of his sin, but God is the source of all good human actions, and therefore cannot be responsible for man’s sins. Although God is the creator of both good and evil, it is man who acquires these moral qualities. God is the source of all good and intends only good; so even the evil that he creates serves a good purpose. To illustrate this point Nursi gives the example of a lazy man who was hurt because of the rain. Because of his hurt, the victim cannot say that rain has no benefit. Humans who commit evil are guilty of an act, which can be classified as ugly as it is based on his free will. The action itself is not evil; God has created it, so it is free of evil, both with respect to the causes and the results. Thus Nursi states: It is on account of this subtle reality that willing and committing evil deeds is evil but creating them is not…Ugliness in man’s acts lies in his will and potential, not in God’s creating it.

It might be argued that calamities and misfortunes contradict the view that divine destiny leads only to good even if it appears to be evil. Nursi responds by stating that life, the most brilliant light of existence, grows in vigour as it resolves in different circumstances. It is purified and perfected in contradictory events and happenings, and it produces the desired results through taking on different qualities, and thus gives testimony to the manifestations of the Divine names. It is for this reason that living creatures go through many states and experience situations in which they suffer misfortunes and hardships, so purifying their lives. Thus, to Nursi, man is being tested by all these misfortunes which ultimately purify him if he manages to face them with a positive attitude, and not blame God, but accepting his pains as flashes of divine wisdom.

So since man has a free will, he should be made accountable for it on the day of Judgement. Divine destiny, which is in a sense identical with divine knowledge, is capable of absolute justice because it apprehends the primary, rather than only the secondary causes of human events. Human justice is on the other hand relative in comparison with divine justice; the former apprehends only the secondary causes, whereas the latter apprehends the primary causes. Thus, the human judge may sentence a person to prison for theft for which he is innocent. This is unjust. But God passes the judgement of murder on him for which he is guilty. This is just. Thus, while the court has done injustice for charging a man for a crime he is innocent of, God charges him for the crime that he is guilty of. Thus, God is absolutely just while man is liable to injustice. Furthermore, divine destiny and its creation are absolutely free from evil and ugliness in the beginning and end of events, yet it is the real cause and result of all happenings.

On the question of how divine destiny can be reconciled with free will, Nursi answers in seven ways. I have touched upon some ways in the foregoing discussion. To reiterate some of Nursi’s views, God pre-records all things including human actions, good and bad; God creates all things, including good and bad human acts. Man has a free will, which makes him responsible for his bad actions. Although God creates even his bad actions (in the sense that he creates the physical conditions by which man can perform those actions), he does not wish that man commits evil acts, nor does he command them. God is not the author of evil; the evil of an action is because of a defective in the action, which should be attributed to the weakness in man, rather than divine causality. Only the evil that consists in the destruction of some natural phenomena falls under divine causality. The form principally intended by God among created things is the well being of the general scheme, which requires failure and weakness on some aspects of natural or human phenomena. So in causing a good collective arrangement, God consequentially, and as it were indirectly, causes the corruption of things. The order and harmony of the universe reflects divine justice, which demands that sinners be punished. Thus God is the author of the evil of patently, but not of the evil of fault. God is the creator of all acts, even the evil ones, but He is not responsible for the ugly acts which man performs on account of his own volition. In other words, the power and being inherent in all evil actions come from God, but the defect of those ugly actions, come not from Him, but from the defective secondary cause.

To reconcile divine destiny with free will, Nursi starts off with the argument that the harmony of the creation is evidence of divine justice, which necessarily presupposes free will. He admits that it is difficult to fathom the exact nature o



* Yasien Mohammad