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The First Theological Discussions of Free Will and Determinism

The subject of free will and determinism is among the issues with roots in the Holy Quran and one whose discussion, as a religious topic, dates back to the period of the Companions. However, those who are referred in historical sources as the advocates of qadar should be viewed as the first group who gave a theological framework to the discussion of determinism in Islam. In this connection, the sources continue to make reference to a Ma`bad Juhani (d. 80 AH). Ma`bad b. `Abd Allah Juhani was a Basran Successor and a pupil of Ibn `Abbas, Ibn `Umar and `Umran b. Hasin, who propagated his ideas in Iraq and Hijaz. He found his views to be in conflict with those of his masters. Although there have survived reports of Ibn `Abbas’s arguments against the theological views of Ma`bad, his main opponent among the Successors was Ibn `Umar. Based on accounts in ancient sources, Ma`bad had received his views on ikhtiyar (free will) from a new Christian convert to Islam in Iraq named Abu Yunus Aswari, known as Sansuyah, or Sasuyah, or Suasan.

The increasing popularity of Ma`bad’s Qadarite teachings in Medina, even in their limited scope, continued to fuel the opposition which had been mounted by Ibn `Umar and caused it to be carried out after his death (73 AH) by a group of Successors in Medina who included Ibn `Umar’s son Salim and Qasim b. Muhammad b. Abi Bakr. It is difficult to provide a precise definition for the notion of ikhtiyar in Ma`bad’s theory as reported in historical sources. However, it is safe to assume that the Qadarites who were the subject of censure of the Traditionalist Successors of Medina, Salim b. `Abd Allah in particular, believed that both good as well as evil acts are the subject of the divine will, unlike the Traditionalists who considered evil acts as unrelated to the divine qadar (i.e., will). The explicit formulation of the positions of the two sides is contained in the letter of Hasan Basri to `Abd al-Malik b. Marwan in which the proponents of ikhtiyar are said to have believed that sinful acts are not based on divine qadar while the proponents of jabr (determinism) are said to have believed that all actions, both good and evil, are to be attributed to God. There were those such as the Kufan Successor `Amir Sha`bi who in spite of refraining to join the Qadarite religion did subscribe to the view that good deeds are from God and sinful actions are from men.

Shahrastani in his account of the views of Ma`bad Juhani on the subject of qadar places him in the same group as Ghalyan Dimashqi and Wasil b. `Ata. Their position is set forth thus: God is wise and just and it is not permissible to ascribe evil and injustice to Him, just as it is illogical to assume that He would impose an action on His servant and then punish him for its performance. A different version of the same argument is contained in the letter of Hasan Basri as representing his own view.

Though the number of surviving 1st-century works dealing with the subject of qadar are rather few they, none the less, provide sufficient evidence to conclude that apart from the Traditionalist opponents of the idea of qadar there existed two other major groups advocating the two sides of the issue with their own arsenal of arguments. One line of reasoning offered by the advocates of ikhtiyar was based on the role of man’s free will in hastening the ajal (the appointed term of a man’s life, or the date of his death). As can be gathered from the treatise of `Umar b. `Abd al-`Aziz, it was the view of his opponents that a man’s murder implied a divergence from ajal. Another example of a theoretical position on the subject is the one formulated by Ghaylan Dimashqi who interprets istita`h (capacity) as good physical health and freedom from defects.

Based on the assertions contained in the letter of Hasan Basri, the determinists, who had formed into a relatively cohesive movement, had also formulated a body of rational arguments backed by Quranic evidence. As a purely rational argument, free from any reference to the Quran, the determinists postulated the notion of divine prescience, the examples of which exist in the surviving works and accounts of the period. According to this view all the events of the world are contained in the divine knowledge from the outset, a fact that points to a predetermined course that is to be followed. In his letter Hasan makes reference to this deterministic argument and goes on to present a view on the divine knowledge which reconciles God’s prescience with that of man’s free will. The main surviving work by an opponent of the free will is that of `Umar b. Abd al-`Aziz who also bases his position on the theory about the divine pre-knowledge.

Here, it is once again worth remembering the hadith of `Akramah (d. 104 AH) reported from the Holy Prophet (PBUH) that had become widely known by the later part of the 1st century in which both the Qadarites and Murji’ites are chastised. A confluence of factors, including `Akramah’s hadith, contributed to the creation of an atmosphere toward the end of the 1st century AH in which the term Qadarite came to be viewed as a term of derogation so much so that at times the proponents of free will labeled their determinist opponents as Qadarites.

source: Pakatchi , Ahmad "Islam Entry" The Great Islamic Encyclopedia. Ed. Kazem Musavi Bojnourdi.Tehran: The Center of Great Islamic Encyclopaedia , 1989-, V.8 ,pp.423 - 424

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