Compulsion (Jabr) or Free Will (Tafwid)

The question of man’s pre-destination or freedom of choice has preoccupied human beings throughout the ages, and it continues to be discussed by Islamic philosophers and scholars.

Ultimately, two schools of thought regarding this question emerged. One, called the Compulsionist (Jabr), holds that human beings do not have the freedom of choice. Every decision, utterance, and action a person performs has been pre-destined since the time of creation. Compulsionists believe that the faithful have no choice in their faith. Likewise, the unfaithful also have no choice but to not believe in God. They maintain that everything is unalterable and pre-determined.

The second school of thought who believe in Free Will (Tafwid) declare that human beings are masters over their own acts. This notion is in concordance with the Quran which states,

“None will be wronged in anything, nor will you be requited anything except that which you used to do.” (36:54)

In addition, they rely upon another verse from the Quran which states,

“The truth is from your Lord. So whomever wills, let him believe, and whoever wills, let him disbelieve.” (18:29)

From these two verses, it can be concluded that human beings have the freedom to act, but they must bear the moral responsibility and consequence of their own actions. Furthermore, the acknowledgement of Divine will itself makes people accept that their very actions are not pre-destined.

The beginning of spiritual guidance is always from God, but the beginning of man’s destruction is one’s own erroneous choice, as the Quran states,

“Whatever good reaches you is from Allah, but whatever evil befalls you is from yourself.” (4:79)


Discovering Islam by Sayed Moustafa Al-Qazwini