I understand that the common notion is that humans have free will and that this is easily accepted in Islam. What I'm wondering is, is it necessary to believe humans (and jinns) have free will, or could one remain Muslim while rejecting a belief in free will?

As it came up in a comment: an explanation of what Islam means by "free will" - particularly a discussion of in what way it is "free" - would be helpful too.

I'm hoping for answers from the mainstream schools of aqida of Sunnism or Shi'ism.

  • 1
    Be aware that the free will approach of Islam is slightly different than the one you may mean or understand. Some scholars like al-Buty called it the human free will under the obedience of Allah.
    – Medi1Saif
    Commented Dec 6, 2016 at 7:49
  • See if the sources I added are helpful.
    – infatuated
    Commented Dec 11, 2016 at 19:53
  • @infatuated Thanks! I'll take a look in the coming week, quite busy at the moment.
    – G. Bach
    Commented Dec 11, 2016 at 23:59

1 Answer 1


I can answer you from the Shia perspective.

According to the Imami school which is the Shia school of theology, human accountability for his deeds and Divine compensation for them are necessary features of Divine justice. And for human responsibly and Divine compensation to be fairly possible, there must be free will. So denial of free will logically negates the said responsibility and compensation which in turn undermine Divine Justice which is a key article of Shia faith. Of note, denial of Divine justice also entails denial of other attributes such as Compassion and Wisdom that in fact constitute Divine justice, all of which are in violation of "Monotheism in Attributes" (tawhid us-sifat, Arabic: توحید الصفات) according to Shia conception of Monotheism, which divides this key doctrine of Islam into four spheres: Monotheism as in 1) essence, 2) attributes, 3) acts and 4) worship. Monotheism in attributes is the belief that Allah embodies all attributes of perfections (such as, compassion, wisdom, justice, power, etc.) and that He is the origin of all good attributes in creation.

But deciding the status of a person who denies a doctrine of religion is a bit sophisticated. Apart from denial of Monotheism and Prophethood which is a definite indicator of kufr, verification of kufr with respect to denial of the lesser doctrines of religion depends much more on evaluation of the subjective conditions of the denier rather than the necessary logical implications of denial.

According to Shia fiqh, if some who denies a lesser Islamic doctrine such as free will realizes that his denial leads by logical consequence to denial of Monotheism and/or Prophethood but insists on the denial, he will be a kafir, but if he denies it without/before affirming or knowing about its ill consequence for basic faith, he will be still counted as a Muslim.

I used this entry from wikifiqh.ir (a Farsi encyclopedia on Twelver Shia Jurisprudence) as a source for the part on verification of kufr.

A note on Imami understanding of free-will

Regarding Shia understanding of free will. This notion is understood differently than in other theological schools such as Ash'arite and Mu'tazilite.

A well-known maxim of Imami theology which was mean to transcend the dichotomy of delegation (تفویض) vs compulsion (جبر) that divided the Mu'tazilites and some early Ash'arites was that truth is neither of the position but "something between the two". (Arabic: امر بین امرین). This was what Imam Jafar us-Sadiq reportedly said to an inquiry about the position of the Prophet's Ahl al-Bayt with respect to the mentioned controversy. The statement of Imam Sadiq was meant to suggest that humans are neither absolutely free and sovereign in their actions nor compelled by Allah into doing things they do; that there are things that humans can freely affect owing to their relative free will and things that they don't have control over; and that human responsibility is judged based on things that have been within his power not outside it.

Sources for more study

There are many brilliant works by Shia scholars that extensively discuss the topic of free-will within Islamic theology and philosophy, in which the basic meaning and full nature of free-will is consequently elucidated, but as of yet there are only a handful of them available in sound English. From a few works that I checked, I found two of them to be properly translated and readable that I think address your particular question:

  • Lessons 18 to 20 from Lessons on Islamic Doctrine, Book 1 by Sayyid Mujtaba Musavi Lari brilliantly translated by Dr. Hamid Algar.
  • This part from The Causes Responsible for Materialist tendencies in the West, one out of a few dozen masterpieces authored by Ayatollah Murtadha Mutahhari, one of the most intellectually and socially influential Shia scholars in recent history.
  • Thank you, that solves most of my question; could you also elaborate on the concept of free will as understood by the Imami school? I.e. in what way is human will free?
    – G. Bach
    Commented Dec 6, 2016 at 16:58
  • 1
    @G.Bach, I had prepared an answer early this morning (Iran time). Now that I posted it didn't notice you have added new questions into the body. But I added a new section on free will to cover that part too. Only forgot to mention that Jins too have free will.
    – infatuated
    Commented Dec 6, 2016 at 17:33
  • Hm, unfortunately I can't read anything specific in the section on what free will is; could you point me to a book in English, or elaborate?
    – G. Bach
    Commented Dec 6, 2016 at 18:00
  • @G.Bach, Oh, sorry. You're more interested about a basic definition of free will rather than how it relates to Shia theology. But I was writing that segment anyway as a side-note had it not been in reference to your question. Free-will in the above context can be defined as the ability to decide one's life within one's capabilities. "Within one's capabilities" is key for it "relativizes" human freedom. The definition also presumes man's intelligence and the ability to understand what is right and wrong. And I don't know a good English source as of now for more study. But I may find one.
    – infatuated
    Commented Dec 6, 2016 at 19:11

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