Islamic Garden

Islamic Garden
Islamic Garden in Lausanne, Switzerland

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Is Free Will implied in Al-Fatiha?

I have been pondering the relationship between free will (ikhtiyar) and al-Fatiha and whether our seven sacred verses imply the notion of free will in its hidden aspects? Nasir Khusraw in his "Knowledge and Liberation - A treatise on Philosophical Theology" attempted to deal with the issue of Free Will and Responsibility in his 11th century text: Ghusayish wa rahayish

(186) O brother! You asked whether man is determined or free in what he does: `If he is determined, then whatever he does is being done by God – in which case why does punishment become necessary? If he is free, then can he do something which God does not like, thus necessitating that he prevails over God?'

(187) Know, O brother, that this inquiry was addressed to [the Imam] Ja`far al-Sadiq. He replied: `God is more just than to determine someone to disobey him and then punish him for it.' Then they asked him if man can do what he wishes. He said: "God's power is greater than one's transgressions in His Kingdom.' Then they asked him what the position of man is [in this world]. He said: `It is between two positions in which he is neither determined nor free.

(188) "The sayings of the Imams have ta'wil just as the Speech of God and [the sayings of His] Messenger have ta'wil, because they are the witnesses of God over the people. Thus, it must be known that the [inner] meaning of this saying [of the Imam Ja`far al-Sadiq) is that the position of mankind is between that of an animal and an angel, because in man there is the carnal soul as well as the rational soul; the former belongs to the animal and the latter to the angel. In the case of an actual angel, it cannot willfully disobey, [and in the case of an animal] it cannot [willfully] obey, because both of them are determined [by God] in their dispositions. Consequently, the angel is not rewarded for obedience and the animal is not punished for disobedience, whereas man, whose status is [intermediate] between these two positions, is [both] rewarded for obedience and punished for disobedience.

(189) God has given mankind the perceptive intellect which can distinguish the ugly from the fair, and He has also endowed it with [a sense of] modesty and shame (sharm) which does not allow humans to act as animals do. It must be known that man is not free as animals are because his nature is endowed with modesty and shame. Then God sent His Messenger to the people with [guidance and ] the promise to reward them for their obedience and to punish them for their disobedience. Now, since man's position is between animality and angelicity, [we say that] with respect to his rational soul, man is determined because it urges him to do only the good and to obey [God], and the wise person cannot do other than this; however, with respect to his carnal soul, man is free because it is not constrained by [obedience and] disobedience, [good and] evil, [right and wrong], or reward [and punishment]. Peace. "

~ Excerpted from Faquir Hunzai's translation of "Knowledge and Liberation," (1998) pp. 113-114

The question about free will is motivated by the hermeneutic of Sura 1:5. Does al-Fatiha imply that the prayer for guidance is "to the straight path" which would imply the capacity of free will for each lover of the Divine to follow a straight path or a path of direct experience. Or does the prayer seek guidance "on the straight path" which could imply an absence of free will or that at the very least the personal wills of those who seek guidance are surrendered to the Divine Will (Qadr). If this is the case, then how does humankind accept responsibility for its actions?

There is "hidden" in these verses a very powerful question which, if answered fully and completely, could define the underlying notions for an Integral Psychology of Islam. Tied to this question is the question of what it is that might earn the Displeasure of Allah for those on a less "straight" or "direct" path. It must surely require a faculty of discernment to act to glorify Allah on the "path upon whom Thou hast bestowed favors" than to earn His Displeasure. But even in the qualification of the path, the favor of Allah may also include the requisite faculty of discernment. There appears to be no autonomous claim to free will within that context. Does this sense of powerlessness and submission cause compensatory behaviors that are both rebellious and can also cause harm to self and others? What then is the organizing principle of the human being if the personal will of the human being is so fragile?