A few days ago, I had the unedifying experience of an exchange with multiple denizens of the comments stratum of Thought Adventure Podcast that I viewed for the first time on YouTube. The attraction was a discussion to which the four hosts had invited Ridvan "Apostate Prophet" Aydemir. The topic was "Is belief in ONE GOD justified?" My purpose here is not to review this discussion (I gave my views in the comments at the link above), but to pick up on the exchange on the question of free will. To most of the Muslims who responded to me, it was a simple, straightforward matter. Allah has given us free will to obey or not obey him. When it got to the point where I was called "a horrible person" for disobeying Allah, it was time to leave them to their safe space; another victory over the kafir. Masha-Allah.
Free will is a minefield for "people of faith," for their a priori acceptance of the supernatural is the first negation of their free will. It is true that we may choose to put our faith in something we could not possible know anything about, but that would be a conscious abdication of our ability to apprehend reality in favour of a retreat into the purely speculative. Most believers do not end up that way by choice. In a state of belief, that is, faith, free will is surrendered to gods, God, the Party (the latter very real, but ascribed attributes normally reserved for deities). Such objects of worship, created by ourselves, are held to have given us our free will.
The question of free will is one of the oldest questions and it is not my intention to review it here. There's a brief look at the debate between Desiderius Erasmus and Martin Luther here. I want to talk specifically about the Muslim conception of free will, and want to begin with the notion that, "Allah has given us free will."
"Allah has given us free will."
If having free will depends on being given free will, then you clearly do not have free will, whether before you are given it, or after. It is the free will of the one who gives to give or not to give. You are not free, but dependent. You get this free will only "when it pleases Him," in other words, firstly, when he gets around to it, and secondly, when he's in the mood. It is the free will of a slave, an 'abd, in this case a slave of Allah, 'Abdullah. "Allah has given us free will" is a contradiction in terms.
"Allah has given us free will, and it is up to us to choose whether to obey him or disobey him."
For sake of argument, let us work with the free will that Allah has given us. This free will, it turns out, he expects us to exercise it as he wills. He is an all-powerful being who wants us to do X. Yet he chooses not to exercise his will and infinite power by simply making us do X, you know, kun fa yakoon. Instead, he commands us to do X, and worse, to obey him through exercise of the supposed free will he has given us. In other words, freely choose to obey his command; not acquiesce in his request, take his advice, or follow his recommendation. A command, by definition, must be obeyed. The question of freedom, will or choice does not arise. "It is up to us to choose whether to obey him or disobey him," simply deepens the contradiction already inherent in "Allah has given us free will."
"Allah has given us free will, and it is up to us to choose whether to obey him or disobey him. If we obey him, we are rewarded; if we disobey him, we are punished."
To the Muslim, if I choose to not obey, then I choose to be punished. Of course I do not choose to be punished; I choose to not obey. Being punished is an unavoidable consequence that Allah imposes on my choice not to obey. Similarly, if I choose not to be punished, I have not chosen to obey. Obedience is a necessary precondition that Allah has imposed on my choice not to be punished. To consider alternative actions and then decide to take one is an exercise of will, but if not taking either action is not an option, then such an exercise of will is not free. When not obeying Allah is indistinguishable from disobeying Allah, then there is nothing free about the will he has supposedly given me, for he has done nothing more than present me with an ultimatum. Only in the mind of a slave is this ultimatum not obvious. Only in the mind of a slave can response to an ultimatum possibly register as free will, for to a slave, that he should not be punished is inconceivable. A slave's prospects being as limited as his horizons, the "freedom" to choose between two unfreedoms, namely, obedience and punishment, is about as much freedom as is proper to his station. Not even a slave chooses to be punished; he is simply resigned to his fate. This is what the distinction between will and free will comes down to.
When a free person speaks of free will, it is not the "free will" of the slave, that is, of the Muslim. It is the free will of a free person, someone whose free will is intrinsic and acknowledged to be intrinsic. The negation of the free person with free will is not only encapsulated in the name Abdullah, it also frames the primary relationship between Muslims and the kufaar: accept Islam, or die. To the Muslim mind, this is a free choice between two options. If the kufaar in question happen to be Christians or Jews, then a third "choice" is offered: live on our sufferance as an abused and downtrodden untermensch paying a poll tax. To the Muslim mind, this offer of three "choices" registers as generosity. Thankfully, this state of affairs is rapidly changing, as the humanity of Muslims increasingly rises through the cracks opening in their enslaved minds.
The Muslim's exercise of what he believes is his free will is inextricable from the commandments of his Allah and the rewards and punishments attendant to those commandments. There is no action that a Muslims takes or does not take, without possible punishment as a consequence. And since it is beyond every Muslim to know every detail of every rule of the "complete way of life," two things come into play.
First, a caste of professional parasites, what Muslims call the ulema, the "scholars," monopolise this niche of pronouncing what is and what is not permissible. It is a sin for a Muslim who is not a "scholar" to presume to know anything without a scholar having pronounced on it. From the point of view of lay Muslims, it is just as well, for all they have to do is do exactly as they "scholars" pronounce, and they will avoid punishment. Second, a scholar is not available to make pronouncements 24/7. So how does the Muslim avoid unwittingly crossing the line? By not going anywhere near the line in the first place. In everyday life this precaution has two practical outcomes: no interaction with the kufaar unless unavoidable; and, hide women and stop them from doing almost anything.
One side of the Muslim free will coin is any fatwa website or YouTube channel, which will quickly reveal that the last thing a Muslim wants is free will. From whether to sprinkle some nutmeg into your cooking to whether to give consent to a life-saving operation for your wife to whether to immunise your child against disease — the list is long and crazy — Muslims do nothing without first checking whether they are allowed to do it.
The other side of the Muslim free will coin is when they know that what they want to do is not allowed. Of course, being human like everybody else, there is quite a lot that a Muslim would naturally want to do that Islam forbids. Muslim society survives on hypocrisy: everybody knows that everybody else does haram things, but everybody pretends that nobody does haram things. This need to hide their actions means only that they are not free to be themselves, to be human. It is indeed a strange free will.
Muslim "free will" is negated three times by Allah, once by the "scholars" and once more by Muslims themselves: the Five Pillars of Submission. In the Muslim echo chambers, they revel in their free will.