All faiths that are based on belief in God struggle with the concept of human free will and how this can be reconciled with God’s Absolute Knowledge and God’s Absolute Power. One of the great signs that the knowledge of the Ahlul Bayt (as) is inspired by God is the precision and accuracy with which they answer such questions.
Shi’ah Muslim theologians following the teachings of the Ahlul Bayt (a.s) reject both the dogma of absolute determinism as well as absolute free will. They believe in a matter in between. That means man has a free will in the matter of his actions although his free will is by divine decree. Because God is the ultimate and independent cause of all causes it is correct to relate all that exists to God (monotheism in acts). Similarly, because God has granted man free will in his actions, it is also correct to relate the actions of man to his own choice. For instance, God states in the Quran that He is Sustainer of all that is in the earth (11:6) and at the same time holds mankind responsible for the substance of his family (2:233).
Imam Sadiq (a.s) said: “Whatever that you could blame mankind for it, is his action and whatever you could not blame him for it, is the act of God. God blames mankind for drinking alcohol, committing adultery etc. Thus, these are the acts of man. However, God does not blame man why he is sick, or his skin colour. Thus, these are the acts of God.” [Beharul-Anwaar vol.5 p.58]
The Imam was also asked about the meaning of ‘a matter in between’. His reply was:
“The example of it is if you see a man committing a sin and you advise him to refrain from it, yet he does not pay any heed to your advice. Surely, just because he didn’t listen to you it cannot be said that you forced him to sin.” [Ibid, p.83]
This hints at the concept that God is aware of the choices we will make using our free will, with which He bestowed us. His knowledge of our choices does not force us to make those choices, nor does our exercise of free will change God’s knowledge.
Imam Hadi (a.s) quoting from Imam Sadiq (a.s) said: “People with regards to ‘destiny’ are of three categories: The first is the one who assumes that Allah has given full authority to him. This (person) has weakened God in His kingdom, thus, he has perished. The second is the who assumes that God has forced people to sin and then holds them responsible for things that they have no power over. This (person) is unfair to God in His judgment, thus he has perished. The third is the one who assumes God holds people responsible for what they do and does not hold them responsible for what they have no power over. Then when he does something good, he praises God and when he does something evil, he seeks God’s forgiveness. This (person) is a wise Muslim.”