From Issue: 673 [Read full issue]
While it is believed by all Muslims that God is active in human history and that, ultimately, everything is within God's power and decree, the question of free will versus predestination remains a mystery. After the death of the Prophet, one of the first theological disagreements among the Muslims was over this question, and both sides found ample Quranic and prophetic statements to support their claim. The debate was finally put to rest (to some extent) a few centuries later, when a widely respected traditional theologian (Abul Hasan Al Ashari) unfolded a theory of "acquisition" (kasb), by which God was understood to be the Originator or the Creator of the deed while the human being was held responsible. In other words, the debate was put to rest by acknowledging the paradox: God is the only real "actor" or "creator" in the universe, and His power and knowledge envelop everything past, present, future; on the other hand, we feel as if we make choices, and we are promised reward and punishment based upon those choices.
For everyday purposes, pious Muslims live within this mystery. They worship and struggle to be virtuous as they ponder the Divine message hidden in the events of their days and of the larger, global situation. Perhaps, the most tangible way this is perceived is through the pious phrase of exception, "if God wills" (in sha Allah). Whenever a pious Muslim declares her intention to do something or to go somewhere, she says, "if God wills" as an acknowledgement that it may not come to pass even if she makes her best effort. In such cases, it is simply accepted as God's will, which is inscrutable and eternally beyond both human understanding and human judgment.
"In the Light of a Blessed Tree" - Timothy J. Gianotti, pp. 49, 50