Divine Will and Human Will 1

Divine Will and Human Will 1

Question: What is the relationship between Divine will and human will?

Short Answer

The human being is a contingent existent who derives his existence and existential qualities from Allah (awj). Allah (awj) has, by His generative will (irada takwini), created him as a volitional creature and has thus distinguished him from all other creatures. Hence, the human being is the highest being addressed by Allah’s (awj) legislative will (irada tashri’i) and as such, has been given permission to choose between obedience and disobedience, to determine his way of life, and to mould his own fate.

The human being is the chosen creature who is able, by making the right choice, to obey the injunctions of Allah (awj); to ascend the levels of perfection by conforming to the legislative will of Allah (awj), and submitting his desire to the generative will of Allah (awj) thereby reaching the station of Divine regency - that level which in paradise, entitles him to receive whatever he wishes. Because he has chosen Divine satisfaction, Allah (awj) is satisfied with him and will provide for him so profoundly that he will in return be pleased with Him and satisfied with his own conduct.

But the human being can also make the wrong choice by taking up the path of disobedience and aversion to Divine injunctions, descending to the pits of saqar. This would be the result of not making his will conform to the legislative will of Allah (awj). However, this disobedience does not signify that he has overcome the Divine will, for the Divinity Himself has willed that he should choose his path.

In other words, Divine will encompasses the entire world of existence - including the human being and his actions - and as such, transcends the human will, hierarchically. This is not the same as the concurrence of two independent, complete, and parallel causes in generating a single effect, which is impossible. Rather, in accordance with the principle of “unity of Divine Acts”, the only independent agent in the cosmos is Allah (awj), and thus all other existents are dependent on Allah (awj) in their existence and their agency.

Thus, their will, which is an aspect of their agency, is not independent or detached of the Divine will. Therefore, we [as Shi’ites] neither approve of determinism as the Ash’arites do - who believe that the only will at work is the Divine will, thus considering all other agents sterile and merely tools for Allah (awj). Neither do we accept the concept of delegation which is held by the Mu’tazilites, who assume that Divine will should be abstracted from human will, thereby considering the human being a sovereign agent in his volitional acts.

Rather, we, in following the teachings of the Qur`an and the infallible Imams (ع), consider the human being to be a willing and volitional agent, but at the same time we know him to be under the dominion of Divine will and governed by the authority of Allah (awj) - being essentially in need of the will and power of Allah (awj).

Detailed Answer

Human will is vertically inferior to Divine will and as such is dependent on Divine will and cannot exist independently and without need of Allah (awj). This is confirmed by many Qur`anic verses, among them the following:

“…but you do not wish unless it is wished by Allah, the Lord of all the worlds.” (1)

But this in no way contradicts the human being’s volition and his accountability for his thoughts, intentions, and actions. For it is he who is the direct agent of his will, choice, and conduct, but this is possible only through the power and permission that Allah (awj) has granted him in making his choices.

Thus, in many verses [seemingly contradicting the aforementioned verse which reserves authority solely for Allah (awj)] the actions of natural agents, including human beings, are attributed to themselves, thereby considering the human being responsible for his own conduct. And it is in this light that the Qur`an establishes certain responsibilities for him, giving him various encouragements and warnings. Two such verses read:

“…and that nothing belongs to man except what he strives for”; (2)

“Whoever acts righteously, it is for his own soul, and whoever does evil, it is to its detriment, and your Lord is not tyrannical to the servants.”(3)

Accordingly, on the one hand, the issue concerns the assumption that the human being’s independence is in contrast to the principle of unity of Divine Acts and also to the essential need of existents for Allah (awj). On the other hand, there is the supposition that the human being is totally predetermined and hence powerless, undermining the rationale for all Divine injunctions, encouragements, warnings, and consequently negating Divine justice and wisdom. Hence, the seemingly contradictory verses of the Qur`an must be reconciled by realizing that some of those verses merely clarify the meaning of the others (and do not contradict them) so that we are able to avoid being entrapped by either determinism or delegationism.

For a better understanding of this matter, attention must be paid to two points:

1. The different ways in which various causes concur in creating an effect;

2. The various ways in which the Divine will can be conceived of.

The concurrence of causes in generating an effect can transpire in two ways:

1. One possibility is that in the occurrence of a phenomenon only one cause is responsible; such as the Divine Act of creation in which Allah (awj) produces directly and without the mediation of any other existent, or like the dependency of human conceptions on the mind [in which case, it is solely the mind that generates the mental concepts and images without the mediation of any other agent].

2. The other possibility is that several causes are responsible in the creation of a phenomenon. This possibility can itself be conceived in several ways:

a. The various causes are responsible in a collective manner. In this case, each cause is referred to in technical terms as an “incomplete cause” and all of them considered collectively are referred to as the “complete cause.” An example is the interaction of water, light, heat, seed, soil, farmer’s work, etc. in the growth of a plant. In this case, not only is the concurrence of multiple causes not impossible, it is a necessary prerequisite for the production of the effect.

b. The various causes are responsible in an alternating manner. Such as if a certain machine had three motors, but they had to operate one at a time, hence one motor would come into operation only after the previous one had stopped, thereby providing the machine with a constant and uninterrupted movement. [Hence, the constant motion being the effect of three alternating causes.] In this case also, the cooperation and combination of all the causes is necessary for sustaining the effect. However, in this case, there is no particular dependency between the causes as there is in the third case.

Continue in the next article: ( Divine Will and Human Will 2 )



1. Surat al-Takwir (81), Verse 29, Also see Surat al-Insan (76), Verses 30-31.

3. Surat al-Najm (53), Verse 39.

3. Surat al-Fussilat (41), Verse 46.