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Islamic Ideology ( 17 Feb 2013, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Free Will: Really?


Syed Manzoor Alam, New Age Islam

February 18, 2013

Majority of us follow and believe what our fathers used to follow and believe. It is rightly said “If you want a man to hate you make him think”. Most of us find ourselves in deep water because we seldom think and plan our actions; we just blindly ape our ‘role-models’. This is where most of the troubles begin. In our religious life too, we seldom choose to become Muslims or Christians or Hindus but we are born into a Muslim family, Christian family or a Hindu family.

I believe that in order for us to go to Heaven, only being born into a Muslim family does not guarantee the pleasures of Paradise, even if he/she believes in one God, offer 5-times prayer, fasts in the month of Ramadan, gives Zakat etc. This is where I would like to make a distinction between free will and forced will.

When we are born in a Muslim family and if we are trained to believe the way the family wants us to believe, then it will give us the ticket to heaven. But I think this profit is undeserving. Similarly when a child is born in a non-Muslim family, and he/she is trained to believe the way his/her family wants to believe then it should not lead him/her to go to hell.

Islam means acquiring peace by submitting our free will to God. If we take this meaning literally then a believer who does things according to the teachings of his holy book, which speaks the Will of God, should be considered a Muslim.

Free will is not forced will, of course. Forced will can be defined as, in terms of theological conception, believing because of others’ influence, whether it is because of physical pressure of moral pressure. Our parents, training us to ‘do this’ and to ‘do that’, ‘believe this’ and ‘don’t believe that’, does not come under the category of free will, it is undoubtedly forced will; because here, subtle influence and pressure is being applied at a subconscious level or at times, unconscious level, without the parents knowing anything about it. This is not Islam (meaning submitting our free will to God).

According to Behaviourism, our life and its actions, since childhood till death can be changed and modified the way one wants. Our thinking as well as our actions (behaviours) can be trained. For example a child says that he wants to become a sportsperson and if the parents congratulate him on his decision then this thinking will be reinforced and his future actions will be in conjunction with that reinforced idea (of becoming a sportsperson). But if the parent had ignored or spanked the child on the idea then the child will reject that idea, as it led to ‘punishment’ and his future actions will be in isolation or at times, in total opposition to that idea. So, one can see that this is how our thinking and actions can be modified, even at an unconscious level.

In the same way when a child, if he is born in a non-Muslim family, asks questions like ‘what good will a stone do me?’ or ‘ Is god deficient in some powers that he needs other gods?’ etc and if he is born in a Muslim family, asks questions like ‘why will God punish unbelievers in hell forever?’ or ‘why did God prescribe the timing of fasting from sunrise to sunset because in the polar regions for six continuous months there is either only sunlight or only darkness? and if the parents rebuke or ignore the questions, then, although the child may not stop questioning altogether, but his belief will become forced one.

If the child wants to believe in an imageless God and if the parents ‘punish’ him for such a thought, and coerce him to pray to an image or a stone, then why should he go to hell?

The traditional view is that a hero is a hero because of some great quality in him; a villain is a villain because of some bad quality in him; a saint is a saint because of some transcendental nature of his mind. All these qualities are inside the person. But it is not so, according to the Behaviourists. The determinants of behaviour are not inside the organism but it is outside, in the environment. The behaviour that we are ready to either condemn or praise is actually engineered in that organism. And when you stand around to applaud this or that performance or achievement, understand that what you are looking at, the behaviourists says, is the result of a lifetime or reinforcement history that has inclined that person’s behaviour that gain the approval, support and applause of other persons or of society. Why praise it or blame it?

The real source of commendable and condemnable behaviour is not the person or his inner qualities but it is the environment. The child who is reinforced for shouting will become a bully, becomes the persistent aggressive, who never had enough. Every person finds such a person obnoxious and everybody wants to blame that person; if you want to blame anybody, blame those who were applying positive reinforcements for a form of behaviour that have now become habitual. 

This, of course challenges our ancient philosophical, religious, moral propositions. It certainly violates the freedom of our own behaviour. Islam gives high emphasis on justice:

“God commands justice and goodness and giving to fellowmen, and He forbids the abominable, the evil and terrorism, and instructs you that you may be mindful” (16:90)

“You, who believe, be upright as witnesses to justice before God” (4:135)

Why on the Day of Judgement, should a person, who is not a Muslim in the conventional sense of the term, go to hell or even why should a Muslim, in the conventional sense, go to heaven, given that our actions are mostly trained?