Skip to main content

The Two Categories of Allāh’s Attribute of Wanting and Understanding the Coexistence of Divine Decree and Free Will 

Al-ʿAllāmah ʿAbd al-Muhsin al-ʿAbbād

A confirmation of and explanation on two of Allāh’s attributes as well as the intertwinement of divine decree and free will.

Ḥumayd ibn ʿAbd al-Raḥmān said: I heard Muʿawiyah (رضي الله عنه), while delivering the khuṭbah, say: I heard the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) say: “Whomever Allāh desires to be a means of goodness, He gives him understanding of this dīn…”1

Shaykh ʿAbd al-Muḥsin al-ʿAbbād comments:

The Madh`hab of Ahl al-Sunnah wa-al-Jamāʿah Regarding the Names and Attributes of Allāh

This ḥadīth confirms what many verses and a plethora of other aḥadīth signify that wanting is from among the characteristics of Allāh. As is well known, the madh`hab of Ahl al-Sunnah wa-al-Jamāʿah with regards to the Names and Attributes of Allāh is to declare Him above everything that He has declared himself above being described by, and to confirm for Him that which He has confirmed for himself in His Book or on the tongue of His Messenger (صلى الله عليه وسلم) from names and attributes in a way that is befitting His Majesty. This confirmation is free of seeking to know how His attributes have occurred, nor likening them to His creation, nor transforming them into a meaning other than what is implied, nor completely negating the attribute itself. As the Most High, the Exalted said:

لَيْسَ كَمِثْلِهِ شَيْءٌ ۖ وَهُوَ السَّمِيعُ الْبَصِيرُ

“There is nothing like unto Him, and He is the All-Hearing, the All-Seeing.”
(Al-Shūrá, 42:11)

He has confirmed for Himself hearing and seeing in His saying: “and He is the All-Hearing, the All-Seeing,” while negating similarity of anything to Him in His saying: “There is nothing like unto Him.”

Such is their creed with regards to each and every single attribute from among His attributes. They do not differentiate one from another in stance. Every attribute confirmed in the Book of Allāh and the Sunnah whether it be knowledge, the ability to want, hear, see, speak, being capable of all things, possessing two hands, a face, the ability to be angered, or to be pleased, to be above His throne, and other than these attributes—they must all be confirmed according to the clear methodology clarified in the verse: “There is nothing like unto Him, and He is the Hearing, the Seeing.”

Just as Allāh’s essence is incomparable to any other essence, His attributes confirmed in the Book of Allāh and the Sunnah must be confirmed in a way that is befitting to Him without resemblance to His creation. For the same can be said concerning His attributes as was said regarding His essence, just as the stance taken with some of His attributes would apply to the rest of them.

The Two Categories of Allāh’s Attribute of Wanting

According to Ahl al-Sunnah, that which is wanted by Allāh is divided into two categories as proven by His Book and the Sunnah of His Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم). The first of them refers to universal ordainment and general encompassing will. The second refers to that which is wanted from a religious, legislative standpoint.

The difference between these two categories is that universal ordainment concerns everything in existence without differentiation between that which is beloved to Allāh and that which is detested by Him. These ordainments must come to pass. While that which is wanted from a religious, legislative standpoint refers only to that which is in existence that is beloved to Allāh and pleasing to Him. These things may not occur.

For example, Allāh wants, from a religious legislative standpoint, that mankind and jinn worship Him alone. This is beloved to Him such that He has revealed books and sent Messengers to this end. As a result, He wanted goodness for some of His servants such that both categories of wanting are fulfilled within them and they are guided to worship Him alone thus fulfilling both categories of wanting: universal ordainment and religious legislation. While He wanted other slaves to let this purpose go unfulfilled. These ones have fulfilled the rule of universal ordainment rather than the religious, legislative one. Thus, Allāh has ordained universally that mankind be divided into parties: one of them is in Jannah and the other in the blazing Fire. This must undoubtedly occur. For had He willed other than this, it would have occurred as Allāh, the Most High, said:

قُلْ فَلِلَّهِ الْحُجَّةُ الْبَالِغَةُ ۖ فَلَوْ شَاءَ لَهَدَاكُمْ أَجْمَعِينَ

Say, “With Allah is the far-reaching argument. If He had willed, He would have guided you all.”
(Al-Anʿām, 6:149)

He also said:

وَلَوْ شِئْنَا لَآتَيْنَا كُلَّ نَفْسٍ هُدَاهَا وَلَٰكِنْ حَقَّ الْقَوْلُ مِنِّي لَأَمْلَأَنَّ جَهَنَّمَ مِنَ الْجِنَّةِ وَالنَّاسِ أَجْمَعِينَ

And if We had willed, We could have given every soul its guidance, but the word from Me will come into effect [that] “I will surely fill Hell with jinn and people all together.
(Al-Sajdah, 32:13)

As for the clarification of the truth and being called towards it, this has encompassed the entire creation. The Most High said:

أَلَمْ نَجْعَل لَّهُ عَيْنَيْنِ ‎﴿٨﴾‏ وَلِسَانًا وَشَفَتَيْنِ ‎﴿٩﴾‏ وَهَدَيْنَاهُ النَّجْدَيْنِ

“Have we not made for him two eyes (with which he sees)? And a tongue (with which he speaks) and two lips (which aid him in speech and consuming his food)? And have shown him the two ways (of good and evil) (or: guidance and misguidance)?”
(Al-Balad, 90:8-10)

And the Most High also said:

وَاللَّهُ يَدْعُو إِلَىٰ دَارِ السَّلَامِ وَيَهْدِي مَن يَشَاءُ إِلَىٰ صِرَاطٍ مُّسْتَقِيمٍ

“And Allah invites to the Home of Peace and guides whom He wills to a straight path.”
(Yūnus, 10:25)

Here, the object of the verb ‘invites’ used in the verse has not been specified explicitly which indicates generality and the encompassing nature of this guidance. However, the object of the verb ‘guides’ is stated [as the ones whom Allāh wills to take a straight path]. The object of the verb here being stated indicates guidance descends on them alone. Thus, the call to the truth encompasses everyone but true guidance is only for the ones granted tawfīq by Allāh.

The Two Ways Divine Predestination Is Made Apparent

Whatever Allāh has predestined and ordained must undoubtedly occur as aforementioned. Although we do not know what Allāh has predestined except with one of two matters:

  1. The occurrence of something. For everything that has already occurred must have been willed by Allāh. As what He wills will be and what He does not can never occur. Nothing moves except by His will.
  2. Being informed of that which is unseen to us by the one who does not speak of his own desire (صلى الله عليه وسلم), whether this be pertaining to the past or the future. If he (صلى الله عليه وسلم) informs us of an event that has already occurred, then we know beyond a doubt that it has occurred as he has related. If he (صلى الله عليه وسلم) was to inform us of a future event, then we know with certainty that it also must occur because Allāh has willed it thus. An example of the information from the past is how the creation began, and information pertaining to the future could be the events occurring in the end times and the voiding of this worldly life.

Divine Predestination Does Not Nullify Free Will

Allāh’s comprehensive Will and divine predestination does not mean that a servant of Allāh is completely devoid of free will; forced to carry out his own actions without premeditation or choice of any kind. Rather, his will corresponds to the Will of Allāh as the Most High said:

وَمَا تَشَاءُونَ إِلَّا أَن يَشَاءَ اللَّهُ رَبُّ الْعَالَمِينَ

“And you do not will (anything) unless (it be) that Allāh wills, the Lord of the Worlds.”
(Al-Takwīr, 81: 29)

Hence, we can conceptualise the difference between forced movement like that of a shivering person and premeditated controlled action from an intelligent person like buying or selling. Or recognising kindness and compassion from certain people and evil, loathsome behaviour from others. As for forced actions, the servant of Allāh possesses no control over it. As for his controlled actions, they occur by his own free will and desire which corresponds to the Will of Allāh and what He wants.

Examples of Both Categories of Wanting

From among the examples of that which is wanted by Allāh from a religious standpoint is the saying of the Most High:

يُرِيدُ اللَّهُ بِكُمُ الْيُسْرَ وَلَا يُرِيدُ بِكُمُ الْعُسْرَ

“Allāh intends for you ease and does not intend for you hardship..”
(Al-Baqarah, 2:185)

And His saying:

وَاللَّهُ يُرِيدُ أَن يَتُوبَ عَلَيْكُمْ

“Allah wants to accept your repentance”
(Al-Nisāʾ, 4: 27)

From among the examples of the category of Allāh’s want which corresponds to predestination and universal order is the saying of the Most High:

ولَا يَنفَعُكُمْ نُصْحِي إِنْ أَرَدتُّ أَنْ أَنصَحَ لَكُمْ إِن كَانَ اللَّهُ يُرِيدُ أَن يُغْوِيَكُمْ

“And my advice will not benefit you – although I wished to advise you – If Allāh should intend to put you in error.”
(Hūd, 11: 34)

And His saying:

وَلَوْ شَاءَ اللَّهُ مَا اقْتَتَلَ الَّذِينَ مِن بَعْدِهِم مِّن بَعْدِ مَا جَاءَتْهُمُ الْبَيِّنَاتُ وَلَٰكِنِ اخْتَلَفُوا فَمِنْهُم مَّنْ آمَنَ وَمِنْهُم مَّن كَفَرَ ۚ وَلَوْ شَاءَ اللَّهُ مَا اقْتَتَلُوا وَلَٰكِنَّ اللَّهَ يَفْعَلُ مَا يُرِيدُ

“Had Allāh so willed, the succeeding generations (who came after those messengers) would not have fought each other, after clear evidences had already come to them (through those messengers). However, they differed among themselves. From them were those who believed and from them were those who disbelieved. And if Allāh had willed, they would not have fought each other, but Allāh is the doer of whatever He wills.”
(Al-Baqarah, 2:253)

From among these examples as well is his (صلى الله عليه وسلم) saying in the ḥadīth we are currently explaining: “Whomever Allāh desires to be a means of goodness, He gives him understanding of this dīn.”


[1] Authentic: narrated by al-Bukhārī: 71 and Muslim: 1037.

Source: ʿIshrūn Ḥadīth: 54-56
Translated by: Riyāḍ al-Kanadī

Published: September 9, 2023
Edited: September 9, 2023

Events & Activities