How to interpret the verse “You cannot will (to do so) unless God wills”

The Details of the Question
How to interpret the verse “You cannot will (to do so) unless God wills”
The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

Allah is All-Knowing, Almighty and All-Powerful. He knows everything and he knows well the ones who deserve His mercy and His guidance.

While the former verse informs that anyone who wills takes a straight path toward their Creator in the guidance of the Qur’an, in this verse it is stated that Allah will grant his mercy to the ones whom He wills. That means sincere believers give themselves in to God’s will along with their egos.

Our creation and coming to life in the country and the world that we are in, our presence in a certain family and community comes into existence out of our will. They took place by the relevation of divine will. They exist according to His plan, which He prepared with His eternal knowledge and will.

After coming to life and reaching the age of “responsibility” which is to say that the age of discretion, our wills start to take part in our lives. We are desired to be led by being notified with divine commands. At this point, we need to stop and think. That is, after notification and showing the right way, a person is let to choose with their own will; on the other hand, God’s will prevails as stated in the verse “you cannot will (to do so) unless God” ( The Qur’an, At-Takwir, 81:29). We can conclude this as “man is bound by the divine will within a certain limit”. A person can find the right path if He wills, but if not, he cannot.

In this case, what are people held responsible for? If we just look only at the outer appearance of the verse without analyzing the indicated meaning, we might think that the claims of the Qadariyyah and Jabriyyah schools turn out to be correct. However, the matter is of ultimate importance and subtlety. It is hard to come to a conclusion unless its wisdom is comprehended. As stated in the related verse, Allah tells us about the limit of possibility and will that He has put between Him and with His people; in other words, a border of right path. That is, unless a person reaches the level of that border with the help of his mind, intelligence and will, and religious advice and knowledge, God will not manifest His supreme will, and for this reason, the door of guidance path will not open for him.

Do we not encounter this limit in almost every matter? Without plowing and without any strife, by only sprinkling seeds onto dry soil, how can we expect yield from these seeds? People are obliged to do what they are expected to in this matter, and then, the rest depends on the divine will. At that point, we cannot will unless God wills. Unless He manifests his guidance and help, we cannot enter the right path and cannot benefit from the job we have started. 

We can summarize the issue as below:

There is no such a decree like compulsion or invalidity of human will. What this is all about is the situation of crossing the limits of possibility and will that we mentioned above. When that limit is crossed, divine will and guidance of the Almighty God play their roles above all sorts of will; He opens the door of guidance for the ones whom He wills or he does not open for those whom He does not will. The door of guidance will not open for the ones who have not been able to use the will and as a result, will not be able to take themselves to the mentioned border.

The statement “You cannot will unless God wills” describes the ability to choose and to wish which Allah has installed in the creation of human; no extra meaning is included because bestowal of this kind of ability on humankind is emphasized in a number of verses in the Qur’an with definite and clear expressions. Thus, we can count this as a strong principle of Islamic teaching. Moreover, the one who desires this will and ability to be available in man is Allah, the Almighty, Himself. For this reason, the choice of guidance or deviation by a person is within this extent. That is to say, as far as we comprehend, there is no contradiction. The fact that the consoles the Prophet ( peace be upon him) due to negative reactions he received, that deniers are described as “evil ones” as if it was their basic quality is a strong clue of their deviation from guidance and deserving Allah’s punishment because of their evil intentions and unjust deeds . And it stands as a message for us to interpret the statement “He takes the ones whom He wills to a right path” as “the ones with well-intentions and who desire to enter the right path.   

If God did not grant us wills in this world as a requirement of the position and the trial of this world and He did not let us choose whatever we wanted, then nobody would have this kind of right to choose. O people! That is, you should know, to say that your ability to choose denying or rebellion depends on God’s permission. If He had taken hold of the rope around your necks from the time you were born onwards, just like angels, mountains, rocks, sky, the moon, stars, the sun and plants and so on, in other words, if you had been created without your wills, none of you would have had the right to choose whatever you wanted.

Only man is provided with this opportunity. Freedom of rebelling and challenging has only been given to man in accordance with Allah’s law. This is because the obedience of man is much different from other creatures, which is to say that human’s obedience to Allah is different from the slave’s obedience to his master. Since freedom to rebel has been granted, man’s obedience is a lot more precious. Angels, mountains, skies, stars, the moon, animals and plants are also Allah’s servants but their obedience is their usual nature.

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