How would you answer the claim that there is a contradiction in the verses of the Quran about “Allah guides whomsoever He wills”?

The Details of the Question

* Allah states the following verse 125 of the chapter of al-An’am:
“Those whom Allah (in His plan) willeth to guide,- He openeth their breast to Islam; those whom He willeth to leave straying,- He maketh their breast close and constricted, as if they had to climb up to the skies: thus doth Allah (heap) the penalty on those who refuse to believe.”
- If Allah wishes and wants us not to believe, why does He throw us into Hell? Is it not a logical error?
* Besides, He states the following in verse 7 of al-Baqara:
“Allah hath set a seal on their hearts and on their hearing, and on their eyes is a veil; great is the penalty they (incur).”  - If Allah seals our belief, why does He throw us into Hell? Does he not want us not to believe?
* In addition, in verse 4 of the chapter of Ibrahim, Allah misleads whomever He wishes:
“We sent not an apostle except (to teach) in the language of his (own) people, in order to make (things) clear to them. Now Allah leaves straying those whom He pleases and guides whom He pleases: and He is Exalted in power, full of Wisdom.”
- Then why are we held responsible for our sins? If Allah is makes us unbelievers, why does He punish us for what He does?
Besides, atheists make terrible propaganda with those verses; the belief of my ten friends has been shaken. Please enlighten us with your knowledge...

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

The summary of the apparent contradiction in those three verses is as follows: Is the cause of guidance and aberration, belief and unbelief man or Allah?

In order to understand this issue, it is necessary to consider the universal will of Allah and the partial free will of people. We will summarize the issue in a few items.

A) Partial free will is the most necessary element of the divine test for humans. Nobody is forced to do something outside of his will. Therefore, children and insane people are not held responsible for the test. Otherwise, we cannot mention Allah’s justice. It is in stark contrast to the Islamic belief, which is emphasized in many places in the Quran.

- In the Quran, sometimes the universal will of Allah and sometimes the partial will of man is emphasized, depending on the context. That emphasis is a reflection of a style that shows the eloquence of the expression there. Where the partial free will is mentioned, the universal will is also present implicitly, and where the universal will is emphasized, the partial free will is also present implicitly.

For example, Allah states the following in order to console the Prophet (pbuh), who was extremely disturbed by the attitudes of the deniers by emphasizing that guidance and aberration, good and evil can only be possible through Allah’s creation:

“Allah hath set a seal on their hearts and on their hearing, and on their eyes is a veil; great is the penalty they (incur).” (al-Baqara, 2/7).

That station is a station of consolation; the absolute power, majesty and will of Allah are emphasized in the face of the weakness, sadness and helplessness of His Messenger. The reason why Allah imposes such a punishment on them is not explained. The reason for it is that they insist on denial with their own free will. The statement “they will not believe” at the end of the previous verse gives a clue about that reason.

That is, Allah knows that they insist on not believing with their free will, that they will continue unbelief - with their own free will - and that they are determined to do so; and He punishes them by sealing their hearts in return for their treacherous intentions.

- On the other hand, where the partial free will of people is to be brought to the fore, Allah’s universal will is implicitly present. For example, after reminding that the Quran is a book that teaches the truth, Allah states the following in order to emphasize that His Messenger has no responsibility except for conveying the message:  

“Say: The truth is from your Lord": Let him who will believe, and let him who will, reject (it)…” (al-Kahf, 18/29)

However, no one can do anything on his own, in spite of Allah, unless Allah wills it. The creation of both denial and belief belongs to Allah. Man wants unbelief or belief, and Allah creates it. Unlike the first example, there is no explicit emphasis on Allah’s universal will here because that is what rhetoric necessitates.

B) Allah has given every human being a mind that can determine and find the truth if he seeks.

- In Islam, no one has been given a responsibility beyond his power.

- Allah, whose infinite justice becomes manifest with the witnessing of the universe, never oppresses His servants.

- Those who are insane and children, those who cannot receive Allah’s revelation or are deprived of the opportunity to perceive it have no responsibility.

- The existing mind and intelligence in man are sufficient to find the right one among various ways. The belief of the Companions who tried to find the truth in the system of shirk (polytheism) is an important example in this regard.

- A person who does not search for the truth and does not try to perceive it because of his own religious bigotry will suffer the consequences of his mistake.

- Allah does not throw anyone into Hell unless they deserve it. However, He can forgive some people and take them to heaven even though they do not deserve it.

C) How is the heart sealed?

- As it is known, to be sealed is in question for things like envelopes, containers, covers and doors. People’s hearts are like the envelopes and containers of knowledge and information. All of our understandings are hidden there. The ear is like a door; the things that are heard enter from there. The news about the past, the future and the present in particular, and the concepts in the books are known through hearing. So, the sealing of the heart is similar to the sealing of the envelope, the sealing of the ear and the sealing of the door.

- The Prophet (pbuh) states the following in a hadith:

“When a slave commits sin, a black spot appears on his heart. If he repents, gives up that sin and seeks forgiveness, his heart will be polished. However, if the sin increases, the black spot increases and starts to cover the whole heart in parallel with the sins that are committed. This issue is indicated in the following verse of the Quran: ‘By no means! But on their hearts is the stain of the (ill) which they do.’ (al-Mutaffifin, 83/14) That is the word “rayn” in the verse.” (see Tirmidhi, Tafsiru Sura, 83, 1; Ibn Majah Zuhd 29)

The hadith above shows that as long as sins continue, they cover the hearts like a sheath. Then, as stated in the verse above, a seal is made by Allah. That stain is imprinted on that heart. Initially, it is like ink that can be erased and poured on a glossy writing paper, but after that it becomes printed and indelible. In other words, it habitually becomes another trait. It is neither erased nor removed; and then, there remains no way of belief, nor is there any way to get rid of unbelief. The acquisition of that sealing and printing is from the servant, and its creation is from Allah. That is the difference between insisting on a sin in terms of religion and not insisting.

- The summary of the issue is as follows: When people want to reach Allah, Allah responds to them and takes them to the right path. A person who opposes Allah’s book and does not want to see the truth cannot find the right way; Allah does not show him the right way.

- We should not forget that Paradise is not cheap and Hell is not unnecessary. Just as Paradise wants people so too does Hell want people.

Finally, we quote what the poet says:

“Rely on Allah, hold on to working, surrender to wisdom,
That is the way, I do not know any other way out.”

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