Free Will in the Obedience of God

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We exercise free will in submitting to Him.The power to make this choice is Allah’s graciousness upon me, but in the choice itself, the very road actually taken, is where free will steps in. In every choice that is made, we can choose to obey Him, or consider insignificant the action He expects from a true believer.

We exercise free will in submitting to Him.If only we are able to understand the simple concept of free will, no obstacle in life will – at the very least – look like one. There is of course overcoming it, but our proper understanding of this concept will make that too much less difficult. Mid-Dhuhr, I realized that in this moment, I could either rush through prayer in order to get on with the innumerable items on my to-do list, or I could take in the true essence of this meeting with my Lord. I slowed myself down, and upon finishing Salah, continued to ponder.

The power to make this choice is Allah’s graciousness upon me, but in the choice itself, the very road actually taken, is where free will steps in. In every choice that is made, we can choose to obey Him, or consider insignificant the action He expects from a true believer.

And this concept doesn’t just apply to acts of worship alone. It applies to each and every decision one must make. (Although one may argue that all acts, if done solely for Allah’s pleasure, are acts of worship, but that is another topic for another time.) Small or big is irrelevant. All that matters is the choice that Allah will look down favorably upon. Imam Ali (peace be upon him) says in sermon 4 of Nahj al-Balagha, “The one who is sure of getting water feels no thirst.”

Take, for example, an overprotective father with an incomprehensible paranoia surrounding the safety of his children. The easiest response is one of exasperation, contempt, or even anger. But in catering to this instinct, are we obeying the Almighty? Is that the reaction expected from someone who calls himself or herself a true believer?

“And your Lord has commanded that you shall not serve (any) but Him and goodness to your parents. If either or both of them reach old age with you, say not to them (so much as) ‘Uff’, nor chide them, and speak to them a generous word. And make yourself submissively gentle to them with compassion, and say: ‘O my Lord! Have compassion on them, as they brought me up (when I was) little.'” (Qur’an 17:23-24) Several times in the Holy Qur’an, Allah has placed the importance of parents secondary only to that of Himself. It suffices to say that that holds enough direction for those wanting to take heed.

In another example, the same applies to the sometimes seemingly unreasonable wishes of the husband. As a woman, in these times of the perpetual fight for gender equality and women empowerment, I find that we give precedence to rights being established by society and culture, as opposed to those already granted by the Almighty. And even in light of her rights, the modern woman may have forgotten the other side of the coin – her responsibilities.

“Subsequent to the embracement of Islam, the best thing that a Muslim can profit is a Muslim wife who pleases him when he looks at her and has loyalty to him in honor and property,” said the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny), as quoted in The Ahlul Bayt: Ethical Role Models (available online). In this saying, before the message for his wife, there is a more important message for the husband. Kindness and compassion towards the wife is just as much embracement of Islam as is the following. Furthermore, the book states that a woman asked the Holy Prophet, “Who is the owner of the greatest right against woman?” to which he answered, “Her husband is.” Being compliant with the husband, more so good-naturedly, does not weaken a wife’s position in the relationship, in the family, or even in society. Rather, it elevates her status in the eyes of Allah. In her compliance with the husband, she is actually in compliance with the Almighty’s expectation of her – in compliance with that which pleases Him.

Home, family, and community aside, it is most often during our interactions with the outside world that pleasing Allah lags behind displeasing someone else or embarrassing oneself. At the end of every day, if our ultimate objective is the pleasure of Allah, then even a choice that could cause apparent loss or shame will bring us nothing but contentment. Performing ablution and prayer in the workplace, politely declining to shake hands with the opposite sex at a friend’s graduation, or even refusing a courteous glass of premium scotch offered by a potential client at an industry convention are just a few instances in which this could be avoided. But do we let the reddening of our faces translate into humble regret, followed by a brief explanation of why? In as culturally tolerant a place as the West, where decades of movements against any such discrimination has thus freed the practice of faith, is there an excuse satisfactory enough?

This does not mean bashing those career-oriented or stifling sociability and progression of the permissible kind. It does, however, require some introspection on our part about truly living up to the mark of a believer. “However, those who are conscious of their Lord and have restrained their souls from acting according to their desires, Paradise will be their dwelling.” (79:41)

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