Conscious or coerced: Divine decree in Islam
This unit explores a difficult question brought up by Muslim youth and adults alike: if God has knowledge of all things and we are subject to His will and power, then how do we have free will? Students will explore the Qur’anic discourse on predestination and free will to equip them with the tools to navigate and resolve this apparent paradox.
Unit overview, learning objectives, and content standards
Lesson 1: Perceiving tension in the qadar doctrine
Thinkers from various faith traditions and philosophies have been vexed by the apparent paradox that humans can have free will when God has already decreed our fate. Unlike others who have shared the same concerns, Islam has not only oﬀered a logical explanation, but one that evokes calmness and serenity in the hearts of its believers. In this lesson, students will explore this explanation and the role of Islamic theology in addressing questions about God.
1.1 Teacher's reference
1.2 Worksheet: Your past experiences
1.3 Worksheet: Two truths
1.4 Worksheet: Theology
Lesson 2: Understanding qadar: the free will debate
Do we have free will or is everything predetermined? In this lesson, students will recognize that the debates around divine decree are dialectical in nature: opinions emerged through conversations over time that sought to draw nearer to the truth. By exploring some of the social and historical factors that have shaped the debates, students will be able to better understand the various opinions that emerged regarding divine decree and free will.
2.1 Worksheet: Qadar inquiries
2.2 Worksheet: A class dialectic
2.3 Worksheet: Qadar dialectic
Lesson 3: Acquiring our actions
In this lesson, students will be introduced to the concept of acquisition (kasb or ikitsab), a doctrine that emerged to explain the paradox between divine decree and free will. Students will also recognize the limitations of human language when speaking about God, and the role of theology to help express and resolve apparent tensions they encounter in the Qur’an and Sunnah.
3.1 Worksheet: Moving Jeopardy
3.2 Worksheet: Prophet Adam's story
3.3 Worksheet: The qadar podcast
Lesson 4: Psycho-spiritual benefits of the qadar doctrine
To wrap up this unit, students will shift their attention from the mind and reﬂect on the state of their inner lives. Students will learn to appreciate how deeply internalizing their belief in al-qadaa’ wal-qadar can nourish their spiritual psyches and, consequently, transform their behavior for the better.
4.1 Worksheet: Take what you need
4.2 Worksheet: The qadar workbook
4.3 Worksheet: A letter to my future self
See other units
The case for Allah’s existence
Is Allah real? How do we know God exists? Belief in God and the quest for existential truth is not always easy, especially in a social environment where faith is derided as superstition, wishful thinking, or even a dangerous fantasy. This unit begins by challenging this mindset before exploring a number of arguments that establish the existence of God in a way that speaks to both the heart and mind.
Why we worship God
When we think of our obligation as Muslims to worship God, some of us may express confusion at the idea that God “needs” or “wants” us to worship Him. Some may even perceive God as being egotistical to demand devotional service. This is neither common sense nor sound logic–rather, it results from a faulty image of God. Islamic theology steers clear of connecting human needs and motivations to God. Instead, Islam provides a grounded and honest answer to the question “Why does God ask to be worshiped?” Guide students through the answer with this unit.
The proofs of prophethood
Believing in prophets and messengers is a key pillar of faith in Islam. This unit unpacks the nature and necessity of these individuals by first exploring the ethical need for guidance facilitated by prophets. Students then go on to examine two types of proofs of prophethood in detail: mind-based or cognitive proofs (e.g., miracles) and heart-based proofs (e.g., prophetic character traits).
Qur’an: The living literary miracle
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How can evil coexist with a merciful God?
The ‘problem of evil’ is a major point of contention in philosophical and religious circles. To address the topic, this unit first clarifies the terms of the debate by explaining that human knowledge can never encompass the reality of ‘goodness’ or ‘evil.’ It then surveys how Islamic theodicies have responded to the problem of evil. The unit concludes by inviting students to explore how the prophetic model allows them to find meaning and be inspired to act positively in a world where ‘evil’ exists.