Many people throughout history have debated whether marriage is predestined or sought out of our own free will. Predestined marriage means one cannot control it, and whatever happens, is what would have happened inevitably. A marriage that is sought out means a marriage that one actually can enter into it of one’s own free will. Now, what does Islam have to say about this matter? Keep reading to find out.
- What Is Predestination and How Did It Originate in Islam?
- Do We Have Free Will to Do Everything?
- A Matter Between the Two Matters
- We Have No Free Will Over Certain Things
- We Are Masters of Our Own Destiny
- Is Amr Bayn al-Amrayn Applicable to Marriage?
- Allah Loves His Righteous Servants
- Hadith on Amr Bayn al-Amrayn
What Is Predestination and How Did It Originate in Islam?
Predestination is a belief that certain Muslim theologians by the name of Mu‘tazilites introduced to Islam. They say that we have no free will vis-à-vis the will of Allah. They say we do not have free will or control over anything. This theory also had political motives, as the tyrannical rulers of that time supported it to legitimize their authority over others.
What would be the purpose of creation if we were all forced creatures with power over nothing? If we have no free will, then why should we be good? What difference would it make to be good or bad? Why should a group of people be punished and another group rewarded? These are all questions that seriously undermine the credibility of this theory.
Do We Have Free Will to Do Everything?
Another group of Muslim theologians believes that we have free will over everything. The Ash’arites believe that Allah created the universe, entrusted it to us, and left us to make decisions without Him meddling in our actions. This theory is also incorrect because Allah says in the Quran that He constantly watches us and takes certain measures under specific circumstances. For example, Allah says in the Quran:
وَمَكَرُوا۟ وَمَكَرَ ٱللَّهُ ۖ وَٱللَّهُ خَيْرُ ٱلْمَٰكِرِينَ
And [the disbelievers] hatched a plot, and Allah planned [to foil it], and Allah is the best of planners (3:54 Foroutan)
If we do not have free will over everything, then for what use is our free will?
A Matter Between the Two Matters
Neither the theory of the Mu’tazilites nor that of Ash’arites is correct. We the Twelver Shiites believe in the theory known as Amr Bayn al-Amrayn (أَمرٌ بَينَ الأَمرَين), roughly translated as “a matter between the two matters.” Therefore, we do not believe in predestination. We also do not believe that Allah has completely left everything to our own devices. We believe in the idea that both Allah’s will and our will are involved in our voluntary actions and that these two wills are in line with each other. In other words, our free will in voluntary actions is also Allah’s will because He is the one who has given us free will. Of course, if we do bad deeds, even though Allah allows it, He does not force us or enjoin us to do them. Allah says in the Quran:
إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ يَأْمُرُ بِٱلْعَدْلِ وَٱلْإِحْسَٰنِ وَإِيتَآئِ ذِى ٱلْقُرْبَىٰ وَيَنْهَىٰ عَنِ ٱلْفَحْشَآءِ وَٱلْمُنكَرِ وَٱلْبَغْىِ ۚ يَعِظُكُمْ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَذَكَّرُونَ
Indeed Allah enjoins justice and kindness, and generosity towards relatives, and He forbids indecency, wrongdoing, and aggression. He advises you, so that you may take admonition. (16:90 Qarai)
We believe in the idea that we do have free will, but that free will is within a specific sphere that Allah determines. In other words, we may have free will in some matters and lack free will in some other matters that only Allah decides.
We Have No Free Will Over Certain Things
Do you have control over your heartbeat? Your heartbeat is said to be an involuntary action. In fact, by Allah’s will, our heart pumps blood all over our bodies; this is how He has created us. Do we have free will to stop the earth from revolving around the sun? No. These are all Allah’s creations, and we have no free will concerning them. Allah says in the Quran:
وَرَبُّكَ يَخْلُقُ مَا يَشَآءُ وَيَخْتَارُ ۗ مَا كَانَ لَهُمُ ٱلْخِيَرَةُ ۚ سُبْحَٰنَ ٱللَّهِ وَتَعَٰلَىٰ عَمَّا يُشْرِكُونَ
And Your Lord creates and chooses whatever He wills. They have no choice [except submission]. He is the exalted, and [He is] above what they ascribe [to Him]. (28:68 Foroutan)
Therefore, when it comes to certain aspects of creation, we have no free will over them. Instead, we have free will in our voluntary actions.
We Are Masters of Our Own Destiny
The Quran clearly states that we are the ones who shape our destiny. Allah says in the Quran:
إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ لَا يُغَيِّرُ مَا بِقَوْمٍ حَتَّىٰ يُغَيِّرُوا۟ مَا بِأَنفُسِهِمْ
Indeed, Allah does not change what is in a people unless they change what is in themselves. (13:11 Foroutan)
We should not think that we should sit idle and Allah will take care of everything. This way of thinking totally goes against what the Quran says. Allah will not change the circumstances of a nation unless they themselves do. This shows that we do have free will concerning certain issues. Like they say, “God helps those who help themselves.” If we decide to fulfill our destiny, Allah will help us. Otherwise, He will not. This also relates to the concept of Amr Bayn al-Amrayn.
Is Amr Bayn al-Amrayn Applicable to Marriage?
Now that we know the philosophy behind the events that occur in this world, we arrive at the issue of marriage. Do we have free will to marry the person we want? Yes. We have free will to marry whoever we want. However, Allah has told us who we should get married to. He has set the criteria for a good marriage through the words of His Prophet (s) and the Ahlul Bait (a). They have told us who we should marry and who we should not. For example, the Prophet (s) has said that we should stay away from the verdure growing in manure. His companions asked him what the verdure growing in manure is. His Holiness said: A beautiful woman raised in a corrupt family. Therefore, religiosity, piety, and modesty are more important than looks.
Allah does not force us to marry individuals with good or bad characteristics. If we try to follow His instructions and marry a righteous individual, He will help us. If we do not follow His instructions, He will leave us to do what we want. Allah exercises His will in both cases because He is the one who has given us free will. This is precisely the concept of Amr Bayn al-Amrayn.
Allah Loves His Righteous Servants
As for believers, Allah always has their back. Sometimes, you as a believer want to do something. In our case, you want to marry a specific person. However, Allah knows that marrying that individual is not in your interest. For example, you will not have stable relations with them or you will not be able to have kids. Here, Allah stops you from getting married to that individual out of His mercy and compassion. This is perhaps a Godly mercy that only sincere believers enjoy. This itself is another dimension to the theory of Amr Bayn al-Amrayn. In other words, when a believer wants to do something with a Godly intention, Allah does not leave him alone, but rather supports him. If that person knew the negative and unfortunate outcome of that marriage, he would never enter into it. The Quran says in this regard:
يَٰٓأَيُّهَا ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُوٓا۟ إِن تَنصُرُوا۟ ٱللَّهَ يَنصُرْكُمْ وَيُثَبِّتْ أَقْدَامَكُم
O You Who Believe! If you help God He will help you and make you steadfast.
Therefore, Allah always helps those who seek His pleasure.
Hadith on Amr Bayn al-Amrayn
There are many narrations about the issue of “a matter between the two matters” in the Shia library. Let us go over some of them.
A narration from Kanz al-‘Ummal reads:
كنز العمّال عن عليِّ بن أبي طالبٍ أنّهُ خَطَب النّاسَ يوما… فقامَ إلَيهِ رجلٌ ممّن كان شَهِدَ مَعَهُ الجَملَ فقال: يا أميرَ المؤمنينَ أخبرنا عَنِ القَدَر؟ قال: بحرٌ عَميقٌ فلا تلجه ، قالَ: يا أميرَ المؤمِنين أخبِرْنا عن القدر؟ قال: سِرُّ اللّه ِ فلا تَتَكلّفْهُ، قالَ: يا أميرَ المؤمنينَ أخبِرنا عَن القَدَرِ؟ قال: أمّا إذ أبَيتَ فإنَّهُ أمرٌ بين أمرَينِ، لا جبرَ و لا تفويضَ.
One day, Ali ibn Abi Talib (a) was giving a sermon when a man who had accompanied his Eminence to fight in the Battle of Jamal asked him: “O Commander of the Faithful. Tell us about destiny (Qadar: قَدَر). The Imam said, “It is a deep ocean, do not plunge into it.” The man asked for the second time, “Tell us about destiny.” The Imam said, “It is Allah’s secret. Do not trouble yourself with it.” The man asked again, “Tell us about destiny.” The Imam replied, “Now that you insist, it is something in between two things, neither jabr (predestination) nor tafwid (total free will).”1
A Narration From Imam al-Sadiq (a)
There are also quite a few narrations from Imam al-Sadiq (a) about the issue of Amr Bayn al-Amrayn. His holiness has said:
بحار الأنوار عن المُفَضَّلِ عن الإمامِ الصّادقِ عليه السلام: لا جَبرَ و لا تَفويضَ، و لكنْ أمرٌ بينَ أمرَينِ. قالَ: قلتُ: ما أمرٌ بينَ أمرَينِ؟ قالَ: مَثَلُ ذلك مَثَلُ رجُلٍ رأيتَهُ على معصيةٍ فنَهَيْتَهُ فلَم يَنْتَهِ، فتَرَكتَهُ ففعلَ تلكَ المعصيةَ، فليسَ حَيثُ لَم يَقْبلْ مِنكَ فَتَركْتَهُ كُنتَ أنتَ الّذي أمَرتَهُ بالمعصيةِ.
It is neither predestination nor total free will but a matter between these two matters. He was asked, “What is a matter between two matters? He said, “For example, you see a man who is committing a sin, and you forbid him, but he does not listen. Then you leave him to do what he desires. Because he has not heeded your warning, and you have left him to do what he wants, it cannot be said that you have ordered him to commit that sin.”2
A Narration From Imam al-Rida (a)
A beautiful narration from Imam al-Rida (a) reads:
بحار الأنوار: إنّ الفضلَ بنَ سهلٍ سألَ الرِّضا عليه السلام بين يَدَيِ المأمونِ فقالَ: يا أبا الحسنِ، الخَلقُ مجبورون؟ فقالَ: اللّه ُ أعْدَلُ مِن أنْ يُجبِرَ خَلقَهُ ثُمّ يُعَذّبَهُم، قالَ: فَمُطْلَقونَ؟ قالَ: اللّه ُ أحْكَمُ مِن أنْ يُهْمِلَ عَبدَهُ و يَكِلَهُ إلى نَفسِهِ.
Fadl ibn Sahl asked Imam al-Rida (a) in the presence of Ma’mun, “O Abul Hasan, are people predestined (and forced to do whatever they do in this world)? His Holiness replied, “Allah is more just than to force his creation to something and then punish them.” Fadl asked the Imam, “Are they free (and left to do whatever they want)? The Imam said, “Allah is wiser than to abandon His servant and leave him to himself.”3
We learned that marriage is not predestined. You have free will to choose who you want as your spouse. Perhaps you have more than one choice. It is entirely up to you to select the best spouse, and Allah will not stop you from making your decision to get married. However, Allah has made it clear through the words of His Prophet (s) and the Ahlul Bait (a) which criteria we should meet for marriage. It is up to us to follow the instructions of Allah or to disregard them and do what we wish. Either way, Allah exercises His will, as He is the one who has given us free will.
- Kanz al-‘Ummal, 1567.
- Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 5, p. 17, hadith no. 27.
- Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 5, p. 59, hadith no. 110.