If all things and events, including human actions, are predetermined by God since pre-eternity, then what space is left for human freedom of will, and hence, for moral responsibility? In the beginning of the 14th century, a non-Muslim scholar, probably of Jewish faith, confronted several Muslim scholars from Damascus and Cairo with precisely this question in versified form. Among them is the well-known Ḥanbalī theologian and jurist Ibn Taymiyya (d. 728/1328), who is said to have responded instantly with a 184-verse poem (of which 125 verses are extant). This article provides an analysis of Ibn Taymiyya’s stance on the question of how it can be said that God is just in predetermining and judging human actions and compares it to that of Faḫr ad-Dīn ar-Rāzī. The article ends with the first full translation of the versified question and Ibn Taymiyya’s response into a European language. Both thinkers depart from similar positions, insofar as both deny human free will. However, while Ibn Taymiyya tries to show that the fact that God will hold human beings accountable for their predetermined actions does not go against our inborn sense of justice, ar-Rāzī adduces that fact as part of his strategy to show that God’s actions cannot be subject to rational moral assessment, as they would otherwise have to be declared as senseless and even harmful.
Founded by Carl Heinrich Becker in 1910, the Journal Der Islam provides a forum for the study of the history and culture of the Middle East before the age of modernisation in the 19th century, from the Iberian Peninsula to Central Asia. Articles present the latest research in the humanities and social sciences based on literary traditions, and archival, material, and archaeological evidence.