Worship: slavery or freedom?

Humans are naturally predisposed to submit and follow (serve or worship) something or someone. If we don’t submit to God, then —whether we are conscious of it or not— we are submitting to or serving something else: a boss, a loved one, money, an addiction, a celebrity, etc. If you look around you, most people are in a state of servitude to something or someone, but few worship the only One truly worthy of worship: God, the Creator.

Martin Lings (1909-2005) was a leading member of the “Traditionalist” or “Perennialist” school of philosophy and an acclaimed author, editor, translator, scholar, Arabist and poet whose work centered on the relationship between God and man through religious doctrine, scripture, symbolism, literature and art. In his book, Ancient Beliefs and Modern Superstitions, Martin Lings tells us:

Equipped as he is by his very nature for worship, man cannot not worship; and if his outlook is cut off from the spiritual plane, he will find a “god” to worship at some lower level, thus endowing something relative with what belongs only to the Absolute. Hence the existence today of so many “words to conjure with” like “freedom,” “equality,” “literacy,” “science,” “civilization,” words at the utterance of which a multitude of souls fall prostrate in sub-mental adoration…The desire for freedom is above all the desire for God, absolute freedom being an essential aspect of Divinity.  (pp. 45-46)

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Honor in worship

 What is more honorable…

  • To worship those who take from us, or to worship Him who gives us everything?
  • To follow and obey those who cannot help themselves, or Him who has dominion over everything?
  • To take direction from our Creator, Who knows what’s best for us, or from people who are as lost as we are?

Worshipping God frees man from submission to whims and weaknesses. Following every desire and submitting to every whim weakens man’s resolve and makes him a slave to his desires. Religion imposes some limitations, and through the observance of these limitations we gain strength of character. To overcome addiction, addicts are advised to follow a ten- or twelve-step program which often includes submitting to a higher power to restore their self-control.

Worshipping God gives man the freedom to have a say in his afterlife. The path to everlasting happiness is clear for him. If he does good, he gets Paradise. If he is a non-repentant wrongdoer, he gets Hell. So a believer has the choice and is allowed to consciously affect his eternal life, while a non-believer believes he came into being by unknown forces and will be snapped away by unknown forces, with no say whatsoever is his afterlife.

Free Will or Determinism?

Furthermore, atheism strips man of his free will —the feature which distinguishes man from the rest of creation— and considers him as a puppet. Sam Harris, a leading American atheist, says:

“Free will is an illusion. Our wills are simply not of our own making…. We do not have the freedom we think we have.” (Sam Harris (2012) Free Will, New York: Free Press, p. 5)

In his 1978 million-copy international best-selling book, The Selfish Gene, renowned atheist writer and speaker Richard Dawkins explains the evolutionary ideas that force atheists to deny human free will. He asserts that humans are

“…survival machines – robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve selfish molecules known as genes.” (https://mronline.org/2018/11/05/is-the-answer-really-in-our-genes/, para. 1)

Evolutionary biologist  Jerry Coyne (University of Chicago,  Department of Ecology and Evolution) is the author of Faith vs. Fact: Why Science and Religion are Incompatible (2016, Penguin Books), as well as Why Evolution is True (2010, Penguin Books).   In June of 2015,  he delivered a lecture at the “Imagine No Religion” convention in Vancouver, Canada, titled: “You Don’t Have Free Will.” Addressing his primarily atheist audience, he said:

“Now many of you don’t accept that. You don’t believe that you are robots made out of meat, which is what I’m going to try to convince you of today.” (https://apologeticspress.org/atheism-and-free-will-5339/, para. 19)

If this is truly the case, why then do atheists write books, give interviews and deliver lectures to convince people to deny God —if people have no free will to choose what to believe?


Coyne goes on to say:

“I don’t consider myself morally responsible, because I don’t have a choice.” (https://apologeticspress.org/atheism-and-free-will-5339/, para. 24)

Similarly, University of Pennsylvania Professor of Biology, Anthony Cashmore, author of “The Lucretian Swerve: The Biological Basis of Human Behavior and the Criminal Justice System” (PNAS, 107:10),  states:

“From this simple analysis, surely it follows that individuals cannot logically be held responsible for their behavior.” (https://apologeticspress.org/atheism-and-free-will-5339/, para. 24)

Consider the chain of implications which follows from the denial of free will. Consider the harm to society and what this means in terms of immorality, crime, punishment, the rights of others, etc. Would anyone wish to bring up a family in such a recklessly irresponsible environment?

According to John Polkinghorne,

In the opinion of many thinkers, human freedom is closely connected with human rationality. If we were deterministic beings, what would validate the claim that our utterance constituted rational discourse? Would not the sounds issuing from our mouths, or the marks we made on paper, be simply the actions of automata? All proponents of deterministic theories, whether social and economic (Marx), or sexual (Freud), or genetic (Dawkins and E.O. Wilson), need a covert disclaimer on their own behalf, excepting their own contribution from reductive dismissal?” (http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/Nave-html/Faithpathh/Polkinghorne.html, para. 5)

The truth shall set you free

Dr. Mostafa Mahmoud tells us that human freedom is not a “fixed sum game,” but can increase through knowledge. By inventing machines for transportation, Man has increased his freedom to move. Likewise, by opening ourselves to God’s revelation, we gain knowledge and understand our honorable purpose in life, thereby freeing ourselves from the fears which drag us down and breaking away from subservience to anyone but God. (Dialogue with an Atheist, Dr. Mostafa Mahmoud: https://docs.google.com/viewer?url=https://www.muslim-library.com/dl/books/English_Dialogue_with_an_Atheist.pdf ,  p. 18)

This same concept is confirmed by Jesus, peace be upon him, who, when confronted with rejection from the leadership of his people, encouraged his followers to seek truth as the way to freedom:

Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. (Gospel of John 8:32)

Why would God judge us if He pre-ordains everything?

With God, Who is Absolutely Just, the sphere of our accountability/judgment is limited to the areas in which we are free to choose. Accordingly:

  • We are not judged if we are mentally impaired.
  • We are not judged as children.
  • We are not judged for our parents, our height, our nationality, our genes, etc., because we have no control over these things.
  • We are not judged if we are coerced.
  • We are not judged for our actions while asleep or unconscious.
  • We will not be punished if we did not receive the message of a prophet or hear about God.

Some of the above cases are specified in the following hadith of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him:

The Messenger of God (peace be upon him) said: “The Pen is lifted from three (their deeds are not recorded): a child until he reaches puberty; an insane man until he comes to his senses; one who is asleep until he wakes up.” (Sunan Abu Dawud  4403)

So the principle is that we will be judged only for the actions and in the situations where we exercise complete free choice.

While it is possible to force someone to say: “I love you,” there is no amount of pressure that can force them to love you with all their heart. God has safeguarded our hearts from all forms of compulsion and made them free. That is why we are judged by our intentions and by what is in our hearts.

Doesn’t the Quran say that nothing we choose is outside God’s Will; that everything is subject to His Will.

Anything you (all) wish is only if God so wishes too; God is Aware, Wise! (Quran 76:30)

Does this preordainment contradict our freedom to choose?

No. Because it is His Will for us to have the choice to obey or disobey Him. He does not want us to disobey, but He gave us a choice to do so —because, with God, obedience by choice is more honorable and more deserving of reward than forced compliance. 

So God’s fore-knowledge of the choices we will make does not contradict with our freedom to make these choices.

Consider the following example: A teacher knows that a particular student will fail the course because he or she does not attend the lectures, fails to turn in the homework and skips the tests. When the end of the term comes, the student fails. Did the teacher —through his/her foreknowledge— make the student fail? No. It was still the student’s choice to take the path to failure, despite the teacher’s foreknowledge.

We know that we have free will, that we can make decisions and that decisions have consequences. On the other hand, we have no knowledge whatsoever about God’s destiny for us or how it works.  Should we use the free will we know we have or should we waste our energy on what we can know nothing about (God’s destiny for us)?

Similarly, out of God’s ultimate Justice, He does not judge us through His foreknowledge of what we will do. He judges after we actually carry out the action through our free choice.

…To be continued in Part 24

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Dr. Raida Jarrar

Dr. Raida Jarrar is a Palestinian American who holds a Doctorate of Engineering from Cleveland State University. Following a career of over twenty-five years in the fields of engineering and aviation IT, she worked as a volunteer at one of the largest Islamic centers in the Middle East, where she interacted with visitors of different religious backgrounds and diverse cultures. The series she writes for Al-Jumuah analyzes and encapsulates her discussions with the atheist visitors, presented in a question and answer format for clarity and ease of reference. The answers are sourced from research, discussions with colleagues and mentors, and personal thoughts. Dr. Jarrar also volunteers as a translator for Islamic content and hosts the Aslamt youtube channel, which is dedicated to answering common questions about faith. https://youtube.com/@aslamt9462

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