The question of free will (more precisely the issue of “Jabar-o-qadar”) is not really simple. Once a person asked Hazrat Ali (RA) whether human will was free or not. That person was standing before Hazrat Ali (RA). Hazrat Ali (RA) asked him to upward lift one of his FOOTS. That person did it. Then Hazrat Ali (RA) again asked him to now try to lift the other FOOT at the same time. Obviously that person could not do it. Hazrat Ali then told him that HE WAS FREE IN LIFTING ONE FOOT BUT HE WAS NOT FREE IN LIFTING BOTH THE FOOTS AT THE SAME TIME.
It is true that we do not come to this world at our own will, neither we shall go in this way. There are many other compulsions also. Our will, actually functions within the framework of its own area of functionality. The area of functionality of will is restricted by the NATURAL COMPULSIONS. Wherever there are natural compulsions, we cannot do the things according to our will. Where there are no such compulsions, we can do the things according to our own will. I have a mind, which considers itself free in its thinking. I have a body, which can follow the instructions of the freethinking of my mind. All what my mind can think by itself, my body may or may not actually perform that thing accordingly. I can think of going to my friend’s home which is located about 5 km from my home. I can think that I can reach his home if I walk towards his home for let’s say half an hour. It means that I want (my will) to go to my friend’s home by walking within half hour. Can I do it? Obviously I can do it. I can do it because the structure of the physical world and of my own body allows me to do it. In this way I did according to my will. My will was what I wanted to do.
Now consider another case. Now I want to go to my Cousin’s home who lives in USA. I want to reach his home by walking for half an hour. It means that I want that I want to reach the home of my cousin who lives in USA by walking for half an hour starting from my home, which is located in Pakistan. Consider that here I want to do a particular thing. It means that I have a particular will. In this case however the structure of the physical world and of my own body would not let me do it successfully. This is actually the compulsion due to which I cannot successfully act according to my will. So my will is not free in this case. My will is bound by the physical compulsions here.
Our will is free if it is not bound or restricted by the physical compulsions. And there are so many compulsions to which we all are subject to. For example you cannot touch your elbow of right arm with your own right hand even if you want to do it. There is a physical compulsion, which you can feel when you shall try to do so. Similarly when you speak, you can move only your lower jaw of mouth. You cannot move the upper jaw even if you want. You have the will to move the upper jaw but your this will is restricted by another physical compulsion which you can easily feel. so your will is not free because of being subject to physical compulsions. But you can touch the elbow of your left arm with your right hand whenever you want. What you want is your will. Your this will is not restricted by any physical compulsion. So you can easily do it. Your “will” therefore is free in this case. So our will is free but within a limited functional area.
A very important point here is that okay we cannot remove many of the physical compulsions BUT WE ARE ABLE TO OVERCOME MANY OF THE PHYSICAL COMPULSIONS USING OUR AVAILABLE SCIENTIFIC TECHNIQUES. For example while standing, I cannot uplift both of my legs at the same time. It is due to the presence of a physical compulsion in the form of gravitational attraction force of the earth. I cannot remove this force. But I however can use some scientific technique through which I shall apply a net positive upward force in order to OVERCOME the downward gravitational force. If I do it, then I would be able to lift both my legs at the same time. I, here have made free my will from a physical compulsion using a scientific technique. In this way I actually have expanded the functional area of my will. Yes! we can expand the functional area of our free will in this way, i.e. by using proper scientific techniques. In old days, humans had many this type of wishes such that they found it impossible to act according to their those wishes due to the presence of physical compulsions. But in the present world, those type of wishes can be easily acted upon. It means that the functional area of the human will has been successfully expanded over time, as a result of the growth in scientific knowledge and techniques.
Our will is not free in following cases:
1- Where there are physical compulsions which we cannot overcome using our available scientific techniques.
2- Where there are physical compulsions which we can never overcome because of having inherent limitations in our knowledge and abilities.
Our will is free in following cases:
1- Where there are no any physical compulsions.
2- Where we can overcome the associated physical compulsions using available scientific techniques.
3- Where we can overcome the associated physical compulsions by inventing new scientific techniques.
Another very important thing is that a blind faith in rigid fate results in a pessimist approach. For example USA is the super power in the world whereas Eastern societies have been declined. A person who keeps blind faith in rigid fate would say that it was already decided by the fate. So even if he wants the revival of Eastern societies, he shall not do any effort to correct the situation by trying to overcome the associated physical compulsions. Why should he do any effort whatsoever? Everything, for him, already has been decided by the fate. So what shall be the use of his efforts if the things are pre-decided? As a result this person shall not do any concrete effort in order to correct the situation. At the most he can try to find some means, which can provide him a sort of psychological satisfaction. He, for example, can get the psychological satisfaction by thinking that all what the West knows today was actually told to them by the ancient Muslim or other Eastern scholars and scientists.
A person who is having the above mentioned scientific outlook that the functional area of the human free will can be expanded with the help of scientific techniques; he shall be optimist in his approach. He shall do concrete efforts with the view to trying to correct the situation. And when he shall get the success, the pessimist person would say, “it was pre-determined by the fate”.
There is another BIG issue about this topic. It is the question about the nature of “will”. What is this “will” after all? In general terms we can say that what we want is our will. But if we try to investigate the deep meanings of will, it would come out that “what we want” is also determined by many factors. These factors are the structure of the universe and of our own mind. Our wants and desires are actually determined by our surrounding environment and the level and type of education and experience that we get from the society. For example in some parts of the world, people can “want” to eat insects, snakes and lizards etc. We Pakistanis however cannot keep this type of wishes. Why is it so? Surely the difference in type of wishes (types of wills) is determined by the customs, traditions and ideologies of the surrounding environment and cultural forces. Our wants and wishes are actually just a state of our mind. The state of mind is the reflection of the forces of material and cultural environment. The type of material and cultural environment determines the types of our wants and wishes. We feel that we want something. This feeling is just due to our particular state of mind and that particular state of mind is the result of combined forces of material and cultural environment. If the material and cultural environment is changed, the type of wishes also change. Present day many of Pakistani women keep this wish to not to miss the daily episode of “Saas bhi kabhi bahu thi” (i.e. a TV serial play). Just 50 years back, our women could not keep this type of wishes. The change in wishes (types of will) has occurred because a change in the material as well as cultural environment has been occurred.
So environmental forces determine the type of wishes and the presence/ absence of physical compulsions and scientific techniques determine which wishes can be successfully acted upon. Therefore human will is free within the framework of its functional area. Functional area however is determined by many factors. Functional area actually provides an opportunity of making new expansions in it. This opportunity can be availed and can be rejected. Optimists avail this opportunity and thus expand the functional area of the human will. Pessimists on the other hand do not avail the opportunity of making new expansions in the functional area. They however do enjoy the benefits of the already expanded functional area due to the effort of optimists. So even if in the final analysis, it seems that the will is actually just determined by environmental forces, even then the role performed by optimists is better than that of pessimists. Even if we cannot find conclusive evidence about free will, still then we should be optimistic in our approach because it is the better way.