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Can you explain to me the difference between the existential and legislative will of Allah?

Answered by

Sheikh `Abd al-`Azîz al-Râjihî
Divine will is one of the attributes of Allah.

There are two aspects to Allah’s will:
1. The existential, creative, determinate will

2. The religious, prescriptive, legislative will
This is the breakdown propounded by the scholars of Islamic orthodoxy (Ahl al-Sunnah wa al-Jamâ`ah) It is in accordance with the truth, since it is what is indicated to us by the sacred texts.

The existential, creative will applies to everyone and everything in exactly the same, general manner – to believers and unbelievers alike. Allah’s will by this meaning is always fulfilled. Everything in existence exists by the will of Allah in exactly the way it is – whether good or bad. Weal or woe, might or weakness, faith or incredulity, wealth or poverty, obedience or sin – it is all by Allah’s decree.

Allah says: “Allah is the Creator of all things.” [Sûrah al-Zumar: 62; Sûrah al-Ra`d: 16]

Allah says: “And He created all things and determined them in full determination.” [Sûrah al-Furqân: 2]

As for the religious, prescriptive, legislative will, it is specifically relevant to those who believe, and is synonymous with what He loves and is pleased with. It constitutes what He wants and is pleased with of the Law, what He set forth in the Qur’ân and Sunnah of His commands and prohibitions. These are like His command to: “Establish prayer”. This is a religious injunction for prayer to be established. However, this might or might not take place in the world in any given instance. Some people obey Allah and establish prayer while others disobey Him and refuse to do so. As for Allah’s existential will, by contrast, it must always come to pass.

Both aspects of the divine will come together in the person of a believer – like Abû Bakr for instance – for indeed Allah willed for him to believe with respect to both His predetermined, existential will as well as His prescriptive, legislative will.

These two aspects of the Divine will are clearly distinct from one another with respect to an unbeliever – like Abû Lahab – for indeed Allah did not will for him to believe. His disbelief was in accordance with Allah’s determination. All the same, Allah, in accordance with His prescriptive, legislative will, had commanded Abû Lahab to believe.

An example of Allah’s existential will is seen in the verse: “Whoever Allah wills to guide, he opens his breast to Islam, and whomever He wills to leave astray, He makes his breast tight and constricted as if he were ascending to the sky.” [Sûrah al-An`âm: 125]

Also, Allah says: “Indeed, Allah decrees whatever He wills.” [Sûrah al-Mâ’idah: 1]

He says: “If it be that Allah wills to leave you astray, then He is your Lord and to Him you shall return.” [Sûrah Hûd: 34]

Allah’s existential will is synonymous with what He wishes to actually take place in existence. Allah says: “For those of you who wish to be upright. And you do not wish accept that Allah, the Lord of All the Worlds, wishes.” [Sûrah al-Takwîr: 28-29]

As for Allah’s legislative will, it is seen in Allah’s statement: “Allah wants ease for you and does not want difficulty for you.” [Sûrah al-Baqarah: 185]

Also: “Allah only wants to remove all abomination from you – O members of the household – and to purify you.” [Sûrah al-Ahzâb: 33]

Also: ‘They want the provisions of the world, while Allah wants the Hereafter.” [Sûrah al-Anfâl: 67]

The people of deviance do not distinguish Allah’s will into these two categories. Among them are those who deny human free will. They only assert Allah’s existential, determinate will. The Mu`tazilites, by contrast, assert only Allah’s legislative will and deny His existential will. These groups are all astray.

Ahl al-Sunnah assert both, drawing their beliefs from the sacred texts. This approach is the correct one as well as the most moderate one. It does not go to the extreme of those who deny human free will nor to the extreme of those who deny for Allah anything other than His legislative, prescriptive will.

And Allah knows best.