The Asharites have expressed a very peculiar opinion, both with regard to reason and religion; about this problem they have explained it in a way in which religion has not, but have adopted quite an opposite method. They say that in this problem the case of the invisible world is quite opposed to the visible. They think that God is just or unjust within the limits of religious actions. So when a man’s action is just with regard to religion, he also is just; and whatever religion calls it to be unjust, He is unjust. They say that whatever has not been imposed as a divinely ordained duty upon men, does not come within the four walls of religion. He is neither just or unjust, but all His actions about such things are just. They have laid down that there is nothing in itself which may be called just or unjust. But to say that there is nothing which may in itself be called good or bad is simply intolerable. Justice is known as good, and injustice as bad. So according to them, polytheism is in itself neither injustice nor evil, but with regard to religion, and had religion ordained it, it would have been just and true. Such also would have been the case with any kind of sin. But all this is quite contrary to our hadith and reason.
As to hadith God has described himself as just, and denied injustice to himself. He says “God has borne witness that there is no God but He; and the angels and those who are endowed with wisdom profess the same, who execute righteousness” [Qur’an 3.16]; and “Your God is not unjust towards His servants;” and again, “Verily, God will not deal unjustly with men in any respect; but men deal unjustly with their own souls” [Qur’an 41.46]. It may be asked, What is your opinion about misleading the people, whether it is just or unjust, for God has mentioned in many a verse of the Qur’an, “That He leads as well as misleads the people?” [Qur’an 10.45]. He says, “God causes to err whom He pleases, and directs whom He pleases” [Qur’an 14.4]; and, “If we had pleased, we had certainly given every soul its direction” [Qur’an 32.11]. We would say that these verses cannot be taken esoterically, for there are many verses which apparently contradict them — the verses in which God denies injustice to himself.
For instance, He says, “He likes not ingratitude (Kufr) in His servant” [Qur’an 39.9]. So it is clear that as He does not like ingratitude even from them, He certainly cannot cause them to err. As to the statement of the Asharites that God sometimes does things which He does not like, and orders others which He does not want, God forbid us from holding such a view about him, for it is pure infidelity. That God has not misled the people and has not caused them to err will be clear to you from the following verses: “Wherefore be you orthodox and set your face towards true religion, the institution of God, to which He has created man kindly disposed” [Qur’an 30.29]; and, “when your Lord drew forth their posterity from the lions of the sons of Adam” [Qur’an 7.171]. A hadith of the Prophet says “Every child is born according to the divine constitution.”
These being contradictions in this problem we should try to reconcile them so that they may agree with reason. The verse, “Verily, God will cause to err whom He pleases, and will direct whom He pleases” [Qur’an 14.4] refers to the prearranged divine will, with which all things have been endowed. They have been created erring, that is, prepared to go astray by their very nature, and led to it by inner and outer causes. The meaning of the verse, “If We had pleased, We have given unto every soul its direction” [Qur’an 35.9], is that He thought of not creating people ready to err, by their nature, or by the outer causes, or by both, though He could have done so. But as the dispositions of men are different the words may mislead the one and direct the other. For these are the verses which speak of misleading the people. For instance, “He will thereby mislead many, and will direct many thereby: but He will not mislead any thereby except the transgressors” [Qur’an 2.24]; and, “We have appointed the vision which We showed you” [Qur’an 17.62], and also the tree cursed in the Qur’an, and the verses about the number of angels of hell. “Thus does God cause to err whom He pleases and He directs whom He pleases” [Qur’an 74.34]. It means that for evil natures, these verses are misleading, as for the sick bodies even good drugs are injurious.