Discussion of God's justice, predestination and free will
by the Mu'tazila
in Islam and Judaism.
It is a great opportunity to write about Mu'tazilites, the great thinkers, whose impact on the two religions, Islam and Judaism is largely forgotten and unappreciated today.
Even though the scholars place origins of the Mu'tazila movement as early as the time of Uthman, it acquired significance later, in the 9-th century AD, and virtually disappeared around 11-th century.
Political situation at the time the Mu'tazila school developed and made its impact is important for the overview. The Golden Age of Muslim learning belongs to the times of the Abbasid Califate, special boost of intellectual activity - to the rule of Harun ar-Rashid (786 - 809), the time of relative prosperity and peace in the empire. Muslims have been rulers for a couple of centuries and many administrative, economic, religious and cultural matters, troublesome in the early periods, were established by then. Reasonable stability was beneficial in creating atmosphere of tolerance, even if tolerance of those times does not coincide with our understanding of the term.
Administration was still largely at the hands of the pre-Islamic inhabitants of the territories, and the extent of conversion to Islam of the native population has not been overwhelming. This meant that there was a great mix of different religions and groups, especially in the urban centres, to which during the upheavals of the earlier times moved large (and more adventurous) sections of impoverished population.
Within the Muslim community, a number of groups and factions contested their claims to the correct understanding of the Muslim system of governance. Mu'tazila ideas give indication of their opposition to the Umayyads and loyalty to the Abbasids, which, obviously, would be auspicious to their thriving under the Abbasid rule. Shi'as had a strong position at the time, and a number of Mu'tazila ideas had the benefit of reconciling shi'as with the mainstream Muslim community.
The greatest triumph of the Mu'tazila came at the time of Caliph al-Ma'mun (813- 33), a great patron of learning and sciences. He commissioned an institution for translating the philosophic and scientific works into Arabic, Bait al-Hikma, the House of Wisdom. This has made ideas of Aristotle, Plato and the neo-Platonics, already in circulation among the intellectual elite, available to the wider public, which was a stimulus for the further elaboration of philosophical ideas. Being strong supporter of the Mu'tazila views, he wished to make them part of the official government policy.
Special political convenience was presented by the doctrine of the created Quran. Robbed of its extreme sanctity as an uncreated and pre-existent Word of God (as seen by Mu'tazila's opponents), its rulings could be seen as temporary and changed by the Caliph (holder of the religious as well as temporal power) when necessary.
To make sure that views of all the government officials were in accordance with those desired by the state, al-Ma'mun obliged all of them to hold an examination (mihna) publicly declaring their views, in particular, their acceptance of the createdness of the Quran. This use of force was met with a lot of opposition, especially by some popular leaders, like Ahmad ibn Hanbal, and the attmpt was eventually abandoned in 850. This event speeded up the decline and disrepute of the Mu'tazila.
At the time of its coming to the (multi)cultural centres of the Middle East, Islam had not developed its dogmas on the questions of paramount importance in other systems. When Christianity had several centuries of heated debates on the nature of Christ behind it, Islam was still relying on the simple references to Allah in the Quranic passages, and religious controversies were concentrating on the political questions. Even though large-scale conversions to Islam were achieved by socio-economic means, debates with the intellectual elite of the rival religions received plenty of attention in the cultural centres of the Caliphate, Baghdad and Basra in particular. To stand against others in the inter-religious dialogue, there was a need to find answers to the questions asked by them. What are the attributes of God, what is the position of man in relation to the Divine, how does God relate to humans, what is his role in the events occurring in the world.
Answering these questions required knowledge of the rival doctrines, and understanding of the categories used in determining them. As an opposition to the Greek philosophy arose the movement of Mutakallimun, the Islamic philosophers, who insisted on the use of reason in solving problems, and were seeking rational answers to the religious questions. Unlike philosophers, they were only seeking to prove their religious pre-conceptions by means of logic and reasoning, and because of such intention, which caused somewhat inferior results, were not held on high regard by the philosophers proper. The most prominent sect in the beginning of the movement was that of the Mu'tazila, who were the first school in Islam to begin to use Greek philosophical methods to formulate religious dogmas.
The Mu'tazila doctrine had 5 major points:
The first and foremost was tawuhid, the oneness of God. Oneness and singularity of Allah has been of paramount importance, special stress was placed on its implications. One of the most consequential implications was that the attributes of Allah were not separate from him. The debate began with the questions of the createdness of the Quran and the speech of God.
To maintain the divine Unity, mu'tazila asserted that the attributes of God were not separate, but rather part of His essence. In their understanding, belief in the eternally existent Speech of Allah, for example, was tantamount to polytheism, because it meant existence of another eternal entity other than Allah. The same was true of the other attributes: his Wisdom, his Knowledge, his Power.
The second point of the doctrine, that of the Divine justice, 'adl, carried the same importance, so much so that the Mu'tazila liked to be known under the name "Ahl at-Tawuhid wa l-'Adl" - "People of Divine Unity and Justice". Justice was the only motive of God's dealing with men. He was purely beneficent to men, and no evil done by them was on account of his will. This was intertwined with the idea of man's free will, because it would be against God's justice to punish them for the acts which where the result of his compulsion. The earlier proponents of the views about the power of humans to act out of their own choice were called the Qadariya, and their opponents, those who accepted complete predetermination of all actions, went under the name Jabariya. But the mu'tazila made a leap ahead of their Qadarite predecessors in beginning to use philosophical and theological categories to support their opinions.
Interestingly, the same split had occurred earlier in the Church, represented by the polemic between Pelagius and Augustine, culminating in the Council of Oronte in 529 , which upheld Augustine position, yet not denying the concept of free will. Heated arguments on the topic of free will and predestination occurred again in the 7-th century AD in the Nestorian Church, largely repeating the argumentation of the Pelagius - Augustine polemic. It is not surprising, that the controversy carried on, almost uninterrupted, when the new dominant religion had overtaken the areas largely populated by the Nestorian Christians. The connection is further underlined by heavy representation among the Qadariya of the recent converts - muwallads. Even if one is to deny direct borrowing, it is likely that those people brought with them notions inherent in their former religions, and were seeking to reconcile their new religion with their pre-conceived ideas.
However, the "inherited" controversy acquired new features in the context of a different religion. A number of fatalistic passages in the Quran did not allow themselves to be easily explained away by some verbal jiggle. Again, political situation was represented in the logical conclusions made by the supporters of opposing views. In the Umayyad times, this part of the doctrine had political implications of putting on the Umayyad rulers themselves the blame for their misdeeds, as opposed to accepting that they were placed in their position by the divine decree, and anything done by them was part of the Divine master-plan, themselves being mere powerless executioners of the actions pre-determined from the times of the creation. Lifting from them full responsibility for their actions raised moral questions as to whether punishing them for these actions would be in accordance with God's justice.
The remaining three Mu'tazilite principles were "the promise and the threat", the intermediate position and that of "commanding the good and prohibiting the evil". The promise and the threat, or rather, Heaven and Hell, meant that God will reward the obedient with Heaven and punish disobedient with Hell, as He promised. This principle implied several other positions: on the questions of faith, gradation of sins, distinction between good and evil and on the science of hadith. The principle of the intermediate position had more political than theological significance. It meant that a grave sinner was neither believer, nor unbeliever, but rather held an intermediate position. The principle of "commanding the right and prohibiting wrong" was held as an obligation to uphold justice and oppose injustice by tongue, hand and sword. This was not limited in extent, and could even mean rebellion, and in the early times meant supporting the Abbasides against the unpious Umayyads. This principle was enacted again during the mihna, and did not seem to be auspicious after that. These last three principle led to significantly less debate than the first two, and were not even the determinants of one's Mu'tazilite identity.
The earmarks of the Mu'tazila works are first and foremost their structure. All their treatises were arranged according to the same principle: they were divided in two parts, one on Unity and one on Justice, it began with the creation of the World, went on to prove the existence of God, discussed His attributes, defended His oneness and incorporeality, then went on to the topics of His justice and human free will, and the related matters from the latter three points of the doctrine.
It is significant that the Mu'tazila school was not uniform in the particulars of the opinions of its scholars. They differed quite widely, in the understanding of the five principles too. This was determined by the mode of learning, where each scholar gathered a circle of disciples around himself, and his subscription to ideas of a particular school was often only a nominal identity, not obliging him to uphold the teachings of another scholar, unless those of his own teacher. The scholarly interaction occurred primarily in the debates, where the difference rather than similarities were highlighted. A lot is known about leading scholars of the movement, and it is quite clear who of them propounded which doctrines.
The Mu'tazilite school of Basra (as well as the Hanafite school of kalam) had its beginning in the circle of Hasan al-Basri, and was largely based on the teachings of Dirar ibn Amr, a man sufficiently well versed in the Greek tradition to write a book on Aristotelian doctrine of substances and accidents. His position on the human free will was less extreme than characteristic of later Mu'tazilites, and he was a forerunner of the doctrine of "acquisition", "acquired" later by the 'Ashari school. The scholar who largely shaped the views of the school of Basra was Abu-l-Hudhayl. Later he moved to Baghdad and made his impact there too. He also made use of the theory of substance and accident, and subscribed to the popular then in Islamic theology atomism. The staunch opponent of the atomist theory was another major scholar of Basra, Ibrahim an-Nazzam. The school of Baghdad was founded by Bishr ibn al-Mu'tamir, who also wrote a refutation of some leading scholars of Basra, including the Mu'tazilites. This school, being in the capital and near to the leading officials of the state, made its impact on the caliphs, so that the views of this school determined the imperial policy during the reign of al-Ma'mun, al-Wathiq and al-Mu'tasim.
Predestination and free will.
The principle of justice and free will is of special interest to this essay, and it is of interest to explore the general position on the question and those specific to the scholars.
It was unjust for God to punish men for acts for which they were not responsible, because he himself created those acts in them, and yet Quran presented so many passages at odds with such conclusion. For example, in sura al-Bakara (2:6-7):
There were two ways to explain such passages. One, by stating that Allah's sealing of their hearts was the result of their disbelief, but not its cause. Alternatively, it was said that here Allah is merely making a statement that they did not believe, but He is in no way preventing them from believing. There was another, allegoric explanation, that the seal meant a black mark placed on unbelievers heart as a reference for angels, lest they may confuse them with the righteous.
Other expressions suggesting God's inducement of human actions were treated likewise. There were some lines of explanations used more specifically for certain divine actions. For example, the negative acts of "abandoning" or "leading astray" could be interpreted as his naming or judging. The conclusion that Allah only declares the fact of someone having gone astray, was supported by changing the root of the word to suggest alternative meaning of someone having gone astray, rather than being made to do so. Allah's guidance and assistance were said to come via his revelation, through his calling on them to believe and by his promises of Paradise and threats of Hell. Strengthening believers in faith was a form of reward for their faith. This last point led to a variation of opinions. Some accepted that Allah could help those who would benefit from help, as a reward before the good act was performed, because Allah knew the future outcome.
It is interesting, that Watt notes: "The Qur'an itself maintains a balance between God's omnipotence and man's responsibility, but he Mu'taziltes tend to neglect the former and overemphasize the latter." ("The Formative Period of Islamic Thought", Oneworld, 1998) He implies that the Arab mentality was easier reconciled with predeterminism than with foreign to them ideas propounded by the Mu'tazila, and this is the reason why they failed to gain wide recognition and define the mainstream Muslim thought.
Other topics dealing with Allah's justice, and predestination and free will included discussion of the extent of human power to act, the set term of life, provision of sustenance and God's power. There were related questions of good and evil, and suffering of children, the last being the most illustrative of the inability of theologians to provide satisfactory answers to all the problems of life.
Predetermined term of human life was one of the key concepts in Islam, with firm basis in the Quran, for example sura 71:4: "Lo! the term of Allah, when it cometh, cannot be delayed, if ye but knew.", sura 13:38: "For everything there is a time prescribed", and the following verses. Yet this predetermination seemed defeated by the occurrences when people have been murdered or died in natural or man-made disasters in large numbers. In the case of a murdered man, some Mu'tazila said that his term was the time he would have died if he had not been murdered. The majority opinion was that whenever and in whatever way a man died, this was his term as known to God. It was even taken to the extreme by Abu-l-Hudhayl, usually a staunch proponent of free will, who said that if that man was not murdered at that time, he would have died in some other way. The difference between the Mu'tazila and their opponents in this question was that the latter attributed occurrence of the death to God's predetermination, while the former understood that predetermination was expressed in God's knowledge of what men by their own actions would do.
With regard to the provision of sustenance, it was debated whether the sustenance acquired by dishonest means was indeed sustenance provided by Allah. Common opinion would hold that any sustenance for a man was from God, but Mu'tazila opposed attributing any evil to God. Therefore a thief who ate another man's food was eating another man's sustenance, because only lawful goods were among those provided by God.
This previous question bears the seal of morality, and this is where it is suitable to mention the Mu'tazila definition of good and evil. For many Muslims good and evil are determined by God, and whatever he says is good, is good, and whatever He condemns is inherently bad, having been made such by God. For the Mu'tazila, good and bad are absolute, this is how God can be defined as good, and moreover, we, humans, have innate sense of justice and truth. They distinguished between good things which are good as such and the good things because they are made such by God. For example, paraphrasing an-Nazzam, acts of kindness were good in their own right, while particular forms of worship are made good by God after He revealed to humans how they are to worship Him. In this instance the general good of obedience to God translates into particular good of following His commands expressed in the revelation - Quran.
God's justice also means that if there are acts required of men by God, they necessarily have to be within their power. This is based on the statement of the Quran: "On no-one does Allah place a burden greater than he can bear" (65:7). Thus the duties imposed by Allah are necessarily within man's power to fulfil. If Allah orders a man to believe, it means he is capable of belief, and according to Allah's justice, even though through his foreknowledge he knows that a man will not believe, He still enables him to do so. Watt formulated this as a maxim: "Imposition of duty implies power".
There was a side argument to this, regarding the source of the power of a man to act. Opponents of the Mu'tazila saw the power in man as given to him by God to do this particular act. Refutation of this view required elaborated ideas of power on the part of the Mu'tazilites, separating an act into its components (three moments) and then assigning a certain type of power to each component. This was accompanied by grammatical elaborations using different forms of verbs, which could express completeness or incompleteness of an act. The types of power in question were the power to will and the power to carry out the will. Further controversy occurred over the idea of "generated effects". There were two views of the subject among the Mu'tazila themselves. The example used was that of a man who throws a stone and hits another man. Those who held that the substance acts in virtue of its nature, said that the flight was an "act" of the stone, and the injury of the second man is the "act" of his body. Bishr ibn al-Mu'tamir asserted that all these occurrences were generated effects and acts of the first man.
In the efforts to maintain God's justice, the hardest question of all was reconciling his benevolence towards men, expressed in the Mu'tazila belief that God always did what is best for the humans with suffering of the innocent in the world. With regard to adults, it was believed that suffering could be a punishment for some sins which are being punished in this world, or it could be a test of believer's faith and patience, and in the second case it would be amply rewarded in the next life, so that sometimes God may cause a person to suffer in this world so as to reward him in the next. But none of these theories could apply to the suffering of children, because not being responsible for their actions, they could not sin, and because no duties are imposed on them, they have nothing for what to be rewarded. If an earlier view saw children as being automatically accepted to heaven, later, noting the difference between them and the adults who have deserved reward by their own efforts, saw them as placed in a kind of intermediate place between heaven and hell, just as their status would not make it possible for them to deserve neither. This raised the question of injustice resulting from the fact that had those children been allowed to live, they could have performed the good acts which would take them to Heaven. The most famous illustration of this controversy, not allowing any solution within the boundaries of defined principles of God's purely benficeint nature, is the story of the three brothers. It was preserved as evidence of the victory of the 'Ashari school over the Mu'tazila, but it is thought by some contemporary scholars to be evidence of a split between the schools of Basra and Baghdad.
Impact on Judaism
Now it is time to look at the impact of the ideas described above at the Jewish philosophers. The geographical factor comes into play here. A large and significant community of Jews resided in Babylonia ever since the exile. When the area became a centre of the new empire, Jewish activity increased and their presence became noticeable in all the new centres of administration and culture. Coming into close contact with all the advances of learning occurring around them, they too were affected by this process. Questions debated by the Muslim theologians were of much applicability to Judaism, which had not dealt with religion in philosophical manner before. The processes of reconsidering religion in the light of new learning began rapidly. The forerunners in this process were the Karaites. They were the first to subject religion to the scrutiny of rationalism. Having rejected Talmud and the wisdom of the Rabbis, they were at liberty to reinterpret the Bible in accordance with the demands of the new age. This largely meant succumbing to the pressure of Muslim criticism.
I have decided not to concentrate on the Karaites because of their limited importance to the mainstream Jewish thought, and to exclude Maimonides from this overview, not so much because in his time it is questionable if the Mu'tazila school had existed at all, and its ideas have long been officially rejected and replaced among the Muslims, but because of his conscious rejection of their views and methods. It is unquestionable that those early rationalists did make an impact on him as well as on almost any other Jewish scholar, both via the writings of the Arab philosophers, and, to a much greater extend, through the work of Saadia Gaon, who laid foundations of the Jewish rationalist theology, largely "turning the tide" from the mythical explanations of the Rabbis, and is thus of special interest for all the future development of Jewish religious philosophy.
Of more interest to theologians were questions of God's unity and attributes, for example, David al-Mukammis devotes two chapters in his work to this, mentioning reward and punishment too. This is because due to plenty of anthropomorphism in the Bible, Jews and Christians were routinely blamed for anthropomorphism by the Muslims, who have largelyS rejected it since the Mu'atazila, and indeed, simple anthropomorphism was common among the less sophisticated worshippers, as it was widespread among the early Muslims.
Saadia Gaon was born in 882 AD in Fayyum in Egypt. From a young age he took part in religious controversies, with the Karaites and later between the authorities of Palestine and Babylonia over fixing of the calendar. As a result of his role in defending the Babylonian side he was made a member of the academy of Sura, the greatest place of religious learning in the Jewish world at the time, and in 928 he was appointed Gaon, the head of the Sura academy. He died in 942. His "Book of Beliefs and Opinions" was the first systematic presentation of the belief system of Judaism, and as such had established those beliefs more than presented them. This book is patterned along the usual Mu'tazilite lines, with the first part dealing with the nature of God and the second with God's justice. His ideas are also largely in accordance with the Mu'tazila views and the greatest differences are in sources of the quotes and material used to justify the claims - it is Quran and preceding Muslim authorities for the Muslim Mu'tazila, Bible and the rabbis for Saadia and other Jews.
While Watt notices that Arab mentality was easier reconciled with predestinarian ideas, it was clearly not the case for Jews. All the Jewish philosophers believed in the free will and had to deal with the same antinomies as Muslims. Saadia says: "No one can be held accountable for an act who does not possess freedom of choice and does not exercise this choice." ("The Book of Beliefs and Opinions", Yale University Press, 1948; p. 187).
Saadia defends the impossibility of God's compulsion upon humans, and points out that a man is given an equal opportunity to act or to desist. His view that both doing a thing and abstaining from in constitutes an act seems to coincide with the Muslim view of action and desisting from action being rewardable or punishable acts. Accordingly, he separates action from intention, illustrating it by example of a person who breaks the law because of ignorance.
The major obstacle again were the verses in the scripture with clearly predestinarian meaning. Parallel to the Quran, Bible talks about God sealing the hearts and leading astray. A number of such verses refer to the Pharaoh, such as Exodus 10:20, "And the Lord hardened Pharaoh's heart, so that he would not let the children of Israel go". Inconsistency of the accounts about the Pharaoh with the idea of free will has been noticed by the Rabbis, who tried to explain it away by saying that Pharaoh was an exception, because of his exceptional sins.
Saadia has specifically dealt with the passages seeming incompatible with the principle of free will, by classifying them into groups and then explaining each group. The third group deals with the verses about hardening of Pharaoh's heart and the verse in Deutronomy 2:30 about hardening Sihon's spirit: "For the Lord thy God hardened his spirit". According to Saadia, God gave Pharaoh strength, to withstand all the plagues and survive through all the punishments. This in no way mean that God caused Pharaoh to disobey him. Sihon too needed the such bolstering to survive the terror brought by the news about the Children of Israel.
The fourth group in Saadia's classification consists of the verses which describe God as leading men astray, for example Isaiah 63:17, "Oh, Lord, why hast Thou made us to go astray from thy ways, and hardened our heart from Thy fear.". In common with the Mu'tazila, he explains that such verses do not mean that God caused men to go astray, but rather that he is stating the fact of them having gone astray.
In connection to this partucular topic it is interesting to mention the views of Abraham ibn Ezra (1070-1138), a philosopher of later age, and different place, and not as heavily influenced by the Mu'tazila as Saadia. Yet in some questions, the Mu'tazila impact is still very evident in his writings, and those opinions of his are worth mentioning.
Ibn Ezra continues struggle with the same verses. He mentions some other explanations before his own, quoting Saadia's opinion as incorrect. He makes a connection between God allowing men to make choices and the result of their decisions. Letting Pharaoh to harden his own heart, permits the possibility of assigning to God responsibility for Pharaoh's choices. Another explanation hinted that when Pharaoh had made his choice of actions and decided to disobey God, he was permitted to follow that, and in this way, by giving him the power to do as he chose, God hardened his heart. The verse from Isaiah is discussed by Ibn Ezra largely along the Mu'tazila lines. At first he again mentions the fact that by giving us the freedom of choice in the first place, God allows us to go astray, and thus can be named as the cause of our wrong choices. Another explanation refers to the idea mentioned previously that God would help those who are likely to benefit from his help, but may abandon those whose sins make them unworthy of assistance. It is interesting to note that the last explanation has the support of Rabbinic sayings: "to him who desires to purify himself assistance is given [from haven]" (Shabbat, 104a), and "he who causes the multitude to sum will be given no opportunity to do repentance" (M.Abot V, 18). Another explanation which has relation to the Mu'tazilite ideas is that humans address God in the terms they use for themselves. Because of this they attribute all their actions, even evil ones, to God. This relates to one of the Mu'tazila explanations of the anthropomorphic verses in the Scriptures as those which refer to God in the terms understandable for humans.
On the question of the predetermined length of human life, Saadia seems to detach himself from the Muslim answers to the problem. While the Muslims formulate the general rule on the basis of their sources, Saadia quotes Exodus 23:26: "The number of thy days I will fulfill". In opposition to the common Muslim view that each man's term of life was directly set by God, he asserted that the length of life was determined by a "power" which a man is given at birth. This "power" may last longer or shorter depending on the circumstances of a man's life, but the events of the life are determined by men themselves, because of their discretionary power, and not by God directly. It is interesting that in further discussion of this question, Saadia seems to refer implicitly to a Muslim tradition which says that God may increase a man's term as a reward for certain acts of obedience, and parallel to Proverbs 10:27: "The fear of the Lord prolongeth days but the years of the wicked shall be shortened". While Muslims understood it to mean that due to some actions God predetermined a man to do, the man's term of life is predetermined as the term it would have been had he not done these acts, plus or minus that added or taken away as a reward or punishment for the acts of obedience or disobedience. For Saadia, the actions a man will perform are certainly not predetermined, he does them on his own will and may be rewarded or punished for those acts by extending or decreasing his life, but only at God's discretion to enforce this particular form of punishment. Because he is not bound by the inexorable term of life as understood by Muslims, but rather see it as subject to the natural circumstances, he is free from the controversial problems of murders and accidents.
His discussions of this topic were continued by Hai Gaon, who appears to have received a large number of responsa questions from other Jews disturbed by the Muslim polemic. At some points he comes closer to the understanding of the Muslim theologians, believing in an individual term of life for each man, but unlike the Muslims, he understands this term of life to be known to God but not caused by that knowledge. He seems to take off from Saadia's explanations, paying more attention to the questions not discussed by Saadia. The three questions discussed by him are about a murdered person, about people who die in a disaster in large numbers and how could a murderer be held responsible for his actions if they were preordained by God. In his answer to the first question, Hai Gaon gives an option that it is both possible that a man would die at the same time anyway, and it is also possible that he would live to complete his term, in both cases the length of his life would be known to God. This answer implies that he differs with Muslims, denying the inexorable term of life, and while affirming the more orthodox Muslim view of God's foreknowledge, he differs in seeing this knowledge as non-causative, not infringing on human free will. In the answer to the second question he makes distinction between a multitude of people dying as a result of a disaster, and those dying as a result of God's punishment. In the first case his answer is the same as in the first question, in the second case, those people would not have died at this time otherwise. Of course, he answers to the third question that the fact that a man's life was to be ended at that moment does not make a murderer who killed a man on his own free will any less guilty.
The question of God's sustenance, even though discussed by Saadia did not present such a great problem in Judaism, because it did not have the same concept as Islam of all sustenance being provided by God. But due to his interest in the question, Saadia makes a case which presents a similar problem to the Islamic one, i.e. that of a man who steals property from a man for who God has decreed loss of property. The solution, again, lies in the exercise of free will by the thief, who is in no way compelled by God to do his act.
In the question of suffering of the good and prosperity of the evil people, Saadia proposes a theory that a righteous person is likely to be punished by God for his minor sins in this life, while a wicked person is likely to be rewarded for his few good deeds in this life, so that nothing would prevent their reward or punishment in the afterlife. It is important to note, that at this stage the question of the suffering of innocents was going through the second round of discussion in Judaism, the whole book of Job being devoted to this question, where it is solved from a different angle than in the later discussions. Discussions of the book of Job, which can be traced along centuries, are the best illustration in the change of methods of approach to theological questions in different times and places.
It is clear from this overview that there was an intellectual exchange of profound importance between Jews and their Muslim neighbours in the cultural centres of the Abbasid Caliphate. Where it did not lead to direct borrowing of dogmas and definitions, it helped to formulate questions. It empowered Jewish scholars with the new methods of enquiry, and moulded a new form of religious outlook, which partly lasted to the present day, defining ideology of Judaism.
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R. Martin and M. Woodward with Dwi Atmaja, Oneworld, 1997
2.) The Formative Period of Islamic Thought,
W.M. Watt, Oneworld, 1998
3.) Repercussions of the Kalam in Jewish Philosophy,
H.A. Wolfson, Harvard University Press, 1979
4.) The Book of Beliefs and Opinions,
Saadia Gaon, Yale University Press, 1948
5.) A History of Mediaeval Jewish Philosophy,
I. Husik, New York, 1916
6.) Comparative Analysis of Philosophic Patterns in Kalam and Patristics,
R.I. Sultanov in "Rationalist Tradition and Modernity", Nauka, Moscow, 1990
7.) The Meaning of the Glorious Quran,
M.M. Pickthall, Dar Al-Faihaa
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W.M. Watt, Oneworld, 1996
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W.M. Watt, Edinburgh University Press, 1962
10.) The Dhimmi,
Bat Ye'or, AUP, 1985
11.) A dialogue between an-Nazzam and Manasse the Jew
A note to page 11
The distinction in Jewish-Muslim definitions of good and evil have survived to the present day. Translation of good and evil into the relative concepts defined by God through revelation limits good to the bounds of Islam. This means that only the good deeds done by a Muslim in obedience to Allah's command are deserving of reward.
In Judaism, no such exclusivist complex have ever defined the mainstream. If good and evil were absolute, and even binding on God himself, there was nothing to exclude any human being, endowed by God with discretion between right and wrong, to perform rewardable acts.
Mu'tazila, who saw good and evil as general categories, were pushed to admit reluctantly that a non-Muslim was capable of earning his reward and entering paradise.
A note to pp. 17-28
This dichotomy between Jewish and Muslim view of good is illustrated subtly in the discussion of the possibility of God extending the term of human life as a reward. The Muslim tradition on which this idea is based names "acts of obedience" as a cause of such reward. The clear implication is that the good acts for which a man is rewarded are those carried out in obedience to Allah's will, as expressed in Islam.
Saadia, when discussing the same question, agrees that the term of human life can be extended as a reward for his "acts of righteousness". This, obviously, means that he does not parallel the rewardable(1) acts with religion.
1) Computer spell-check recognised the word "punishable", but not "rewardable". Is it more in the nature of humans to punish than to reward?