1. The Opposite of Fatalism
Of course, opposing the belief in fatalism, which is one kind of an extreme, is the school of ‘conferring’, which is at the other extreme.
Those who accept this school believe that God created us and then put everything at our disposal and that, in general, He is not responsible for anything that we do and in this way, we are completely independent in choosing what we do.
Doubtlessly, this belief does not agree with monotheism because monotheism has taught us that God rules the entire world and nothing is beyond His control. Even our free will and free choice cannot be beyond His realm, otherwise duality or polytheism would, of necessity, result.
In other words, we cannot believe in many gods, one, the great Creator of the universe and the others, the human beings who are free to do whatever they wish, completely free and independent – even God cannot affect what they wish to do!
2. The School of the Middle Way
What is important is that we know human beings have freedom of choice and free will at the same time we know God to be the Ruler over all persons and deeds.
The fine point to recognise here is that we should not imagine that there is a contradiction between the two. The fact is that we can accept His Justice and Rule over the entire universe of existence as well as freedom and responsibility of His servants – and this is that very thing which is known as the middle way (the way which is between two extremes).
Let us clarify this with an example as the issue is a very complicated one. Let us assume that there is an electric train that is being driven by a train driver. A strong electric cable has been placed along the line of the train and the train is connected with a link to this electric cable. The electricity is passed to the locomotive in such a way that if for just one moment, the electricity to the locomotive stops, the whole train will stop. Without doubt, the train driver is free.
He can stop wherever he wants and he can move at his own speed. But in spite of all of this freedom, the person who is sending the electricity can, at any moment, make the train stop because all of the train’s power and strength is through that electric cable. The person who holds the key to the electrical cable is in charge.
When we note this example with care, we see that one can have freedom, choice and responsibility (the train driver), while one is completely at the disposal of the power of another (the electric cable operator) and these two concepts do not contradict each other.
God has given us physical power or strength and from moment to moment, it continues and if it is cut off for even a moment, and our connection with Him be cut off, we would be destroyed.
If we can do anything it is because we have strength which He has given us and it continues moment by moment and even our freedom and choice is also from Him. That is, He willed that we be free and by making use of this great Divine Kindness, one can transform one’s self.
Thus, at the same time that we have free choice and free will, we are in His grasp and we will never move beyond His realm. At the same time that we have strength and power, we are dependent upon Him and without Him, we will be destroyed. This is what “The Middle Way” means. Neither have we recognised any creature to be equal to God (which would result in polytheism) nor do we believe creatures are obliged to act according to a set destiny (which would result in oppression). We have learned this lesson from our pure Imams, peace be upon them (Usul al-Kafi, vol. 1, p. 121). Whenever they were asked, “Does anything exist between fatalism and conferring?”
They said, “Yes. More extensive than the distance between heaven and earth.”