Praise be to Allah, and may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon the Messenger of Allah, his family and his companions.
As to what follows:
Generalizing the use of both these terms, determinism and free will, to describe man is an innovation, for there is nothing in the Book of Allah nor the purified Sunnah that describes man as being on a path of determinism and being forced, nor that he has free-will, the kind that makes him independent of Allah’s knowledge, ability and will.
These kinds of generalized opposite terms were not used in the general sense by the Salaf and Imams, rather they used to seek elaboration therein and denounce using them in the general sense. Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah said, “The Salaf of the Ummah and they Imams would denounce all of these generalized terms, especially against each group on the end of the spectrum of negation and affirmation of falsehood, even if there happened to be truth in it too. Rather, what is obligatory is to generalize the use of good terms, which are the narrated ones that have been mentioned in the texts [of the Qur’an and Sunnah]; and to elaborate and expound on general doubtful terms.” [Majmu` al-Fatawa (8/293)]
Furthermore, the Salaf of the Ummah have denounced generally describing man as being on a path of determinism or not being on such a path. Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah said, “Even concerning the term determinism, they would denounce those who say [that man is on a path of] determinism, and also those who say that he is not on [a path of] determinism. The narrations in that regard are well-known from al-Awza`i, Sufyan al-Thawri, `Abdul-Rahman bin Mahdi, Ahmad bin Hanbal and others from the Salaf of the Ummah and their Imams.” [Majmu` al-Fatawa (8/461)]
He also said in another place, “That is why the Imams, like Imam Ahmad, and the Imams before him like al-Awza`i and others, have stated their denouncement of generally using determinism by negating it or affirming it. So it shouldn’t be said that Allah has forced human beings, nor should it be said that He has not forced them, for determinism and being forced are terms that are mutual and general. So when it is said that Allah forces them, it hints that Allah forces them to do good and evil without their own free will; and if it is said that He does not force them, it hints that they do as they wish without His will; and both are incorrect.” [Majmu` al-Fatawa (16/237)]
Shaykh al-Islam has also addressed the meaning of this same question. He said, “Likewise the term determinism; if one says, ‘Is man forced or is he not forced?’ It would be stated, ‘If what he means by determinism is that man doesn’t have free-will, ability or action, then this is false; for man is the doer of his chosen actions, and he does them with his ability and free-will. However, if what he means by determinism is that Allah creates man’s free-will, ability and action, then Allah Almighty is the Creator of all of that.’” [Majmu` al-Fatawa (7/664)]
So your question of whether man is upon a path of determinism or free-will is answered in the same way as Shaykh al-Islam (may Allah have mercy on him) answered it, by saying that one should not generalize and say that man is upon a path of determinism, or on the path of free-will, for both are incorrect. The texts of the Qur’an and Sunnah have proven that man has free-will, and that he is the doer in reality, but none of that is independent of Allah’s knowledge and will. What clarifies this is Allah’s statement:
“For whoever wills among you to take a right course. And you do not will except that Allah wills - Lord of the worlds.” [Al-Takwir 81:28-29]
As well as many other texts from the Qur’an and Sunnah.
Finally, the most truthful description of man that is related to this meaning is what has been mentioned in the Qur’an and Sunnah of describing man as being upon a path which he will find easy to lead him to his destined place for which he has been created. It is narrated in the hadith of `Ali bin Abi Talib (may Allah be pleased with him), that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “There is none among you but has a place assigned for him either in the Paradiseor in Hellfire.” The companions said, “O Messenger of Allah, should we not then give up doing good deeds and depend upon what has been written for us?” He said, “Carry on doing good deeds, for every individual will find it easy to do such deeds [as will lead him to his destined place] for which he has been created.” Then he recited:
“As for he who gives and fears Allah, and believes in the best [reward], We will make easy for him the path of ease [goodness].” [Al-Layl 92:5-7]
[Bukhari and Muslim]
And Allah Almighty knows best.
Khalid bin `Abdullah al-Muslih
17 / 11 / 1424 AH