Opinion Editorials, July 2004, To see today's opinion articles, click here: www.aljazeerah.info
Al-Jazeerah, July 22, 2004
What does Islam say on freedom? Are there any limitations on freedom?
In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.
All praise and thanks are due to Allah, and peace and blessings be upon His Messenger.
Dear brother in Islam, thanks you for the great confidence you repose in us. We hope that our efforts meet your expectations. May Allah help us all keep firm on the Straight Path. Ameen.
Islam is the religion of freedom and peace. It has provided the people with freedom as never been witnessed by any other system throughout history. The Qur’an, the Sunnah of the Prophet, and the practices of rulers expressed how much Islam values freedom in all aspects of life: the spiritual, political, economic, and social matters.
Answering the question you raised, the eminent Muslim Scholar, Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, states:
"Islam is the religion of freedom and peace. It has provided the people with freedom as never been witnessed by any other system throughout history. The Qur'an, the Sunnah of the Prophet and the practices of rulers expressed how much Islam values freedom in all aspects of life: the spiritual, political, economic, and social matters.
Islam has come to advocate the principles of freedom; freedoms of religion, thought, expression, etc. Islam rejected forcing people to believe even in its message. The Qur'an says in the matter of freedom of religion, “Let there be no compulsion in religion: truth stands put clear from error.” (Al-Baqarah: 256) The reason for the enshrinement of the values of freedom verse is that: the two largest tribes of Madinah, Aws and Khazraj before Islam made a pledge if their wives give birth to baby boys they will Judaize them. This is how some of the members of those two Arab tribes became Jews. However, when Arabs were blessed with Islam, and those two tribes entered Islam, members of these families wanted to return their children from Judaism to Islam, but Islam rejected the idea of forcing them out of Judaism despite the war between Muslims and Jews. Islam advocated such principle at a time when the Roman Empire used to force people to Christianity or beheaded, and the Persian Empire used to torture its religious reformers. Within this atmosphere, Islam came to assert the principle of freedom of religion.
The principle of freedom has not come as a result of a revolution, or societal evolution, but it has come from above. It has come from heaven to bring the people of earth up high. The principle of freedom of religion like any other principles of freedom has some limits. While Islam asserted the principle of freedom, it has also wanted to avoid tampering with religion. Islam wanted to counter the Jewish view when they said and the Qur'an revealed it: “A section of the people of the book say: “believe in the morning what is revealed to the believers, but reject it at the end of the day; perchance they may (themselves) turn back.” (Al `Imran: 72) Therefore, people who gets into Islam should believe in it, and stick to their belief. If Allah has given people freedoms even in spiritual matters, then that are how dare the rulers to deny the people simple freedoms. This is what has given `Umar’s saying an eternal appeal. `Umar ibn al-Khattab has said his perpetual wisdom when he told the governor of Egypt, “When have you enslaved people, their Moms gave birth to them free.” `Ali ibn Abi Talib also said, “Be yourself, Allah has crated you a free being.” Allah has made people free, because he created them free. Therefore, Islam has come to liberate people from the different types of enslavement: Their intellectual, political, social, religious, and economic types of enslavement.
The second major type of freedom is the freedom of thought. Islam has asked people to think of the universe and recognize the wisdom behind the creation. The Qur'an says, “Say: I do admonish you on one point: that ye do stand up before Allah- (it may be) in pairs, or (it may be) single- and reflect (within yourselves): your companion is not possessed: he is no less than a Warner to you, in face of a terrible penalty.” (Saba': 46) The Qur'an also says, "Say: behold all that is in the heavens and on earth, but neither signs nor warners profit those who believe not” (Yunus: 101) “Do they not travel through the land, so that their hearts (and minds) may thus learn wisdom and their ears may thus learn to hear? Truly it is not their eyes that are blind, but their hearts are in their breasts.” (Al-Hajj: 46)
Islam has also called upon the independence of people in their thought. Allah has rejected the argument of those non-believers who may say “we paid our leaders who misguided us." The Qur'an has also rejected the argument of those who build their views on doubt, and falsehood.
Islam has also followed a rational approach in convincing the people of its message. This is why reason in Islam is compatible with the revelation. Islam has also encouraged the freedom of debate and dialogue and encouraged interaction and multiplicity of thought. In the Islamic society people are not oppressed. They can speak up their mind freely. This is why the Islamic schools of thought used to coexist with each other in an atmosphere of tolerance and harmony. Islam instructed Muslims to correct what is wrong, and promote what is right. It even instructed Muslims to defend their freedom of religion, and thought by their swords. Allah Almighty says: “Did not Allah set of people by means of another, there would surely have been pulled down monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques, in which the name of Allah is commemorated in abundant measure. Allah will certainly aid those who aid his (cause) - for verily Allah is full of strength, exalted in might, able to enforce his will.” (Al-Hajj: 41) Since the advent of Islam, Muslims have been in continuous quest for defending freedoms. Muslims have defended the rights and freedoms of all the citizens of the Islamic states. Christians and Jews were well respected and protected. They lived in peace and harmony with Muslims.
To conclude, Islam promotes the type of responsible freedom: A type of freedom that respects the other, and respects the guides of the Shari`ah. It is a type of “public” freedom, not the selfish individualistic freedom. Abusing oneself, his/her family, his/her wealth, and his/her society is not the real freedom. Freedom is based on the principle “of no harm”, no harm to oneself, and the others."
Moreover, we’d like to cite for you what Dr. Muzammil H. Siddiqi, former president of the Islamic Society of North America, stated in his khutbah at the Islamic Society of Orange County, California, USA on Rabi` Thani 23, 1425 / June 11, 2004:
“Almighty Allah says, “Allah is the protector of those who have faith: from the depths of darkness He will lead them forth into light. Of those who reject faith the patrons are the Evil Ones: from light they will lead them forth into the depths of darkness. They will be Companions of the Fire, to dwell therein (forever)” (Al-Baqarah: 257).
He also says, “We have honored the sons of Adam; provided them with transport on land and sea; given them for sustenance things good and pure; and conferred on them special favors, above a great part of Our Creation” (Al-Isra’: 70).
Who does not like freedom? There is no human being who will say that he or she is against freedom. Even animals want freedom. Put a bird in a cage and open the small door of the cage, and you will see that bird wants to fly out. It does not want to live in the cage. Take a cat in a small room and close the door and you will see that it will go immediately to the door and scratch the door. The cat does not want to live in a locked room. Freedom is not a modern idea or a Western or Eastern idea; it is a universal idea. It is wrong to say that some people do not want freedom for themselves and for their societies. It is, however, true that some people in the East and in the West want freedom only for themselves and do not to give freedom to others.
Islam teaches that you live with freedom and you must equally wish and work for the freedom of others. Freedom and equality are interrelated. We cannot practice freedom without practicing equality. However, it is important to remember that freedom in Islam means freedom to do good, not freedom to do anything that you like. In the Arabic language the word hurr does not mean only “free” but it also means “noble.” The whole religion of Islam is to protect and promote freedom. Islam emphasizes human dignity, and it is freedom that brings dignity to human beings. It opens their minds and souls to reach to higher and higher goals. Human beings cannot be called honored and dignified unless they are free.
Human freedom is not against Allah’s power and knowledge. In Islam we believe in Allah’s qada’ and qadar (destiny and predetermination). This means that Allah knows everything of past, present, and future, and He has power over everything. However, by His own will and power, Allah has given us the freedom to choose. He gave us the free will, but this does not mean that He does not know what we do or He has no power over us. The concept of freedom is also not against the Islamic concept of `ubudiyyah (service) to Allah. Islam itself gives us the idea of freedom as well as that of service and obedience of our Creator. The foundation of Islam is submission to Allah alone. Therefore, the Islamic concept of freedom is to remove any absolute authority over the individual, for such authority negates the very gifts that Allah has granted him. Submission to Allah is by necessity realized within the context of freedom. It is intrinsically tied in with responsibility.
Freedom in Islam is not freedom from moral obligations and responsibilities or freedom from truth, justice, virtue, and righteousness. Freedom from these values is not freedom, but anarchy and corruption. Islam says that human beings must be free mentally, spiritually, as well as physically.
Islam ensures religious freedom for all people. “There should not be any compulsion in religion” (Al-Baqarah: 256). People should be free to practice their religion, but they should not force their religion on others. Similarly Islam allows freedom of expression, but people should not utter falsehood and lies. Islam teaches political freedom so that people choose their leaders by their own consent, and if the leaders are dishonest or incapable then people remove them from their office. Islam allows economic freedom. People should be free to earn and to own as much as they want but without indulging in fraud, deception, and cheating.
Islam teaches freedom of the soul, mind, and body. Islam teaches freedom of the individual and the society. Islam teaches freedom in this world and in the Hereafter.
In the Qur’an the concept of freedom is described with many words and expressions, such as hurr (free) or tahrir (making a slave free); najat (protection, salvation); fawz (reaching the target, achieving the goal); and falah (total well-being, flowering of the potential, fulfillment of the latent qualities). In the Hadith it is called `itq (emancipation and liberation).
Freedom has both positive and negative connotations: freedom for something and freedom from something. Islam wants freedom for living a happy, healthy, prosperous, moral, and dignified life. Islam wants people to be free to worship, to express themselves, to earn, to have family, and to have a government of their choice. On the other hand, Islam wants people to be free from economic, political, and social oppression. Islam wants people to be free from materialism and selfishness. Islam wants people to be free from religious persecution. Finally and most importantly, Islam wants people to be free from Hell in the eternal life and to live happily in Paradise in the company of Allah.
It was Muslims who taught the world the ideals of freedom, equality, and justice. However, today the Muslim Ummah in general is not practicing these ideals. Our societies are suffering from oppression, injustice, and inequality. Muslims should be in the forefront of the movement of freedom for themselves and for the world. We should not shy away from talking about the political freedom, economic freedom, social freedom, religious freedom, human rights, rights of minorities, rights of women, etc. All these rights and freedoms are recognized and promoted by Islam. We should try to establish these rights and freedoms in Muslim societies and in the world, taking guidance from the Qur’an, the Sunnah and the great Muslim heritage.”
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