Freedom in Islam

Freedom, both as a concept and as a value, has been denied to many individuals, groups, and nations. Islam considers freedom to be a natural right of the human being. Life becomes devoid of worth when freedom is not present. When a person loses his freedom, his inner self dies, even though on the outside, he continues to live; eating, drinking, working, and going through the other motions of life. Allah says:

 

وَلَقَدْ آتَيْنَا إِبْرَاهِيمَ رُشْدَهُ مِن قَبْلُ وَكُنَّا بِهِ عَالِمِينَ

 

“And verily, We gave Ibrahim his guidance before, and We were about him Well-Knowing.”  (Surah Al-Anbiya 21:51)

 

Islam elevates freedom to such a level that it has made free thought the proper way of recognizing God’s existence. Islam considers freedom to be a natural right of the human being. Life becomes devoid of worth when freedom is not present. When a person loses his freedom, his inner self dies, even though on the outside, he continues to live; eating, drinking, working, and going through the other motions of life. Allah says:

 

لَا إِكْرَاهَ فِي الدِّينِ قَد تَّبَيَّنَ الرُّشْدُ مِنَ الْغَيِّ فَمَن يَكْفُرْ بِالطَّاغُوتِ وَيُؤْمِن بِاللَّهِ فَقَدِ اسْتَمْسَكَ بِالْعُرْوَةِ الْوُثْقَىٰ لَا انفِصَامَ لَهَا وَاللَّهُ سَمِيعٌ عَلِيمٌ

 

“(There is) no compulsion in the religion. Surely has become distinct the right (path) from the wrong. Then whoever disbelieves in false deities and believes in Allah, then surely he grasped the handhold – [the] firm, (which) not (will) break [for it]. And Allah (is) All-Hearing, All-Knowing.” (Surah Al-Baqarah, 2:256)

 

Islam teaches freedom, cherishes it, and guarantees it for the Muslim as well as for the non-Muslim. The Islamic concept of freedom applies to all voluntary activities of man in all walks of life. Freedom is a person’s ability to do something or abstain from it based upon her own free will.  It is a special quality enjoyed by every rational human being.  With it, a person acts without the interference of others, because that person is not owned by anyone; not on the individual level, or on the level of the state, society, etc. Allah says:

 

يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ إِنَّا خَلَقْنَاكُم مِّن ذَكَرٍ وَأُنثَىٰ وَجَعَلْنَاكُمْ شُعُوبًا وَقَبَائِلَ لِتَعَارَفُوا إِنَّ أَكْرَمَكُمْ عِندَ اللَّهِ أَتْقَاكُمْ إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَلِيمٌ خَبِيرٌ

 

“O mankind! Indeed, We created you from a male and a female and We made you nations and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, (the) most noble of you near Allah (is the) most righteous of you Indeed, Allah (is) All-Knower, All-Aware.” (Surah Al-Hujurat 49:13)

 

Islam elevates freedom to such a level that it has made free thought the proper way of recognizing God’s existence. Allah gave us Islam which frees mankind from all sorts of oppression one can face. Islam takes this attitude because religion depends upon faith, will, and commitment. These would be meaningless if induced by force. Allah says:

 

لَا تَقُمْ فِيهِ أَبَدًا لَّمَسْجِدٌ أُسِّسَ عَلَى التَّقْوَىٰ مِنْ أَوَّلِ يَوْمٍ أَحَقُّ أَن تَقُومَ فِيهِ فِيهِ رِجَالٌ يُحِبُّونَ أَن يَتَطَهَّرُوا وَاللَّهُ يُحِبُّ الْمُطَّهِّرِينَ

 

“(Do) not stand in it ever. A masjid founded on the righteousness from (the) first day (is) more worthy that you stand in it. Within it, (are) men who love to purify themselves, and Allah loves the ones who purify themselves.” (Surah At-Taubah 9:108)

 

The truth of God in the form of an opportunity and leaves the choice for a man to decide his own course. It is also clear that the human being is independent in what she possesses and does without being subjected to the will of anyone else. The individual has free will and free choice. Allah says:

 

إِنَّ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَعَمِلُوا الصَّالِحَاتِ إِنَّا لَا نُضِيعُ أَجْرَ مَنْ أَحْسَنَ عَمَلًا

 

“Indeed, those who believed and did the good deeds, indeed, We will not let go waste (the) reward (of one) who does good deeds.” (Surah Al-Kahf 18:30)

 

Freedom is a person’s ability to do something or abstain from it based upon her own free will. It
is a special quality enjoyed by every rational human being. With it, a person acts without the interference of others, because that person is not owned by anyone; not on the individual level, or on the level of the state, society, etc. Allah says:

 

وَمَا مِن دَابَّةٍ فِي الْأَرْضِ إِلَّا عَلَى اللَّهِ رِزْقُهَا وَيَعْلَمُ مُسْتَقَرَّهَا وَمُسْتَوْدَعَهَا كُلٌّ فِي كِتَابٍ مُّبِينٍ

 

“And not any moving creature in the earth but on Allah (is) its provision. And He knows its dwelling place and its place of storage. All (is) in a Record clear.” (Surah Hud, 11:6)

 

The Islamic concept of freedom is an article of faith, a solemn command from the Supreme Creator. It is built on the following fundamental principles. First, man’s conscience is subject to God only, to Whom every man is directly responsible. Secondly, every human being is personally responsible for his deeds and he alone is entitled to reap the fruits of his work. Thirdly, God has delegated to man the responsibility to decide for himself. Fourthly, man is sufficiently provided with spiritual guidance and endowed with rational qualities that enable him to make responsible, sound choices. Allah says:

 

وَلَوْ شَاءَ رَبُّكَ لَآمَنَ مَن فِي الْأَرْضِ كُلُّهُمْ جَمِيعًا أَفَأَنتَ تُكْرِهُ النَّاسَ حَتَّىٰ يَكُونُوا مُؤْمِنِينَ

 

 “And if (had) willed your Lord surely, (would) have believed who (are) in the earth all of them together. Then, will you compel mankind until they become believers?” (Surah Yunus 10:99)

 

In Islam, every person knows what he can and cannot do as well as the areas in which there is room for manoeuvre, according to what Allah has permitted. Furthermore, freedom in Islam is underpinned by ultimate justice and authority because it comes from Allah, contrary to that defined by democracy, which is man-made and therefore fallible and subject to shortcomings and injustice. In a democracy, the limits of freedom move within the circle that has been defined by human legislators. Allah says:

 

وَلَا تَتَمَنَّوْا مَا فَضَّلَ اللَّهُ بِهِ بَعْضَكُمْ عَلَىٰ بَعْضٍ لِّلرِّجَالِ نَصِيبٌ مِّمَّا اكْتَسَبُوا وَلِلنِّسَاءِ نَصِيبٌ مِّمَّا اكْتَسَبْنَ وَاسْأَلُوا اللَّهَ مِن فَضْلِهِ إِنَّ اللَّهَ كَانَ بِكُلِّ شَيْءٍ عَلِيمًا

 

“And (do) not covet what Allah (has) bestowed [with it] some of you over others. For men (is) a share of what they earned, and for women (is) a share of what they earned. And ask Allah of His Indeed, Allah is of everything All-Knower.” (Surah An-Nisa, 4:32)

 

In Islam, there is no freedom without justice and these two values freedom and justice have been the inspiration and motivator of the great revolutions in the world, be they political, economic or social. Islam takes this attitude because religion depends upon faith, will, and commitment. These would be meaningless if induced by force. Furthermore, Islam presents the Truth of God in the form of an opportunity and leaves the choice for a man to decide his own course. Allah says:

 

يَا بَنِي آدَمَ قَدْ أَنزَلْنَا عَلَيْكُمْ لِبَاسًا يُوَارِي سَوْآتِكُمْ وَرِيشًا وَلِبَاسُ التَّقْوَىٰ ذَٰلِكَ خَيْرٌ ذَٰلِكَ مِنْ آيَاتِ اللَّهِ لَعَلَّهُمْ يَذَّكَّرُونَ

 

“O Children (of) Adam! Verily We have sent down to you clothing, it covers your shame and (as) an adornment. But the clothing (of) [the] righteousness – that (is) best. That (is) from (the) Signs of Allah so that they may remember.” (Surah Al-A`raf 7:26)

 

The Islamic concept of freedom and such is the value of freedom in Islam. It is a natural right of man, a spiritual privilege, a moral prerogative, and, above all, a religious duty. Within the framework of this Islamic concept of freedom, there is no room for religious persecutions, class conflict, or racial prejudice. The individual’s right to freedom is as sacred as his right of Life; freedom is the equivalent of Life itself. If God was to force people to believe or disbelieve he would not have asked them about their choices and He would never have punished some and rewarded others. God is Most Merciful.

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