The Holy Quraan and the Allah (Subhaanahu wa Ta’aalaa)’s Messenger (SallAllaho alaihe wa sallam) nourished the Islamic concept of freedom. Never did the Holy Prophet Muhammad (SallAllaho alaihe wa sallam) deny his followers the basic freedoms. Muslims could always speak their minds while in his presence. He consulted them and listened to their views and counsels.
The first Muslim community lived in unprecedented freedom under the banner of the Holy Quraan and the leadership of the guiding Messenger. Everyone lived in an atmosphere of social justice and harmony. There was no place for pride and arrogance. The only privilege accorded to anyone was that conferred by piety.
The freedom that Islam grants is based on commitment and responsibility without which there can be no true freedom. Freedom without restraints leads only to nihilism, the consequence of which is complete breakdown of the moral and social order. The irresponsible concept of freedom expounded by existentialism, democracy and modern theories of freedom of expression leads only to corruption and immorality since they are not tied to any concept of higher moral values or self-control. For Islam, freedom lies in commitment and responsibility. They form an integral part of each other and can in no way be separated. There is no freedom of choice without responsibility; no responsibility without freedom.
Islam starts with by granting freedom of belief. Islam clearly insists upon freedom of belief for all human beings. This freedom is the basis of the social approach laid down under the Islamic teachings. On the basis of this concept, the Islamic state itself guarantees freedom of worship for its non-Muslim subjects. From this concept we can understand the meaning of the letters which the Prophet (SallAllaho alaihe wa sallam) sent to kings and rulers, calling them to Islam and asking them to stop oppressing their subjects so that they would have freedom of worship. It says: “O men! Now truth has reached you from your Lord! Those who receive guidance, do so for the good of their own souls; those who astray, do so to their own loss.” (10:108)
After freedom of belief comes the freedom of will. Allah (SallAllaho alaihe wa sallam) has granted man free will, which allows him to choose his course in life; man is answerable to Allah (SallAllaho alaihe wa sallam) for his actions. Deeds illustrate the quality of will, whether it is good or evil, whether it follows truth, goodness and justice or whether it is corruptible by its own desires.
“Surely We have shown him the way: he may be thankful or unthankful.” (76:3)
“...Nay! Man is evidence against himself, though he puts forth his excuses.” (75:14-15)
Divine reward or punishment is ordained in accordance with man’s free will. Without free will and its adherent responsibility and commitment there could be neither reward nor punishment.
“And stop them, for they shall be questioned.” (37:24)
Islam insists that man has free will because that is the way that Allah (Subhaanahu wa Ta’aalaa) created him. It allows him to express this freedom and to practice it within the limits of commitment and responsibility and self-control. Man has an obligation to choose the path of righteousness, and to safeguard his freedom and that of others.
Another freedom which Islam recognizes for humans is freedom of thought. Thought in Islamic society is like a deep river flowing towards its destination. When it widens it becomes more resplendent. Freedom of thought is related to one’s moral freedom, but comes within the framework of ideological commitment. If one is forced to do something over which one is not convinced or which one has not freely accepted, as it goes against one’s nature, then that is unacceptable. The Prophet (SallAllaho alaihe wa sallam) said on an occasion: “Consult your heart... even though people again and again have given you their legal opinions.” (Ahmed)
The Quraan says:
“the one who strays does so at his own loss: no bearer of burdens can bear the burden of another.” (17:15)
Freedom of thought breeds the freedom of speech and they both are now universally recognized as a basic right of an individual. Islam has never denied such a right. Under the Charter of Human Rights framed by the UN everyone is surely guaranteed the freedom of speech. But results of an unrestricted and unchecked freedom is disastrous. So the Lawgiver, while revealing His Will, through His Messenger (SallAllaho alaihe wa sallam) prescribed a certain code of conduct in the matters of speaking about others and discussing their affairs.
The Quraan says:
“O ye who believed, let not one group make mock of another, who are possibly better than they, or women (make mock of) women who are possibly better than they; do not scoff at each other, or revile each other with nicknames; reprobate conduct (fisq) is a bad name after belief and those who do not repent they are the wrong doers.”(49:11)
Again the Quraan says:
“O ye who believed, avoid much suspicion, verily suspicion is sometimes sin; do not pry into each other’s affairs and let not some of you backbite others; would any of you like to eat the flesh of his dead brother? Ye loath it! Show piety towards Allah.”(49:12)
Islam encourages basic freedoms for all humans, but insists that this freedom encompasses a sense of responsibility and commitm-ent. By doing so, Islam aims to build strong, unwavering characters who are secure in their self knowledge and have confidence in themselves and their values, and whose behavior will always reflect their strength.
Islam has laid down the principles of justice, equality and freedom. Keeping in view the above facts, one can infer that the concept of freedom in Islam is unique. The teachings of Islam regarding freedom of thought, will, belief and speech have no equal even in the 21st century. Islam transcends all geographical and racial barriers and eliminates all sorts of distinction based on race, caste, creed or color. It guarantees equality of status and security of life without making any difference between Muslims and non-Muslims.
In Islam freedom is an inalienable right which enables man to lead a moral and upright life, and brings him under the mantle of the justice and mercy of Allah (Subhaanahu wa Ta’aalaa).
Source: Jamia Farooqia website