(23) Doctrine of Liberty
One of the fundamental principles of the Shariah is the doctrine of liberty. The Shariah has affirmed liberty in its best forms, guaranteeing the freedom of thought, belief and expression. Let us
discuss these freedoms one by one.
(24) Freedom of Thought
By affirming the freedom of thought the Shariah has delivered man from the shackles of superstitions, myths, traditions and habits. It enjoins that man should give up everything that does not appeal to reason. It tells us that it is absolutely essential to give a careful thought to everything, judge all things by the standard of reason and accept only what reason acknowledges and reject all that it disapproves. The Shariah does not allow us to accept or say anything without thinking over it.
The very message of Islam is grounded in reason. In its affirmation of the existence of Allah, in its call to Islam and insistence on belief in the Prophet and the Holy Book, the Quran in the main, concentrates on teaching the people to think and contemplate and on trying to awaken their reason, and adopt all possible methods for persuading them to reflect over the creation of the heavens and earth as well as their own creation and over the existence of all created things and all the sensible phenomena so that they may know Allah and be able to distinguish between good and evil.
There are innumerable verses in the Holy Quran in which the principle of freedom of thought has been expounded and the use of reason emphasized. The following verses may be cited in this connection:—
“Lo! in the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the difference of night and day, and the ships which run
upon the sea with that which is of use of men and the water which
Allah sendeth down from the sky, thereby reviving the earth after its death, and dispensing all kinds of beasts therein and (in) the ordinance of the winds, and the clouds obedient between heaven and earth are signs (of Allah’s sovereignty) for people who have sense”‘ (2:164)
“Say (unto them, 0 Muhammad): I exhort you unto one thing only:
that ye awake, for Allah’s sake, by Twos and singly, and then reflect.” (34: 46)
“Have they not pondered upon themselves? Allah created not the heavens and earth, and that which is between them, save with truth and for a destined end.” (30: 8)
“Say: Behold what is in the heavens and the earth!” (10:102)
“So let man consider from what he is created. He is created from
a gushing fluid. That issues from the loins and ribs.” (84: 5-7)
“Will they not regard the camels how they are created? And the
haven, how it is raised? And the hills, how they are set up? And the earth, how it is spread?” (88: 17-20)
“Lo! therein verily is a reminder for him who hath a heart,
or giveth ear with full intelligence.” (50: 37)
“But only men of understanding really heed.” (3: 7)
The Quran warns the people against suspension of their faculty of reason, keeping it indolent and following others blind-fold; against
superstitions and belief in myths, and against indeliberate adherence to traditions and customs. If they behave in this manner, they will hardly be different from or become even worse than animals, for they would then be following others without deliberation and without allowing their reason to sit in judgement at their words and deeds. Reason is the only faculty bestowed by Allah on man that marks him off from animals. If he allows this faculty to remain inert and gives up thinking, he will become an animal or even worse.
“And when it is said unto them. Follow that which Allah has
revealed, they say: We follow that wherein we
found our fore fathers. What! Even though their fore fathers were
wholly unintelligent and had no guidance? The likeness of those who believe (in relation to the messenger) is as the likeness of those who calleth until that which heareth naught except a shout and cry. Deaf, dumb, blind, therefore they have no sense.” (2: 170-171)
“Have they not travelled in the land, and have they hearts
wherewith to feel and ears wherewith to hear? For indeed it is not the eyes that grow blind, but it is the hearts, which are within the bosoms, that grow blind.” (22: 47)
“Already have we urged into hell many of the jinn and humankind, having hearts wherewith they understand not, and having eyes wherewith they see not, and having ears wherewith they hear not. These are the beast-nay, but they are worse! They are the neglectful.”
Man may think of anything and may adopt any mode of thinking he chooses. He cannot be censured for his thought, even if he thinks of those acts prohibited by the Shariah; for the Shariah does not censure the mind and does not call anyone to account for thinking of any unlawful word or .feed. A person is taken to account only when an unlawful word has been said or an unlawful act has been committed by him. The Prophet (S.A.W.) says the same thing in the following words:—
“Allah has forgiven my Ummh for any idea that may come into its
mind so long as it does not act upon such an idea or utters it.”
(25) Freedom of Belief
The Islamic Shariah is the first law in the history of the world to guarantee the freedom of belief. It does not only guarantee this freedom but also goes further to protect and lend it maximum
support. According to Shariah every individual is at liberty to hold any belief or religious opinion he chooses and nobody is allowed to compel him to renounce his belief, religious opinion, accept some other belief or prohibit him to express his religious opinion.
But the Shariah is a practical law. It does not stop at merely declaring the freedom of belief. It clearly lays down the procedure to protect it. This consist of two methods:—
(i) It is incumbent upon every individual to respect another individual’s right to belief as well as action thereon. No person can coerce another person into accepting any particular faith or renouncing his or her faith. If his belief is at variance with that of the latter, he should try to convince him by persuasion, making him realise the error involved in his belief. If he is convinced and willingly renounces his belief, well and good. But if he does not
acknowledge the error, it is not permissible to coerce him, nor is it in any way justified to exercise one’s influence so as to force him to give up his religion. It is enough for discharging one’s duty to explain the error inherent in the belief of a person professing a
different religion. Having this done, one has shown him the right way and guided him to the right path. One can find injunctions to this effect in the Holy Quran:—
“There is no compulsion in religion”. (2:256)
“And if thy Lord willed, all who are on the earth would have believed together. Wouldst thou (Muhammad) compel men,
until they are believers?” (10: 100)
“Remind them, for thou art but a remembrance Thou art not at all
ward over them” (89: 21-22)
“But the messenger has no other charge than to convey the message plainly.” (24: 54)
(2) It has been enjoined upon the believer himself that he should guard his faith and strive to champion it. He should refrain from adopting a negative attitude in this respect. If he finds that he is no longer able to defend and champion his faith, he should migrate from the place where his faith is not respected to a place where it is respected and where he is allowed the opportunity to profess it above board. If a believer has the strength to migrate but he does not do so, he is doing a wrong to himself even before he is oppressed by the person with a different belief. Such a believer is also guilty of a great sin, for which he deserves to be punished. But Allah does not overburden a man who does not have the strength to migrate. The following verses of the Holy Quran elucidates this point:—
“Lo! as for those whom the angels take (in death) while they wrong themselves, (the angels) will ask: In what were ye engaged? They will say: we were oppressed in the land (The angles) will say: Was not Allah’s earth spacious that they could have migrated therein? As for such, their habitation will be hell, an evil journey’s end”.
Except the feeble among men, and the women, and the children, who are unable to devise a plan and are not shown a way.
As for such, it may be that Allah will pardon them. Allah is ever clement, for giving. (IV: 97-99)
By guaranteeing the freedom of belief to all the people including the Muslims and the non-Muslims the shariah has exhibited the highest degree of sublimity. It has given the non Muslim citizens of an Islamic state the right to profess their religion and express their belief, openly perform their religious rites, keep their places of worship occupied and set up schools for teaching their religion. Take for example, the Jews. They were allowed by the Islamic states complete freedom to their synagogues and’ to worship according to their custom. They also had their schools in which the religion of Moses was freely taught. Again they were at liberty to write about their religion and try to prove its superiority over other systems of belief by comparing it with the latter within the limits of propriety and morality and without prejudice to the peace and tranquillity of the State. The Christian scholars representing various schools of thought were also allowed similar freedom. Every Christian sect had its churches and schools in the Islamic State where its members freely worshipped and taught creed freely. Besides, they wrote and published books on their
religion without any interference.
(26) Freedom of Speech
The Islamic Shariah does not merely provide for freedom of expression. It recognizes this freedom as the right of every individual. It goes even a step further and declares the freedom of speech as an obligation with respect to morality, common weal,
institutional matters and prevention of evils.
Allah says in the Holy Quran:—
“And there may spring from you a nation who invite to goodness and enjoin right conduct and forbid indecency.” (3: 104)
Those who, if we give them power in the land, establish and enjoin
kindness and forbid inequity.” (22:41)
The Holy Prophet has taught the same thing in the following traditions:—
“If any one of you sees an evil, he should rub it out with his own hands. If he does not have the strength to do this, he should verbally denounce it. But if he is unable to do even this much, then he should deem it vicious at heart and this is the nadir of the weakness of one’s faith.”
“To speak the truth in the face of a tyrant is the best form of Jihad (Crusade).
There is yet another tradition of the Holy Prophet which runs as follows:—
“Faith consists in exhortation and goodwill.”
“O Prophet of Allah,” asked his companions, “for whom do you mean?”
The Prophet replied, “For Allah, for His Prophet, for His book, for the leaders of Muslims as well as the Muslim people in general.”
The Prophet has said in another Tradition, “Hamza bin Abdul Muttalib is the leader of martyrs. He was the man who enjoined upon a tyrant to do good and forbade him to do evil. He was punished with death for committing this crime.”
Although every individual has the right to speak or use his pen in defence of his faith, but this right does not constitute unqualified freedom. One can exercise this right only within the limits of social decorum and morality and on condition that it is not repugnant to the injunctions of Shariah. The Islamic Shariah affirmed the freedom of speech and writing right at the time of its revelation, imposing simultaneously such restrictions on the exercise of this right as guarantee safeguards against encroachment on these rights or against the abuse of the freedom of speech. The Prophet of
Islam was the first to have announced this freedom and to have called the people to make use of it. But he was at the same time the first person on whose freedom of expression restrictions were
imposed. It was necessary to restrict his freedom because his word and deed were to serve as a model for humanity. It was also necessary to make the people realize that the prophet himself, not to speak of ordinary men, did not enjoy unrestricted freedom of
expression notwithstanding the fact that Allah says of him:
“And most surely you conform (yourself) to sublime morality” (68:
4 )Allah commanded the Holy Prophet (S.A.W.) to convey his message to the people, persuade them to believe in his prophethood and, by disputation, try to goad the disbelievers reason and awaken their hearts. Nevertheless, the Prophet was not allowed unqualified freedom of expression. On the contrary a procedure was laid down for him for inviting the people to the path of Allah and for disputation with the disbelievers. It was made incumbent upon him to carry out his mission judiciously with good counsel, converse with them in the
best possible manner to shun stupid people, refrain from saying anything indecent and from reproaching the people worshipping false gods. These were the restrictions imposed by Allah upon the Holy Prophet’s freedom of speech. It was made clear to him that this freedom was not absolute. The condition under which such freedom is provided for in the Shariah is that it should not be misused or should not be used in a manner which may
These restrictions imposed on the freedom of expression benefits all the individuals and nations, pave the way for progress and generate the feelings of fraternity and love. It also engenders and
fosters the atmosphere of confidence among individuals and institutions, brings about a consensus on truth among the leaders, inducing them to cooperate with one another. Consequently personal and factional slogans are done away with. This is the kind of atmosphere lacking in modern age and the world is striving in vain to find ways and means to create it.
The comprehensive character of the principle of Shariah pertaining to the freedom of expression may well be judged
from the fact that modern legal experts are divided into two groups in spite of their long experience. One of these groups favours unqualified freedom of expression with a few restrictions in the field of general administration only. But it attaches no importance to morality. This begets only hatred, animosity and factionalism leading to social disorder and anarchy. The other group favours imposition of restrictions on any opinion that is at variance with the position held by those in power. If this idea is put into practice, it will repress freedom of thought and expression and virtuous people would be kept away from governmental affairs. This would give rise to dictatorship, social unrest and revolutions.
The Islamic Shariah is opposed to the concepts of both licence and a complete denial of liberties which are dominant in modern states. Islam basically advocates freedom of expression. But it
imposes at the same time certain restrictions thereon in order to safeguard morality, social propriety and smooth running of general administration; for, without these restrictions, freedom of expression cannot produce the desired results. The individual enjoying this freedom can be prevented from giving offence to others only when they are restrained from saying anything that may prejudice morality, social decorum and maintenance of
law and order. Obviously nobody can have a right to
transgression and offence, the denial of which might be tantamount to depriving him of something he is entitled to.
Doubtless, the Islamic Shariah allows every citizen to say anything without transgressing the prescribed limits; that is, a citizen
should abstain from vituperation, defamation, calumniation and from telling lies. He should rather try to rally the people round himself with prudence and good counsels. He should talk to them politely, refrain from uttering anything evil and avoid stupid persons.. The people will naturally lend ear to what a person adhering to the above principles has to say and attach due importance to it. Another advantage of the restrictions on the freedom of expression is that the person observing them will have good relations with other people and the community, as a whole, will be able to carry on the task of promoting common welfare
The following verses of the Holy Quran constitute the
charter of the freedom of expression.
“Call unto the way of thy lord with wisdom and fair exhortation and
reason with them in the better way” (16: 125)
“Keep to forgiveness (O Muhammad) and enjoin kindness, and turn away from the ignorant.” (8: 199)
“When the foolish one’s address them (they) answer peace.”
“Revile not those unto whom they pray beside Allah lest they wrongfully revile Allah through ignorance.” (6: 109)
“Allah loveth not the utterance of harsh speech save by one who
hath been wronged.” (4: 148)
“And argue not with the people of the scripture unless it be in (a
way) that is better, save with such of them as do wrong”. (29: 46)
There were the three aspects of the freedom of expression which the Islamic Shariah presented at a time when the people’s mental horizon was limited by traditions and they could not think beyond
their ancestors’ practice. They naturally resented any change in their beliefs on account of their outlook on life. Only the powerful people and those in authority among them enjoyed freedom of expression and thought. That was why the Muslims of the earliest period had to face great difficulties and persecuted in their
missionary work. They were brutally tortured for changing their belief and were compelled by every possible means to abandon their new faith. The heathens lost no opportunity to perpetuate atrocities on the Muslims. Whenever the Muslims spoke to propagate their faith, they were silenced and no sooner they stood up to offer their prayers than their watchdogs busied themselves to torture them.
From what has been stated above, it will be seen that expounding the principle of freedom of expression did not keep abreast with the process of social evolution as it did not care to fulfil the needs
of the society at that stage of development, for this principle was not acceptable to the world then. The Shariah provided for this freedom so that the society might be set on the path of progress, the people lifted from the abyss of ignorance and depravity and above all, the
Shariah itself might attain to perfection and become in-variable and perpetually applicable.
The provisions of Shariah with respect to individual liberty and limitations thereof are so flexible and comprehensive that they need no change or modification, for the Shariah in itself does not admit of any amendment. All its injunctions are general and flexible enough to withstand the test of time in all circumstances.
The Islamic Shariah affirmed the doctrine of individual liberty eleven centuries before the modern law; for it was introduced into the latter as late as at the end of the eighteenth and beginning of
the ninetenth centuries. Before that the concept of liberty was unknown to the man-made law. The thinkers and reformers in the west and those who ventured to criticise the official religion were severely punished. This is a historical fact. Viewed in the light of history, the claim that Europe was the first to champion individual freedom, would turn out to be utter falsehood. This utterly false claim is based on the ignorance of Shariah which may be condoned in the case of westerners. But how can we escape the charge of subscribing to it?