M.M. Yusif

Liberty in Islam

Perhaps some one may say: It is unlikely to link Islam with the word liberty because this concept came into use centuries after the arrival of Islam, therefore it is alien from Islam.

Yet it is unfair to deprive Islam of its links with liberty because the concept is only of a recent existence with more than one indication, explained according to the direction of various trends.

Moreover this concept has existed in the religious legislation since the beginning, though we have been heedless of that until other cultures attracted us towards it. Yet this is not a justification for reality nor a combination of the context in a foreign framework.

In fact, the Islamic concept of liberty can be one of the essential principles in Islam and a foundation for many Islamic principles.

In order to give a clear image of liberty in Islam, we refer to its three stages:

The First Stage of Liberty

The First stage confirms no compulsion in religion according to the Quranic verse:

«There should be no compulsion in religion, normal behavior stands out clearly from error, so any one who rejects the arrogant ones and believes in God, has grasped the Firmest Handle which will never break, God is Alert, Aware.» (The Cow: 256).

The verse indicates two lines, one of Truth and one of Falsehood. Islam presents the line of Truth (that is to believe in God). Now man is to make his choice, without the least force imposed on him. However, choosing the line of Truth means grasping a Firmest Handle. This is explained in the verse that follows the previous one:

«God is the Patron of those who believe, He brings them out of darkness  into light, while those who disbelieve have the arrogant ones for their patrons. They lead them out of light into darkness; those are inmates of Fire, they shall remain there.» (The Cow: 257).

Thus normal behavior (rushd) is to believe in Allah and disbelieve in the arrogant as Allah leads the believers out of darkness, ignorance will lead man out of light into darkness not only in this life but also in the hereafter.

The arrogant (AL - Tahgout) one is a means of deviation eventually, a means for the disbelievers to settle in Fire (Hell).

The Second Stage of Liberty.

This stage follows the choice of Truth. It is the stage of Faith and belief in Allah (Islam means submission of oneself to the Creator). Faith follows when the two lines are manifested, along with no compulsion in choosing the line of Truth. The choice should be the result of absolute conviction and belief. The Almighty does not demand one to choose Islam for temporary interest, but out of self - convincing argument. Followers of Truth should be actual believers in Truth. Hence Faith is a choice. The Quranic verse says:

«The desert Arabs say: 'We believe.' Say: You  have not believed, but (instead) say: we commit ourselve to (live in) peace. Yet belief has not penetrated your hearts. If you obey God and His messenger, He will not slight you in any of your actions. God is Forgiving Merciful.» (Al  - Hujurat: 14).

It is clear that the desert Arabs embraced Islam not out of Faith but for some other reason. Yet no one forced them to do that. This means that Islam accepts such people as a first stage leading to a higher degree of belief. Islam is sure that its instructions are strong enough to attract people to Faith. Being a Muslim for special interest means a first step leading to the second stage. The holy Quran says:

«They want you to feel flattered because they have entered Islam. Say: Do not flatter me with your commitment to (live in) peace, rather God flatters you provided you are loyal since He has guided you to Faith.» (Hujurat: 17).

The Truth Stage of Liberty.

After the two previous stages, the third stage of liberty comes. It is the stage of self - commitment to tread along the right path and never go astray. Self - commitment to good deeds is the result of Faith and belief, since Faith is the first reason for commitment.

In addition to self - commitment, it is necessary for the believer to keep on doing righteous deeds and never be affected by hardship or temptations. The Quranic terminology for this situation is known as: patience. The believer should be patient at times of hardships and must be patient at obeying orders (the Divine orders).

This is confirmed in the Quranic chapter: Eventide or Al - Asr:

«By the eventide (afternoon) man (is indeed) at loss except for those who believe, perform good deeds and recommend truth and recommend patience» (Al - Asr: 1 - 3).

Hence the basic value of Faith is within the framework of good deeds; that is to shun bad deeds. It is a self commitment and self - command towards good deeds.

One of the essential pillars of faith is to believe in the Day of Resurrection. In another word, it is to believe that there is paradise, there is Hell, there is the good reward and there is punishment for bad deeds.

To believe in the Day of Resurrection is the actual motivation to have patience. Patience surely has a goal, otherwise it is meaningless.

The first principle in Faith is to legalize liberty and to prevent its being a state of anarchy, in order to help man enjoy felicity which is the actual slavery to God, since human beings are slaves (worshippers) of the Creator. To accept such slavery means to, accept the actual reality of no way out except through experience of self - struggle which finally leads to the realization of this slavery. Through such slavery man is liberated from being a slave of lust (sexual desires) and other whims above which the western thinkers, Jean Jacque Raussean and Imamnuel Kant wanted man to be.

Through these two basic elements: self - willingness to be God's slave and the belief in the Day of Resurrection, we can deal with issues that demonstrate difference between Islam (religions in general) and the western intellect, regarding liberty and its firm pillars:

I - The Legislator in Islam does never lead man to enslave another man or to suppress liberty, which is neither anarchy nor slavery of desires and whims, because the legislative Source is Allah the Almighty, the Creator of every thing Who should be worshipped by all. Slavery to Allah is natural and an absolute affair. It is the only way to get out of illusion that leads to slavery of man by man. This is quite contrary to the western intellect since the legislator is man by all means.

II - Implementation and protection of laws acquire legality from Allah the Almighty. Being sure that some one is appointed by Allah, one feels that obedience to this person is obedience to Allah rather than to the person.

It is something different from being appointed by fellow men. The person who enjoys Divine legality should have basic qualities that identify him among people. Hence obedience is to some one whose qualifications are above normal human qualifications.

III - Is there a guaranty that whims and illegal desires do not affect man's decisions? In Islam there are two points: the first is related to the observer of such decisions. The second is related to the beneficial nature. The observer in Islam is Allah the Almighty. The Quranic verse confirms His knowing of all secret matters:

«He (The Almighty Allah) recognizes the furtive glance in their eyes and and whatever concealed in their minds» (Ghafir: 19).

The need to decisions is in their implementation that is demonstrated apparently that can suffice since Islam puts people on trial. The Muslims were tested before they experienced authority in Islam. The holy Quran says: «Do people reckon that they will be left alone just because they say: 'We believe,' and they will not be tested? We have tested the ones who preceded them. God knows the ones who are truthful and He will recognize the liars.» (The Spider: 2 - 3).

When the prophet (pbuh) decided to immigrate, he (pbuh) did not do it until he tested the believers' seriousness and deep faith to the extent of defending the new religion.

IV - The question remains: How to guarantee the individual's self - commitment to tread along the right path? Islam religion guarantees this through patience. The Muslims experience patience to get paradise and be saved from fire.

Since the Muslim believers on the Day of Resurrection, good deeds will be his means to enjoy the everlasting happiness in paradise, the more his faith increases, the more difficult his deviation becomes.

Moreover, Islam focuses on another point: the sudden death, hence the believer should always be ready for death. Such a situation does not exist in the western intellect because there is no direct link with Allah the Almighty. As previously mentioned the stage of non - compulsion is a necessary introduction to faith that is achieved through patience and good deeds. Now we know that the Islamic exterior regulations, the objective limitations such as duties, prohibitions, penalties, ransoms, taxes… etc, do not degrade a behiever nor suppress his liberty because he embraced Islam through absolute certainity and believed in it willingly. Therefore his commitment stems from his inside because of his faith.

As for those who become Muslims yet they lack faith, they do that willingly therefore should obey its rules since they have the choice to wait until they are convinced, no compulsion is in religion.

Islam accepts such people since it is a primary stage leading to a better faith (deeper faith).

The Islamic ideological, social and emotional influence,

is quite strong, specially in view of the concept of the Day of Judgement. Hence they obey the orders willingly to avoid anarchy in the community. In order to protect this community there is limitation in the individual rights and a Muslim accepts such a situation in conformity with his religion.

In the Name of Allah The Compassionate the Merciful