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Freedom in Islam

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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.

Islam elevates freedom to such a level that it has made free thought the proper way of recognizing God’s existence. God says:
{There is no compulsion in religion. Guidance is clear from error.}
The verse negates the use of compulsion in religion because religious belief is the mightiest thing that a human possesses. This makes it quite clear that compulsion is not tolerated in any other matter. 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.

The Meaning of Freedom

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.

Does “freedom” mean being left completely without any regulation?
Islam’s recognition of freedom does not imply that it leaves the individual free of all restrictions and guidelines, because that kind of “freedom” is mere anarchy that gives free reign to lusts and evil desires. It is well known that these vain desires bring more harm to the human being than they do good.

For this reason, Islam forbids a person to force someone to follow them because no one’s freedom is granted at the expense of another’s. Everyone must be given freedom on both the individual and societal levels. For this reason, Islam sets down certain rules and guidelines that guarantee the freedom of all. These guidelines can be outlined in the following manner:

A. The freedom of individuals and communities should never jeopardize the general order of society or destroy its foundations.

B. The freedom of individuals or communities should never cause the loss of more general rights. This is in consideration of their intrinsic values.

C. No one’s freedom should violate the freedom of others.

These regulations and guidelines show that Islam does not recognize individual freedom at the expense of the community, nor does it establish freedoms for communities at the expense of individuals. Instead, it strikes a balance between the two, giving everyone their just due.

Types of freedom:

• Individual freedom with reference to material concerns.

• Individual freedom with reference to more abstract matters.
Individual Freedom in Reference to Material Concerns

Personal Freedom

As long as his activity does not transgress against the rights of others, a human being should be left to dispose of his own affairs in every matter that is of personal significance without fearing injury to his person, property, or reputation. Personal freedom implies the existence of two things; sanctity and security of the self.

As for sanctity of the self, Islam places great emphasis on human dignity, and grants the human being a lofty status. It enjoins people to show respect for others and refrain from belittling them. God says:

· {Truly, We have honored the children of Adam}
· {And when your Lord said to the angels: “Verily I will place a vicegerent on the Earth.” They said: “Will You place therein those who will make mischief and shed blood while we extol Your praises and glorify you?” He said: “Verily I know what you know not.”}

These texts call to the honor, nobility, and sanctity of the human being and give consideration for human faculties. Islam places the human being on the highest level. For this reason, Islam considers transgression against one person to be transgression against society as a whole. Likewise, it considers concern for one person to be concern for society as a whole. God says:

{For this reason, we decreed for the Children of Israel that whoever kills a single soul unjustly or does mischief in the land will be like a person who has killed all of mankind and whoever saves a single soul will be like one who saved all of mankind.}

This recognition of human dignity applies to everyone, whether male or female, ruler or subject. It is a right of every human being, regardless of color, race, or religion. Even a foundling in the street must be taken in and honored on account of that intrinsic human worth.

If anyone finds a child abandoned on the street, that person must take that child in. If no one does this, then everyone in the community is sinful and they are all responsible before God for the child’s demise.

In the same way that Islam emphasizes the dignity of the human being during her lifetime, it does so for the human being after death. Islam forbids mutilating the corpse and commands that the body be prepared for burial and then properly buried.

Likewise, Islam prohibits sitting on graves or defecating on them.
In addition to the concept of sanctity of the self, security of the self is also very important in Islam because the Islamic religion guarantees the safety of the person’s life, honor, and wealth. Therefore, it is forbidden to kill, injure, or transgress against another human being. It does not matter whether this injury is physical, like imprisonment, or psychological, like verbal abuse.

To prevent all forms of abuse and create an environment where people can exercise their personal freedom, Islamic Law prescribes disciplinary measures and punishments for offenders. The greater the transgression, the sterner the punishment will be. For example, the punishment for murder is retribution. God says:

{O you who believe, retribution is prescribed for you in the case of murder.}
In addition to murder, retribution is also required in cases of injury and dismemberment. God says:
{We prescribed for them in it a life for a life, an eye for an eye, a nose for a nose, an ear for an ear, a tooth for a tooth, and retribution in injury.}  Umar bin Al-Khattab, the second Caliph, prohibited his governors from punishing anyone except with the decree of a reputed judge. He also demanded that the governors who disobeyed be punished to the extent that they abused their subjects. He also prohibited the governors from insulting any of their subjects, setting down a punishment for those who were defiant.

Freedom of Travel

An individual is free to travel at will within his country and outside of it without any impediment. It is a natural right of a human being to be able to depart and return. In fact, it is a requirement of life to be able to do so because it is often necessary to earn a livelihood, find employment, seek knowledge, and achieve many other things.

The freedom to move is a quality of all living things. It is a necessary part of what it means to be alive. Freedom of movement is established by the Qur’ân, Sunnah, and the consensus of the jurists.

In the Qur’an, God says:

{It is He Who made the Earth submit to you, so traverse its surface and eat of its sustenance and to Him is your return.}
No one should be prohibited from movement except for an overriding consideration of the general welfare. When a plague struck Syria, Umar bin Al-Khattab prohibited travel to Syria. He ordered such a command in order to carry out the instructions of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) during such times: “If you hear about a plague in a certain land, then do not go there, and if you are in a land when a plague strikes it, then do not leave or try to flee it.”

To facilitate the people’s freedom of movement, Islam prohibits any transgression being committed against travelers or hindrance being placed in their way. For the same reason, Islam has prescribed an extremely stern punishment for highway robbery.

In order to facilitate use of the roadways, the Prophet forbade his Companions from sitting down in the middle of them. He said: “Avoid sitting in the roadways.” His Companions responded: “O Messenger of God, we have no recourse but to sit in these places.” He said: “If this is the case, then give the road its rights.” They said: “What are the rights of the road, O Messenger of God?” He said: “Lowering the gaze, abstaining from abuse, returning the greeting of peace, enjoining what is right, and forbidding what is wrong.”

The streets should be used for what they are built for, like traveling and the transportation of materials and goods. Using them for any other purpose is prohibited, especially if it leads to the harming others.

Due to the importance of travel in the life of a Muslim and due to the fact that unforeseen problems often occur during travel, God has granted the wayfarer a right to a share of the obligatory alms. This is if the traveler is in dire need of it, even if this person is affluent in his or her own land.

Freedom of Residence

Any person who is capable of securing a place of residence for herself, has the freedom to do so. Likewise, the state should provide suitable housing for those who are incapable of doing so, so that they can have at least a minimal standard of living.

Abu Saeed al-Khudri relates that the Prophet said: “Whoever has excess shelter should provide shelter for one who has none, and whoever has excess provisions should provide for one who has none.”

The jurist Ibn Hazm uses this hadîth and others as proof that the affluent Muslims are expected to provide for the needs of the poor when the obligatory alms funds and tributes are insufficient to address their basic needs. These needs are food, drink, clothing, and shelter from the heat and cold. The prominent people in society and in government are responsible to collect these funds and distribute them to the needy, both Muslim and Non-Muslim, because the fulfillment of these basic needs is a universal right of all humanity. Every member of society should be guaranteed these things.

When a person owns a home, it is not permissible for anyone else, not even the president of the country, to break into that home or enter it without the owner’s permission except under the direst circumstances. God says:

{O you who believe, do not enter the homes of others before announcing yourselves and greeting the occupants. This is better for you that perhaps you might take heed. And if you find no one present, then do not enter their homes until you receive permission. If you are told to go back, then do so because this is purer for you. And God knows well all that you do.}

If entering houses without permission is forbidden, confiscating or destroying the homes of others is even more heinous. The only exception to this is where the general welfare of society rests upon doing so. In these cases, the homes can be taken as long as fair compensation is given to the owners.

There are many instances where the general welfare might require the acquisition of others’ homes. It might be necessary to complete such projects as expanding a mosque, constructing a needed road, or building a hospital. Umar bin Al-Khattâb displaced the people of Najran and compensated them with the city of Kufah.

To protect the sanctity of the home, Islam prohibits spying. God says:
{Do not spy, and do not backbite one another.}

Spying violates the rights of others by violating the sanctity of the home and compromising the inhabitants’ personal freedom. Islam goes so far in preserving the sanctity of the home that it waives the right to retribution or blood money in cases where the home of another has been violated. Abu Hurairah related that Prophet Muhammad said: “Whoever looks into the home of another without permission, then poke out his eye, there will be no compensation for the eye.” Even though the eye of a human being is sacred and the monetary damages that Islam demands from one who damages the eyes of another are great, they are waived in this case because the eyes were used to violate the rights of another.”

Freedom of Ownership

Possession is where a person is able to dispose of something and benefit from it in any legally sanctioned manner. There are various types of property and various legitimate ways of acquiring it, all of which can be summarized as follows:

Types of property

Property or possession is of two types, private and public. Private property is where an individual has something and has the exclusive right to benefit from it.

Islam grants the individual the right to possess. It is a fundamental principle of Islamic Economics. It acknowledges the natural consequences of private ownership, like the need to preserve it and safeguard it from seizure, theft, and misappropriation. Islam sets stern punishments for transgressing against another’s property in order to safeguard the right to private property.

There are other consequences of private ownership that Islam addresses, like the freedom to dispose of one’s property through buying, selling, leasing, mortgaging, gifting, bequeathing, and other types of legitimate commercial behavior.

Islam, however, does not leave private ownership completely unregulated. It sets down a number of regulations to ensure that the rights of others are not violated. For example, Islam prohibits usury, fraud, bribery, hoarding, and other harmful practices. This concept of freedom to own property applies to both men and women. God says:

{Men have a share in what they earn and women have a share in what they earn.}

As for public property, it is possessed by the society at large, or by a sector of the society. All the people in society benefit from it collectively. No individual has an exclusive right to any part of it.

This type of property includes mosques, hospitals, public roads, rivers, oceans, and the public treasury and they are to be used for the benefit of the public. It is not to be used for the benefit of political leaders or other individuals. No one should interfere with it without a legally valid reason, like managing the property and employing it for the common good.

Means of Acquiring Property

The legitimate means of acquiring property are those that are specifically recognized by the Islamic Law. All other ways of acquiring property are forbidden. The legitimate means of acquisition can be broken down into two categories: private and public.

Private acquisition can occur in two different situations. The first is where the wealth concerned is already the property of another. The second is where it is not. Wealth that is the property of another cannot be transferred from its owner to another except for a legitimate reason. These reasons include the transfer of property due to inheritance, bequests, preemption, contractual obligation, or a gift.

Wealth that has never been the property of another cannot become someone’s property except through activity that leads to possession. This would include developing barren land, hunting wild game, extracting mineral wealth from the Earth, and being allotted unclaimed wealth by way of a government charter.

Personal ownership is also subject to the following conditions:

1. The owner must continue to use the property productively. Neglecting the property is harmful even to the owner and using it productively is beneficial to all of society.

2. The owner must pay the necessary Alms tax. If the person possesses a certain amount of wealth, it may be subject to the tax. This tax is considered a right of the wealth in itself.

3. The owner must avoid all prohibited means of acquiring wealth, like interest, fraud, and cornering the market through hoarding.

4. The owner should not squander the wealth nor be excessively stingy with it.

As for the public acquisition of wealth, it manifests itself in many ways. The first of these are the natural resources that are readily available to everyone without much effort, like water, public pastureland, and fire.

The second of these are resources that are protected and maintained by the state for the general benefit. This includes such things as graveyards, military bases, government agencies, public endowments, and Alms funds.

Then there are those resources not owned by anyone and resources that were previously owned then fell under a long period of neglect, like undeveloped land.

Finally there are those resources acquired by the state through military effort, like the spoils of war.

Freedom of Work

Employment is an Islamically permissible way of making a living. It holds a high honor among the various activities of life. Therefore, Islam recognizes the individual’s right to engage in any field of work he or she wishes unless this leads to a conflict of interests or causes detriment to society.

Due to the importance of work in Islam, it is considered a form of struggle (jihad). Ka’ab bin Ajazah relates that a man passed the Prophet and the Companions saw how hard working and industrious he was. They said: “O Messenger of God, if he were only doing this much work for the sake of God…”

The Prophet then said: “If he is working to support his small children, then it is for the sake of God. If he is working to support his elderly parents, then it is for the sake of God. If he is working to occupy himself and keep his desires in check, then it is for the sake of God. If, on the other hand, he is doing so to show off and earn fame, then he is working for the sake of Satan.”

We find in the Qur’an and Hadith many texts that speak about employment and praise a number of occupations, like metalworking, shipbuilding, and agriculture. The reason for this is that it is a means of survival.

Survival, in turn, is a necessary condition for the greatest purpose in life, worshipping God and seeking His pleasure. The greatness of this objective elevates the means needed to attain it.

The greatest objective is the pleasure of God, and work and sacrifice are the greatest means of attaining it. The Qur’an praises work and earning a livelihood only to show the great benefits that it brings, its importance for human survival, and that it is God’s greatest blessing for humanity.

Individual Freedom with Reference to Abstract Concerns

Freedom of Belief

The individual has a right to choose the religion that he or she is convinced is true without being compelled by anyone. Compulsion negates free will, so a person who is compelled is not truly convinced. If we consider God’s words {There is no compulsion in religion.}, we find that Islam has completely rejected the use of force in matters of belief. Rather, Islam asserts that thoughts and beliefs must develop from complete freedom.

When a person accepts a religion, creed, or idea under compulsion or threat, then such an acceptance is false, worthless, and rejected. It is not in that person’s heart because there is no true conviction behind it. For this reason, God says:

· {If your Lord had willed, then everyone on Earth would have believed. Would you compel the people in order to make them believers?}.
· {So remind them (O Muhammad), you are only one who reminds. You are not a dictator over them}.

These verses, and others like them, reject the use of compulsion in matters of belief and assert the individual’s right to choose what to believe and what religion to embrace.

It follows from freedom of belief that there must be dialogue and discussion about religious matters. There must be an exchange of ideas and the opportunity to clarify matters that are ambiguous or poorly understood. This is so that belief can be attained with conviction and peace of mind and so that someone who does not know the truth can have a chance to arrive at it.

The earlier Prophets used to try to convince their people by engaging in discussions with them. Abraham engaged his Lord in discussion on the issue of death and resurrection in order to increase his conviction. God relates it in the Qur’an as follows:

{And when Abraham said: “My Lord, show me how you bring the dead to life.” He (God) said: “Do you not believe?” He said: “Yes, but (I ask) for the contentment of my heart.” He (God) said: “Take four birds and train them to come to you, then place a portion of them on every mountain. Then call them. They will come to you swiftly.” Then when it became clear to him, he said: “I know that God is Mighty, Wise.”}

The angel Gabriel came to the Prophet and asked him about Islam, faith, piety, and the signs of the Hour. This is a clear proof for Islam’s insistence upon free discussion in religious matters, both between the Muslims themselves as well as between Muslims and the adherents of other faiths.

The condition for such discussions is the sincere desire to arrive at the truth and to accept the truth when it becomes clear. The purpose of discussion must not be to present false and confusing arguments or to spread doubts. Such discussions are forbidden, because they do not help people to arrive at the truth with certainty and conviction.

It also follows from freedom of belief that there must be freedom of religious practice. A person must be allowed to carry out his or her religious duties without being rebuked, belittled, or threatened. The position that Islam has given to Non-Muslims living in the Islamic State is one of the glorious facts of Islamic history and a sign of Islam’s greatness and magnanimity. When the Prophet arrived in Madinah, he gave the Jewish people a treaty of peace.

It afforded them the right to believe and worship according to their own religion and in their own places of worship. The Rightly Guided Caliphs who succeeded him followed the same practice. Umar bin Al-Khattab sent to the people of Jerusalem a treaty with the following wording:

This is what Umar, the Commander of the Faithful, grants to the people of Iliya. He grants them the safety of their persons, their churches, and their crosses… their churches will not be shut down nor destroyed. Nothing will be taken from them or from their crosses. They will not be compelled to abandon their faith nor shall any one of them be abused.

The scholars of Europe today bear witness to the magnanimity of Islam and admit this in their books.

Michaud, in his book, “The History of the Crusades,” writes:
Islam, that commands jihad, is magnanimous to the followers of other faiths. It exempted the patriarchs, monks, and their servants from taxation and prohibited the killing of monks specifically, because of their devoting their lives to worship. Umar bin Al-Khattâb did not harm the Christians in any way when he opened up Jerusalem. The Crusaders, on the other hand, slaughtered the Muslims and burnt down their homes when they entered that city.

Freedom of Opinion

Freedom of opinion is also protected by Islam. Islam permits the individual to look into the Creation of things and observe all the phenomena that it may contain. It encourages the individual to experiment, employ reason, and utilize the world around him for the benefit of humanity. The human being is capable of utilizing nature to his own benefit, transforming it and manipulating it to the maximum possible extent. This can only be achieved with a considerable amount of thought and contemplation.

Advancing ones opinion can be done in many circumstances and for many reasons:

1. It can be done to clarify the truth and counteract falsehood. God says:
{Let there arise from you a group of people who call to goodness, enjoin what is right, and forbid what is wrong. These are the ones who are successful.}

In this verse, God is asking the believers to make the truth manifest and also to refute falsehood.

2. It can be done to prevent oppression and establish justice. This is what the Prophets and Messengers did when they confronted the kings and leaders. Scholars and intellectuals do so when they confront the rulers and judges. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: “The best struggle (jihad) is to speak the truth in front of an unjust king.”

3. A person may advance his or her opinion to clarify which affairs are more important and should be dealt with first. The members of the consultative councils in many countries and societies often do this.

Freedom of opinion can manifest itself in countless other ways, but this freedom is granted by Islam only to foster good and to allow the individual to develop himself and society. It is not there so a person can injure himself and others or follow his lusts and destructive desires.

When we look into Islamic history, we find that freedom of opinion was put into practice since the time of the Prophet.

We can see that the Companion Habbab bin Al-Mundhir gave his personal opinion about where the Muslims should set up camp during the Battle of Badr. His opinion on this matter ran contrary to the opinion of the Prophet but was the accepted opinion.

When the Prophet’s wife Aishah was accused of adultery, some of the Companions advised him to divorce her. Then the Qur’an testified to her innocence. There are many other examples in history where the Companions freely gave their opinions to Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

Freedom of Education

Islam requires the individual to seek knowledge and has granted every individual the right to seek an education. It has placed no restrictions on this, as long as the knowledge sought is of benefit to the Muslims in their worldly lives or their religion. Quite the contrary, Islam encourages people to seek such knowledge.

As for knowledge that yields no benefit, but may even cause harm, it is forbidden for the Muslim to seek it. Magic and fortune telling fall under this category.

Knowledge and education are of great importance for life. For this reason, the very first verse of the Qur’an revealed to the Prophet ordered him to read.
{Read in the name of your Lord Who created. He created man from a clot. Read! And your Lord is Most Generous, Who taught by way of the pen. He taught the human being what he did not know.}  As it is well known, reading is the key to knowledge. This is the reason why the Prophet would pardon any prisoner of war from among the disbelievers if they would teach the Muslim children of Madinah how to read and write. This was after the Muslims had emigrated to Madinah in order to flee persecution, and after the unbelievers subsequently went to war against them.

One of the great qualities of Islam is that it opens up the doors of knowledge for humanity and encouraged the people to walk through them and progress as far as possible. Islam hates the neglect of knowledge and backwardness. For this reason, it is the responsibility of the Islamic State to provide its entire people with educational opportunities and to guarantee everyone their right to an education. This right must be guaranteed to everyone in the country, just like any other right.

Political Freedom

This refers to the freedom of the people to choose and elect their political leadership, as well as their right to monitor and criticize the performance of that leadership and to remove it whenever it deviates from the Laws of God and turn away from justice.

Likewise, it is the right of the individual to participate in carrying out the responsibilities of the government, because political authority is a collective right of the citizens. It is not the exclusive privilege of any individual or group of people. The selection of the political leadership might occur as a result of appointment or the consultation of experts.

Among these affairs is that of making juristic decisions on issues that are not directly addressed by the sacred text, the Qur’an and Hadith. The political leadership must refer to the experts on matters like these. In the same way, the leadership must refer to such people in matters of serious general importance, like declaring war, making peace, concluding a treaty, establishing diplomatic ties, drafting a budget, and granting public assistance to certain sectors of the population. God says:

{Verily God commands you to render trusts back to their owners and if you judge between people that you judge justly.}  Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: “Religion is sincerity.” His Companions asked: “To whom, O Messenger of God?” He replied: “…To God’s Messenger, the leaders of the Muslims, and the masses.”

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