On Liberty

Liberty in Islam is not for an individual alone. It is for the individual, the group, the society and mankind in general, accompanied by a sense of responsibility, writes SYED IQBAL ZAHEER.

Whether it is science, technology, or economy: the changes that have been wrought during the first few years of this century, far outweigh those of the last 100 years (TV, Space flight, etc.).

In other words, what the humans have achieved during the last 20 years (even though they are at the start of this 21st century), is far greater than what they achieved during the whole of the past 20th century.

One of their achievements is liberty.

Liberty has different meanings in different contexts. To one person (a man of political interests), it means democratization; to another (a trader), it means removal of trade barriers; and to (the Westernized) youth it means the freedom to wear as little as it pleases him or her. But to a disseminator of Islamic teachings it means – first and foremost – complete freedom.

Islamically, liberty stands for a man’s complete freedom to choose a deity, a God, of his choice. This freedom includes lack of, and removal of, any pressure, of any kind, be it the society in which he lives; be it his parents, teachers, thinkers, leaders, or philosophers. It will include influences too. For instance, for a teacher to say to his student about something: “I believe it is like this …” or, “This is my opinion …” it is to influence him, and take away the student’s right of freedom to choose. In the normal run, he should not be speaking out his personal opinions.

This, of course, is not only tough to practice, but is rarely taken so far. A student is seeking to know. He should be given what he is seeking. For instance, he might be wanting to know what Karl Marx had said. He may be told where to find Karl Marx’s own words. But, if he is told in reply what “Marxism” is, then the teacher has become a preacher, and, in some respects, the student has become a slave – of some kind – if he or she stops there – which is what most people do.

Islam disapproves of slavery of every kind: physical, economic, psychological or intellectual. Intellectual slavery is the worst of its kind.

This is the liberty Islam has brought. It is complete, pure and undiluted. When a son of the Governor of Egypt slapped a Copt, `Umar punished the son and remarked:

“Allah (swt) created them free. Since when have you enslaved them?”

But liberty in Islam is not for an individual alone. It is for the individual, the group, the society and mankind in general, accompanied by a sense of responsibility. It follows that the fruits of liberty to the individual cannot be beneficial to him alone if the society he lives in, does not agree with him.

A man with a message, and a missionary zeal, thought that he should take his message forward. He knocked at a door. He was told, “Come in!” When he stepped in, he found a woman stark naked, greeting him with a smile and a “Hello!” While she was looking at him in apprehension and unembarrassed, he was completely confused and did not know what he was there for. His mission failed.

His mission, therefore, should be to spread the Islamic ideas of liberty among the common lot. When Islam came, its first message was: free yourself of the slavery of God’s creation and accept the slavery of God alone. That should be his mission.

Slavery to other than God is for the benefit of the masters. But slavery to God is for the benefit of one’s own self. God does not benefit from the slavery of His slaves. If the entire creations – mankind and Jinn – united upon refusal to accept His slavery, they would do no harm to Him whatsoever, and conversely, if the entire creations – mankind and Jinn – united upon acceptance of His slavery, that would cause Him no benefit whatsoever.

The choice is ours. The Qur’an does not take away the liberty given to man. It said, “So, whosever wished, let him believe, and whosoever wished, let him disbelieve” (18: 29)

If God had wished, He could have forced mankind to belief, so that no one had remained but a believer. But He did not take away their liberty, rather, allowed them the choice, although the fact remains that, “…if they see the path of righteousness, they will not accept it as a path. But if they see the deviated path, they will accept it as a path.”(Qur’an 7: 146)

Yet, despite that, mankind were allowed to retain their freedom.

The Prophet (saws) did not impose his message on anyone. He repeatedly said that he was a reminder and an exemplary example.

As for his wars and battles, they were not conducted to impose his will. They were conducted to remove the barriers between him and the common people: the barriers were the political and military leadership.

The wars were conducted to regain freedom. The enemies of faith would not allow him to deliver his message. When he left them at Makkah and arrived at Madinah, the Makkans warned the inhabitants of Madinah that they would punish them severely if they gave him the freedom to convey his message to the public.

A struggle started. But the Prophet was never happy about it, so that when he visited Makkah, he offered a peace settlement. The Makkans were never happy about it. They made it as difficult as they could. One and all, the Companions of the Prophet too, were unhappy about it. They wanted the sword to decide. But the Prophetic eye had liberty and freedom in sight.

The sword promised Makkan heads in the dust. But the treaty – although on disadvantageous terms to him – was promising cool eyes and strong resolves to keep struggling for freedom of the people. After him, the followers of the Prophet had understood the basic tenet: freedom to preach and practice one’s beliefs.

`Umar, the second Caliph, had known the wrongness of the choice made by the enemies of Truth: the glittering swords. But he remarked, “I wish there was a wall between them and us.” But the Persian and Romans had political power and leadership in their minds.

They fought.

And they lost.

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