4 – The effect of laws on freedom in Islam and the west

The Effect of Laws on Freedom in Islam and the West

Allah the all-Wise has said in His book:

الّذین یتّبعون الرّسول النّبىّ الامّىّ الّذی یجدونه مکتوبا عندهم فی التّوراة و الانجیل یامرهم بالمعروف و ینهاهم عن المنکر و یحلّ لهم الطّیّبات و یحرّم علیهم الخبائث و یضع عنهم اصرهم و الاغلال الّتی کانت علیهم

Those who follow the Apostle, the uninstructed prophet, whose mention they find written with them in the Torah and the Bible, who bids them to do what is right and forbids them from what is wrong, makes lawful to them all the good things and forbids them from all vicious things, and relieves them of their burdens and the shackles that were upon them … (Surah al-A’raaf, 157)

We have been discussing freedom in an Islamic society and the responsibility of an Islamic government with respect to this freedom. Previously, we covered two fundamental differences between freedom from the Islamic perspective and freedom in manmade cultures, specifically those of the West in the current age. The second of those difference was that monotheism, the worship of only the one Lord, are embedded within the Islamic concept of freedom. In fact, this is the root origin of freedom. For mankind to attain freedom is to be free of all that is other than Allah – be it laws, customs and practices, or powers and governments; to be beholden only to the command of God the Almighty. This is what gives mankind dignity and value; this is how freedom, in its true meaning, is achieved. Therefore, it is because of the importance that Islam puts on freedom in this encompassing and magnificent meaning that Islam, in order to safeguard freedom, places jihaad as one ofone of its major commandments. In reality, jihad is a tool for attaining and protecting freedom.

Now, there is a third major difference between freedom in the Islamic perspective and freedom from the perspective of Western cultures. This third difference is that the laws prescribed in Islam that limit freedom are not bound solely to the arena of social issues; rather, they include individual, personal, and private matters as well. In the Western culture that identifies laws as the boundaries of freedom, these laws are legislated with social issues in mind, in this manner that the law states that no individual’s freedom should restrict the freedom of another or endanger their benefits. In Islam, this is not the only limiter of freedom. Islamic law limits freedom not only by saying that one must not put the freedoms of others in danger or limit the benefits of society or individuals, but also by saying that one cannot put their own, personal and individual benefits in danger. Manmade laws do not assign any responsibility with regards to an individual’s action if it has absolutely no relation with society. They might advise, but they put no obligations in these circumstances. Islam, and other divinely-revealed religions, in addition to considering the protection of others’ rights and freedoms and saying that one should not encroach on another’s freedoms for the excuse of one’s own freedom, also say that one should not use the excuse of being free and having freewill to put his own benefits in danger. One should not be harmed even by one’s own freedom. This is why harming yourself is prohibited in Islam. Suicide is prohibited. According to Islamic thought, nobody has the right to say that since I am free, I will destroy my own wealth; I will destroy my own life; I will endanger my own health. Just as one is responsible for making sure that one’s movements, actions, and words do not endanger others’ freedoms, one is also responsible for making sure that one’s own freedoms and rights are not endangered. This is a major difference between freedom from the Islamic perspective and freedom from other perspectives and manmade cultures. It is from this viewpoint that submitting to another’s oppression is not allowed in Islam, even if it is only one person that is affected. In Islam, not acting according to one’s waajibaat (religious obligations) and not traveling on the path of perfection is also forbidden. In Islam, holding one’s own potential stagnant, even if it is in a situation where the society is not affected and only that one person is affected, is forbidden. Suicide, self-harm, self-inflicted pains are all forbidden. Therefore, a person cannot say that since I have freedom and freewill, I wish to remove my own freedom. Nor can one put oneself completely under the control of another; one cannot just accept to be oppressed; one cannot decide not to train and perfect one’s own soul.

An important point to be made here is that this limitation of one’s freedom in relation to acting against one’s self and rights and not harming oneself is a personal responsibility. This means that no government and no law has the right to force a person to save their own freedoms if it has no relation to society at large, or to punish them for not protecting their own freedoms. This is why Islam, in those cases that the damage a person causes is only relevant to that same person, does not allow spying, inspecting, or spreading that person’s actions. There are many wrong and prohibited actions in the holy doctrine of Islam that only pose a danger to society if the society knows that action was done. If news is not spread, that action is still harmful, but only to the sinful individual who committed that action, not to society at large. In such a scenario, Islam does not allow one to inspect or spy on people, to see if so-and-so did some prohibited action in the privacy of their own home. People do not have the responsibility to investigate wrongful actions of others as long as those actions remain solely in the domain of the person doing those actions. However, that person committing said actions is still held under a Divine responsibility. God Almighty will give that person the consequences of their actions. Safeguarding oneself and one’s rights is an obligation. The Qur’an says to mankind or to the believers to: ‘Save yourselves and your families from a Fire’[1]. Protect your life, your existence. Likewise, protect your family, those who are within your sphere of influence. Do not allow them to burn in the fire of God’s wrath. Do not allow them to be afflicted with Divine punishments. ‘O you who have faith! Take care of your own souls.’[2] It is your responsibility to safeguard your soul. Whenever an action takes on a social dimension, the law, government, enforcing powers, and courts all have to be vigilant. They have to forbid and punish the wrongdoer. However, whenever the usage of some resources results only in the harm of one’s own person, the law has no responsibility. But, Muslims, from the Islamic perspective, still do not have the freedom to inflict this damage on themselves. Destroying one’s own rights is not allowed. This is the third of the major differences between freedom from Islamic and Western perspectives.

With regards to these three differences that have been mentioned, we can summarize by saying that freedom exists in Islam in the very same glittering meaning that the world thinks of it today – freedom from the binds of servitude, slavery, imprisonment, and powers and giving value to mankind’s will. The thinking of some that freedom in this meaning has only come into being in the past two or three centuries is mistaken. Just as was mentioned in the beginning of this discussion, the verses of Qur’an and narrations demonstrate that freedom in this same, encompassing meaning has existed for some time within Islam, and in fact within all divinely-revealed religions. However, this meaning of freedom does not correspond completely with Islamic freedom. Islamic freedom encompasses a greater dimension. In some aspects, it is more precise and careful. It is for this reason that freedom from an Islamic perspective and freedom from the perspective of the common Western culture of today have those differences that we mentioned. From here, the various types and divisions of freedom need to be discussed: individual freedom, the issue of slavery, freedom of thought, freedom of belief, freedom to do various political activities, freedom to express one’s belief, freedom of speech, freedom of writing, and other such freedoms. These will be covered later God willingly in which I am hopeful that I can give a proper presentation of freedom in Islamic culture – a definite responsibility of the Islamic government to provide.


[1] Surah al-Tahrim, verse 6: قوا انفسكم واهليكم نارا

[2] Surah al-Ma’idah, verse 105: يا ايّها الّذين امنوا عليكم انفسكم

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