Freedom and Islam
T. O. Shanavas, M. D.
Recently, I read an article, “Women in Islam” describing the liberation of women by Islam and Prophet (s). In reality women cannot travel alone to Hujj or visit Mecca (the safest place for any one), and women cannot drive a car in Saudi Arabia. It is not a secret that Muslims in general and Muslim women in particular in the world are the least free and least educated. So, I wonder: Oh Islam! You are a great theory but no practical value, unless you live in the West.
After all, only one thing matters in Islam. Faith is a matter of exclusively personal and private experience. We embrace faith individually just as we confront our death individually. An Iranian Muslim philosopher, Souroush, correctly said it that we have communal actions and but not communal faiths. We can express faith in public but the core of the faith is mysteriously private. The preeminence of Islamic faith is for the hereafter where people are judged individually: "Everyone of them will come before Him all alone on the Day of Resurrection. Surely A-Rahman will show love for those who believe and do right." [19:95-96]. There is no Original Sin that transcends over the goodness of whole mankind in Islam. Therefore, the only things that matter on the Day of Judgment are actions at the individual level. Community actions are useless.
Similarly, the Qur’an states: “Say (Muhammad it is) truth from the Lord of you all. Whosoever will, let him believe and whosoever will, let him disbelieve" (Koran 18: 29) “And so, [O Prophet,] exhort them; thy task is only to exhort: thou cannot compel them to believe.” (Koran: 21-22). “O Prophet.!…Thy duty is not more than to deliver the message; and the reckoning is Ours.” (Koran 13:40). These verses teach that a roof made out safety and liberty is an absolute necessity to develop faith in the hearts. These verses demand Muslims to guarantee freedom and safety for all. Therefore, if governments, Imams, enforced Fatwas demand any public or outward obedience and submission, such outward appearance is not faith. When law, power, force, and tyranny enforce religion, they are taking control of the body not the soul. Unfortunately, many Muslims want to make reign over body the most important tent of Islam even though the Qur’an rejects their craving for power over body: “It is not your meat or blood that reach Allah: It is fealty of your heart that reaches Him” (22:37).
In Muslim majority nations, people are forced to confessed Islamic faith and behave in one voice in religion; but they forget that the rulers cannot fill the heart with genuine faith. I believe that faith chosen freely at the individual level without coercion and without forced conformity is the genuine faith. In a world where the hearts with freely chosen faith, not by forced compliance, pervade, the true religious spirit come alive to establish an ideal society by free choice of the people. This is proven by Muslim history in the first 6 centuries. Muslims helped Jews to create their Golden Age and liberate Christians from tyranny of Roman church. Muslims philosophy and science promoted the Enlightenment and Renaissance of the Europe. We also created the experimental science. In those days, we educated anyone who came our way without force-feeding our faith. Now we have governments that have taken control of our body claiming to send our “meat and blood” to God while Muslims have to beg from non-Muslim societies for their daily bread to keep their body alive.
Prophet (pubh) struggled to establish a free society. Similarly, Muslims must struggle hard peacefully to establish a free society where no totalitarian government, no Imams, no predominant group control us or decide for us. Everyone is equal. If any one wants to be a believer, let him/her be. If anyone wants to be an apostate let him/her be safe to live the life of an apostate. So-called Islamic government is myth created by power hungry people to control Muslim mind and body. There was no such thing as Islamic government. Government is only a means to execute the will of people. The individual members of the government can have Islamic values and faith. Prophet (s) ruled as democratically elected ruler following the invitation by the people of Medina. Prophet (s) never forced a decision upon his community even when he believed that majority decision on a particular secular matter was a mistake as happened in the case of the disaster of Uhud war. A minority including him wanted to fortify the Medina and fight the Meccan forces. But he agreed to go along with the wishes of the majority to fight Koraisch in the open field instead of from fortified Medina even though the strategy of the majority was wrong in his opinion. So, Islam demands Democracy, not tyranny by Ullamahs, King, self-appointed presidents, and military generals.
The concept of so-called Islamic government is oxymoron unless it means a government with Islamic values that community has accepted, not by the opinion or fatawa of an Imam but by totally free discussion in a free press, without coercion and intimidation. Some of the so-called Islamic values that exist in the contemporary Muslim society are the values of some Imams that had never grinded through and experienced a free press. The self-righteous terrorists, and oppressive governments among Muslims want to control the “meat and blood” with the aid of the values of Imams that were not debated in the free society with a free press. However, they neglect the soul that sustains the body. Let the democracy rule our bodies with a free press and let the free choice build our faith. Let us get rid of from our thoughts the enforced forms of outward Islam that demand the conformity and control from our “meat and blood”
The verse 33:5 states: “There is no sin upon you for what mistakes you commit unintentionally, but there is sin what your hearts have intended.” Unintentional mistakes happen much less if mind is exposed to free press, public opinion, and dialogue with reason as guiding principle. Hadith states "Allah has not created any thing better than reason." So, any Muslim opposes a free press and reasoning are committing a sin knowingly because he/she refuses to listen to the merit or demerit of opposing points of view. Koreishs of Mecca rejected Prophet (s) because they refused to listen to reasoning. Muslims must reject Jahilliah paradigm that pervades in our community and in our mind.
Let Imams and scholars issue Fatwas freely without power to enforce over the community. Reject any conformity by force. Reject totalitarianism and kingdoms that want to rule our body. Let the heart and mind fly free to see what is out there. The democracy draws inspiration from the Qur’anic axiom that human being are free. America constitution reflects it as it states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or the press.” This is candidly stated in verse: “We sent down the Torah which contains guidance and light…Later, in the train of Prophets We send Jesus, son of Mary, confirming the Torah which has been send down before him, and gave him the Gospel containing guidance and light. …Unto to you [O Muhammad] this writ (Koran) and a way and a pattern of life, confirming what were revealed before…Unto everyone of you have We appointed a different law and way of life. And if God had so willed He could surely have you all made one single community professing one faith. But He wished to try you and test you. So try to excel in good deeds” (Koran: 5:44-48). The existence of different kinds of faith and religion competing each other doing good work is the will of God. So, freedom without the enforcement of conformity in religious matters is Islamic. The so-called Islamic governments of the self-righteous violate Qur’anic principles and tyrannize people of all faith including Muslims. Islam will always remain a dream and an excellent theory with no practical value until faith rules the hearts and liberal democracy with a free press rules the bodies. Finally, I thank God for creating America where I do not fear about government taking control of my body and at same time my heart can fly freely to choose my faith.
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