Rafed English

Freedom of Belief as an Affair beyond the Realm of Law

Adopted from the book : "Freedom; The Unstated Facts and Points" by : "Ayatullah Misbah Yazdi"

As what we have indicated, one of the freedoms which has been given much importance and chanted as slogan is the freedom of belief. Man is free to have whatever belief he is inclined with. No one has the right to insult the belief of others, or to condemn, prosecute and punish them on account of their belief. Of course, there are Muslim legal experts, both in Iran and other countries, who have come to the defense of the Islamic viewpoint in this regard, publishing numerous works on these topics.

What we are able to state as of the moment is that at the outset this question must be posed: Is “belief” [‘aqi-dah] as a conviction and a personal affair related to the heart, in principle related to the matter of law [huqu-q], or not? Sometimes we want to express a belief or to make practical steps derived from it.

If this is the case, this is no longer related to the freedom of belief; instead, it is freedom of expression or freedom of action. Belief is that which is in the heart and mind. Our question also is this: Is such a thing, in principle, related to the law, or not? In our opinion, the answer to this question is a negative one. The subject of law is the social behaviors, and legal laws are enacted for establishing order to the social relations.

Any affair that is purely individual and personal, and totally belongs to the private realm of individual life has nothing to do with law. This kind of affair is situated at the realm of ethics. It would possibly find belongingness in the ideological and moral “must” and “must-not”, but the legal law is not enacted for it.

An action can possibly be so abominable from the moral perspective, but in any case since it is a personal affair nothing has been written about it in the legal law books. As a personal and private affair, belief is not situated in the realm of law. Whether it is good or bad, correct or wrong, belief has nothing to do with law. The goodness and badness, or correctness and wrongness of a belief must be examined within the pertinent field. If a person believes in a superstitious and irrational affair—of course, it is not a rational act—yet, in any case, it is not related to law.

As such, to advance the proposition that legally speaking man is free to have whatever conviction he wants is incorrect and fallacious because the scope of law and legal rules is the social behaviors and relations while conviction is a personal and individual affair related to the heart. So, in the legal laws of Islam a law pertaining to belief does neither positively nor negatively exist:

“There is no compulsion in religion.” 27

This noble a-yah [verse] is a witness to the fact that since it is an affair related to the heart and soul, religion is not for compulsion and imposition. Conviction cannot be imposed. Belief cannot be created by force; coercion cannot change it either. Belief cannot be subjected to law such that we could express it “legally” or “legally” remove it from the mind and heart of human beings.

Belief is based on reason. So long as the reason behind it exists, belief will also remain. If the reason behind it was altered, belief will also fade away. If the reason was proved false, the belief will also die out. Therefore, the question on whether belief has freedom in Islam or not is an irrelevant question because neither Islam nor any other legal system could positively or negatively formulate a law concerning belief.

Yes, once the belief is expressed, propagated and disseminated, and put into action so as to draw the attention of others toward it, at the time it will enter the sphere of social action, and enacting legal law regarding it becomes possible. From then on, the discussion is on the freedom of expression, which we will examine.


27. Su-rah al-Baqarah 2:256.

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