Freedom of Belief, or of Thought?
That religion must not be imposed on the individual and that people must be free in their choice of religion is one thing. That belief, however, in the current phraseology, must be free, is quite another. In other words, whereas freedom of thought and choice is one thing, freedom of belief is quite another. Many beliefs have "thought" for a foundation, meaning that many beliefs have been discerned and found to be true and have been freely chosen. The alignment and commitment of an individual's heart to his beliefs in many cases is built on discernment and selection, but are all human beliefs built on thought, discernment and selection? Or are the majority of mankind's beliefs no more than alignments and commitments of the human soul that have not the slightest relationship to thought at all, that have a mere sentimental basis? An example the Quran cites on the subject of imitation by one generation of the previous generation is:
"Verily we found our fathers on their creed and verily we are followers of their footsteps." (43:23)
The Quran puts great stress on this point, and the same applies to a belief that is formed by the imitation of the patricians of society. In such places, the phrase freedom of belief is completely without meaning, for freedom means the absence of obstacles to the activities of an active and advancing force, whereas this type of belief is a kind of constriction and stagnation.
Freedom in constriction is equal to the freedom of a prisoner condemned to eternal imprisonment, or of a man chained in heavy chains, and the only difference is that he who is physically enchained senses his condition, while he whose spirit is in chains is unaware of it. This is what we mean when we say that freedom of belief based on imitation and environmental influences, rather than on freedom of thought, is totally meaningless.
Adapted from the book: "Jihad; The Holy War of Islam and Its Legitimacy in the Quran" by: "Ayatullah Morteza Mutahhari"
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