Rafed English

Tawhid: A Personal Right or A General Right?

Now an important matter must be looked at which is about tawhid, "La ilaha illallah." "There is no god but (except) God (Allah)." Does tawhid pertain to the rights of humanity, or to the rights of the individual? Here it is possible for a Muslim to say that tawhid does not pertain to the rights of humanity but pertains only to the affairs of the individual, or at most, to the internal affairs of a nation; that he himself can be "muwahid," 4 he has the choice of being "muwahid" if he wants to be, or a mushrak (polytheist), if he wants to be, and now that he has become muwahid, no one has the right to trouble him for it, it is his personal right, and, if someone else becomes a mushrik, then that is the right of that person. Any single nation in its laws can choose one of the following three positions: One is that it chooses tawhid and adopts it as the official religion and officially rejects any other religion. Another is that a form of shirk, of polytheism is established as the official religion, and the other is that the nation allows freedom of worship. One can choose whatever religion or creed one desires. If tawhid is embodied in the law of a nation then it is one of the rights of that nation and if not; no. This is one way of looking at things. There is another view, however, which regards tawhid as being like freedom and pertaining to the rights of humanity. When discussing freedom we said that the meaning of the right to freedom is not simply that the freedom of an individual be not threatened from any quarter, for it is possible that it be threatened by the very individual. So if a people fight for tawhid to combat shirk (polytheism), their fight is motivated by defense, not by subjugation, tyranny and transgression. This, then, is the nature of the minor difference in question.

Even amongst the learned of Islam there are two views. According to some of them, tawhid pertains to the general rights of humanity, so that fighting for the sake of tawhid is lawful, for it is the defense of a human right and is like fighting for another nation's freedom. Another group however, argues that tawhid pertains to individual rights and perhaps to national rights, but has nothing to do with the rights of humanity, and accordingly, no one has the right to trouble anyone else for the sake of tawhid. Which of the two views is correct?

I intend to state my own view on this subject. But before doing so, I would like to speak about another issue, and perhaps on reaching a conclusion, the two issues will be seen as a single one. The point is that some affairs may be accepted under duress, i.e. accepted under compulsion, whereas some others as per their nature, must be freely selected.

Imagine one, for example, becoming dangerously infected with a disease and having to accept taking an injection. In such a case, the one in concern can be forced to take the injection; if that person refuses it, others can come and his hands and feet can be forcefully tied; and if he continues to resist, the injection can be administered while he is unconscious. This is something which can be accepted under duress. The acceptance of other things, however, cannot be forced through compulsion, for other than by free choice, there is no way they can be accepted. Among such things we find the purification of the self, for example, and the refinement of one's behavior. If we want to refine people so that they come to recognize and accept virtues as virtues and evils as evils and refrain from faulty human behavior so that they eventually reject falsehood and embrace the truth, we cannot do so by the whip; we cannot do so by force.

With a whip, it is possible to prevent someone from stealing, but it is not effective in making an honest individual out of someone. For if such things were possible, then, for example, if the self of a person was in need of purification and his personal behavior sadly lacking in good morals and ethics, a hundred lashes meted to him would make of that person somebody with good morals and ethics. Instead of a good education, the teachers would simply use the whip and say: "So that this person throughout his life, always tells the truth and finds lies repulsive, he is to be given a hundred lashes, and thereafter he will never tell a lie." The same thing applies to love. Can one force a person to love another by the whip? Love and affection cannot be forced upon someone. No forces in the world, even if taken together cannot force love upon somebody nor take away his love for somebody.

Having made clear this point, I wish to say that faith, regardless of whether it is a basic right of humanity or not, is, by its very nature, not something that can be imposed by force. If we want to create faith, we should know that it is not possible to create it by force. Faith means belief and inclination. Faith means being attracted to and accepting a set of beliefs, and attraction to a belief calls for two conditions. One condition is that the matter must accord with the intellect, this is the scientific aspect of faith.

The other is the emotional aspect i.e. the human heart should be attracted to faith, and none of them comes within the realm of force. Not the first condition, because thinking is subject to logic - if it is desired that a child be taught the solution of a mathematical problem, he must be taught in a logical way so that he finds credence in it. He cannot be taught by the whip. His intellect will not accept a matter through force, and beating. The same applies to the second condition, the emotional quality, that stimulates inclination, attraction and sentiment.

According to this, there is a huge difference between tawhid as a right of humanity and things other than tawhid, such as freedom. Freedom is something that can be imposed on a people by force, because transgression and oppression can be prevented by force. But living freely and the freedom-loving spirit cannot be imposed by force. It is not possible to force a person to accept a belief or to forcibly create faith in a certain thing within his heart. This is the meaning of "La ikraha fid-din.

Qat-tabayanar-rushdo min al-ghayy," meaning there is no compulsion in religion. When the Quran says that there is no compulsion in religion, it does not mean that, though it is possible for religion to be imposed by force, we must not impose it and must leave people to adopt any religion they want. No. What the Quran is saying is that religion cannot possibly be imposed. That which can be imposed under compulsion is not religion. To the Bedouin Arabs, who had recently accepted Islam without having perceived the nature of its essence and without Islam having influenced their hearts, who were claiming to have "faith," the Quran gave this reply:

"The Arabs say "we have faith," tell them: "you do not yet have faith, say "we have accepted Islam" for faith has not yet entered your hearts." (49:14)

In Quranic terms "the Arabs" means the desert nomads. The nomads came to the Holy Prophet Muhammad (May God bless him and his Household) claiming to have faith. The Holy Prophet was instructed to tell them that they did not have true belief, faith and that only that when they had said they had become Muslims, i.e. had made the verbal declaration, had done that which entitled them to be superficially rated as Muslims, had recited "La ilaha illallah, Muhammadan rasulullah," could they avail themselves of the same rights that belong to a Muslim. The Prophet was to tell them, however, that that which is called faith had not yet entered their hearts.

"... for faith has not yet entered your hearts." (49:14)

This tells us that faith is related to the heart.

Another factor that supports our claim is that Islam does not permit taqleed (imitation) in the fundamental beliefs of religion and counts independent research as essential. The fundamental beliefs of religion are of course related to belief and faith. So it becomes clear that, in Islam, faith is a product of free thought. The faith and belief which Islam calls for cannot be acquired through non-free thoughts subject to "taqleed," force and compulsion.

So now we realize the two views of the Islamic researchers to be quite close. One group argues that tawhid pertains to the universal rights of humanity and as it is undeniably legitimate to defend the rights of humanity, so it is legitimate to defend tawhid and fight against others for its sake. The other group claims that there is absolutely no legitimate way that tawhid can be defended, and, if a nation is polytheistic, we are not permitted to fight it on that account. Now, the proximity of both views lies in the fact that, even if we consider tawhid to be a human right, still we cannot fight another nation to impose the belief in tawhid upon them, for as we have seen, by the very nature of its essence, tawhid is not something that can be imposed. There is another point also, namely, that if we reckon tawhid as a right of humanity, and if we see that it is in the best interests of humanity and if tawhid demands, then it is possible for us to fight a nation of polytheists, but not to impose tawhid and faith upon it for we know that tawhid and faith cannot be imposed.

We can however fight the polytheists in order to uproot evil from that society. Ridding a society of evil, polytheistic beliefs is one thing, while imposing the belief of tawhid is another.

According to the view of those who consider tawhid to be pertaining to the rights of the individual or at most to the rights of a nation, this is not permissible. The predominant line of thought in the West, which has also penetrated the ranks of us Muslims, is exactly this.

Such issues as tawhid are regarded by the Europeans as personal issues and not at all important to life; more or less as custom from which each nation has the right to choose. On this basis, it is held that even for the sake of uprooting evil, no one has the right to combat polytheism, because polytheism is not iniquity, and tawhid is a purely personal issue.

If, on the other hand, we consider tawhid to be a universal issue, one pertaining to the rights of humanity and one of the conditions for humanity's general welfare and prosperity, then we see it as permissible to commence war with the mushrikin for the sake of the demands and defense of tawhid and in order to uproot corruption, even though war for the sake of imposing the tawhidic 5 belief is not permissible.

Here we are entering upon a different issue, namely whether fighting for the freedom of the "call" is permissible or not. What does it mean - fighting for the freedom of the call? It means that we must have the freedom to propagate a certain faith and belief to any nation. Not the generally current propagation which aims solely at propaganda, but propagation in the sense that we just explained. Nothing more. And now, whether we consider freedom to be a universal human right, or tawhid to be so, or both of them to be universal human rights, to do this is definitely lawful. Now, if a barrier arises against our calls, like some power, say, presenting itself as an obstacle, denying us permission, saying that we will impair the mind of its nation - and we know that most governments consider as impairing all thinking which may encourage the people to revolt against them - if such a regime sets itself up as a barrier to the call of truth, is it permissible to fight against it until it falls and the barrier against the call broken down, or is this not permissible?

Yes, this is also permissible. This would be for the cause of defense. This would be one of those jihads, the actual nature of which is defense.

4. A "Muwahid" is a person who accepts the reality of tawhid.

5. "Tawhidic," which the translator has noticed in English texts, seems to be an anglicized noun from the Arabic word "tawheed" and meaning, pertaining to tawheed.

Adapted from the book: "Jihad; The Holy War of Islam and Its Legitimacy in the Quran" by: "Ayatullah Morteza Mutahhari"

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