Rafed English

The Position of Islam towards Freedom

the government of the United States has not been able to liberate the American nation from the slavery to liquor, in spite of the huge materialistic and spiri- tual potentials the ruling authority and various social institutes used for this purpose. This fearful failure is but the result of western man losing his real freedom, for he cannot say "No", whenever convinced, as does the man of the Qur'an ... ! In- stead, he says the word his desire forces him to articu- late! For this reason, he has not been able to free himself from liquor's entanglement, for he has not, under the shade of the western civilization, won a real emancipation within his spiritual and intellectual content. 8

This internal emancipation, or inner-building of man's entity, is, according to Islam, the corner- stone in the establishment of a free and happy so ciety. As long as man does not possess his will, un- able to control his inner situation or maintain for his cultivated humanity the upper word in determining his conduct, he can never truly free himself social- ly in order to resist temptation, nor can he wage the battle of an external liberation with merits and bravery ... V erily, nev er will A llah change the con- dition of a people until they change it them- selves ( with their own souls) ... (Qur'an, 13:11)

If W e will to perish a village, W e would order its rich who would mak e corruption therein; then it would be opportune f or Our call, and we would totally ruin it. (Qur'an, 17:16)

While waging the war of humanity's inner liber- ation, Islam likewise wages another war to liberate man socially. It ruins, in the internal content of man, the idols of desire which rob him of his human free- dom. It smashes, in the field of exchanged relations among individuals, the social idols as well. It eman- cipates humanity from its slavery. It puts an end to man worshipping man:

Say: "O People of the B ook! Come to common terms as between us and you: that we worship none but A llah; that we associate no partners with Him; that we erect not, f rom among our- selves, lords and patrons other than A llah ... " (Qur'an, 3:64) Man's submission to Allah makes all people stand on equal footing before the Hands of the worshipped Creator; there is no nation that has the right to colcaize and enslave another nation, nor is there a group of the society allowed to rob another group or violate its freedom, nor is there one human being who has the right to pose himself as an idol to be worshipped by others.

Once more do we find out that the second Qur'anic war for the purpose of liberation uses the same method it used in the first war; that is, the war to liberate man internally from the control of his desires, and it is used in all other Islamic epics, which is: tawhid. As long as man acknowledges sub- mission to Allah alone, he would naturally reject any idol or fake worship of any person or being. He would lift his head up high with dignity, and he will not feel the humiliation of slavery and sub- missiveness to any power on earth or any idol. The phenomenon of idol-worship in man's life has been initiated for two reasons:

One of them is his slavery to his own desire which makes him yield his freedom to the human idol which can satisfy and guarantee the fulfilment of that desire. The other is his ignorance of what lie behind those idolatrous masks professing deism of points of weakness and incapacity.

Islam has emancipated man from slavery to desire, as we have come to know above, and from the fakery of those deceitful idolatrous masks:

Those whom you call as gods other than A llah are but His servants like your own selves ... ! (Qur'an, 7:194)

It naturally follows that he conquers idol-wor- ship and wipes out from the Muslim minds idolatry in all its various shapes and hues. In the light of the bases upon which stands the liberation of man from the slaveries of desire in the personal field, and his emancipation from idol-wor ship in the social, albeit if the idol is a nation, a group, or an individual ..., can we know the individual's sphere of practical conduct in Islam. Islam is different from the modern western civilizations which does not restrict this practical freedom of the individual but those of others. Islam takes care, first of all, as we have already come to know, of emancipating the individual from the slavery of desires and idols, allowing him to behave as he pleases as long as he does not go beyond Allah's limits. The Qur'an says:

It is He W ho hath created f or y ou all things that are on earth ... (Qur'an, 2:29)

A nd He has subjected to y ou, as f rom him , all that is in the heav ens and on earth ... ( Qur'an, 45:13)

Hence, Islam puts the cosmos in its entirity at the disposal of man of his freedom, but it is con- fined freedom to the limits which make it congenial with his internal liberation from the slavery of desire and his external liberation from the slavery of idols. As regarding practical freedom in adoring the desire and clinging to earth and all what this implies, re- nouncing human freedom in its true meaning...,

as regarding practical freedom in remaining silent about injustice and relinquishing right, worshipping idols and getting closer to them, persuing their own interests and giving up the real great and true message of man in this life ..., all of this is not permitted in Islam, for it is nothing but the destruction of the deepest meanings of freedom in man; rather, Islam understands it to be part of a perfect intellectual and spiritual programme upon whose basis humanity must stand.

When we highlight this liberating and revol- utionary facet of Islam in the social sphere, we do not imply thereby that it agrees with the democratic social norms of freedom in their particular western framework. While differing from the western civili- zation in its concept of the personal freedom, as we have come to know a short while ago, Islam also differs from it in its concept of the political, econ- omic and intellectual freedom.

The western concept of political freedom ex- presses the basic idea of the western civilization which claims that man possesses himself, and nobody has the right to give him directions. Political freedom has been a result of practising such basic idea in the political field, for as long as the structure, colour and laws of the social life affect all members of the society directly, then everybody has to participate in the operation of social construction as he pleases, and no individual may force another to do what he does not like or subject him by force to a system he does not accept. Political freedom starts conflicting with the basic idea as soon as it faces the reality of life, for it is natural that the society contains numerous dif ferent views, and adopting some people's view means depriving others of their right to possess their own will and control their destiny. Here has the idea to adopt the majority's view come as a collaboration between the basic idea and political freedom. But it is an incomplete collaboration because the minority enjoys its rights of freedom and will just like the majority, and the majority's view deprives it from using its right ... ; therefore, the principle of the majority is not more than a system whereby one group plays havoc with another group's rights, with only a numerical difference ... !

We do not deny that the majority principle maybe one accepted by all people; therefore, the minority tries hard to execute the view of the ma- jority as being the one with more adherents, even though it spontaneously believes in another view- point and tries to attract the majority to it. But this is an assumption whose validity cannot be ascertained in all societies. There are many minorities that do not accept any view other than their own even if it opposes the majority view.

From this we can come to this summary: The basic idea of the western civilization, as soon as it functions in the political field, starts contradicting itself and facting the reality, turning to a norm of despotism and individualism in government shown in the best way by the majority ruling the minority.

Islam does not believe in this "basic idea" of the western civilization, for it is based on man wor- shipping Allah, and that Allah alone is man's Master and Sustainer, the only One Who has the right to arrange his life-style ... A re many lords differing among them- selv es better, or the One A llah, Supreme and Irresistible? ..., the Command is f or none but A llah. He hath commanded that y e worship none but Him: ... (Qur'an, 12:39-40)

And it blames those individuals who yield them- selves to others, granting them the right of Imamate in life and Divine upbringing They tak e their priests and their anchorites to be their lords in derogation of A llah ... ( Qur'an, 9:31)

Therefore, neither the individual nor all the individuals together have the right to monopolize authority other than Allah, directing the social life and establishing its durricula and constitutions ... !

Among the outcomes of such "equality" in this life we come to know that man's liberation politically is based upon the belief in the equality of all society members in bearing the burdens of the Divine Trust and their cooperation in enacting Al- mighty Allah's commandments: "Everyone of you is in charge, and is responsible for those he is in charge of." Political equality in Islam differs in shape from its western counter-part. It is equality in bear- ing responsibility, not in ruling.

Among the results of this equality is man's emancipation in the political field from the control of others and the eradication of all norms of political exploitation, individualistic and class government.

For this reason do we find the glorious Qur'an renouncing Pharaoh's rule as well as the society he used to rule, for he symbolized the control of the individual over the government and the domination of one class over all other classes:

Truly Pharaoh elated himself in the land and brok e up its people into sections, depressing a small group among them... (Qur'an, 28:4)

Any political structure which allows an individ- ual or class to exploit and subjugate other individuals or classes is not accepted in Islam, for it opposes the equality among the society members in bearing responsibility in their absolute submission to Allah Almighty.

As for the economic freedom, it is, in its capi- talist concept, only a freedom in appearance which may be summarized thus: allowing every individual to behave as he pleases in the economic field with- out the interference or pressure of the ruling appar- atus.

Having permitted the individual to behave as he pleases, capitalism is not further concerned about securing anything he wants! In other words, it is not concerned with allowing him to want anything! For this purpose do we find out that economic freedom, in its materialistic concept, does not bear any mean- ing to those who were not allowed by opportunities to live, nor were the circumstances of competition and economic racing prepared for him! Thus does freedom become merely a mirage without being able to grant these people of its meaning except according to the amount of freedom it grants the individuals who are incapable of, say, swimming when we say to them: "You are free to swim as you please, wher- ever you please! " If we really want to let them swim freely as they choose, giving them a chance to enjoy this sport as those who can swim enjoy it, we would have secured their safety during that and asked the expert swimmers to protect them, watch them and not abandon them while swimming else they should get drowned; hence, we would have really promoted true freedom and the capability to swim for all in reality, even though we may have restricted a little bit the activity of the expert swimmers for the sake of protecting the life of others.

This is exactly what Islam has done in the econ- omic field: It called for both economic freedom and assurance, mingling them in a unified structure, for all are free in the economic field, but within certain limits. The individual is not free when the security of other individuals and the maintenance of the general welfare demand that he gives up some of his freedom. Thus have the ideas of freedom and security been co-ordinated in Islam. 9

As for intellectual freedom, this, according to western civilization, is permitting any individual to think, declare and propagate his ideas as he pleases, as long as he does not harm the concept of freedom and the bases whereupon it hinges. For this reason, democratic societies try hard to oppose fascist ideas, limiting their freedom or annihilating them alto- gether, for such ideas fight the very same basic idea and intellectual base whereupon the concept of free- dom and the democratic bases stand.

Islam differs from democratic capitalism in this situation as a result of its being different from it in the nature of the intellectual base it adopts which is tawhid and linking the cosmos to One Lord. It allows the human mind to set out and declare itself as long as it does not revolt against its intellectual base which is the true basis of the availability of free- dom for mankind according to Islam, granting him his free and glorious character which does not dis- solve before temptations, nor does it kneel down before idols. Both western civilization and Islam allow the intellectual freedom as long as there is no danger resulting therefrom against the essential base and freedom itself.

Among the fruits of the intellectual freedom in Islam is the war it wages against imitation and stagnant thinking, against mental submission to myths or to ideas of others without consciousness or scrutinization. Islam aims thereby towards the creation of an analytical mind or an experimental one in man. It is not enough to establish the free mind in man by just saying to him: "You may think as you please", as has the western civilization done, for this expansion of freedom will be at the expense of freedom itself, and it quite often leads to hues of intellectual slavery symbolized in imitation, fanati- cism and the glorification of superstitions. Rather, in order to create the free mind, according to Islam, man has to nurture the analytical or experimental mind which does not accept an idea without scruti- nization, nor does it believe in a doctrine unless it is proved, so that this conscious mind may ensure the intellectual freedom and protect man from misusing it because of imitation, fanaticism or scruples. In fact, this is but the share of the Islamic struggle for the internal liberation of man. Just as it emanci- pated man's will from the slavery of temptation, as we have come to know before, so has it, liberated the human consciousness from the slavery of imi- tation, fanaticism and superstitions. In both this and that has man become free indeed in his mind and will.

... So announce the god tidings to My servants, those who listen to the word, and f ollow the best ( meaning) of it. Those are they whom A llah has guided; those - they are men possessed of mind. (Qur'an, 39:17 -18 )

... A nd W e have sent down unto thee (also) the message; that thou mayest explain clearly to men what is sent f or them, and that they may give thought. (Qur'an, 16:44)

... Those are their (vain) desires. Say: "Pro- duce y our proof if y e are truthf ul." ( Qur'an, 2:111)

W hen it is said to them: "Follow what A llah hath revealed: " they say: "Nay! W e shall f ollow the way s of our f athers. " W hat! Ev en though their f athers were v oid of wisdom and guid- ance?! ( Qur'an, 2.170)


8. See my article (Freedom in the Qur'an) printed in series: (Ikhtarna laka), Dar az-Zahra', Beirut, 1395/ 1975, pp.43-54.

9. For the purpose of elaboration, notice our study of capitalist democracy in Iqtisaduna, pp.247-269

Adopted from the book: "Contemporary Man and The Social Problem" by: "Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir Al-Sadr"

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