Islam and Freedom

Freedom is something that every human being strives for, yet few understand its reality. It has been an elusive dream for most of humanity. Western culture and democracy was built on its promise, only to fail in its vision. Islam is the only ideology that presented the concept of freedom to the people in its true form and established the means by which to achieve it. A comparison of the western democratic culture’s concept of freedom vs. that of the Islamic ideology will provide a clearer understanding for this issue.

 As an idea, Freedom can be understood to have two meanings: firstly, as the liberation from slavery due to the sovereignty of some human beings over others; and secondly, to live the life without restrictions from any source. During the Middle ages, Western Democracy emerged from the political climate of Europe with the idea of freedom as its cornerstone. It sought to free people from slavery to the King and from the persecution of the Church. The Kings of Europe used to claim themselves as sovereign over their subjects, alleging that they rule by the divine right which was sanctioned by the Church. In turn, the Church controlled the thinking of the people, prohibiting free thought, the right to expound opinions contradictory to that of the Church, or to adopt any belief other than its own dogma. As a reaction to this, thinkers such as John Locke, Jacques Rossaeau, John Stuart Mill, and others started calling for concepts such as the natural freedom, which was the freedom from the sovereignty of the king. They also called for freedom from the Church’s control in life’s affairs claiming that human beings should have their freedoms, such as the freedom of speech, assembly, religion, ownership, etc. This struggle occurred in Europe; however, in the New World, a similar struggle to break away from the sovereignty of the King of Britain began in the 18th century. This ideological uprising in Europe and in the Americas eventually led to the French and American Revolutions and the establishment of nation-states on the principles of democracy and freedom.

However, the vision of freedom that was put forth by the early thinkers of the renaissance proved to be impractical. The sovereignty of the King was removed only to establish the sovereignty of a few individuals, such as the capitalists, legislators, and the like. People, as a whole, never had the sovereignty for themselves; although this is what was promised to them, and it is what they fought for. Additionally, in order to manipulate the masses into thinking that they are the real sovereigns, the concept of the popular vote, and representation is used. In reality, neither the vote nor the representatives demonstrate the true will of the people. This is because the voters are given a choice from that which is already decided by the establishment, and the representatives are elected from a select few, all of whom would never even be able to campaign without the support of the capitalists. A careful study of the political system also demonstrates that it is the will of the interest groups, which dominates the agenda of the entire government. Thus, it is very clear that the sovereignty in the “democratic” states does not lie with the people; rather, it lies with the rich and powerful who make up the establishment. Establishing the sovereignty for any human being, whether it is the king or the parliament or the congress, is by definition an acknowledgment that some people have the right and the privilege to be the sovereign, while others have the obligation to be their subjects. This is what today should be called neo-slavery, i.e. the “democratic” slavery. It is far worse than the slavery on the plantations, the scars of which are still carried by many. It allows the people to think they are free, that they are no longer the subjects of any sovereign, though the reality is otherwise. They are slaves to the capitalists, they carry the opinions that they broadcast, buy the products that they promote, support the causes they fund, and imitate the role models the media builds for them.

With regards to the personal freedom and liberty, it is expounded by the West as its crowning achievement. The personal liberties that it granted to its citizens attempted to satisfy the desire of the people to live their life according to their own will. The oppression of the Church during the Middle Ages was the strongest factor behind this call to freedom. Thus, when the capitalists came to rule the society, they lifted the restrictions on speech, thinking, privacy, etc. that the church had imposed. This has led the people to feel that they managed to achieve the personal liberation they hoped for. This type of freedom is promoted to such a degree in the society, that the people no longer think about the issue of sovereignty, believing that this personal liberty is the only true form of freedom.

However, this type of liberty is impractical for a functional society because it would mean that there would be no laws to govern the society. Realisng this, the Western thinkers introduced concepts such as the “Social Contract”, which argued that people must give up a share of their freedom in order to live in organised society. Thus, the concept of freedom of speech was amended to exclude many things, such as what happened in the era of McCarthyism. Freedom of assembly and press came to be restricted by numerous regulations in the name of protecting the society. Even freedom of religion was restricted to protect the concept of secularism. Freedom of ownership was restricted by regulations of trade, such as import/export regulations and the laws of taxation. Thus, once again, the people, in their affairs, came to be bound by the restrictions set by the ruling body, which in this case happened to be the capitalists rather than the Church or the King.

In the Western society, even what appears to be freedom of choice is in reality a reflection of the marketing power of companies. People wear what they are told is “cool” to wear. Women wear mini-skirts because they have to wear them in order to be appreciated as a woman. Kids buy Nike shoes and drink Pepsi because Beckam does so, and they are told, “Be like Beckam”. Those who control the educational system and the media shape all of the society’s concepts: what is valuable or meaningless, legitimate or unsuitable, pretty or ugly, decent or indecent. If anyone does manage to think beyond the paradigm imposed on him, then he or she becomes an outcast, an extremist, or a loser in the public eye. This is the true nature of the freedom that the West professes to. It is in fact slavery of the mind.

Islam deals with the issue of freedom in a radically different way than any other ideology. It did not call the people to the misleading idea of popular sovereignty, nor did it make false promises to allow people to live uninhibited by the laws that form a society. Instead, Islam established the freedom of the human being on the Sovereignty of Allah, the Creator. Allah alone has the right to govern the life of the human being. He is the one who created all human beings, and He is the one they will be accountable to. Establishing Allah as the Sovereign liberates the human being from being governed by the whims and desires of any other human being. Islam recognized that one is in fact a slave to the one he accepts as his Sovereign. So either one believes in Allah as the Sovereign, and is his slave, or he submits to the false sovereignty of other human beings, becoming their slave. That is why when one of the Muslim delegates to Persia was asked about his objective in coming to Persia, He replied, “Allah sent us to liberate [mankind] from the submission to other human beings to the submission to the Lord of the human beings…and from the oppression of religions to the justice of Islam”. Thus, Islam provided the human being with the true sense of freedom, the freedom which comes by knowing that one is the subject of his Creator, not of the creation.

After establishing the sovereignty of Allah, Islam set up the correct system to govern the society. The system is an integral part of any society; without it, people would live in anarchy. However, if one believes in a specific ideology, then the restrictions that that ideology places are not viewed as a burden, but rather as a necessity. As for the nature of the Islamic system, it looks after the individual and the entire society without sacrificing one or the other. The one who follows the rules of this system is in fact, following the revelation from the Creator, not any other human being. Since the revelation is the only source for laws in Islam, it freed the human being from being bound by the restriction which human beings have imposed on each other throughout history. Thus, the ones who have wealth and power will not decide whether we have the right to sell something or not. They will not decide what we are allowed to wear or not. They will not control the laws by which we conduct are public and private lives. Rather, they too will be bound by the same system, the system sent to humanity from the Creator.

Besides these fundamental differences between the Islamic and Western perspectives on freedom, the approach that these ideologies took in presenting the concept of freedom to the people differs greatly. The Western ideology started by calling for the popular sovereignty and personal freedom, then mended their philosophy to justify the restriction they had to put. However, they maintain their erroneous call for freedom, giving false hope to the people by it, and keeping them preoccupied in its pursuit. The Islamic ideology, on the other hand, addresses the people clearly, never giving the false impression that the human being is completely free, that he is sovereign over himself. It provides a view of freedom that preserves the dignity of the individual and the society. It is the only way by which human beings will be liberated from the sovereignty of other men and the only means by which they can conduct their affairs for their well being rather than the benefit of their false masters. Its call, rather than the deceptive call of the western concept of freedom, is what humanity needs to hearken to. It is the true freedom.

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