بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
All praise is due to Allah alone; the One who, out of His love and mercy, sent guidance for the benefit of mankind in this life and the hereafter. May the best benedictions and peace be upon the best of creation who was sent as an example of human perfection, the highest ideals and how to live according to our faith. To proceed:
The modern world seems inundated with slogans aimed at directing the hearts and minds of mankind. Terms such as “safety and security”, “democracy”and “freedom” are made empty and twisted due to misuse. Awareness of the hollow nature of these slogans and the propaganda behind them, as well as a real substantive view for believers, is necessary in order to combat the tidal wave of slogans inundating the Muslim lands, communities, families, and individual hearts and minds. A good place to begin is with a view of freedom from the Islamic perspective. Granted, this must be limited due to this medium, but hopefully it will offer a solid frame work on the topic.
If one was to ask ten people the meaning of the term freedom they are likely to receive ten different responses. In this paper the term will be defined, in order to have a working definition, as “the ability to move within bounds”. [this definition was used by professor Daniel Coffeen of U.C. Berkley.] this definition is very good as it expresses both, the inherent meaning of liberty as well as the presence of boundaries or limits. In reality, if the limits are too constricting, you do not have freedom but coercion. Similarly, if there are no limits you are left, not with freedom, but anarchy.
So then, the question arises, who exactly sets those limits? When it comes to man made limits and boundaries, whether these are based on culture, customs, philosophy or legal injunctions, they are all relative and subject to change. Even punishments tend to relative with penalties for the same felonies differing from one jurisdiction to the other in the same states; interstate differences tend to be even greater. Many states and countries today reject Capitol punishment and condemn courts which still condone it; seeking to abolish it completely while murder rates continue to rise. Differences will even arise between many lands over what actions constitute criminal behavior. All of the limits set by man, whether they be social constructs or legal injunctions expand and contract with political and economic conditions, popular and intellectual trends, and media influence, amongst other causes. These changes usually don’t start in court rooms and state houses but rather begin through propaganda campaigns aimed at the hearts and minds of a population. Propaganda has a negative connotation but what it is in reality is a form of communication aimed at influencing the thoughts and behaviors of an audience to think or behave in a way they would not have done otherwise. Today, countries and corporations have, for the most part, left the old forms of colonialism (that of standing armies and security forces) and adopted the colonialization of the hearts and minds of populations through slogans attached to imagery in the various forms of media. Through this propaganda people are shifted in varying directions and acceptance of certain behaviors is altered. Couple this with the normalization of deviance and the man-made laws, customs and perspectives are ever shifting.
Contrary to this is the guidance revealed for the success of mankind by his creator. Allah, the Mighty and Majestic, is all knowing, all-wise and He is the One who knows best His creation and their needs – including mankind. He is the Loving, the Merciful, the Kind and Compassionate and He revealed for mankind limits and boundaries for the benefit of all of humanity. The commands and prohibitions established in the Qur’an and sunnah are not only for the benefit of Muslims but for all mankind and the shari’ah, contrary to the perception offered by western media, is not constricting but vast. The limits set by divine guidance are unchanging but this does not negate flexibility based upon time, place, customs and circumstances. The difference is that the flexibility is found in application, not principle. As for the boundaries, know that it is an established principle in the shariah that the nature of every worldly matter is that it is lawful – food, drink, clothing, wealth, work, entertainment, etc.; public and private – unless there is a clear text from the Qur’an or sunnah prohibiting it. This is a reality and it reflects the expansiveness and ease in Islam. [It also displays the need for seeking knowledge concerning any action before one engages in it.]
Furthermore, the commands and prohibitions, that is, the laws and limits, established in the Qur’an and Sunnah are there to promote and secure the God given, inalienable rights of all mankind – preservation of faith, life, intellect, honor, lineage, wealth and property. Rather than constricting life, the Shariah aims at bringing life, health and strength to humane societies. It was a deep and natural understanding of this that allowed the greatest generation to ask great Questions such as, “tell me a deed that will enter me into the Garden and keep me from the fire” and, “what is an act that if I do it Allah will love me?” On the contrary, it is the lack of true understanding today that leads to so many questions seeking, “is it lawful to do such and such”. It is only when the Muslims come to understand the realities of freedom and the vastness of the shariah, as well as the flexibility inherent in it that this ummah will begin to truly appreciate and embrace the freedom that comes from submitting to the guidance revealed by the Lord of all creation.
Many ahadith have titles attached to them, such as the “Hadith of Mercy”, and the “Hadith of Jibreel”. Based on the working definition of freedom used in this work, there is a Hadith that could be nominated as the “Hadith of Freedom” as it establishes true freedom for the believers. That Hadith is found in the collection of Imam An-Nawawi’s “Arba’oon” [#30] on the authority of Tha’labah (may Allah be pleased with him) who said that the messenger of Allah (may peace and blessings be upon him) said what is translated to mean, “Truly, Allah the Most High has ordained certain duties so do not neglect them. He has laid down certain limits so do not transgress them. He has forbidden certain things so do not indulge in them. About some matters He has not spoken, this is an act of mercy for you and not due to forgetfulness so do not enquire (too deeply) into them.”
In conclusion, we are reminded that the only way to overcome the illusory propaganda and hollow slogans of the various systems of disbelief is to establish awareness of their ephemeral nature and establish a substantive perspective based upon the Qur’an and Sunnah. Freedom, as an example, is not the right to do whatever one wants – even if we add the condition “as long as one does not interfere with the rights of others”. Rather, true freedom is the ability to move within the boundaries and limits established by Allah and His messenger (peace and blessings be upon him); true freedom is aligning our will free will to the will of God; true freedom is submitting to the One, the Loving, the Merciful, Allah, based on the methodology of the best of examples, Muhammad, the messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him).
And success is only with Allah.