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INTRODUCTION

Perhaps he is the one who has done it. They tell him, " So, art thou the man who did this unto our gods, Abraham? Question them, if they are able to speak. Why do you accuse me? Ask the victims themselves so that they may inform you. With his act Abraham made them 'return to themselves ' and emancipated their minds from the bondage of belief. Such an act as this is an act of human worthy. Similarly the act of Moses, son of Imran, is an act of human worth. When Moses observes that his people are worshipping the Samaritan's golden calf as an idol, he declares: "We will surely burn it and scatter its ashes into the sea.

After crossing the sea they came across a people who prostrated before idols-something they had not seen before. They were fascinated by it, considering it a good pastime, and they said to Moses, "Moses, make for us a god, as they have gods. Had the Arab paganism survived for another thousand years, the Arabs would have continued to worship idols in the same way as idolatry still exists even in some civilized nations such as Japan and would have not moved a single step towards intellectual progress and development.

The Prophet came and released them from the chains of that belief and emancipated their minds. The Qur'an says of the Prophet S : ' He relieves them of their load, and the fetters that were upon them. When the captives of war were brought before the Prophet S after the battle of Badr, they were bound in order to keep them from escaping. When the Prophet glanced at them, an involuntary smile appeared on his face.

They said to him, "We did not expect you to rejoice at our misfortune. It seems amusing to me that I have to put these chains on you in order to drag you to paradise and that I have to resort to force in order to emancipate you from your false beliefs. A belief is founded on thought and reasoning, Islam accepts it; otherwise it does not accept it. It permits a belief that is derived from freedom of thought.

Islam never accepts such beliefs as are based on tradition and imitation and which emerge due to ignorance, absence of reflection and submission to irrational ideas in the name of freedom of belief. This extremist view concerning freedom of belief that one finds in the European world today is partly a reaction to the terrible history of the Inquisition, which held Europe in its clutches for centuries. The Church used to investigate the beliefs of people to see if anybody held an opinion contrary to the official doctrine, even if it were a matter related to astronomy.

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For instance, if the Church held the elements to be four and the sun to revolve around the earth, it considered it its business to discover and punish those who held different view, even if that were more scientific and logical. The 'culprits' were brought to trial and sentenced to the most terrible kinds of punishment such as burning at the stakes. If you read the history of the European Middle Ages, you will see that it has no parallel in the East.

I have pointed out once earlier that whatever one may say in characterizing the East's history in respect of cruelty and however our speakers may exert themselves in describing the black character of the Umayyads and the 'Abbasids-even Hajjaj ibn Yusuf —those accounts pale before the history of the Europe of middle Ages, even before that of contemporary Europe. Punishment by burning people alive was a simple matter. Albert Malet in the part of his history concerning the Midle Ages writes, for instance, how a woman was burnt alive for some very petty offence.

Many scholars received the death sentence for expressing an opinion, not about some issue of theology, but some scientific issue related to physics or astronomy. The inevitable reaction to this intolerance and tyranny was to declare that in matters related to religion and faith, the people were free to hold and practice any kind of belief, even if it were cow-worship. Another reason for this approach to freedom of belief is that, in the view of European philosophers, religion and faith-regardless of whatever form it takes, whether it is the worship of God, or that of idols or that of the cow is a matter related to individual's conscience.

That is, every individual in his personal life stands in need of a certain kind of diversion called 'religion'. They acknowledge at least this much that man cannot do without some kind of preoccupation with religion. They make similar statements about art and poetry-matters, which are entirely subjective, to which such criteria as good and evil, true and false, right and wrong, do not apply.

Hence goodness and badness depend on personal taste, as in the case of food one likes to eat and the colour of clothes one likes to wear. There is nothing, which is absolutely good and bad in matters of personal taste. They do not want to admit any objectivity in the matters of religion and prophet-hood or accept that the Prophets have really been sent by God to show mankind and objective path in treading which lies man's felicity.

They say that the real nature of the religious feeling and its roots are unknown to us. All that we know is That man cannot live without religion and that he needs a certain kind of preoccupation in life that may termed as 'religious', regardless of whether that object of worship is the One God, or a man named Jesus Christ, or the cow, or some image of metal or wood. Hence we should not create trouble for individuals. Our objection lies just here. We do not consider this approach to religion as a correct one. In fact the kind of religion in which belief - as they declare - is a matter of free choice is, in our view, no religion at all.

We believe in religion as a path of human felicity that has objective existence. We cannot say that any belief concerning the objective path of human felicity is free, even if it is not based on thought and intellection. I will give and example. Will you permit freedom of belief in matters of health and education? Suppose the people of a region want to have trachoma and ninety per cent of them have it. Will you ask their permission to cure them of it? Don't you try by all means, through tact and force, to treat them of this disease, and declare that you have rendered them a service though they themselves don't appreciate it?

Suppose there are some people who don't want education. You open schools for them, but they oppose you and try to close them down. Don't you think that their compulsory education is necessary? Why doesn't the Universal Declaration of Human Rights condemns compulsory education as a violation of human freedom? On the contrary, the same declaration in its Article 26 considers elementary education as compulsory.

Does it negates men right to freedom in this matter? Because, it answers, it is a matter related to Human welfare; those who want to remain ignorant and illiterate do not understand. Force must be used to make them literate; coercive methods are essential to render them this service. However, they don't take a similar approach in regard to religion, because they assume that while health and education have an objective reality on which human welfare depends, religion is a personal matter relating to a subjective need that must be satisfied somehow.

Man, they say, feels an inner need to worship and adore, whatever that object of worship may be. That is why they say that beliefs are to be respected and do not differentiate between belief and thought. Hence there are two objections involved here. Firstly, we should not consider religion as a subjective matter of personal taste and preference, such as preference for a certain colorfor one's dress.

Secondly, the choice of religion is different from preference for the color of dressing. That is, if man adopts an irrational belief, that belief becomes a hindrance to the free activity of his intellect and thought. To summarize what we have said above, freedom of thought exists in Islam, as well as Freedom of holding a belief that is based on proper reasoning. But there is no freedom in Islam for a belief that not based on rational thought, for such a freedom amounts to a license for slavery and bondage.

Hence the approach of the prophets, who used to break these kind of chains and compel men to think, was the right approach. Islam, on the one hand, seriously combats idolatry and, on the other, tells the idolater that his belief in God in the state in which he worships idols is not acceptable. Belief in God must be accepted with a free and unfettered mind: In the earth are signs for those having sure faith; and in your selves; what, do you not see? The Holy Qur'an Islam does not accept an unthinking belief in God.

It calls upon human beings to study the Creation - the plants, the animals, one's own creation, one's body and soul, the skies.

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It lays such a great emphasis on studied belief in Divine Unity that man is forced into the study of the sciences of nature as a means to acquiring the knowledge of God's Oneness, Prophet-hood, and resurrection. Surely in the creation of the heavens and earth and in the alteration of night and day there are signs for men possessed of minds, who remember God, standing and sitting and on their sides, and reflect upon the creation of the heavens and the earth; 'Our Lord, Thou hast not created this in vain.

Glory be to Thee! Guard us against the chastisement of the fire. It calls men, provided they have intellect, spirit, and thought, to study those signs and to contemplate abut them. Another verse of the Qur'an declare: There is no compulsion in religion. Holy Qur'an It means that religion and faith is not a matter of coercion. The path is clear. All that is required is thought and care. Basically, the kind of faith that Islam requires cannot be forced. There is no possibility of coercion, for it is impossible to force anyone to acquire the kind of Faith that is required by Islam.

It is not possible to spank a child into solving a certain Arithmetical problem? His mind and thought must be left free in order that he may solve it. The Islamic faith is something of this kind. It has been written concerning the circumstances of the revelation of the above mentioned Verse that the Ansar, that is the people of Madinah belonging to the clans of Aws and Khazarj, used to send their children to the Jews before the Prophet's migration.

The Jews were more civilized than the polytheists of Madinah and some of them, ten or twenty knew how to read and write. These children were to learn something and to be trained by Jews. They would come to realize the difference of level of culture the Jews and their own families and clan and, occasionally, they embraced Judaism. When Islam came to Madinah, the Polytheists became Muslims, but most of the Jews continued to follow their faith.

From among those who had been trained under the Jews, some continued to follow the Jewish Religion. When the Jewish tribe of Banu al-Nadir was exiled from Madinah due to its violation of the terms of treaty and on account of treason, the children of the Ansar who were attached to the Jews and had embraced their faith wanted to go with them. Their parents wanted to stop them and insisted that they remain and embrace Islam.

When the matter was brought to the Noble Prophet S ; he forbade them to exercise coercion. He told the parents to explain the Islamic creed to their children and leave them free to accept or reject it. He recited to them the verse, 'There is no compulsion in the faith. The path of guidance has become distinguishable from the path of error. Should anyone fail to take the path of guidance, it indicates thesickness of his soul.

Islam has combated false beliefs that often form the basis of tyrannical regimes. In our own country, Iran, it fought to overthrow a corrupt regime and then invited the people to its teachings, leaving them free to decide. This is history, and Western historians admit that the majority of Iranians remained Zoroastrian during early Islamic era. The Iranians gradually embraced Islam during a period when Arab rule had been replaced by Persian rule. They did not embrace Islam under Arab rule and the Arabs, too, did not force them to convert.

Lecture Two In the last session, we discussed freedom of belief and spoke concerning the kind of belief that is free and the kind that shouldn't be free, for its freedom is contrary co man's dignity. We said that beliefs rest on two kinds of bases. Sometimes it is based on free thought, and sometimes it is imposed through imitation of ancestors without having even the least relation with the faculty of reasoning. The primary characteristic of the latter kind of beliefs is to hinder the course of free thought and co fetter the human intellect. These kinds of beliefs are chains of habit, custom and imitation that fetter man's spirit and thought.

In the same way as a man bound in chains is unable to release himself and someone else should emancipate him with the means at his disposal, the nations that are captive in the chains of such beliefs need another power that may emancipate them. This is the greatest service that can be done co man.

One of the accomplishments of the prophets was to shatter the foundations of such beliefs so that liberated man may be able to chink freely about himself, his destiny, and convictions. Many examples can be offered in this relation. In order that you may realize how someone in the bondage of custom cannot chink properly, I will mention a small example. One of the well-known Companions of the Prophet S once came and standing in front of him declared: "O Messenger of Allah!

The more that 1 reflect, 1 find that the favour done by God to us through you is greater than we can imagine. Then he related a terrible story, which is truly shocking. He himself wondered how he could have committed such an atrocious act. He said, "I was one of chose who lived under the influence of the custom that daughters were a source of disgrace and were not to be kept alive when born.

When the child grow up to an age of six or seven, his wife brought her in front of him with the belief that he would be delighted to see what a charming daughter he had and would not think of harming her. Then he de- scribed how he cruelly buried the child alive. He said, "Now 1 know what kind of beasts we were and how you have delivered us. At that time we used to think that we were doing something good. No one can be forced to love or befriend someone that he does not love nor be compelled to relinquish his love for some- one dear to him. Among such things, which are not susceptible by nature co force, is faith.

That which Islam demands from people is faith, not forced confession, for it is useless and unenduring; it remains as long as force is there and disappears as soon as its cause disappears. The Holy Qur'an speaks of faith throughout its pages. But Islam did not come merely to create a society following Islamic regulations. That is only one of the stages. Islam came to create faith, love and enthusiasm in the hearts, and faith cannot be forced upon anyone.

The verse: has perhaps another meaning apart from the ore thaw 1 mentioned in the first lecture. It means that "O Prophet, you want people to have faith. But can you make anyone a believer by force? Then remind them! Thou art only a reminder; thou art not charged to over- see them. There are certain other matters where people can be coerced, but co act under coercion in such cases is not any merit. For instance it is a moral duty to be truthful, honest and just and to abstain from cheating others.

It is possible co compel people to abstain from lying, dishonesty and theft. But that is from the viewpoint of law and order in society. However, there is another aspect involved in such matters, which is the moral aspect. That which morality requires of one is not that one should speak the truth but that he be a truthful person.

That is, truthfulness must be a spiritual habit for him. Truthfulness, honesty and justice are considered moral virtues when they become one's second nature. A righteous person is truthful, honest and just not due to the fear of penal laws but because he considers these qualities as a merit and human asset for himself, and abhors lying, dishonesty and deceit.

Hence these qualities are considered moral virtues when they become part of one's character, and not when one is merely true and honest in conduct. Hence coercion cannot instill moral sense in people, and the moral sense is not susceptible co force. Another matter, which is not susceptible to coercion and wherein freedom is a necessity, is personal development and growth rushd.

You cannot make a child grow and mature by always ordering him to do things and without giving him the freedom to choose. Within certain limits it is essential to guide him, but it is also necessary to give him a certain amount of freedom. Guidance and freedom should go hand in hand. There are many social issues in which it is necessary for the guardians of society to guide the people, who will be lost without such guidance. But if they deprive the people of their freedom, even with good intentions to say nothing of evil intentions , with the pretext chat people lack understanding and capacity, the people will always remain incapable.

A society that has no freedom to make its choices and is always compelled to follow the judgments of its leaders -even if the judgments are right and the leaders have good will and fair intentions-it will fall co attain maturity. Its development and growth lies in freedom, though it may make mistakes a hundred times. It is like a child learning to swim.

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If you want to teach swimming to a child and instruct him for a hundred years in a classroom concerning the required motions of the arms and legs, he will not learn swimming unless he is allowed to get into water and left free to learn the movements required for swimming.

He will also not learn it if you hold him on your hands in water without leaving him on his own. Freedom is also necessary for intellectual development. If people are denied freedom in matters where they should use their thinking, with the fear that they would make a mistake, or if they are scared of punishment in hell if they think about some religious issue and if a doubt occurs to them, their minds will never develop and mature in respect of religious issues.

A religion that requires people to reach its doctrinal truths through thought and intellection, necessarily grants them the freedom, of thought. It does not frighten them from entertaining doubts and does not tell them that an attempt to reflect concerning a certain problem is a satanic insinuation that would lead one to hell. There exist many traditions in this regard. One of them is the one according to which the Noble Messenger said: "My ummah is absolved of -nine thing; one of them is a doubt that occurs in the course of reflection concerning the creation" i.

It means that God would not punish one who in the course of his inquiry encounters a doubt. In a famous hadith mentioned in al-Shaykh al-'An. You want to say that Satan came to you and asked you, 'Who created you? Then Satan asked you, 'Who created Him? Skepticism by itself is an evil destination but a good and essential transit. If one were to stop at his doubt and give up further inquiry, that is the skepticism of the lazy, and is destructive.

But the man in the story just narrated did not sit at home when the doubt occurred to him. He did not worry that others would censure him for his doubt. That help-immediately came to the Prophet S co question him concerning his doubt, showed that he had a spirit of research and inquiry. The Prophet S therefore cold him not to worry. This is freedom of thought. Hence Islam has broken the chains of imitation, and it does not accept a belief in its doctrines that is based on blind imitation of others. Is it possible that such a school of thought should have compelled people to embrace its creed?

Islam did not do anything of this kind. What it did was to release man from the bondage of superstitious beliefs chat have nothing whatsoever to do with thought and intellection. It cooks off these chains and then left people to think freely for themselves. The battles chat it fought were against tyrannical regimes, not against people. That is, it fought those who held people captive in the chains of superstition and evil social customs.

You cannot show an instance where Islam has fought people. That is why the nations embraced Islam with extreme eagerness and zeal and our own people were one of those. The issue of freedom of belief constitutes one of the most radiant chapters in the history of Islam. Regrettably the history of other creeds has many a black page in this regard.

Understanding World Religions Lectures, Chapter 24: Muslim Beliefs and Practices - Irving Hexham

Unfortunately, we do not give sufficient thought and attention to this matter. You will see what crimes have been committed to impose the Christian creed by those who are today making propaganda amongst us that Islam spread through force. You will see what atrocities they have committed amongst themselves that is those whom they refer co as 'heretical' sects and against Muslims and the followers of other creeds.

Read the history of Zoroastrianism, especially that of the Sassanid era and of Iran before Islam. You will see what kind of conduct was adopted by the Zoroastrians in power and their priests against the Christians and Jews of that period. Read also the volume 11 of this work, which concerns Islam, especially those parts where the author shows the extent of respect that the Muslims had for the freedom of peoples under their rule. Such a thing has no parallel in the world's history.

The scholars have mentioned two basic reasons for the emergence and expansion of the Islamic civilization.

Schools of Islamic theology

The first one is the un- bounded encouragement offered by Islam to think, learning and education as indicated by the Qur'anic text itself. The second reason they mention is the respect-or as they put it, tolerance and lenience- chat Islam showed to the beliefs of peoples, which allowed it to create a cosmopolitan unity out of different, heterogeneous and mutually hostile peoples. When this civilization first came into existence, its first nucleus was constituted by the Muslims of the Hijaz.

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