Home Op-Eds The Qur’an and the Freedom of Thought

The Qur’an and the Freedom of Thought

A young girl studies the Koran at a mosque in Dortmund, October 3, 2010. German President Christian Wulff used part of a speech celebrating two decades of democratic unity on Sunday to stress that Islam has a place in Germany.
REUTERS/Ina Fassbender

Istanbul – There are fundamental rights and freedoms that form the basis of modern constitutions, laws and declarations. Freedom of thought and belief are also essential in this regard. The extent that these freedoms can be exercised is considered as a concrete indication of the difference in the levels of development in the Western and Eastern societies.

The general perception in some Western communities is that the freedoms of thought and belief are dramatically restricted particularly in the Middle East and Islamic countries. The popular view among them states that a life based on the Islamic faith and rules is being forced upon people and that those who act contrary face severe pressure, threats, sanctions and penalties.

Regrettably, that is the case, to a certain extent, not for all Islamic countries and communities of course, but for many of them. Yet, the fallacy of these claims is that they unjustly argue that the religion of Islam is the reason for these adverse conditions.

These criticisms and claims, arising from prejudice and ignorance, are often raised without taking into consideration the fact that the Qur’an is the only and true source of Islam. The misunderstandings and malpractices of both people and societies, the interpretations and explanations contradicting the Qur’an made by some people regarded as religious scholars, the use of sources other than the Qur’an and the groundless rumors fabricated using the name of our Prophet are presented as evidence of these claims.

As a matter of fact, when only the Qur’an is taken as reference, it would easily be seen that the religion of Islam entails an understanding of freedom which is far more advanced than that of all of the civilizations, philosophies and ideologies of all time. The concept of freedom explained by the Qur’an is far beyond the restrictions adopted by advanced and modern societies.

The Qur’an ensures the rights and freedoms of belief, thought, and worship of the members of all religions and forbids all sorts of behaviors restricting these rights and freedoms. Provided that the meaning of the concept of “secularism,” today manipulated to imply atheism, is “to respect the freedoms of religion, belief and worship,” it would be clear to anyone that this concept is a teaching prevalent in the Qur’an.

The following verses of the Qur’an refer to the freedom of belief in Islam in the most succinct way: (Say:) I do not worship what you worship and you do not worship what I worship. Nor will I worship what you worship, nor will you worship what I worship. You have your religion and I have my religion. (Surat Al-Kafirun 2-6).” Such freedom holds true for all of the religions from Christianity to Judaism, and all belief systems – and disbelief – including Buddhism and atheism.

In the same way, with the verse that reads, “If God had not driven some people back by means of others, monasteries, churches, synagogues and mosques, where God’s name is mentioned much, would have been pulled down and destroyed…(Surat Al-Hajj, 40), God protects the places of worships that belong to not only Muslims but also to all of the members of any other religion.

The Qur’an definitively declares that no one may be forced to adopt Islam or practice the rules entailed by Islam under any circumstances. The following verses are just a few of the many verses in this regard: There is no compulsion where the religion is concerned. Right guidance has become clearly distinct from error… (Surat Al-Baqara, 256); You are not a dictator over them. So remind, with the Qur’an, whoever fears My Threat. (Surah Qaf, 45); Do you think you can force people to be believers?” (Surah Yunus, 99); So remind them! You are only a reminder. You are not in control of them. (Surat Al-Ghashiyya, 21-22). Even these few verses are clear demonstrations that the Qur’an does not permit the slightest compulsion that will intervene in beliefs and worships, let alone any restriction or pressure, act of violence or terrorism.

For that reason, any matter on the religion of Islam should be addressed not based on current malpractices, misinterpretations or use of other resources, but the only valid resource of the religion, namely the Qur’an: Moreover, the fact of which many people are not aware is that some countries regarded as “free” are indeed not all that free.

The United States and many countries in Europe, considered as the cradle of civilization, human rights and freedoms, are enchained by countless laws and codes developed by states and communities. The people, who consider themselves free in these countries, are actually oppressed by thousands of sanctions, restrictions, and prohibitions, fabricated rules of morality or public pressure.

The extreme right-wing, racist mentality that first escalated after a flow of immigrants into Europe in the 1950s – and a mentality that does not have any tolerance for different cultures and belief systems – has reached dangerously high levels. The political parties with such mentality are receiving the highest number of votes by means of their Islamophobic propaganda. There is more and more news every day on attacks and murders of innocent, inoffensive Muslims and arson attacks on mosques in the United States and Europe. For instance, the threats such as “the enforcement of a deportation and an exclusion order for Muslims,” made in order to gain votes in the US presidential election primaries, have gained the support of millions of American citizens.

Furthermore, many countries in the West have remained silent about the disgraceful massacres that still take place in Myanmar and in East Turkistan as well as what happened in Bosnia some two decades ago on account of different beliefs. Actually, the situation of some countries in the West, which criticize and denounce other societies in regard to freedom of belief and thought at every turn, speaks for itself.

On the other hand, it is a historical fact that human rights and freedoms are severely trampled by irreligious communist systems, similar to that of North Korea, which spy on the private lives of their people, prohibit every idea, thought or belief other than their official ideologies and brutally punish those who act contrary to it.

However, the Qur’an abolished such pressures, prohibitions and tyranny 1,400 years ago and ensured not only the freedoms of thought and opinion but also all other human rights and freedoms in the most comprehensive way. Other than the lawful and unlawful – of which the believers are accountable to God – the limited number of social rules and restrictions in the Qur’an are defined to protect the rights and freedoms of people, to prevent the exploitation of these freedoms and the use of these freedoms to violate the rights and freedoms of other people or to prevent the harm and unsettling of others and ensure social order. None of these rules aim to create pressure or restrictions.

As it has always been and always will be, the system brought by the Qur’an stands head and shoulders above all of the civilizations, ideologies, philosophies and political orders. The happiness of not only Muslims but every individual in the world depends on the adoptation and implementation of this system that values people the most.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent any institution or entity. 

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