Freedom of Expression from an Islamic Perspective

The eminent Muslim scholar, Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, states: “Islam stresses the principle of freedom. This is made clear in the well-known statement of Caliph `Umar Ibn Al-Khattab, may Allah be pleased with him: “How dare you enslave people whereas they were born free?!
At a time when people were enslaved intellectually, politically, socially, religiously, and economically, Islam came to establish the freedom of belief, freedom of thought, freedom of speech and freedom to criticize. Islam strictly forbids that people be forced to adopt a certain creed, or to believe in a particular religion. Allah Almighty says: “If it had been thy Lord’s Will, they would all have believed, all who are on earth wilt thou then compel mankind, against their will, to believe?” (Yunus: 99) This was in the Makkan era. In the Madinan period, Allah also revealed: “Let there be no compulsion in religion: truth stands out clear from error.” (Al-Baqarah: 256)
This Islamic principle of freedom did not come as a result of some sort of development in the society or an evolution that requested it, but it was a heavenly principle that was revealed for the good of people and to elevate them on earth. But this freedom is guaranteed on the condition that religion should not be toyed with, and people’s honour and dignity should not be transgressed upon.
Islam also guarantees freedom of speech and criticism and even considers it obligatory when it concerns the interest of the entire Ummah, or affects other Islamic morals or general ethical values. In cases like these Islam makes it mandatory upon every Muslim to speak out, revealing the truth, fearing none but Allah; it makes it incumbent upon a Muslim to enjoin what is good and set right what is evil; and to encourage whoever does good deeds and blame whoever does evil deeds. In this case, freedom of speech and criticism are deemed as an obligation and not merely a right one is entitled to.
It is not a characteristic of Islam to muzzle freedom of speech, prevent people from expressing their opinions freely, or to repose faith except with being granted permission, just as Pharaoh said to the sorcerers who believed in Allah: “…believe ye in him before I give you permission?” (Taha: 71) He wanted them to believe in Allah with permission from the supreme authority!
Security is a basic component of happiness. One day a wise man was asked about the meaning of happiness, and he answered: “It is to enjoy security; I have found that a person obsessed with fear can’t enjoy life”; anyone whose heart is filled with fear cannot be happy. That is why peace of mind is a fundamental element in happiness.
By the same token, if one loses his freedom, he cannot be safe and secure. One will not taste happiness if he fears that he will be wronged or transgressed while he sits at home and people raid his home, drive him away in the dead of night to an unknown place where no one can reach him. One who fears to speak against the regime or rulers because they will punish him, will find himself unable to perceive any sense of joy.
For this reason, Islam lays emphasis on freedom to such an extent that it commands Muslims to struggle and fight in its cause. Allah Almighty says: “And fight them wherever ye catch them, and turn them out from where they have turned you out; for persecution is worse than killing.” (Al-Baqarah: 191) “And persecution is graver than kil
(Al-Baqarah: 217) That is because persecution is a violation against intellect, self, and freedom.”
The above Fatwa stresses the aspect of freedom given to man as his natural birthright, and as applied in the times of the Companions of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, the Rightly-Guided Caliphs, Imams, Sultans until the end of Ottoman period. Then came a period when Muslims in general deviate from the teachings of their religion, viewing Shari`ah as an outdated legal system, thus confining its sphere of operation, in some countries, to family affairs.
Now it’s duty of all Muslims to take upon their shoulders the responsibility of reviving Islam; calling upon people to apply Islam and translate its dictates into practice. They should do that with wisdom and politeness that will not scare people off, for we need to draw people to Islam, not to drive them away from it.
So, in calling for the application of Shari`ah, the question remains: Is it the solution to get involved in killing and making revolutions to overthrow the present regimes? Of course not. Rather, the solution lies in adopting a new method of Islamic call to enhance the course of Daw`ah. This of course calls for training the Ummah Islamically, and enduring all tests and tribulations in this cause, until Allah wills that His religion should dominate and be applied again.
We should bear in mind that to make Islam active and effective in our life, it takes patience and perseverance in addition to enduring all forms of hardship. Allah Almighty says: “And We shall try you until We test those among you who strive their utmost and persevere in patience; and We shall try your reported (mettle).” (Muhammad: 31)
“These are (only) the vicissitudes which We cause to follow one another for mankind, to the end that Allah may know those who believe and may choose witnesses from among you; and Allah loveth not wrong doers. And that Allah may prove those who believe, and may blight the disbelievers.” (Al `Imran: 140-141)
It is reported that Imam Ash-Shafi`i was once asked: “Which is better: is it to make people pass through trials (to get spiritual discipline), or that (Allah) make them achieve supremacy (on earth)?” He remarked: “There will be no supremacy except when people pass through trials.”
The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, gave glad tidings to those who are at the behest of Islam and forbear all trials and tribulations in this cause. He is reported to have said: “There will be the days of patience after you; whoever keeps patience will earn a reward fifty times more than you will.” They said: “Fifty times more than one of us, or one of those who succeed us.” “More than you will,” said the Prophet. (Reported by At-Tabarani.) This great reward is granted for those who stick to Islam and follow the guidance of its Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him.
Allah Almighty says: “O ye who believe! Endure, outdo all others in endurance, be ready, and observe your duty to Allah, in order that ye may succeed.” (Al `Imran: 200)
O Allah, alleviate the worry of the oppressed, and set free whoever has been detained in the cause of defending Your religion, Amen.