Do We Have Something Called Freedom in Islam? (2)


Reason behind the uniqueness of the Qur’anic approach

Once we scrutinize the two groups of verses, we will find that the tone and expression of the verses are different from each other. The first group of verses is in connection with those who had not yet embraced Islam. As such, God enlightens them with the truth of Islam and mentions the benefits of obeying Him.

Since He knows that the Prophet (s), who is the embodiment of divine mercy and compassion, is worrying about the people who refuse to accept Islam, the path of truth, and obey God, as a result of which they will taste chastisement in hell, God consoles him—Why are you endangering your life out of grief and sorrow for the people’s refusal to embrace the faith? We ordained Islam for the people to accept it out of their own freewill and volition. Had We only wished, We could have guided all the people:

(وَلَوْ شَاءَ رَبُّكَ لآمَنَ مَن فِي الأَرْضِ كُلُّهُمْ جَمِيعًا أَفَأَنتَ تُكْرِهُ النَّاسَ حَتَّى يَكُونُوا مُؤْمِنِينَ)

“And had your Lord wished, all those who are on earth would have believed. Would you then force people until they become faithful?1

God’s purpose in sending down the apostles (‘a) is to guide the people in recognizing the truth and the path of salvation. They have to accept the religion of truth out of their own freewill, and God does not want to compel and force people to accept the faith. Faith acquired through compulsion is of no value and inconsistent with human guidance, which expects human beings to recognize and accept the truth with awareness and understanding, and not submit to it out of coercion. As such, God says:

(لَعَلَّكَ بَاخِعٌ نَّفْسَك أَلَّا يَكُونُوا مُؤْمِنِينَ ٭ إِن نَشَأْ نُنَزِّلْ عَلَيْهِم مِنَ السَّمَاءِ آيَةً فَظَلَّتْ أَعْنَاقُهُمْ لَهَا خَاضِعِينَ)

“You might kill yourself [out of distress] that they will not have faith. If We wish We will send down to them a sign from the sky before which their heads will remain bowed in humility.”2

So, acceptance of Islam and faith depends on conviction of the heart. Such a conviction is acquired out of cognition and awareness, certain and solid proofs, and one’s freewill. It is not subject to coercion. As such, God says to His prophet (s), “You did your duty. Your duty was to convey Our message and signs to the people. You are not supposed to worry about the polytheists’ refusal to accept the faith and to think that you did not do your duty. It is not part of your mission to let the people become Muslims by compulsion and force, because We did not make you dominant over the polytheists to make them Muslims by force.

In contrast to the first group of verses, the other group of verses addressed to those who embraced Islam out of recognition, awareness and their own freewill, informing them that they have to act upon the commandments of Islam, to obey the Prophet whom they believe to be from God and whose decrees and orders are all from Him, to submit to his decision, and not to have any right and option vis-à-vis his orders. Before embracing the faith, man has the right to choose, but after embracing the faith he has to submit to all the injunctions of the Islamic law [shari‘ah]. He who has faith in only a part of the divine laws has been strongly condemned by God, thus:

(إِنَّ الَّذِينَ يَكْفُرُونَ بِاللّهِ وَرُسُلِهِ وَ يُرِيدُونَ أَن يُفَرِّقُوا بَيْنَ اللّهِ وَرُسُلِهِ وَيقُولُونَ نُؤْمِنُ بِبَعْضٍ وَنَكْفُرُ بِبَعْضٍ وَيُرِيدُونَ أَن يَتَّخِذُوا بَيْنَ ذَلِكَ سَبِيلاً ٭ أُوْلَـئِكَ هُمُ الْكَافِرُونَ حَقًّا…)

“Those who disbelieve in Allah and His apostles and seek to separate Allah from His apostles, and say, ‘We believe in some and disbelieve in some’ and seek to take a way in between—it is they who are truly faithless…”3

The acceptance of a portion of the decrees and rejection of the rest, the acceptance of a part of the laws and rejection of the rest actually mean the non-acceptance of the essence of religion, because, if the criterion of acceptance of religion is acceptance of the commands of God, one has to act upon the kernel of divine ordinance, and divine ordinance requires acceptance of all decrees and laws. Even if the criterion of acceptance of religion is the benefit and harm embedded in the commandments of God, undoubtedly God is well aware of it. So, why accept only some of the laws?

Only he who has faith in God would believe in the Prophet (s), submit to his decision, decree and order, be pleased with them and not nurse a grudge in his heart:

(فَلاَ وَرَبِّكَ لاَ يُؤْمِنُونَ حَتَّىَ يُحَكِّمُوكَ فِيمَا شَجَرَ بَيْنَهُمْ ثُمَّ لاَ يَجِدُواْ فِي أَنفُسِهِمْ حَرَجًا مِمَّا قَضَيْتَ وَيُسَلِّمُوا تَسْلِيمًا)

“But no, by your Lord! They will not believe until they make you a judge in their disputes, then do not find within their hearts any dissent to your verdict and submit in full submission.”4

The truly faithful are sincerely pleased with the order and decision of the Messenger of Allah (s) and do not worry about them because they believe that the Prophet (s) has been appointed by God and his decree is God’s decree for he does not speak without Divine guidance:

(إِنَّا أَنزَلْنَا إِلَيْكَ الْكِتَابَ بِالْحَقِّ لِتَحْكُمَ بَيْنَ النَّاسِ بِمَا أَرَاكَ اللّهُ)

“Indeed We have sent down to you the Book with the truth, so that you may judge between the people by what Allah has shown you.” 5

After embracing Islam and expressing belief in it, the person who says, “I am free in acting upon the laws of Islam; I would do so if I like and I would not do so if I don’t,” is like saying that in a country where a democratic and liberal system exists, the people voluntarily participate in the referendum, and through a majority vote, choose their government, deputies and concerned authorities of the social system, but once they install the legitimate government they shrink from following it!

When that government levies taxes from the people, they say, “We will not pay taxes. We were free to elect a government, now, we are equally free to follow its orders, or refuse to discharge our responsibilities.” Obviously, no reasonable person will ever accept such attitude and behavior.

Yes, at the beginning no one will be compelled to accept Islam because basic acceptance of it is a matter of faith and conviction of the heart. By force no one will believe in Islam, God and the Resurrection. However, once he accepts Islam and is asked to pray and says that he does not want to pray or once he is asked to pay zakat and refuses to do so, no reasonable person will believe him (to have really embraced Islam). Is it possible for a person to accept a religion but not submit to its laws and act voluntarily upon them?

He who accepts Islam should be bound by its laws. Similarly, no government will accept a person who votes for it but in practice refuses to accept its laws and regulations. Commitment to contracts and obligations is the most fundamental principle in social life. If there is no commitment to promise, faithfulness to agreement, pact and treaty, and discharging of duties, social life will never be possible.

Therefore, there is no sense in a person saying that he accepts Islam and believes in the Prophet being sent by God, but neither acts upon his orders nor accepts his authority and guardianship. Undoubtedly, there is a blatant contradiction in the acceptance of Islam without following the Messenger of Allah (s).

It is clear that if we examine truly the verses of the Qur’an and consider the tone and style of the two groups of cited verses, we will not find any contradiction in the Qur’an and question on the incompatibility of submission and obedience to others with the principle of human freedom, also endorsed by the Qur’an, will be uprooted. Yet, sick hearts do not look at the Qur’an with sincerity, truthfulness and justice. They refer to the Qur’an for a basis for their deviant opinion, and as such, they tend to be selective without considering the important context of the verses. According to the Qur’an, the deviators abandon its definitive verses [muhakkamat] and intentionally emphasize its metaphorical verses [mutashabihat]:

(…فَأَمَّا الَّذِينَ في قُلُوبِهِمْ زَيْغٌ فَيَتَّبِعُونَ مَا تَشَابَهَ مِنْهُ ابْتِغَاء الْفِتْنَةِ وَابْتِغَاء تَأْوِيلِهِ وَمَا يَعْلَمُ تَأْوِيلَهُ إِلاَّ اللّهُ وَالرَّاسِخُونَ فِي الْعِلْمِ…)

“…As for those in whose hearts is deviance, they pursue what is metaphorical in it, courting temptation and courting its interpretation. But no one knows its interpretation expect Allah and those firmly grounded in knowledge…”6

Apart from looking for the mutashabihat, they quote verses out of context and then imagine that verses of the Qur’an are contradictory! We have said that the verses that speak about the lack of dominance of the Prophet (s) over the people are addressed to the unbelievers prior to their acceptance of Islam. The Messenger of Allah (s) could neither invite them to Islam by means of compulsion nor exert authority over them. Actually, according to those verses, the freedom of action and liberty in accepting the divine orders are prior to the acceptance of Islam.

After the acceptance of Islam, every Muslim has to accept the guardianship and authority of the Prophet (s) and Islamic rulers. He is obliged to observe the Islamic values. The Islamic state does not interfere in the personal and private life of individuals as well as in actions done in secrecy, but in relation to the social life and interaction with others, it requires everybody to observe the divine limits. It deals severely with transgression of chastity and divine values, defamation of religious sanctities, and spread of perversion and vices. This is actually a manifestation of the Islamic rulers’ guardianship over society, urging it to comply with the requirements of faith and Islam—Islam which they have accepted out of their own freewill.

Muhammad Taqi Misbah Yazdi Written by

Mansoor L. Limba Translated by


  1. Surah Yunus 10:99.
  2. Surah ash-Shu‘ara’ 26:3-4.
  3. Surah an-Nisa’ 4:150-151.
  4. Surah an-Nisa’ 4:65.
  5. Surah an-Nisa’ 4:105.
  6. Surah Al ‘Imran 3:7.