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Freedom of Conscience: An Islamic Value

As a religion and spiritual order, the ideology of Islam is essentially an appeal to the human conscience and its inherent capacity to embrace the right and reject the wrong. Allah, the Most High has extended to all human beings the faculty of reasoning and the intellectual capability of judgement -Free Will- to choose his or her path in life. It is entirely up to a person’s conscience whether (s)he wants to profit from the spiritual guidance on offer in the form of divine revelations. And there shall be no compulsion in matters of faith. 

In his Friday Sermon of January 20, 2012 Khalifatullah Hadhrat Munir Ahmad Azim Sahib (atba) of Mauritius expounded on the principle of freedom of conscience in Islam.Read the Extracts from the Sermon:

“And had your Lord willed, those on earth would have believed - all of them entirely. Then, would you compel the people in order that they become believers?” (10: 100)

In essence, every religion possesses a missionary character. It starts with an individual and seeks to persuade and convince others of its truth and of the beneficent nature of the values it expounds. It must, therefore, stand for freedom of conscience, including the freedom to change one’s religion and the other freedoms which are conducive to the beneficent adjustment of human beings. The Holy Quran explains that it is only within the competence of God, the All-Knowing, the Almighty, to make a person believe, but even He does not force anyone to believe. He leaves everyone to exercise his or her reason and judgement.

It is clear beyond any shadow of doubt that Islam does not allow the use of force for its propagation. It is worth nothing that the first revelation that came to the prophet of Islam commanded him: “Recite in the name of your Lord.” The Arabic word “Iqra” connotes both recitation and conveying by word of mouth. The call was our noble prophet Muhammad’s first experience of verbal revelation. A tremendous concept is conveyed by the verses revealed to him on this occasion. The Holy Prophet Muhammad (sa) is warned that God has chosen him as the instrument for conveying His message to mankind.

In the Holy Quran, Allah says:

“There shall be no compulsion in religion. The right course has become clear from the wrong.” (2: 257)

This verse not only forbids Muslims in most emphatic words to use force for converting people to Islam, but also gives reasons why force should not be used for this purpose. Because truth stands out distinct from error, so there is no justification for using force.

“If any one of the idolaters seeks your protection, then grant him protection so that he may hear the words of Allah. Then deliver him to his place of safety. That is because they are a people who do not know.” (9: 7)

The verse shows that war with idolaters was not undertaken in order to force them to embrace Islam, even when a state of war existed. Idolaters were permitted to come to the Muslim camp if they wished to investigate the truth. Then after the truth had been explained to them, they were to be safely conducted to their place of security, if they did not feel inclined to embrace the new faith. In the face of such clear teachings, it is the height of injustice to accuse Islam of intolerance or of using force for its propagation.

The duty of a divine prophet is confined to conveying what is revealed to him by God. It is not his concern to compel people to accept it. The verse refutes the allegation that Islam encourages the use of force for the propagation of its teachings.

“And had your Lord willed, those on earth would have believed - all of them entirely. Then, would you compel the people in order that they become believers?” (10: 100)

“But if Allah had willed, they would not have associated. And We have not appointed you over them as a guardian (or keeper), nor are you a manager over them.” (6:108)

The words “keeper”, “guardian”, or “manager”, are intended to signify that Muhammad is neither responsible for the actions of disbelievers nor is he in charge of their affairs.

In His infinite wisdom God has made man a free agent. The verses make it clear that Allah does not compel any person to accept the truth but leaves it to his option. Just as God does not compel man, so our holy master Muhammad (sa) also could not compel anybody, for he was only a Messenger of God.


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