Islam’s stance on freedom of conscience

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Throughout time, there has always been a battle (sometimes of the mind and sometimes of the sword) about freedom of conscience or the lack thereof. The first question is whether God actually exists or not. The answer to this question will divide mankind in two broad categories: those who do not believe that there is a god, and those who believe that there is indeed a God. The second category goes on to believe that it is that God who created the universe and all what is in it.

Those who believe that God exists subscribe to the belief that everything besides man carries out that which Allah, the Sublime, desires it to do. The Holy Quran says concerning the angels for example:
They do that which they are commanded (66:7)
Broadly speaking, from this point of view everything apart from man is categorized as an angel, as it does that which it is commanded to do. The winds carry out whatever they are commanded. During a particular season the trees are commanded to shed their leaves and they do so. The fields are sometimes commanded to produce good harvests and they do so.

For man, the notion of compulsion in human life is inconsistent with the divine project of the universe, in as much as if Allah, the Sublime, had imposed His will upon man there would have been no difference in the first two categories highlighted above. And there would have been no difference between man and an animal, or a tree or a stone.

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But, Allah, the Sublime, being the All-knowing God fashioned it (the universe) in such a way that the belief or disbelief will be of the utmost merit. Islam being in accord with human nature sets forth a teaching; therefore, concerning the freedom of conscience and the freedom of belief, which establishes an ideal environment for the world.

Islam has thus set an ideal standard in respect of freedom of conscience and belief. Allah, the Sublime has said that every human being shall have the right to belief or disbelief. It is Islam alone which has thrown open to man all the gates of approach to salvation. Islam imposes no compulsion nor does it permit any form of coercion.

A careful study of the Holy Quran reveals several beautiful aspects of this teaching of Islam. The Holy Qur’an says for instance:
Proclaim, O Prophet, O mankind the Truth has indeed come to you from your Lord. Then whoso follows the guidance, follows it only for the good of his own self, and whoso errs does so only to his own detriment. I am not appointed a keeper over you (10:109).

In this verse, the Holy Prophet Muhammad, the Acme of Creation, (peace be on him) has been instructed to announce to mankind that perfect truth has been presented to them in the Holy Quran in the form of the teachings of Islam. And that whoever accepts it does so only to his own good and whoever goes astray does so only to his own loss. He is then told to say that he is not responsible for anyone who rejects it or accepts it. They themselves have to provide for their own good, or to earn the wrath of Allah, the Glorious. This is not his business. Every soul must bear this responsibility for itself.

It has been made quite clear that every path that leads to the pleasure of Allah has been set out in the Holy Quran. It is the business of man to tread along them of his own free will, or to turn away from them of his own will. The Prophet, peace be on him, bears no responsibility in that behalf, nor would he exercise any compulsion in respect of it.
At another place it is said: Proclaim O Prophet: This is the truth from your Lord; then let him who will, believe, and let him who will, disbelieve. We have prepared for the wrongdoers a fire which covers them like a canopy (18:30).

Now it is clear from the above that the Holy Prophet was not allowed to compel people to accept his views and beliefs. His duty was simply to convey. ‘Maa alar rasuuli illaa balaaghul mubeen (The Prophet’s responsibility is only to convey clearly). His example is a shining light on how people of different beliefs should live.

In Madinah, he headed a city where there were Jews, Christians, Pagans and Muslims. A pact was drafted which explicitly stated that everyone could believe whatever he wills. No one was to be molested for his beliefs.

The interesting part of this pact (the Madinah Pact) is that it stated that when it came to the issue of the city, they were to work together for the protection of the city. But their individual problems (on community level) each was responsible for their own protection.

The Gambia in her current state of affairs can learn a lesson from this arrangement. We can come together for the development of our nation but each community left alone on personal and religious beliefs and activities. The differences have nothing to do with the citizenship rights. The constitution guarantees every Gambian to believe and profess any religion or ideology. Thus, there is no point trying to usurp the rights of a segment of society (no matter how small) because they hold a different belief from the majority.

The Ahmadi Muslims are citizens like any other. They have every right to own a television station. Whoever believes in the existence of Allah and the prophethood of Muhammad (SAW) should be satisfied with his example. In fact, it is a commandment of Allah: Laqad kaana lakum fii rasuilillahi uswatun hasanah (You have an excellent exemplar in the Holy Prophet (SAW). If it is shown that he was tolerant of divergent views and beliefs, won’t it suggest that whoever refuses to follow that example perhaps does not accept him fully?

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