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Exploring the Interplay of Freedom, Belief and Life

How can we explore the interplay of freedom, belief and Life?

I can almost hear you saying, “This series of articles is endless.” At the beginning of the series, I mentioned that it would be a long marathon. You would agree that the topic of the relationship between the younger generations and religion cannot be contained within a few newspaper articles.

Without further ado, let me continue where I left off. I mentioned nine main topics, six of which have been covered. Now I am moving on to the next topic, the concept of freedom that we place at the center of our lives and its relation to religion.

As you know, religious commandments and prohibitions are seen by some as obstacles to personal freedom and by others as signs of true freedom. According to the first group, individuals, whether on an individual or societal level, should determine the boundaries of their lives with their own reasoning, and no authority, including God, should enter within these boundaries. Otherwise, the statement “humans are free” loses its meaning.

According to the second group, true freedom lies in unconditional submission to God’s commandments and prohibitions. The emphasis placed on the servitude of the Prophet Muhammad in the declaration of faith is directly related to this concept of freedom. Because true freedom can only be achieved by being a servant to God.

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As you can see, the common and focal point of the views expressed by both groups, which I have summarized in two sentences each, is the concept of freedom and how it is defined. So, what is freedom?

Let’s start with this observation: freedom is one of the concepts in the history of human knowledge that has never been clearly defined and described. Why? First, because of different perspectives. This applies to every concept that has been defined.

The second and more important reason, in my opinion, is that the concept of freedom is related to almost every aspect of human and social life. Take a moment and think about every second of your daily 24 hours, keeping this main idea in mind. You cannot find a moment where freedom does not come to mind. I woke up in the morning, I’m going to work, can I dress as I wish? For example, is it possible for me to go to work naked? If not, doesn’t this interfere with my freedom? I don’t want to stop at a red light, I’m illegally connecting electricity to my house to avoid paying the bill, and so on. Hundreds, thousands of examples can be given. As I mentioned above, it is connected to every moment of our lives.

The third reason is the ever-changing, evolving, transforming, or regressing social background conditions. For example, in today’s world where there is no longer a distinction between free and enslaved individuals and where the relationship between the state and citizens is based on different principles, the meaning attributed to the concept of freedom is not the same, and it should not be. In this context, the following observation by Montesquieu is very important: “No word has been given as many different meanings and reflected in various ways of thinking as the word freedom.”

I will bring the matter to the point of belief, but I want to dwell on this concept a little more and lay the conceptual groundwork. Freedom, in its literal sense, is defined as “the ability of a person to do what they want without any restrictions,” “the field in which a person can determine their own destiny and act without being hindered by others.”

In addition to these philosophical and abstract definitions, it is necessary to look at the legal definitions put forward. For example, the definition in Article 4 of the 1789 French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen comes to mind. “Freedom consists of being able to do anything that does not harm others.” Another famous definition is attributed to Montesquieu: “Freedom is the ability to do anything permitted by law.” Haşim Kemali, known for his studies on the subject, combines the definitions of the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen and Montesquieu by stating, “The ability to say or do what one desires, or to refrain from doing so, without violating the rights of others or the limits set by the law.” Finally, it can be said that freedom is also defined as “something that does not exist outside of personal perception, what each individual feels and senses in their conscience.”

In Islamic literature, the concept of freedom has been subject to different definitions from political, Sufi, theological, and jurisprudential perspectives. There is no need to go into details here, but I can conclude this section by saying that in Islamic values, freedom is a concept that encompasses not causing harm to others and also not causing harm to oneself. Accordingly, engaging in behaviors that harm one’s own existence cannot be considered within the scope of freedom.

Now let’s move on to the relationship between freedom and belief.

To be continued…

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Dr. Ahmet Kurucan is a an author and scholar focusing on Islamic Studies and Law.

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