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Faith and Freedom

Islam, faith, freedom, will, choice, oppression, test, sense of responsibility, afterlife, accountability, paradise, hell… When we talk about freedom and faith, it is necessary to consider all the concepts I listed above together. Freedom and faith can only be understood and explained within this comprehensive perspective.

Let’s try; Islam is the name of a religion. It expects its followers to believe in the values it presents. Human beings are free beings with intellect, will, and choice. Expecting them to believe in the values offered by the religion does not contradict their free will and choice. Islam does not impose pressure or coercion regarding belief. It does not take away the free will and choice given to human beings from their creation. It says, “If you wish, desire, and accept.” But it adds the following: this world is a temporary field of test. Faith is the most important, even dominant, element of this test. Human beings, among all beings in the universe, are the only ones endowed with free will and choice. Therefore, they should be aware of this and act with a sense of responsibility. Because after this temporary worldly life, there is an eternal life in the hereafter. There, humans will be held accountable to Allah for their belief or disbelief based on their own free will, and their account will end with either paradise or hell.

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This is the stance of our religion regarding faith and freedom, which I tried to summarize in a paragraph with one sentence each. To prove this, it is sufficient to look at the Quranic verses and the events that caused the revelation of those verses, in other words, the life of the Prophet, from this perspective.

Let’s look at it together from this perspective. The Prophet’s (pbuh) 23-year prophetic life can be divided into two main periods: the periods when he was strong and the periods when he was weak. The 13-year period in Mecca is well known to everyone. The polytheists subjected believing people to every kind of oppression, torture, boycott, exile, and even killing. Because of their oppression, they even pursued those who sought refuge in Abyssinia and sent messengers to bring them back to Mecca. As for the 10-year period in Medina, nothing has changed until Hudaibiya. The battles of Badr, Uhud, and the Trench are the wars in which the Meccan polytheists, leading the alliance, traveled 500 km and came to the outskirts of Medina with the intention of annihilating the Muslims. To summarize; in the 20-year period from the beginning of prophethood until Hudaibiya, the Muslims were weak. When it comes to after Hudaibiya, the tide turned and especially after the conquest of Mecca, the Muslims unquestionably declared their superiority.

In this picture where the Prophet (pbuh) was neither strong nor weak, he did not exert pressure for the non-believers to believe in the religion he preached and represented, not even for a single moment. He only conveyed his religion, made every effort for it, mourned in sadness when they did not believe, and fervently prayed to his Lord, but he never resorted to violence or coercion. If he had wanted, he could have exerted pressure on them not to believe and could have exerted the same pressure in reverse for them to believe. But he did not do so. How could he do that when the clear command of Allah, the owner of this religion, is evident: “The duty of the Messenger is nothing but to deliver (the message) clearly” (64/18), “You should continue to advise and warn! For you are only a warner. You are not a coercer to force them to believe” (88/21-22), “Say: The truth has come from your Lord. So whoever wills – let him believe; and whoever wills – let him disbelieve” (18/29).

There is no point in prolonging the discussion. I can list dozens of more verses, hundreds of hadiths, and incidents related to this subject. Those interested in the topic can find them with a five to ten-minute Google search. But at this point, I have to ask and answer this question: What if he had forced them?

There would be no faith. Faith produced through coercion can only and only create hypocrisy. Faith is sincerity. Faith is genuineness. Faith is wholehearted acceptance. Faith that is not embraced with sincerity cannot lead to anywhere. The responsibilities imposed by faith cannot be fulfilled. The obstacles that arise in fulfilling the requirements of faith on the path of life cannot be overcome. And indeed, Allah does not call such faith as faith. Look, Allah said the following in response to some Bedouin Arabs who surrendered to political authority by saying, “We have believed” despite not having internalized faith due to their lack of understanding of it, but instead having benefited from the material power gained by Muslims: “The Bedouins say, ‘We have believed.’ Say, ‘You have not [yet] believed; but say [instead], ‘We have submitted,’ for faith has not yet entered your hearts. And if you obey Allah and His Messenger, He will not deprive you from your deeds of anything. Indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful” (49/14).

In conclusion, faith is a phenomenon that a person accepts or rejects with their own free will. Therefore, non-belief is also within the scope of freedom, and this dual freedom has been given to human beings by Allah, the Creator of humans. No human being or earthly authority can take away this right from them. Through their free will, human beings will experience the consequences of this choice in both this world and the Hereafter.

In my next article, I will discuss the relationship between faith and life or the relationship between faith and our actions.

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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