In fact, I approached the subject of faith and deeds in a previously read series, referring to the relationship between them. What I wrote there is equally valid here. So why am I bringing it up again? Because of a different aspect: here, I will discuss it through the lens of people who identify as Muslims but do not entirely base their life philosophy and way of living on these principles.
The first place we need to look into when dealing with this topic is undoubtedly how the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) behaved and what messages he conveyed to his ummah concerning the behaviors that fall within this context. Of course, this also includes the verses sent by Allah in accordance with those messages.
In the previous article on the relationship between faith and freedom, we expressed that Allah grants human beings the freedom to believe or not to believe in the created order. With Bediüzzaman (Master of the time) Said Nursi insightful observations and proposals, Allah opened the door to reason but did not take away human beings’ free will, their right to choose. Without any compulsion or coercion, individuals make their choices and face the consequences, both worldly and in the hereafter.
This situation applies to individuals who believe but may not incorporate all of their beliefs into their lives or to those who do not incorporate any of them at all. In this context, everyone knows the verse: “There shall be no compulsion in [acceptance of] the religion” (Quran 2:256). Since I have already discussed the reason for the revelation of this verse in various instances, I won’t go into detail here. I will just say this much: the verse was revealed in response to Jews coercing their children, who later converted to Islam when sent to them for a certain period by their Muslim parents, in order for them to have a true religious belief.
So, what is the relevance of this verse to our topic? It has two aspects. First, as I mentioned above, the Prophet (PBUH) never forced anyone, absolutely anyone, to convert to Islam during his life. Second, he never imposed any compulsion on those who did not fulfill the requirements of their faith.
At this point, let me address potential objections. The Prophet Muhammad was not just a prophet; he also had administrative duties based on the acceptance of the members of the society he lived in. You can call it political leadership or the presidency of the city-state of Medina, or even the leader of a tribal union among equals. The result is the same. In this context, there were sanctions and decisions he made with consequences, but they were based on his role as an administrator. However, regarding the religious dimension, such as the relationship between a person and Allah, you won’t find any decision of the Prophet forcing people in religious matters.
For example, the Prophet Muhammad fulfilled all possible efforts for prayers, fasting, and pilgrimage. He said, “On the Day of Judgment, the first thing a servant will be held accountable for is their prayers.” He also said, “Take your rituals of Hajj from me.” He gave glad tidings that those who fast will enter paradise through the Rayyan Gate. But he did not force anyone to perform these acts of worship, nor did he impose any earthly punishment on those who didn’t observe them. As we mentioned earlier, such coercion only creates hypocrites. Look at the continuation of the verse we quoted above, “There shall be no compulsion in [acceptance of] the religion. The right course has become clear from the wrong.” Whoever rejects false deities and believes in Allah has grasped the most trustworthy handhold, which never breaks. Allah is All-Hearing, All-Knowing” (Quran 2:256).
Indeed, religion is a composition that needs to be approached from the perspective of knowledge, faith, and action. A faith built on knowledge and supported by action becomes an unshakable fortress. However, for this, free will is an indispensable fundamental requirement. The verse “There shall be no compulsion in [acceptance of] the religion” underscores this truth significantly. Another meaning given to this verse by the late Elmalı is “There is no compulsion in religion,” and then he relates this interpretation to both grammatical rules and Islamic values, making his case quite convincing.
Ultimately, acts of worship related to the relationship between a person and Allah are subject to different evaluations than actions related to societal life. The former falls under the domain of faith, worship, and morality, while the latter falls under the domain of law. In the former, earthly sanctions imply the suppression of free will, whereas in the latter, even penal sanctions are considered essential for social life.
Here, there is an issue that requires contemplation, which is how this approach can fragment one’s Muslim identity and consequently compartmentalize social life. This is a crucial matter, especially as secularization continues to spread even in Muslim-majority societies, driven by globalization. Let’s conclude this article series here. I may address this topic separately in the future, maybe in two or three more articles.
To be continued.