All prophets were freedom-bringers
By: Ayatullah Abdullah Javadi Amuli
To understand the message of the prophets, it is enough to present the message by one or some of them. The reason is that the achievements of the prophet were the same in many cases. In this regard , the holy Qur’an uses shari’ah or minhaj: “To every one of you We have appointed a right way (shari'ah) and an open road (minhaj).” (Surah al-Maidah 5:48)
However, where there is talk of the main principles of religion, the holy Qur’an states that all prophets transmitted the same message. For instance, the al-Hijr “cried lies to the Envoys;” (Surah al-Hijr 15:80)
“The men of the Thicket cried lies to the envoys when Shu'ayb said to them, will you not be God- fearing?” (Surah as-Shu’ara 26:176)
We all know that the people in both places had then one prophet. That the Holy Qur’an condemns the people's rejection of the Envoys shows that all the prophets had one single message.
Another sign for this truth is that every prophet confirms the words of the preceding prophets. This was one of the characteristics of the prophets which shows that the main axis of the prophets’ messages was the same: “And We have sent down to thee the book with the truth, confirming the Book that was before it, assuring it.” (Surah al-Maidah 5:48)1
Now we shall consider one of these messages by Moses. After bidding the people to worship the one God, that great prophet cried freedom to them. This message was not for the freedom of the land and the economic resources of Egypt. The purpose was freeing the Egyptians from the bondage of falsity. Of course, if a people are freed, the economic resources will surely be freed. This was the message of Prophet Moses: “O false Gods, deliver to me God’s servants.” (Surah ad-Dukhan 44:18)
Pharaoh’s followers answered that they would not surrender to those who were their own servants. It is clear that he did not mean that he was the Lord of others. Pharaoh said, “I am your superior Lord.” (Surah an-Naziat 79:24)
However, he did not mean that he was the master of other affairs. Pharaoh and his followers were idolaters. For the same reason. Pharaoh’s followers told him.
“Will you allow Moses and his followers to ignore your Lord?” (Surah al-A’raf 7:127)
Hence, Moses demanded the freedom of others from this servitude, “That is a blessing thou reproachest me with, having enslaved the Children of Israel.” (Surah ash-Shu’ara 26:22)
So Moses meant that it is not fit to worship anyone but God and that all human beings should be free from this bondage and that they should not follow the man made rules.
In the works of the Innocent Imams, the message of freedom is clearly discernible. The most obvious document in this regard is Nahj al-Balaghah where Imam’'Ali addressees his son Mujtaba, “Be not servant to anyone but God, for He has created you free.”2
As is seen in this statement , true freedom lies in breaking from any servitude but from God. For the same reason, Imam 'Ali finds his honor in this kind of freedom, “O God, it suffices me to be Thy servant; this is great honor for me to have Thee as my Lord.”3
The Difference between Islamic Stance on Freedom and that of other Schools of thought
As pointed out, freedom lies in freedom from servitude of others but Allah. However, the proponents of other schools believe that freedom lies in man’s capability to choose anything. In their eyes, man is free to choose any religion he desires, for they regard religion as an ordinary thing. Thus, as man chooses his profession and residence, he chooses his own religion . According to this belief, religion finds its origins in the traditions and beliefs of people. However, in Islam, this absolute freedom is servitude, for if man is free to choose whatever he likes as his religion, then he falls into the pitfall of his desires and follows them, “Has thou seen him who has taken his caprice as his god?” (Surah al-Jathiyah 45:23)
The implication is that man has to choose the true religion although he is free not to choose any religion?
This different interpretation of freedom misguides causes the followers of other doctrines. Now we shall discuss some of these issues. One of these issues is political freedom. In the dark atmosphere of atheism and egoism, political freedom means that people participate in the elections and vote for anyone they wish and boast of this democracy.
However, in the bright atmosphere of monotheism, political freedom is never limited to this. In this atmosphere, there is the talk of leadership and representation. In addition, there is a fundamental difference between the representation of Faqih and his deputyship. It must not be imagined that Islam accepts democracy and that we can choose the leader of the Islamic community with the votes of others. It is never so. What the votes of people have part in is neither the leadership nor his representation.
According to the Islamic thought, the Lord has chosen the qualified jurisprudent to lead the Islamic community. The society accepts the leadership of this leader with its vote as he himself accepts his leadership but he has no part in placing him as a leader. Hence, he accepts his leadership as a legal person. For the same reason, if he issues a verdict, no one is allowed to violate it nor is he allowed to violate it. So there is no difference between him and others as fair as the observance of rules and laws is concerned.
Another difference is the kind of interpretation of opinion and expression. In this regard, the Holy Qur'an states, “So give thou good tidings to My servants who give ear to the Word and follow the fairest of it.” (Surah az-Zumar 39:17-18)
On the other hand, the Holy Qur’an explains what the fair word is, “And who speaks fairer than he who calls unto God and does righteousness and says, surely I am of them that surrender?” (Surah al-Fussilat 41:33)
Thus, although the Holy Qur’an bids others to listen to different sayings and choose the fairest, it introduces the fair words. In other words, it offers the general syllogism, “Freedom in choosing the fairest word” it offers the minor syllogism "the nature of fair words". The proponents of atheism do not pay attention to this minor syllogism and think that man is completely free to choose his way.
The common point between the Islamic thought and the atheistic thought is the general principle but it must be noted that the Holy Qur’an explains the better world. Besides, this premise is itself a broad premise, for the more delicate premise is mentioned in the Holy Qur'an which may be called the narrow premise. In the narrow principle, a better instance is indicated. And that instance is the word of the holy Prophet (S.A.) which has been mentioned in the Holy Qur'an as a minor to that broad principle: “I invite ye all unto God; with clear sight which I and he who followeth me” (Surah Yusuf 12:109)
On the basis of minor and major premise cited as broad premise, the better word is inviting people unto God. In this verse, the holy Prophet (S.A.) is introduced as being the one who invites people unto God. With this narrow premise and through a new comparison, it can be concluded that the holy prophet (S.A.) is the bringer of the fairer word.
However, the followers of atheistic thought accept only the broad premise and neglect these two premises which are the central motifs of that premise. It must be noted that all schools of thought believe themselves to have the fairer words. Even the followers of Pharoah who perpetrated numerous crimes believed themselves to be the followers of the superior doctrine and warned their people that Moses and his brother Aaron were determined to destroy that.
“These two want to wipe out your most exemplary tradition.” (Surah Taha 20:63)
Another instance of difference may be observed in economic freedom. In the open Islamic atmosphere, after enumerating the lawful and the unlawful, it has been stated that everyone can be a master of his economic achievements.
“For men shall have of what they earn: and for women shall have of what they earn.” (Surah an-Nisa 4:32)
It must be noted that wherever the Holy Qur’an lays stress on a common affair between man and woman, it enumerates it separately for them.4 In most cases, the Holy Qur’an explains the common affair between man and woman with a certain expression; however, in striking instances, it employs a special expression for each of them. From this one can gather that freedom of profession and economic independence are of paramount importance, otherwise God would have said, “For everyone shall have of what they earn.”
From the discussion on economic independence and lawful and unlawful, one can perceive that in Islamic thought, economic freedom is interpreted within the matrix of the servitude of God and respecting the lawful and the unlawful. However, in materialistic thought nothing but the economic considerations of man determine for man any boundary for trading and economic policy of man. In view of this, the most unpleasant transactions and the ugliest tradings are allowed in materialistic thought, even if it jeopardizes the most decent moral and human institutions.
The very difference may be observed in freedom of residence. In divine thought, man is not free to travel where he likes and make his residence wherever he wishes. Although the Holy Qur'an regards the earth as being extensive, religious teachings warn us to make residence where we are capable of preserving our religious values. This idea is implied in the words of Imam Ali, “The best place of residence is the one, which can tolerate you.”5
For this reason, it is not essentially advisable to travel to a land where one's religion is endangered. In other words, the freedom of residence is acceptable as far as the spiritual life of man and his original freedom are not threatened. However, in this case, the adherents of atheistic thought do not see any boundary for themselves and decide to settle by their materialist criteria. And they do not accept that the moral and religious criteria can limit this freedom.
The Glorious Manifestations of the Qur’anic Attention to Freedom
Freedom as expounded earlier in this article is of great value in the Qur’anic view. This value is such that the Holy Qur'an bids people to worship before the symbol of freedom and undertake other worthy tasks before it. That symbol is Ka’ba which is called Bayt al-Atiq (the Ancient House). Some believe that this way of naming it is due to the reason that the Ka’ba is ancient and historically valuable.
However, according to some tradjtions the Innocent Imam (A.S.) has observed that this method of naming it is because no tyrants have succeeded in conquering it.6 In other words, this house has always been free. Hence, they have called it 'atiq (derived from ‘Atiq meaning freedom). So, the Ka'ba can be regarded as the symbol of freedom.
Now let us see how the Holy Qur’an regards this symbol and induces people towards it. On the one hand, the Holy Qur'an has bidden people to stick to this symbol and glorify it.
“And let them circuit the Ancient House.” (Surah al-Haj 22:29)
On the other hand, it has commanded people to turn to a mosque in life in which Bayt al- ‘atiq is located.
“Turn then thy face towards the Sacred House.” (Surah al-Baqarah 2:144 & 150)
Besides this eternal approach towards Ka’ba, many of man's actions are related to this symbol. Most of the worthy acts such as praying should be done towards Bayt al- ‘Atiq. Some of them like reciting the Holy Qur'an had better be done towards this symbol. Reciprocally, the ill acts should not be done towards this symbol and if so, it is generally deemed offensive. So everyone is in one way or another associated with this house of freedom. Even in the last moment of presence in this earthly world, we should turn towards this house.
This deep attention to Bayt al- ‘Atiq and guarding it, means that the Muslims ought always to struggle for their freedom and should not risk heavenly freedom for enthralling enchantments. It is manifest that among the most striking enchantments are man's engaging thoughts manifested within the matrix of the teachings and laws of philosophical, moral, legal and political schools and drag some groups from here to there.
The Difference between Genetic Freedom and Legal Freedom of Man
In studying the freedom of choice, we have to distinguish between genetic freedom and legal freedom. By genetic freedom is meant that the choice of path and opinion is not compulsory in the Cosmos. Religion is a set of particular beliefs, which may never be imposed upon anybody. If the principles and tenets of religion are not achieved for a person, religion goes beyond its realm. Hence, the Holy Qur'an states, “There is no compulsion in religion.” (Surah al-Baqarah 2:256)
Besides, by legal freedom is meant that man is not obligated in any affair as he is not free. In scientific terms, the cosmos is neither within the realm of determinism nor is it within the realm of libertarianism.
However from this genetic freedom, one cannot conceive that man can move towards any direction in the choice of opinion and that God may not regard his desire. This is never so! That genetic freedom is interpretable visa-vis the religious duties.
“The truth is from your Lord; so let him who pleaseth believe; and let him who pleaseth disbelieve.” (Surah al-Kahf 18:29)
Hence, what is accepted by the Lord and belongs to Him is right; but some people move towards untruth on the basis of genetic freedom. Numerous Qur’anic verses have determined the boundary for these two freedoms and have drawn man's attention to accept religious duties.
“Hold ye fast that which We have bestowed upon you with strength.” (Surah al-Baqarah 2:63 & 93; Surah al-A’raf 7:171)
So in the choice of truth or untruth, man must not only accept the truth but also guard it with strength of determination. If someone accepts the untruth after complete investigation and in complete awareness, and refrains from accepting the truth, he is ranked among those against whom the holy Prophet (S.A.) has issued the order of preliminary jihad. And if the preliminary jihad is not accepted by some, everyone surely believes that these people dwell forever in the fire of Gehenna and do not have before them any path of salvation.
Therefore, it must be noted that although the Lord has created man free in choosing religion, he has explained for him the path of growth.
“Indeed truth has been made manifest distinct from error.” (Surah al-Baqarah 2:256)
In view of Islamic world vision, every belief of man in the Resurrection Day and the purgatory is manifested in a special way. And man is a creature who is constantly traveling from the world to purgatory and from the purgatory to the Hereafter. In the meantime, apostasy and atheism are manifested in the shape of snake and scorpion. This shows that ill thoughts are equal to venomous poison. And it is obvious that the Lord does not allow man to choose the poison and perish himself.
In Qur’anic terms; such a person flames his soul as the devourer of unlawful things fill their souls with fire.7 In this regard, the Holy Qur’an states, “They eat nothing but fire into their bellies.” (Surah al-Baqarah 2:174; Surah an-Nisa 4:10)
It is clear that the Lord does not allow man to have freedom in the choice of flower and fire or honey and poison. Religious freedom is never accepted in the Qur'an or by the Islamic culture.
The Relationship between Life and Freedom
In Qur’anic view, freedom is the prelude to life. All the freedoms allowed to man are meant to induce man to lead a worthy life. In order for man to achieve a worthy material and spiritual life, he should be free and in order to achieve freedom he should relieve himself from the bond of lusts. All people are the hostages of their own conducts. Only those who are ranked among the upright and the believers shall be free from this bond.
“Every soul for what it earned is held in pledge save the people of the Right hand.” (Surah al-Mudaththir 74:38-39)
Now we should see how the upright people have relieved themselves of this bond. The answer to this question can be found in the words of the holy Prophet which he delivered on the last Friday of the month of Sha'ban. “O people! Your lives are imprisoned by your conducts; so save your lives by repenting your deeds.”8
So the genuine freedom of man lies in relieving himself of his sins by repenting and they may be ranked among the upright people by virtuous acts. This is the freedom, which can be the prelude to original and sublime life.
1. Also Surah al-Baqarah (2:97), Surah Aale Imran (3:3&50), Surah al-Fatir (35:31)
2. Nahj al-Balaghah, Letter 31, p.128, part 87.
3. Bihar al-Anwar, Vol.74, chapter 15, p.42, tradition no. 23 and Vol.91, chapter 32, p.92, tradition no. 6
4. As a similar instance, see: Surah al-Hujurat 49:11
5. Nahj al-Balaghah, Maxim 442, p.189
6. Bihar al-Anwar, Vol. 96, chapter 7, p.58, tradition no.16
7. See Surah an-Nisa 4:10
8. Bihar al-Anwar, Vol. 93, chapter 46, p.356, tradition no. 45