Islam’s concept of individual freedom and collective progress

ISLAM is a pragmatic and matter-of-fact religion. It does not believe in supernatural and metaphysical phenomenon. The Quran points out that virtue and vice/evil both influence the human faculties and both affect our daily lives: "Repel evil with what is better" (41:34).

By Riaz A. Siddiqui

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Published: Fri 17 Dec 2004, 11:51 AM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 1:13 AM

God has created men and women free. Obviously a good society as envisaged by Allah Almighty is marked by a high degree of order, justice and liberty. Among these liberty has primacy because order and justice cannot be enforced until freedom is attained. Within the ambit of liberty, God has left human beings to find a cure or an antidote for the disease of the evil. According to Islamic guidance and Sunnah we should combat ignorance with knowledge and folly and wickedness with friendly persuasion and kindness.

Order, justice and liberty are interdependent. When freedom is construed to be independent of justice, there cannot be any justice. Likewise order cannot be enforced without justice because injustice is the principal cause of disorder. When justice is thought to be possible without order and liberty, then the pursuit of order, justice and freedom are shares of ignorance.

The above has been expressed in the Quran repeatedly. Every person has three choices when faced with injustice that is inevitable in every society. The first is to rebel and resort to violence. This situation renders such persons irrelevant to any process of constructive change. Second is to assimilate and become a part of the problem. The third is to transform the society in which one lives by first transforming oneself. "Verily Allah does not change a people’s condition until they change what is in their inner selves". This is the zenith of liberty and a wider window of opportunity for development. Political and social panaceas are ideological delusion, because true development of a society is possible only when an individual develops and reforms himself.

The means and path ordained by Allah through His message is that believers should always react positively. At all times, they should refrain from negative thought process. Patience, kindness, coupled with forgiveness and sympathy, avoiding malice under any adverse circumstances and mercy for all are the basic tools that serve as means to transforming a society into a progressive and developed one.

Social pundits may build better institutions, such as new means of producing credit in order to broaden opportunities for capital ownership, but without above mentioned structural innovations as guided by Allah, no individuals can tread the righteous path to act justly both towards themselves and towards their society.

Another way of keeping an individual involved in human development is by realising one’s mistakes. Allah loves those who turn to Him in repentance and purify themselves. When a person rues over his mistakes and returns to the path of Truth and blessings, it is called repentance. Such persons should also vow and ensure that they will not repeat the same mistakes again. Allah is the most merciful towards those truly repentant.

The liberty accorded to men by God is not without restraint and self-control though. This very liberty has enhanced the stature and status of Man as being the most superior among all creations.

The example set by the Last Prophet following the victory of Makkah set the tone for real freedom and human development. The enemies of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, were expecting reprisal and retribution in return of the terrible atrocities which they had inflicted on the Prophet and his followers for years. But the Prophet magnanimously pardoned them and forgave all their heinous crimes. Makkah was declared the city of peace. This noble example of the Prophet is worth emulating at all times by all. The Prophet’s conduct and his kindness towards his bitter enemies should particularly inspire his followers in all their dealings with their opponents. After all, it was Islam, which defined terrorism as equivalent of war crimes, indefensible in the Islamic system under any circumstances. Freedom, peace and collective progress is the essence of Islamic teachings and the preamble of Islamic constitution.

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