Quest to Freedom

article picked 4U by - Mohammad Shahrour

May 17, 2020


In order to consider the phenomenon of Political Islam one has to address a number of burning questions: does freedom of religion exist in Islam; how is apostasy treated; what is the correct way ‘to prescribe what is right and to proscribe what is wrong’; what is the proper understanding of al-jihad and ‘fight’; how do we express loyalty and to what extent is it possible to harmonize differing personal, religious, and political identities? Since the emergence of Political Islam, which has proliferated in the many different streams of the Islamist movement, we have become accustomed to turning to the ulama” and asking them how we can make sense of this strange mixture of religion and politics. Initially, we thought that Islamism would be explained as a deviation from the ulama’s sound scholarly tradition, and we expected the scholars to refute the Islamists and their aggressive ambitions to politicize Islam and to Islamize the whole world. How surprised were we when we heard not a word of condemnation from the scholars but instead legal explanations that basically condoned the concoctions of the Islamists.

We then realized that the ulamas (scholars) interpretations of apostasy, jihad, and qital were in fact not too different from the Islamists’ positions and that the deviation from the spirit of Allah’s Book did not just come with the Islamist movement but that it had occurred much earlier in history, namely during the formative period of Islamic scholarship!

To prove this point we have applied a different approach throughout The parts. Instead of turning only to the Book in our analysis, we include hadith reports, tafsir commentaries and historical narratives and compare their ideas with those of Allah’s Book. The benefit of this method is that we are now able to demonstrate that politicized Islam is basically an invention of the scholars who aimed at replacing the spiritual message of the Book by a political ideology that pleased the authoritarian rulers of their times and mobilized the masses for unjustified wars and crimes against humanity.

This part intends to show how differently the Book talks about those topics that became politicized and militarized by traditional scholarship. We will show that struggle and fight in God’s way have nothing to do with martyrdom, missionary activities, and warfare; That Allah does not stipulate any legal punishment for apostasy; that in Islam there does exist a concept of freedom of religion; that loyalty to the religion of Islam does not mean an exclusivist identity eliminating all other attachments and loyalties; and that finally Allah wants us to live a peaceful existence of multiple identities. It will become evident how close the ulama’s and the Islamists’ arguments are.

Both demand the death penalty for apostasy; both deny freedom of religion; both treat humans as ‘slaves of God’; both use the concepts of jihad and qital as aggressive tools to justify militancy and violence; and both abuse and cherry picking the Qur’anic verses as a strategy to intimidate people, to intrude into their private lives, and to function as a kind of combined thought police and vice squad. It is the aim of this chapter, that the followers will understand why both groups, the Islamists and ulama”, since their views on these matters fundamentally contradict everything that Allah says in the Book, have lost the right to speak in the name of God.

Freedom …. We begin with the issue of freedom whose proper conceptualization is absolutely vital for a critique of Political Islam and for a reconfiguration of the collective consciousness of Arab Muslims. The current intellectual crisis has been caused by a century-long absence of any viable notion of freedom in the public mind. As a result, in our debates about Islam and religion the issue of freedom counts for very little or is entirely absent. This section intends to contribute to a wider awareness of how important the notion of individual and collective freedom is for a reformulation of Islamic ethics and for the draining of the sources of religious fundamentalism.

Philosophically, the notion of freedom allows human beings the right to act and make decisions without external constraints. It refers to a state of being free or at liberty to exercise a conscious choice between affirmation and negation with regards to all aspects of objective reality. Expressed in the terminology of the Book, freedom gives individuals the power to determine their action by moving from al-qadar (objective determinism) to al-qadha” (indeterminism/free will), facilitated by knowledge of the real world. Whereas al-qadar pertains to God’s laws of the objective reality, al-qadha” refers to the free will of human beings to choose between confirmation or rejection of God’s laws. The achievement of this form of freedom depends upon the individual’s ability to acquire knowledge about the laws of nature and society, because without knowledge there is no choice, and where there is no choice, there is no freedom. Freedom expresses a fundamental dialectic between (absolute) necessity/determination that is embodied in universal social and natural laws on the one side, and on the other, the ability of individuals to act independently of both the dictates of natural laws and social constraints. Freedom is born out of human beings’ desire to use objective laws to their own advantage. And this applies even if humans are incapable of doing so, either because of a lack of technology and hence an incapacity to use natural resources or because of sociopolitical factors that suppress individual sovereignty and self-determination.

Not everyone who has accumulated knowledge of objective existence will gain freedom from it, but it is undeniable that such knowledge develops at least a feeling for the dialectical tension between objective determination and individual choice.

Choice in this context means the realization of the dialectics between opposition and unity. It means to realize that in the world of nature, contrast (or opposition) can be resolved by a process of synthesis (or unity). The natural opposition, for example, between a mountain (thesis) and a valley (antithesis), is resolved by the unifying element of ‘landscape’ that combines the two opposites (synthesis).

The opposition between cold and hot is resolved by the uniting element of ‘temperature’ (and this applies to many other oppositions: deaf or hearing = ear; blind or seeing = eyes; darkness or brightness = light; slow or fast = speed; above or below = height; in front or behind = position; right or left = direction; north or south = directions / points on the compass, etc.)

Freedom consists of the ability of individuals to choose their own direction by moving between objectively existing opposites.