Liberty and Freedom

Liberty and Freedom

Liberty identifies a condition in which human beings can act according to their own free will and take responsibility of their actions. John Stuart Mill has differentiated two types of liberty, i.e. (a) absence of external coercion and (b) freedom to act. Isaiah Berlin also differentiated two types of liberty, i.e. (a) negative liberty which is about absence of external restraints to one’s action, and (b) presence of means and opportunities to act. Berlin described that a statement such as “I am slave to no man” is one of Negative Liberty, i.e. freedom from another individual’s direct interference. He contrasted this with a statement such as “I am my own master” as one of Positive Liberty, i.e. freedom to choose one’s own pursuits in life. Negative Liberty refers to ‘freedom from’ while Positive Liberty refers to ‘freedom to’. Charles Taylor has distinguished Negative Liberty as ‘freedom from external restraints’ and Positive Liberty as ‘freedom from internal restraints (such as fear, ignorance, weakness, etc.)’.

The Quran says categorically that “There is absolutely no compulsion or coercion in (opting for a particular) Deen (or a way of life or a system of beliefs and actions)”[1]. Freedom of choice is the birth right of every human being. Allah says in the Quran that “Had He willed (not giving humans the freedom of choice), He would have made every human being believe all together; would you then (O Muhammad) compel people until they become believers?”[2].  One of the most notable tasks of Allah’s Messenger (s.a.w.) was to relieve people of their burdens and shackles of subjugation[3].

According to the Quran, everyone has full freedom of choice in believing and disbelieving in a particular system of beliefs. It says, “The Truth is from your Lord, whoever wills let him believe and whoever wills let him disbelieve”[4]. The Quran gives complete freedom of choice in worship by saying that “Worship what you will…”[5], although it enjoins man worshiping only his Creator[6]. The Quran also gives complete freedom of choice in actions by saying that “Do whatever you will…”[7]. It further says that “Indeed, this (Quran) is a reminder, so whoever wills may take to his Lord a way”[8]. “No human being – even though Allah may have given him a Code of Laws or the power to enforce it or even Nubuwwat (prophet status) – has the right to say to the others: ‘You should serve me rather than Allah,’ what he should say is: ‘You should be amongst those who belong to Allah by following His Book which you teach to others and study yourself’[9].

The Quran makes it clear that liberty goes hand in hand with responsibility of the consequences for one’s actions. It says, “There has come to you enlightenment from your Lord; whoever reflects on it, will do so to his own advantage. On the other hand, those who choose to remain blind to it, will do so to their own disadvantage”[10]. “Whoever disbelieves will suffer from his disbelief, and whosoever does good works then such will prepare a good place for themselves”[11]. “The truth from your Lord has certainly come to you. One who comes to be guided by it will be guided to his own advantage. But one who chooses to go astray will only harm himself”[12]. “If you do the right thing it would be to your own advantage and if you go astray you will have to suffer the consequences of your wrong actions”[13]. “Whoever does righteousness, it is for his own soul and whoever does evil does so against himself”[14]. “Whoever commits a wrong, wrongs himself”[15]. “Your insolence or transgression is against your own selves”[16].

It needs to be emphasized that ‘Liberty’ does not mean ‘License’. The Quran says, for example, that “One must not take away anyone’s life unjustly, which Allah has made sacred”[17]. Unjust murder is such a heinous crime that it has been laid down in the Quran that “if one kills another except as a punishment for murder or if he do so for spreading disorder in the land it shall be as if he has killed all mankind. On the other hand, if one saves the life of a single person it shall be as if he has saved the lives of all mankind”[18]. Similarly, one does not have the liberty to acquire anyone’s wealth or property unjustly or unlawfully[19].

The Holy Quran ensures the following types of freedom to all mankind: Freedom of life[20]; Freedom of belief[21]; Freedom of worship[22]; Freedom of (lawful) action[23]; Freedom from contempt and disrespect[24]; Freedom from ridicule[25]; Freedom from coercion[26]; Freedom from servitude[27]; Freedom from deprivation of the rights[28]; Freedom from unjust or unlawful acquisition of wealth or property[29]; Freedom from injustice and unfairness[30]. Freedom of one man ends at that point where the freedom of another begins to get restricted and freedom from coercion does not imply freedom from discipline.

[1] Al-Quran Surah 2: Verse 256

[2]  Al-Quran Surah 10: Verse 99

[3]  Al-Quran Surah 7: Verse 157

[4] Al-Quran Surah 18: Verse 29

[5] Al-Quran Surah 39: Verse 15

[6]  Al-Quran Surah 2: Verse 21

[7]  Al-Quran Surah 41: Verse 40

[8] Al-Quran Surah 73: Verse 19; Surah 76: Verse 29

[9] Al-Quran Surah 3: Verse 79

[10] Al-Quran Surah 6: Verse 104

[11]  Al-Quran Surah 30: Verse 44

[12]  Al-Quran Surah 10: Verse 108; Surah 17: Verse 15; Surah 27: Verse 92; Surah 39: Verse 41

[13]  Al-Quran Surah 17:7

[14]  Al-Quran Surah 41: Verse 46; Surah 45: Verse 15

[15]  Al-Quran Surah 4: Verse 111

[16] Al-Quran Surah 10: Verse23

[17]  Al-Quran Surah 17: Verse 33

[18]  Al-Quran Surah 5: Verse 32

[19]  Al-Quran Surah 2: Verse 188; Surah 4: Verse 116]

[20] Al-Quran Surah 5: Verse 32

[21]  Al-Quran Surah 18: Verse 29

[22]  Al-Quran Surah 39: Verse 15; 22: Verse 40

[23]  Al-Quran Surah 41: Verse 40

[24]  Al-Quran Surah 31: Verse 18

[25]  Al-Quran Surah 49: Verse 11

[26]  Al-Quran Surah 2: Verse 256; Surah 10: Verse 99

[27]  Al-Quran Surah 3: Verse 79

[28]  Al-Quran Surah 7: Verse 85; Surah 11: Verse 85; Surah 26: Verse 183

[29]  Al-Quran Surah 2: Verse 188; Surah 4: Verse 116

[30]  Al-Quran Surah 4: Verse 58

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