Meaning of Freedom: An Islamic Perspective


By Mohammad Azeemullah

Following an insulting film to Prophet Muhammad, a lot of debates have surrounded the idea of ‘freedom’ or the ‘freedom of expression‘.

That the Constitution of America protects citizens’ rights to express without any prohibition what they want, even to the extent of abuse to an individual.

Nicholas D. Kristof, a notable columnist in The New York Times, September 22, 2012, defended the cause for freedom in his well-structured article ‘Exploiting the Prophet’.

He writes: “PISS CHRIST“, a famous photograph partly financed by taxpayers, depicted a crucifix immersed in what the artist said was his own urine. But conservative Christians did not riot on the Washington Mall.”

The writer then puts the question: “So why do parts of the Islamic world erupt in violence over insults to the Prophet Muhammad?”

Then he resolves in his conviction: “But it would be a mistake to back off and censor our kooks. The freedom to be an imbecile is one of our core values”.

Kristof speaks on behalf of all the liberals in the west, particularly those in America as well as those around the globe.

The question arises: What actually freedom is? Does it carry any accountability or obligation?

Is freedom to listen to one’s own conscience is what we term as a real ‘substance’ for freedom?

Is freedom to love one’s own constitution or nation as in the case of American constitution or any other nation be called the only ‘genuine’ freedom to human liberation?

If that is the criterion defined to practice freedom under the weight of constitutional rights, then definitely the true ‘meaning’ of freedom is lost in the identity of individuals owing allegiance to community, nation and race.

This kind of freedom is what is termed as ‘slavery’ by George Orwell. 

True freedom is boundless in its nature, and is in constant struggle to break the shackles that define its limiting value.

The true freedom lies in the complete emancipation of an individual from self with regard to his/her identity ensconced in class and caste.

It is to turn beyond the superficiality of one’s own distinctiveness in the social image, go beyond and reach out to the universe of immeasurability. Thomas Jefferson defines this ‘freedom’ of stretching out to universe as ‘Eternal Vigilance’.

That is the real message of Islam and the essential teachings of Prophet Muhammad who enlightens humanity the path toward the true ‘meaning’ of freedom…the freedom that transcends divisions, affiliations and rigid identities.

All the Prophets carried a universal message of that freedom to make wider affiliation with the Almighty.

Muhammad, the last among the chosen ones, struggled throughout his prophetic mission to teach people step toward deep and authentic freedom in recognizing God as the Supreme Refuge.

Islam makes a strong case for the whole universe as a nation for a man and does not allow one to be trapped by passions springing from his race, nation, or identity.

The only thing that makes a man really free from any form of bondage is his turn to Divinity. His submission to the will of Lord that sets him really free from the illusions of the human.

That is a true freedom…the freedom of a being who, in the words of the Prophet of Islam, frees one from the prison of the self. 

He laid out the condition for universal freedom, “All mankind is from Adam and Eve’ and ‘no superiority over anyone except by ‘piety and good action’. 

All forms of freedom are enslaved in social bondage. A man has not yet liberated himself from his attachments to superficial emotions (freedom of expression), biological gratification (freedom from want) and   guaranteed security (freedom from fear). They all rely on human dependence.

To deny the existence of the Creator necessitates the move to set man free from ignorance of the sense of the Maker and sensitize him to an elevated goal of freedom of contemplation toward creation.

How can a man deny the signs of Lord while he sees the mechanism of a mystical power at work in a flying bird, a standing tree, falling darkness, or a shining star?

A Quranic revelation in this effect is worthy to note:

‘In the creation of the heavens and the earth; in the alternation of night and day; in the sailing of the ships through the ocean for the profit of humankind; in the rain that God sends down from the skies, and the life which He then gives to the earth after it had been lifeless; in the beasts of all kind that He scatters through the earth; in the change of the winds, and the clouds that run their appointed courses between the sky and the earth; [here] indeed are signs for a people who are wise.’ (2:164)

Man’s real freedom lies in his awareness and in his discipline of being able truly to reach beyond the reasons of the heart to the absolute autonomy of mind to let meditative observations go  freely:

‘Do they not observe the birds above them, spreading their wings and folding them in? None can uphold them except the Most Gracious. Truly it is He who watches over all things.’ (Quran, 67:19) 

God’s devotion is Devotion without dependence, a Devotion that liberates and elevates. In the experience of this intimacy a man perceives the presence of the Being, of the Divine and attains an independent and a true meaning of freedom in life.



Categories: Freedom, Islam

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