Although we may be using the term ' freedom ' mutually with the non-Muslims when speaking of rights, what does it really mean? Is our understanding and their understanding of this term the same? I have written something about this in a journal (NUSMS), which I feel is relevant for Muslims to understand it, and would like to share it here:
" Freedom and freewill – what do they mean?” Lest some people may misconstrue this concept with the notion of “ freedom ” in the Western sense (thus we find some has mistakenly use the Arabic the term “ hur-riyyah ” for ‘ freewill ’), let us consider the Islamic perspective on this.
The meaning of “ hurriyyah ” is connected more towards the freeing or removing oneself from something, which is constraining him against his will. For a Muslim, to agree to this Western concept without referring it (i.e. qualifying it) to the Islamic perspective would be naïve.
The very fact that ‘ al-Islam ’ requires of us Muslims, our submission and obedience to a higher power (Allah and His Messenger), we (as Muslims) therefore have already agreed to be constrained by all its stipulated ideals.
Therefore our agreement to this concept of freedom should not be like that of the non-Muslims.
Were Muslims to blindly imitate this obsession for freedom (in the Western notion) it would imply agreeing to even freeing oneself from the loyalty to Islam itself. Such would be termed in Islam as rebelliousness ( ‘isw-yaan ) and it tantamount to a Muslim renouncing his religion ( irtidad i.e. becoming a murtad ).
Thus when we ponder deeply upon these two terms i.e. “ freedom ” and “ Islam ”, in the absence of any qualification, these would be incompatible terms. Perhaps what we need to clarify is that in Islam, we do recognize that within our nature, we do have freedom to make choices i.e. a free will . And with it man should assert this right responsibly.
We, in Islam advocate “ freedom ” only in the sense of freewill here, but not absolute sense of freedom).
According to Professor Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas Founder Director of ISTAC and one of the most prominent Muslim thinkers today, the term “ ikhtiya r ”, which also include this innate volition to act according to our will, but it delimits the scope of our choice within things which is good or better and does not condone the choosing of what is harmful and wrong.
Interestingly, he argues, the word ‘ ikhtiyar ’ has ‘ khayr ’ (good), – ‘ akh-yaar ’ (better or superior) as the root. Therefore by the exercise of our freewill in the Islamic perspective, it is the freedom for us towards choosing only what is ‘right and good’. Whereas the Western notion of freedom implies that choice is also for the ‘right to’ doing of what is bad and wrong.
Thus, for them, individual right and freedom are not delimited and somehow they are even trying to extend it to freedom to self-destruct! Islam does not agree to such notion of freedom.
This confusion in their concept of ‘ freedom ’ perhaps may account for their ‘iconoclastic’ tendencies towards all traditional value system ( ethico-religio ), and the obsession of wanting to free themselves from whatever they perceive as constrains .
In Islam, our concept of freedom (i.e. the freewill termed as “ ikhtiyar ”) cannot allow for such anarchic license. It is not a matter of freedom ( ikhtiyar ) for man to be at liberty to indulge in what is ‘bad and wrong.’
Though man may direct this free volition even to indulge in evil and wrong, but to be indulging in these (bad and wrong) would be termed as “ zulm ” (i.e. meaning one has “ committed injustice and oppression ” to oneself) and not an act of ‘ ikhtiyar ’.
And since the society is obliged to uphold justice (as a collective social responsibility) and prevent or disallow such things from being done, such restrictions ( NAHYUL-MUNKAR ) is not at all against personal freedom.
Surely, there must be a limit to what we mean by “ freedom ”. This distinction is important as more young Muslims now seemed to be attracted to the ‘ liberal ’ ideas of freedom (as expounded by modernist) and yet they are ignorant of the profound difference in perspective in the meaning of ‘ freedom ’. Is the ‘ freedom ’ to be understood in the absolute sense? Surely not!
Without clarification on this point, many young Muslims may be led to misconstrue the teachings of Islam, or even agree to the criticism levelled by the Westerners upon it.
In my discussion with Dr. Wan Mohd Nor Wan Daud (ISTAC), he opines that what these Westerners may misperceive in Islamic society “ as curtailment of individual freedom ” is actually not acts intended to deprive the individuals of their rights, but rather as preventive action from his committing injustice to his own self (and thus saving the individual as well as society from harm)."
Even though the physical make-up of an individual produces certain dispositions on him, it is by no means true than man has no choice in the matter and is absolutely compelled to abide by the dictates of his physical make-up.
On the contrary, since man had the power to choose, he can overcome the dictates of his physical nature through practice and effort, and can acquire the disposition of his choice.
Thus scholars regard ‘Ilmul Akhlaq as very important and consider it to be the most exalted and valuable of science; since the worth of any science is directly related to the worth of the subject with which it is concerned.
The subject in ‘Ilmul Akhlaq being “ Human ” and the means through which he can attain perfection as Human, Islam teaches positively of man’s destiny - whose ultimate purpose of existence is to attain perfection through submission to the guidance of His Creator / Sustainer.
‘ Ulama (Islamic scholars) in the past did not consider any of the other fields of learning to be truly independent sciences.
They believe that without the science of human disposition (‘ Ilmul Ahklaq ) which stresses spiritual purification, mastery of other sciences is not only devoid of any value but it would in fact lead to the obstruction of insight and ultimate destruction of those who pursue it.
Thus it has been said: “ Knowledge is the thickest of veils !” which prevents man from seeing the real nature of things.
In ‘ilm-al-Akhlaq (the science of Human disposition), it entail firstly the removal of accretions, blemishes, and other ‘veils’ which may even require process of ‘unlearning’ – before its adornment with noble traits and disposition. In fact, the ‘Ulama regard adornment of the noble disposition in the person as an indispensible criteria for being learned.
Islamic development entails the forging of relationship between ourselves and our Maker, Who will guide us in our relationship with others.
Thus the awareness of Allah (in TAU H EED ) brings to mind our own position as the created beings of Allah. Everything that we have are bestowals from Allah, the Most Gracious. Therefore, for successful development, the key factor according to Allah is the sense of gratefulness, termed as “ SHAKUR ”.
Our ignorance, which basically prepares us for knowledge can be detrimental if we do not want to acknowledge it with humility and seek to learn and be educated.
We may be guilty of being a JAHIL MURAKAB “ Compound Ignoramus ”, which is characterised by our unwillingness to be developed, always thinking that we already know, but in actual fact, we don’t. It is “ ignorance compounded with self-conceited arrogance” .
Who are we actually? When we say “I”, who is this “I? In the Qur’an, Allah in addressing us directly uses the term “ Nafs ” (self) or the plural form “ Anfus ”, and directs us to see the many wondrous signs.
Each one of us is a “ Nafs ”, but the state of this “ Nafs ” differ from people to people, or from time to time. It can either be left corrupted or be purified and adorned with noble disposition.
In ‘ Ilmul Ahklaq , it usually begins with a deeper understanding of the nature and state of our “ Nafs ”.