By Ammar Awais – Freelance writer
In the early twentieth century, the Muslim world was engrossed in nationalism. Ethnic identifications were preferred over affiliation with Islam. The secular Turks formally abolished the historic Ottoman Empire – and the symbolic caliphate of the Muslims along with it – while the Middle East invoked its Arab identity in a bid for self-rule. Inspired, the Muslims of the Indian Subcontinent conceived an improbable idea that they should have their separate homeland – a country created on the basis of its residents’ Islamic identity alone. Today, three-quarters of a century after that idea materialized in the form of Pakistan, it is worth reflecting on how far we have deviated and why we have deviated in our quest for freedom in the name of Islam.
What is freedom?
Freedom is a subjective term and prone to different interpretations. According to Islam, Allah (swt) has granted free will to humans as a favour from Him – one we should cherish and use to our advantage. Islam lays much emphasis on freedom. One of the noblest deeds is manumitting slaves and thereby transforming them into free men and women. However, the freedom that we are entitled to is relative and not absolute because we are simultaneously bound by the laws revealed by Allah (swt). Where our inclinations collide with Divine Guidance, we are obligated to restrict our freedom.
As an example, we are free to spend most of our wealth for any lawful pursuit. A certain portion, however, we are required to also share with those in need. The Quran quotes the disbelievers at the time of Prophet Shuayb (as) as saying: “O Shuayb, does your prayer command you that we should leave what our fathers worship or not do with our wealth what we please?” (Hud 11:87) In contrast, the believers willingly share their wealth with others as they understand that their freedom of choice is curtailed in situations where Allah (swt) has chosen a certain path for them for a just, harmonious and prosperous world.
Are we mentally emancipated?
Let us now analyze our current situation with regard to freedom and liberty. Mental freedom entails independence from the questionable views of others. Unfortunately, some of us in Pakistan are still living with a colonial mindset, judging everything according to the standards dictated by the West and propagated through mainstream media. Others are heavily under the influence of ancient local customs, bowing to societal pressures instead of standing up for themselves.
There is a further hindrance to mental freedom: becoming slaves to our own desires. The Quran refers to it as follows: “Have you seen he who has taken as his god his [own] desire…?” (Al Jathiyah 45:23) Many people cave in to all their desires on the premise that they can do as they please. Whereas such an attitude is increasingly being promoted in the name of personal freedom, it is a major cause of addiction, compulsive behaviour, and a host of criminal activities, especially among the youth.
Should we curtail freedom of speech?
Freedom of speech, especially on electronic and social media, is a sensitive issue in Pakistan today. It is important to remember that freedom must be exercised while staying within the bounds of our religion, the constitution, and basic human etiquette. While we should have the freedom to criticize the ruling elite and state institutions, it must be done in a dignified and constructive manner. Pointing out wrongful conduct or alleged corruption is again our constitutional right, but using it to abuse or slander others goes against civilized behaviour. We must know where to draw the line between freedom of expression and misuse of liberties.
Should vigilantes be allowed to exercise their ‘freedom’?
Freedom also does not permit us to take the law into our own hands. This is where we, as a nation, have completely failed. Killing in the name of Islam has been used to avenge personal wrongs or achieve ulterior motives. Instead of legally pursuing alleged crimes, mobs are typically set off on the accused, often resulting in brutal lynching incidents. Further, the inability of our legal system to mete out swift punishments fails to create sufficient deterrent, thus encouraging certain elements to repeatedly resort to violent tactics.
As citizens of this country, the least we can do is openly condemn incidents involving extrajudicial killings. Because these crimes are often committed in the name of religion, the duty to condemn the perpetrators falls more so on our religious scholars and those speaking up for Islam. Silence in the face of such crimes is tantamount to tolerating them – and implicitly promoting the mob mentality.
What do we need to complete our quest for freedom?
Lastly, as a nation that came into existence based on its Muslim identity alone, our continued quest for freedom is closely tied to implementing the spirit of Islam in our daily life. Mere lip service to Islam has not done us much good over the decades. We must strive to adopt honesty, trustworthiness, and good conduct which were the defining traits of our Prophet (sa) and his foremost followers. There is something worth pondering in this regard stated by Muhammad Asad, a renowned scholar of Islam. Referring to the Muslims of the Subcontinent, he wrote during May 1947:
“At no time in our modern history was there so much talk of Islam as in contemporary India; and at no time was there less effort on the part of the Muslims to shape their individual lives and their communal affairs in accordance with the spirit of Islam.”
These words of Muhammad Asad, unfortunately, continue to hold true for most of us today in Pakistan. A sincere effort is thus needed to educate ourselves about the real teachings and spirit of Islam, and order our lives accordingly, starting at an individual level.