The term liberty implies the recognition of various rights and duties pertaining to belief, religion, thought, expression, work and behavior. Religious freedom in Islam is built on three factors:
Free thinking which rejects blind imitation and social pressure.
The prohibition of religious compulsion.
Observance and compliance with the teachings that regulate religious duties and the performance of religious rites.
Islam emphatically condemns blind imitation of ancestral religious practices. Wit regard to this condemnation, Allah has made the following statement in Qur’an:
“When it is said to them: ‘Come to what God has revealed, come to the Apostle, they say, ‘Enough for us are the ways, we found our father following.’ What! Even though their fathers were void of knowledge and guidance?” (Surah Al-Maidah 5:107) Instead of such blind imitation, the Qur’an calls upon people to use their mental faculties in order to think clearly and arrive at the truth by careful observation of God’s signs which are manifest in the universe. This principle is clearly stated in the following verse:
“Say, ‘Behold, all that is in the heavens and earth’. But neither signs nor manner profit those who believe not.” (Surah Yunus 10:101) “Is not He (best) who created the heavens and the earth and sends down for you water from the sky wherewith He causes to spring forth joyous orchards, whose trees you could never cause to grow? Is there any God besides Allah? Nay, but they are folk who ascribe equals (unto him)”. (Surah Al-Nahl 27:60)
Since truth is attainable through the contemplation of Allah’s creation Islam forbids religious compulsion as it implies disbelief in man’s ability to think freely or choose the course that will lead him to salvation. God says:
“There is no compulsion in religion…” (Surah al-Baqarah 2:256) “Will you then compel mankind to believe”. (Surah Yunus 10:99) Moreover, Muslims are permitted to fight to defend religious freedom, prevent sedition and revolts, to overthrow oppression, and to stop aggression and persecution. The Qur’an states:
“And fight them until persecution is no more, and religion is only for God. But if they desist, then let there be no hostility except against wrongdoers.” (Surah Al-Baqara 2:193) The early Muslim carried out these instruction perfectly and enthusiastically. In one historical account, and elderly Christian woman met the second caliph, “Umar ibn al-Khattab and asked him for help. After offering her the help she needed ‘Umar called upon the woman to embrace Islam, but she refused. Lest his words might be misunderstood as coercion, ‘Umar said, “O God. I did not compel her”, and then he quoted a verse from the Qur’an:
“There is no compulsion in religion.” (Surah Al- Baqarah 2:256)
Moreover, it must be noted that under the rule of Islam, protection is guaranteed to non-Muslims to practice their religious rites. The foundation for this principle is based upon the following religious ordinance: “We have been ordered to allow them to worship that they will.” The evidence which supports this principle is the treaty between the Prophet (pbuh) and the Jews in Madinah which gave the Jews religious freedom. Another historical example of religious protection for non-Muslims may be found during the caliphate of ‘Umar ibn Al-Khattab, who made a covenant with the citizens of Jerusalem (Al-Quds) in which he approved their right to practice their religion and agreed that Muslims would respect this right. In this covenant, ‘Umar ibn Khattab guaranteed the of Elias the protection of their lives, their churches and their crosses and safety from being compelled to abandon their religion or subjection to any harm because of their religion. Islam also permits Muslim men to marry Christian or Jewish women and allowed such women the freedom to continue to practice their religious rites.
According to the aforementioned three factors, religious freedom in Islam is based on tolerance, justice and respect for the freedom of others. Application of the principle of religious freedom presents no difficult to the spread of Islam because Islam is based on a solid foundation of logic and convincing evidence compatible with the realities of human nature. The Qur’an explains that the facts of life are clear, so the Prophets (pbuh) duty was simply to remind people of their responsibility to exercise their mental faculties:
“Remind them, for you are but a reminder, you are not at all a warder over them?”.
(Surah Al-Ghashiyah 88:21/22) “If they surrender, then truly they are rightly guided, and if they turn away, then it is your duty only to convey the message (unto them).” (Surah Al-Imran 3:20) “But if you turn away, then know that the duty of Our Messenger is only plain conveyance (of the message)” (Surah Al-Maidah 5:92) “Now, if they turn away (O Muhammad), say: ‘Allah suffices me. There is no God save Him, in Him have I put my trust, and He is Lord of the Glorious throne.” (Surah Al-Taubah 9:129)
Based on an awareness of this unprecedented religious tolerance in Islam, some people ask why then is the apostate punished by the death penalty. It should be noted that embracing Islam, as previously mentioned, should come as result of deliberation. Thus, a person who claims to be convinced of the truth of Islam, embraces it, then later decides to desert, must be a hypocrite who adopted Islam with the malicious intention of disclaiming it in order to create doubt in the heart of the believers or for other devious reasons, fortunately, the Qur’an has informed us about the early Christian and Jews who plotted in this manner:
“And a party of the people of the scripture say, Believe in that which has been revealed unto who believe at the opening of the day, the disbelieve at the end thereof, in order that they may turn away (from faith).” (Surah Al ‘Imran 3:72) On the other hand, the apostate may well be a self-seeking opportunist whose behavior is difficult to justify. Why did he desert his first religion? Why did he adopt Islam? Then why did he desert Islam openly? The social laws of Islam do not judge peoples’ intentions. They only consider peoples’ outward behavior, as it is only God who know intentions. If a Muslim deviates into disbelief without showing any outward signs of atheism, irreverence or sacrilege in his social behavior, he would suffer no harm. That is, although God will punish him for his impiety, as long as the person’s disbelief is kept to himself, the government would have no authority to punish him. However, if he openly declares disbelief, he would considered a propagator of corruption and disbelief, who is actively endeavoring to blot out the divine light of guidance and lead people astray.
Additionally, ignorance about Islam leads some people to ask why Islam forces non-Muslims to pay the Jizyah tax. They consider it not only degrading to these people and an unlawful acquisition of their money, but also a kind of penalty brought against them for not being Muslim. This line of argument shows a clear misunderstanding of the basic Islamic principles pertaining to the treatment of non-Muslims in a Muslim society. Islam guarantees non-Muslim that their lives, property and religious practices will be safeguard in the Islamic state. This means that the Islamic states has shouldered the responsibility of putting this principle into effect against internal and external aggression. Since non-Muslim do not have the religious motivation to protect the state or fight for its cause, they are not inducted into the army. This means that the Jizyah tax is levied on non-Muslims in exchange for their ensured safety.
The truth of the matter is that the Islamic state also does not want non-Muslims to join the Muslim army in order to avoid testing their loyalty because they do not have necessary religious motivation to strive and welcome martyrdom for the triumph of a religion which is not their own. However, Muslims have to protect these non-Muslims from all possible harm or aggression because these non-Muslims have the right of security as citizens of the state. Therefore, how can it be deemed fair that Muslims should suffer al the loss and non-Muslims gain security without any exertion on their part? Those who think that the Jizyah is in lieu of their adoption of Islam are quite mistaken, because it is actually paid in return for their guaranteed safety, protection and security. It is also a sign that they have willingly submitted to the Islamic state and on their refusal to pay it or participate in the expenses of public safety; they will be considered enemies of the state and not simply “Dhimmis”7. This is merely a logical consequence without any implication of oppression or injustice.