From the archive of Abdelrahim Ali

Freedom of opinion and expression in Islam: Abdel Rahim Ali (7)

Abdelrehim Aly

A debate between Dr. Ahmed al-Tayyeb, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Mosque, and Dr. Mohamed Othman Elkhosht, President of Cairo University, has stirred a wide controversy as the Grand Imam’s replies indicated that renewing the religious discourse in Egypt is only preserved to the Al-Azhar Institution.

The Grand Imam appeared as if he was prohibiting non-Azharite thinkers and intellectuals from practicing independent reasoning at a time the country needs every thoughtful person, and everyone who believes in the necessity of reasoning.

This debate has opened the door for a sincere and honest dialogue that seeks the best outcomes for this nation, as well as intellectual elevation, freedom of thought and human dignity.

We had indicated in the previous episodes that after the migration of the Messenger from Mecca to Medina, he faced several patterns of enemies. In this article we will focus on the third pattern, namely the hypocrites.

The hypocrites were those who sought to wait for the final results to pick the side of the winner.

The Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, was not just a ruler, but rather a prophet and a messenger who spread his religion within the borders of his state and outside it, and the hypocrites were considered the opposition that stood against the government of the Prophet.

They opposed Islam as a religion and opposed the authority and policies of the Prophet, and their fear of armed rebellion against the state prevented them, and they were weaker than protesting, so they were satisfied with sowing plots and conspiracies.

The Qur’an only responded to their intrigues and allegations, and exposed their conspiracy, while constantly warning the Prophet and Muslims to avoid them as torment will be waiting for them during the Day of Resurrection.

The freedom of opinion reached its peak as the hypocrites were used to insulting the believers, describing them as fools.

“And when they are told, “Believe as others believe,” they reply, “Will we believe as the fools believe?” Indeed, it is they who are fools, but they do not know.” [2:13]

The hypocrites would also mock the believers, especially in times of preparation for war. Also, they would not volunteer to fight or donate their money.

“˹There are˺ those who slander ˹some of˺ the believers for donating liberally and mock others for giving only the little they can afford. Allah will throw their mockery back at them, and they will suffer a painful punishment.” [9:79]

Despite all these behaviors, the Prophet was asking forgiveness for the hypocrites and asking God to forgive them, so the Almighty saying came down, “˹It does not matter˺ whether you ˹O Prophet˺ pray for them to be forgiven or not. Even if you pray for their forgiveness seventy times, Allah will never forgive them. That is because they have lost faith in Allah and His Messenger. And Allah does not guide the rebellious people.” [9:80]

They also expressed their opinion frankly regarding the Holy Qur’an itself, and they were publicly mocking its verses.

“The hypocrites fear that a sûrah should be revealed about them, exposing what is in their hearts. Say, ˹O Prophet,˺ “Keep mocking! Allah will definitely bring to light what you fear.”” [9:64]

And if they were asked about this mockery of the Qur’an, they answered lightly that they were playing, and despite that Prophet Muhammad was the only ruler of the city, he took no action against them, leaving their punishment to God.

“If you question them, they will certainly say, “We were only talking idly and joking around.” Say, “Was it Allah, His revelations, and His Messenger that you ridiculed?”

Make no excuses! You have lost faith after your belief. If We pardon a group of you, We will punish others for their wickedness.” [9:65 – 9:66]

The Prophet was commanded to establish the Shura principle (deciding affairs in consultation), and for the sake of this, he consulted all people, including the hypocrites, so they accused him of being indecisive, so the Qur’an said, “And there are others who hurt the Prophet by saying, “He listens to anyone.” Say, ˹O Prophet,˺ “He listens to what is best for you. He believes in Allah, has faith in the believers, and is a mercy for those who believe among you.” Those who hurt Allah’s Messenger will suffer a painful punishment.”

Freedom of opinion for the hypocrites was not limited to public statements and declarations, as these violations reached plotting conspiracies and schemes against the Islamic state.

Quranic legislation did not interfere until the hypocrites exceeded the red line to the point of negatively affecting the state amid the besiege of the enemies from all directions.

Even in times of war and emergency, they had their full freedom to say and work against the country in which they lived.

During the Battle of Uhud, they had the freedom to refrain from fighting, then they blamed true believers for the defeat because they did not obey them in staying in the city, so the Qur’an said, “And expose the hypocrites. When it was said to them, “Come fight in the cause of Allah or ˹at least˺ defend yourselves,” they replied, “If we had known there was fighting, we would have definitely gone with you.” They were closer to disbelief than to belief on that day—for saying with their mouths what was not in their hearts. Allah is All-Knowing of what they hide.

Those who sat at home, saying about their brothers, “Had they listened to us, they would not have been killed.” Say, ˹O Prophet,˺ “Try not to die1 if what you say is true!” [3:167 – 3:168]

During the Battle of the Confederates, the polytheists gathered around Medina, and the hypocrites could not get out of it, so they panicked and became a fifth column for the enemy within Muslims.

As Muslim were going through a very tough time, the hypocrites started mocking the prophet’s promise of victory, urging others to surrender and undermining their courage to fight, and leaving their guard posts.

“˹Remember˺ when they came at you from east and west, when your eyes grew wild ˹in horror˺ and your hearts jumped into your throats, and you entertained ˹conflicting˺ thoughts about Allah.

Then and there the believers were put to the test, and were violently shaken.

And ˹remember˺ when the hypocrites and those with sickness in their hearts said, “Allah and His Messenger have promised us nothing but delusion!”

And ˹remember˺ when a group of them said, “O people of Yathrib! There is no point in you staying ˹here˺, so retreat!” Another group of them asked the Prophet’s permission ˹to leave˺, saying, “Our homes are vulnerable,” while ˹in fact˺ they were not vulnerable. They only wished to flee.” [33:10 – 33:13]



  1. Mohamed Al-Ghazaly: The Jurisprudence of the Prophetic Biography
  2. Abd al-Mutaal al-Saidi: The major issues in Islam