Saturday 30 September 2023

From the archive of Abdelrahim Ali

Freedom of opinion and expression in Islam: Abdel Rahim Ali (8)

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 the previous article we focused on the third pattern, namely the hypocrites.

We also mentioned that during the Battle of the Confederates, the polytheists gathered around Medina, and the hypocrites could not get out of it, so they decided to become 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 and urging others to surrender, undermining their courage to fight.

“If the hypocrites, and those with sickness in their hearts, and rumor-mongers in Medina do not desist, We will certainly incite you ˹O Prophet˺ against them, and then they will not be your neighbors there any longer.” [33:60]

Moreover, during the Expedition of Usra, they refrained from joining the ranks of the Muslim army, saying “it was too hot to fight”, so God deprived them of the honor of jihad in the future.

“Those ˹hypocrites˺ who remained behind rejoiced for doing so in defiance of the Messenger of Allah and hated ˹the prospect of˺ striving with their wealth and their lives in the cause of Allah. They said ˹to one another˺, “Do not march forth in the heat.” Say, ˹O Prophet,˺ “The Fire of Hell is far hotter!” If only they could comprehend!” [9:81]

From the verses, we know that the Islamic army was not compulsory recruitment, based on this principle, volunteering to fight and donating money was the only way to mobilize the Muslim army. The same army that conquered the two largest forces in the world at the time and opened two countries.

The hypocrites also enjoyed their freedom to refuse to recruit and go out to fight, defend the city or to go out with Muslims in their preventive wars in the Arabian Peninsula, and the penalty against them was to only avoid them.

And God Almighty talked about the apostasy of the hypocrites after their Islam by saying and action, and indeed, he made their punishment for this apostasy in the world and in the hereafter by the hands of God Almighty alone.

“They swear by Allah that they never said anything ˹blasphemous˺, while they did in fact utter a blasphemy, lost faith after accepting Islam, and plotted what they could not carry out. It is only through resentment that they pay Allah and His Messenger back for enriching them out of His bounty! If they repent, it will be better for them. But if they turn away, Allah will torment them with a painful punishment in this world and the Hereafter, and they will have no one on earth to protect or help them.” [9:74]

The opposition of the hypocrites reached the point of conspiracy against the state, and this conspiracy took various pictures including spreading rumors, exposing secrets and sowing discord among Muslims, and plotting against the Prophet himself.

Their conspiracy reached the point of contacting the enemies of Muslims, including polytheists and Jews, and holding secret alliances with them against the Prophet’s government, and the Qur’an exposed that alliance between the hypocrites and the Jews more than once.

“These hypocrites watch you closely: if victory is granted to you by Allah, they will say: 'Were we not with you?' And were the unbelievers to gain the upper hand, they will say: 'Did we not have mastery over you, and yet we protected you from the believers?' It is Allah Who will judge between you on the Day of Resurrection, and He will not allow the unbelievers, in any way, to gain advantage over the believers.” [4:141]

The Qur’an narrated a living detail of some of the conspiracy events, such as espionage;

“Whenever a sûrah is revealed, they look at one another, ˹saying,˺ “Is anyone watching you?” Then they slip away. ˹It is˺ Allah ˹Who˺ has turned their hearts away because they are a people who do not comprehend.” [9:127]

With the freedom that they enjoyed, they managed to establish a mosque they made a den for conspiracy against Muslims.

“There are also those ˹hypocrites˺ who set up a mosque ˹only˺ to cause harm, promote disbelief, divide the believers, and as a base for those who had previously fought against Allah and His Messenger.1 They will definitely swear, “We intended nothing but good,” but Allah bears witness that they are surely liars.” [9:107]

The Qur’an says that even with this, the Prophet did not demolish this mosque or burn it.

“The building which they erected will never cease to fuel hypocrisy in their hearts until their hearts are torn apart. And Allah is All-Knowing, All-Wise.” [9:110]

And that was the policy that the Prophet used to follow with his rivals within the state, to avoid them and let them enjoy their freedom to express their opinion, even if this reached the degree of conspiracy. It may be said that this policy may not be valid nowadays, as it is necessary to take exceptional preventive measures or legislation to confront such conspiracies, but the Qur’an sets the best treatment for the prevention of that conspiracy, which is more freedom.

Moreover, the psyche of the hypocrite is filled with doubt, fear, lack of confidence in anyone and lack of loyalty to anyone, and this is to rule their conspiracy by failure at a certain point, after which they do not dare to implement their plots.

“They swear by Allah that they are part of you, but they are not. They only say so out of fear.

If only they could find a refuge, or a cave, or any hiding-place, they would rush headlong towards it.” [9:56 – 9:57]

The believers and Muslims back then used to stronger by their strong faith in God and his law that rules against forcing anyone to join this religion, therefore, they were victorious, and maybe God will support believers today if they really understood what Islam stands for.