Saturday 30 September 2023

From the archive of Abdelrahim Ali

Freedom of opinion and expression in Islam (Part 13)

Abdelrehim Aly

In the previous part, we talked about the contemporary voices of renewal and their devotion to the belief in freedom of opinion and expression.

5- Gamal Al-Banna

In his book “Freedom of Opinion in Islam”, Gamal Al-Banna says that belief and disbelief are a personal issue and not among the issues of ‘public order’ that the state addresses. So whoever believes, then he benefits his soul, and whoever disbelieves, then he has harmed it, and God Almighty is free of need of the worlds. The Holy Quran has established through its verses that the Messengers, who are the bearers of revelation and the worthiest of people of the cause of belief and disbelief, have no power but to convey, and they have nothing beyond that. The Messenger is not a guardian, nor an agent on behalf of the people, but he is a herald, a warner, a reminder and a conveyor. The verses confirm that guidance is from God and that the Messenger is not charged with ensuring this guidance for anyone, and that he does not have the right to guide those he loves. Difference and pluralism are what God wants, and if He wanted to make people a nation and mentioned apostasy repeatedly and explicitly without imposing a worldly punishment on it, but He repeatedly emphasized that He is the one who will decide on the Day of Resurrection regarding what they differ in.

Al-Banna wonders whether the Quran leaves (after all this) something for advocates of freedom of thought and belief, to which he answers in the negative, emphasizing that the Quran reached the utmost when it specified the authority of the Messengers, who are the most superior individuals responsible in the field of belief, with this precise definition of reminding, not domination. When the Quran declares to the Messenger, {You [O Prophet] are not responsible for their guidance}, and that he is nothing but a herald, warner, conveyor and cautioner, and directed that he does not possess the ability to guide the one he loves, because guidance is in the hands of God alone, and it notified him (i.e. the Messenger) in a censuring question: {Then, [O Prophet], would you compel the people in order that they become believers?} and {No [blame] is upon you if he will not be purified}.

Thus, the Quran was decisive in establishing the freedom of opinion and expression for all human beings without guardianship from anyone, even if this someone was the Messenger himself. (1)


6- Dr. Mohammad Salim Al-Awa

Al-Awa is considered one of the most modern thinkers who contributed to the trend of renewal and contemporary religious reform. In his book “Islamic Jurisprudence on the Path of Renewal,” he bravely and responsibly addressed the thorny or silent issues that are presented to modern and contemporary Islamic thought, which he delved into with knowledge and provided clear and satisfactory answers to all these issues and problems, beginning with the fact that ijtihad is a necessity. He focused on the need to differentiate between the rules and applications of Islam, as well as Islam's position on democracy, governance, elections and the transfer of power.

Among the issues Dr. Mohammad Salim al-Awa turned his attention to was the issue of the attitude towards non-Muslims within the Islamic state, especially the stance on the issue of jizyah (tax imposed on non-Muslims), and he considered it to be merely a historical context.

He says (2) that the majority of contemporary Islamic countries have populations consisting of a large percentage of Muslims and a smaller percentage of Christians, Jews, or people of other religions referred to as the People of the Book (such as the Magi and Sabaeans).

The usual relationship between these and those is the relationship of participation in the home and brotherhood in the homeland.

The bonds linking the two sides are firm bonds that are not shaken by emergency adversities that obstruct the life of the two groups or the life of one of them. The bonds of this relationship are intensified and strengthened if the whole country is exposed to a general ordeal, or wages war against a foreign enemy, or faces tyranny from a local tyrant.

When Islam entered countries where some of its residents did not adhere to the religion, it organized the relationship between Muslims and non-Muslims by virtue of a contract known in jurisprudence and history as the “dhimma” contract, which linguistically means “covenant of protection”, “security”, and “guarantee”.

In jurisprudence, it is “a perpetual contract that includes non-Muslims acknowledging their religion and their enjoyment of the security and guarantee of the Islamic community, provided that they pay the jizyah tax and accept the provisions of the abode of Islam in non-religious matters.” As for those matters, Muslims are commanded to leave them alone and what they profess.

Time has passed with this contract and its application, and people - Muslims and non-Muslims - live in tolerance, understanding and affection that were witnessed by far and near, until Western military colonialism entered most of the countries of Islam, rather it entered all of its countries, which include Muslims and non-Muslims, and thus ended the existence of the Islamic state that had established the dhimma contract, and a new state arose after decades of resistance against the foreign colonizer, in which Muslims and non-Muslims participated alike.

The existing sovereignty of these current Islamic countries is based on their modern establishment that Muslims and non-Muslims participated in making together. This sovereignty makes citizens in the modern Islamic state equal in rights and duties that have no source other than citizenship alone, which is determined by the constitutions of contemporary Islamic countries for citizens on an equal footing.

The dhimma, insofar as it is a “contract”, is refuted by the reasons for the termination of all contracts, and the contract ended with the termination of its two parties: the Islamic state that established it and the non-Muslim citizens who used to reside in the open land. Both of them lost their influence and authority with which they could compel the execution of the contract by the entry of foreign colonialism into the lands of Islam.

The meaning of the dhimma being a “permanent” contract - as the jurists know it - does not mean that the reasons for termination that are known to every contract are difficult. Rather, permanent here means that it is not permissible to terminate it by the will of the Muslim rulers and that it is not permissible to accept their oppression or the silence of the Muslims over it - if it occurs - to the people under the dhimma contract.

The jizyah, which was a condition of this contract, was based on the non-participation of non-Muslims in the defense of the aboad of Islam, as religion was the focus of this defense, and their assignment to it was a task that was difficult or unbearable, so the dhimma contract dropped it in exchange for the jizyah. Therefore, the Companions and the generation after them eliminated it for those of the People of the Book who participated in the defense of the abode of Islam.

For non-Muslims, if they perform the duty of defending the homeland, it is not permissible to impose the jizyah on them. This is our situation today, as there is no difference between them and Muslims in the performance of the duty of soldiers, which makes the idea of the tribute not even mentioned.


Partisan pluralism:

Al-Awa says (3) that one of the issues that sparks ongoing controversy among Islamists who are concerned with reforming our political conditions on the basis of Islam is the issue of the link between the application of the democratic approach in selecting and monitoring rulers and members of parliaments with the necessity of allowing the establishment of partisan political blocs. The basis of this controversy is that there is a traditional position that says “There is no partisanship in Islam,” and that the contemporary Islamic movement inherited an embittered, although honest, criticism of the parties that existed at its inception and during its peak of mass success.

Many of those who hold the doctrine of denying the permissibility of partisan blocs in the Islamic state support that with arguments related to the unity of the Islamic Ummah (nation), such as God Almighty’s saying: {[O prophets!] Indeed, this religion of yours is [only] one, and I am your Lord, so worship Me [alone]} [Surah Al-Anbiya: 92].

They see that partisanship, with what it leads to of people gathering around multiple principles and differing ideas that contradict Islamic principles, or rather the Quranic and prophetic texts that denounce division and praise unity, and their totality suggests that it is not permissible in the Islamic political system to allow the establishment of political parties.

This understanding is based on two foundations:

1- The bad state of the political parties - especially in Arab countries - when the modern Islamic movement emerged, so the thought of this movement was affected by that reality and based its criticism of those parties in a criticism that blames them for the shortcomings they fall into, whether in dealing with the national issue or in dealing with other powers, when interests conflict between one another.

2- A special understanding of the Islamic texts that praise the Ummah’s unity and forbid and condemn disunity, which leads to the withdrawal of its meanings on political pluralism within the framework of national unity.

The truth is that the Quranic and prophetic texts of Islam do not prevent the establishment of political parties in the Islamic society under any circumstances.

The texts that speak of unity in praise, and of disunity in disgrace, only speak of religious and creedal unity, as is evident from the context of the ninety-second verse of Surah Al-Anbiya - which those who prevent the establishment of parties use as their argument - as it is the conclusion of a long discourse in which the previous verses mentioned many of the prophets and the blessings and mercy of God that were bestowed upon them. Then the Quranic text concludes this context by explaining the link between those previous prophets (God’s blessings and peace be upon them) and that they all belong to the Ummah of Islam that worships one God.

The same thing happens in the fifty-second verse of Surah Al-Mu'minun. The whole context tells the stories of what happened to some prophets regarding their people denying them, until it reaches Jesus, son of Mary, and his mother, to mention that the Ummah of the prophets is one and that their Lord (blessed be His name) is one.

So the praised unity refers to that unity in religion that first of all it means that God is worshiped alone, not associating anyone with Him, nor associating anything besides Him, with sincere and honest belief in all the creedal outcomes that result from the doctrine of divinity and the unity in it, and lordship and submission to it, and the blameworthy division is the division in these two matters or in the consequences arising from them.

This is all has nothing to do with politics.

The situation we are currently in regarding the permissibility - or the obligation - of political parties in the Islamic system has nothing to do with creed and or anything related it or its consequences.

The summary of the new ijtihad in this matter is that Islam does not narrow its political system with partisan pluralism and that every party that is not based on refuting Islam or destroying its principles is a party that may call for what it wants in the Islamic state.

The separation between the various parties is the free election box in which people decide to entrust whomever they choose to lead their affairs for a specific period of time, then return the matter to the people a second time to bring other than those they want, or return the first to the leadership position if they want. Otherwise, we waste the nation's right to choose, which is the first basis in Islamic political organization.


7- Dr. Ahmed Subhy Mansour

Mansour had important interpretations for which the leaders of Al-Azhar Al-Sharif, the official religious institution in Egypt, fought him, and they did not calm down until after they succeeded in dismissing him from the university because of his views that they were unable to confront with free thought, and his main interest was focused on freedom of opinion and belief.

In an important study published in the Journal of Man and Evolution (4), Mansour presents a new conception of the relationship of peace with Islam, saying, “Peace is the root in the concept of Islam, in the relations of Muslims with others, and in the legislation of jihad in Islam.”

According to the terminology of the Quran and its own language, the word “iman” (belief/faith) has two uses: “to believe in” and “to put faith in”. “To believe in” means to firmly believe, such as God Almighty’s saying: {The Messenger [firmly] believes in what has been revealed to him from his Lord, and so do the believers. They [all] believe in God, His angels, His Books, and His messengers. [They proclaim,] “We make no distinction between any of His messengers.” And they say, “We hear and obey. [We seek] Your forgiveness, our Lord! And to You [alone] is the final return.”} [Surah Al-Baqarah: 285].

Belief here is the meaning of the inner faith of the heart, or dealing with God Almighty, and in this people differ even within the same religion and one sect, and the Quran emphasizes postponing judgment on people in their doctrinal differences until the Day of Resurrection, when God alone will judge between them regarding what they differ in.

The second use is “to put faith in”, which means to trust, to have confidence in, as in he became very reliable such that people have confidence in him and trusted him. This meaning is repeated in the Quran, especially in the Quranic stories. In the story of Noah, those who were arrogant said to him: {They said, “Why should we put faith in you when the worst sort of people follow you?”} [Surah Al-Shu'ara: 111].

That is, “how can we trust in you and have confidence in you when the riffraff has followed you.” And in the story of Abraham: {So Lot believed in him. And [Abraham] said, “I am emigrating [in obedience] to my Lord. He [alone] is indeed the Almighty, All-Wise.”} [Surah Al-Ankabut: 26]. And the story of Yusuf: {They said, “Our father! We went racing and left Joseph with our belongings, and a wolf devoured him! But you will not believe us, no matter how truthful we are.”} [Surah Yusuf: 17]. And the story of Moses: {If you do not have faith in me, just let me be} [Surah Al-Dukhan: 21]. And many other places.

Everyone you believe and trust in is a person who is a “mu’min” in the terminology of the Quran. As for his creed, whether it is Buddhist, Islamic, Christian or Jewish, this is his business related to his relationship with his Lord, and God Almighty is the one who will judge you and him and everyone on the Day of Resurrection.

The two uses of the word iman came together in God Almighty’s saying about the Prophet Muhammad: {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 God, has faith in the believers, and is a mercy for those who believe among you.” Those who hurt God’s Messenger will suffer a painful punishment} [Surah Al-Tawbah: 61].

“Believes in God” i.e. believes in Him alone as a deity, and “believes the believers” i.e. trusts them and has confidence in them.

In summary, iman means in the Quran trustworthiness in dealing with people, and every human being whom people put faith in and trust him is a mu’min. Its meaning in dealing with God Almighty is to believe in Him alone with no partner. The judgement on this belief - about which people differ – returns to God Almighty alone on the Day of Resurrection, and therefore the important thing in people’s dealings with each other is that trust, security and safety prevail between them...or peace. That is, iman in Islam is in conjunction with peace in dealings between people.

Second: The concept of Islam: It is like the concept of faith in the Qur’an. It has an outward meaning in dealing with people, and an inner meaning, my heart, my belief in dealing with God.

Islam in its inner belief meaning is surrender and submission to God Almighty alone, and Islam in this sense was revealed in all heavenly messages to all prophets and in all ancient languages, until it was finally revealed in the Arabic language, becoming uttered with the word “Islam”, which means belief, surrender, submission and absolute obedience to God alone: {Say, “My Lord has guided me to a straight path, an upright religion, the faith of Abraham, a man of pure faith. He was not one of the polytheists.” Say, “My prayers and sacrifice, my life and death, are all for God, Lord of all the Worlds. He has no partner. So I am commanded, and so I am the first of the Muslims to submit.”} [Surah Al-An'am: 161-163].

This is the meaning of Islam regarding belief, about which God Almighty will judge on the Day of Resurrection, because God Almighty will not accept on the Day of Resurrection a religion other than submission or surrender to Him alone. This is the meaning of God Almighty’s saying: {Indeed, the religion in the sight of God is Islam. And those who were given the Scripture did not differ except after knowledge had come to them - out of jealous animosity between themselves. And whoever disbelieves in the verses of God, then indeed, God is swift in [taking to] account} [Surah Aal Imran: 19].

God Almighty does not care about the names and divisions that humans give themselves, such as those who believe, those who are Jews, Christians, and Sabaeans (that is, those who have rebelled against the religion of their people). Therefore, Almighty God confirms that those who believe inwardly and outwardly (in security and safety with humans and belief in God alone) and do righteous deeds and believe in the Last Day and work for it, they are the awliya (close friends) of God Almighty, whether they are from the believers who follow the Quran, or the Jews, Christians or Sabaeans: {Indeed, the believers and the Jews, Christians, and Sabaeans - whoever [truly] believes in Good and the Last Day and does good will have their reward with their Lord. And there will be no fear for them, nor will they grieve} [Surah Al-Baqara: 62].

{Indeed, the believers, and the Jews, Sabaeans and Christians - whoever [truly] believes in God and the Last Day and does good, there will be no fear for them, nor will they grieve} [Surah Al-Ma'idah: 69].

That is, whoever believes in God and the Last Day and does righteous deeds, then he, according to God, has accepted Islam or submission to God, whether he is from the Muslims, Jews, Christians or Sabaeans, in every time and in every tongue. And that is what we will come to know on the Day of Resurrection, and no human being can judge a person regarding his belief, otherwise he would be claiming divinity.

This is the meaning of the inner, heartfelt belief of Islam. It is, according to God Almighty, surrender and submission to Him in the language of the hearts, and it is a universal language in which all human beings agree, no matter how different the time, place and language, and on the basis of which they will all be judged before God Almighty on the Day of Resurrection.

As for Islam in outward dealings, it is peace and security between people, regardless of their different beliefs. God Almighty says: {O you who believe, enter wholeheartedly into submission to God and do not follow in Satan’s footsteps, for he is your sworn enemy} [Surah Al-Baqara: 208].

That is, God Almighty commands them to prefer peace.

Here we mention that the greeting of Islam is peace, and that Peace is one of the names of God Almighty. All of this expresses Islam’s emphasis on its peaceful signification and confirms the previous meaning of faith in the sense of security and safety.



1- Gamal Al-Banna, “Freedom of Thought and Belief in Islam”, p. 6-48

2- Dr. Mohammad Salim Al-Awa, “Islamic Jurisprudence on the Path of Renewal”, p. 73-77

3- Previous reference, p. 56-59

4- Dr. Ahmed Subhy Mansour, “On the Relationship with the Other” (article in the Journal of Man and Evolution, No. 60, March 1998) p. 11-23