|In the name of
GOD, Most Gracious, Most Merciful
There is no other god beside GOD
Protecting our right to religious freedom
…are we doing better than previous generations?
Freedom is an absolute concept. One cannot be half or two thirds free. One either is or not. This is key to understand when we look into God’s commandment regarding absolute freedom of religion, for all.
2:256 There shall be no compulsion in religion ….
Despite this clear command so many people compromise this God given right of others if in a position to do so, in smaller and greater ways. History of mankind carries a grave testimony to this fact.
This article hopes to encourage reflections on the subject to avoid repeating mistakes of previous generations, who enforced religion on others in various ways.
To understand what “no compulsion in religion” really means, we first need to sort out what constitutes ‘religion.'
Is everything in the scripture part of ‘religion’? If yes, then based on the command “no compulsion in religion” we should be free to ignore everything in it, without suffering any consequences at the hands of others. As it contains decrees against murder, we know this could not be the case.
Therefore it seems there are both religious and non-religious decrees, spiritual and secular, teaching us about our religion as well as about our rights to freedom of religion, all in the same place. If this is indeed the case (and people have failed to make that distinction), that could explain a lot of the confusion in religion. For the sake of this article, we will refer to the two types as personal (religious) and social (non-religious).
If indeed there are two types of decrees in the scripture, what defines each one?
Let’s assume that personal decrees are designed to help us develop our
souls and avoid problems obstructing that goal, and that social decrees are
designed to help us coexist peacefully with others, allowing freedom, justice
and security for all.
Personal decrees would thus be private, voluntary, a matter between us and God and not affect other people in ways to warrant regulation. Consequences for disobeying them would solely be issued by God (33:24, 25:70, 9:102, 13:40, 10:41, 3:128). Social decrees on the other hand would thus be a matter between us and other people, and our choices in this regard would affect others significantly enough to warrant consequences for non-compliance. This in turn would give us two types of DO’s and DON’Ts. Examples:
Personal DO’s: Worship God Alone. Observe the Contact Prayers.
Personal DON’T’s: Do not set up any idols besides Him. Do not take God’s name in vain.
Social DO’s: Honor your parents. When greeted with a greeting, respond with an equal or better one.
Social DON’T’s: Do not commit murder. Do not steal.
Having two types may help us better understand how to correctly apply each one. Practicing one should never transgress on or compromise the other. Thus it gives us a balancing system. A system through which we can know if we do too much, too little, take things out of context or overlook the essence. Perhaps it is in the balance between the two that we find wisdom?
God tells us to be harsh and stern with disbelievers. He also tells us that we have no excuse to be anything but friendly and just with disbelievers, unless they fight us because of our religion (60:8-9). Only considering the first directive, using it as an excuse to treat people badly if they don’t believe as we do, would put things out of balance and be a severe misrepresentation of the message. When put in context, and balanced against other decrees in the Quran, we understand that it applies to situations when our rights are being compromised because of our faith.
There are directives in the Quran telling us to worship, praise, glorify and commemorate God publicly, privately, day and night (7:55, 205, 50:40), and put striving in His cause before anything else (9:24). If we only took these decrees into consideration, it may leave us thinking that a pious person has very little to no room for a normal life. As the social decrees throughout the scripture advising us how to deal with everyday life (spouses, children, trade, relatives, etc.) show us, this is far from the case. Instead we are advised to seek the abode of the Hereafter without neglecting our share in this world (28:77).
When people uphold part of the scripture and disregard part, or interpret it in a way to suit their personal agenda, balance is lost. If the agenda is to be ‘right’ as long as it makes someone else ‘wrong’, you will most surely find someone on that side of the argument.
People who believe themselves to be entitled and superior to others will always look for opportunities to justify that attitude. If they happen to be ‘religious’ they will interpret the decrees in a way that suits their purposes - without balance, without wisdom or faith. They will take that tendency to whatever level their means and capacity allows them, even to the point of physically controlling and punishing others for not adhering to their ways and views.
Exercising control over the lives of others, making them miserable in various ways for not complying with our view of the world, even if our own freedom, rights or security is not affected by their choices, is something practiced by disbelievers.
Forcing others religiously, issuing consequences on them for not complying with our view of private decrees qualify as tyranny. Tyranny is, according to the Quran, a clear sign of disbelief.
[4:76] Those who believe are fighting for the cause of GOD, while those who disbelieve are fighting for the cause of tyranny.… (see also 2:190-191)
People who engage in this kind of behavior are controlled by their egos, convincing them that they are superior and entitled. The ego ranks itself above God and His commands and convinces totally insignificant creatures created by and totally dependent on God for their existence, that they too can be gods.
People who engage in this kind of behavior are controlled by their egos, convincing them that they are superior and entitled. The ego ranks itself above God and His commands and convinces totally insignificant creates created by and totally dependent on God for their existence, that they too can be gods.
The size of their invented ‘domain’ (every god needs his or her domain) is only limited by the size of their egos and the capacity and means available to them to try to make their delusion a reality. It could be a domain limited by the walls of a home, borders of a country, or more.
The first open display of ego (arrogance coupled with ignorance) was when Satan refused to fall prostrate before Adam when God ordered him to do so, with the excuse “I’m better than him! You created me from fire and him from mud.” (38:76)
If you are a human being on this earth you did not take a firm stand against that behavior and blasphemy, which means you have the same bad seed within you. Thus it makes sense that the first commandment stated in the Quran (in sequential order) is “Kill your ego.” (2:54)
Consequently the world is full of entirely insignificant human creatures contaminated with the I’m-better-than-you-disease. It will claim superiority over a fellow human being, or a group of people, for whatever ridiculous reason it can find.
One example of how pathetic an excuse people can find to claim superiority over others.
A friend shared the story of having witnessed a group of female inmates ranking themselves higher for having an eye-liner look, created with an ink-pen. Inmates without the eye-liner look were expected to be subservient. If people can find it meaningful to use such a flimsy excuse to claim superiority over others, in such a miserable circumstance, all wearing orange prison-suits and serving time together, perhaps it is not surprising that they find a huge playground for this purpose in ‘religion.’
While animals have unwritten rules and a larger order they submit to without ego, humans don’t. Humans will operate from an egotistical point of view, without considering consequences for others, if they can get away with it. This is a formula for chaos, for everyone, unless controlled. Thus, somewhere between the interest of the individual, the many and the resourceful, a conclusion has been made that it is best for all to have a common set of practical and moral rules and principles to live by.
To guide us in that process God provided us with social decrees, to create the best circumstances for all people to live well and find and practice their religion freely, or not. As His decrees have simply proven to work the best regardless of location and circumstances, constitutions all over the world, religious and non-religious alike, share a lot of legislation rooted in these scriptural social decrees.
To help us determine the appropriate consequence for social transgressions, God taught us to apply the general principle of “equivalence”, meaning (among other things) that a consequence must stand in proportion to and be related to the transgression (the punishment must fit the crime). Not responding with an equal greeting is obviously not anywhere near the category of taking someone’s life, yet both are regulated by the scripture.
Examples of how the principle of equivalence is applied according to the Quran:
To follow these guidelines, and the essence they represent, requires willingness to submit without inserting ones personal opinions or agenda. It requires guidance, wisdom, compassion and a belief in a higher all-pervading justice which excludes none. People who represent the ‘problem with religion’, rarely have any of these qualities.
These are people who attribute importance to religiously irrelevant details as to how to cut their nails or with which hand to eat. In their inability to distinguish between what is relevant and not, right and wrong, they crave for someone to tell them what to think and do in all aspects of their lives, religion being no exception.
Their sense of being ´ok´ and safe is derived from belonging to a group rather than inner convictions (29:25, 9:24) (why are polls so popular…?). This coupled with a huge supply of people who feel entitled to provide answers, make excellent ingredients for producing new religious dogma, which gradually gains acceptance as commonly accepted ‘truths’, which eventually become regarded as part of the rule of law.
Once such groups (sects in fact) with their own set of dogmas are formed, their resources are used to protect them and their fabricated hierarchies. People who think and act independently thereafter represent a threat and must be neutralized or controlled. To change the collective mindset and consciousness once such a constellation has been formed, requires a major event.
For the group to maintain the illusion of being protectors of righteousness, they rid themselves of perceived threats to the group by carrying out a wide range of oppressive behaviors, from forbidding literature to issuing physical harm. They also identify an enemy outside themselves, or the group, against which they need to unite. A mere reminder of (and more so presence of) people who act and think freely thereafter, trigger feelings of insult and rage in their fearful and angry egos. They will act on these feelings and physically harm you (3:118) if they can get away with it, all in God’s name.
How is it that God describes Himself as the Most Merciful, Most Wise and Most Just, yet people who claim to represent His values behave as if He is cruel, unwise and unjust? How come God encourages us to pardon each other even when it comes to murder, yet people who claim to represent His values kill, maim and oppress others for much less serious and even made up reasons?
A Quranic society is a free society, one with room for all who respect the same rights of others they themselves wish to enjoy. Such a simple, logical and just principle. Yet so very hard to accept for those who seek to control others beyond their rights.
The descriptions of the human being in the Quran, leave bleak to no expectations on the majority of people regarding their ability to learn from their past to do better for their future, collectively or individually. We learn that most people, no matter what, will never believe, and the majority of those who do will pollute their belief with idol worship (12:106-108), i.e. they will never be content with only God’s laws. This leaves a minority, which in themselves are not exempt from making mistakes.
So we already know that most people in our generation will re-plant new seeds of oppression, and already do. We see it in warped and senseless interpretations of Quranic commands such as ‘prohibit evil’ being interpreted as calls to prohibit ‘evil’ in the lives of others. We hear it in suggestions to limit the human rights of others when choosing a life style we don’t want ourselves (homosexuality for example).
What is the difference between such people with such attitudes and those who inflict bodily harm on others because they don’t like their private choices, except the time, space and support in numbers they’ve been given to enforce their ideas?
When God says “forbid evil” religiously it must mean ‘prohibit evil in your own lives’, and when He says, “fight in His cause” it must include the fight to allow others their God given rights and freedom. When God says “promote righteousness” and “establish the Contact Prayers and Zakat,” it can never mean more than informing, inviting and setting a good example. When God says the retribution may not be limited to the evildoers among us, this has to be put in relation with His promise that:
[5:105] O you who believe, you should worry only about your own necks. If the others go astray, they cannot hurt you, as long as you are guided. To GOD is your ultimate destiny, all of you, then He will inform you of everything you had done.
As mentioned earlier, having the two types of decrees helps us determine the correct application of each type, in general or for individual decrees. It provides us with a scale on which to balance each type, as one cannot transgress on the other.
There must be ways to show non-tolerance against evil behavior without limiting the lives of others. We must be able to apply one category of decrees correctly without hindering the correct application of the other.
But for that to happen we must be willing to open our hearts to alternative ways of moving forward together, alongside all kinds of people. We must be willing to fight our ego, who seeks to control that which it has no right to, which it is unwilling to give up to God.
As members of any society, a Quranic society being no exception, we have rights as well as obligations. The system is that we maintain our rights by honoring our obligations. Our obligations are not to hurt or be a burden to others, by choice. None of our obligations are rooted in religious performance.
People who do not honor their obligations but stay in destructive behaviors by choice, causing all kinds of problems in their own lives and in the lives of others, must at some point lose their rights to societal resources to alleviate negative consequences in their lives as a result of their choices.
The traditional punitive system is based on the principle “we-will-do-this-TO-you-if-you ... (cause some kind of harm)”. A more productive Quranic system is, “you-must-do-this-(public service or performing a service to ones victims for example)-FOR-US-if-you ... (cause some kind of harm)” A complement to these two methods, in keeping with absolute freedom for all people may be the principle, “we-will-not-do-this-for-you-if-you ...” (engage in destructive behaviors for example). “We will not do this for you if you.”
Through a “we-will-not-do-this-for-you-if-you”-system we can, as a society, make our stand known and practice low to no tolerance for certain behaviors, by withholding support for alleviating negative consequences incurred from repeated destructive behaviors, by choice.
If people get ill, cannot work to support themselves due to substance abuse for example, society could step in to try to help that individual out of that state. If the person returns to that behavior after receiving help, any further consequences for this should not be picked up by society.
The “we-will-not-do-this-for-you-if-you-system,” may be an effective way of forbidding something without on infringing on someone’s right to still do that something.
Everyone must be free to do what they want, as well as be free to not do what they don’t want, as long as they don’t hurt or limit the rights of other people. We are not responsible for each other. If someone chooses to do something with known negative consequences, it should be their own responsibility to carry that burden, and not something they can obligate others to carry.
A society with such a system installed would support absolute freedom, while firmly prohibiting evil and promoting righteousness. Instead of spending resources on those who keep hurting themselves, such a society could spend resources on research and keeping the public informed, showing the benefits of making the right choices, and the risks of making the wrong ones.
Keeping people informed to help them make better choices for themselves would create a healthier society overall. This would be promoting righteousness. Any other funds could be spent on helping people OUT of a destructive behavior, but never help them stay in it. God gives people second chances, shouldn’t we?
[6:54] …. Your Lord has decreed that mercy is His attribute. Thus, anyone among you who commits a transgression out of ignorance, and repents thereafter and reforms, then He is Forgiving, Most Merciful." (see also 3:89, 4:17-18, 7:153, 5:39, 2:160, 4:16, 2:286, 3:90, 4:48, 5:34, 9:104, 16:119, 17:25, 24:5, 42:25)
If there would ever be a society on this Earth ruled by Submitters, chances for all in that society to practice religion the same way is nil, as only a minority of the minority will ever believe the right way (12:103-106).
Isolating ourselves from other people just because they have a different belief, or no belief, would be un-Quranic. Thus there would surely be people around who had made choices regarded as religiously ‘evil’.
Does this mean that people would people be free to drink and fornicate if they want? As we have seen above, many verses in the Quran confirms that the answer is yes.
(18:29) “Whoever wills, let him believe, and whoever wills, let him disbelieve”
Obviously we do not have the power to ´allow´ people to believe or not in their hearts. Thus, this verse must refer to people’s right to make individual choices in their own lives, based on their belief or not.
When we consider the purpose of our being here, which is to be tested if we choose God nor not, the right thing or not, we realize that this is simply the way it must be.
Our religious choice(s) can only benefit us if they are ours, and they can only be ours if we are free to make them. To be free to make them we need access to information to base our decisions on, without having a threat of something bad happening to us at the hands of others if we don’t make a choice they approve of. The test in this life is to see whether we believe in God and in the Hereafter, not whether we believe in people’s ability to make our lives miserable.
ONLY when we do something based on our own convictions do we reap the benefits.
[4:124] As for those who lead a righteous life, male or female, while believing, they enter Paradise; without the slightest injustice. (see also 16:97, 20:112, 21:94)
Thus, we must be free to make the right AND the wrong choices. Forcing people to do things whether they want to or not, EVEN IF IT IS THE RIGHT THING TO DO, is an effort to cheat them out of the reward for making the right choice(s), as well as cheating them out of the learning process through experience.
It is always disbelievers who punish and evict believers for not complying with their view of the world, not the other way around.
Lot who was considered righteous by God, lived alongside and interacted with homosexuals. Because they knew him and his family as people who wished to be pure, they evicted them from their town.
[27:56] The only response from his people was their saying, "Banish Lot's family from your town; they are people who wish to be pure." (see also 7:82)
[8:30] The disbelievers plot and scheme to neutralize you, or kill you, or banish you. However, they plot and scheme, but so does GOD. GOD is the best schemer (see also 14:13, 17:76).
The believers are never the oppressors, it is always the disbelievers. As the disbelievers often enjoy the upper hand in this worldly life, they use that position to oppress and hurt believers. They experience great worldly success, with lots of money and children, exclusive mansions and other temporary enjoyments in this life. This is God’s just system, as this is all they get, while getting no share in the eternal Hereafter.
In religion, as far as people to people are concerned, there are no MUST DO’s, only CHOOSE TO’s. It is clear that God advises us to separate our state from our church.
People have the strongest tendencies to impose themselves and their values on others, against God’s commands. It is our obligation as people who know better, to set the best examples and carefully scrutinize our own behavior in this regard, and remind each other when we see history repeating itself, hearing or seeing seeds of oppression being planted amongst us yet again.
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