Islam Defends Freedom of Thought
Islam is a religion which provides and guarantees freedom of ideas, thought and life. It has issued commands to prevent and forbid tension, disputes, slander and even negative thinking among people. In the same way that it is determinedly opposed to terrorism and all acts of violence, it has also forbidden even the slightest ideological pressure to be put on them:
There is no compulsion in religion. True guidance has become clearly distinct from error. (Qur'an, 2:256)
So remind them! You are only a reminder. You are not in control of them. (Qur'an, 88:21-22)
Forcing people to believe in a religion or to adopt its forms of belief is completely contrary to the essence and spirit of Islam. According to Islam, true faith is only possible with free will and freedom of conscience. Of course, Muslims can advise and encourage each other about the features of Qur'anic morality. All believers are charged with explaining Qur'anic morality to people in the nicest manner possible. They will explain the beauties of religion in the light of the verse, "Call to the way of your Lord with wisdom and fair admonition..." (Qur'an, 16:125) , however, they must also bear in mind the verse, "You are not responsible for their guidance, but God guides whoever He wills." (Qur'an, 2:272)
They will never resort to compulsion, nor any kind of physical or psychological pressure. Neither will they use any worldly privilege to turn someone towards religion. When they receive a negative response to what they say, Muslims will reply along the lines of: "To you your religion, and to me, mine" (Qur'an, 109:6)
The world we live in contains societies with all kinds of beliefs: Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, atheist, deist and even pagan. Muslims living in such a world must be tolerant of all beliefs they come up against, no matter what they may be, and behave forgivingly, justly and humanely. This responsibility placed on believers is to invite people to the beauty of the religion of God by means of peace and tolerance. The decision whether or not to implement these truths, whether or not to believe, lies with the other party. Forcing that person to believe, or trying to impose anything on him, is a violation of Qur'anic morality. In fact, God issues a reminder to believers in the Qur'an:
If your Lord had willed, all the people on the earth would have believed. Do you think you can force people to be believers? (Qur'an, 10:99)
We know best what they say and you [O Muhammad] are not a compeller over them. But warn by the Qur'an whoever fears My warning. (Qur'an, 50:45)
A model of society in which people are forced to worship is completely contradictory to Islam. Belief and worship are only of any value when they are directed to God by the free will of the individual. If a system imposes belief and worship on people, then they will become religious out of fear of that system. From the religious point of view, what really counts is that religion should be lived for God's good pleasure in an environment where peoples' consciences are totally free.
In 1492, the Jews who refused to convert were exiled from Spain by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella (above). The Jews were accepted by the Ottoman Empire, a haven of Islamic justice and tolerance.
The history of Islam is full of the tolerant practices of Muslim rulers who have respected all religions and built religious freedom with their own hands. For example, Thomas Arnold, a British missionary employed in the service of the Indian government, describes that Islam favours freedom in these words:
But of any organised attempt to force the acceptance of Islam on the non-Muslim population, or of any systematic persecution intended to stamp out the Christian religion, we hear nothing. Had the caliphs chosen to adopt either course of action, they might have swept away Christianity as easily as Ferdinand and Isabella drove Islam out of Spain, or Louis XIV made Protestantism penal in France, or the Jews were kept out of England for 350 years. The Eastern Churches in Asia were entirely cut off from communion with the rest of Christendom, throughout which no one would have been found to lift a finger on their behalf, as heretical communions. So that the very survival of these Churches to the present day is a strong proof of the generally tolerant attitude of the Muhammadan governments towards them. 1
God Forbids the Murder of Innocent People
Killing a person for no reason is one of the greatest sins related in the Qur'an:
... if someone kills another person - unless it is in retaliation for someone else or for causing corruption in the earth - it is as if he had murdered all mankind. And if anyone gives life to another person, it is as if he had given life to all mankind. Our Messengers came to them with Clear Signs, but even after that many of them committed outrages in the earth. (Qur'an, 5:32)
..those who do not call on any other deity together with God and do not kill anyone God has made inviolate, except with the right to do so, and do not fornicate; anyone who does that will receive an evil punishment. (Qur'an, 25:68)
As the verse suggests, a person who kills innocent people for no reason is threatened with a great torment. God informs us that killing even a single person is as evil as murdering all mankind on earth. A person who observes God's limits can do no harm to a single human, let alone massacre thousands of innocent people. Those who assume that they can avoid justice and thus punishment in this world will never succeed, for they will have to give an account of their deeds in the presence of God. That is why believers, who know that they will give an account of their deeds after death, are very meticulous to observe God's limits.
God Commands the Faithful to be Compassionate and Merciful
Islamic morality is described in one verse as:
Then to be one of those who have faith and urge each other to steadfastness and urge each other to compassion. Those are the Companions of the Right. (Qur'an, 90:17-18)
As we have seen in this verse, one of the most important features of the morality that will lead believers to salvation on the Day of Judgement and to enter into paradise is "being one of those who urges each other to compassion".
Islamic Morality Envisions a Life Filled With Peace,
The true source of compassion is love of God. A person's love of God gives rise to his feeling love for the things He has created. Someone who loves God feels a direct link and closeness to the things He has created. This strong love and closeness he feels for the Lord, who created him and all mankind, leads him to display a pleasing morality, as commanded in the Qur'an. True compassion emerges as he lives by this morality. This model of morality, full of love, compassion and sacrifice, is described in these verses:
Those of you possessing affluence and ample wealth should not make oaths that they will not give to their relatives and the very poor and those who have made emigration in the way of God. They should rather pardon and overlook. Would you not love God to forgive you? God is Ever-Forgiving, Most Merciful. (Qur'an, 24:22)
Those who were already settled in the abode and in faith before they came, love those who have migrated to them and do not find in their hearts any need for what they have been given and prefer them to themselves even if they themselves are needy. It is the people who are safe-guarded from the avarice of their own selves who are successful. (Qur'an, 59:9)
... those who have given refuge and help, they are the true believers. They will have forgiveness and generous provision. (Qur'an, 8:74)
Be good to your parents and relatives and to orphans and the very poor, and to neighbours who are related to you and neighbours who are not related to you, and to companions and travellers and your slaves. God does not love anyone vain or boastful. (Qur'an, 4:36)
Charity (zakat) is for: the poor, the destitute, those who collect it, reconciling people's hearts, freeing slaves, those in debt, spending in the Way of God, and travellers. It is a legal obligation from God. God is All-Knowing, All-Wise. (Qur'an, 9:60)
…While terrorism longs for a society where violence, fear, anxiety and chaos reign.
This high level of morality that is demanded from believers, described in the Qur'an, stems from their deep love of God. Thanks to their devotion to Him, they scrupulously abide by the morality revealed by Him in the Qur'an. Believers never try to make people feel indebted because of the compassion they demonstrate and the help they offer people, and do not even expect to be thanked. Their true aim is to try to gain God's good pleasure by means of the morality they exhibit, because they know that they will be called to account for that morality on the Day of Judgement. In the Qur'an, God has expressly revealed that hell will be the outcome for those who knowingly refuse to live by the morality of the Qur'an:
"What has brought you into hell-fire?" They will say, "We were not among those who prayed and we did not feed the poor." (Qur'an, 74:42-44)
Seize him and bind him, and then expose him to hell-fire, then fasten him with a chain seventy cubits long! For he did not believe in God Almighty, nor did he urge the feeding of the poor. (Qur'an, 69:30-34)
Have you seen him who denies the religion? He is the one who harshly rebuffs the orphan and does not urge the feeding of the poor. (Qur'an, 107:1-3)
...nor do you urge the feeding of the poor (Qur'an, 89:18)
As we have seen in these verses, the Muslim described in the Qur'an possesses a most loving and compassionate nature. Nobody who possesses this morality can of course consent to terrorism or acts of violence directed at innocent people. Terrorists' characters are the exact opposite of Qur'anic morality. A terrorist is a ruthless person who looks with hatred on the world, and wants to kill, destroy and shed blood.
A Muslim raised in the morality as revealed by the Qur'an, however, approaches everyone with the love expected by Islam, respects ideas of all kinds, always tries to bring harmony where there is discord, lower tensions, embrace all sides and behave with moderation. Societies consisting of people like this will be ruled by a more developed civilisation, and enjoy greater social morality, harmony, justice and plenty than can be seen in even the most modern nations today.
God has Commanded Forgiveness and Tolerance
The concept of forgiveness and tolerance, described in the words, "Make allowances for people" (Qur'an, 7:199) is one of the most fundamental tenets of Islam.
When we look at the history of Islam, the way that Muslims have translated this important feature of Qur'anic morality into the life of society can be seen quite clearly. As we shall be considering in later parts of the book, Muslims have always brought with them an atmosphere of freedom and tolerance wherever they have gone. They have enabled people whose religions, languages and cultures are completely different from one another to live together in peace and harmony under one roof, and provided peace and harmony for its own members. One of the most important reasons for the centuries-long existence of the Ottoman Empire, which spread over an enormous region, was the atmosphere of tolerance and understanding that Islam brought with it. Muslims, who have been known for their tolerant and loving natures for centuries, have always been the most compassionate and just of people. Within this multi-national structure, all ethnic groups have been free to live according to their own religions, and their own rules.
True tolerance can only bring peace and well-being to the world when implemented along the lines set out in the Qur'an. Attention is drawn to this fact in a verse which reads: "A good action and a bad action are not the same. Repel the bad with something better and, if there is enmity between you and someone else, he will be like a bosom friend." (Qur'an, 41:34)
In the verses of the Qur'an, God has always described forgiveness as a superior quality, and in one verse, He has given the good news that such behaviour will be rewarded: "The repayment of a bad action is one equivalent to it. But if someone pardons and puts things right, his reward is with God. Certainly He does not love wrongdoers." (Qur'an, 42:40) In another verse, He has described believers as: "those who give in times of both ease and hardship, those who control their rage and pardon other people - God loves the good-doers" (Qur'an, 3:134) God has revealed in the Qur'an that it is virtuous behaviour to forgive someone even if he has done wrong. One verse on the subject reads:
... You will never cease to come upon some act of treachery on their part, except for a few of them. Yet pardon them, and overlook. God loves good-doers. (Qur'an, 5:13)
All of this shows that the morality that Islam recommends to mankind brings to the world the virtues of peace, harmony and justice. The barbarism known as terrorism, that is so preoccupying the world at present, is the work of ignorant and fanatical people, completely estranged from Qur'anic morality, and who have absolutely nothing to do with religion. The solution to these people and groups who try to carry out their savagery under the mask of religion is the teaching of true Qur'anic morality. In other words, Islam and Qur'anic morality are solutions to the scourge of terrorism, not supporters of it.
…God is All-Gentle, Most Merciful to mankind.