Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Hashim Kamali: Protection of Freedom of Religion in Islam

Dr. Hashim Kamali

Both Wafi and Awdah have drawn the conclusion that Islam protects freedom of religion in at least three ways. 

Firstly, by enacting that no one may be compelled to abandon his religion and embrace Islam, which is clearly proclaimed in Surat al-Baqarah (II:256). Muslim rulers and conquerors have generally abided by this principle and allowed their subjects to continue practicing their own religion, provided they paid the poll-tax (jizyah) and obeyed the government in power. They were, on the other hand, exempted from military service and the jizyah was a substitute for this. 

Secondly, Islam validates the freedom of the individual to propagate the religion of his following through sound reasoning and argumentation. Thus, Muslims are required in the Qur'an to resort to courteous reasoning to attract others to Islam and to permit the practitioners of other religions to employ the same methods. (XXI: 46; XVI:125; II:111). 

Thirdly, the Qur'an validates the norm that true faith stems from certitude and conviction, and not from imitation and mere adherence to forms. As the following passage shows, this is why the Qur'an denounced pre-Islamic practices and attitudes which promoted the blind imitation of ancestral precedents at the expense of independent thought and personal conviction. 

When it is said to them: 'Follow what God has revealed', they say: 'Nay we follow the ways of our fathers'; what! even though their fathers understood naught and were not rightly-guided. (II:170) 212 
      Commenting on this Qur'anic verse, Wafi refers to, and supports the conclusion Abduh has reached, that 'thoughtless imitation which lacks wisdom and correct guidance is the hallmark of the disbelievers. A man can hardly be called faithful or a believer (mu'min) unless he thinks about his faith and satisfies himself as to the veracity of his belief.' Awdah concurs with Abduh, but adds that the Shari ah also obligates one who is faithful to protect and safeguard his belief. If a person is exposed to intolerable oppression on account of his belief and lacks the means to protect his freedom, then he should migrate to a place where he can safeguard his belief and self-respect. Awdah concludes by saying that 'if the person is able to migrate and he does not do so, then he would have committed an injustice against himself.’ Awdah's conclusion here is based on the Qur'anic text (IV:97-98) which denounces the attitude of those who do not exert themselves, if necessary, to migrate, in order to safeguard the integrity and freedom of their consciences.

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Dr Mohammad Hashim Kamali is Professor of Law at the International Islamic University Malaysia where he has been teaching Islamic law and jurisprudence since 1985. Among his other works published by the Islamic Texts Society is Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence.

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