Freedom of Expression and its Limits in Islam

Author : Dr. Mohammad Al-Hunaiti

Date Added : 22-12-2021


Freedom of Expression and its Limits in Islam

 

By Dr. Mohammad Al-Hunaiti

 

Islam has allowed a Muslim to speak their mind and the texts of Sharia (Quran and Sunnah) are replete with answers to many questions and worries so as to prevent minds from getting lost and thoughts from going astray. In other words, these texts have covered every thought and idea that could cross man`s mind regarding the Creator of the Heavens and the Earth, worldly life, and what accompanied its creation and that of man who is entrusted with promoting growth and prosperity on the earth.

Moreover, Sharia has defined the relationship between man and his Creator, his fellow man, and the components of his environment. By doing so, it drew up a road map for man`s limits concerning his freedom of expression. Although Islam has safeguarded this freedom, it is governed with checks and balances to prevent encroaching upon the freedoms and rights of others. The evidence on this is that Allah says (What means), " O ye who believe! Fear God, and (always) say a word directed to the Right." He also says, " O ye who believe! Fear God and be with those who are true (in word and deed)."Here, a Muslim is commanded to speak the truth and avoid lying, since it undermines the structure of any society in which it spreads and rumor is a clear example of the latter.

The same applies to backbiting, slandering, and mockery. Allah the Almighty says (What means), "O ye who believe! Let not some men among you laugh at others: It may be that the (latter) are better than the (former): Nor let some women laugh at others: It may be that the (latter are better than the (former): Nor defame nor be sarcastic to each other, nor call each other by (offensive) nicknames: Ill-seeming is a name connoting wickedness, (to be used of one) after he has believed: And those who do not desist are (indeed) doing wrong." He also says (What means), " O ye who believe! Avoid suspicion as much (as possible): for suspicion in some cases is a sin: And spy not on each other behind their backs. Would any of you like to eat the flesh of his dead brother? Nay, ye would abhor it...But fear God: For God is Oft-Returning, Most Merciful."

Therefore, it isn`t permissible for a Muslim to mock or backbite others under the pretext of freedom of expression. Asma' bint Yazid reported that the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, "Shall I tell you who is the best of you?" "Yes,," they replied. He said, "Those who remind you of Allah when you see them." He went on to say, "Shall I tell you who is the worst of you?" "Yes," they replied. He said, "Those who go about slandering, causing mischief between friends in order to separate them, and desiring to lead the innocent into wrong action."

Freedom of expression doesn`t mean mocking the beliefs of others for it was never reported that the Prophet (Peace and blessings be upon him) or his companions have ever done so. However, they did explain to non-Muslims-using wisdom and fair preaching-that the true religion in the sight of Allah is Islam. Thus, in Islam, a good word is a Sadaqa (Charity) as Allah's Messenger (Blessings and peace be upon him) said, "……. a good word is also Sadaqa, and every step taken on one's way to offer the compulsory prayer (in the mosque) is also Sadaqa and to remove a harmful thing from the way is also Sadaqa."{Related by Bukhari}. However, a good word can`t be a Sadaqa if it is used to mock or belittle others. Therefore, the freedom of expression is embodied in whatever safeguards the dignity and rights of others and doesn`t negate Allah`s commands and prohibitions. Messenger of Allah (Blessings and peace be upon him) said, "…… and he who believes in Allah and the Last Day let him speak good or remain silent. "Moreover, freedom of speech doesn`t mean taunting, cursing, abusing or doing indecent acts. The Messenger of Allah (Blessings and peace be upon him) said, "A true believer is not involved in taunting, or frequently cursing (others) or in indecency or abusing."

Thus, a Muslim is granted a certain space to speak his mind, make constructive criticism, make reconciliation amongst people and give advice. Our role model in this regard is Abu Bakr who succeeded the leadership of the Muslim community as the first Rashidun Caliph. In his inaugural speech, he said, "Obey me so long as I obey Allah and His Messenger, so if disobey Allah and His messenger then you owe me no obedience."

However, a Muslim is granted this freedom under the condition that he doesn`t encroach upon the freedoms and rights of others. In the Last Sermon, also known as the Farewell Pilgrimage-after praising and thanking Allah-the Prophet (Blessings and peace be upon him) began with the words:" "O People! just as you regard this month, this day ,this city as sacred, so regard the life and property of every Muslim a sacred trust. "Beware of suspicion, for suspicion is the worst of false tales. Do not look for other's faults. Do not spy one another, and do not practice Najsh (means to offer a high price for something in order to allure another customer who is interested in the thing). Do not be jealous of one another and do not nurse enmity against one another. Do not sever ties with one another. Become the slaves of Allah, and be brothers to one another as He commanded. A Muslim is the brother of a Muslim. He should neither oppress him nor humiliate him. The piety is here! The piety is here!" While saying so he pointed towards his chest. "It is enough evil for a Muslim to look down upon his Muslim brother. All things of a Muslim are inviolable for his brother in Faith: his blood, his wealth and his honour. Verily, Allah does not look to your bodies nor to your faces but He looks to your hearts and your deeds." And All praise is due to Allah the Lord of the Worlds.