Although the definition appears to be quite intuitive, it might be worthwhile to explore the evolution of the concept of liberty through the ages. The current concept of freedom is heavily influenced by Locke and Isaiah Berlin; but what about the Islamic point of view regarding freedom. In this report I will attempt to contrast the different views of John Locke and compare it with the concept of freedom in Islam.
Locke believed that liberty was “to be under no restraint but the law of nature.” The old concept of liberty which was defined by Aristotle and Machiavelli basically advocated the imposition of self-control through the government. The new concept was to have none of that and it moved its focus towards individual rights.
Locke began his analysis by assuming a state of nature. He stated that this state is essentially the state of liberty. People’s rights are most obvious in this state of nature. However, people are not in this state of nature due to the presence of civil government. Having established individual rights as the basis of liberty through his idea of the state of nature, Locke needed to reconcile this with the existence of government. While Aristotle had emphasized on virtue and Machiavelli on virtú, Locke did likewise with individual rights. He says: “the end of law is not to abolish or restrain, but to preserve and enlarge freedom.”
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One of the criticism of John Locke is his assumption that liberty is only evident in the state of naure which leads to the conclusion that the civil society is bad. However, that is not the case since only through a defined rule and establishment we can seek to establish means and a method of protection of individuals’ right. Hence civil society endorses freedom unlike the state of nature since it has a check and balance mechanism against individuals’ encroaching upon other peoples freedom.
Freedom in West
The first breakthrough in freedom in the west was the freedom in religion and its speech, conscience and association. As the aftermath of the thirty years war (1618-1648) which was primarily ignited by the Protestant Reformation, a peace treaty was signed, known as the ‘Peace of Westphalia.’ The treaty gave religious freedom of some sort, by allowing Catholics and Protestants to coexist peacefully only as the established religions of the different states. However, this was merely a necessity of that time and was a compromise of sorts rather than an ideal scenario or example of freedom.
England was fighting its own battles which were essentially a political struggle between the king and the Parliament. The idea of religious freedom materialized in the form of freedom of the individual. The struggle for constitutional authority in 1689 was followed by the ‘Glorious Revolution’ which assured the dominance of Parliament and its religion whereby the religion was declared as free.
Religious Freedom in Christianity
In a well renowned move in 1965, the Catholic Church published a document titled on religious freedom which was titled Dignitatis Humanae (Of the Dignity of the Human Person). The crux of the document was that humans had the right to religious freedom which is essentially imperviousness to coercion in civil society. The most important points of the declaration were as follows:
The fundamental right to religious liberty
“Every human being has the right of religious freedom. People are free to seek out the truth in any religion they deem to be representative and correct. This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits.”  (Quoted from Vatican sources)
The responsibility of the state
The government will do all within its right to safeguard the right of all citizens to protect the rights of all residents. It is discriminatory of the government if it imposes any constraints on any religion. “Religious freedom is exercised in society, therefore is subject to certain regulatory norms, again to ensure the common welfare. Freedom and responsibility must balance and religious freedom must have as its aim to promote persons acting with greater responsibility.” 
Religious freedom and Christianity
The Bible proclaims freedom for the people to follow their religion freely. Therefore, Christians should respect and advocate religious freedom. God has regard for the dignity of all human beings which can also be interpreted from the actions of Christ himself.
Freedom in Islam
History of freedom in Islam
The first instance of freedom can be observed when ALLAH created Adam (A.S) and taught him right and wrong and the liberty to choose between them. It is revealed in the Quran: “Then He showed him what is wrong for him and what is right for him.” This verse reveals that liberty is the right of everyone and no one’s right is be curtailed or harmed in any manner. When Pharaoh abused this right, ALLAH sent Hazrat Moosa (A.S) to free the Israelites.
We have another great example among the Seerah of Holy Prophet P.B.U.H. When he started preaching Islam to the Quraish, adopted a liberal approach where no one was forced to convert to Islam. Even after the conquest of Makkah, when the power of Muslims was at its pinnacle, people were given complete freedom as far as their religion was concerned. Even at Medina, the prophet P.B.U.H signed a pact with the Jews where both sides were supposed to be allies and help each other in times of war and turmoil. Islam contributes to the freedom of belief, since it spread its roots through invitation and persuasion. People are to embrace it based on sound judgment, truth and it goes without saying, without coercion. On a similar note, Ibn Qudamah, the renowned Hanbali jurist has written:
“It is not permissible to compel a disbeliever into professing Islam. If, for example, a non-Muslim citizen (dhimmi) or a person of protected status (musta’man) is forced to accept Islam, he is not considered a Muslim unless it is established that his confession is a result of his own choosing. If the person concerned dies before his consent is known, he will be considered a disbeliever. The reason for the prohibition of duress here are the words of God Most High that there shall be ‘no compulsion in religion  .”
Concept of freedom
An International Conference on Islamic law, which was held between the ulema of Saudi Arabia and Europe, issued this statement. “The individual is free in regard to the creed he wishes to embrace, and it is unlawful to compel anyone to embrace a religion.” This statement is derived from Quran which declares that ‘there is no compulsion in religion’ (2:256), and ‘Had thy Lord willed, everyone on earth would have believed. Do you then force people to become believers?’ (10: 99).
These teachings of the Quran were also upheld in the 1952 convention of the ulama of Pakistan who issued a statement named ‘The Basic Principle of an Islamic State’. One of its provisions were: “The citizen shall be entitled to all the rights, he shall be assured within the limits of the law of freedom of religion and belief, freedom of worship  “. Likewise, the Universal Islamic Declaration of Human Rights, issued by the Islamic Council of Europe provides: ‘Every person has the right to freedom of conscience and worship in accordance with his religious beliefs.’ (Art XIII  .) These have become the basis for formulation of law in many Muslim countries such as Malaysia & Pakistan. The Constitution of Malaysia 1957 states the following in Article (II) entitled ‘Freedom of Religion’:
(i) Every person has the right to profess and practice his religion, and subject to clause to propagate it.
(ii) No person shall be compelled to pay any tax the proceeds of which are specially allocated in whole or in part for the purposes of a religion other than his own
The 1973 Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, similarly, asserts in its section on Fundamental Rights and Liberties that:
“Subject to law, public order and morality: a. every citizen shall have the right to profess, practice and propagate his religion; and b. every religious denomination and every section thereof have the right to establish, maintain and manage its religious institutions.”
The Prophet P.B.U.H did not treat conversion from Islam as a proscribed offense. Rather, he forgave many individuals who had embraced Islam, then abandoned it, and then embraced it again. Included among these was Abd Allah ibn Abi Sarh, the foster brother of Usman ibn Affan, whom the Prophet forgave when Usman pleaded on his behalf. Other instances include that of al-Harith ibn Suwayd, and a group of people from Mecca who embraced Islam, renounced it afterwards, and then embraced it again. Their lives were spared too. (Kamal 1999)
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Ibn Taymiyyah, who has documented this information in his book, has written that these incidents are renowned to the scholars of Hadith. Ibn Taymiyyah also wrote that the Companions reached a agreement (ijma’) on this. When the Prophet P.B.U.H passed away, some of the Arabs, reverted, including many followers of the self- declared ‘prophets’, Musalimah, al-Anasi, and Tulayhah al- Asadi. They renounced Islam and were subsequently fought by Hazrat Abu Bakr and other Companions until they returned to the faith again. They were not persecuted because of their repudiation of Islam  .
From the above discussion, it can easily be seen that Christianity & Islam have similar views as far as religious freedom is concerned. Sadly, the modern day Muslims and Christians, misguided as they are, often engage in persecution or discrimination between different religions. The banning of hijab in France and the persecution of Christians and shiahs in Pakistan are stark examples of a harsh reality. More needs to be done to align the motives of these parties in order to ensure harmony between individuals of different faiths.
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