Freedom in Islam vs. Liberal freedom


Liberalism is the predominant ideology in today's world. Even there are many countries and societies that don’t see themselves liberals but they behave as a liberal. In this between there are some Muslim thinkers who claim that both Islam and liberalism respect freedom of man, so they don’t oppose each other. Herewith we are about to check the accuracy of this claim. 

None of the political ideologies is like liberalism in having multiple recitations. Therefore a better way is to delve into common values and beliefs that liberalism insists on. Here it can be suggested that liberalism is to have commitment to a bunch of vague and general concepts and values like freedom and autonomy of individual, free market, freedom of thought and so on. They believe that all people's choices and decisions are equally reasonable and people have freedom to choose. 

As it is seen, one of the central values in liberalism is freedom and autonomy of individual with a specific definition which is called "negative‌ freedom". Negative‌ freedom or "freedom from" is defined as freedom from any sort of external force or pressure over someone. Thus a free man is a person who makes a choice without being forced from outside to do so. In liberalism no one has right to decide for people, even the government or a religious or traditional institution can't do so. When this happens and all are out of the scene, then in fact it is liberalism who decides everything for people. The only thing is that apparently there is not a stick to beat them but the stick and the lash is inside. Through the mass media, fashion-makers, actors and many other tools that it has at its disposal, liberalism doesn’t let people to think different. You are free to choose but only the liberal options are there. To choose another option then you are against freedom and you are an evil. It permits you to think but only in its framework. 

On the other hand Islam also stands for freedom but man is not left free in an absolute way. In the verse 157 of chapter 7 the Holy Quran describes the believers as those who have faith in a prophet who "enjoins them good and forbids them evil, and makes lawful to them the good things and makes unlawful to them impure things, and removes from them their burden and the shackles which were upon them…".

According to this verse the prophet issues some dos and don'ts for believers and puts limits for them. They have to practice them in order to get freedom and to have shackles removed from their minds. For example it orders man to have specific beliefs and conducts and the result is that man comes out with finding his value in being a kind, generous, trustworthy person and so on. This way he can beautify his inside. Then if his face is created ugly it doesn’t matter him as long as he finds the essence of humanity inside him. But in liberal thinking, they show a handsome man as a status symbol, then all young men have to look like him, dress like him, have their hair cut like him and even go under surgeries to resemble him. They spend their time, money and get mind-occupied to do so just because they are not free to think opposite. No one physically forces them to do so but they are not free inside and they don’t have another option.

 Islam focuses on what is called "positive freedom" or "freedom for". Apparently it is along with some limits but the limits will end in a greater freedom. This freedom stands opposite to the freedom that liberalism advocates. Proponents of positive liberalism respect and recognize the principle of End and man's free will. So a man who is not able to flourish some of his internal talents and potentialities due to specific political and economic system and structure of the society, is not free even thou there is no external pressure over him. In a society which is based on free market, the poor can't get fair opportunities to compete with well-off class and lack economic freedom, they don’t enjoy positive freedom. The same is those societies with huge advertising agencies who direct people's thoughts and political stances and tendencies, moral and spiritual values, social and other choices. At the same time that they meet the standards of being free, set up by liberalism, people are not politically, socially, morally or spiritually free.

As the final point, the autonomy of individual is of a great importance in Islamic value order but it is never seen as an absolute value. In Islamic view man enjoys free will and is responsible for his conducts, and his perfection is defined under this capability of making decisions. Freedom to choose is a feature and characteristic of man not his ultimate end.