Islam grants human beings total intellectual freedom. Rather it would be
truer to say that it was Islam which for the first time in human history brought
about a revolution in freedom of thought. In all the ages of history prior to
Islam, the system of despotism prevailed, and man was consequently denied
freedom of thought. This was a matter of the utmost gravity for it is a fact
that the secret of all human progress lies hidden in such freedom.
The first benefit of intellectual freedom is to enable man to achieve that high
virtue which in Quran is called "fearing the unseen." That is, without any
apparent compulsion or pressure from God, man, of his own free will,
acknowledges God and leads his life in this world, going in fear of Him. In the
absence of an atmosphere of total freedom, no one can undergo this spiritual
experience—an indescribable spiritual pleasure—which is called in Quran,
going in fear of the Lord. Without such freedom it is not possible to give
credit to anyone for this highest of human virtues.
Man is a thinking creature. Of necessity he forms opinions. If curbs are placed
on the independent expression of his views, the content of his thought may
remain unchanged, but his ideas will never find expression in his speech and
writings. Curbs of this nature, imposed by a community or a state, will
ultimately produce a society of hypocrites. No sincere person can ever flourish
in such a repressive atmosphere. It is only freedom of thought and expression
which can save man from hypocrisy. Moreover, intellectual freedom is directly
related to creativity. A society with freedom of thought will produce creative
human beings: a society which places curbs on freedom of expression will
necessarily witness intellectual stagnation; it will stop producing creative
minds, and its development will come to a final standstill.
In matters of criticism or expression of differences, the right approach is for
people to end unnecessary sensitivity to it instead of attempting to put an end
to criticism and differences. This is the demand of Islam as well as of nature.
According to the Hadith it is a virtue on the part of believers: to accept the
truth without any reservation when it is presented to them. That is to say, a
believer is one who has the ability in the perfect sense of the word to accept
the truth. Whenever truth is brought before him, whenever his faults are pointed
out to him, no complex comes in the way of his accepting of the truth.
This quality is present to the maximum degree in one who is ready and waiting to
accept the truth when it is brought before him. Eager for his own improvement,
he accepts the truth with pleasure. This keenness for self-reform through
acceptance of the truth is perfectly expressed in the words of ‘Umar Ibn
al-Khattab: "May God bless on one who sends me gifts of my own shortcomings."
It is a fact that acknowledgment of truth is worship, nay, it is the greatest
form of worship. It is an act for which man has to make the greatest sacrifice.
What makes it such a great sacrifice is that it involves the setting aside of
It amounts to the sacrifice of one’s ego. But that is the occasion when man
assures his entry into heaven.
When does one find the opportunity for this great form of worship and this great
good fortune? This opportunity comes one’s way only when there is full freedom
of expression. When one can criticize another with impunity. When such an
atmosphere prevails in a society which permits the speaker to air his views
freely and the listener may freely appreciate what is being said. Just as a
mosque is the right place for the performance of prayer in congregation,
similarly freedom of expression is the right atmosphere in which to foster the
great virtues of expressing the truth and acceptance of the truth.
By: Maulana Wahiduddin Khan