The second questions with which we are confronted by secularists and liberals is that of personal freedom: “Am I not free to do whatever I like as long as it does not infringe upon the rights of others?”
I think it will be very helpful to point out the main difference between Islam and the secular, liberal idea of personal freedom. In secular system, the rights are divided into two: rights of an individual and rights of the society. A person is free to do whatever he or she likes as long as it does not infringe upon the rights of other people. To become an acceptable member of society, one has to accept this limitation on his or her freedom. An individual’s freedom is only restricted by the freedom of others. Islam, on other hand, divides the rights into three: rights of an individual, rights of the society, and rights of God. A person is free to do whatever he or she likes as long as it does not violate the rights of other people and God. To become a Muslim, one has to accept this limitation on his or her personal freedom.
One more important difference is in the concept of individual’s right. In secular usage, individual’s rights are seen in control to those of the other members of society. Islam goes one step further and says that even the body of an individual has some rights against theperson himself. In other words, Islam holds a person responsible even for the use of his or her body. You are not allowed to abuse your own body or harm it. Allah says, “The hearing, the sight, the heart -all of these shall be questioned of.” (17:38) Describing the day of judgement, He says, “On the day when their tongues, their hands, and their feet shall bear witness against them as to what they were doing.” (20:24) “On that day We will put a seal upon their mouths, and their hands shall speak to Us and their feet shall bear witness of what were earning.” (36:65) Imam Zaynu ‘l-‘Abidin, in his Risalatu ‘l-Huquq, describes the rights which a person’s tongue, ears, eyes, feet, hands, stomach and sexual parts have on him. If a person misuses or abuses his body, then he is guilty of infringing the rights of his own body and also the rights of God who has give the body as a trust to us. The Qur’an says, “The believers are … those who protect their sexual organs expect rom their spouses … Therefore, whosoever seeks more beyond that [in sexual gratification], then they are the transgressors.” (33:5-6)
In Islam, an individual’s rights are not limited only by rights of the society but also by those of his own body and God. The justification for this is very simple: Islam does not allow a person to harm or destroy himself; and sin or immorality is a means of perdition. This limitation is based on the love and concern which the Merciful God has for us. “Allah does not desire to make any impediment for you, but He desire to purify you and to complete His blessing upon you.” (5:6)
The Islamic concept of personal freedom may seem restrictive when compared to that of the secular system, but its rationale and justification is accepted, in an indirect way, even by the secular society. The logical consequences of the secular idea of personal freedom is that a person is allowed to do whatever he likes with himself; the only limitation is that he should not infringe upon the rights of others. But the West has not been able to totally swallow this idea as can be seen in the laws which place restrictions on certain acts, for example, suicide or using narcotic drugs and also the mandatory use of car seat-belts in some countries like Canada. By using narcotic drugs, the addict is not infringing upon the rights of others -unless, of course, the meaning of infringing upon others’ rights is stretched to include spiritual values which are not part of the secular realm- but still the Western society considers it unlawful and takes steps to prevent the addicts from using drugs. This is justified by saying that it is the society’s duty to prevent its citizens from harming themselves. In these examples, we see that the secular system is retreating from the logical consequences of its version of individual freedom. The only difference remaining between the secular and the Islamic views is that the former gives the right of restricting to the society while the latter view gives that right to God.
In conclusion, we may say that the Islamic view forbids not only the acts which infringe upon the rights of others but also those which infringe the rights of the persons’ own body. This view is based on the love and concern which Allah has for human beings.
Adapted from: “Marriage & Morals in Islam” by: “Sayyid Muhammad Rizvi”