The Holy Quran on Freedom of Conscience
PUNISHMENT OF APOSTACY IN ISLAM
From one point of view the universe created by God Almighty is divided into two portions. A large portion does that which it is commanded by God Almighty to do, and thus carries out the will of God. The other portion has been given the choice to carry out God's behest or to ignore it. This second portion is man upon whom God Almighty has conferred freedom of action.
Everything besides man carries out that which God Almighty desires it to do. For instance, the Holy Quran says concerning the angels: They do that which they are commanded ( 66: 7). From this point of view everything besides man is an angel, as it does that which it is commanded to do. The winds carry out whatever they are commanded. During a particular season the trees are commanded to shed their leaves and they do so. The fields are sometimes commanded to produce good harvests and they do so. Sometimes God commands them: I am wroth with a certain region of the earth, so let it bring about conditions of famine, and the same region which has previously produced the means of nourishment for the people, thereupon brings about conditions of famine.
Islam is the religion of nature. So far as man is concerned the notion of compulsion in human life is inconsistent with the divine project of the universe, inasmuch as if God Almighty had imposed His will upon man there would have been no difference between man and an animal, or a tree or a stone. Islam being in accord with human nature sets forth a teaching, concerning the freedom of conscience and the freedom of belief, which establishes an ideal for the world. It is not only certain religions that have permitted compulsion in matters of faith, but several philosophic conceptions are also opposed to freedom of conscience and regard compulsion as permissible. Islam does not permit anything of the kind. Islam has established an ideal standard in respect of freedom of conscience. God Almighty has said in effect: This is the religion of nature which comprises perfect guidance. A perfect Book has been revealed. No other teaching fulfils human needs to a greater degree, nor provides greater beneficence for man, nor discloses to man more clearly the ways that bring man nearer to God. It is Islam alone which has thrown open to man all the gates of approach to God. It imposes no compulsion nor does it permit any. In Islam God says: I account compulsion as evil. I proclaim freedom of conscience and guarantee freedom of belief.
Reflection upon the Holy Quran reveals several aspects of this teaching. For instance, it is said: Proclaim, O Prophet, O mankind the Truth has indeed come to you from your Lord. Then whoso follows the guidance, follows it only for the good of his own self, and whoso errs does so only to his own detriment. I am not appointed a keeper over you (10: 109).
Here the Holy Prophet, peace be on him, has been commanded to proclaim to mankind that perfect truth has been presented to them in the Holy Quran in the form of the teachings of Islam. He who accepts it does so only to his own good" and he who goes astray does so only to his own loss. The Holy Prophet is commanded to proclaim that he is not responsible for the people. They them- selves have to provide for their own good, or to earn the wrath of God Almighty. This is not his business. Every soul must bear this responsibility for itself.
It is pointed out that every path that guides to the gardens of the pleasure of God Almighty has been described in the Holy Quran. It is the business of man to tread along them of his own free will, or to turn away from them of his own will. The Holy Prophet, peace be on him, bears no responsibility in that behalf, nor would he exercise any compulsion in respect of it.
Again it is said: Proclaim O Prophet: This is the truth from your Lord; then let him who will, believe, and let him who will, disbelieve. We have prepared for the wrongdoers a fire which covers them like a canopy (18:30).
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