Continuity and Change in Islam
Boundaries Define Things and Give Them Character
One of the beautiful things about being a Muslim is knowing that Islam is Islam, and everything else is, well, everything else.
At least with regard to most things. At least in a big, broad, general sort of a way.
The Qur’an says it all in its own miraculous words with breathtaking simplicity, elegance and clarity.
Here is the Qur’an: Qad tabayyanar rushdu minal ghayyi.
Here is my paraphrase: “Truth has now become distinct from falsehood.”
Therefore, the Qur’an goes on to declare, coercion has lost its validity in human affairs, particularly in matters of belief and faith.
A Perfect Revolution for Basic Human Freedoms
Before Islam, human beings and fundamental freedoms were a contradiction in terms. After Islam, there was a perfect revolution in human thought, belief, behavior and culture and these freedoms became a household word.
Force as a means of addressing issues and achieving objectives, then, became obsolete and useless. This is my paraphrase and extrapolation, naturally. As for the Qur’an, here is its own miraculous rendering of that concept in four words, one of them a preposition: Laa Ikraaha fi Addeen.
Call it a revolution in four – or is it three? – words. Or simply call it a miracle. What you cannot doubt is that it is a complete revolution in human affairs: for human freedom and dignity and, truly speaking, for peace on earth.
Islam’s Gift of Fundamental Human Rights and Freedoms
Thus were ushered into human lore and culture – under the aegis of Islam and by a clear directive from the maker and master of this world – the following revolutionary rights and freedoms, all of them tightly intertwined with one another, and practically every one of them unknown and unavailable to the broad masses of humanity before Islam:
Freedom to Read. Islam started out with a generalized and universal command to all of humanity that said: “Read,” which meant not only that reading from then on was a basic human right for all human beings, but also that reading should henceforth become a fundamental human activity in their daily lives.
Further, this made it clear to anyone who could see that from that point on “The Pen,” and not the sword, was to be the main arbiter of human affairs. That is partly why the Qur’an has a whole chapter called “The Pen,” but not once throughout its entire text of 114 chapters and over 6000 words does it even once use the word “The Sword”.
Freedom to Write. If the word Qur’an means “To Read,” the other expression that the Qur’an frequently uses for itself – Kitab – means “To Write” or “A Written Book” or “Something Written.”
This again meant that from then on writing, just like reading, was going to be a basic human right available to all human beings.
It also meant that all human beings from then on must make writing a fundamental aspect of their daily activities and use it as a means of organizing their own personal lives and advancing human knowledge, culture and civilization.
Freedom to Believe. People should be free to believe whatever they wanted to believe, and no one should force anyone to believe one thing or another.
Freedom of Conscience. Everyone should be free to use their conscience as their own personal guide in negotiating life’s challenges and opportunities, and no one else should force, coerce or brainwash anyone or exercise personal, psychological, social, cultural, religious, political, economic or any other form of tyranny or domination over anyone’s mind.
Freedom of Expression: People should be free to speak their mind without fear of reprisals.
Ability to Speak and Express Oneself:
Essence of Human Life on Earth
The Qur’an makes it clear that the power of speech – “Expression,” as the Qur’an puts it, with original Arabic term being “Bayaan” – was a miraculous gift to human beings from God Almighty, and no one in any way should truncate or curtail or take away from any human being the right to speak and express themselves.
In fact, much more meets the eye when you look at the text of the Qur’an closely – and when the Qur’an opens up to you and reveals to you some of the gems of meaning and implication contained in its unique divine phraseology. You then see that the Faculty of Expression goes to the very essence of human creation and existence on earth.
Listen to the Qur’an say it in its own words:
Here is my paraphrase:
Loving, Merciful One!
Taught the Reading – Qur’an!
Created the Human!
Taught him Expression!
These are some of the most fundamental freedoms that Islam came into this world to grant and guarantee every human being. Roll these five freedoms into one and you have the basic framework of Islam as it applies to human life in general. Together, these three guarantees constitute the core of a perfect revolution for peace on earth.
A Foundation for Peace on Earth
That is what Islam really is: a most solid foundation for peace on earth. Fundamental human rights and freedoms constitute the core of this foundation.
Islam came into this world to guarantee these rights and freedoms to all human beings – regardless of any consideration of race, religions, wealth, property ownership, gender or social status.
Freedom of belief, conscience and expression, as well as the right to read and write, guaranteed to all? Men as well as women; the rich as well as the poor; the free as well as those held in bondage by other human beings?
Can you imagine a sweeping statement like that – coming from any source – smack in the beginning of the 7th Century?
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