What is freedom of expression?

What is freedom of expression? Freedom to argue, to persuade, to demonstrate, to plead for one’s convictions or ideas. It is not freedom to curse, to mock, to deface, to hurt, to kill. No civilization accepts this latter view of freedom. Another point is, what is freedom? Is it license to follow our desires or passions or it results from understanding and following the rational view? In other words, is it slavery of body and psyche or freedom of spirit?  I don’t think one needs further discussion on this point. My point today is little mystical and metaphysical understanding of the phenomenon of prophecy, especially the Prophet of Islam (SAW). Once we consider this, one can pity the ignorance of those who seek to slander both freedom and truth in the name of spurious notions of them. A world not sharing the faith of a Muslim can understand the deeper philosophy that grounds this faith and if it does it, it will understand why Muslims love the Prophet (SAW) above everything else including their own lives. Secular modernity does need to appreciate the point that its deepest values and aspirations for freedom and rational life require a more nuanced view of the central figures of prophets that lie at the heart of great religious cultures including Judaic, Christian, Islamic and even non-Semitic ones when we find equivalent notions like avatars or seers that give orientation to their cultures. .

It can be argued that Muhammad (SAW) as the envoy of Absolute, that constitutes the second clause of Islamic kalima is affirmed in a subtle way at deeper level in its universal sense by all normal men irrespective of their religious affiliations. Even the so-called atheists or agnostics, who nevertheless choose life instead of death and deny the God of theology in the name of truth that they think they are in possession of, can’t but affirm, in their own way, the Prophet (SAW). For Ibn Arabi and Sufi metaphysicians, the Prophet is Logos, the Pole of existence, the principle of manifestation. Were it not for this principle things would still be in the abysmal darkness of void. Wajud is acquired or transition from unmanifest archetypes or ideas to manifest state of things is made possible because of the messenger who unveils or expresses Absolute, which would otherwise be unmanifest. God is a Hidden Treasure and the wish to get unveiled is what the idea of messengership expresses in its deepest sense. Seen in this light we can assert that life as it expresses itself in countless forms and in fact existence as such is by virtue of Muhammad (SAW). When life is blessed, as it is by God as otherwise it would cease to exist, it is in theological language, blessing Muhammad (SAW) or reciting durood. Every flower that blooms, every bird that chips, every child that smiles, every blade of grass that grows proclaim the grandeur of God and manifests the light of Muhammad (SAW). Life is a supreme value and so is freedom and the Prophet (SAW) is the metaphysical ground of life and its essential transcendence, its freedom. All our endeavours, whether we know it or not, are ultimately directed to affirm and promote life and thus praise God. Our breathing, despite us, goes on and thus we go on blessing the Prophet (SAW) who is the positivity of manifestation. Wherever and in whatever form life dances and smiles there the Prophet (SAW) is blessed. The Prophet (SAW) can’t be really mocked. Can the sun, the light, be mocked except by the blind? “The more they blaspheme against God, the more they praise God” said Meister Eckhart. The same can be said about the blasphemers. The Prophet (SAW) symbolizes life, larger life, richer life, life glorified (that is deeper import of his name Muhammad which means the praised one). Who can condemn life without condemning himself or herself at the very moment? The blasphemers are unaware of the ontological reality that the phenomenon of Muhammad (SAW) designates and Muslims are rightly concerned to defend their hallowed symbols.

 The Prophet (SAW), existentially interpreted, is the ideal pole of man, the principle of transcendence and freedom of spirit that makes authentic life possible. Even the secular modernity can’t afford to disbelieve in the Prophet (SAW) in toto as long as it upholds the values of beauty, goodness, truth and freedom. To be a man in the proper sense of the term is to affirm the Platonic triad of beauty, goodness and truth and thus to glorify the Prophet (SAW). Humans are humans in the proportion they actualize or appropriate these values. Blessing the Prophet (SAW) means blessing existence and acceptance of positivity of manifestation, the joy and glory of life in all its forms.

However, the question is: How far have Muslims been able to internalize and expound to the world this sublime understanding of the Prophet (SAW) as supreme philosopher (as Al-Farabi argued), as the metaphysical or ontological principle of life, as mercy of the worlds, as a symbol of both majesty and beauty of existence? We have great names in the west (including Goethe, Carlyle and Bernard Shaw) celebrating historical prophet. We have all great poets showering praise on the prophet as understood by mystics. We have great political philosophers seeking to translate the ideal of philosopher king of Plato and Al-Farabi for the world suffering from totalitarian and democratic tyrannies.