Islam is a religion that gives the message of love and peace and is a complete way of life. It wants its followers to live in peace and harmony in the world along with people of other religions and assist each other in making the world a better place. Islam is an Abrahamic monotheistic religion teaching that there is only one God (Allah) and that Muhammad is a messenger of God. It is the world’s second-largest religion with over 1.8 billion followers or 24.1% of the world’s population, known as Muslims. Muslims make up a majority of the population in 49 countries.
The primary source of information that the people of West have for gaining information about Islam is Western media. Both the print and electronic media of West provide information to the people about Islam and this media has a negative perception of Islam and sees it as a religion of oppression and aggression.
One of the major faults that Islam is accused of in the Western world is the repression of freedom of speech. The west proclaims to be the proponent of freedom of speech, whereas it regards Islam as a religion where the followers have no say whatsoever and they cannot raise their voice against anything.
The west contends that individuals in a society should be free to express their opinion in any way. This type of freedom cannot exist in the world because it would result in people defaming each other, spreading slanders, and falsely accusing each other. Therefore, in the western nations, a limit is set on this freedom so that it does not result in hurting the feeling of anyone or harming the reputation of some person.
The west speaks of freedom of speech without any boundaries, but it shows biasness towards certain matters. Some major contradiction in the western idea and practice of freedom of speech are as follows:
1 In the European countries there is a law as per which no one is allowed to speak in favour of the anti-Semitic movement during the Nazi regime. People are not allowed to speak in favour of the Holocaust or give any opinion that does not oppose it. On the other hand, when it comes to western media publishing caricatures of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and Muslims protesting against it, it is simply upheld as freedom of expression. Thus, duality and contradiction exist in the western notion of freedom of speech.
2 In America’s intelligence agency, the CIA, all the employees are bound to sign a document as per which they are never to share or to publish their experience that involves information related to the country. This law was passed when CIA officials started writing memoirs of their experience during service. Although that was their freedom of expression, however it did not fit with the US objective, therefore it was taken away.
3 In the UK as well, the officials of the secret agency are not allowed to discuss or publish any information pertaining to national security. Hence, their freedom of speech is also made limited.
Islam is a religion of moderation and human connection. It does not allow anything that is extreme or that tarnishes the human connection. Islam allows its followers to speak freely and in some cases it stresses upon them to speak without any fear. However, when it comes to speech that hurts the feelings or beliefs of someone, Islam tells it followers to refrain from it and adopt a way that is more subtle. Some examples of how Islam views freedom of speech and to what extent it allows Muslims to proclaim their opinion are as follows:
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said in a Hadith:
“The master of martyrs is Hamza bin Abdul Muttalib, a man who stood up to an oppressive ruler, ordered him (to do good) and forbade him (from doing evil) and was killed by him.”
The Hadith shows that when it comes to speaking freely, the allowed speech is that which encourages or promotes goodness and forbids evil. Therefore, Muslims are to raise their voices without any fear if they see anything bad happening and they should also encourage or support goodness with their voice.
Harun-ul-Rashid was one of the Muslim caliphs who rewarded scholars who would go out and spread the message of Islam and give people an understanding of deen. Therefore, speech for the sake of spreading of knowledge is also encouraged in Islam.
Thirdly, contrary to the Western world where freedom of speech is allowed when it comes to hurting the feelings of the Muslims, Islam forbids any act that hurts the feeling of the non-Muslims living under the rule of Muslims. Regarding this, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said in one of his Hadiths:
“Whoever hurts a non-Muslim citizen of an Islamic state hurts me, and he who hurts me annoys Allah.” (Bukhari)
From the Hadith it is clear that in Islam any speech that is against any religion or that hurts the feeling of a non-Muslim, is not allowed. Therefore, the notion that Islam or Muslims are in opposition to non-Muslims or they go to any measures to defame other religions is wrong. Rather, Islam wants Muslims to accept that other people have their religion and there is no need to use hurtful speech as a means of spreading Islam.
In a nutshell, there is no such thing as ideal freedom of speech in the world. Even in the west this freedom is limited and wherever it conflicts with the political interest, the freedom is taken away. Islam, on the other, is clear: speech that is in favour of good is encouraged, and that which detests and hurts, is forbidden. In Islam, speech is supposed to be free from any hate and resentfulness.
—The writer is a student of Arabic Language and Literature at the Islamic University of Science and Technology Awantipora