Continuity and Change in Islam

Auron ka hai Payaam aur, mera Payaam aur hai, / Ishq key dardmand ka tarz-e-kalaam aur hai!  (Iqbal)

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Auron ka hai Payaam aur, mera Payaam aur hai, / Ishq key dardmand ka tarz-e-kalaam aur hai!  (Iqbal)
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.
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.
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 now 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 now 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 now on must make writing a fundamental aspect of their daily activities and use it as a means of organising 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.
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:
Allamal Qur’an!
Khalqal Insaan!
Allamahul Bayaan!
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.
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?
But that is what true revolutions are made of. And those are the kind of improbable things associated with Islam, the Qur’an and the life the Prophet, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam, that I call miracles – true and lasting miracles that you can see with your own eyes.
Islam, thus, showed up in this world, 1400 years ago, as the originator and guarantor of these five basic freedoms for human beings of all races, genders, classes and creeds. Thus, Islam declared liberty to be a defining characteristic of human life in this world.
Islam, thus, made freedom a fundamental foundation of peace on earth. That means take away people’s rights and freedoms, and you will be sowing the seeds of discord, trouble and turmoil in the world.