Another important fact we learn from the Qur’an is that Muslims must respect and protect Jewish and Christian places of worship. God says “… if Allah had not driven some people back by means of others, monasteries, churches, synagogues and mosques, where Allah’s name is mentioned much, would have been pulled down and destroyed. Allah will certainly help those who help Him – Allah is All-Strong, Almighty.” (Qur’an, 22:40) As seen in the Qur’an, the monasteries, churches and synagogues that are mentioned as places of worship are protected by God. If Jews or Christians want to set up their own places of worship, they should be able to do so freely and without hindrance. If they want to go and worship in their churches or synagogues, they should be able to abide by their beliefs in safety and peace. In Islam, there can be no interference in people’s beliefs, as that is something against God’s will.
Furthermore, forcing people to believe in a religion or compelling them to practice something is completely contrary to the essence and spirit of Islam. The responsibility placed on believers in Islam is to invite people by means of peace and in the most respectful manner. The decision whether or not to believe, whether or not to implement the advises, lies strictly with the other party. Forcing that person to believe, or trying to impose anything on him, is a violation of Qur’anic morality. God says that one is “… not responsible for their guidance” (Qur’an, 2:272) and states that “So remind them! You are only a reminder. You are not in control of them.” (Qur’an, 88:21-22) And in another verse, God tells “… you [O Muhammad] are not a compeller over them.” (Qur’an, 50:45)
Islam is a religion based on voluntary and sincere acceptance and practice. In other words, belief and worship are only of any value when they are directed to God by the free will of the individual. If a system imposes belief and worship on people, then they will become religious not out of sincere conviction, but out of fear of that system. From the religious point of view, what really counts is that religion should be lived for God’s good pleasure in an environment where peoples’ conscience is totally free.
On the other hand, God says in the Qur’an that various faiths exist. There are Muslims, the People of the Book; Christians, Jews, Sahabbeans, and fire-worshippers as well as Zoroastrians, pagans, hypocrites and atheists. Their existence is perfectly legitimate, and God creates them all. There can be no limits on freedom of ideas; it would be immoral to try to put chains around the minds of people in any way. Suppressing the freedom of speech is persecution. People can become irreligious or become a Christian while previously a Muslim, or embrace Islam while they were irreligious before, all as they wish. Nobody has the right to interfere if a Christian becomes a Muslim, and nobody can interfere when a Muslim becomes a Christian. We must respect everyone and as everyone is judged by their own decisions, God makes it clear that everyone’s religion is his/hers. According to the Quran, a Muslim’s reply is; “To you your religion, and to me, mine.” (Quran, 109:6)
As is seen, the primary concepts of democracy –freedom of speech and belief, treating everyone equally and as first class citizens, not putting any pressure upon anyone for any reason, respecting people regardless of their opinions and beliefs– are already present in the morality of the true religion. The origin of democracy as a reference to the rule of the people derives from the ancient Greeks. However, the spirit of democracy started with the Prophet Adam (pbuh) and has continued with all the prophets as they have been the true representatives of intellectual freedom and plurality.
Democracy and one’s feeling free is wholly essential because when there is no democracy and no freedom, people’s minds become inactive as if they are paralyzed, as people under authoritarian pressure generally lose their productivity feeling strained; they would not be able to speak in a relaxed and sincere way. Freedom comforts people, and it logically follows that it would increase their creativity, self-expression skills. For instance, a painter can’t paint if you put pressure on him, or a composer or an author writing a book would lose his inspiration if he feels depressed. Pressure annihilates the healthy functioning of the brain. But when one is feeling free and secure and filled with love, and then he can paint, write and speak in a very good manner. That is why democracy and freedom are like cures for these disorders. History has witnessed many examples of this, and during the time of the communist regime in Russia (and still present in China), people act as if their humanity have been sucked out of their body and act with the coldness of automatons. Just like their human appearance diminishes, their artistic side also becomes equally paralyzed. This is because pressure causes people to fall into this state, and that is why it should be every state’s concern to lift pressure over its people. So whichever government, whomever takes a step towards democracy, should definitely be supported. Freedom is a cure, a medicine for the human soul.Sinem Tezyapar
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