Join us on Facebook

Islam, Muslims and Free speech

Islam has a history of over a thousand years of intellectual and scientific and progress. When Europe was in
the 'Dark Ages' the Islamic society produced scholars that were to become the reference points for medicine,
chemistry, mathematics, architecture and many other fields of science and engineering. According to
historians of science, the Muslims were the cause for bringing Europe out of the darkness of ignorance.
Robert Briffault in the "Making of Humanity" states the following:

"For Although there is not a single aspect of European growth in which the decisive influence of Islamic
Culture is not traceable, nowhere is it so clear and momentous as in the genesis of that power which
constitutes the permanent distinctive force of the modern world, and the supreme source of its victory,
natural science and the scientific spirit…The debt of our science to that of the Arabs does not consist in
startling discoveries or revolutionary theories, science owes a great deal more to Arab culture, it owes its
existence."

Freedom of speech, however, is not a necessity for progress and development. This is an assumption based
upon Europe's historical struggle against the Church that prevented intellectual progress and investigation.
Muslims do not have the same historical baggage. However, freedom of speech in its pure meaning, the
unrestricted expression of oneself, does not actually exist, cannot exist and one would be dishonest or
deluded to imagine it really does exist. If we examine Western secular states who advocate freedom of
speech we can see that it has never existed. There are many restrictions; for example there are hate speech
laws, defamation laws, libel laws etc. In reality people can express themselves within the context of the law,
and not with the unrestricted freedom that is often implied in the media.

But, this illustrates a contradiction when Islam and Muslims are attacked under the banner of freedom of
speech. There are laws in place to prevent offending religious minorities such as Jews, but no similar level of
protection for others. Take the Danish cartoons insulting the Prophet Muhammad, as an example. If such
cartoons characterising holocaust denial were produced they would be viewed as incisive and potentially
prosecutions would follow. When it came to the Muslims it was a different story.

Even if one were to ignore the apparent contradictions, it can be argued that civilised society cannot engage
with one another positively if anyone can say whatever they want. Initiating dialogue by abusing one another
will not produce positive results. The norms of civility that prevent people from wantonly insulting each
other, is not practiced when it comes to Islam these days.

The Quran and the example of the Prophet Muhammad, encourage thinking and debate.

"Invite to the Way of your Lord with wisdom and beautiful speech; and argue with them in ways that are best
and most gracious. For your Lord knows best who have strayed from His Path and who receive guidance."
(Quran chapter 16, verse 25)

There are also many evidences that do not simply ‘allow’ accounting political authority, rather they positively
oblige it upon each and every Muslim. The Islamic concept of ‘enjoining what is good’ and ‘forbidding what is
evil’ is a well known matter from Shariah texts and has been written about by many scholars. The Prophet
once said: ‘The best jihad is the word of truth to the tyrant ruler’. This must be done, and can be done by
individuals, political groups, or an independent media. This is all reflected in our history and scholarship.

However, abuse, slander, gossip and unrestricted forms of expression that create hatred, discourage true
dialogue, and generally degrade society is not allowed to the one who believes in Islam. This is aptly put by
the Quran itself:

“And insult not those whom they worship besides Allah, lest they insult Allah wrongfully without knowledge.
Thus We have made fair-seeming to each people its own doings; then to their Lord is their return and He shall
then inform them of all that they used to do." (Quran chapter 6, verses 108)