Demystifying Freedom of Speech from the Holy Quran

Source: The Muslim Sunrise; Summer 2016

By Zia H Shah MD

As I write this article in April of 2016, two very dramatic events have occurred in the domain of freedom of speech or shall we say lack thereof, within the last month.

In Bangladesh, Nazimuddin Samad, 28, who had been on a hit list of 84 bloggers drawn up by Islamists in Bangladesh, was hacked to death and then shot. Last year, suspected militants hacked to death at least four atheist bloggers and a secular publisher in one of a series of targeted killings.i

In Glasgow, UK, the man accused of murdering Glasgow shopkeeper Asad Shah has issued a statement, saying he carried out the killing because he believed Mr. Shah had “disrespected” Islam. Tanveer Ahmed, 32, from Bradford, is accused of killing Mr. Shah outside his shop in Glasgow.

In the statement he denied the incident had anything to do with Christianity.

Mr. Ahmed claimed Asad Shah had “disrespected” Islam. The shopkeeper, an Ahmadi Muslim, who had moved from Pakistan to Glasgow almost 20 years ago, was found with serious injuries outside his shop on Minard Road in Shawlands on the 24th of March. He was pronounced dead in hospital. Mr. Shah was killed just hours after he posted an Easter message on Facebook, wishing his Christian customers a happy Easter.ii

Such violence in the name of Islam is complete antithesis of what Islam truly stands for.

Those of us, who have seen the Message movie, about the life of the Prophet Muhammad, may peace be on him, would recall a scene, when the companions of the Prophet are saying the creed of Islam or Kalimah in Kaaba.

The non-Muslim Meccans start throwing stones at them and start beating them.

The character of Hamza, who is not a Muslim yet, being played by Anthony Quinn, enters the courtyard of Kaaba and says tauntingly to Abu Jahal, one of the main leaders of the Meccans, “He is the bravest man in the desert, when he meets unarmed men!”

Abu Jahal retorts, “Muhammad is a liar.”

Hamza responds, “Where is the lie and where is the truth, when it has not been spoken yet.  You do not let him speak?”

Early Muslims were for free speech and their opponents, the Meccans for coercion and taking away the freedom of speech of the early Muslims.

Free speech is certainly a tool of the believers and it is mentioned as such several times in the Holy Quran. For example, “And let there be among you a body of men who should invite to goodness, and enjoin equity and forbid evil. And it is they who shall prosper.”iii And, “And the believers, men and women, are friends one of another. They enjoin good and forbid evil and observe Prayer and pay the Zakat.”iv

The Holy Quran issues a challenge to the non-believers to produce its equivalent, if they do not esteem it to be word of All Knowing God: “And if you are in doubt as to what We (Allah) have sent down to Our servant (Muhammad), then produce a Chapter like it, and call upon your helpers besides Allah, if you are truthful.”v

The Quranic challenge is indeed freedom of speech for the non-believers.

The Holy Quran repeats this challenge with slight variation several times:

  • Do they say, ‘He has forged it?’ Say, ‘Bring then a Surah (chapter) like unto it, and call for help on all you can besides Allah, if you are truthful.’vi
  • Do they say, ‘He has forged it?’ Say, ‘Then bring ten chapters like it, forged, and call on whom you can besides Allah, if you are truthful.’vii
  • Say, ‘If mankind and the Jinn gathered together to produce the like of this Quran, they could not produce the like thereof, even though they should help one another.’viii

The Holy Quran is inviting non-believers to bring their proofs and argue against every Quranic proposition. If this is not freedom of speech, I do not know what is?

The Quranic freedom is not only for the likeminded or the yes men, but for the contrarians or those who beg to differ. For example the Quran says: “And the Jews and the Christians say, ‘None shall ever enter Heaven unless he be a Jew or a Christian.’ These are their vain desires. Say, ‘Produce your proof, if you are truthful.’”ix

Many a non-Muslim philosophers have expressed similar sentiments, for example, Noam Chomsky says, “If we do not believe in the freedom of expression for the people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.”x French philosopher François-Marie Arouet (1694 – 1778), known by his pseudonym Voltaire is attributed the following quote, “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I ‘ll defend to the death your right to say it.”xi

Read further on page 27 of: The Muslim Sunrise; 2016_summer

Categories: Free Speech

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