Democracy and freedom in Islam

A true look at the religion and its teachings reveal a belief in sync with personal and civil liberties.

Al Azhar Mosque in Egypt 311 (photo credit: Reuters)
Al Azhar Mosque in Egypt 311
(photo credit: Reuters)
Surely, one of the most debated topics of the day is how Muslims view Christians and Jews, the rights of religious minorites in Muslim-majority countries, and whether there can indeed be democracy, freedom of thought and freedom of worship in Muslim countries. The world is used to seeing people who claim to represent Islam preach hatred and promote violence and terrorism, implementing dictatorial regimes and rejecting democracy and civil liberties. But is this true Islam? Do these people faithfully express Islam as we know it from Scripture?
As a Muslim, when I see any pressure put on Christians and Jews, especially in some countries where a majority of the society is Muslim, I feel intensely disturbed about this situation. I would be delighted to see people live, trade, travel and pray at ease. Every true Muslim would share the same feelings with me. On the other hand, when the leftists are under pressure, it is equally something that makes true Muslims very uneasy. Thus it is my goal to ensure that everyone lives in peace and lives by his own beliefs sincerely. I want to reveal that the persecution perpetrated in the name of Islam is not Islam itself but bigotry.
The rights of religious minorities, or the rights of others, are generally an issue of legitimate concern in countries with Muslim-majority populations. This concern owes to the fact that true Islam is not being practiced in the countries of concern. Some people are genuinely unaware of the morality of Islam, or obtain information from innacurate or dubious sources. They may end up harboring several prejudices and erroneous convictions on this subject. These people assume, for instance, that Islam will limit their lives or freedoms, or perhaps attempt to control their very thoughts or restrict the arts and sciences. The simple fact of the matter is that  Islam ensures all manner of intellectual freedom in addition to freedom of worship and expression. It takes as a serious matter the rights of those people enjoined under its protection. Indeed, in a model where genuine Islamic morality prevails, Jews and Christians would be in the utmost peace and people from all walks of life. Be they Hindus, Buddhists, Taoists, or nonbelievers - regardless of faith, culture or ideology - they would be living in comfort as first-class citizens and enjoying their equal rights.
According to Islam, it is not only those who believe in God, but even those who are classified as idolaters, are granted asylum and protection. It is the responsibility of Muslims to ensure that they are allowed to live undisturbed and in peace as well. According to the Qur'an, Muslims are responsible to protect people who worship idols, as these people go from one place to another, even at the expense of their own life. This is an important criteria that Muslims must not be obstacles but rather guarantors of people's safety and freedom. Muslims have a God-given responsibility to establish the comfort for all people, whether they are Christians, Jews, Sahabbeans, pagans or else.
Islam forbids physical pressure,coercion and removes the basis of discrimination. Islam in its purest form is not a threat to freedom but the guarantor of freedom. God says "There is no compulsion in religion." (Qur'an, 2:256) Even though some critical voices would bring forth various interpretations of this verse to oppose me, God's statement in the Qur'an is quite explicit for a sincere Muslim and leaves no room for doubt. Imposition is incompatible with human honor and it is also prohibited in the Quran.
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, it is contrary to Islam to force people to believe in a religion or compelling them to practice. 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. 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. Nobody has the right to interfere if a Christian wants to become a Muslim, and nobody can interfere if a Muslim wants to become 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)
Turning towards the value of democracy, the primary concepts of freedom of speech and belief, equal treatment of individuals, not putting any pressure upon anyone for any reason and respecting people regardless of their opinions and beliefs are already present in the morality of true Islam. The origin of democracy is attributed to the Greeks as a reference to the rule of the people.. But 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 individual freedom is wholly essential because if it is denied, people's minds become inactive. Under authoritarian pressure,   people are unable to speak in a relaxed and sincere way. Freedom comforts people. It logically follows that it would increase their creativity and self-expression skills. Pressure inhibits the healthy functioning of the brain. But when one is feeling free, secure and filled with love, he can paint, write and speak in a very good manner. That is why democracy and freedom are like cures for these disorders. So whichever government, whoever takes a step towards democracy, should definitely be supported. Freedom is a cure, a medicine for the human soul.
But freedom is not indistinct from social responsibilties.  One's freedom cannot override other's rights. A Muslim cannot act in a way to hurt another person or damage his honor and self-respect. Along the same line of thought, an idolater or atheist cannot also act in any way against another's dignity, self-respect or chastity. Noone can interfere with another’s rights. The important thing is for people not to harm one another, not to insult or physically attack one another. As long as people do not act violently or interfere with other's freedom, there should be unlimited freedom.
Consequently, a model of society in which people are forced to worship is completely contradictory to Islam. In fact, it is not the threat of Islam but it is the threat of bigotry that concerns people. If true Islamic moral values were lived in the countries in question, there would be freedom of ideas and belief. Music, art, science would be given space to bloom, and Christians,Jews as well as others would be enjoying their freedom in the truest sense of the word and living in peace and in safety.