While it is generally agreed that freedom is a great responsibility on people, it is also accepted that it is a legitimate right that may not be denied or curtailed by rulers. Without this freedom humans lose one of the most fundamental attributes of humanity. It confirms the will of the individual. This will distinguishes mankind from animals and it must be protected. A person without the will risks losing his ability for reasoning, logic or the ability to choose and becomes a tool in the hands of others. Freedom is a God-given right to everyone as an honour to the human souls. No one has the right to take it away. While rules and regulation may be adopted to ensure smooth running of the society, responsible freedom does not adversely affect the peace. Dictators often place restrictions on people’s freedom as a way to subjugate them. Once they abide by draconian rules and laws they gradually forfeit their natural rights and compromise their freedom.
It has always been assumed that the development of modern statehood will necessarily lead to wider freedom. But it is clear that this is not the case. New legislations in many countries of the “free world” are often based on the premise that terrorism will flourish in an open society. New anti-terrorism legislations are being used to limit personal liberties to the annoyance of the human rights and civil liberties activists and bodies. Totalitarian regimes have more ambitions to silence people. They know that allowing basic freedoms such as those of speech, congregation and protest could easily lead to open revolts and threaten the regimes. This leads to overcrowded prisons and detention centres. In several Arab and Muslim countries thousands of activists are detained, tortured and given long jail sentences for exercising their legitimate rights of speech and protest. The situation is gradually getting out of control and states of emergency could replace tranquility and peace.
Islam has endeavoured to create a civilized society with rights and responsibilities of the citizens and the state clearly defined. A just ruler is at the heart of such a society. Such a ruler does not fear his people. On the contrary, he will urge them to speak out against corruption, injustice, despotism and other forms of political ailments. Imam Ali encouraged this behaviour. When one of the worshippers challenged him while delivering a sermon at the grand Kufa Mosque, declaring that he was against him, Ali said: You are entitled to your opinion and stand as long as you do not infringe on the rights of others. Social peace can only be achieved through the respect of others starting with their natural and human rights and including their lives and property.
However, the phenomenon of dictatorship does not allow this. The public space is often controlled by the regimes which do not tolerate criticism or independent opinions. Throughout Islamic history, the people had resorted to the mosques not only for worship, but also for guidance and venting off anger. Religious scholars believe it is their duty to promote a dynamic role for the places of worship. God is very much present in the public space. No power has the right to replace the Almighty as a source of faith, hope and empowerment.
Oppressive rulers have also continuously attempted to “regulate” the functioning of these places. Sermons were often handed by the royal courts to the Imams to deliver to the congregation. In modern times, this practice has continued. The officials at the helm of the political power continue to issue decrees and laws to curtail the freedom of speech even at the places of worship. They claim that mosques are only for “worship” in the secular sense. They do not consider and political stands and action as part of the worship. They continue their threats to prevent what they call “Politicisation” of the places of worship. This is not new; their predecessors did that throughout history. At the same time, people with a mission have not been dissuaded from delivering their message of faith, justice and hope. That trend will continue. People’s freedom must be protected to achieve social peace.