Freedom of Choice of Religion
by Shaykh 'Abdullâh bin Muhammad bin Humaid
We shall be tackling here the following aspects of the topic of freedom
1. " Let there be no compulsion in religion." (Al-Qur'an, 2, 256 )
2. Religious freedom for non-Muslims in the Islamic state,
3. Judgement concerning apostasy,
Introductory note : The right to freedom of thought, not of disbelief
In one of the questions, the questioner is wondering about the compatibility of the freedom of belief granted by God with certain limitations in Islam.
I would reply thus : the right to freedom is granted. God endowed man with senses and with the mind to think, to reflect, and to find the truth. It is his duty to think correctly and seriously. It is his responsibility not to let his senses fall into disuse, or to be used for wrong purposes.
As for freedom of belief it is not absolute so that one may believe whatever he likes to believe. It is enjoined on all sane adults to believe in God as deity and lord, to accept His right to obedience and submission. Men may not choose to believe otherwise.
There is evidence of these facts in the universe around us. Its parts are not brought together in a haphazard way; they are built up according to an exact plan and perfect laws. Whatever flies in space soaring and plunging is controlled by laws; all that floats on water on dives is controlled by laws; all that grows from the ground is controlled by laws that give plants various flavours and colours. Any one who seeks to come upon the truth need only observe the universe in detail to learn such facts as will increase his belief in the Creator, in His perfectness and accuracy.
When a human is born he does not know things, but he has the means of knowledge, the mind, the sense of hearing and the sense of seeing. Man was born to search for truth and to come upon the truth, not to follow false ways.
The freedom of thought is absolute in the sense of exploring the universe and discovering its signs and laws, and man may employ all the power that he has to investigate the secrets of the universe But man's desires may not be indulged without any restrictions. Man's energy is limited, and if he dissipates that energy in imbibing pleasures and carnal desires, nothing will be left to serve the cause of truth and the doing of good. When we apply these observations to the present civilization we would say that the human mind sometimes seems to be employed for positive constructive ends, which is good and admirable; but such activities as may lead to suffering, regression, psychoses and physical harm should be condemned, because they are the result of breaking loose of desires and pleasure.
It is for this reason that we say with confidence while the freedom of thought should be guaranteed, the indulgence of desire should be restricted.
So whenever freedom is discussed we must distinguish between these two approaches to conceptualizing it.
When we say that man is not free to believe whatever he likes, that he is bound to believe in the one God as his god and lord, not to give submission to any one else in disobedience of God- when we say that we are protecting true freedom on earth ... but how ?
We mean that mankind has suffered throughout its history in most territories at the hands of false lords that have humiliated men. Much of human freedom and dignity has disappeared from the life of those who submitted to a lord other than God.
All forms of submission, fear, awe, absolute obedience should be given to none other than God-He is the only One who possesses the attributes of absolute perfectness. Only He is the absolute Rich, Able, Dominant, Arbiter, Just. It is impossible for God to be unjust, because injustice results from weakness and need, and God cannot be characterized with either.
Whoever submits to other than God surrenders as much of his freedom as he submits and humbles himself to other than his lord.
The false lords who deny people their freedom are of many types : corrupt scholars, monks, seers, rulers, and even inanimate things like money.
Some of these false lords went so far as to distort God's scriptures revealed to his messengers, in order to legitimize their whims.
They corrupted those scriptures by adding foreign materials to them. Some of them went so far as to guarantee reward in the hereafter to some people or punishment to others, and to sell "indulgences", promising paradise to some individuals.
Modern forms of accepting false lords are embodied in the materialistic philosophies of history, and in the enslavement to carnal desires and pleasures.
Accordingly, the essence of a call to belief in one God is a call to freedom and the lifting of oppressors' subjugation of human beings.
It is in this way that man's freedom is protected from being robbed by arrogant tyrants. It is by realizing this that man will not bow before any one or accept to be subdued by any body at all.
"There is no Compulsion in Religion" 
In Islam, compulsion in any sense is disallowed. Here are some forms :
Any one who is coerced to accept Islam does not benefit by that belief, and it is of no avail for him in the hereafter. It is essential for belief to be valid that the individual enters it of his own accord with a convinced heart.
The Holy Qur'an narrates in describing Pharoah, at the point of drowning, that he declared his faith in God as his lord and the object of his worship. But his belief was of no value at that time. Let's read the verses :
"At length, when overwhelmed with the flood, he said: ' I believe that there is no god except him whom the Children of Israel believe in : I am of those who submit (to God in Islam)'. (It was said to him :), Ah now ! - But a little while before, wast thou in rebellion ! - and thou didst mischief (and violence)!," (10. 90-91).
The Scripture also narrates of a certain people :
"But when they saw Our punishment, they said : We believe in God - the One God - and we reject the partners we used to join with him. ' But their professing the faith when they (actually) saw our punishment was not going to profit them. " (40, 84-85).
In the same way, repentance from sins and misdeeds is not accepted unless the individual performs it with resolution and firm intention.
The task of God's messengers, and all da'wah  workers is confined to delivering the message and clarifying truth. They are not responsible for people's conversion and acceptance of religion. They should do what they can to give good advice, to call people to do good and forbid them to do wrong. As for guidance to truth and to faith that is not the responsibility of messengers and da'wah workers.
The above point indicates one aspect of freedom-man's freedom from all forms of supervision concerning his relation with his Creator. This relation is direct, and no intermediary whatsoever is allowed to intervene between man and his Creator, not even an angel or a prophet. This may be supported with the following verse from the Holy Qur'an, addressed to prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings of God be upon him :
"Therefore do thou give admonition, for thou art one to admonish. Thou art not one to manage (men's) affairs. " (88, 21-22).
Third: The Condition of non-Muslims in the Muslim State
Non-Muslims used to lead a normal life in the Muslim state, without being harassed concerning their beliefs or scriptures. Indeed, at the arrival of the Prophet, peace and blessings of God be on him, at Medinah, he included the following article in the document which represented a constitution for life in Medinah :
"... any Jew who lives under us is entitled to protection and equality... The Jews' religion is their own, and the Muslims' religion is their own... Our neighbours are equals, not to be molested or to be held sinful" 
The Jews were left to adhere to their religion, and their property was untouched. The same treatment was given to the Christians of Najran.
And the companions of the Messenger followed his lead in treating non-Muslims. Abu Bakr, may God favour him, told one of his army leaders : "... You will come across persons who have devoted themselves to worship in the seclusion of cells, so let them alone..."
Similarly, the second caliph Umar, ordered his deputies : "My commandment is that non-Muslims in the state should be treated kindly, and that pacts entered in with them should be kept. Any enemy who approaches on their side must be fought back. They may not be given a task that is beyond their endurance..."
In the same way, Ali, the fourth caliph, pledged : "... whoever is given our covenant will have his life protected like our life, and his diyah  (is guaranteed).."
In the same way, Ali, the fourth caliph, pledged : "... whoever is given our covenant will have his life protected like our life, and his diyah  (is guaranteed).."
There is a long tradition in Islamic history of allowing followers of other religions to practice their religions and to adhere to their faith. No one was coerced to accept Islam.
It is well-known to all that this tolerant attitude was not the result of weakness in the Muslim state. It was adopted at the peak of power when the state was growing. It would have been quite easy to force people to Convert to Islam, but this was not done.
A Muslim man who marries a Christian or a Jewish woman may not compel her to abandon her religion and become a Muslim . She has full right to adhere to her religion, and if she does she enjoys all the rights of a wife.
Judgement Concerning apostasy
In discussing apostasy several aspects should be considered :
As indicated above, entering Islam by compulsion is invalid - that is to say an individual is not considered a Muslim unless he or she enters this religion of his/her own accord, being fully aware of his/ her decision.
This attitude is adopted because Islam is confident that a sensible person will realize the perfectness and truthfulness of this religion, that it fulfills what is good for man and is in full correspondence with unalloyed natural creation.
In the long history of Islam, there has been hardly any case of an apostate who abandons this religion of his own accord. In those cases when apostasy did happen, it was for one of two reasons. Some people conspired to beguile Muslims by entering Islam in the morning and leaving it in the evening. That is what Jews did at an early stage in Al-Madinah to create mistrust among believers. Having knowledge of previous scriptures, the Jews' withdrawal after entry into Islam would cause some wavering Muslims to think that the people of the scripture must have found some drawbacks in the new religion which made them reject it. The real purpose of that maneuver was sedition, to discourage people from accepting Islam or staying in it. Another reason for apostasy is the letting loose of one's desire.
Abandoning Islam is considered as a rejection of the general system, since Islam is a comprehensive way of life. It delineates man's relation with his Lord as well as his relation with other human beings, such as his spouse, relatives, neighbours, and even his enemies. It is unparalleled comprehensiveness that includes rituals, relationships, penal law and judicial law. It comprises all the issues usually included in man-made laws, and goes beyond that.
Therefore, it is essential to view Islam as a comprehensive whole and not as confined only to man's relation with God, as non-Muslims regard it.
It is in the context of this that apostasy is seen to be a rejection of the general system.
By making apostasy punishable with death two types of converts are deterred : those who accept Islam out of hypocrisy and those who do so for some material benefit. People may not accept Islam before they give their decision due reflection, and with their eyes wide open. This religion entails various heavy responsibilities and demanding rituals which a hypocrite or an insincere convert is unable to observe.
Before accepting Islam, individuals are entirely free to enter it or not. If they prefer any other creed, they are absolutely free to do so, and they are entitled to a secure and peaceful life in a Muslim state. But once they adopt Islam, they should abide by its injunctions and all its teachings.
Let the reader reflect: Is it freedom of thought to allow a person to reject the system of society, to renounce its norms, and to create confusion among its citizens ? Is it freedom to be a traitor and to spy for the benefit of enemies ? Is it freedom to spread chaos in the length and breadth of the state and to ridicule its traditions and sanctities ? It is indeed ridiculous to expect the Muslims to tolerate such a situation. It is crazy to ask believers to guarantee a peaceful life to those who strive to desecrate their religion and to dismantle their social organization.
Therefore, we do not hesitate to say that tampering with people's faith and corrupting morality and values have become a routine work for certain groups from among the Christian missionaries, who nurse a deep-set hatred for Islam, its Book, Prophet, and believers. They save no endeavour in their effort to harm an Islamic society and to disturb its peace.
Our judgement is confirmed when we observe the disgraceful attitude of certain countries of the free world - such as France, Britain and the US - towards Muslims in those countries that display a tendency to abiding by the injunctions of their religion-by adhering, for example to an appearance that conforms to Islam. The French have been especially unreasonable in their reaction to the Islamic clothing of women , despite the terms in their laws concerning the right of every denomination to practice the teachings of their religion. But those people, on the pretext of security and protection of general order, have resorted to those disgraceful acts. It is relevant also here to recall all that befalls the Muslim minorities in Russia and Bulgaria. What has become known is outrageous; what is hidden may even be worse.
As for capital punishment for drug-related crimes, it is still sanctioned in many modern laws. Of course, the authorities which impose it regard this punishment as a strong deterrent to crime and a protection to society from its effects. No one would say that applying the death sentence in the case of such perpetrators is a violation of their freedom since their freedom has encroached upon the freedom of others, and has marred the peaceful serene life of others. Death sentence is also enforced in the case of high treason or similar convictions, and nobody would say that such punishments violate freedom. The concerned missionary institution would not criticize such practices, and that is why we question the intentions of the questioners.
To conclude this section about freedom of creed and apostasy let us quote some statements about the attitudes of other religions towards Muslims and the fanaticism and malice they show whenever there is a chance.
Gibbon, the historian, writes : " When the Crusaders, servants of the Lord, conquered Jerusalem on 15\7\1099 A.D. , they decided to please the Lord by cutting the throats of seventy thousand Muslims. They showed no mercy to the old, to children or to women in the massacre that went on for three days and nights. They bashed children's heads on walls, hurled babies over house-tops, roasted men and women on fire, and cut open people's bellies to see if they had swallowed any gold..." Then he adds : "These people were complacent enough after all that to turn to God with a supplication for blessing and forgiveness.”.
Gustav Lebon describes the crusaders' conduct towards the Muslims in Spain in these words :" When the Arabs i.e. the Muslims - were evacuated from spain in 1610 A.D. every possible pretext was used to exterminate them. By the completion of evacuation three million people were killed. In contrast, when the Arabs conquered Spain they let people enjoy religious freedom, and maintain their institutions and hierarchy... Arabs' tolerance throughout their rule of Spain reached such heights that are rarely touched even in our age. ".
Of the recent past we read in Jewish documents about the Palestinians " 0 descendants of Israel, delight in the good news. The day is near when those masses of animals will be crowded in barns, we shall subjugate them to our will and let them drudge for us. 
In communist Russia, the government closed up fourteen thousand mosques in the Republic of Turkistan, seven thousand mosques in the province of Ural, and four thousand in Caucasus.
Many of those mosques were turned into brothels, pubs, stables or animals' barns. Muslims were physically eliminated - in a quarter of a century twenty six million people were killed, and ingenious ways were used to torture and kill them. Other communist countries in the Soviet bloc followed the lead of the Soviet Union. Tito of Yugoslavia, for instance, exterminated about one million Muslims.
Even today, Islamic movements and parties are being chased in the Philippines, in Indonesia, and in East Africa, openly and publicly, let alone the secret operations in those countries.
Where, then, is freedom practised ? who is fanatic, and who is tolerant?
Source : http://www.idca.org.au