The freedom granted to the individual in such areas as economics and politics is, in Islam, conditioned by the following principle: that such freedom does not conflict with man’s spiritual imperatives, nor undermine the foundations of public welfare.
In fact, the philosophy of obligation in Islam is rooted in the need to make man aware of the extent of his responsibility, so that he properly safeguards his essential dignity, while at the same time upholding public welfare. The prohibition of idolatry, alcohol and other vices is founded, precisely, upon the need to safeguard the dignity and sanctity of the human state; in this light one can better appreciate the wisdom of the law of reprisal in Islam.
The Qur’an considers the law of proportionate retaliation to be a source of preserving human life:
And there is for you in legal retribution [saving of] life, O you [people] of understanding, that you may become righteous. (Sura al-Baqara, II:179)
The Holy Prophet said:
‘If somebody commits a sin in secret, he harms only himself. But if he commits it openly, and is not stopped, the whole society is harmed.’ 1
Imam Sadiq, after narrating some hadiths, said:
‘The one who openly and actively displays his sins violates the sanctity of God’s rulings, and the enemies of God become his followers.’2
There is no compulsion in religion
One of the expressions of the principle of the freedom of the individual in Islam is that there is no obligation in respect of which religion one chooses to follow:
There is no compulsion in religion. The right way is distinct from error. (Sura al-Baqara, II:256)
In Islam, religion is sought after only as a result of inner conviction and heartfelt faith, and such things cannot be forced upon the soul from without; rather, they flow from the prior realization of a whole series of factors, the most important of which is the ability to discern the true from the false, the real from the unreal. Once such discernment is attained, the individual-under normal circumstances-will choose to follow the truth.
It is true that Jihad is an obligation for all Muslims; but this does not in any way mean forcing others to accept Islam. The aim of Jihad is, rather, the removal of barriers that prevent the divine message from being [peacefully] conveyed to people throughout the world, so that the ‘right way’ can indeed be clarified and presented to all. It is to be expected that if the liberating message of Islam is prevented from being spread peacefully, then Jihad must be undertaken, [but only] in order to remove these obstacles and establish the conditions necessary for the peaceful propagation of the message among all peoples.
As we have tried to show, the Islamic perspective illuminates. the nature of man and the universe. There are, of course, many other principles and points to be considered in this vast subject.
1. Wasa’il al-Shi’a (Beirut, 1403/ 1982), vol. 11,ch. 4, p. 407.