When Muslim leaders speak about freedom, they have a very different concept in mind than does the Western world. Freedom for a Muslim is complete and unquestioning servitude to Allah. It allows no rival and tolerates no lack of conformity to His inscrutable will.
This comes out in many places, but one writer, Rebecca Bynum, analyses the writings of the Muslim philosopher and father of modern Islamist fundamentalism, Sayyid Qutb, (1906-1966). His writings make it clear that the Christian and Western understandings of freedom differ markedly with that of radical Islam.
Writing in the October 2006 issue of the New English Review, her article, “Freedom: True and False,” examines the idea of the individual and freedom in Islam. The political consequences of such ideas are fleshed out by Bynum:
“In Islamic terms, the western concept of political sovereignty resting with the people is a form of idolatry, for Allah’s word, as given through Muhammad, is regarded as the only legitimate source of legislation, and in addition, obedience to Allah’s law is the only form of worship Islam allows. These two ideas: that the divine is a law giver, and that obedience to that law is what constitutes worship, are the two most alien concepts confronting the western mind when analyzing Islam. They combine to create the Islamic requirement for territorial sovereignty, something entirely unique among the world’s religions.”
And what does this concept of territorial sovereignty entail? “According to Islamic doctrine, if a Muslim obeys the laws of man, as he must while residing in a modern western state for example, he actually worships man and becomes an idolater guilty of shirk – worshipping other than the one god, Allah. This is a grave sin for a Muslim and so to atone he must engage in the struggle against jahiliyya, which is to say, all non-Muslim culture and ideas, as these are thought to arise out of ignorance of the truth of Islam. And since Islam disallows criticism of itself, it forms a completely closed system of thought with all definitions, including the definition of freedom, self-contained.”
She cites a number of passages from Qutb to this effect. A core feature of both his thinking and traditional Islamic thought is the idea that “truth and falsehood cannot coexist.” It implies that everything “false” must be destroyed: “Therefore, all other cultures, when having come under Islamic domination are eventually annihilated by Islam, including their art, music, books, cultural artifacts of any kind, and of course history, all have been obliterated because these things are un-Islamic and are thus deemed worthless. Cultural genocide is what jihad in all its forms (propaganda, demography, bribery, extortion and finally violence) seeks to accomplish because these things are obstacles to the realization of perfect Islam.”
Such concepts are not only foreign to that of Western democracies, but to Christianity itself, which in part gave rise to the democratic West: “Central to this argument is the idea that Allah’s sovereignty must be realized over actual physical territory, for one of his essential attributes is as legislator for the collective. The idea of God’s will reigning over the heart of the individual believer, the kingdom of heaven within, is an alien one to Islam and considered by Muslims to be a corruption of the truth.”
She continues, “In this collectivist religion the individual cannot attain happiness and fulfillment apart from the functioning of the collective, because freedom is only found through the complete submergence of the individual in this social, political and religious system.” The highly unidealistic notion of freedom in the West is clearly absent in Islamic thought.
Indeed, the very nature of spiritual relationships in the Judeo-Christian worldview are missing in Islam. There is no joy of a close, faith-filled relationship with God. “The idea that God would actually desire human happiness is utterly foreign to Islam, for according to its doctrine, Allah does not value the individual except for his contribution to the collective. The idea that the individual personality has value in and of itself is non-existent. Thus art, as it is born of unique individual thought, cannot be valued, much less treasured or preserved. Islam means everything, the individual Muslim means nothing except as a vehicle for the spread of Islam. His life, his loves, his suffering, his joy, means nothing except as it relates to Islam. Islam uber alles. Islam forever. Islam, Islam, Islam.”
Concludes Bynum: “So what the Islamic system has done is usurped the place of God in the lives of its believers. It has made a spiritual God unnecessary. The Islamic system is all one needs to know and obey. One must memorize the fixed words of the Qur’an, but knowing God as a living spiritual being is not required. It is not even considered. Muslims may only look forward to lives of bitter self-denial or lives culminating in self-annihilation. The actual faith adventure of finding God, being liberated by His love and growing to know Him is denied them. The freedom Muslims are promised is of course entirely delusional for the reality of Islam is utter slavery – physical, psychological and spiritual – without balm, without rest, without peace. We witness its fear-driven fanaticism every day in final proof that religion reduced to politics, cannot take the place of true religion or supplant true religious faith without dire consequences.”
Harsh words. Yet those who have lived and worked in Muslim nations have generally found such to be the case. A religion which makes no guarantee of salvation (except perhaps to those who die for their faith), which dares not call God father, and which demands complete allegiance with no room for discussion, even questioning, is one where freedom and individuality do indeed seem to be foreign concepts.