By Salam Al-Marayati, Executive Director
Muslim Public Affairs Council
The Quran encourages Muslims to promote religious freedom and counter religious bigotry. However, it also upholds the importance of the freedom to express one’s own thoughts, even when they may be seen as distasteful or disrespectful by others. The Quran documents the countless attempts to defame the Prophet as a “madman,” “magician” and as one who spreads discord. The Quran also chronicles accusations that it is not part of the divine messages and actually challenges its accusers with producing verses that are better in style and substance.
The Prophet tolerated defamation against himself, and the Quran responded to defamation with a challenge. In neither case was free speech curtailed.
Countering religious persecution in Islam is a mandate, according to the Quran: “And how could you refuse to fight in the cause of God and of the utterly helpless men and women and children who are crying, “O our Sustainer! Lead us forth [to freedom] out of this land whose people are oppressors, and raise for us, out of Thy grace, a protector, and raise for us, out of Thy grace, one who will bring us succor!” (4:75). Indeed, the biblical prophets were on a mission to deliver a message to believe in One God and to deliver people from darkness to light. Hence, religious freedom and human rights are indistinguishable.
At the same time, the Quran calls for freedom of religion and expression: “Let there be no compulsion in matters of faith.” (2:256) It calls for the free marketplace of ideas, especially when dealing with Christians and Jews (People of the Book): “And do not argue with the People of the Book unless it be in a way that is better, save with such of them as do wrong. But say, ‘We believe in the Revelation which has come down to us and in that which came down to you. Our God and your God is One; and it is to Him we submit (in Islam).’” (29:46)
In Islamic law, there are five permanent goals agreed upon by all jurists to secure the rights of all people: they are the rights to life, expression, faith, family and property. Hence, neither freedom of expression nor freedom of faith can be compromised.
Countering anti-Muslim rhetoric, like opposing anti-Semitism, is a noble cause. But there’s a fine line between hate speech and hate crimes. We need to ensure that any legislation dealing with religious freedom does not curtail free speech. If certain speech incites violence, then legislation should be based on the crime and not the speech.
Therefore, Islamic teachings direct humanity to protect both religious freedom and free speech. The only means to effectively oppose bigotry and intolerance is through social, political and cultural programs educating people about the truth. We cannot impose the truth on others but we can be examples of what the truth manifests. That requires leadership in all sectors of society. Without leadership, we are left with two bad options — ignoring religious persecution or curtailing free speech.
Salam Al-Marayati is the executive director and one of the founders of the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), a public service, nonprofit, nonpartisan agency that disseminates accurate information about Islam and Muslims to the media and to elected officials. For 20 years, he has worked tirelessly to promote harmony between Muslims and their fellow Americans through interfaith dialogue and working in concert with local and national officials. Al-Marayati has made countless appearances in major national media outlets to discuss issues pertinent to Americans and American Muslims.