I refer to the article entitled, “Jangan liberal agama, bekas pegawai khas Najib ingatkan Dr Mahathir”. In the article, Fathul Bari Mat Jahaya is quoted as saying, “Kita tidak mahu buka sampai menjadi liberal. Kita tidak mahu liberal sampai meninggalkan fundamental agama. Fundamental itu tetap kena ada.”
Although stressing the need to return to the fundamentals of Islam, Fathul seems to propose otherwise by demonising liberalism. Let me explain. The most fundamental source of Islam is the Quran and examples of the Prophet. As such, Muslims, Fathul included, must work within the parameters of the Quran and the Prophet’s example.
If we follow these two fundamental resources, we will discover that “liberalism” is actually considered a good word. Kindly allow me to unpack my arguments.
Liberalism is a ten-letter word, but to many Muslims, Fathul included, it’s a five-lettered one: HARAM. They see it as a bad word and not in line with Islam, which is rather unfortunate. On the other hand, I see Prophet Muhammad as the ultimate liberator of humanity.
Let me explain.
While the West and the world generally see John Locke, the 17th century English philosopher and physician, as the father of liberalism, I found my liberal role model in Prophet Muhammad. With all due respect to Locke, to me, none in history can beat the Prophet in liberating humanity. The Quranic verses shared at the end of this article will provide ample evidence – and these verses are not exhaustive.
But first, we need to relook the preconceived notion of the word “liberal”. By “liberal”, I do not mean liberalism in the loose sense that is promoted by the hedonistic and freewheeling Western media-driven culture and the misunderstandings by a large segment of Muslim opinion makers. We are not asking or telling mankind to sunbathe or run around in the nude. That is an extremely shallow idea of liberalism.
The Quran chapter 39 verse 18 cautions us not to fall into this trap and tells us to choose the better meaning.
“Those who listen to the Word, and follow the best (meaning) in it: those are the ones whom Allah has guided, and those are the ones endued with understanding” – Quran 39:18
As such, by “liberal”, I am suggesting the ideas of liberty and equality, not unrestrained freedom.
We want to free humans to discover their real potential and explore their talents. The type of liberalism that encourages people to listen to others, be their best and to act with empathy, just like the Prophet did – as a mercy to all creation. A true liberator.
We must remember that when the Prophet announced this Quranic guidance, it was 1,400 years ago. He did not just propose a theory or a philosophy, but acted on it – he created a liberal society long before the word “liberal” was coined. He was a liberator who impacted his society and generations to come in mind, body and spirit.
The following 10 verses should suffice as evidence:
1. The Prophet liberated women making them equal to men
“As for anyone – be it man or woman – who does righteous deeds and is a believer withal – him shall We most certainly cause to live a good life and most certainly shall We grant unto such as these their reward in accordance with the best that they ever did.” – Quran 16:97
2. Gave rights to everyone to do business and be successful
“If one desires the rewards of this world, [let him remember that] with God are the rewards of [both] this world and the life to come: and God is indeed all-hearing, all-seeing.” – Quran 4:134
3. Liberated humans from ridiculous beliefs, or kepercayaan-kepercayaan mengarut, and instead guided man to contemplate the wonders of creation
“ARE, THEN, they who are bent on denying the truth not aware that the heavens and the earth were [once] one single entity, which We then parted asunder? – and [that] We made out of water every living thing? Will they not, then, [begin to] believe?” – Quran 21:30
4. Made the freeing and liberating of slaves and those in debt, helping the poor etc, a duty (taqwa)
“The offerings given for the sake of God are [meant] only for the poor and the needy, and those who are in charge thereof, and those whose hearts are to be won over, and for the freeing of human beings from bondage, and [for] those who are over burdened with debts, and [for every struggle] in God’s cause, and [for] the wayfarer: [this is] an ordinance from God – and God is all-knowing, wise.” – Quran 9:60
5. Liberated mankind through education and encouraging the pursuit of knowledge, gave rights to education for all men and women equally
“READ in the name of thy Sustainer, who has created man out of a germ-cell, Read – for thy Sustainer is the Most Bountiful One, who has taught [man] the use of the pen – taught man what he did not know!” – Quran 95:1-5
6. Liberated the orphans, the poor and the needy from the clutches of poverty by giving them rights to the wealth of the nation
“And in whose possessions there is a due share, acknowledged [by them], for such as ask [for help] and such as are deprived [of what is good in life]” – Quran 70:24-25
7. Liberated mankind to choose what to believe by declaring that there is no compulsion in religion
“THERE SHALL BE no coercion in matters of faith. Distinct has now become the right way from [the way of] error: hence, he who rejects the powers of evil and believes in God has indeed taken hold of a support most unfailing, which shall never give way: for God is all-hearing, all-knowing.” – Quran 2:256
8. Liberated places of worship and set rules to protect them
“Those who have been driven from their homelands against all right for no other reason than their saying: ‘Our Sustainer is God!’ For, if God had not enabled people to defend themselves against one another, all monasteries and churches and synagogues and mosques – in [all of] which God’s name is abundantly extolled – would surely have been destroyed [ere now]. And God will most certainly succour him who succours His cause: for, verily, God is most powerful, almighty.” – Quran 22:40
9. Gave rights to all ways of life/faith to co-exist with Islam and declared that religious diversity is intentional
“And unto thee [O Prophet] have We vouchsafed this divine writ, setting forth the truth, confirming the truth of whatever there still remains of earlier revelations and determining what is true therein. Judge, then, between the followers of earlier revelation in accordance with what God has bestowed from on high, and do not follow their errant views, forsaking the truth that has come unto thee. Unto every one of you have We appointed a [different] law and way of life. And if God had so willed, He could surely have made you all one single community: but [He willed it otherwise] in order to test you by means of what He has vouchsafed unto, you. Vie, then, with one another in doing good works! Unto God you all must return; and then He will make you truly understand all that on which you were wont to differ.” – Quran 5:48
10. Declared that diversity and inclusion is the right way and made consciousness the criteria for morality
“O men! Behold, We have created you all out of a male and a female, [and have made you into nations and tribes, so that you might come to know one another. Verily, the noblest of you in the sight of God is the one who is most deeply conscious of Him. Behold, God is all-knowing, all-aware.” – Quran 49:13