In Quran Allah SWT repeatedly mentions a term ‘سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ’ which means ‘Way of God’ (Allah ka raasta). As believers our objective should be to follow this path of God and advise others to do the same. The obvious question that comes to one’s mind would be how can we recognize this path? I shall try to answer this question as per my humble understanding in this article. I must acknowledge the valuable contribution of my mentor and friend, Syed Nauman Hashmi, in helping me to develop this understanding.
One way to recognize this ‘Way of God’ is through the Quranic concept of ‘Halal and Haram’ which deals with the things that have been made ‘lawful and unlawful’ respectively by Allah SWT. We can divide them into ‘freedoms and restrictions’. Way of God is a path between these two boundaries
- Not making lawful which Allah has made unlawful (haram ko halal na kerna). This part deals with restrictions that can’t be removed.
- Not making unlawful which Allah has made lawful (halal ko haram na kerna). This boundary deals with freedoms that can’t be denied.
Usually it is considered that enforcing restrictions, not allowing making of unlawful things lawful, are more important aspect of religion. For example theft, adultery, murder etc are declared unlawful and now it can’t be made lawful. Most of the time people focus on ‘enforcing these restrictions’.
But unlike this common perception, perhaps the more important aspect of the religion deals with the freedoms; that is to keep the ‘freedoms intact’ rather than to keep the ‘restrictions enforced’. In Quran Allah SWT has described three goals of Prophethood in following words
He (the Prophet) enjoins upon them what is right and forbids them what is wrong, and makes lawful for them the good things and makes unlawful for them evil thing,s and relieves them of their burden and the shackles which were upon them. [7:157]
The third and last goal is to relieve people from unwarranted restrictions on their freedoms. The same is also mentioned in 4:28 and at another place, 22:78, where Allah SWT said that He doesn’t intend to make religion a means of inflicting hardship.
This is the reason why preventing people from doing what is made lawful has been declared a great sin by Allah SWT. Quran used a special term “صَدٌّ عَنْ سَبِيلِ” for this purpose which means ‘hindering or preventing from way of God’ (Allah kay raastay say rokna). In Quran this term has been used repeatedly in the context of oppressing people and restricting their freedom i.e. 2:217, 3:99, 4:160, 7:86, 8;36, 14:3, 11:9, 16:88, 47:1, 58:16.
For example in 2:217, Allah SWT declared that ‘hindering people from way of God’ is a greater sin than fighting during the holy months and compared it with the sin of disbelief. It is even mentioned that oppression is worse than killing.
They ask you of war in the holy month. Tell them: “To fight in that month is a great sin. But a greater sin in the eyes of God is to hinder people from the way of God, and not to believe in Him, and to bar access to the Holy Mosque and turn people out of its precincts; and oppression is worse than killing [2:217].
Furthermore it is highlighted at multiple occasions that what is made lawful (halal) can’t be made unlawful (haram), i.e. 5:87, 6:119, 6:138, 6:140, 6:148, 7:32, 7:157, 10:59, 16:35, 16:116, 66:1.
In the verse below the crime mentioned is restricting what was allowed rather than doing what was forbidden.
O ye who believe! make not unlawful the good things which Allah hath made lawful for you, but commit no excess: for Allah loveth not those given to excess. [5:87]
Nobody is allowed to forbid anyone from what God has made lawful.
Who has forbidden the adornment of Allah which He has produced for His servants and the good [lawful] things of provision? [7:32]
This is a crime committed by the previous nations as well.
Those who associated with Allah will say, “If Allah had willed, we would not have associated [anything] and neither would our fathers, nor would we have prohibited anything.“[6:148]
What to talk about enforcing others, Allah even forbade His Prophet SAW from doing it to himself.
O Prophet, why do you prohibit [yourself from] what Allah has made lawful for you [66:1]
The point is that the things which are made lawful, freedom, by Allah SWT can’t be made unlawful by people or government. There are many freedoms mentioned in Quran, I shall discuss few examples below, but it is important to note that it is a general principle of Islamic Jurisprudence that everything is allowed unless it has been explicitly forbidden. It means the freedoms which are not explicitly mentioned also exist.
Just to give an example, if the government declares adultery lawful it will be considered a great sin against the religion. There will be angry reaction from the religious fraternity and people will be out on the streets raging in anger. But on the other hand consider the example of ‘trade’; which is not only made lawful (2:275), but people are allowed to do it with the free will (4:29).
O you who have believed, do not consume one another’s wealth unjustly but only [in lawful] trade by mutual consent [4:29].
If the government bars people from trading certain items (by making it unlawful) or impose undue restrictions or duties, means consuming people’s wealth unjustly, on trade nothing will happen. It won’t be even considered much of an issue especially from the religious point of view.
This aspect of religion is largely ignored that it is not only about ‘restricting people’ from doing certain things but it also about allowing people to do things with free will. At times it requires a lot of filling in the blanks to infer the particular freedom from a verse. See another example.
O ye who believe! Guard your duty to Allah, and speak words straight to the point. [33:70]
This verse shows that ‘talking straight’ is not an option but an obligation on the ‘way of God’. We can infer from it that the government can’t stop people from expressing their honest views otherwise it would be equivalent to preventing people from ‘way of God’. Any attempt from the government to curb this freedom should be met with strong resistance from the people.
There can be many such examples found in Quran where people are given freedoms and asked to do things in a certain way. Unfortunately, over the years people have been educated on the lines that religion is more to do with restrictions rather than freedoms. When we talk about a religious state the picture that appears in one’s mind is that it will impose strict hardships on the people and make their lives, especially the women and minorities, very difficult. Perhaps that’s the reason why people don’t consider it much of a religious issue when government curbs the freedoms or powerful groups oppress the society. It is the need of the hour that as a society we realize these freedoms are the essence of our religion. Any attempt to curb these freedoms should be considered against the teachings of Islam in the same manner we consider lifting the restrictions on unlawful things (adultery, interest etc) or when people are barred from performing religious rituals like fasting (this happened in China recently). Our Prophet SAW came to relieve people from their undue burdens and we should all try to strive for a society where people can live with freedom within the limits defined by Allah SAW.
May Allah guide us all in our pursuits in the ‘way of God’.