I WONDER IF the all-caps, hyphenated form of the word does it the same justice as Mel Gibson’s holler at the end of Braveheart. Indeed, freedom is quite the weighty word. And however philosophers, linguistic scholars, and lawmakers have defined it, it has no singular representation.
For a teenager, having no curfew would constitute freedom, while a mother might claim it in an uninterrupted bath. A blue-collar individual would say it is in working flexible hours. And a quadriplegic could respond that, rather, it is the power to move his limbs. Likewise, an atheist might declare the outlawing of religion to be the greatest liberation, whereas a people might envision it in political autonomy.
An accurate description of freedom is elusive. But broadly termed, it is the capacity to exercise free will in every domain and sphere of life. We experience this in its most raw form when we decide to open our eyes each morning. Nothing is more treasured to us than this birthright of free will that makes us distinct from the angels, who only
…do what they are commanded. [Sûrat Al-Tahrîm, 66:6]
And although we should act similarly, for we are but slaves of Allah and owe our very existence to Him, we possess an ability (by Divine permission) to defy this right, which we too often exploit. This is notwithstanding our good fortune, for we are subordinate to One Who loves us and is not in need of us.
Then, why is it, time and again, that we are instead willing slaves to other than Him, whether it is to our lifestyles, relationships, or assets? The rebel in us cheers at the thought of being free. Yet, things as petty as Facebook, food, and fun all but rule our lives. We sigh as elders caution us against carelessly placing ourselves in such restraints. Still, our freedoms tend to be invisible to us, and we do not even fathom a reality that is void of them.
So, let us take stock of our lives and relish the choices we so easily make. There is freedom in lifting a cup directly to your lips and taking a sip, in seeing your family without anyone stopping you, in rightfully believing that you can trust someone, in being able to make future plans.
All this is possible because our Lord lets us do as we please. In comparison, any worldly superior, by virtue of status and human nature, demands the right to abridge the other’s right to absolute freedom. Such people believe they have the license to own another being, literally or metaphorically. In doing so, they reduce freedom, from the privilege of having one’s own choice, to being merely the ability to escape someone else’s. How could they, when Islam taught us that each soul is born free? Indeed, every person is just that—a wholesome individual with his own destiny.
Sure, we have certain roles in life that necessitate degrees of compliance. Children must listen to parents, students to teachers, wives to husbands, workers to bosses. But, subservience? The Prophet ﷺ said:
There is no obedience [obligated] to anyone [when it is] in disobedience to Allah. Verily, obedience is in that which is correct. (Bukhâri)
Hence, kids must do as told, but only so far as it coincides with righteousness. Educators are to be respected, but not when imparting misinformation. Wives are to go along with their spouses, but not against their principles or religion. Employees must abide by company policies, but only if those policies are ethically responsible.
I wish our elders would tell us this and of the struggle we mostly always must undertake for our freedoms, our rights. Perhaps they do not do so, for fear that we might apply this to our relationship with them. Maybe they do not want to darken what seem like horizons to us, but are graying skies to them. It is possible that they do not delve into this because, then, we would ask: Is every single issue a matter of freedom?
Or does responsibility factor in somehow? Do you always have to wrest away your rights? Or is there reward in biding your time, knowing that the tables will eventually turn? There are no standard answers because, truly, these are no easy questions. Life has no “one size fits all” solution.
Yet, the most useful lesson they can give us, at the end of the day, is, that you are you—that is your freedom. When we remember that, we will wake up in the morning, knowing who we are. And when we go to sleep in our graves, we can answer for who we were. It is this—being you as a Muslim—that guarantees us a life wherein we will be among those for whom,
There shall be no fear for them, nor shall they grieve. [Surat Al-Baqarah, 2:38]
Is that not the ultimate freedom, after all?