Fourteen hundred years ago, the Holy Quran announced,
“There is no compulsion in religion. Surely, right has become distinct from wrong; so, whosoever refuses to be led by those who lead astray and believes in Allah (by following the course beneficial to human development and progress), has surely grasped a strong handle which knows no breaking. And Allah is All-Hearing, All-Knowing. Allah is the friend of those who believe: He brings them out of every kind of darkness into light. And those who disbelieve, their friends are the transgressors who bring them out of light into every kind of darkness. These are the inmates of the Fire; therein shall they abide.” (2:256/257-257/258)
People are free to choose and practice their religions. Humans possessing free will cannot exercise their comprehension if there is compulsion, and, therefore, they will be constrained from using their faculties to analyze and distinguish the right from wrong. Without the freedom of conscience, they will not be able to observe themselves and exhibit to others the benefits to humanity emanating from the exercise of the free will. Compulsion would hinder humans from developing their natural abilities to the fullest.
Compulsion is not necessary because the beneficial and harmful aspects of human actions have been manifestly distinguished from each other through revelation on the one hand and through every day human experience on the other hand. If God is the creator and fashioner of this world, then his word, the functioning of his creation and the human experience on earth, should be in harmony with each other and should support each other. There should be no contradiction between revelation and the knowledge developed from the long human experience on earth.
The right course justifies itself by manifesting that it is beneficial to the human body, mind, heart and spirit and it contributes positively to human physical, intellectual, social, economic and spiritual well-being, and progress. If a course or a lifestyle proposed by an ideology or religion is not proven beneficial to humans through their experience over centuries, then either it is misrepresented, misinterpreted or is a human addition.
The word of God is not arbitrary, rather is based on reason and knowledge.
The heavenly guidance is provided for the benefit of people. Its purpose is to help people to tread on a course that helps in their progress, makes them stronger and resilient to change and diversity. Adherence to these principles improves human condition. When people deviate from heavenly guidance supported and validated by long term human experience, humans are pushed in diverse directions proposed by self-styled leaders that cause harm to individuals, families and societies.
Deviation from the right course affects overall human progress and achievement and mires individuals, families and societies into the fires of anguish, distrust, quarrel, discord, unrest, disorder, disease and even war, confirming the truth of true revelation and thus also validating the existence of God.
The gift of freedom of religion flourishes with free will recognition and free will righteous fellowship of the right course.
Ahmad is a regular contributor to The Forum’s opinion pages. He has translated, compiled and co-authored “A Gift for the Queen,” “Points to Ponder,” “Why Islam is my choice” and “Words of Wisdom.” He lives in Jamestown, N.D., and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org