By: Dr Alhagi Manta Drammeh (FHAE, FRSA, UK)
Islam is a divinity, a theology and a revelation that should not be used for personal interests and promotion of an ideology. Upon his arrival at Yathrib that became known as Medina, the Prophet of Islam Muhammad did not convert it. Rather Prophet Muhammad entrenched the values of good governance and the ideals of citizenship. In fact, Prophet Muhammad instituted and proclaimed the notion of human equality as enshrined in the Medina Document (Kitab al-Madinah). This historic document is one of the first documents for the promotion of universal human rights and freedoms. It is a document that is civic par excellence and it is meant to organise the people of Medina as equal citizens regardless of their religion, race, ethnicity and linguistic backgrounds. As universal concepts are more comprehensible when typified with examples to characterise their nature, it may be pertinent to highlight the Madinah document to assess the notions of pluralism and freedom in Islam. It is understood that this important document in its very early paragraphs recognises plurality and diversity on the basis of justice qist and good maruf. It recognises the Jews as having their distinct religion, customs and traditions that have to be respected and treated with fairness adl and equality sawa’. All the three Abrahamic faiths, namely, Judaism, Christianity and Islam call for freedom and human dignity. The document promotes, among others, pluralism and freedom.
Pluralism portrays the system of power among different economic and, religious and geographical groupings. Pluralism is a system which develops individual capacities, protects individual rights and freedoms, identifies social problems and promotes a politics of “incremental” change. This is possible in the political arena where competing interests are reconciled and resolved. Alternatively, some mechanisms may be instituted around professional unions and organisations in order that individuals can articulate and achieve their goals. On the political plane, major group conflicts are debated. On the other hand, social organisations and economic corporations which lie outside the sphere of the government operate to rectify the imbalance that may occur. It is understood that this important document in its very early paragraphs recognises plurality and diversity on the basis of justice qist and good maruf. It recognises the Jews as having their distinct religion, customs and traditions that have to be respected and treated with fairness adl and equality sawa’. All the three Abrahamic faiths, namely, Judaism, Christianity and Islam call for freedom and human dignity. Islam seeks to provide a balanced, political, socio-economic and theological understanding of freedom which is fundamentally based on the notion of tawhid monotheism.
Freedom as an integral part of Islam, aims at establishing a just society based the rule of law shar’iyyah qanuniyyah, respect of human dignity karamat al-Insan which is established by Islam and all other divine religions.
Freedom has many dimensions, namely freedom of speech, of opinion and thinking. Nonetheless, these freedoms as Muslims believe are guided by certain religious constants. Freedom is closely associated with human reason, which is deemed as a blessing for mankind to explore and unravel the secrets not only of the universe but also of social and natural and even complex psychological laws and relations. The importance of freedom/liberty lies in the fact that it is a vehicle through which individuals obtain their due recognition and can speak freely of their ideas without fear of retribution. It emphasises the precedence of the development of the personality of the citizens and allowing them to have more options and choices. With freedom and plurality, ideas can be created and innovation can occur. Indeed, latent potentials can be unleashed for the betterment of nations and humanity.
Overall, politics is about rationalisation of the best in terms of governance and developing the best conduct of relationships and interaction between the ruler and the ruled. This is left to the people to decide depending on their history, culture and collective experiences. This collective wisdom or experience, I believe can be best reached through the principle of shura (mutual consultation) In effect, the names may not be helpful if the outcomes do not promote the values I have referred to earlier regarding the rule of law, the sanctity of human life and equality of all. In the end, I must say that religion should not be conflated with ideology.
(Dr Alhagi is an Associate Professor at The Muslim College, London and Researcher at London Central Mosque)