IS FREEDOM RESTRICTIVE?
By: Kassim Ahmad
6th June, 2006
Wan Azhar Wan Ahmad of IKIM, in his weekly Tuesday column (The Star, 6th June, p. 32), makes the provocative statement: “Man has no right to do wrong.” In a discussion on freedom, does this statement make sense? I think not.
In order to be free, man must be free to make mistakes. To learn by trial and error, a human trait, perhaps a trait of all forms of life, is a fact of life. A child cannot learn to walk unless he falls a few times before he can properly walk. This rule applies universally.
When God wanted to create Adam, a human being, His vicegerent on Earth, the angels protested, because the angels only knew the animal kingdom, peopled by havoc-making beings. God simply replied that He knew better, because God knows the future as the present – an Eternal Now. So the angels were ordered to bow down to Adam, an unheard of order, because Adam was only a creature, a servant of God, Only Whom all beings bow down to. One of the angles did not obey the divine order, and he automatically became the Devil, the perennial opponent of the Lord. The principle of rebellion against God is, hereby, introduced into the concept of freedom. Man’s freedom to believe in God must, ipso facto, include his freedom not to believe in Him. Therefore, the so-called Hadith punishment of apostasy is illegal in a true concept of divine law, or Syariah.
This allegorical story of the creation of Adam serves to show the complementarity of opposites. Even God, the Absolute Master, allows opposition to Him, because without opposition, the Truth, in fact He, God, cannot be revealed.
Wan Azhar, in that article, counterposed humanism to Islamic worldview. Is this correct? Is Islam against humanism? I think not. The concept of Adam, Man, as vicegerent of God on Earth, extended to cover the whole Cosmos or God’s creation, is a very strong Divine endorsement of Man and his place in the Universe. God Himself places the whole of His creation in the service of Man. This is confirmed by His order to the Angles to bow down to Adam.
I think the confusion arise in the concept of humanism. The term “secular humanism” that Wan Azhar uses in that article refers to a defective concept of humanism, a humanism that is sectarian and not universal, and therefore devoid of moral and spiritual dimensions – a materialist humanism, if you like, that has led to worldwide European colonialism, two disastrous World Wars, and great chaos in the world, climaxing in what is now called globalization.
Wan Azhar makes the same mistake, equating the present mostly man-made extra-Quranic Syariah with the true divine-based Law.
As in all things, freedom should be understood in its entire sweep of cosmic movement. Man, of course, came from an unfree state. He originates from the bowels of the Earth, coming through the ladder of evolution, up and up until at a historical point he became human (at which point this story of Adam’s creation takes place), yet going further up and up, eons from now, till this honoured and perfected creature of God meets Him to achieve the great destiny of Man that God has planned for him.
Although Wan Azhar does not does not consider philosophical determinism as opposed to the concept of freedom, it is pertinent that we should briefly refer to it. God’s creation is said to be done in exact measure, apparently meaning that everything has been decided from beginning to end. Since philosophical determinism goes counter to the concept of man’s responsibility and punishment, the Muslim theologians have constructed a half-way house, called in Arabic ikhtiyar or to strive. This term, however, does not connote real freedom, but simply an attempt to apply a freedom that is somehow limited. To understand the matter clearly, we have to clearly distinguish between the comprehensive knowledge of an All-Knowledgeable God, on the one hand, and His actions or His desires, on the other. God, being Perfect, simply does not originate or propagate evil. Evil, as we have seen, is the result of the principle of rebellion born out of the concept of freedom given to Man.
In that story, God forbids Adam and his wife, Eve, from approaching the Tree of Knowledge. This is God’s way of telling us that knowledge is highly dangerous, but He did not really stop Adam and Eve from doing that. In fact, He allows the Devil to entice them to do just that. So today we understand the terrible meaning of that censure. We are in possession of such great power, nuclear energy, that we can literally wipe the human race from the face of the Earth, or create a paradise on it! This grand story serves to show that only the morally fit among mankind can and should bear the awesome burden of responsibility.
Now, look at how the opposites have come into play to salvage the situation. We know that George W. Bush and his gang of neo-conservative thugs (I wish I can use better words to describe them!) would like to obliterate the Earth, if they can ensure their survival. This they obviously cannot.
Now we can understand God’s wisdom when He silenced the opposition of the protesting angels by simply saying He knew better. Many of us, throughout the ages, never believed that a better world was going to be born and we remained loyal to or compromised with the oligarchical slave system of oppression. But the prophets, since the time of Noah, if not earlier, up to Moses, Jesus and Muhammad, did and fought to change it, and they were and are right. The slave leader, Spartacus, who rose against the might of Rome, believed in that and fought. Had they not fought, would we be here today?
Of course, the good people of the world want to see a moral world being born tomorrow to replace the system of immorality of Bush and his worldwide gang of fascists. But, if these good people are free, and they are free, how can they get that world without fighting for it? Having misbehaved themselves these last ten years and more down the years and ages, this gang of thugs have thoroughly exposed the devilish intent of their minds? Now that that lies exposed to the world, the world can and will make the final inevitable judgement!
That is how Man progresses morally and spiritually. Therefore, to be truly free, we must be free to do wrong, so that the wrong can be exposed, contained and eliminated by the willing actions of free men.
Kassim Ahmad is a Malaysian free-lance writer living in Penang. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org). His website is: www.kassimahmad.blogspot.com