By Sarah Suleman,
Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
Recently, on my way out, careful calibration of text caught my eye from a billboard. It was an Ayah from the Qur’an on freedom in which all of Mankind is instructed by the Almighty Lord to be free. It was then that a very controversial thought process began in my mind. I wondered if it was possible that the Ayah had been mistyped because freedom in most of our minds is an idea that Islam thoroughly opposes. If we are to be free, I said to myself, does that mean I can take off my Hijab? Does it mean I am now permitted to gamble, to party, to feel my head in the clouds with a bottle of beer? And if I still cannot do any of that, what on Earth does He mean by freedom?
Let’s be real for a second because that really is the only way to strengthen our faith. Our hearts are designed to want and most of the times it’s the things we’re forbidden to enjoin in that we desire. We’ve all had those moments and some of us have them every single day. Before it gets too late, we must acknowledge these unlawful desires like a ticking time bomb that you wouldn’t otherwise ignore. The more we push these wants away without actually reasoning with ourselves, the farther in we fall into Satan’s trap.
As two sides ferociously battled in my thoughts, I found myself posing a question: What is freedom?
What is freedom?
There are very few of us who think of freedom in its true meaning. Freedom is not partying, getting drunk, feeling high, and showing off your materialistic assets or even unlawful relationships with the opposite gender. That is not even a pint of what freedom is. It took one billboard to reconcile this long burning conflict in my heart. The idea that is fed to us through movies and books is merely a misconception. Usually, when I listen to someone talking about how movies are a part of the Western propaganda, it infuriates me because some things are just pure luxury. But then I realized that’s not how viewers take it. I am no judge of whether or not the creators of movies and books embodying freedom and lack of religion intend to affect us badly but what I can say is that it is in our hands to decide how far we take in what we watch.
A concept of anything is seen in varying forms to different people. For example; Muslims believe that death is a transition of the soul to the afterlife while Atheists believe that death is just the permanent hibernation of the brain stem. Both kinds of people interpret the same thing in different forms.
Similarly, different nations learned different languages and if all were asked to speak English, every single nation would have a different pronunciation for one word. The British enunciate the T in Water while the Americans fleetingly pronounce the T.
However; in the case of freedom, the Western ideologies are what are fed worldwide to people. We absorb what we see so deeply that we believe it is the way of life. The movies we watch play a great role in determining how we will interpret foreign ideas. If we did not know of the word water, for example, and we suddenly heard an American TV actor say it, we would ignore the traditional pronunciation of our British tongue and say wahter just like an American.
In exactly this way, the idea of freedom was untouched and foreign to most of our minds. But then the movies rolled in, portraying what freedom is to them and we begrudgingly realized that freedom was against our religious policies.
But if you analyze it like we just did, it will dawn upon you that freedom was something we could not interpret and the movies did it their way. Instinctively, we absorbed this foreign idea without once consulting what our own interpretation of freedom was. Many different tongues argue about the correct pronunciation although each one of them is probably correct. Why did we not oppose the idea of freedom? Why have we simply absorbed it? Why are you currently living under an impression that was handed to you instead of thinking logically?
If freedom really does mean having no care for consequences then why do their hearts still feel fear? Why do they feel guilt, regret or remorse? If freedom really does mean letting go of all of their worries, why do they still experience anxiety? If they were really free, do you not think their hearts would humbly bear the similitude of a calm sea? But it doesn’t. And you need to ask yourself why. And once you have the answer to that, ask yourself once again: What is freedom?
Let’s analyze the first aspect, why. Why are they not free of all the gut wrenching emotions that can send us spiraling down a devastated path? Because freedom is not all they say it is. In fact, it is none of it. Freedom is an entity that arises from within. Our hearts make way for it and until our hearts are not free, we will continue to feel all of these unwanted feelings. Take for example, we’re in a deep financial debt. We realize our desperate situation and strategically aim to exit this financial debt. It takes a considerably long period of time while we work out how to boost our sales, manage expenses and pay off the debt. But once we finally attain financial freedom, are we really free? Does it mean that we are financially safe?
Chris Shipley accurately sheds light on the answer to this question. Are we free? “Not really. See, our hearts,” he says, “-which drove us into debt in the first place, remain unchanged. It may be the case, and unfortunately it often is, that as soon as we get out of debt, we plunge right back into it. Why? Because our hearts see and desire something it cannot live without. So we buy it, and voila! We’re in debt again. So, if our hearts are not changed, neither will our behavior change.” Therefore, we’ll be in a continual process of exiting and re-entering debt. True freedom begins in the heart. He concludes, “We act on our thoughts and behave according to our desires.”
So now let’s ask ourselves: What is freedom? Perhaps we should rephrase that question. What is true freedom?
There is a debt every human has and it’s not something that can be physically removed or cleared out with a bundle of cash or anything materialistically valuable. No, our debt is far deeper. It’s a debt of will and the captivity of our hearts. The real reason that you feel imprisoned is not your religion. It’s not because you can’t do everything they do in the movies. It’s because your heart is captive. And the only way to free your heart, to obtain true and real freedom was in that Ayah.
Freedom is something we must lead ourselves to. The path to this goal is the path which Allah (swt) asks us to take. That of the righteous servant. We can use a concept as simple as giving charity and giving hope to someone because it immediately brings relief to your heart.
He tells us to be free in the right way; in His way because it is not our bodies that are captive because we cover ourselves or protect our bodily assets or refuse to be taken advantage of. It’s our hearts that are captive and getting drunk or taking off your Hijab will not make you feel any less captive.
Islam is not a barrier to our freedom. Instead, it’s the best road to take. Do not be of those that continue to stray under the false impression of what freedom is. If your logic tells you it’s water, don’t say wahter. If your logic tells you freedom is inborn, don’t try free yourself by selling your soul.