Scripture tells us that Man early on made the mistaken choice of partaking of the forbidden fruit thereby making him disobedient to God and leading to his downfall. The opportunity or freedom to make a choice is a gift given to Man by God, which even the angels do not possess---the gift of freewill. Over time the prophets of God have continually reminded Man that the gift of freewill or freedom to make choices comes with the responsibility to exercise it correctly and also serves as a test of Man’s gratitude to God in that he should exercise it in obedience to God’s commands.
The gift of freewill grants Man freedom to make choices. As taught to Man early on, that freedom is not absolute and not without consequences.
Today we see manifold instances of Man leading his life in a manner where the freedom to do as he pleases seems to be the paramount consideration. He dresses as he pleases, eats whatever he fancies, carries on his trade however he wishes, spends his earnings however he likes and entertains himself in whatever way he desires and so on.
Man today cherishes his unrestrained freedom and will readily and quickly oppose whatever limitations are imposed upon it, unless he, in the first place chooses to agree to such limitations. In so doing, Man believes that he, and he alone, knows best what is good for him and how best to regulate his affairs.
This is exemplified in the system of government in place today where Man alone decides what is legal and what is illegal in the society he lives in. Parliament or Congress or whatever similar institution that Man has created is often vested with the power to pass whatever law it pleases, perhaps constrained only by a Constitution in place that was drawn up by some of their number. Such laws, or in some instances the Constitution, is touted as the supreme law of the land.
This is democracy at work, where the will of the majority holds sway, constrained only by convention or by a written constitution drawn up by Man. Large sectors of mankind hold to the belief that such democracy, crafted on or modified from the Westminster model, is the best form of government that can be had.
Democracy however, to the extent that it permits Man unrestrained freedom to make choices in the exercise of his freewill and to absolutely legislate and regulate his own affairs, is contrary to Islam and has resulted in disastrous consequences for Man. One needs only consider the growing instances where Man has legalized same-sex marriages to appreciate the dangers inherent in unbridled freedom and the fallacy that Man knows what is best for himself .The fact that such legislation approving same-sex marriages emanates from the so-called developed nations that supposedly have the best-educated and most capable people the world has ever had is all the more alarming.
Any attempt to curtail such licentiousness on the part of Man in exercising unrestrained freedom is often met by stern opposition and there is no shortage of those who will beat the war-drums in their battle-cry for absolute or near-absolute freedom. These “warriors” for such unbridled freedom must be reminded of the worshippers of freedom described by the poet, Kahlil Gibran.
“At the city gate and by your fireside I have seen you prostrate yourself and worship your own freedom,
Even as slaves humble themselves before a tyrant and praise him though he slays them.
Ay, in the grove of the temple and in the shadow of the citadel I have seen the freest among you wear their freedom as a yoke and a handcuff.
And my heart bled within me; for you can only be free when even the desire of seeking freedom becomes a harness to you, and when you cease to speak of freedom as a goal and a fulfilment.
You shall be free indeed when your days are not without a care nor your nights without a want and a grief,
But rather when these things girdle your life and yet you rise above them naked and unbound.
And how shall you rise beyond your days and nights unless you break the chains which you at the dawn of your understanding have fastened around your noon hour?
In truth that which you call freedom is the strongest of these chains, though its links glitter in the sun and dazzle the eyes.”
Sadly amongst these “warriors” are those that call and consider themselves muslims. Whilst considering themselves adherents of Islam, their love-affair with freedom has caused them to fail to appreciate that Islam means “submission to God”.
They should ask themselves the question:
“What do you submit to God, if not your freedom and your freewill?”
Is it not that when you subjugate your own desires to the will of God that you truly submit to Him? Is this not what fasting during Ramadhan is all about where Man overcomes the strongest physical desires that he has (the desire for food, drink and sex) and control and submit these desires to God’s commands so as to earn the good pleasure of God?
What merit is there if Man merely submits to that which is agreeable to him? Does not submission entail submitting also to that which is disagreeable to him?
As described by Shaykh Fadhlalla Haeri in his "Living Islam - East & West ":
“The purification of the heart occurs degree by degree, and the way to this purification is by going against one's own personal selfish motives, desires, expectations, and so on. This is called the struggle of the self, al-jihad an-nafs. Maintaining this jihad constantly, and keeping diligently to the shari'ah (the body of Islamic law) as it has come to us, one eventually ends up being the free man who is a true slave.” (emphasis added)
Sadly, amongst Man are those who are too arrogant to become the slaves or servants of God. They forget that even Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) frequently referred to himself as the slave of God, and they cannot comprehend what is said by Shakyh Fadhalla that it is when you are a true slave of God that you are truly free.
They demand or expect that God’s commands must meet with the dictates of their sense of reason, and hence anything and everything that does not appeal to their sense of reason and logic must be rejected. In doing so they fall prey to that most subtle and dangerous form of shirk, which is the worship of one’s own mind. In this they follow the path trodden by Iblis who followed the dictates of his mind in considering himself superior to Man and thus justifying his rejection of God’s command to bow down to Adam (pbuh).
These people also fail to heed the lessons of the account of Prophet Musa’s encounter with Khidr where one of God’s mightiest prophets, who was taught and instructed by God, nevertheless had limitations in his understanding and knowledge.
They fail too to appreciate the example of Prophet Ibrahim (pbuh) who clearly submitted his own sense of reason and desire in submitting to God by being prepared to sacrifice his own son.
It is not meant by the aforesaid that Man must discard his sense of reason absolutely. Reason, being one of the special gifts to Man by God, is certainly to be used, even in matters of submitting to God, but even “Reason” must submit to God. Thus where a command is clearly from God and from Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and is couched in clear and unequivocal terms, it is not open to Man to consider whether he may or may not obey. His freedom in the exercise of his freewill must end there. God Almighty did instruct us in the Holy Qur’an that:
“It is not fitting for a Believer, man or woman, when a matter has been decided by Allah and His Messenger to have any option about their decision: if any one disobeys Allah and His Messenger, he is indeed on a clearly wrong Path.”_ _ _ (Surah 33:36)
Man must choose and decide whether he is to be the servant of God or the slave of Reason. Man must decide whether he is to continue earning the displeasure of God by partaking of the forbidden fruit.