In the present world, one of the major things for which the developed countries are known for is the freedom of speech. The notion is that it is one of the fundamental human rights to speak one’s mind and in every civilized society the individuals are free to have their own opinion and express their opinion the way they desire.
There is no denying the importance of freedom of speech, however like every other freedom there is a very thin line in keeping something a freedom and its exploitation. The act, which could be freedom of speech for one person at the same time it could be a hurtful expression for the other person, therefore, the differentiation between freedom of speech and its exploitation, is of grave importance.
One of the primary entities that have got effected from the freedom of speech in a negative way is religion. Throughout history, people have spoken against each other’s religion and this speech has caused great wars and devastation. At present Islam has suffered the most behind the smokescreen of freedom of speech. There have been numerous incidents in the past decade where the non-Muslims have spoken about Islam in a demeaning and belittling manner, which has hurt the feelings of Muslims and caused great distress among nations. The lines below discuss how the westerners have exploited the freedom of speech and what is the stand of Islam pertaining to freedom of speech and where should a Muslim draw the line.
In the past decade, there have been caricatures of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), which are forbidden in Islam. In addition, on more than one occasion the Westerners have initiated talks and movements that were targeted against Islam and hateful speeches have been made. All of these hurt the feelings of Muslims across the globe, however, when Muslims recorded their protests against such acts, the only justification for the actions of their people, the Western nations came up with the cliché of freedom of speech. They regard all the actions of their members as freedom of speech and consider it to be their right to speak about anything in any way they want. On the flipside, when there are people who speak against the Western oppression of Muslim countries and the exploitation of people that takes place there, the Westerns regard it as propaganda. This is what is the dual and biased approach of the West and it in the true sense is exploiting the freedom to speech or expression notion. The line between freedom of expression and its exploitation has yet not been defined and the West continues on targeting Islam behind the banner of freedom of speech.
Islam has a clear and different perspective pertaining to freedom of speech compared to West. Islam realizes that whether a person is Muslim or a non-Muslim they all have feelings and those feelings are not to be hurt either in words or in any other form of expression. Pertaining to any speech that causes distress among people and hurts their feeling, Allah Almighty says in Quran:
“Allah loveth not the evil should be noised abroad in public speech, except where injustice hath been done; for Allah is He who heareth and knoweth all things.” (4:149)
In this ayah it is clear that Allah does not like the proclamation or the speech of evil in the public, until and unless it is done by someone who has been wronged. The thing that can be inferred (Allah knows Better) is that one is not to speak evil in public. Now the definition of evil no matter how relative and various it be, it will always come to something that is hurtful for a group of people or humanity. Therefore, any speech that is hurtful to humanity should be refrained to be spoken in public as it can cause coercion and division between people. Therefore, if there isn’t injustice against which the speech is made, one must refrain from any hurtful or evil speech that causes problem for people.
Pertaining to the kind of speech that one is allowed to make that is within his or her right and the speech from which one should refrain, despite having the power and ability of expressing it freely, in Quran Allah Almighty says:
“Let there arise out of you a band of people inviting to all that is good, enjoining what is right, and forbidding what is wrong; they are the ones to attain felicity.” (3:104)
From this ayah the message is clear and that is that those who wish to be successful and be among the ones loved by Allah, they need to invite people towards good and forbid evil. This is the clear criterion for a Muslim when it comes to differentiating between freedom of speech and its abuse. A Muslim is allowed to speak of things that are good, not just for the Muslim Ummah but the whole of humanity, whereas a Muslim is forbidden to speak evil or he or she is to detest evil whether it is against the Muslim Ummah or the whole of humanity.
Islam gives this right to Muslims that they should stand for what is good. It means that they have this duty of propagating what is good so that more people could benefit from that truth and the whole of humanity can better its plight and benefit from it. Now this good is not just limited to telling people about something good, rather it is also the duty of a Muslim to make sure that if there is injustice or evil in the society, the people should know about it as well so that the people could refrain from it and the humanity could survive in a better way.
When it comes to forbidding of evil, a Muslim is allowed to make the speech but in making that speech as well a Muslim must pay heed to the fact that the speech should be directed towards the evil and not the people performing it. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) did the same all His life, but the way He forbade is different from what the people of today do in the name of freedom of speech and righteousness. He spoke with people kindly and presented to them the view of Islam in the best manner possible.
In Quran Allah says:
“….speak fair to the people….” (2:83)
Furthermore, Allah Almighty said:
“Invite (all) to the way of thy Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious: for thy Lord knoweth, best who have strayed from His Path, and who receive guidance.” (16:125)
A Muslim believes that Islam is the true religion, but still Islam does not encourage demeaning or speaking foul about other religions, rather Allah tells Prophet (PBUH) to call people to the religion with wisdom and beautiful preaching and the arguments used in this regard should be full of graciousness. Therefore, a Muslim is not allowed to be harsh, full of hatred or condescending to people of other religion as a means of preaching the right religion. If this is what Islam says about the absolute truth, then one can easily get the idea that how a person is to use his or her right of speech when it comes to speaking about general truth and realities of life.
In a nutshell, Muslim is to speak about good and refrain from evil speech. However, whenever speaking about good and forbidding evil a Muslim is to find the best and politest manner of speech otherwise it would be the same as what the Western people do at present where the freedom of speech is exploited by their hatred of Islam.