The Principles of Religious Freedom in Islam
By Rifyal Ka‘bahÒ
The term “religious freedom” is unknown in the sources of Islam. It was introduced officially through a document of the United Nations Organization in 1948, called the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It was said that the religious freedom is one of the basic principles of human rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a matter of fact is not something new at all in the history. The same principles or the similar ones were contained in the Bill of Rights of the United States and whithin the constitution England there was Magma Charta and also in the teachings of European Philosophers such as Lock and Montesqieu there were some principles which later on known as the basic principles of human rights, and one of them is the freedom of religion.
Although the term is not known in the sources of Islam, but its meaning to some extent is better explained in the al-Baqarah: 257 and in the all verses of the surah al-Kafirun which I am going to elaborate later. In the meantime, there are also several international documents related to the Decleration of Human Rights in Islam. The First was the out come of the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights
This declaration was adopted and proclaimed by General Assembly resolution 217 A (III) of
Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.
Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief
It was proclaimed by General Assembly resolution 36/55 of
The General Assembly,
Considering that one of the basic principles of the Charter of the United Nations is that of the dignity and equality inherent in all human beings, and that all Member States have pledged themselves to take joint and separate action in co-operation with the Organization to promote and encourage universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion,
Considering that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenants on Human Rights proclaim the principles of non-discrimination and equality before the law and the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief,
Considering that the disregard and infringement of human rights and fundamental freedoms, in particular of the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion or whatever belief, have brought, directly or indirectly, wars and great suffering to mankind, especially where they serve as a means of foreign interference in the internal affairs of other States and amount to kindling hatred between peoples and nations,
Considering that religion or belief, for anyone who professes either, is one of the fundamental elements in his conception of life and that freedom of religion or belief should be fully respected and guaranteed,
Considering that it is essential to promote understanding, tolerance and respect in matters relating to freedom of religion and belief and to ensure that the use of religion or belief for ends inconsistent with the Charter of the United Nations, other relevant instruments of the United Nations and the purposes and principles of the present Declaration is inadmissible,
Convinced that freedom of religion and belief should also contribute to the attainment of the goals of world peace, social justice and friendship among peoples and to the elimination of ideologies or practices of colonialism and racial discrimination,
Noting with satisfaction the adoption of several, and the coming into force of some, conventions, under the aegis of the United Nations and of the specialized agencies, for the elimination of various forms of discrimination,
Concerned by manifestations of intolerance and by the existence of discrimination in matters of religion or belief still in evidence in some areas of the world,
Resolved to adopt all necessary measures for the speedy elimination of such intolerance in all its forms and manifestations and to prevent and combat discrimination on the ground of religion or belief,
Proclaims this Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief:
- Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have a religion or whatever belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.
- No one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have a religion or belief of his choice.
- Freedom to manifest one's religion or belief may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.
- No one shall be subject to discrimination by any State, institution, group of persons, or person on the grounds of religion or other belief.
- For the purposes of the present Declaration, the expression "intolerance and discrimination based on religion or belief" means any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on religion or belief and having as its purpose or as its effect nullification or impairment of the recognition, enjoyment or exercise of human rights and fundamental freedoms on an equal basis.
Discrimination between human beings on the grounds of religion or belief constitutes an affront to human dignity and a disavowal of the principles of the Charter of the United Nations, and shall be condemned as a violation of the human rights and fundamental freedoms proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and enunciated in detail in the International Covenants on Human Rights, and as an obstacle to friendly and peaceful relations between nations.
1. All States shall take effective measures to prevent and eliminate discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief in the recognition, exercise and enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms in all fields of civil, economic, political, social and cultural life.
2. All States shall make all efforts to enact or rescind legislation where necessary to prohibit any such discrimination, and to take all appropriate measures to combat intolerance on the grounds of religion or other beliefs in this matter.
- The parents or, as the case may be, the legal guardians of the child have the right to organize the life within the family in accordance with their religion or belief and bearing in mind the moral education in which they believe the child should be brought up.
- Every child shall enjoy the right to have access to education in the matter of religion or belief in accordance with the wishes of his parents or, as the case may be, legal guardians, and shall not be compelled to receive teaching on religion or belief against the wishes of his parents or legal guardians, the best interests of the child being the guiding principle.
- The child shall be protected from any form of discrimination on the ground of religion or belief. He shall be brought up in a spirit of understanding, tolerance, friendship among peoples, peace and universal brotherhood, respect for freedom of religion or belief of others, and in full consciousness that his energy and talents should be devoted to the service of his fellow men.
- In the case of a child who is not under the care either of his parents or of legal guardians, due account shall be taken of their expressed wishes or of any other proof of their wishes in the matter of religion or belief, the best interests of the child being the guiding principle.
- Practices of a religion or belief in which a child is brought up must not be injurious to his physical or mental health or to his full development, taking into account article 1, paragraph 3, of the present Declaration.
In accordance with article 1 of the present Declaration, and subject to the provisions of article 1, paragraph 3, the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief shall include, inter alia , the following freedoms:
- To worship or assemble in connection with a religion or belief, and to establish and maintain places for these purposes;
- To establish and maintain appropriate charitable or humanitarian institutions;
- To make, acquire and use to an adequate extent the necessary articles and materials related to the rites or customs of a religion or belief;
- To write, issue and disseminate relevant publications in these areas;
- To teach a religion or belief in places suitable for these purposes;
- To solicit and receive voluntary financial and other contributions from individuals and institutions;
- To train, appoint, elect or designate by succession appropriate leaders called for by the requirements and standards of any religion or belief;
- To observe days of rest and to celebrate holidays and ceremonies in accordance with the precepts of one's religion or belief;
- To establish and maintain communications with individuals and communities in matters of religion and belief at the national and international levels.
The rights and freedoms set forth in the present Declaration shall be accorded in national legislation in such a manner that everyone shall be able to avail himself of such rights and freedoms in practice.
Nothing in the present Declaration shall be construed as restricting or derogating from any right defined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenants on Human Rights.
In a document entitled “The Survey on Human Right in Islam and in
In a document entitled “Islamic Declaration of Human Rights” is stated in the point XIII on Right to Freedom of Religion that “Every person has the right to freedom of conscience and worship in accordance with his religious beliefs.”
The Declaration was adopted and issued at the Nineteenth Islamic Conference of Foreign Ministers in
Article I of the Declaration said:
a. All human beings form one family whose members are united by submission to God and descent from Adam. All men are equal in terms of basic human dignity and basic obligations and responsibilities, without any discrimination on the grounds of race, colour, language, sex, religious belief, political affiliation, social status or other considerations. True faith is the guarantee for enhancing such dignity along the path to human perfection.
b. All human beings are God’s subjects, and the most loved by him are those who are most useful to the rest of His subjects, and no one has superiority over another except on the basis of piety and good deeds.
Article 10 said:
Islam is the religion of unspoiled nature. It is prohibited to exercise any form of compulsion on man or to exploit his poverty or ignorance in order to convert him to another religion or to atheism.
Let there be no compulsion in religion. Truth stand out clear from error. Whoever rejects evil and believe in Allah hath grasped the most truthworthy handhold, that never breaks.
‘Abdullah Yusuf ‘Ali commented on this verse by sayng:
“Compulsion is incompatible to religion because (1) religion depends upon faith and will, and these would be meaningless if induced by force; (2) Truth and error have been so clearly shown up by the mercy of Allah that there should be no doubt in the minds of any persons of good will as to the fundamental of faith; (3) Allah’s protection is continuous, and His Plan is always to lead us from the depths of darkness into clearer lights.”
A Medinan Muslim from Bani Salim bin ‘Auf, called al Hussein, had two Christian sons. He asked The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon Him) whether he should force them to become Muslim. Answering this question, the above verse was revealed to the Prophet.
When the Jewish tribes of Qainuqa and Nadir were expelled from
[ight those who believe not to Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messanger, nor acknowledge the religion of truth, from among the people of the book, until they pay jizyah with willing submission and feel themselves subdued.
According to Fathi Osman, the above verse cannot be understood as a license to fight people who may have the character as mentioned above, and it was applied only in the
All the early Muslim documents and practices indicated explicitly that the payment of jizya itself was taken in return for protection and defense. As the reliable Muslim historians al-Baladhari [d. 279 A.H./892 C.E.] and al-Tabari [d. 310 A.H./992 C.E.] reported, that jizya was considered as a cost of defense paid by those who did not want to participate in it. Meanwhile in a modern state where the concept of equal citizenship with equality in all rights and obligations is applied to all citizens, such an exemption of military service or the restriction of its responsibility and honor to a certain group of people is not in question at the moment. To day, non-Muslim citizens in an Islamic state are equal to Muslims in their rights and obligations, and they are are enjoying human rights previlages.
Say: O ye that reject faith! I worship not that which ye worship, nor will ye worship that which I worship. And I will not worship that which ye have been wont to worship, nor will ye worship that which I worship. To you be your way, and to me mine.
‘Abdullah Yusuf ‘Ali commented these verses:
“Faith is a matter of personal conviction, and does not depend on worldly motives. Worship should depend on pure and sincere Faith, but often does not: for motives of worldly gain, ancestral custom, social conventions or imitative instincts, or a lethargic instinct to shrink from enquiring into the real significance of solemn acts and the motives behind them, reduce a great deal of the world’s worship to sin, selfishness, or futility. Symbolic idols may themselves be merely instruments for safeguarding the privileges of a selfish priestly class, or the ambitions, greed, or lust of private individuals. Hence the insistence of Islam and its Teacher on the pure worship of the One True God. The Prophet firmly resisted all appeals to worldly motives, and stood firm to his Message of eternal Unity.”
Ò Presented at an International Workship on Teaching Human Rights, Faculty of Sharia and Law, State Islamic University “Syarif Hidayatullah”
 Ministery of Justice-Riyad and Dar al-Kitab al-Lubnani, Conferences of Riyad, Paris, Vatican City, Geneva and Strasbourg on Moslem Doctrine and Human Rights in Islam, n.d., p. 157,
‘Abdullah Yusuf ‘Ali, The Holy Qur’an: Text, Translation and Commentary (Bremtwwpd.
 Muhammad Husein al Hamshi, Tafsirun wa Bayanun Mufradaati al-Qurán.
 N.K. Singh et.al. (eds.), Encyclopedia of the Qur’an, Vol 2 (
 Fathi Osman, Concepst of the Quran: A Topical Reasing (Kuala Lumpur: Angkatan Belia Muslim, 1997), p. 941
 ‘Abdullah Yusuf ‘Ali, ibid., p. 1800.