Man has been granted total intellectual freedom in Islam. Rather the truth is that it was Islam itself which brought into existence that revolution in human history which granted freedom of expression to all human beings. Prior to Islam in all periods of human history system of absolutism prevailed in the world. That is why man was denied of intellectual freedom. Intellectual freedom is no simple matter. The truth is that the secret of all human progress lies hidden in intellectual freedom.
The first benefit of this intellectual freedom is that man receives that highest good which is called fear of God in the Qur’an (5: 94). It consists of man’s recognition and realisation of God in full freedom and, of one’s own freewill, without any external pressure from God. So long as there is no atmosphere of total freedom, none can experience the indescribable pleasure of spiritual experience which is called fear of God in the Unseen. Hence it is impossible (without freedom) to grant anyone credit for the highest of human actions.
Freedom of expression is the thing which saves one from hypocrisy. Man is a thinking creature. His mind necessarily thinks and forms opinions. In such a situation if curbs are placed on freedom of expression, people’s thinking cannot be ceased, the only thing that will take place is that their thinking will not come to their lips and pens. Any institution, nation, state which places curbs on freedom of expression will be ultimately brimming with hypocrites. In such an atmosphere sincere people can never be produced.
In this way intellectual freedom is directly related to creativity. A society having intellectual freedom breeds creative people whereas a society which curbs intellectual freedom will necessarily stagnate and as a result the produce of creative mind and its growth and development will for ever be stopped.
The proper stand in the matter of disagreement and criticism is that people shed off their unnecessary sensitivity in this matter, instead of attempting to put a stop to the act of criticism and disagreement itself. This is the demand of Islam as well as the demand of nature.
The attribute of a true believer described in the hadith is: ‘whenever a truth is presented to them, they accept it.’ (Musnad Ahmad) Here by truth is meant a matter of truth. In other words a believer is one who has full capacity of accepting truth. Whenever a truth is brought before him, whenever any error of his is pointed out to him, no complex comes in the way of his accepting the truth.
The highest point of this attribute is that man is always prepared rather he eagerly awaits for someone to point out to him any shortcoming of his so that he may immediately accept it. He is almost greedy of his own reform and rectification. It is this attribute of a believer which has been expressed by Umar Faruq in these words: May God bless the man who sends me the gift of my own shortcoming.
The truth is that the acceptance of the truth is the greatest act of worship. It is an act for which man has to make the greatest of sacrifice. This great sacrifice makes this act the greatest form of worship. This is the sacrifice of one’s prestige; of losing one’s greatness. To lose one’s sense of greatness for the sake of truth is an occasion when man earns his entry into heaven by paying its price.
When one receives the blessing of having performed this great form of worship? This opportunity comes to man only when there is full freedom of speech. When one can criticise another without any obstacle. When such atmosphere prevails in society as people can speak freely and frankly and the listeners listen to them without raising any objection.
Just as the mosque is a place to offer prayer in congregation, similarly the freedom of speech provides that conducive atmosphere in which great virtues flourish.
It is in atmosphere such as these that those situations are created when a person is given the credit of the pronouncement of truth and another rewarded for the acceptance of the truth.