(Turk. Din Özgürlüğü)
Freedom of religion means that an individual enjoys the free choice of a particular religion or worldview, along with the rights and responsibilities this entails. Islam respects the individual’s free volition in the choice of a religion. What is decisive is not which religion a person belongs to but rather that he or she vie, alongside adherents of other religions, to establish values and to do good (Surah 5:48). According to the Qur’an, God created life to test people, and created death, which is followed by the last judgement (67:2). The Qur’an expressly states that there may be no compulsion in religion (2:256); and people are given the freedom to believe in the revelation disclosed by God to the Prophet or not (18:29). In the verses ‘And had your Lord willed, those on earth would have believed – all of them entirely. Then, would you compel the people in order that they become believers?’ (10:99) and ‘So remind; you are only a reminder. You are not over them a controller’ (88:21-22), the Prophet Mohammed is called upon not to exercise compulsion. Accordingly, during the 23 years of his service as Prophet, he did not force faith upon anyone, and he assigned the same kind of conduct to the administrative and military leaders he dispatched as well. In this connection, God commanded of the Prophet: ‘Invite to the way of your Lord with wisdom and good instruction, and argue with them in a way that is best’ (16:125).
A repressive stance in questions of religion is inimical to the basic precepts of Islam. Only an individual who is free can decide for or against a religion. Where there is compulsion and repression, there can be no freedom of religion. Even if counterexamples are seen in practice, scholars of Islam who take the tenets of the Qur’an and the practice of the Prophet into account also observe that the acceptance of a religion under pressure is invalid. Compulsion tempts a person into concealing one’s true intentions and to comport oneself in a dishonest way. This, in turn, paves the way to hypocrisy, which comes in for stern criticism in the Qur’an (2:8-10).
Where religions do not interfere with public order or violate the rights of others, the state, too, must take a respectful approach to religions and remain neutral in religious questions.
İsmail Hakkı Ünal