Last Updated on 21st May 2021
Mustafa Siddiqi, Student Jamia Ahmadiyya UK
Liberalism is a social and political philosophy, which is fundamentally based on the concept of liberty, of achieving and ensuring self-determination for all individuals in society.
All Western countries today are based on liberal principles, to the point where liberalism is now considered to have been the “defining political ideology of the Western world for nearly three centuries”. (www.manchesteropenhive.com/view/9781526137951/9781526137951.00014.xml)
Religion is often presented and understood as being the archenemy of liberalism, which is somewhat ironic, given that the very raison d’être of religion is the liberation of mankind.
Liberalism is fundamentally based on the principles of liberty, consent of the governed and equality before the law. These principles are entirely Islamic. Other notable principles are, for example: freedom of speech, freedom of the press and freedom of belief. These are just as much a part of Islamic society as any (ideologically) liberal one.
It is only the misapplication of the very concept of what religion is that has caused it to become liberalism’s supposed enemy. For example, Christianity, of some form, has been the official state religion of England for almost one-and-a-half millennia, and remains so today. While this jars with the essence of faith being a matter of one’s individual conscience as much at any time in the past as it does today, it’s the misguided practical application of this power and some of the excesses it has historically produced that has spelt the greatest infamy for the name of religion.
Throughout much of history, for example, heresy was punishable by death by the church itself. Perhaps the most infamous example is Mary I of England, popularly remembered – even to this day – as “Bloody Mary”, who had some 300 English Protestants burned alive for their religious dissent; the executioners and bishops of the day would have been approved under the same authority. Disturbingly, her executions – of which one was justified as leading to the “salvation of many innocent Christians, who might otherwise have been led astray” (The Burning Time: Henry VIII, Bloody Mary and the Protestant Martyrs of London) – were considered “completely standard practise for the period.” (www.history.com/news/queen-mary-i-bloody-mary-reformation)
It is perhaps little wonder then that religion has come to be seen in the West particularly as an enemy of liberal principles.
A key difference, however, between the liberal and Islamic conceptions of human rights is that, in the liberal tradition, they are rooted exclusively in individualism – in the belief that the individual’s own will takes precedence over all other group loyalties, including obedience to any authority – governmental, religious or otherwise. Yet liberals also believe in the necessity of some form of government to ensure individual rights and to protect them from usurpation by other individuals.
A lack of a government would lead to what the famous liberal philosopher, Thomas Hobbes called a “state of nature”: a “condition which is called war; and such a war as is of every man against every man”, in which he famously wrote that life would be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”. (www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/acref/9780191826719.001.0001/q-oro-ed4-00005474)
This liberal fear – of a lack of government, causing society to invariably descend into a savage free-for-all and general anarchy, which is the basis for its support for (limited) government – exposes liberalism’s fundamental existential dilemma: distrusting but calling for government; disliking it, but recognising it as essential for social stability.
While the need for leadership is established by the threat of anarchy, human nature itself provides compelling evidence of why (true) leadership is so utterly indispensable.
On 21 February 2018, American media personality, Kylie Jenner tweeted that she no longer used the messaging app, Snapchat following an unpopular redesign, saying: “sooo [sic] does anyone else not open Snapchat anymore? Or is it just me… ugh this is so sad.”
This 18-word tweet alone caused owning company Snap Inc’s shares to drop by 8% and wiped $1.3 billion (£1 billion) off its stock market value – adding up to over $72 million (£51 million) lost per word. (www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-43163544)
The American actor, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was revealed to have personally earnt over $1 million (£709,000) per Instagram post. (www.hopperhq.com/blog/instagram-rich-list/)
In 2007, American talk show host, Oprah Winfrey publicly endorsed then-Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, which had quite an effect: 23% of Democrats said that her endorsement would make them more likely to vote for Obama (Pew Research Center, 2007, taken from https://thescarlet.org/17180/larts/do-celebrities-influence-elections/) and her endorsement itself accounted for approximately a million votes for Obama in the Democratic primary race against Hillary Clinton. (www.cbsnews.com/news/u-maryland-students-study-oprah-endorsement-earned-obama-votes/)
What do these, and many other, figures have in common that could possibly account for such staggering influence? It can’t be appearing on television in itself, because television newsreaders appear on television far more often and none of them appear to command anywhere near such influence. Nor can it be misplaced notions of “hard work”, which would imply that the entirety of the rest of society is somehow doing something less.
None of these figures are directly involved in politics and religion does not feature prominently in any of their public profiles, and while their respective philanthropic efforts are certainly commendable, they are evidently not the cause of their being famous and influential; otherwise, so would ordinary charity workers be.
It would appear that millions and millions of people are influenced solely by none other than the allure of uncountable wealth – while this highlights just how influential people can be, wealth is surely not a genuine criterion for leadership by anyone’s standards. In fact, with the United States’ top 10% earning nine times more than the remaining 90%, the possibility of leadership appears closed in the hands of very few, qualified necessarily by nothing more than the circumstances they find themselves in.
Leadership is thus as critical an issue as it has ever been, yet it appears less-justly distributed as ever before.
Unlike the politically-motivated misuse of religious authority of the past (and present), Islamic teaching actually categorically dictates the separation of religion and state affairs, because the idea of “state religion” itself is a contradiction in terms: religion is based on faith, which is a belief, and belief is unenforceable; whereas a state must necessarily enforce compliance by its very nature.
While liberalism holds government to be, at best, a “necessary evil” (Common Sense (1776) by Thomas Paine, www.britannica.com/topic/liberalism), Islam holds true leadership, in the form of khilafat (the system of successorship which follows the advent of a prophet) to be a great divine blessing vouchsafed to the Muslims by God in the form of a promise contained in the Holy Quran:
وَعَدَ اللّٰهُ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا مِنكُمْ وَعَمِلُوا الصَّالِحَاتِ لَيَسْتَخْلِفَنَّهُمْ فِي الْأَرْضِ كَمَا اسْتَخْلَفَ الَّذِينَ مِن قَبْلِهِمْ وَلَيُمَكِّنَنَّ لَهُمْ دِينَهُمُ الَّذِي ارْتَضَىٰ لَهُمْ وَلَيُبَدِّلَنَّهُم مِّن بَعْدِ خَوْفِهِمْ أَمْنًا يَعْبُدُونَنِي لَا يُشْرِكُونَ بِي شَيْئًا وَمَن كَفَرَ بَعْدَ ذَٰلِكَ فَأُولَٰئِكَ هُمُ الْفَاسِقُونَ
“Allah has promised to those among you who believe and do good works that He will surely make them Successors in the earth, as He made Successors [from among] those who were before them; and that He will surely establish for them their religion which He has chosen for them; and that He will surely give them in exchange security [and peace]after their fear: They will worship Me, [and] they will not associate anything with Me. Then whoso is ungrateful after that, they will be the rebellious.” (Surah al-Nur, Ch.24: V.56)
So, we have here Islam presenting a form of leadership. Many examples of leadership in history – including religious ones – have been oppressive and cruel and have denied millions their rightful liberty. Still others, if not tyrannical, have brought little net benefit to mankind. So why is Islamic Khilafat any different?
Islamic Khilafat in its true form, as exemplified by the Khilafat of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community – stands quite apart from others by its liberating people from the vicious clutches of politicised religious interests by being an unwavering beacon of peace, with peace emanating from each of the words and actions of the Khulafa and being reflected by members of their community, to widespread attention and positive reception.
This is in marked contrast to, for example, the bloody image of Khilafat painted by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, whose leader is proclaimed by the group to be an international “Caliph” with religious and political authority over Muslims worldwide; which has done absolutely nothing to spread Islam in any meaningful way anywhere at all, but which instead has sadly been more successful in shamelessly misrepresenting the teachings of Islam and attracting utter ignominy for both itself and its professed religion.
It is also deeply liberating by – instead of attempting to self-aggrandise via dogmatism or affecting desirability – repeatedly calling people to reflect on their existence, to soul-search and to give true meaning to their lives by recognising the purpose of their existence; thus developing a true relationship with God and dedicating themselves to the service and betterment of the people of the world.
Instead of trying to promote an image of widespread admiration and acclaim in the eyes of the world, it teaches people to do away with the fickle affections of the world altogether; to consider, understand and then wholeheartedly pursue what is objectively true, which can only be recognised by understanding why we are here on earth, and thus who it is who created us and granted us the liberty we value so dearly.
Ultimately, Islamic Khilafat far outshines liberalism and is the true bastion of liberty because it redefines what liberty is. Liberalism is doomed to fail because, given its ultimate goal is to (somehow) achieve social stability and cohesion by reinforcing and developing only individual rights, it can never reconcile between competing individual interests and warring factions in society, and ultimately the destructive conflicts these often lead to.
Whilst individual endeavour and accountability are admirable – and very much necessary – drivers of change and social progress, untrammelled individualism is a destructive, rather than constructive, force; because it fails to account for the fact that we are above all social creatures and that a flourishing, healthy society can never be based on selfishness.
While liberalism’s highest calling is “returning the favour” of when someone is gracious to another (though the former’s act is actually entirely unnecessary and has no inherent moral value according to liberal philosophy because he was only ever obliged to look out for his own interests), the teaching presented by Islam is incomparably great:
اِنَّ اللّٰهَ يَاۡمُرُ بِالۡعَدۡلِ وَ الۡاِحۡسَانِ وَ اِيۡتَآئِ ذِي الۡقُرۡبٰي وَ يَنۡهٰي عَنِ الۡفَحۡشَآءِ وَ الۡمُنۡكَرِ وَ الۡبَغۡيِ ۚ يَعِظُكُمۡ لَعَلَّكُمۡ تَذَكَّرُوۡنَ
“Verily, Allah enjoins justice, and the doing of good to others; and giving like kindred; and forbids indecency, and manifest evil, and wrongful transgression. He admonished you that you may take heed.” (Surah al-Nahl, Ch.16: V.91)
“Returning the favour” is the only the very least expected of a Muslim – the pinnacle of liberalism is where Islam only begins. Beyond the primary stage of equity, Islam commands Muslims to go out of their way to show benevolence towards God’s people, to take the initiative and to show kindness unwarranted in the cold light of naked individualism. Yet further still, the beauty of Islamic teaching becomes fully apparent at the third stage – where Islam calls Muslims to be gracious towards others as one would, selflessly and unconditionally, be towards members of one’s own family.
It is according to this guidance that Khilafat-e-Ahmadiyya has led and constantly pushes the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community to selflessly build schools, hospitals and clinics; to plant trees, organise blood donations and clean roads; to feed the homeless, visit the sick and defend the oppressed.
Islamic Khilafat alone is the true custodian of liberty because it redefines liberty: not as the freedom to be left alone to become enslaved to one’s own base selfishness and thus remain locked in perpetual internal and intersocial conflict, but as being enabled to achieve true liberty by being freed from the shackles of rampant individualistic selfishness.
وَ مَنۡ يُّوۡقَ شُحَّ نَفۡسِهٖ فَاُولٰٓئِكَ هُمُ الۡمُفۡلِحُوۡنَ
“[…] and whoso is rid of the covetousness of his own soul – it is these who will be successful” (Surah al-Hashr, Ch.59: V.10)