Does Islam give non-Muslims freedom of speech? Does Islam force non-Muslims to become Muslim? Are they punished for expressing their own religious views?
Wa alaykum assalam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh,
Thank you for your important question.
Non-Muslims in an Islamic country are free to practice their own religion and express their religious views. However, just like Muslims, they are also bound by blasphemy laws.
I personally was not able to find the reference quoted by the questioner in Qadi Iyad’s Shifa mentioning that a non-Muslim cannot publically state that they do not believe in Islam. Rather, the author does cite numerous positions that they cannot openly use words of disrespect against Allah or His Messenger (Allah bless him and give him peace).
The debate that Qadi Iyad cites revolves around the death penalty for openly cursing the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), and whether or not repentance is accepted from someone who is guilty of it and whether or not the rule applies to non-Muslim citizens of the Islamic country (dhimmi). [Al-Shifa, Qadi Iyad]
Thus, the issue is not about freedom of religion, but rather about freedom of speech and whether or not it allows one to publicly commit blasphemy. It has nothing to do with the freedom of religion.
Non-Muslims were never forced to become Muslims. That is a historical fact and something that is clear from the books of Islamic law. However, non-Muslims, just like Muslims, are forbidden to openly express words of disrespect about Allah or His Messenger (Allah bless him and give him peace). Contrary to the sense of the question, the rulers are harder on Muslims than non-Muslims. [Al-Shifa, Qadi Iyad]
This is a very important point and a clear departure from many modern Western views of freedom of speech. Listen, if you will, to Rowan Atkinson spell out his views on free speech. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BiqDZlAZygU). We as Muslims would unfortunately not agree. We do not believe that people have a right to say anything, and under Islamic law, impertinent and disdainful language about Allah or His Messenger (Allah bless him and give him peace) is illegal.
To give a modern example of blasphemy laws in modern Islamic countries, the Jordanian Penal Code (Article 273), states, “Whoever summons the audacity to publicly speak out against the heads of religion — the Prophets — is imprisoned from 1 to 3 years.” Notice how this not specific to Islam, but rather the prophets in general — people held sacred by Muslims, Jews, and Christians alike. It is also worth bringing to mind that Jordan, like many other Muslim countries, has respected and protected non-Muslim minorities since the dawn of Islam itself, and they never tried to forcefully convert them. At the same time, even today the country demands a certain level of (even merely public) respect to those people and things that the country holds sacred.
So to repeat, the whole discussion has nothing to do with forcing people to become Muslim. Rather, it reflects the conservative and traditional laws of a conservative and traditional system (Islam) that do not condone blasphemy as a natural product of the freedom of speech.
We Western Muslims as proactive and expressive members of the countries we live in have to voice Islam and its teachings as a better alternative. It is okay, and indeed it is healthy, to disagree with the current trends in the West. We need to use the rights and privileges that the West grants us to try to direct Western society in the right direction. We cannot simply follow whatever the new trend is, and we certainly cannot demand that Islam follows suit.
“Thus We have made you a just nation that you be witnesses against mankind, and that the Messenger be a witness against you.” [Qur’an, 2: 143]
I pray this helps.
[Ustadh] Farid Dingle
Checked and Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani
Ustadh Farid Dingle has completed extensive years of study in the sciences of the Arabic language and the various Islamic Sciences. During his studies, he also earned a CIFE Certificate in Islamic Finance. Over the years he has developed a masterful ability to craft lessons that help non-Arabic speakers gain a deep understanding of the language. He currently teaches courses in the Arabic Language.