By the name of God, Merciful, Most Merciful.

Reflections of Imam Usama Hasan, Head of Islamic Studies in Quilliam, in preparation for the Inspire Dialogue Foundation Conference in Cambridge, September 17, 2016.

There are many universal human rights: freedom is undoubtedly one of these fundamental rights, it is intertwined with life itself. As Tipu Sultan, the famous leader of Indian resistance against the British, put it: “Better to live one day, free as a lion, than a thousand years as a slave.” Caliph Omar once reprimanded one of his commanders, who had followed a common practice during the pre-Islamic medieval wars of enslaving the women and children of a vanquished army. He asked him, “How can you enslave people whom God had created free? Echoing Moses’ provocative response to Pharaoh in the Qur’an (26,22), who asked him, “Is this the favor you remind me of, that you have enslaved the children of Israel?

On the theological level, true faith is based on free will and free choice: any practice that is not free, including faith and religious observance, can not be authentic. Hence the famous Koranic declaration (2: 256); “There is no constraint in religion!

The centrality of freedom raises important questions: drugs, alcohol, mental illnesses, carnal temptations and social pressures mean that our choices and decisions in life are not totally free. How, then, are these actions judged by other humans and by God? In particular, one of the goals of religious practice has always been to eliminate internal barriers that inhibit our humanity, allowing for greater self-awareness and the realization of our potential. Thus, a tradition of the Prophet Muhammad says that “the world is a prison for the believer,” meaning that the moral person, and the great sages, survived imprisonment because they were, inwardly, free spirits. The idea of ​​freedom has, of course,

I firmly believe that the great philosophers, wise men and prophets: Moses, Mary, Christ, Muhammad, Buddha and Confucius, as well as the men and women of God throughout the ages, have supported the liberation of men and women. women of all colors, races and religious, children and slaves, individuals and populations, the yokes of tyranny and oppression. Our modern heroes in this regard range from Wilberforce to Jefferson via Gandhi, Jinnah, Martin Luther King and Mandela.

However, today we still have modern forms of slavery: debt bondage and child labor, entire families working in sweatshops for generations, international networks of human traffickers, including children , for purposes of financial and sexual exploitation. That is why we must solve these problems by reviving the spirit that, historically, freed children from forced labor, slaves of slavery, the peoples of colonization through independence and the colored peoples of the segregation and apartheid to move towards civic equality.

Tony Blair, then British Prime Minister, said one day in a historic speech on Capitol Hill that “to be American is to be free”. In reality, as animals endowed with spirituality made in the image of the Divine, to be human is to be free. Now let us continue to work towards inner and outer freedom, and share it with our fellow travelers, with the aim of reaching our full and common humanity.