Islam Guarantees the Freedom of Belief

Conversion or choice of belief is one of the most important decisions that a person can take. While making this important decision, it is important for a person to use their free will and to accept the responsibility of this decision. Islam invites people to the belief of the unity of Allah and His religion, which is the expression of this belief. Islam emphasizes that the person who takes such a decision eventually makes the decision on their own behalf and makes a decision in favor of or against themselves. The basic goal as stated in the Quran: "may they believe or deny" or "the believer believes on his behalf, the denier denies on his behalf" is the definition of this condition.

It is generally understood that the choice of belief or belonging to a religion is closely related to the environment in which a person is born and brought up. Generally, a person adheres to the traditional belief of the environment in which they are raised as a matter of cultural belonging. In fact, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) emphasizes the fact that humans are born of creation and they are brought up in line with whichever belief their parents belong. However, Islam takes into account the decisions of a person in religion and belief only after they reach puberty and in Islam one is responsible for decisions after this time. For that reason, it is set out that a person should not accept those things that they have been given traditionally, but they should observe Allah and the truth using their intellect in line with the divine revelation. Islam reminds people to comprehend Allah's absolute oneness and superiority by contemplating the goal of existence, one's environment and oneself, and to gravitate towards being a subject of Allah. Allah has warned humans in the divine message that He delivers to people via His messengers. In the verse "O believers, believe in Allah...", even the people who traditionally belong to the Islamic belief and culture have been warned in terms of believing in Allah or believing in Allah as required, which is the basis of the religion.

In all these issues, Islam attaches great importance to the use of human free will. In relation to this, Islam emphasizes that there can be no compulsion in religion or in matters of conversion. This compulsion is only as the factor of social pressure on a person. Without a doubt, Islam totally prohibits compulsion based on social pressure in choice of belief. Verses such as "There is no compulsion in religion" and "Unto you your religion, and unto me my religion" define this situation. Moreover, Islam does not approve of theological compulsion. Theological compulsion in relation to belonging to a religion or belonging to a belief is closely related with the idea of destiny in the form of fate or predestination. It is known that there are differences among religious traditions about whether humans are free in this matter or not, and it is also recognized that religions present approaches to destiny or fate according to their structures. Choosing a religion or converting to a religion is an important problem in many faith systems which perceive free will or predestination being beyond the control of an individual. When we look at the Arabian society of the Age of Ignorance, we find that the commitment to a religion was synonymous to the commitment to a tribe or a clan. That is to say, for the Meccans religion, or belonging to a certain religion was the same thing as following the religious tradition of their forefathers. In such an instance, choosing a religion is not a personal decision. To such an extent that being devoted to the religion of one's ancestors means being devoted to that tribe or that clan. Thus, Arabs in the Age of Ignorance fiercely criticized those who believed in the Prophet and the faith conveyed by him. When we look at Judaism, we see that there exists a similar tradition. Although there are movements such as reformist Judaism and liberal Judaism, which are now particularly predominant in the U.S.A., which consider the religion and commitment to the religion on a more universal level, the idea of belonging to Orthodox Judaism, which is formed on the conservative axis of Judaism, is considered within the context of ethnicity. Whether a person is a Jew or not is associated with the divine faith. Being Jewish and being committed to the Israelites is regarded as the same thing. It is emphasized that a person cannot be a Jew without being an adherent of that clan. In the Christian tradition there is a common understanding that embraces predestination on the issue of commitment to the religion and redemption. Since early times, the church has strongly influenced Christian theology with a strict fatalistic understanding on the issue of redemption. According to this, since the time of Augustine it has been continuously argued that the will and actions of a person are not effective on their religious preferences or redemption. It is also interesting that this understanding is supported by various Protestant movements. In parallel with this, the Catholic church, which declares itself to be the main body of Christianity, adheres to the understanding that a person does not have absolute freedom on the issue of religious preference or for commitment to the religion, but that the institution of the church is an indispensable instrument between man and God; this is an important difference when compared to Islam. From this perspective, Islam differs from other faith systems in emphasizing the free will of the individual on the issue of conversion. Islam recognizes no instrument between a person and Allah, and stresses the fact that a person should be completely independent when choosing a religion and the responsibility for choosing belongs only to that person. People are constantly warned by Allah that they should use their will on the right path. This warning is made both via one's mind and conscience, which could be understood as a form of natural revelation; and also via divine revelation conveyed by prophets.

The Hues of Belief Corner by Sinasi Gunduz, a professor of the history of religions, deals with the attitude of Prophet Muhammad towards other religions and his relationship with their members


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Şinasi Gündüz

Professor Şinasi Gündüz, the head of the Religious History department at the Faculty of Theology, Istanbul University, graduated from the Faculty of Theology, Ankara University in 1984. In 1991 he completed his doctorate at the Middle East Research Department, Manchester University. In 1995 he received his associate professorship from Ondokuz Mayıs University, Faculty of Theology, and he became a professor in 2003 at Istanbul University, Faculty of Theology. Still head of the Philosophy and Religious Studies Department at Istanbul University, Faculty of Theology, Şinasi Gündüz is a member of the Executive Board of the Faculty of Theology, Istanbul University and is a member of the Senate of Istanbul University; Professor Gündüz has published a large number of international articles. He has written sections for international publications and presented articles in a number of refereed journals and at international academic conferences, making great contributions to the field of religious history. In 2004 Professor Gündüz was seen worthy of the Successful Researcher Award by the Istanbul University Rector's Office and in 2005 by the Istanbul University Academic Research Projects Institute.

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