Does Islam Support Freedom in Religion?

The simplest argument that Freedom of Religion is not a recognized value in Islam follows straightforwardly from the existence of the munafiqun (hypocrites) in the time of the Prophet ﷺ.

If the Prophet ﷺ and the Sahaba respected all beliefs equally and supported “freedom of conscience,” there would have been no reason for anyone to hide his true beliefs about Islam and the Prophet ﷺ. But there was clearly an incentive to hide one’s beliefs because the Sharia was the established law of the land (i.e., the kind of “establishment of religion” the First Amendment of the US Constitution forbids). Also, there was clearly a disincentive to reveal one’s beliefs (i.e., unbelief) because of the negative repercussions of doing so (this would violate the “prohibiting the free exercise thereof” of the First Amendment of the US Constitution).

The Sharia does recognize tolerance for certain religious institutions and practices (from the People of the Book and others whom scholars deemed to fall within that larger category). But it is not an “infinite tolerance.” And of course, infinite tolerance is not coherent in the first place.

The lack of freedom of religion as an aspirational value for society or for governance in Islam should not disturb Muslims today. Far from it. This is because freedom of religion is an empty slogan that is as incoherent as the notion of “infinite tolerance” and for much the same reasons.

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