Freedom of thought is something all people assume they have by default. No one thinks his thoughts are not his own. In reality, the vast majority of people’s thoughts are heavily dictated and outright controlled by larger societal forces. Today’s loud and proud (i.e., obnoxious) “free thinkers” are no exception.
But here is a broader example. What if I were to tell you that there are clear conflicts between Islam and American values?
I am not going to elaborate on this claim because that’s not the point. The point is that even the thought that there is a conflict between being Muslim and being American is considered all but blasphemy to many American Muslims.
Now pause for a second. If you are reading the above and feel annoyance, anger, incredulity, or you’re just thinking about all the ways that that statement is wrong, stop and ask yourself: Why? Why should this simple claim cause you so much discomfort?
It’s not like the claim is actually blasphemous or has anything to do with theology. Also, when you think about the claim in the abstract, it is hardly peculiar or worthy of outrage, even if it turns out to be wrong. To understand this, ask yourself: Does Islam conflict with Vietnamese values? Does Islam conflict with the cultural values of Chile? You probably don’t know, but it’s possible, right? Why couldn’t it be? So why the sensitivity with America in particular?
I noticed this in myself. I noticed that I hesitated in even articulating to myself the claim that Islam and American values could potentially ever be in conflict. I felt a tinge of discomfort and trepidation and that bothered me about myself. It was a clear indication of how my thoughts are deeply influenced by my context in ways that I’m not even aware of.
Now my point is not some relativistic, perspectival, postmodern nonsense about how “We are all biased,” etc. It is possible to transcend these cognitive biases. We do this by bringing our thoughts and inner states in conformity with the Higher Truth. And we do that by following the Sunna. The Messenger of Allah ﷺ is reported to have said, “None of you [truly] believes until his desires are subservient to that which I have brought.”