Freedom of Expression and its Limitations

Comprehensive Teachings of the Holy Quran And Need of Befitting Laws

By Jamil Ahmad Butt, English rendering by Kalimullah Khan

The release of a film “Innocence of Muslims” was an intentional and despicable effort to hurt the feelings of Muslims around the world.  Hazrat Imam Jamaat Ahmadiyya (in his Friday sermon: September 21, 2012) not only expressed his condemnation but guided the Muslims in a constructive way and drew the attention of the Western world to formulate and promulgate the boundaries of the freedom of speech. So that, such actions are prevented under the law in future.

The guidance of Hazrat Khalifatul Masieh was of paramount importance, while, few countries especially from USA, it was voiced that no legal action can be pursued against the producer per law of the land. Keeping into view this background, the freedom of expression and its limitations will be elucidated in this article.

At the outset, it will be appropriate to mention that freedom of expression is a gift of God, and He has guided how it should be used.

1- Bounty of God:

“He has made everything else to speak”          (ch.41:22 – Ha-Mim-Sajdah)

“The seven heavens and the earth and those that are therein extol His glory; and there is not a thing but glorifies Him with His praise;” (ch.17:45 – Bani-Israil)

“And Solomon was heir to David. And he said,’O ye people, we have been taught the language of birds; …. This indeed is God’s manifest grace.” (ch.27:17-Al-Naml)

“He has taught him plain speech.”   (ch.55:5 – Al-Rahman)

All the creation of Allah is endowed with the power of expression within the laws ascertained for them.

“What is the matter with you that you speak not?”  (ch.37:93 – Al-Saffat)

God has also make it clear in (ch.21: 64-66 – Al –Anbiya) that man-made idols do not possess this ability).

2- Limitations: As man is responsible for his own actions, so, he was not restrained to use his tongue, but some guiding principles in this regard are laid out in the Divine scriptures.


In Torah we find this general guidance in Proverbs Chapter 12, as under:

Verse 13: “the wicked is snared by the transgression of his lips: but the just shall come out of trouble.”

Verse 18: “there is that speaketh like the piercing of sword: but the tongue of the wise is health.”

Verse 22: “lying lips are abomination to the LORD: but they that deal truly are his delight.”


Being a complete and perfect Sharia (Islamic Law) The Holy Quran has clearly explained all the beneficial aspects for using ones power of speech, which may be summed up as under:

“And walk thou at a moderate pace, and lower thy voice; …” (ch.31:20 – Luqman)

“…and say the right word (without any ambiguity).”  (ch.33-71 – Al-Ahzab)

“And confound not truth with falsehood nor hide the truth, knowingly.” (ch.2:43 –Al-Baqra)

“Shun therefore the abomination of idols, and shun all words of untruth.”  (ch.22:31 – al-Hajj)

“And when you speak, observe justice…”  (ch.6:153 – Al-An-Am)

‘And say to My servants that they should speak that which is best.” (ch.17:54 – Bani-Israil)

“… and speak to men kindly …”    (ch.2:84 – Al-Baqra)

“… and speak to them words of kind advice …”    (ch.4:6 – Al-Nisa)

“But speak to him a gentle speech that he might possibly heed or fear.” (ch.20:45- Ta-Ha)

“therefore, turn aside from them, and say,’Peace’; and soon shall they know.”(ch.43:90 – Al-Zukhruf)

“And say, ‘this is My path leading straight … that you may become able to guard against evil.”                                                                                           (ch.6:154 – Al-An-Am)

“And who shun all that which is vain”.    (ch.23:4 – Al-Muminun)

“And when they hear vain talk, they turn away …Peace be to you. We seek not the ignorant.”                                                              (ch.28:56 – Al-Qasas)

“Those who love that immorality should spread … will have a painful punishment.” (ch.24:20 – Al-Nur)

“And follow not that of which thou hast no knowledge…”    (ch.17:37 – Bani-Israil)

“… ascertain the correctness of the report fully …”  (ch.49:7 – Al-Hujurat)

“… if they had referred it to the Messenger and to those in authority among them…” (ch.4:48 – Al-Nisa)

“…think well of their own people,and say, ‘This is a manifest lie?”  (ch.24:13 – Al-Nur)

“…avoid most of suspicions; … And spy not, nor back –bite on another…” (ch.49:13- Al-Hujrat)

Without verification, do not spread out what you hear..(ch.24:13,16.17)

“Verily, those who accuse chaste, unwary, believing women are cursed in this world…” (ch.24:24 – Al-Nur)

“…let not one people deride another people, who may be better than they — And defame not your own people…”  (ch.49:12 – Al-Hujurat)

“Or do they envy men for that Allah has given them out of His bounty?”      (ch.4:55-Al-Nisa)

“ …and those who suppress anger and pardon men; and Allah loves those who do good;”

(ch.3:135 – Al-Imran)

“And who eschew the more grievous sins and indecencies, and, when they are worth, they forgive.

(ch.42:38 – Al-Shura)

“… So ascribe not purity to yourselves …”   (ch.53:33 – Al-Najm)

“… they say with their mouths what is not in their hearets. And Allah knows all well what they conceal./”       (ch.3:163 – Al-Imran)

“Call unto the way of thy Lord with wisdom and goodly exhortation, and argue with them in a way that is best.”            (ch. 14:126 – Al-Nahl)

“ … Repel evil with that which is best.”       (ch.41:35 – Ha-Mim-Sajdah)

“… let not a people’s enmity incite you to act otherwise than with justice. Be always just, that is nearer to righteousness.”   (ch.5:9 – Al-Maidah)

Regarding respect for religious founders:

“…you shall believe in him and help him.”  (ch.3:82 – Al-Imran)

“And revile not those whom they call upon besides Allah.”        (ch.6:109 – Al-Anam)

“And let alone those who take their religion for a sport and a pastime.”  (ch.6:71 – Al-Anam)

“…when you hear the signs of Allah being denied and mocked at, sit not with them until they engage in talk other than that;” (ch.4:141 – Al-Nisa)

3- How to Engage in Dialogues:  While conversing with one another prudently as mentioned above, the Holy Quran guides us yet in another possible way to indulge in a dialog.

With Praise and Glorification of God: is the prerequisite to begin any dialogue, as stressed upon in the Holy Quran.

“But glorify they Lord praising Him …”       (ch.15:99 – Al-Hijr)

“…and glorify thy Lord with His praise  …” (ch.20:131 – Taha)

“…and glorify thy Lord with His praise in the evening and in the morning.” (ch.40:56 – Al-Mumin)

“And in part of the night also do thou glorify Him…”  (ch.50:14 – QAF)

“… and glorify they Lord with His praise when thou risest up from sleep”  (ch.52:49 – Al-Tur)

“Glorify thy Lord. With His praise, and seek forgiveness of Him.”   (ch.1100:4 – Al-Nasr)

“Only they believe in Our Signs who, when they are reminded of them, fall down prostrate and celebrate the praises of their Lord, and they are not proud.”

(ch.32:16 – Al-Sajdah)

Our praising and glorification of Allah makes us realize how insignificant and nonentity is a human being and should ever guard our expressions and actions. The following sayings of the Holy ProphetSAS  also reminds us that these two sentences are very light on the tongue but are voluminous in rewardsسبحان اللہِ و بحمدہ سبحان اللہِ العظیم

Remembrance of Allah: (ذکرِ الٰہی)

Refreshing your tongue in remembrance of Allah is a finest practice as ordered in the Holy Quran, for its two fold pleasing results:

“…and remember Allah much, that you may prosper”  (ch.62:11 – Al-Jumuah)

“…Aye! It is in the remembrance of Allah that hearts can find comfort.”

(ch.13:29 – Al-Rad)

Invoking Darood:  ( درود)

The wholesome use of tongue is to invoke blessings upon Prophet Muhammad sas, as an obligation for his beneficence towards humanity, as commanded in the Holy Quran.

“Allah and His angels send blessings on the Prophet, O ye who believe! You also should invoke blessings on him and salute him with the salutation of peace.”

(ch.33:57 – Al-Ahzab)

Declaration of Truth:

Another aspect of expression is truthfulness, which is very much admirable if adhered to under all apprehensions and losses; while intentionally hiding the truth is prohibited.

“And confound not truth with falsehood nor hide the truth, knowingly.”

(ch.2:43 –Al-Baqarah)


Yet another important way of expression is to call the people towards Allah, as elucidated in the Holy Quran.

“Call unto the way of thy Lord with wisdom and goodly exhortation, and argue with them in a way that is best.”                          (ch.16:126 – Al-Nahl)

Preaching is also termed to be the best speech, thus:

“And who is better in speech than he who invites men to Allah…”  (ch.41:34 – Ha-Mim-Sajdah)

4- Importance of these Teachings:  These are the parameters within which, if speech is confined to may be a source of delight, solace and comfort.  Furthermore, may be responsible for peace and tranquility in the society; and the breach thereof may bring counter results.

These results are so certain that God addressed the Holy Prophet(sas) that:  “…and if thou hadst been rough and hard-hearted, they would surely have dispersed from around thee…”.

(ch.3:160 – Al-Imran)

This guidance makes it very clear that Prophet (sas) placed the lounge at first place of the two parts of human body, the protection of which ensures a favorable end.

In the modern society, where these norms are not upheld, people are facing some disturbances. These manners of conversation become more important while discussing as to who possesses more resources. Scientific advancement has commonly eased off the mode of transmission as well.  Electronic Media carries any speech, video or film across to a large population of the world. Then its circulation multiplies through E-mail, Face book, and Twitter.

In this scenario, non observance of the limitations (mentioned above) may increase the problems in the same ratio.

5-  Present Concept of Total Freedom of Expression:

BACKGROUND:  Historically, the modern day concept of total freedom of expression came into play as a logical result of the frequent, tyrannical admonition imposed by the Roman Catholic Church in their early period of authority for opposing them.

They would silence any voice against their views or authority, with force in the garb of religion. First, they would declare them infidel, suppress them brutally and after getting their confession, would burn them alive; irrespective of their gender.

History has recorded this dark period and termed it as “Inquisition”, and first such recorded case was in 1184, and then its series lingered on for centuries.  Portugal and Spain had their separate periods of fate.  Renowned scientist Galelio Galeeli, had to put up with that torture for opposing the Biblical teaching and professing that earth orbits around sun. He died in jail in 1642.

Even during the period of absolute monarchy such opposing voices were daunted and silenced with so much force and authority not to leave any trace of it.

REACTION:  In reaction to that kind of oppression a wave of freedom swept through the Christian world, and was witnessed in America on two fronts:

First, after its discovery, majority of Protestants runaways from Inquisition of Catholic Church, migrated to this land and became its settlers.

Secondly, in the beginning they were under the sway of English rule and felt they were deprived of their rights, so they embraced a concept of total freedom.

6-  Laws of Freedom of Speech:

History of Laws of freedom of expression has recorded few milestones in different countries.

1689: The Bill of Rights was approved, whereby, Freedom of Expression was granted.

1789: One hundred years after Bill of Rights – during French Revolution, a Declaration of Rights of Men and of Citizen granted this right.

1791: 1st Amendment to Bill of Rights in America was approved, whereby, five rights were guaranteed and freedom of expression was declared as an irrevocable right:

“Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech or of the press…”

1948: Universal Declaration of Human Rights was accepted in UN, whereby, “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression  . . . without interference.”

RESULT:  These Laws, on the other extreme, without imposing any sort of restrictions, opened two dilapidated and destructive fronts:

ONE:   – Open expression of all filth and obscenity has afflicted the society with pornography.

-It is causing a painful rift among the families and undermining the wholesome societies.

– Intrusion in personal lives and its diffusion is creating innumerable problems.

SECONDLY: i- It encouraged to even assault religious authorities and men of repute in a  loathsome manner.

ii- Films on Jesus Christ and other Prophets of God were made, and the Christian World did not object.

iii-In 2006, a painful cartoon and later on an oppressive film about the Holy Prophet of Islam were made.

7-  Freedom of Expression is still Not Conclusive:

It is worth noting that despite a general view that there is no restriction on freedom of speech; but practically it is not so in many countries.  In 1948, when UNO accepted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it was subject to certain restrictions as well, thus:

“The exercise of these rights carries special duties and responsibilities and may therefore be subject to certain restrictions when necessary for the rights or reputation of others or for protection of national security or, of public order or of public health or morals.”

The matters for which these confinements were imposed were practically for the sake of Holocaust. Any one denying or decreasing the level of atrocious cruelties endured by Jews in Nazi Germany is considered an offence.

In almost all European countries it is still an offence.  In 2009 one person in Germany was charged for that.

Religious personalities are protected under Blasphemy Laws in various countries Since 1883 to 1922, five persons were convicted. The last man convicted under this law was in 1977.  In England this law was abolished on July 08, 2008.

8- Need to Change the Law:

It is the responsibility of the government to protect those pious and reverend personalities to whom millions regard saints, from the harm of some mad, lunatics and vulgar slanderer. How does it called a freedom while few are given a free hand, while the rights of millions are trampled on.

As to live is a fundamental human right and any hindrance in this regard is prohibited, so the spiritual life dependant on religion and faith has a right as well and deprivation of which must be a crime.

One’s right to swing his stick stops where other person’s object comes in its place – this is the concept of right. Thus, one’s freedom of expression stops where other person’s veneration, devotion and line of attachment starts. Therefore, on the basis of this principle, laws may be framed and freedom of expression be regulated.

Hazrat Khalifatul Masihaba V, has drawn attention of the world leaders that the laws regarding freedom of speech is not a Divine scripture and must be amended.  All the intellectuals of the world and people at the helm of governments and politicians should look into it whether they themselves are not becoming part of it, by not curbing this seditiousness with authority.

People at large should also ponder over it that by playing with religious sentiments of the people, and standing beside those who are morally stooped in faith and indecency, they themselves are not becoming a part in unrest of the world.

9- Efforts of Muslims in Changing the Law:

Hazrat Khalifatul Masihaba V, expressed in his Friday Sermon on September 21, 2012, that Muslims are the second greatest power of the world, in terms of population and religion.  If Muslims understood their importance they could bring a revolution in the world.  The present state of affairs and weak condition of Muslims is for not having a unity and leadership.

This is a primary guidance, if the Muslims follow, then the desired amendments may be incorporated in the laws of Freedom of Speech, whereby the continuation of this slanderous language against the honor of the Holy Prophet of Islam may be curbed.

10- Line of Action till Amendment:

Hazrat Khalifatul Masihaba V, has laid out a positive and practicable suggestion as under:

All the defiled efforts of the opponents of Islam must be taken as a total defeat for them.

Under such circumstance, don’t let your emotionalism wear you down.

Constantly engage yourself in Durood and Salam (invoking Salutation and Peace) upon the Holy Prophetsas.

Practically demonstrate the true image of the blessed example of Holy Prophetsas in your own life.

Make known to the non-Muslim world the character and life of the Holy Prophet sas.

Follow the guidance of the Promised Messiahas, about all the ill-wishers:

“I say most truthfully that it is possible for us to reconcile with wild snakes and wilderness beasts but we cannot reconcile with such people who do not desist from insulting the honor of God’s holy people.”

(Chashma-e-Ma’rifat in Ruhaani Khazaa’in; vol.23, p:386)

11- A Word of Caution:

Hazrat Khalifatul Masihaba V, very decisively pointed out in his address that:

In the name of freedom of speech some politicians are speaking in favor of this loathsome action without consideration that this world has now become a global village.  If wickedness is not openly declared as wickedness as such, then, these matters can destroy the peace of these countries, and apart from that, God’s wrath will come to pass.”

Furthermore, he reiterated Promised Messiah’s warning:

“ They believe that there is triumph in abusive language and vulgarity but each triumph comes from the Heavens.

Through the blessings of their pure discourse, those with pure speech ultimately win hearts and minds, whereas those of wicked nature have no skill other than creating disorder and conflict in the land in a disorderly way …experience also bears witness that such offensive people meet a sorry end…”

(Chashma-e-Ma’rifat in Ruhaani Khazaa’in; vol.23, p:386)

12- In a Nutshell:

It is comprehensive guidance in this regard, following which may sure control the repetitive occurrences of these torments in the future.  In the same way, help reduce the distance between the people of different Islamic countries at every level.  On the same line, compliant to Quranic injunctions in respect of freedom of speech, may sure pave the way in reducing these painful events.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *