Morals and Freedom

ترجم من  اللغة العربية)

(الأخلاق في القرآن،آية الله مكارم الشيرازي،مدرسة الامام علي بن ابي طالب عليه السلام-قم،ط2،ج1،ص75-78


Do morals constrain our freedom? And is this constraint for the benefit of humanity, or not? 

This sort of questioning could have emanated from the wrong definition of freedom:

1) It is said: Morals constrain Man’s freedom, and they work to hamper his inner potentials

2) It is also said: Morals prevent individuals from reaching the true happiness  by inhibiting his desires. If desires didn’t have any purpose, why did God create them in us?

3) It is also said: Moral programming is in direct conflict with the philosophy of enjoyment, and we know that the goal of creation is fulfilment of this feeling of pleasure in their lives. 

4) And others say, in an opposing view to the above: In fact, Man is not free in his conduct and morals, but he is under the influence of many factors, and therefore any moral advice is of no use to him.

5) And finally some say: Morals are built on the foundations of obedience to God, which they are based on fear and greed, since these two things can never be separated from morals!

These contradictory statements, are clearly indicative of the wrong understanding of human freedom. Therefore, a thorough and complete study of religious morals, and in particular Islamic morals, is required to provide a solution to this problem.

First, we need to understand why Man is in pursuit of freedom, why he feels the need for freedom, what is the role of freedom in the development of the body and soul, and in one sentence: what is the philosophy of freedom?

The answer to these questions can be summarized as follows:

Within Man there exist potentials and hidden powers, and the power to act requires freedom. Since Man is in constant pursuit of perfection and development of his potentials and capabilities, he demands complete freedom to do so.

But, is this freedom unconditional? Or is it set within the boundaries of a rational and religious framework?

Let me explain this with an example:

A farmer decides to cultivate his land with different fruit trees and vegetables in his field, and goes about preparing his land, planting the seeds and watering the field as necessary. Of course, he makes sure the trees get their needed share of sun light and air and rain, so their roots can grow freely and deep into the ground to take in all the minerals needed for their healthy growth. Based on this, the freedom of the roots and branches and leaves are necessary to provide the farmer with his fruit, but it is possible that one branch becomes skewed. The farmer then has to cut this branch off, otherwise it will use up energy otherwise intended for the healthy branches. And nobody can object to the farmer for doing so. The same applies to a slanted trunk of a young tree, where he ties a wooden stick to keep it straight, and nobody would object. But some people would still ask: Why didn’t you leave the tree to grow freely? And the farmer would answer: The tree has to be free to bear its fruit, not to be slanted and I will lose all my hard work for nothing.

The same applies to the human being, who has many important abilities to achieve great things. If these potentials are guided in the right directions, he has the potential to reach great heights and levels of perfection, both in the material and intellectual sense. He is free to utilize these potentials in the correct way, yet not waste them on things that could hamper this progress.

So those who defined freedom to be unlimited and unconstrained, have not understood the true meaning of the word. Freedom is the appropriate use of the potentials and abilities in order to reach high goals, whether these goals were material or otherwise.

A lot of what the west consider to be freedoms are fake and imaginary. For example the young man who decided to use his freedom to obtain addictive drugs, has in reality become a prisoner and fallen under the will of others to control him as they please. Whereas the freedom which is acted upon in parallel to keeping the right moral values, is what gives Man true freedom and complete control over his desires. This is beautifully described by the Commander of the Faithful (‘a), when he said:

"إنّ تقوى الله مفتاحُ سَداد، وذخيرةُ مَعاد، وعتقٌ من كلّ مَلكة، ونجاةٌ من كلّ هلكة"

‘Certainly, fear of Allah is the key to guidance, provision for the next world, freedom from every slavery, and deliverance from all ruin.’ (Nahjul Balaghah – Sermon 228)

And so it should be clear that morals are not meant to be an obstruction to Man’s development in this world, or to reach his full potential as a human being, nor is it a restriction on his natural desires, but morals are tools to achieve aid him on his path to perfection.


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