The Prayer Must Be Free

Author :

Adnan Abbasi is currently pursuing Bachelor of Arts (Hons.) degree majoring in Social and Political Science from Ahmedabad University. He is a Writing Fellow at Students for Liberty’s Fellowship for Freedom in India.


The origin of human beings in Islam is an interesting story, quite like the ones found in Christianity and Judaism, that revolves around intelligent creation by God. It tells that upon creating the first man, God asked all the angels to bow down to him, which they did. However, what came before that is even more fascinating. When God was informing Angels about creating human beings, they curiously asked him why is he doing that? After all, Angels used to serve God all the time and human beings might not, they can choose to engage in destructive activities like theft, betrayal, adultery, and whatnot, they in a nutshell have freewill. Angels do not have that capability, they are programmed to obey God and follow his instructions and cannot choose to defy him on any occasion.


However, the faculty of making choices gave a very different meaning of worship to human beings as compared to the angels. Unlike the angels who are programmed to worship God, a human being chooses to pray for the love of God. At least that’s what should be the case, but unfortunately for many, it isn’t. A lot of elders complain that the way their children pray is very disheartening and in many cases the children might stop praying all together once they become adults. But if we think about the problem from a different standpoint, this implies that the children were not praying for the love of God in the first place, but rather just for the sake of following a mere ritual. Will such a prayer be considered a moral prayer?


Let me tell you a story. Imagine you were walking down the street alone on a lonely winter evening. In a moment someone sneaks behind you with a sharp knife at your neck and whispers “Give me your wallet or you are dead.” You got frightened and decided to comply. The next day police caught the boy who mugged you and you felt relieved. While visiting the police station you saw the boy in lock-up and came to know from the police officials that this was his first crime as he was an orphan and needed money to feed his younger brother. You felt bad for him and decided to withdraw the case against the boy, give him some money, and help him get a job with which he was able to take care of himself and his little brother.     


When you met him some months later, you felt happy that you were able to change someone’s life. You gave money to the boy when he mugged you and when you decided to help him due to his living conditions. However, it is the second instance of giving the money as a choice and out of your free will that makes you happy.


The same applies to the concept of prayer as well. A prayer can be true to God and moral only when an individual performs it voluntarily — without any coercive means. However, many times people, especially children, are forced to pray. In many places, children are introduced to prayers through violent coercion which involves the use of corporal punishments as well, these incidents have led to both physical and mental harm to these children. Forget children, there was a time in Saudi Arabia, not very long ago, when an entity nicknamed ‘Religious Police’, literally dragged adult men to the mosque during prayer time.


Is this what God sent us for? To make religious bureaucracies that force adults to pray in a Mosque, that too in the very land where Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) once lived? Or to unleash unbearable cruelties on children in the name of teaching them how to pray? Not quite, per contra Qu’rān explicitly tells us in Sūrāh 2 verse number 256 “Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from Error: whoever rejects evil and believes in Allah hath grasped the most trustworthy hand-hold, that never breaks. And Allah heareth and knoweth all things.” This verse was revealed to the Prophet when a man was forcefully trying to convert his Christian daughters to Islam, however this verse implied he couldn’t and then the man had to stop. Today, scholars use this verse to not only argue for religious freedom and oppose forced conversions, but extend it to towards claiming that an individual has a right to not practice Islam as well.


As Abou El Fadl—an American Law Professor specializing in Islamic law—writes in his book The Great Theft: Wrestling Islam from the Extremists “Moderates consider this verse to be enunciating a general, overriding principle that cannot be contradicted by isolated traditions attributed to the Prophet. Therefore, moderates do not believe that there is any punishment that attaches to apostasy.” What he meant here was that there is no anecdote where Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) forcefully made anyone follow Islam, neither is there any Qu’rānic verse suggesting that, so we should not tread on other people’s personal liberty either.


Regarding children, there are some traditions within Islam that allows for some punishment while teaching children about the faith. Prophet Muhammad, says in one place that “Command your children to pray when they become seven years old, and beat them for it (prayer) when they become ten years old; and arrange their beds (to sleep) separately.” However, this in no way sets a precedent for corporal punishment, as Islamic Jurist Al Subki said “With regard to smacking a child for not praying, it is stipulated that the smacking should be light and should not be painful and should not break the skin, or break a tooth or bone. It should be on the back or the hand and the like, and the face is to be avoided because it is forbidden to strike it, because the Prophet (blessings and peace of Allaah be upon him) forbade that.”


However, we must note that this allowance of mild smacking is not to be considered as an encouragement as the Prophet of Islam emphasizes “Use love and affection in education and upbringing and don’t have access to cruelty because a wise mentor is better than a cruel one.”


Denise Cummins, who is a psychologist and a cognitive scientist, says that using violence against children has bad consequences on them as well as on parent-child relationship. There is a chance that children facing violence might learn bad lessons such as “might makes right” and become bullies, which is definitely against everything Prophet Muhammd stood for. Moreover, even if physical violence disciplines a child, as Cummins argues, it has a potential to permanently destroy the parental bond. We must remember what the Prophet said here: “Allah has cursed those parents who (by their behaviour) compel their children to disobey them.” Isn’t that what violence does to children?


It is ironic that a belief system given by God and championed by the Prophet, based on free choice and love of God and the Prophet, was gradually coerced by the religious policing in the society. Think about it, has force ever created love? Love always had and always will come from within an individual. Since the final Ashra of the Holy Month of Ramadan is currently on, let this one be for the love of God.