Liberty identifies a condition in which human beings can act according to their own free will and take responsibility of their actions. John Stuart Mill has differentiated two types of liberty, i.e. (a) absence of external coercion and (b) freedom to act. Isaiah Berlin also differentiated two types of liberty, i.e. (a) negative liberty which is about absence of external restraints to one’s action, and (b) presence of means and opportunities to act. Berlin described that a statement such as “I am slave to no man” is one of Negative Liberty, i.e. freedom from another individual’s direct interference. He contrasted this with a statement such as “I am my own master” as one of Positive Liberty, i.e. freedom to choose one’s own pursuits in life. Negative Liberty refers to ‘freedom from’ while Positive Liberty refers to ‘freedom to’. Charles Taylor has distinguished Negative Liberty as ‘freedom from external restraints’ and Positive Liberty as ‘freedom from internal restraints (such as fear, ignorance, weakness, etc.)’.
The Quran says categorically that “There is absolutely no compulsion or coercion in (opting for a particular) Deen (or a way of life or a system of beliefs and actions)” [Chapter 2: verse 256]. Freedom of choice is the birth right of every human being. Allah says in the Quran that “Had He willed (not giving humans the freedom of choice), He would have made every human being believe all together; would you then (O Muhammad) compel people until they become believers” [Chapter 10: verse 99]. One of the most commendable acts of Allah’s Messenger (p.b.u.h) was that he relieved people of their burdens and shackles which were upon them earlier on [7:157].
According to the Quran, everyone has full freedom of choice in believing and disbelieving in a particular system of beliefs. It says, “The Truth is from your Lord, whoever wills let him believe and whoever wills let him disbelieve” [Chapter 18: verse 29]. The Quran gives complete freedom of choice in worship by saying that “Worship what you will…” [Chapter 39: verse 15]. But at the same time it enjoins man worshiping only his Creator for his own taqwa or preservation [Chapter 2: verse 21]. The Quran also gives complete freedom of choice in actions by saying that “Do whatever you will…” [Chapter 41: verse 40]. It further says that “Indeed, this (Quran) is a reminder, so whoever wills may take to his Lord a way” [Chapter 73: verse 19; Chapter 76: verse 29]. “No human being – even though Allah may have given him a Code of Laws or the power to enforce it or even Nubuwwat (prophet status) – has the right to say to the others: “You should serve me rather than Allah,” what he should say is: “You should be amongst those who belong to Allah by following His Book which you teach to others and study yourself.” [Chapter 3: verse 79]
The Quran makes it clear that liberty goes hand in hand with responsibility of the consequences for one’s actions. It says, “There has come to you enlightenment from your Lord; whoever reflects on it, will do so to his own advantage. On the other hand, those who choose to remain blind to it, will do so to their own disadvantage” [Chapter 6: verse 104]. “Whoever disbelieves will suffer from his disbelief, and whosoever does righteous deeds then such will prepare a good place for themselves” [Chapter 30: verse 44]. “The truth from your Lord has certainly come to you. One who comes to be guided by it will be guided to his own advantage. But one who chooses to go astray will only harm himself” [Chapter 10: verse 108; Chapter 17: verse 15; Chapter 27: verse 92; Chapter 39: verse 41]. “If you do the right thing it would be to your own advantage and if you go astray you will have to suffer the consequences of your wrong actions” [Chapter17:7]. “Whoever does righteousness, it is for his own soul and whoever does evil does so against himself” [Chapter 41: verse 46; Chapter 45: verse 15]. “Whoever commits a wrong, wrongs himself” [Chapter 4: verse 111]. “Your insolence or transgression is against your own selves” [Chapter 10: verse23]
Liberty does not mean ‘License’. The Quran says, for example, that “One must not take away anyone’s life unjustly, which Allah has made sacred” (Chapter 17: verse 33]. Unjust murder is such a heinous crime that it has been laid down in the Quran that “if one kills another except as a punishment for murder or for spreading disorder in the land it shall be as if he has killed all mankind. On the other hand, if one saves the life of a single person it shall be as if he has saved the lives of all mankind” [Chapter 5: verse 32]. Similarly, one must not acquire anyone’s wealth or property unjustly or unlawfully [2:188; 4:116]. In fact the boundary of one’s liberty ends where the liberty of others begins to get restricted.