God sets limit on 'Freedom of Speech'
The reality is that every society has limits on public views they don’t like. The only difference is in who defines the limits of this speech and how restrictive these limits are. Racism, national security, holocaust denial, incitement, glorification of terrorism, defamation and libel among many others, are all limits imposed on freedom of speech by many nations including those who are the loudest advocates of “freedom of speech”.
God in the Quran also limits the ‘free speech’ such as insulting or defamation of the sacred held by people:
And do not insult those they invoke other than Allah, lest they insult Allah in enmity without knowledge. Thus We have made [to appear] pleasing to every community their deeds. Then to their Lord is their return, and He will inform them about what they used to do. (Quran 6:108)
Spreading rumours i.e. unconfirmed news of public concern:
Believers, if a troublemaker brings you news, check it first, in case you wrong others unwittingly and later regret what you have done. [49:6]
Spreading Slander, no matter how trivial ones perceives the rumour or slander to be:
When you took it up with your tongues, and spoke with your mouths things you did not know [to be true], you thought it was trivial but to God it was very serious. [24:15]
The use of arrogant and derogative speech even in jest:
Believers, no one group of men should jeer at another, who may after all be better than them; no one group of women should jeer at another, who may after all be better than them; do not speak ill of one another; do not use offensive nicknames for one another. How bad it is to be called a mischief-maker after accepting faith! Those who do not repent of this behaviour are evildoers. [49:11]
You shall not treat the people with arrogance, nor shall you roam the earth proudly. God does not like the arrogant show-offs. Walk humbly and lower your voice - the ugliest voice is the donkey's voice. [31:18-19]
Believers, avoid making too many assumptions- some assumptions are sinful- and do not spy on one another or speak ill of people behind their backs: would any of you like to eat the flesh of your dead brother? No, you would hate it. So be mindful of God: God is ever relenting, most merciful. [49:12]
God in the Quran encourages one to speak all that is good or to avoid vain speech to increase one’s spirituality:
In most of their secret talks there is no good; but if one exhorts to a deed of charity or justice or conciliation between men, (secrecy is permissible); to him who does this, seeking the good pleasure of Allah, We shall soon give a reward of the highest (value). [4:114]
God teaches in the Quran to adopt responsible and the best speech:
[Prophet], tell My servants to say what is best. Satan sows discord among them: Satan is a sworn enemy of man. [17:53]
These are just some of the verses of the Quran pertaining to the etiquette and limits of speech.
Other than unthinking, impetuous, reckless and irresponsible speech, freedom of expression must be allowed in any society for its progression and reformation. Unfortunatley, in many Muslim majority societies this is not the case.
However, freedom of speech, as is commonly practiced, for most part is in contradiction to the ethics of Islam. In reality there is no such thing as absolute free speech. What exists is speech within predefined limits that differ between communities; whether in democracies or dictatorships, in accordance to whims and desires of human beings in oppostion to predefined limits by God Almighty.
Nevertheless, God has given Humans the freedom to choose whatever path he or she wills and face the consequences for their choice in their hereafter (see Quran 17:15).
And Allah knows best.
For Younger Readers
God teaches in the Quran, the holy book of Muslims that:
- Spreading unfounded gossip or rumour is a sin and may cause harm to people
- Beware of spreading such gossip on social media.
- Bad language such as swearing, insulting nicknames and curses are sins.
- Not to insult the 'sacred' of others.
- God; The All Knowing, sets limit on 'free speech' but gives Mankind the responsibilty to follow or not to do so.