If you ask the average person if they prefer to be free or a slave the vast majority would hands down proclaim with absolute certainty that they would prefer freedom over slavery, but is that really true?
Children of Israel
The Children of Israel were slaves in Egypt and were facing the worst persecution by their captors who were killing their sons and letting their daughters live.
[7:141] Recall that we delivered you from Pharaoh’s people, who inflicted the worst persecution upon you, killing your sons and sparing your daughters. That was an exacting trial for you from your Lord.
وَإِذْ أَنْجَيْنَاكُمْ مِنْ آلِ فِرْعَوْنَ يَسُومُونَكُمْ سُوءَ الْعَذَابِ يُقَتِّلُونَ أَبْنَاءَكُمْ وَيَسْتَحْيُونَ نِسَاءَكُمْ وَفِي ذَٰلِكُمْ بَلَاءٌ مِنْ رَبِّكُمْ عَظِيمٌ
Despite what a recent woke Army recruiting video might portray, a society that had lost a generation of their young strong males will not have much of a chance of overthrowing their oppressors. And before the cries from feminist that make the claim that the Quran is sexist because it calls “killing your sons and sparing your daughters” the worst punishment, ask yourself what do you think happened to the young surviving women in such a society who had their male protectors killed off?
So one would think that if any group of people would long to be free it would have been the Children of Israel at the time of Pharaoh yet what do we learn from their response after God blessed them with freedom?
[2:61] Recall that you said, “O Moses, we can no longer tolerate one kind of food. Call upon your Lord to produce for us such earthly crops as beans, cucumbers, garlic, lentils, and onions.” He said, “Do you wish to substitute that which is inferior for that which is good? Go down to Egypt, where you can find what you asked for.” They have incurred condemnation, humiliation, and disgrace, and brought upon themselves wrath from GOD. This is because they rejected GOD’s revelations, and killed the prophets unjustly. This is because they disobeyed and transgressed.
وَإِذْ قُلْتُمْ يَامُوسَىٰ لَنْ نَصْبِرَ عَلَىٰ طَعَامٍ وَاحِدٍ فَادْعُ لَنَا رَبَّكَ يُخْرِجْ لَنَا مِمَّا تُنْبِتُ الْأَرْضُ مِنْ بَقْلِهَا وَقِثَّائِهَا وَفُومِهَا وَعَدَسِهَا وَبَصَلِهَا قَالَ أَتَسْتَبْدِلُونَ الَّذِي هُوَ أَدْنَىٰ بِالَّذِي هُوَ خَيْرٌ اهْبِطُوا مِصْرًا فَإِنَّ لَكُمْ مَا سَأَلْتُمْ وَضُرِبَتْ عَلَيْهِمُ الذِّلَّةُ وَالْمَسْكَنَةُ وَبَاءُوا بِغَضَبٍ مِنَ اللَّهِ ذَٰلِكَ بِأَنَّهُمْ كَانُوا يَكْفُرُونَ بِآيَاتِ اللَّهِ وَيَقْتُلُونَ النَّبِيِّينَ بِغَيْرِ الْحَقِّ ذَٰلِكَ بِمَا عَصَوْا وَكَانُوا يَعْتَدُونَ
The vast majority of them preferred to be slaves because of the conveniences it offered despite the persecution, rather than freedom and the hardship it entailed. If this is the response from the Children of Israel what makes us think we are any different?
I am sure that many people are in denial regarding such accusations, but then this would mean that the Children of Israel were an isolated case and not a lesson for other generations and communities. It is controversial but there is much writings and interviews of African American’s who were once slaves in America who lamented their freedom after slavery was abolished.
Around 1937, Clara Davis, wrote about her nostalgic days of bondage in Alabama:
White folks you can have your automobiles, paved streets and lights. You can have your buses, and street cars, and hot pavement and tall buildings cause I aint got no use for em no way. I tell you what I do want–I want my old cotton bed and the moonlight shining through the willow trees, and the cool grass under my feet while I run around catching lightening bugs. I want to feel the sway of the old wagon, going down the red, dusty road, and listening to the wheels groaning as they roll along. I want to sink my teeth into that old ash cake.
White folks, I want to see the boats passing up and down the Alabammy river and hear the slaves singing at their work. I want to see dawn break over the black ridge and the twilight settle over the place spreading an orange hue. I want to walk the paths through the woods and see the rabbits and the birds and the frogs at night…
But they took me away from that a long time ago. Weren’t long before I married and had children, but don’t none of em contribute to my support now. One of them was killed in the big war with German, and the rest is all scattered out–eight of em. Now I just live from hand to mouth. Here one day, somewhere else the next. I guess we all gonna die iffin this depression don’t let us alone. Maybe someday I’ll get to go home. They tell me that when a person crosses over that river, the Lord gives him what he wants. I don told the Lord I don’t want nothing much—only my home, white folks. I don’t think that’s much to ask for. I suppose he’ll send me back there. I been waiting a long time for him to call.
This seems almost too hard to believe. How can individuals whose lives were reduced as no more than the literal property of others lament their newly obtained freedom?
There is a fair amount of research that many career criminals prefer prison over freedom or house arrest when faced with the realities of the responsibilities they face: going to work, paying bills, paying child support, dealing with every day life choices, etc.
One criminal justice study showed that up to one-third of convicts surveyed preferred being sentenced to prison over other alternatives such as including boot camp, work-release and probation.
Peter Wood, an associate professor in sociology at Mississippi State University who has studied sentencing preferences of more than 1,100 prisoners in Kentucky, Indiana and Oklahoma stated that “The basic issue is that a lot of inmates would rather just do the time rather than invest effort and time in doing an alternative sanction.”
Robert Sigler, a criminal justice professor at the University of Alabama, said repeat offenders and career criminals who have had a taste of prison and alternative sanctions often see prison as a less restrictive environment. Even probation or parole are not as popular for experienced inmates because of the heavy supervision they experience over their private lives.
“They would take 12 months in prison over 15 months probation,” said Sigler, who has interviewed Illinois prisoners on the subject. “Probation makes it more difficult for them to pursue a criminal career.”
In a 2019 article from Vice it shared why some Danish convicts preferred to be in prison rather than house arrest.
Paulo Kongsbirk had multiple convictions on his record, eight of which were violence-related. Before his most recent sentencing, the 39-year-old was able to show that he’d broken away from his criminal connections—and also that his wife was pregnant—so was allowed to serve his time at home with an ankle monitor, rather than in prison.
However, serving his sentence in the comfort of his own home proved more difficult than he’d imagined. So one day, Kongsbirk cut off his house arrest bracelet so the police would send him back to jail. “It was hard for me to live a normal life as a parent. I needed to go back to prison to get some peace and quiet,” said Kongsbirk.
The reason that the choice between slavery and freedom in actuality is not as cut and dry as people make it out to be is because they are only considering these options in the extreme cases but the reality is much more nuanced than that. The choice between freedom and slavery is more of a sliding scale. In one extreme of no freedom we imagine a person chained up in a cell who has no say in anything they do, in the other extreme we imagine a person living in the world who is free to do whatever they want without consequence of society.
The reality is that most of us will give up a good amount of freedom in order to have the conveniences that society is willing to offer. The rub is that we underestimate just how much freedom we are willing to give up for these conveniences. That rather than moving out in the wilderness without any authority where we are free to do whatever we want without obligation to society and absolute autonomy, but the tradeoff that we have to fend for ourselves and are limited to what we can produce for ourselves or nature has to offer we prefer to live in a society where there are rules and limitations to what we can do with the return expectations that we can benefit from what society has to offer if we give up some amount of our own autonomy.
This includes in more mundane cases to give taxes to the government, to work to earn money, to follow certain norms, customs, and regulations of modern society, but in the more extreme cases to give up our freedom of speech, freedom of expression, and our freedom of religion.
So the question is not do you prefer slavery over freedom, but how much slavery will you tolerate for the amenties of this world? In the case of the Children of Israel, they were willing to forgo all the newly obtained freedoms that God had blessed them with and go back into bondage under the tyranny of Pharaoh where they would have all their liberties stripped away and run the risk of having their children killed or taken just in order to have garlic, lentils, onions, and cucumbers and other worldly possessions because they were sick and tiered of the manna and quails that God was providing them.
Slavery vs. Worship
One of the Arabic words used in the Quran for a slave is عَبْد (abid), this word comes also from one of the words for worship عْبُدُ (abudu). When we prioritize anything over our worship for God then that thing becomes our god, and our object of worship.
Like it or not we are all slaves but the question is what do we want to be a slave to? Whatever we become a slave to then that becomes our god. If we become slaves to our work, family, children, and give them priority over God then they become our idols.
[9:24] Proclaim: “If your parents, your children, your siblings, your spouses, your family, the money you have earned, a business you worry about, and the homes you cherish are more beloved to you than GOD and His messenger, and the striving in His cause, then just wait until GOD brings His judgment.” GOD does not guide the wicked people.
قُلْ إِنْ كَانَ آبَاؤُكُمْ وَأَبْنَاؤُكُمْ وَإِخْوَانُكُمْ وَأَزْوَاجُكُمْ وَعَشِيرَتُكُمْ وَأَمْوَالٌ اقْتَرَفْتُمُوهَا وَتِجَارَةٌ تَخْشَوْنَ كَسَادَهَا وَمَسَاكِنُ تَرْضَوْنَهَا أَحَبَّ إِلَيْكُمْ مِنَ اللَّهِ وَرَسُولِهِ وَجِهَادٍ فِي سَبِيلِهِ فَتَرَبَّصُوا حَتَّىٰ يَأْتِيَ اللَّهُ بِأَمْرِهِ وَاللَّهُ لَا يَهْدِي الْقَوْمَ الْفَاسِقِينَ
If you are still in disbelief that many people will choose slavery over freedom, consider how the world responded to COVID since last year. How many people quickly handed over their freedoms, their ability to travel, to congregate for worship, their ability to earn a living, educate their children, visit their family and loved ones over a virus with a death rate of less than 1% with the average age of mortality of ~77 years of age, the same rate as the median life expectancy in the United States.
Early on this might have been acceptable because the virus was not well understood, but now a year into this pandemic now that we know the risk factors how many people are still subservient to these draconian anti-religious measures?
The Other Side
But there is another side to this, from the perspective of the group who has more of their freedoms in a society. How likely is there that the people who are not being oppressed to speak out against the injustice they see? God provides us an example of a believing Egyptian at the time of Pharaoh and his bravery in speaking out against the wrongs of what he was seeing.
[40:28] A believing man among Pharaoh’s people, who was concealing his belief, said, “How can you kill a man just for saying, ‘My Lord is GOD,’ and he has shown you clear proofs from your Lord? If he is a liar, that is his problem, and if he is truthful, you benefit from his promises. Surely, GOD does not guide any transgressor, liar. [40:29] “O my people, today you have kingship and the upperhand. But who will help us against GOD’s judgment, should it come to us?” Pharaoh said, “You are to follow only what I see fit; I will guide you only in the right path.” [40:30] The one who believed said, “O my people, I fear for you the same fate as the previous opponents. [40:31] “The opponents of Noah, and ‘Ãd, Thamûd, and others who came after them. GOD does not wish any injustice for the people. [40:32] “O my people, I fear for you the Day of Summoning. [40:33] “That is the day when you may wish to turn around and flee. But nothing will protect you then from GOD. Whomever GOD sends astray, nothing can guide him.”
It is easy to stand for the truth when the people in one’s environment are in agreement, but the real test comes when we stand for the truth despite the pushback and ramifications that one will face for holding such opinions. Therefore,
A person is not virtuous for the popular opinions they eagerly promote, but the unpopular truths they dare to proclaim.
To articulate this point below is a thought experiment from Professor Robert George of Princeton.
Imagine you are living in 1860 Alabama. How many of you would be on the side of the abolitionist?
Nearly all the hands go up
Really? Can anyone of you name a single political stance you are currently willing to publicly proclaim that may cost you your life, liberty, or career today?
We all like to think that we are not a byproduct of our environment and our norms, but consider that in 1860 Alabama 25% of free blacks even owned slaves. So to think that we would all be immune to such societal pressures and stick with the morals we have today, if we were living in 1860 Alabama, would be naive.
It is easy to stand up for the truth when the individuals we are in contact with are in agreement, but as we have seen through the example of the messengers and prophets the real test is if we are willing to do this when it goes against the crowd. Like Moses to Pharaoh, or Muhammad to the People of Quraish, or Jesus to the Children of Israel, or Abraham to his people and his father, or Lot to his community, we see that throughout history the true test for the believers is are they willing to stand for the truth despite the opposition.
God informs us that He never burdens a soul beyond its means (2:285), but at the same time that as believers we know that we will be tested through insults from those who do not believe (3:187).
[2:286] GOD never burdens a soul beyond its means: to its credit is what it earns, and against it is what it commits. “Our Lord, do not condemn us if we forget or make mistakes. Our Lord, and protect us from blaspheming against You, like those before us have done. Our Lord, protect us from sinning until it becomes too late for us to repent. Pardon us and forgive us. You are our Lord and Master. Grant us victory over the disbelieving people.”
لَا يُكَلِّفُ اللَّهُ نَفْسًا إِلَّا وُسْعَهَا لَهَا مَا كَسَبَتْ وَعَلَيْهَا مَا اكْتَسَبَتْ رَبَّنَا لَا تُؤَاخِذْنَا إِنْ نَسِينَا أَوْ أَخْطَأْنَا رَبَّنَا وَلَا تَحْمِلْ عَلَيْنَا إِصْرًا كَمَا حَمَلْتَهُ عَلَى الَّذِينَ مِنْ قَبْلِنَا رَبَّنَا وَلَا تُحَمِّلْنَا مَا لَا طَاقَةَ لَنَا بِهِ وَاعْفُ عَنَّا وَاغْفِرْ لَنَا وَارْحَمْنَا أَنْتَ مَوْلَانَا فَانْصُرْنَا عَلَى الْقَوْمِ الْكَافِرِينَ
[3:186] You will certainly be tested, through your money and your lives, and you will hear from those who received the scripture, and from the idol worshipers, a lot of insult. If you steadfastly persevere and lead a righteous life, this will prove the strength of your faith.
لَتُبْلَوُنَّ فِي أَمْوَالِكُمْ وَأَنْفُسِكُمْ وَلَتَسْمَعُنَّ مِنَ الَّذِينَ أُوتُوا الْكِتَابَ مِنْ قَبْلِكُمْ وَمِنَ الَّذِينَ أَشْرَكُوا أَذًى كَثِيرًا وَإِنْ تَصْبِرُوا وَتَتَّقُوا فَإِنَّ ذَٰلِكَ مِنْ عَزْمِ الْأُمُورِ
This is a mandatory test that all believers will eventually have to face to prove their faith.
[29:2] Do the people think that they will be left to say, “We believe,” without being put to the test?
أَحَسِبَ النَّاسُ أَنْ يُتْرَكُوا أَنْ يَقُولُوا آمَنَّا وَهُمْ لَا يُفْتَنُونَ
[29:3] We have tested those before them, for GOD must distinguish those who are truthful, and He must expose the liars.
وَلَقَدْ فَتَنَّا الَّذِينَ مِنْ قَبْلِهِمْ فَلَيَعْلَمَنَّ اللَّهُ الَّذِينَ صَدَقُوا وَلَيَعْلَمَنَّ الْكَاذِبِينَ
While God allows for weak believers to hide their faith at times and even profess disbelief if forced, this should not be the perpetual state of a believer.
[3:28] The believers never ally themselves with the disbelievers, instead of the believers. Whoever does this is exiled from GOD. Exempted are those who are forced to do this to avoid persecution. GOD alerts you that you shall reverence Him alone. To GOD is the ultimate destiny.
لَا يَتَّخِذِ الْمُؤْمِنُونَ الْكَافِرِينَ أَوْلِيَاءَ مِنْ دُونِ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ وَمَنْ يَفْعَلْ ذَٰلِكَ فَلَيْسَ مِنَ اللَّهِ فِي شَيْءٍ إِلَّا أَنْ تَتَّقُوا مِنْهُمْ تُقَاةً وَيُحَذِّرُكُمُ اللَّهُ نَفْسَهُ وَإِلَى اللَّهِ الْمَصِيرُ
[16:106] Those who disbelieve in GOD, after having acquired faith, and become fully content with disbelief, have incurred wrath from GOD. The only ones to be excused are those who are forced to profess disbelief, while their hearts are full of faith.
مَنْ كَفَرَ بِاللَّهِ مِنْ بَعْدِ إِيمَانِهِ إِلَّا مَنْ أُكْرِهَ وَقَلْبُهُ مُطْمَئِنٌّ بِالْإِيمَانِ وَلَٰكِنْ مَنْ شَرَحَ بِالْكُفْرِ صَدْرًا فَعَلَيْهِمْ غَضَبٌ مِنَ اللَّهِ وَلَهُمْ عَذَابٌ عَظِيمٌ
Eventually our true convictions have to be put to the test to see if we will stand with God despite the persecution we will face.
[29:10] Among the people there are those who say, “We believe in GOD,” but as soon as they suffer any hardship because of GOD, they equate the people’s persecution with GOD’s retribution. But if blessings from your Lord come your way, they say, “We were with you.” Is GOD not fully aware of the people’s innermost thoughts?
وَمِنَ النَّاسِ مَنْ يَقُولُ آمَنَّا بِاللَّهِ فَإِذَا أُوذِيَ فِي اللَّهِ جَعَلَ فِتْنَةَ النَّاسِ كَعَذَابِ اللَّهِ وَلَئِنْ جَاءَ نَصْرٌ مِنْ رَبِّكَ لَيَقُولُنَّ إِنَّا كُنَّا مَعَكُمْ أَوَلَيْسَ اللَّهُ بِأَعْلَمَ بِمَا فِي صُدُورِ الْعَالَمِينَ
[29:11] GOD will most certainly distinguish those who believe, and He will most certainly expose the hypocrites.
وَلَيَعْلَمَنَّ اللَّهُ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَلَيَعْلَمَنَّ الْمُنَافِقِينَ
So therefore we cannot go our whole lives avoiding standing up for righteousness or continually professing disbelief because we are concerned about the possible threat to our emotions, liberty, or life. At some point it is required that if want to prove that we are a committed believer that we will stand with God in the face of fear of backlash from the people.
[3:175] It is the devil’s system to instill fear into his subjects. Do not fear them and fear Me instead, if you are believers.
إِنَّمَا ذَٰلِكُمُ الشَّيْطَانُ يُخَوِّفُ أَوْلِيَاءَهُ فَلَا تَخَافُوهُمْ وَخَافُونِ إِنْ كُنْتُمْ مُؤْمِنِينَ
Today in society we are being inundated by all kinds of vices and sinful conduct and being pressured to accept them in order to not be deemed an outcast in society. Believers are being pressured to not just tolerate but to condone and support acts of adultery, homosexuality, abortion, transgenderism, sexualization of children, promotion of government sanctioned racism in the form of Critical Race Theory, destruction of the nuclear family, and not to mention in the restrictions of worship practices, our freedom of religion and many of our basic liberties for the sake of COVID. How many people are willing to speak the truth in face of such societal pressures compared to those who prefer to adopt such satanic beliefs in order to fit in with the rest of society.
This shows that slavery is not always in the context of our status in society, but has to do with who a person allows to rule over them. Because a person can be rich and have status in society but if they kowtow to the wishes of the society when in opposition to the truth then they are just as much of a slave as the person who doesn’t have status in a society but prefers to be oppressed rather than free because of the worldly conveniences the society has to offer them.
And we see this all the time with celebrities who have millions of dollars tons of followers who grovel at the feet of unjust authorities. Be it the Chinese Communist Party when they call Taiwan a country, or standing on the side of liberty for the people of Hong Kong. Or the woke mob going after anyone who objects that men and women are biologically different, or that children should not have sex reassignment surgery or hormone blockers, and that biological males should not be allowed to compete in female sports. How many of these people are slaves to these entities and go against the truth just to appease these tyrannical mobs.
God willing we will never sell our righteousness for the worldly pleasures and conveniences of this world be it material or status and always stand on the side of truth, justice, and righteousness.