Written by Sir Syed in Urdu, "Azadi-e-Raai"
By: Abbas Ali
This article is derived from the writings of a very able and intelligent philosopher of our time. Opinion is something to which every person has a right. Suppose all people except one agree on some issue, but only that person has an opposing opinion. All those people do not have any greater right to prove him wrong than he must prove all other people wrong (if he can prove it). There is no reason five people have the right to prove the other five wrong, but one man has no right to prove nine men wrong. An opinion being wrong does not depend upon the number of people or a lesser number of people in favour, but it depends upon the power of reasoning. Similarly, just as it is possible that the opinions of nine people can be correct against one person, it is also possible that one person’s opinion can be correct against nine people.
It is terrible that opinions are not expressed due to some religious fear, apprehensions about brotherhood and nation, fear of defamation, or any tyranny. Had the value of an opinion depended upon the possessor of the opinion and been limited to his person only, we would consider that the non-expression of an opinion would harm only one person or a few people. But, non-expression of opinions is a disfavor to all humans and harms humanity out and out. It harms not only the current generation but also future generations. Although rituals and traditions are considered strong resisters to having an opposite opinion about them, religious ideas are the strongest resisters to expressing an opposing religious opinion. Such people are not content with expressing their displeasure over the expression of that opposing opinion. Still, at the same time, their religious passion comes to a boil, and they lose their sanity. In that situation, they take actions and express ideas that harm the religion they support. Because they hide the objections, the people of their religion do not think about the solutions to those objections.
Consequently, the objections raised by the opponents remain without research and without being rejected. Because of them, their children and grandchildren abandon religion when they learn about the unsubstantiated objections. Because of their foolishness, they show the world that the religion they follow is in danger due to objections by the opposers. If anyone from their religion wants to propagate the objectives mentioned above, they consider him an opponent. And, due to their foolishness, they make a foe of a friend.
What an excellent opinion the philosopher had: “The supporters of an opinion who resist propagating an opposite opinion suffer more losses than the opposers.” If the opposite opinion is correct, they lose the opportunity to receive the correct opinion due to their mistake of resisting it. And if that is incorrect, the opportunity to compare the correct and incorrect is lost. The comparison would have strengthened the correct opinion, and the truthfulness of the opinion would have influenced and enlightened more hearts. The desired result must be achieved, which is genuinely excellent and beneficial.
Undoubtedly, disseminating favourable and unfavourable opinions is an excellent and beneficial concept concerning religious or worldly matters. We can ponder the opinions separately to ascertain which of the two is better. Or both opinions can be supported by arguments suitable for both. We cannot be sure about the wrongness of an opinion we oppose. And if we are sure about its wrongness, opposing it is not bereft of immorality.
Assume an opinion we wish to oppose is correct. And those who wish to oppose it deny its correctness. However, we should consider that those who wish to oppose it are not infallible, have no right to judge the particular issue for the entire populace, and should deny others the right to express their opinion. Not hearing an opposite opinion because we believe that it is wrong is like considering our belief as the perfect belief. And prohibiting debate over it amounts to elevating one’s status over and above the prophets and considering oneself infallible.
I feel sorry for the understanding of humans that, based on the famous saying “man is a compound of mistakes and forgetfulness,” to the extent they consider the possibility of mistakes in their ideas and arguments, they do not think so in practical terms. In their practical actions, the value and status of it are very bleak, no matter how much they value it in their thinking. Although everyone accepts that mistakes are possible but there are very few people who keep this thing in mind and consider it necessary to take precautions in this regard practically, and in real terms accept that the opinion about the authenticity of which they are dead sure, perhaps that is an example of that mistake which they think is possible.
The people who, without any cause, are accustomed to unlimited respect due to their wealth, status, power, and knowledge are fully sure about the correctness of their opinions in all their dealings and do not see any possibility of being wrong. And the people who are luckier i.e. they occasionally listen to the repeated objections over their opinions. And some are habituated to shun their opinion and accept the right opinion when they are wrong and are objected by others, although they do not consider all their opinions perfect, but accept the opinions of those people to be correct who are around them and they respect their opinion. There is a thumb rule that a person who does not have much confidence in his personal opinion generally has more confidence in the opinions of other people. It is terminologically known as “general opinion” or “general religion.”
But the point must be understood that, in their opinion, what they mean by “general” In the opinion of such people, “the world” and “general” mean those few people whom they love and respect or who are their acquaintances. For example, his friend or the friends of his friend, people of his race and brotherhood, or people of his status and position Therefore, in their opinion, the meaning of “all the world” and “general” ends at the threshold of their friends and acquaintances. That is why the person considers that opinion to belong to the world in general and believes it to be true. He has full confidence in such an opinion and strongly believes in it; there is not a bit of faltering in it. The cause of it is that he is not aware of the fact that, before his epoch, what was the opinion of the people of other countries, communities, and religions regarding that issue? And what is their opinion now? The situation of such a person is that he thinks if he is walking on the right path, the answerability of his act is a reasonability of his imaginary world or the general opinion. Whatever is his situation or opinion that is not worthwhile and not to be believed. Therefore, due to the causes because of which he was born in a Muslim family and hence is a pious Muslim, according to the same causes he would have been a Christian, or an idol worshiper, had he been born in a Christian family or a Hindu family. He will never keep in mind that it is possible for a man to make a mistake, by the same reason his imaginary world and generality is not worth mentioning, even epoch after epoch and more than that it is possible that a vast world can make mistakes. It is very clear from history and present knowledge that during all the epochs such opinions were established and were taken as a strong truth but later on they were understood not only to be incorrect but totally absurd. Undoubtedly, there are various opinions in the present that will be considered inappropriate in the future. Similarly, many opinions that were in vogue in the past have been shunned now.
Anwar Sidiqi’s IntikhabMazameen Sir Syed (pg. 39-45)