The importance of freedom has arguably been underplayed in Islamic, and most other, religious thought. Prior to the modern world emphasising the importance of liberty, the value of the individual and the agency of human beings, collective life, duties and responsibilities were often heralded as more important virtues.

However, the autonomy of the human spirit cannot be denied in the Islamic tradition. The will of human beings – the free will to accept or reject, even faith – is the differentiating feature and the force that is seen to elevate man above the rest of God’s creation. As the Quran says: “…let there be no coercion in matters of faith…” (2:256). Thus, exercising that free will is, in its most basic sense, the right of human beings, a human right. Such rights have been hard won and need to be protected at all costs.

As the ways in which we view the world and our roles in it evolve and develop, human understanding has come to treasure and celebrate the human spirit. But we have also seen the devastating consequence of unfettered human action when at its worst – wars, genocides and awful brutalities in the name of nations, ideologies, religions, wealth and any number of other causes. Our freedoms are to be cherished, but they only have true value when we exercise them responsibly whilst bearing in mind the dignity and rights of other human beings.