“Ali, peace be upon him, says, ‘Greed means perpetual slavery.’ Thus, he considers greed worse than slavery. Here then, spiritual slavery is mentioned as something worse than physical slavery. There is also slavery to wealth, against which all moralists have warned mankind. “Another saying of Ali is, “The world is a passage, not a residence.” Again he says, ‘There are two groups of people in the world.’ He continues, ‘One of these two groups come and sell and enslave themselves and go, and the others come and buy their freedom and go.’
The freedom of human spirit and intellect from material bonds is one of the goals of Islam. God has created the human with a noble spirit and intellectual power. The dignity of man is lowered and his freedom compromised when he succumbs to his lusts or social pressures. Spiritual and intellectual freedom is the hallmark of justice and free life.
One of the missions of the Prophets (peace be upon them) was to liberate human beings from slavery: slavery to other men, as well as slavery to their own basic desires. The Holy Qur’an calls human beings to the worship of One God: “Say: ‘O People of the Book! Come now to a common word between us and you – that we worship none but God, and that we don’t associate anyone with Him, and do not some of us take others as Lord apart from God.'” (3:64)
The above verse urges human beings to worship One God alone and avoid the slavery of anyone other than Allah. This gives man the high station of dignity and freedom. He is saved from the slavery of others as wells of his own self. He is asked to not bow before false powers, wealth, or his own low desires, e.g. lust, greed, etc. True freedom comes with spiritual freedom, and spiritual freedom is not possible until one submits fully before One True God and shuns all other false deities. Justice can only be established by those who are free from the slavery of their own self and others. The Holy Qur’an puts this beautifully: “God sets forth an example: There is a slave in whom are (several) partners differing with one another, and there is another slave wholly owned by one man. Are the two alike in condition? (All) praise is due to God. Nay! most of them do not know.” (39:29) We are slaves to our lust, greed, carnal desires, wealth, power, etc., whereas we should be slaves to God only. This is the path to spiritual freedom.
Martyr Ayatollah Murtadha Mutahhari quotes Imam Ali (peace be upon him) on the subject in his discussion about spiritual freedom and explains what is spiritual freedom:
“Ali, peace be upon him, says, ‘Greed means perpetual slavery.’ Thus, he considers greed worse than slavery. Here then, spiritual slavery is mentioned as something worse than physical slavery. There is also slavery to wealth, against which all moralists have warned mankind.
“Another saying of Ali is, “The world is a passage, not a residence.” Again he says, ‘There are two groups of people in the world.’ He continues, ‘One of these two groups come and sell and enslave themselves and go, and the others come and buy their freedom and go.’ These two attitudes can also be applied to wealth, either to be a slave of wealth or free from it. A person should say that as he or she must not be a slave to riches, he or she should say, ‘I am a human being. Why should I make myself a slave of inanimate things like gold and silver, land and other things?’
“But the truth is that when a person thinks the self to be a slave of wealth, that person is in fact a slave to his or her mental characteristics, a slave to greed and one’s animal nature. For inanimate things like money, land, machine, and even animals have no power to enslave that person. When one ponders deeply over this matter, one finds the source of slavery to lie in one’s own peculiarities such as greed, lust, anger and carnal desires.
“The Holy Qur’an says, ‘Have you noticed someone who has made his carnal desires his god?’ Wealth itself is not to blame when a person is warned against his or her own desires. Thus if one liberates oneself from the bond of one’s wicked desires, one will realize that one is not at the service of wealth.” (Spiritual Discourses, available online)
While inculcating the lessons of true freedom and self respect to people, Imam Ali encouraged his subjects to feel free with him, and to not consider their governors superior to themselves. He says, “Do not use for him (the ruler) the expressions they use for tyrants by which they might abase themselves and elevate them.” He tells them to speak with him as they did with ordinary people. He says, “If by chance they found him angry and hot-tempered, they should not lose courage, but should freely state their objections.” He continues that they should not confirm and express agreement with every word and action of his. He says that they should not suppose their true words to seem too heavy to bear for him. On the contrary, he would be well pleased to hear truth and proper criticism. He goes on to say that even though he is their ruler and caliph and they are his subjects, they should not praise and flatter him. Then he lays down a general principle by saying that a man who cannot bear hearing truth will find it even more difficult to act truly. (Spiritual Discourses)
The Holy Qur’an asks us to be just, rational, and free in our thoughts. We are asked not to accept anything until it is the truth. All the senses given by God will be accounted for: “And follow not that of which you have not the knowledge; surely, the hearing and the sight and the heart, all of these, shall be questioned about that.” (17:36)
Islam asks us to shun intellectual slavery to others and avoid accepting guidance from those who have no sure knowledge but follow only conjectures: “And if you obey most of those in the earth, they will lead you astray from God’s way; they follow but conjecture and they only lie.” (6:116)
As free humans created by God, we are supposed to be intellectually and spiritually free, and the only way out for that is complete submission to God.