Liberalism has always been connoted as ‘heretical’ by mainstream Muslims, especially those following Sunni thought.
However, the essence of the teachings of Islam are liberal in nature. Islam teaches us to question the traditions brought down to us, which is to not blindly accept the practices of our ancestors.
It was Islam that teaches us to think, , to reason, to ponder of the status quo. We cannot come to the conclusion of the One God unless we use our intellectual faculties. And to use intellectual faculties, most of the time, goes against the cultural norms.
“And when it is said to them, “Follow what Allah has revealed,” they say, “Rather, we will follow that which we found our fathers doing.” Even though their fathers understood nothing, nor were they guided?”
In fact, God places huge admonishment on those who do not use reason:
“Indeed, the worst of living creatures in the sight of Allah are the deaf and dumb who do not use reason.”
Islam is liberal .. in the sense that it frees our thinking from blindly accepting traditions and frees us from worshipping false gods (desires, ego, money).
What differentiates Islam and Western liberalism is that Western liberalism, although liberal, does not follow the right way to think, or in other words, utilises a failed epistemology. In fact, the most of the followers of Western liberalism do not understand liberalism. They do not understand that liberty cannot be absolute. A simple reason to explain this is that if liberty is absolute then anyone should be able to do what they want, which includes vices like murder and theft.
Western liberalism also fails in their knowledge. One of the child of liberalism is ’empiricism’: which is the theory that all knowledge is based on experience derived from the senses. Empiricism denies the existence of corporeal entities (like souls, herafter) and therefore also denies God just because they cannot see, or hear or feel God. This is an utter failure. I know that murder is wrong, although i cannot see, hear, or touch to know why it is wrong. It is also self-refuting because empiricists cannot prove why they are right.
Another thing is: Science! Most Western people thinks that anything that is scientifically proven is true. This is not the case. Ask any real scientist and they will say that science cannot show you what is true. Science is just a method, instrument to evaluate what we gain through our experiences. It cannot give us answers, it can only give us instruments.
In conclusion, Islam liberates our thinking and our worship from false ideas and values towards true, sincere and pure values, and to worship the One true God. However liberty without revelation and proper epistemology is like running from a kidnapper’s house and falling into a vast sea where there is no hope of being saved.