Human Rights in Islamic Perspective
Dr. Saud Alam, November 26, 2004
The modern phenomenon of intolerance, exploitation, oppression, injustice and subjugation of weaker nations, communities and sections of the society by the strong and powerful all over the world is a matter of serious concern today for all those who cherish human rights and human values.
Abuse of power by many governments including some Muslim governments and law enforcing agencies pose grave threat to life, honour and dignity of people. The USA, the self-appointed champion of civil liberties has grossly violated human rights in many regions of the world more notably in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq. Its abuse and subhuman treatment of the prisoners in Guantanamo Bay and Iraq has put the most dictatorial regimes to shame.
In such global scenario human rights agencies are raising their voice against the gross violation of human rights. But the Muslim Ummah has failed to prove its existence and play its legitimate role in this very crucial area. The Muslims largely remained silent spectators, while they should have played a very active role with full determination to defend human rights as these rights were in real sense conferred by God and fully protected by His final religion, Islam.
Islam was the first to introduce a code of human rights and Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) took every possible measure to protect and implement it particularly in his last sermon of Haj, better known as Khutba-Hajjatulwada, which constitutes and incorporates the principles of non-discrimination in all major human rights instruments. Marcel A. Boisard observes, ‘Here is one of the most remarkable contributions of Islam to the formation of a modern universal conception; tolerance, a religious obligation and a juridical imperative. The Qur’ân indicates inexplicitly: We have revealed to you the Book and the Truth in order to confirm that which existed of the Book and is a guardian over it, thereby, judge between them by what Allah has revealed, and don’t follow their desires away from the Truth which has come to you for each we have appointed a divine law and a determined way. Had Allah willed, He could have made you one community.’
Islam gave an ideal code of human rights to mankind in an era when the humanity was groaning under the unbearable burden of injustice, oppression and ignorance. The oppressed and the downtrodden were denied all human rights. Women were treated like slaves and the treatment meted out to slaves worse than animals.
Mission of the Prophet
Islam emancipated mankind from every form of oppression and subjugation. The Holy Qur’ân introduces the goal and mission of the last prophet as: ‘Those who follow the messenger, the unleterred Prophet, whom they find mentioned in their own (scriptures), in the Taurat and the Gospel, for he commands them what is just and forbids them from what is evil, he allows them what is lawful, what is good, and prohibit them from what is bad, he releases them from their heavy burdens and from the yokes.’
Dignity of Mankind
Islam greatly elevated the status of humanity and declared its superiority over all the creatures. Almighty Allah has given him special position in the universe. The Holy Qur’ân explains, ‘We have indeed created man in the best of moulds.’
The Holy Qur’ân further elaborates, ‘We have honoured the sons of Adam; provided them with transport on land and sea, given them for sustenance things good and pure and conferred on them special favours above a great part of our creation.’
Unity of Man
Islam gives a powerful impetus to man for unity, equality and brotherhood. Islam asserts that the origin of human beings is one, his Creator is also one, hence all human beings must be considered and treated as one and equal without any discrimination on the basis of caste and colour. The Holy Qur’ân says, ‘O mankind: we created you from a single (pair) of male and female and made you into nations and tribes. That you may know each other (Not that you despise each other) verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is he who is the most righteous of you.’
It is, therefore, a gross violation of the teachings of the Holy Qur’ân to make any kind of distinction between man and man except on the basis of piety.
Equality of Man
According to the teachings of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him): ‘All human beings are as equal as the teeth of a comb.’
The Prophet in his last sermon in the valley of Arafat commanded, ‘No Arab has superiority over a Non-Arab nor is a white any way better than a black. The only criterion for the superiority and respectability is the one having the element of piety. All human beings are the off-springs of Adam and the very existence of Adam was from clay.’
Demolishing the distinctions on the basis of caste colour and region of one’s origin the last Prophet ensured the respect of life, honour and property of all human beings. He commanded: ‘O people; every body’s blood, property and prestige have become sacrosanct for others. All these are now of the same significance and sanctity as the sanctity of this day in this Holy month and in this city.’
Right to Life
The right to life is a basic and fundamental right of man. No one can deprive him from this right. According to the Qur’ânic teachings killing of one innocent person amounts to the killing of the entire mankind. The Holy Qur’ân says: ‘He who killed any person unless it be a person guilty of man-slaughter, or of spreading chaos in the land, should be looked upon as though he had slain all mankind and he who saved one life should be regarded as though he had saved the lives of all mankind.’
According to Islam Muslim is one who does not indulge in killing of an innocent person. The Holy Qur’ân clarifies: ‘A true Muslim is he, who doesn’t kill a soul which Allah has forbidden, unjustly.’
Right to Property
The right of having property is another fundamental right of the mankind and no one can be deprived from having property. The Holy Prophet in the last sermon specially emphasised this aspect. ‘It is not lawful for anybody to have anything from his brother without his consent and pleasure.’ (Abdul Malik Ibn Hisham, Seeratun Nabi, Darul Fikr, Vol..IV, p.286)
Taking away money forcibly from any body is strictly prohibited in the Qur’ân: ‘Do not usurp one another’s property by unjust means nor offer it to the judges so that you may devour knowingly and unjustly a portion of the goods of others.’
Right to Work
Islam protects one’s right to choose any legitimate occupation and pursue it. It lays greatest possible emphasis on the dignity of labour. The Holy Qur’ân says, ‘The men shall have their due share according to what they have earned and the women shall have their share according to what they have earned.’
The Prophet (peace be upon him) is reported to have said no one can earn his livelihood better than the work of his own hand. The Prophet further said, ‘Give the labourer his due wage before his sweat has dried.’
Right to Protection of Honour
Respect for the honour of human beings is also an inalienable and fundamental right. Therefore, it should be treated with all the regard due to it. Islam has given special attention to the protection of the honour of mankind. Humiliation, intimidation and outraging of the basic human dignity is not acceptable in any circumstances. The Holy Qur’ân commands, ‘O you who have believed, neither should men mock other men, it may be that these are better than they, nor should women mock other women, it may be that these are better than they. Don’t taunt one another among yourselves, nor call one another by nicknames. It is an evil thing to be called by a bad name after faith.’
Islam is particularly sensitive regarding the safeguarding of women’s honour due to her sex. Anybody found guilty of defaming or dishonouring her is liable for harsh punishment. The Holy Qur’ân says, ‘Whoever took any part in it (slander) earned his share of the sin accordingly and the one who had the greatest share of responsibilities in it shall have terrible punishment.’
Right to Privacy
In addition to safeguarding the honour and dignity of the man, Islam firmly believes in the right of people to privacy. Islam strongly disapproves interference in the private life of other people and peeping into the house of any individual. The Holy Prophet forbade to go after the secrets of people and said, ‘If you grope the secrets of people you will spoil them.’
The Holy Prophet specially warned the ruler to look for the secrets of people and said, ‘If any ruler searches for the defects of people and indulges in doubts, he will spoil them.’
The Holy Qur’ân strictly prohibited suspicion and prying into the affairs of others, ‘O you who have believe; avoid suspicion as much as possible, for suspicion in some cases is a sin, and spy not on each other.’
The Holy Qur’ân also prohibited entering anybody’s house without his permission so that his privacy may not be disturbed, ‘O believers! Enter not houses other than your own, until ye have asked permission and saluted those in them; that is best for you in order that he may heed (what is seemly).’
Right to Marriage
According to Islam every person is entitled to marry to establish a family and to bring up children in accordance with his religion and culture. The wife is entitled to live in the house of the husband and to receive the maintenance. The Holy Qur’ân says: ‘Wives have the same rights as the husbands have on them in accordance with the generally known principles.’
Right to Education
From the very first day of its dawn, Islam gave greatest importance to education. Islam not only considers it as a basic right of every body but goes much beyond it and makes it obligatory on every believer to acquire knowledge. The Prophet declares, ‘Seeking knowledge is compulsory on every believer, man and woman.’
The significance of this Hadith lies in the fact that while a man is entitled to forgo his right but he cannot skip from his obligation and if he does so, he will be held answerable. According to Islam it is the responsibility of the parents to impart proper education to their children. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, ‘No parent gives better gift to their ward than good education.’
Islam also holds the state responsible for the education of its people. Once the Holy Prophet warned the Ashary’s tribe: ‘If you will not educate your neighbours you will deserve punishment.’
Right to Justice
Islam is very sensitive about the dispensation of justice. Every one is entitled to get justice. This is his natural and inalienable right. Nobody in any circumstances can be denied justice. It does not matter at all whether he or she is a friend or a foe. All persons are equal before justice and everybody will be treated strictly in accordance with the law. The Holy Qur’ân commands, ‘O Believers; be steadfast in righteousness and just in giving witnesses for the sake of Allah, the enmity of any people should not so provoke you as to turn away from justice. Do justice for it is akin to piety.’
Islam maintains that the mission of all prophets was to establish justice in the society. The Holy Qur’ân says, ‘We sent aforetime our messengers with clear signs and sent down with them the book and the balance, that men may stand forth in justice.’
According to Islamic teachings the punishment for a crime would be meted out to the guilty alone and in no case it could be extended to the family or the other members of his community. The Holy Qur’ân says, ‘Every soul draws the mead of its acts on none but itself, no bearer of burdens can bear the burden of another.’
Right to Fair Trial
In the light of above mentioned holy verses jurists say that no person shall be adjudged guilty except after a fair trial and only after reasonable opportunity for defence has been provided to him.
Right to Habitation
Islam has recognised the right of residence and habitation for the human beings. No one can be deprived from this right and nobody can be deported from his homeland without due process of law. The Holy Qur’ân criticising Jewish practice of driving people out from their homes said: ‘Remember also what we made another solemn covenant with you. You shall not shed blood among yourselves nor expel one another from your homes. And you confirmed it and you are witness to it. But in spite of this, you are killing your brothers and driving them from their homes whereas their expulsion itself was unlawful for you.’
Right to Protest against Harassment
Moreover, Islam has granted to the mankind the right to protest against the harassment and misuse of power. The Holy Qur’ân says, ‘Allah does not like that a person should utter evil words except when one has been wronged.’
This divine command also confers the right to protest against oppression. If a person is wronged he has the right to raise his voice against the wrong doers.
Right to Asylum
Islam had guaranteed to every human being in respect of race religion and sex the right to seek refuge and asylum. The Holy Qur’ân says, ‘If one amongst the pagans ask thee for asylum, grant to him, so that he may hear the word of Allah, and then escort him to where he can be secure.’
Rights of Prisoners of War
As Islam recognises human rights in peace times, it also recognises rights of the mankind during the war. Islam established the principles of war for the first time. Islam made distinction between combatants and non-combatants. Regarding non-combatants the Holy Prophet instructed the believers. ‘Don’t kill and old person, or any woman or child – Don’t kill the monks in monastery and don’t kill the people who are sitting in places of worship.’