ISLAM: Human Rights in Islam
Question and answer details
Name of Questioner: Munir
Subject (not all answers are published): Human Rights in Islam
Reply date: 2003-10-15
Question: As-Salamu`alaykum wa Ramatullah wa Barakatuh! What does Islam say about human rights? Jazaka Allah Khayran.
consultant: Seeking Divorce from a Husband Who Wants a Second Wife
Wa `alaykum As-Salamu wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatuh.
In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.
All praise and thanks are due to Allah, and peace and blessings be upon His Messenger.
Dear brother in Islam, we really appreciate your reposing great confidence in us. May Allah Almighty make our endeavor come up to your expectation, Amen!
In fact, your question is very important. First of all, we want to clarify that Islam preceded all in laying down rules and regulations that aim at preserving human honor and dignity. This is clear in Allah's words: "Verily We have honored the children of Adam. We carry them on the land and the sea, and have made provision of good things for them, and have preferred them above many of those whom We created with a marked preferment." (Al-Isra': 70)
To shed more light on this issue, we'd like to cite for you the following:
Basic Human Rights
We have already seen that every person has certain basic human rights simply because he is a human being, whether he belongs to this country or that, whether he is a believer or unbeliever, or whether he lives in a forest or in a desert. It is the duty of every Muslim to recognize these rights. They are:
1. The Right to Life
The first and foremost basic right is the right to life. The Glorious Qur’an says: "If any one slew a person - unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land - it would be as if he slew the whole people." (Al-Ma'idah: 32)
The propriety of taking life in retaliation for murder or for spreading corruption can be decided only by a proper court of law. During a war only a properly established government can decide it. In any event, the Qur’an makes clear: "Do not kill a soul which Allah has made sacred except through the due process of law." (Al-An`am: 151)
Homicide is thus distinguished from destruction of life carried out in the pursuit of justice. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) has declared homicide as the greatest sin after polytheism. He said, "The greatest sins are to associate something with Allah and to kill human beings."
In all these verses of the Qur’an and the hadiths of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) the word 'soul' (nafs) has been used in general terms. It does not refer only to those of one’s own tribe, race, religion or country. The injunction applies to all human beings.
2. The Right to the Safety of Life
Immediately after the verse in the Qur’an which has been mentioned in connection with the right to life, Allah says: "And whoever saves a life it is as though he had saved the lives of all mankind." (Al-Ma'idah: 32)
There can be several forms of saving someone from death. If a man is ill or wounded it is one’s duty to get him medical help. If he is dying of starvation, it is one’s duty for feed him. If he is drowning, it is one’s duty to rescue him. Thus, it is regarded as one’s duty to save every human life, because it is enjoined in the Qur’an.
3. Respect for the Chastity of Women
The third important element in the charter of human rights granted by Islam is a woman's honor, which must be respected and protected at all times, regardless of her origins. A Muslim must not physically abuse her under any circumstances. All promiscuous relationships are forbidden to him. The words of the Qur’an, in this respect, are: "Do not approach (the bounds) of adultery." (Al-Isra': 32)
Heavy punishment has been prescribed for this crime, and no mitigating circumstances are indicated. Since the violation of the chastity of a woman is forbidden in Islam, a Muslim who perpetrates this crime cannot escape punishment - whether he receives it in this world or in the Hereafter.
Apart from individual lapses, it can never be found in the history of Islam that Muslims commit this crime against woman. It has never happened that after the conquest of a foreign country the Muslim army has gone about raping women, or, in their own country, the Muslim government has provided prostitutes for them.
4. The Right to a Basic Standard of Living
Speaking about economic rights, the Qur’an enjoins its followers: "And in their wealth there is acknowledged right for the needy and destitute." (Adh-Dhariyat: 19)
The wording of this injunction shows that it is categorical and unqualified. Furthermore, this injunction was given in Makkah where there was no Muslim society in existence and where the Muslim came in contact mostly with non-Muslims.
According to this verse, anyone who asks for help and is suffering from deprivation has a right to share in the property and wealth of a Muslim, irrespective of his origins. If one is in a position to help and a needy person asks for help or if one comes to know that he is in need, then it is one's duty to help him.
5. The Individual's Right to Freedom
Islam has categorically forbidden the primitive practice of capturing a free human being to make him a slave or to sell him into slavery. On this point the unequivocal words of the Prophet (blessings of Allah and peace be upon him) are as follows: "There are three categories of people against whom I shall myself be a plaintiff on the Day of Judgment. Of these three, one who enslaves a free man, then sells him and spends this money." (Al-Bukhari and Ibn Majah) This hadith does not qualify or restrict this ruling to a particular nation, race, or religion.
The Position of Slavery in Islam
Islam tried to solve the problem of the slaves that were already in Arabia by encouraging people to set them free. Muslims were told that freeing slaves would mean the expiation of some of their sins. Freeing a slave of one's own free will was declared to be an act of such great merit that the limbs of the man who manumitted a slave would be protected from hell-fire-one for each limb of the slave freed.
The result of this policy was that, by the time of the Rightly-Guided Caliphs, all the old slaves of Arabia had been liberated. The Prophet (blessings of Allah and peace be upon him) alone liberated as many as 63 slaves. The number of slaves freed by `A'ishah was 67; Abbas liberated 70; `Abdullah Ibn `Umar liberated 1000; and `Abd al-Rahman purchased 30,000 and set them free. Other Companions of the Prophet liberated a large number of slaves, the details of which are given in the hadiths and history books of that period.
6. The Right to Justice
This is a very important and valuable right, which Islam has given to man. The Qur’an has laid down:"Do not let your hatred of a people incite you to aggression"(Al-Ma'idah: 3), and "Do not let ill-will towards any folk incite you so that you swerve from dealing justly. Be just; that is nearest to heedfulness" (Al-Ma'idah: 8). Stressing this point the Qur’an again says: "You who believe stand steadfast before Allah as witness for (truth and) fair play" (An-Nisa': 135).
The point is thus made clear that Muslims have to be just not only to their friends but also their enemies.
7. The Equality of Human Beings
Islam not only recognizes the principle of absolute equality between men irrespective of color, race or nationality, it makes it an important reality. Almighty Allah has laid down in the Qur’an: "O mankind, we have created you from a male and female." In other words, all human beings are brothers. They all are the descendants from one father and one mother. The Qur'an says, "And we set you up as nations and tribes so that you may be able to recognize each other"
This means that the division of human beings into nations, races, groups and tribes is for the sake of distinction, so that people of one race or tribe may meet and be acquainted with people belonging to another race or tribe and co-operate with one another.
This division of the human race is neither meant for one nation to take pride in its superiority over others, nor for one nation to treat another with contempt. Allah says, "Indeed, the noblest among you before Allah are the most heedful of you" (Al-Hujrat: 13). That is, the superiority of one man over another is only on the basis of piety, purity of character and high morals, and not color, race, language or nationality. People are, therefore, not justified in assuming airs of superiority over other human beings. Nor do the righteous have any special privileges over others.
This has been thus exemplified by the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) in one of his sayings:"No Arab has any superiority over a non-Arab, nor does a non-Arab have any superiority over a black man, or the black man any superiority over the white man. You are all the children of Adam, and Adam was created from clay." (Bayhaqi and Bazzaz)
In this manner Islam established the principle of equality of the entire human race and struck at the very root of all distinctions based on color, race, language or nationality.
According to Islam, Allah has given man this right of equality as a birthright. No man should therefore be discriminated against on the grounds of the color of his skin, his place of birth, the race or the nation in which he was born.
8. The Right to Cooperate and not to Cooperate
Islam has prescribed a general principle of paramount importance and universal application. The Holy Qur’an says: "Cooperate with one another for virtue and heedfulness and do not cooperate with one another for the purpose of vice and aggression." (Al-Ma'idah: 2)
This means that anyone who undertakes noble and righteous work, irrespective of whether he is living at the North Pole or the South Pole, has the right to expect support and active co-operation from Muslims. But he who practices vice and aggression, even if he is one’s closest relation or neighbor, does not have the right to our support and help in the name of race, country, language or nationality, nor should he expect Muslims to co-operate with him.
The wicked and vicious person may be our own brother, but he is not of us, and he can have no help or support from us as long as he does not repent. On the other hand, the man who is doing deeds of virtue and righteousness may have no kinship with Muslims, but Muslims will be his Companions and support; or at least his well-wishers.
This is a brief sketch of those rights which, 1400 years ago, Islam gave to man, to those who were at war with each other and to the citizens of its state. It refreshes and strengthens our faith in Islam when we realize that even in this modern age, which makes such loud claims of progress and enlightenment, the world has not been able to produce more just and equitable laws than those given 1400 years ago. On the other hand, it is saddening to realize that Muslims nonetheless often rely on the West for guidance."
This article is based on a speech delivered by Syed Abul A'la Maudoodi, published by the Islamic Foundation, UK.