Human Rights and Islam

By Arif Gamon and Saleem Shireen

“To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity” – Nelson Mandela.

The concept of human rights, derived from a set of “Natural Rights”, is inalienable and universal by nature. Societal and cultural values and legal system define its mandates and purposes within the given time and space.

The secular dimension of human rights can be traced and attributed to the French Revolution where the commoners sought to snatch the majority power from the hands of despotic ruling class and institution. Such reformative call for reforms and change had resulted in political and legal awareness – the realisation for the need of basic and universal  rights for all.

Concept of natural and human rights in Islam

In Islam, the concept of natural and human rights has always been a prime concern of every responsible individuals and government. Aside from conveying the universal message of Islam, Prophet Muhammad (SAW) had developed a system of ideas, beliefs and institutions to protect and preserve human dignity and rights amidst the jahilliyyah, by which, man had been enslaved in various ways. For instance during such situation when dealing with situations regarding death and murder, Al-Bukhari (2434) and Muslim (1355) reported, “Whoever is killed his closest relative has the right to choose one of two things, i.e., either the blood money or retaliation by having the killer killed.

In comparison with the principles advocated by the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Islam seeks to protect every individual to enjoy his special status as an individual and as a citizen of a particular state or nation. It is therefore the obligation of every civilised individuals and nations to materialise the socio-economic and ethical dimension of human rights to serve the needs of the entire humanity.

Ultimately, human rights and Islam recognises man’s intrinsic value, and its acceptance should be reflected in both individual and social level of interactions. Knowing the fact that human beings are so diverse in many aspects, every individual has its own unique value and characteristics that ought to be respected and treated equally with the others.

Another striking similarity between Islam and human rights is how the concept of man’s life is being understood within the given time and space. Given the unprecedented effect of radical ideas that are sprouting both in the Islamic and western world,  the concept of man’s life has to be understood from the true discourse of Islam and human rights.

Certainly, Islam and human rights view man’s life as sacred and no individual or nation has the right to terminate its life. The Qur’an has categorically mentioned, “He who kills one man it is as if he has killed all mankind.” (Surah al-Ma’idah 5:32). In other words, to murder a human being is considered as a transgression against the individual’s right to life and engaging in murder will definitely lead to legal ramifications for the culprit.

Principles of Unity of Human Race

In this age of globalisation that respects plurality of ideas and thoughts, it is incumbent upon every citizen of the globe to adhere to the principle of unity of human race. In fact, maintaining unity of human race had inspired the establishment of the United Nations, among its mandate is to protect the rights of everyone, regardless of race, gender, nationality, religion and etc.

The whole Quran states to this effect; “O Mankind. We have created you male and female, and appointed you races and tribes, that you may know one another,” (Surah al-Hujurat 49:13).  The concept of lita’arafu, “knowing one another” is indeed the purpose of every comprehensive and holistic worldview to narrow the gap between opposing ideas and the people.

The call for justice for all is embedded in the discourse of Islam and human rights. Various laws and policies were formulated to protect and preserve the safety of every humankind. Justice and compassion are expected to be enjoyed by every individual in the given social system.

Both Islam and human rights provide remedial actions against those who commit acts of harm against other fellow human beings i.e, crimes. With regards to legal justice, the alleged suspect of a particular crime, his right as innocent must be respected unless he is proven to be guilty before the court.

Depriving anyone from their religious, cultural, economic and political rights is regarded by Islam and human rights as a sign of corruption – of knowledge and institutions. Islam as a religion of “justly balanced,”  believers are expected to secure that the true meaning of justice guides his relationship with God, man and other creature. This is illustrated by the following verse in the Holy Qur’an, “Be believers, be you securers of justice, witnesses for God. Let not detestation for a people move you not to be equitable; be equitable-that is nearer to god-fearing” (Surah al-Ma’idah 5:8).

Freedom to Explore

Man as a rational being has been given the freedom to explore the world around him. He has an inherent right to express his views and ideas for the betterment of himself and the society at large. His creativity and innovative ideas should not be suppressed by self-centered individuals and system.

He should not be alienated from the society and not to be subjugated as slave of a particular culture and thoughts. As time changes, the freedom of speech, for example the concept of ijtihad, as enjoyed by companions of the Prophet, the tabi’un and the academic communities, particularly in the golden age of Islam has eroded and eventually being narrowed into specific aspects of human rights. It is sad to note that the pragmatic and dynamic vision of Islamic law and society have plummeted into colonial worldview and institutions.

Some advocates of human rights uphold certain perspective of life and rights that are not conforming with the true meaning of human rights. Certainly, the issue of LGBT would spark a long debate among people if the true meaning of human rights would not be protected by a civilised nations and states.

From the above deliberation, Man has been endowed with the Aql, the ability to choose, think and rationalise what is right or wrong. It is what differentiates us from other lifeforms. Therefore, the Aql should be deliberated to confine to the laws of God/ Shariah. Furthermore, it is important to Islam that encourages both to integrate and harmonise one another rather than neglecting one another.

As Muslims, living with vast progression of change in the socio-economic and political domain, we are constantly been reminded  to uphold the message of sacred texts, the Qur’an and Sunnah. In other words, the concept of human rights should always be in our favour provided it is in accordance with the boundaries of the Islamic law. ***

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