Individual Rights and Responsibilities in Islam

Dr. Bilal A. Bhat & Intizar Ahmad

Islam is derived from the Arabic root “Salema”: peace, purity, submission and obedience. In the religious sense, Islam means submission to the will of God and obedience to His law. Everything and every phenomenon in the world other than man is administered totally by God-made laws, i.e., they are obedient to God and submissive to his laws, they are in the State of Islam. Man possesses the qualities of intelligence and choice, thus he is invited to submit to the good will of God and obey His law, i.e., become a Muslim. Islam dates back to the age of Adam and its message has been conveyed to man by God’s prophets and messengers, including Abrahim, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad (may Allah be pleased with them). Islam is the response to humanity’s search for meaning. The purpose of creation for all men and women for all times has been one: To know and worship God. The holy Qur’an teaches us that every human being is born conscious of God: “(Remember) when your Lord extracted from the loins of Adam’s children their descendants and made them testify (saying): ‘Am I not your Lord?’ They said: ‘Yes, we testify to it.’ (This was) in case you say on the Day of Judgment: ‘We were unaware of this.’ Or you say: ‘It was our ancestors who worshipped others besides God and we are only their descendants. Will you then destroy us for what those liars did’?” (Qur’an, 7:172-173). Islam’s message has been restored and enforced in the last stage of the religious evolution by God’s last prophet and messenger, Muhammad (pbuh). The word Allah in the Arabic language means God, or more accurately, The One and Only Eternal God, Creator of the Universe, Lord of all lords, King of all kings, Most Compassionate, Most Merciful. In this article we will deal with some personal responsibilities of the individual throughout his life. Fulfilling these responsibilities can lead to the formation of a well-established individual, family, and eventually a society where peace, and tranquility prevail and where the utmost purpose (the pleasure of Allah) is obtained. The Holy Qur’an, in many verses, addresses man as an individual and makes it clear that everyone will be responsible for his own deeds and will be blamed or credited for what he did. The codes of Shari’ah (Islamic Law) give the Muslim essential character traits in order that he may obtain a general, correct notion of himself and everything around him, and a proper conduct and behavior. The process of establishing an upright society begins with the individual. Once the individual attains the quality of righteousness, the family will undoubtedly follow suit, which eventually affects the society as a whole. Everyone is responsible for his role in this unifying effort. And each person must act in accordance to his position. Shari’ah covers every aspect of life: moral, physical, psychiatric, economic, etc. – nothing is left out. It covers every detail concerning the existence of man, from the time when he is in his mother’s womb until after his death. An important Hadith (saying) of the Prophet is that religion is not what one formally or ritualistically practices but how one deals with others. It is therefore not sufficient to be pious without performing deeds which demonstrate one’s beliefs. It is reported that the Prophet once entered a mosque and saw at prayer a venerable old man with a long white beard. He was told that the man was in the mosque all day long, worshipping and dispensing the words of Allah to others. The Prophet then asked how he earned his living and was told that a merchant, not known for his piety, supported him. The Prophet remarked that of the two, the merchant was indeed the more worthy.
Every Muslim is the recipient, guardian, and executor of God’s will on earth; his responsibilities are all encompassing. A Muslim’s duty to act in defense of what is right is as much part of his faith as is his duty to oppose wrong. The Prophet once said, “If someone among you sees wrong he must right it by his hand if he can (deed, conduct, action). If he cannot, then by his tongue (speak up, verbally oppose); if he cannot, then by his gaze (silent expression of disapproval); and if he cannot, then in his heart. The last is the minimum expression of his conviction (faith, courage).” Living the faith is ibada, service to God through service to humankind. The preservation of a social order depends on each and every member of that society freely adhering to the same moral principles and practices. The Muslim has several responsibilities and duties to fulfill in his life. These responsibilities are directed towards The Creator, one’s own self, people in general, nature and other creatures. The e responsibilities of a Muslim are (a) Responsibilities towards Allah, All-Mighty: Allah is the Creator of all that exists, the Sustainer of everything, the Giver of every favor, the Only True God, Worthy of worship and praise, the Unique. He has no equal or partner, Is Free from any fault, He begets not, nor was He begotten, He Has no beginning nor ending and He Is All-Powerful. His mercy is immense, and likewise His torment is extreme. We, as His creatures, are obligated to worship and believe in Him based on the teachings of Islam; otherwise it (our belief or worship) will be not accepted and will be of no avail. It’s forbidden to try to imagine God (i.e. to give him a specific appearance), He is like no one, and nothing resembles Him. We know Him by contemplating in His signs and creatures, and by information revealed in the Qur’an and the Sunnah [sayings of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)]. Our understanding of Allah is to be derived from no other sources beyond these two (i.e. The Qur’an and Sunnah). Allah, All-Mighty says in the Holy Qur’an, #”Say: He is Allah, the One and Only! Allah, the eternal, Absolute! He begetteth not nor is He begotten, and there is none like unto Him.”## (Holy Qur’an, 112) We believe in Him and whatever He commanded us to believe in: His Names and Attributes, His angels, His books revealed to prophets, His prophets and messengers, the Day of Resurrection and everything concerning it, and faith in Qada and Qadar (decree and predestination by Allah). This is the least that could be said concerning this issue. (b) Responsibilities towards Oneself: Man is created in his mother’s womb without knowledge, not free to choose his own shape and attributes. He is born without knowledge about himself or the world that surrounds him, and (during first years of his life) is raised wholly unable to do anything. It is the Creator Who decides, man has no say in this matter – whatever he possesses is from the favors of Allah. Had it been from his ability, the blind would choose to see, the deaf to hear and so on. Man didn’t create himself, nor was he able to do. So, man is the property of Allah, thus he should accept his self as it is, honor it, recognize it as a great and esteemed creation of Allah, take care of it, give it its rights in full (in every aspect) and make a vigorous effort to protect himself against the Fire prepared for disbelievers in the Hereafter. Allah, All-Mighty, says “…enguard yourselves against the fire prepared for disbelievers, whose fuel is of men and stones.” (Holy Qur’an, 2:24) Allah has forbidden whatever is harmful to man. The intentional killing or harming of oneself is strictly forbidden in Islam, as Allah says: “…and be not cast by your own hands to ruin…” (Holy Qur’an, 2:195) Surely, man will give account to The Creator regarding himself. (c) Responsibilities towards Other People: Man has social character. Life is based on interaction and communication between people; they share many things, and together they form the family and society. Man is born alone to live with others in harmony. Allah, All-Mighty, says in Qur’an: “O mankind! Lo! We have created you from a male and a female, and have made you nations and tribes that ye may know one another. Lo! The noblest of you, in the sight of Allah, is the best in conduct. Lo! Allah is Knower, Aware.” (49:13) To live in harmony and to work together, Allah, All-Mighty, established rules and laws (in every aspect of life) to facilitate people in their relations with each other. These rules precisely determine the rights of the individual according to his position, status and totality of his traits. In Islam, the individual is honored with special rights as a child, parent, brother, sister, young, old, relative, neighbor, etc. All people are equal in the sight of Allah; the most honored one is the best one in behavior (i.e. his conduct in pleasing Allah).
When you remove the hope of heaven, you remove the ultimate value and purpose of life. Otherwise, what difference would it really make whether we live a life of virtue or vice? Everyone’s fate would be the same anyway.
Thus, there’s no discrimination between people in general. The only distinction is based on belief and righteous deeds. In Islam, man is esteemed and respected just because he is a human being. Human rights have a very high status in Islam. Violating those rights means showing unwillingness to accept the laws and rules of Allah, being unjust to people (this sin is not erased unless forgiven by the person who was subject to injustice), and lack of harmony and peace. The true Muslim is distinguished by loving his friends and brothers for the sake of Allah, a love that is unpolluted by any worldly interests or motives. Allah, All-Mighty, said in a Hadith Qudsi (a saying of Allah not revealed in the Qur’an): “My love is due to those who love one another in My cause, who spend in My cause and those who visit each other in My cause.” (Imam Malik) (d) Responsibilities towards Other Creations: Allah, The Glorified, says in Qur’an, “There is not a moving (living) creature on earth, nor a bird that flies with its two wings, but are communities like you. We have neglected nothing in the Book, then unto their Lord they (all) shall be gathered.” (Holy Qur’an, 6:38) This includes every living creation besides human beings such as animals, birds, etc. They are creations of Allah brought under the control of man. They have a great status in Islam. Most of them are considered respectable creatures. Islam recognizes their rights and has set up a specified etiquette regarding them. We have to show mercy to them and should not torture them such as by burning, beating, grieving, distressing, loading on them more than they can bear, etc. When they are hungry or hirsty we have to feed and give them water. The Prophet (pbuh) said: “A woman entered the Hell-fire ecause of a cat that she tied down. She neither fed it nor let it free to eat the insects of the earth until it died.” (Al-Bukhari). Also, the Prophet (pbuh) cursed the one who uses a live animal for target. There are many other hadiths with respect to animals. (e) Responsibilities towards nature and environment: We mean by nature, the features of the world surrounding us. It’s the place where man lives. Everything we see around us has been designed for a purpose by the Designer, Allah. Everything in the universe is remarkably homogenous and balanced. Since man is given power and control in some spheres to some extent, he should manage them fairly and justly. Islam fights environment degradation, pollution, destruction, clearing of trees and plants, misusage, depletion of resources, and every kind of corruption on earth. Allah, The Exalted, says: “The only reward of those who make war upon Allah and His messenger and strive after corruption in the land will be that they will be killed or crucified, or have their hands and feet on alternate sides cut off, or will be expelled out of the land. Such will be their degradation in the world, and in the Hereafter theirs will be an awful doom.” (Holy Qur’an, 5: 33) Leaders are responsible for the application of these principles and are accountable to God and man for their administration. It is reported that a man went to Umar, the second khalifa, to talk to him. It was nighttime, and a candle burned on Umar’s desk. Umar asked the man if what he wanted to discuss was personal. The man said that it was, and Umar extinguished the candle so as not burn public funds for a private purpose. Leaders in Islam, whether heads of state or heads of family or private enterprise, have a higher burden or responsibility than others. The proper use of natural resources and everything around us is of great importance concerning our well-being, benefit and prosperity.There is a relation in Islam between individual responsibility and the rights and privileges derived from membership in the community. The notions of brotherhood and solidarity not only impose upon the community the duty to care for’ its members, but also require each person to use his initiative to carry out individual and social responsibilities according to his ability.
In brief individual responsibility is a cornerstone of Islam. Every Muslim is accountable to his Creator for what he himself does or fails to do—as well as for others for whom he may be accountable—and for things that he has control over. As in Western legal codes, individual responsibility is predicated on the intent and motive of the actor in light of his ability to do good and to avoid evil or harm to others. Thus Islam believes in free will, and to the extent that this exists a person is responsible for its exercise in the framework of Islamic morality. But the relativity of human justice is not to be confused with the absoluteness of divine justice whose application every Muslim expects without fail on judgment day. Because of the Muslim’s belief in accountability in the hereafter, his oath is valid evidence in any judicial or extra-judicial process. We conclude, with the saying of Holy Qur’an 4:36, Serve God, and join not any partners with Him; and do good—To parents, orphans, those in need, neighbours who are near, neighbours who are strangers; the companion by your side, the way-farer (ye meet), and what your right hands possess: For God loved not the arrogant, the vainglorious. Only when human beings worship their God by submitting to his religious law, can they have peace and harmony in their lives and the hope for heaven, just like the universe runs in harmony by submitting to the physical laws set by its Lord. When you remove the hope of heaven, you remove the ultimate value and purpose of life. Otherwise, what difference would it really make whether we live a life of virtue or vice? Everyone’s fate would be the same anyway.
(The authors write regularly on Islamic topics for Kashmir Horizon exclusively. View are their own) [email protected]

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