The most common human rights violations are abductions, arbitrary arrests, and detentions without trial, political executions, assassinations, and torture. In cases where extreme violations of human rights have occurred, reconciliation and peace building become much more difficult. Allah says, “O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another.” (Quran 49:13) From this, we see that interaction between nations is normal and desirable. However, it is part of the nature of humankind to be jealous and at times self-serving. Islam takes into account these vagaries of human nature, and therefore looks to the supreme Creator for guidance. Human rights and responsibilities are enshrined in Islam; they are the foundation for the Sharia (Jurisprudential law). There is no doubt that around the world, abuses of human rights are being perpetrated, often in the name of religion and sadly sometimes in the name of Islam. The planet earth stumbled into the 21st century beset by wars, famines and great social unrest, therefore today’s catch phrases espouse the supposed remedy; freedom, democracy, and reconciliation. Human rights have understandably become paramount. Governments, non Government organizations, and religious and charity groups have all spoken about equality and inalienable rights. The United Nations was formed to stand as a beacon of hope for understanding and joint initiatives but in actuality it is a toothless tiger, unable to reach agreement on most resolutions and unable to enforce the resolutions that do pass. More than 1400 years ago, Allah sent down the Quran, a book of guidance for all of humankind. He also chose Muhammad (PBUH) as the final Prophet; he was the human being capable of leading humankind into a new era of tolerance, respect, and justice. The words of Quran and the authentic traditions of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) contain rights and responsibilities granted by Allah to humankind. They are not subject to the whims and desires of men or women and they do not change as borders or governments shift and settle, sometimes unrelentingly. Human Rights Day is observed every year on 10 December — the day the United Nations General Assembly adopted, in 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). It set out, in 30 articles, the fundamental rights to be universally protected and described them as, designed to promote, “universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms”. The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights went on to describe these rights as inherent to all human beings regardless of sex, race, creed, or colour and declared them indivisible, interdependent, and interrelated. This year’s Human Rights Day theme relates to ‘Equality’ and Article 1 of the UDHR – “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” The principles of equality and non-discrimination are at the heart of human rights.
The tenants of Islam include a basic set of rules designed to protect individual rights and freedoms, however the rights of individuals are not permitted to infringe upon the rights of communities. Islam is a doctrine concerned with respect, tolerance, justice, and equality and the Islamic concepts of freedom and human rights are imbedded in the faith in the One God. If humankind is to live in peace and security, he or she must obey the commands of Allah. Muslims believe that Allah is the sole Creator and Sustainer of humankind and the universe. He has given each human being dignity and honour and the human rights and privileges we enjoy are granted by Him. Every human being is entitled to sustenance, shelter, and security and if some people are denied their God given rights, it is the responsibility of the rest of humankind to restore those rights. Allah says, “O you who believe! Stand out firmly for God, be just witnesses, and let not the enmity and hatred of others make you avoid justice. Be just: that is nearer to piety, and fear God. Verily, God is well acquainted with what you do.” (Quran 5:8) Power and authority narratives have become entrenched in human rights advocacy. Legislation and unenforceable treaties cannot protect the downtrodden and oppressed. However, Islam proclaims that God treats all human beings equally and true human rights can only be achieved by obedience to Him. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights deals with many issues. It attempts to ensure humankind treat each other with respect and dignity. Islam is a religion that holds respect, dignity and tolerance in very high esteem and the rights and responsibilities inherent in Islam are a declaration of human rights. One of the most important principles in Islam is that God created humankind to be fully accountable for his actions. Each human being has certain rights and responsibilities and no human being has the right to restrict the freedom of another. Anyone who dares to take away the God given rights inherent in Islam, including the right to human dignity, is called a wrongdoer or an oppressor. God calls on those who obey Him to stand up for the rights of the oppressed. Allah says, “And what is wrong with you that you fight not in the cause of God, and for those weak, ill treated, and oppressed among men, women, and children, whose cry is: “Our Lord! Rescue us from this town, whose people are oppressors; and raise for us from you one who will protect; and raise for us from you one who will help!” (Quran 4:75) More than 1400 years ago Islam also tackled the issue of slavery. In the 7th century CE, slavery was entrenched in Arabian society, just as it was in other societies and systems of law. Slaves were acquired easily via, warfare, debt, kidnapping and poverty; thus, prohibiting slavery outright would have been as useless as trying to outlaw poverty itself. Therefore, Islam placed restrictions and regulations on slavery designed to bring about its eventual abolishment. There are no texts in the Quran, or in the traditions of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), may the mercy and blessings of God be upon him, that enjoin the taking of slaves but there are countless texts calling for their freedom, including Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) simple yet deeply profound words, “Visit the ill, feed the hungry and release the slaves. Muslim leaders were encouraged to free prisoners of war or exchange them for ransom. The principle of dealing with slaves in early Islam was a combination of justice, kindness, and compassion. Muslims pay a small portion of their yearly, accumulated income in compulsory charity and one of the lawful ways this money may be used is to free slaves.
Freeing slaves is also the expiation for many sins, including breaking vows and accidental killings. Although man made declarations and treaties have denounced slavery, ironically, on the open market, a slave is worth less today then he was 200 years ago. Modern day “slaves” who are physically confined or restrained, or forced to work, or controlled through violence have no legal way to purchase their own freedom nor is there any legal body to oversee their treatment. Slavery exists under the radar and is usually associated with drugs, prostitution, and other illegal activities. The restrictions imposed by Islam gave slaves rights and protection from ill treatment. The act of freeing a slave is a very virtuous act that will bless a person in this life and in the next. Torture exists today even though treaties and declarations including article five of the Universal Declaration of Human rights, call for the abandonment of such ill treatment. Cruelty, including excessive punishment is forbidden in Islam. Each member of the human race is treated with due respect and dignity, regardless of race, colour creed, or nationality. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) expressly prohibited cruel and unusual punishments even in times of war. He made it clear that no one should be burned alive or tortured with fire, and that wounded soldiers should not be attacked and prisoners of war should not be killed. He said to his followers, “You are neither hard hearted nor fierce of character,” and he warned his people of being unjust, “For injustice shall be darkness on the Day of Requital.” Even prisoners of war in early Islamic history spoke highly of their captors. Blessings be on the men of Medina’, said one of these prisoners in later days, ‘they made us ride while they themselves walked; they gave us wheaten bread to eat when there was little of it, contenting themselves with dates.” The second Caliph of Islam, Omar Ibn Al Khattab (R.A) said, “A person would not be held responsible for his confession, if you inflicted pain upon him or scared him or imprisoned him [to obtain the confession].” The enforcement of human rights in Islam is linked inextricably to the implementation of Islamic law. Islam promises that those who follow God’s rules and regulations will be rewarded with His guarantee of eternal Paradise. However choosing to restrict or take away rights given to humankind by God is a punishable offence. “On the Day of Requital, rights will be given to those to whom they are due (and wrongs will be redressed)…”( Saheeh Muslim ) Islam is the religion revealed for all of humankind. It is the religion and way of life that assures that humankind is able to access all of their rights. It makes sense to think that the One Who created us knows what is best for us, and He (God) has given us access to all the knowledge we need in order to live happy secure lives. Muslims believe that this knowledge is accessible through the Quran and the authentic traditions of Prophet Muhammad, may the mercy and blessings of God be upon him, and that it is guaranteed by the Sharia (Islamic Law). Islam establishes a legal framework, and embodies a code of ethics, designed to protect the rights of an individual including his or her right to live in a secure society. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said, “Whosoever wakes up (in the morning) feeling that he is secure in his community, free from ailments and diseases in his body, and has enough provision for a single day, it is as if he owns the entire world.” (Tirmidhi) The Sharia is concerned with preserving five basic rights: the right to practice religion, the protection of life, the safeguarding of the mind or intellect, the preservation of honour and family, and the sanctity of his wealth and property. There are many verses in Quran that point to the dignity, equality, and brotherhood of humankind. Furthermore, God makes it clear that rights and freedoms are granted to all, regardless of race, gender, social origin, nationality, language, colour, or status. Allah says, “O mankind! We have created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know one another. Verily, the most honourable of you with God is that (believer) who has taqwa (piety and righteousness). Verily, God is All Knowing, All-Aware.” (Quran 48:13) God created humankind to act as vicegerent upon the earth; human beings were set above the animals, birds, and fish and given a task of great responsibility. Allah says, “See you not (O men) that God has subjected for you whatsoever is in the heavens and whatsoever is in the earth, and has completed and perfected His Graces upon you, (both) apparent and hidden.” (Quran 31:20) The first man Adam, the father of humankind was honoured and treated with due respect and dignity. God blew man’s soul into him, He fashioned him with His own hands and He ordered the Angels to bow down before him. By honouring Adam God assured that all of humankind are worthy of dignity and respect. Islam also makes it clear that all mankind is descended from Adam and as such are brothers and sisters to one another. Allah says, “And (remember) when your Lord said to the angels: ‘I am going to create a human (Adam) from clay. So when I have fashioned him and breathed into him (his) soul created by Me, then you fall down prostrate to him.” (Quran 38:71-72) God said in Quran (49:10) that believers are nothing less than brothers to one another and Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) constantly reinforced the necessity of maintaining the ties of brotherhood. He said that no person would attain true piety until he wished for his brother (or sister) what he wished for himself ( Saheeh Al-Bukhari). When Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) realised he would soon be returning to his beloved Allah, he addressed all of humanity with profound and beautiful words that became known as the Farewell Sermon. He gazed down upon more than 100,000 thousand followers standing on the plains of Arafat, and said, “All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab, nor does a non-Arab have any superiority over an Arab. A white has no superiority over black nor does a black have any superiority over white except by piety and good action. Learn that every Muslim is a brother to every Muslim and that the Muslims constitute one brotherhood.”( Saheeh Al-Bukhari ) The holy Quran, says, “We ordained …that if anyone killed a person not in retaliation of murder, or (and) to spread mischief in the land – it would be as if he killed all mankind, and if anyone saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of all mankind.” (Quran 5:32) God makes it clear in Quran that human life is sacred. Blood cannot be spilled or life taken without justification. The right to life is inherent in the tenants of Islam and it is given by God, in equal measure to every single human being that has inhabited or will inhabit this planet earth. It is given to us by our Creator as a trust. We are obligated to care for each other and ourselves. Suicide out of despair of God’s mercy or for any other reason is strictly forbidden. The sanctity of the body is inviolable and the bodies of the deceased must be handled with care and fitting solemnity. It is concluded that Human rights are universal and every person around the world deserves to be treated with dignity and equality. Basic rights include freedom of speech, privacy, health, life, liberty and security, as well as an adequate standard of living. Government as well as people are responsible to protect individuals against human rights abuses. Human rights have the power to tackle the root causes of conflict and crisis, by addressing grievances, eliminating inequalities and exclusion and allowing people to participate in decision-making that affect their lives. Societies that protect and promote human rights for everyone are more resilient societies, better equipped through human rights to weather unexpected crises such as pandemics and the impacts of the climate crisis.
(The authors write regularly on Islamic topics exclusively for “Kashmir Horizon”. Views are their own)