Understanding human rights in Islam
[ December 11, 2015 ]
We live in an age that is striking in its unprecedented technological sophistication. Unfortunately, the prejudices and inequities that have plagued the human race historically continue to exist, and are responsible for untold human suffering. It is in this context that the subject of human rights is dominating every sphere of public life in every part of the world and fortunately Islam advocates on various issues afflicting the world today.
The Islamic model of human rights in particular is striking in its rigor, its vision and its relevance to modern times. The distinguishing feature of human entitlements in Islam is that they are the natural outcome of a broader practice of faith, deeds and social behavior that muslims believe are divinely mandated. The holy Quran says: Almighty Allah commands justice, doing good, and generosity towards relatives and He forbids what is shameful, blameworthy, and oppressive. He teaches you, so that you may take heed. (16:90). Islam’s contribution to human rights is best appreciated when viewed against the backdrop of world history as well as the realities of modern times. Social, racial, gender, and religious inequities continue to exist. Economic and social disparities have resulted in oppression of the lower classes; racial prejudices have been the cause of subjugation and enslavement of people with darker skin; women have been weighed down by chauvinistic attitudes, and pervasive attitudes of religious superiority have led to widespread persecution of people with different beliefs. When considering the question of human rights and Islam, it is important to distinguish the divinely prescribed rights of Islam from potential misinterpretation and misapplication by imperfect human beings. Just as Western societies still fight against racism and discrimination, many Muslim societies struggle to fully implement the rights outlined in Islam. Human rights in Islam stem from two foundational principles: dignity and equality. Dignity is a fundamental right of every human being merely by virtue of his or her humanity.
Islamic law has divinely mandated rights for individuals in their specific roles as spouse, parent, child, relative, neighbor, friend and even foe. In its distribution of rights and responsibilities, Islam has addressed the social, racial, gender, and sectarian issues plaguing our global society. Indeed, the model of rights and mutual responsibilities enshrined in Islam has a tremendous potential for individual and social reform in the world.
As Almighty Allah says in the holy Quran, “We have honored the children of Adam and carried them by land and sea; We have provided good sustenance for them and favored them specially above many of those We have created” (17:70). Regarding equality, God (Allah in Arabic) clearly declares that in his sight, the only distinguishing factors between humans are righteousness and piety: “People, We created you all from a single man and a single woman, and made you into races and tribes so that you should recognize one another. In God’s eyes, the most honored of you are the ones most mindful of Him: God is all knowing, all aware” (49:13). The diversity of humanity into many races and ethnicities is a testament to Almighty Allah’s majesty and wisdom. Therefore, racial superiority and discrimination is prohibited in Islam and contradicts its essence. This concept is exemplified in the final sermon of Prophet Muhammad (SAW)p who proclaimed: ‘No Arab has any superiority over a non-Arab, nor does a non-Arab have any superiority over an Arab. Nor does a white man 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.’ Islamic law has divinely mandated rights for individuals in their specific roles as spouse, parent, child, relative, neighbor, friend and even foe. In its distribution of rights and responsibilities, Islam has addressed the social, racial, gender, and sectarian issues plaguing our global society. Indeed, the model of rights and mutual responsibilities enshrined in Islam has a tremendous potential for individual and social reform in the world.