HUMAN RIGHTS AND ISLAM
1. I feel deeply honoured to be given a second opportunity to address this august and distinguished Second “Parliament of World’s Religions”. However this time I have been requested to speak on a very pertinent topic of “Human Rights and Islam” which I feel is almost overdue. I consider it so because Islam has unequivocally guaranteed the fundamental rights of man more than 14 centuries ago, whilst other societies were still jealously guarding human freedom to a restricted few until very much later. Indeed the international communities are still wavering in their stance especially with regards to certain issues that are not in tandem with their values and interests.
2. Human rights have to be associated with freedom of self-determination and self-expression in line with human nature and right to lead a comfortable and honourable life with untarnished honour and dignity. It has to be based on universally accepted principles of equality, justice and truth, that are permanent, unchanging and value free. It should be transcendant in nature and character both in time and space. It should embody not only the individual man, but also his society to accommodate his socio-psychological nature.
3. Self-determination should guarantee religious freedom, basic education, private ownership of property, security of life and property, honour, respect, dignity and individual privacy, irrespective of gender, colour, race or creed. It should also guarantee the sovereignty and political freedom of nation-states which uphold the fundamental universal principles of justice, equality and truth in their governance and treatment of their citizenry.
4. The principles underlying the conception and formulation of human rights should be permanent, unchanging and unwavering in order to suit its transcendent nature over time and space. Such principles should also be universally accepted so as to avoid any culture bound regionalized values which are specific and particular rather than general and universal. These are necessary if we are earnest in our desire to strive for unity of the human race, harmony and peace.
5. Islam has, since 14 centuries ago, delivered man with the conception of human rights that are entirely in tandem with his dual nature of body and soul. A conception of human rights that deal solely on the physical human needs will not be complete and satisfactory. Neither will the conception that embodies the spiritual needs alone be sufficient. It is the recognition of man’s dual nature and hence his dual needs that is most pertinent and significant for the holistic and complete conception of human rights.
6. Islam being a comprehensive way of life determines not only the belief system, but more importantly the social, political, economic and cultural behaviour of its adherents. It influences both the spiritual and material aspects of human life since there is no dichotomy between what is religious and waht is not. Secularization has completely no place in Islam.
7. The conception of human rights in Islam have to emanate from its own creed, its own world view, which is founded on the principles of Tawhid or unity of God the Almighty, Khilafah or vicegerency and al-`adl or justice. Consequently, human rights in Islam embody his entire needs as an individual as well as a member of a society or more generally of the human race. The complete guarantee of all his needs become essential for the performance of his duty as the trustee or vicegerent of God on this blessed earth. This being the objective of human rights in Islam calls for the fulfilment of the following:
a. Dignity of man as the best of God’s creations to perform his functions as the servant and vicegerent of God. This is in conformity with the Quranic verse which reads: “We have honoured the sons of Adam” [Quran (17): 70]
It is the Islamic determination that the dignity of a human person should be protected without any distinction between one man and another under the impetus of the divine Islamic creed.
b. Equality is a very fundamental principle that underlies the conception of human rights in Islam. There is no distinction being made between one man and another based on race, sex, blood relations, wealth, position, etc. This principle is in accordance with the saying of the Prophet of Islam: “There is no advantage for an Arab over a non Arab or for white man over a black man except by piety”
In another tradition, the Prophet has been reported to have said: “Women are partners to men”
c. Unity for the human race which aims at universality and global peace and harmony. Islam does recognize the existence of different races. But the existence of nations is neither of the purpose of interdomination nor for the colonization by one nation over another.
On the contrary, nations have to assist one another, on the basis of mutual respect, for the purpose of crating world peace, prosperity and happiness. The Prophet of Islam said: “Human creatures are the families of God and the ones who are most loved by Him are those who are most useful to their families”.
d. The call for acquaintance and cooperation for the common good as well as for the performance of all kinds of righteous deeds towards all human beings regardless of their citizenship or religion.
This is in conformity with the Quranic verse: “O mankind, we created you from a single (pair) of male and female and made you into nations and tribes that ye may know one another (not that ye may despise each other). Verily, the most honoured of you in the sight of God is he who is the most righteous of you” [Quran (49): 13]
e. Religious Freedom. Islam distinctly provides freedom of worship to all. I prohibit any exercise of force in this respect. As God says in the Quran: “Let there be no compulsion in religion”. [Quran (2): 256]
“Will you then compel mankind against their will to believe” [Quran (10): 99]
These sayings show how the use of pressure on man’s religious freedom is clearly denounced.
f. The right of ownership: Islam recognizes the right to private ownership as well as the security and safety of life and private property. It abhors any infringement of this right, as stipulated by Islam through a saying of the Prophet:
“You are forbidden to attack the property or the lives of others”. This prohibition includes the property and life of both Muslims and non-Muslims.
g. The Right of Individual Privacy: House immunity is essential for the protection of man’s freedom and privacy. The Quran exhorts: “O ye who believe! Enter not houses other than your own, until ye have asked for permission and saluted those in them; that is best for you, in order that ye may heed (what is seemly).” [Quran (24):27]
h. The Right of every person to lead an honourable life: Reciprocal responsibility among members of society, as to the right of every person to lead an honourable life, and to get rid of poverty and need, by levying a certain tax on the wealth of those who can afford for those in need, whatever their needs may be. This is in conformity with the Quranic verse: “And in their wealth the beggar and the deprived had due share”. [Quran (51): 19].
I. Freedom of Expression and Information: The freedom of expression and information cannot be separated from the freedom of thinking and believing. This constitutes a right and a duty for every believer which should be carried out and maintained by all Muslims.
The relevant Quranic verse reads: “O ye who have attained to be against your own selves or faith! Be ever steadfast in sake of God, even though it upholding equity bearing witness to the truth for your parents and kinsfolk.” [Quran (7): 135]
j. The Right of Education: Everyone has the right to learn and be knowledgeable. Imposing education on every citizen is the duty of the Muslim government so that ignorance could be eliminated from the society. As the Prophet said: “Seeking knowledge is the duty of every Muslim, male and female.” Knowledge is power, as the Quran says: “Ye can pass beyond the zones of Heavens and the Earth, pass ye! Not without authority shall ye be able to pass.” [Quran (55): 31]
k. Political Right: The Prophet himself has been ordained to practice mutual consultation and democracy as borne by the Quranic verse: “And perform your duties by mutual consultation amongst you”. [Quran (3): 159]
8. Whilst recognizing individual rights, Islam places equal emphasis to the social responsibility of the human race. Social responsibility is indeed part and parcel of the individual rights because of the diversities prevalent in man’s physical, spiritual, intellectual and emotional capacities. God has purposely created some superior in one way and others in another, so that all require each other by nature. This implies the basis for the interconnectedness and interdependence of life within society.