Islam and Human Rights
By Hafsah Rashid
FEB 6, 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. An exaggerated fear, hatred, and hostility toward Islam and Muslims that is perpetuated by negative stereotypes resulting in bias, discrimination, marginalization and exclusion of Muslims from social, political, and civic life.
Discrimination is created when prejudice is combined with power. Prejudice is not illegal, as an attitude can’t be illegal, but discrimination is illegal. The Islamic model of human rights in particular is striking in its rigor, its vision and its relevance to modern times. It is in this context that the subject of human rights in Islam is especially pertinent.
Islam from its inception has been concerned about safeguarding the human rights. The human rights in Islam are religious obligations, meaning that it is obligatory for every Muslim to protect and restore if they are violated. Islam declares all people equal in terms of human values. Every human being is entitled to his integrity, honour and reputation.
Prophet Mohammad (S.A.W) established the very first Islamic society which eliminated the spiritual and social problems rampant in the Arabian Peninsula. Freedom of Religion was instituted in Medina, women were honoured and respected as equal, racial discrimination was practically eliminated, and tribal warfare was replaced with united ties of brotherhood.
While 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 regarding equality; Allah clearly declares that, the only distinguishing factors between humans are righteousness and piety. The diversity of humanity into many races and ethnicities is a testament to God’s majesty and wisdom. Therefore, racial superiority and discrimination is prohibited in Islam and contradicts its essence.
In Islam, life is a sacred trust from God and the most basic right of a human being. No individual is permitted to take the life of another innocent
In no other religion did women receive such a degree of legal and moral equality and personal respect. Under the laws of Islam, women have the right to own property and businesses, engage in financial transactions, vote, receive inheritance, obtain an education and participate in legal and political affairs. The fact that some Muslim societies do not always accord women all these liberties is an example of how human beings can fall short of fully implementing the Divine Will.
Islam does not seek to restrict human rights or privileges to the geographical limits of its own state. Islam has laid down some universal fundamental rights for humanity as whole. These human rights are comprehensive and applicable to every person, regardless of his race, religion, nationality or social status .Islam gives the right of Freedom of Thought and Expression to every human on the condition that it should be used for the propagation of virtue and truth and not for spreading evil and wickedness.
The Islamic concept of Freedom of Expression is much superior to the concept prevalent in west. Under no circumstances would Islam allow evil and wickedness to be propagated. It also does not give anybody the right to use abusive or offensive language in the name of criticism. One of the fundamental rights established by the sacred texts is that no one can be compelled to accept Islam.
It is the duty of Muslims to establish the proofs of Islam to people so that truth can be distinguished from falsehood. After that, whoever wishes to accept Islam may do so, and whoever wishes to continue in unbelief may do so.
Contrary to popular misconceptions, a genuine Islamic society is obligated to not only permit but respect diversity. When Muslims began ruling Palestine in 637 C.E., they invited the Jewish people to live in Jerusalem. When Spain was under Muslim rule, the city of Cordova was considered the intellectual centre of Europe, where students went to study philosophy, science and medicine under Muslim, Jewish and Christian scholars. This rich and sophisticated society took a tolerant view towards other faiths, while peaceful coexistence was unheard of in the rest of Europe.
The historian James Burke mentions in his book, ‘The Day the Universe Changed’ that thousands of Jews and Christians lived in safety and harmony with their Muslim overlords in Muslim Spain. Reflecting on the concept of justice in Islam, Sarojini Naidu, the Nightingale of India, stated in a speech, “The sense of justice that Islam encompasses is one of the most wonderful ideals, because, as I read in the Qur’an, I find those dynamic principles of life, not mystic but practical ethics for the daily conduct of life suited to the whole world”.
What Islam requires is Muslims upright character and deal justly with the entire human race, irrespective of their ethnicity, nationality, and creed .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.