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Published in the 1-15 Nov 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

ISLAMIC PERSPECTIVE

Human rights in Islam

By Ali Zaheer Haqvi

In this age of globalisation, the entire world has been reduced to a small village. The negative aspect of globalisation is that human society is passing through an extremely difficult and painful period in its history.

Under the unfavourable conditions when human rights are being violated it becomes necessary for the world to be familiar with the message of a world reformer who provided complete security of human life and dignity to human beings.

Fourteen hundred years ago when he familiarised people of the world with the message of humanity, the message was not meant for any particular community or tribe nor for any particular period of time. His universal message was rather for the entire humanity for ever. It serves as a beacon of light for people of all ages and for all times to come. This world reformer is known as the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). When he gave the message of humanity, not only the Arabs but the whole world was treading on the path of darkness and ignorance.

God has described the last messenger with different names in the Qur’an. Some of his names are Taha, Muzzammil, and Rahmatul Lil Aalameen. The Prophet presented a way of life through his teachings before the world which is an unparalleled charter of human rights.

Many movements and revolutions were born in this world. Similarly many social reformers also took birth but all these movements and revolutions met their end after the death of their founders or propagators. Patriotism was destroyed by fascism. Monarchies were replaced by people's democracies. The Concept of freedom of entrepreneurship propounded by capitalism was destroyed by communism and socialism. Even communism could not survive and was lost into oblivion. The present age of neo-imperialism has built the world of development and freedom but the contradictions between its theory and practice are known only too well to the world as to how the rights of the oppressed are being violated. The coming days will see its doom as has been the fate of previous reformers and movements because of the difference between their preachings and practices.

Different systems of the world demanded duties from the people but always deprived them of their rights which are essential for them. The system and way of life that the Prophet (pbuh) of Islam presented before the world laid emphasis on rights. Leaders of the world are now talking everywhere about human rights but the Prophet (pbuh) of Islam preached 1400 years ago before the world about rights of one man over another and his duties towards others. In Islamic terminalogy these rights are called Huququl Ibaad. The teachings of the Prophet told the world about man's obligations to his relatives and neighbours. He also preached a man's rights over his society. He also clearly explained human rights of non-Muslims in an Islamic state as well as man's rights and duties towards animals.

Islam is the religion of world peace and brotherhood which teaches security and sanctity of human lives. It does not teach discrimination and inequality on grounds of caste, colour, race or creed. Islamic teachings lay emphasis on justice for all in society. An idea of the importance of human life can be had from Sura Maida of the Qur'an (5:32) which says that if someone kills a single innocent man (without any legal or justified excuse), it is as if he has killed the entire humanity. At the same time it is stated that if someone saves someone's life, it is as if he has saved the entire humanity.

Islamic teachings never allow any person professing a different religious belief in an Islamic state to be deprived of human or religious rights because Islamic teachings clearly state that there is no compulsion of any kind over others in matters of religion or faith. A famous Hadith of the Prophet (pbuh) says “All creatures are God's family or children who are dependent on Him for their life and survival. Among all these creations, the dearest to Him is one who behaves gently with His creatures.”

Western media presents a distorted image of Islam. It defined Jihad in a wrong and distorted manner whereas the history of Islamic wars has mostly been defensive. Islamic teachings lay emphasis on 'live and let live'. Islam preaches to save life, not taking it. Hazrat Ali neither attacked the enemy first nor chased the enemy fleeing from the battlefield. Islam teaches that if an enemy asks for certain fundamental things he should be given those rights on grounds of humanity. Hur, an enemy of Imam Husain, asked for water for his thirsty army, despite shortage of water he provided water for Hur and his forces.
The Islamic way of life lays emphasis on justice. It treats humanity on equal footing and provides freedom after ending slavery. The charter of human rights which the United Nations presented before the world in 1948 was preached by the Prophet of Islam 1400 years ago. (Translated from Urdu)
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