In the Name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful

Human rights inĀ Islam

A Review of an Article

One of our vieweres shared with us a review that we felt would be of great value to the others. The review is that of an article about Human Rights in Islam by Dr. Fathi Osman. It is comprehensive and well explained. We picked the major points in the review here for the reader to enjoy.

According to the Quran, dignity of the children of Adam is a divine bestowal which is to be secured by all means, including the law and the state authorities, and is to be defended by all forces:

[17:70] We have honored the children of Adam, and provided them with rides on land and in the sea. We provided for them good provisions, and we gave them greater advantages than many of our creatures.

What distinguishes humans from many other creatures is mainly their intellect and their free will to choose between doing good and doing evil. To fulfill a human potential, all obstacles and pressures must be removed from the way, and all means should be secured to maintain and develop our humanity. The dignity bestowed on humans in the Quran must be defended. It is the individual, social and universal responsibility of Muslims to guard human rights because oppression is an obstruction of God's will in His creation:

[28:83] We reserve the abode of the Hereafter for those who do not seek exaltation on earth, nor corruption. The ultimate victory belongs to the righteous.

As for the responsibility of the individual, Dr Osman continue by saying;

It is the individual, social, and universal responsibility of Muslims, according to their faith, to protect the human merits and virtues of all the children of Adam, whatever their differences may be. Defending the human rights of human beings is a religious duty for a Muslim, who believes that any oppression is an obstruction of God's will and plan in His creation. Moreover, a Muslim believes that God has created all mankind equal as human beings, and no one can claim superiority in this respect, whatever his/her ethnicity, family, wealth or gender may be.

Dr. Osman then quote verse one of sura 4 and verse 13 of sura 49;

[49:1] O you who believe, do not place your opinion above that of God and His messenger. You shall reverence God. God is Hearer, Omniscient.

[49:13] O people, we created you from the same male and female, and rendered you distinct peoples and tribes, that you may recognize one another. The best among you in the sight of God is the most righteous. God is Omniscient, Cognizant.

The only One who is above all humans is their Creator and Lord:

[112:4] "None equals Him."

Dr. Osman continue;

At the inception of the belief in one God is the belief in the equality of all human beings, since those who believe in one God believe that all human beings are created by the one Creator. Thus, deeply rooted in the conscience of believers is the duty to maintain human rights and to practice equality in the process. Any discrimination against any individual or group about their basic rights as members of humanity is a challenge to the faith of believers, since for any human to claim superiority based on origin or power is contradictory to the belief in the One Ultimate Supreme Being:

[21:22] If there were in them (the heavens and the earth) other gods beside God, there would have been chaos. Glory be to God; the Lord with absolute authority. He is high above their claims.
[21:23] He is never to be asked about anything He does, while all others are questioned.

A tyrant is against human rights and the One Ultimate Supreme Being as well:

[28:4] Pharaoh turned into a tyrant on earth, and discriminated against some people. He persecuted a helpless group of them, slaughtering their sons, while sparing their daughters. He was indeed wicked.

In the same chapter, the Quran states that those who will attain happiness in the life to come are those who don't seek to exalt themselves on earth, nor yet to spread malevolence; for the future belongs to the God-conscious (7:157). Thus, the Quran repeatedly emphasizes human rights and justice, and condemns injustice, aggression and oppression. It highlights the message of the Prophet Muhammad:

[7:157] ...He exhorts them to be righteous, enjoins them from evil, allows for them all good food, and prohibits that which is bad, and unloads the burdens and the shackles imposed upon them. Those who believe in him, respect him, support him, and follow the light that came with him are the successful ones.

Justice can be concisely and precisely defined as the maintenance of human rights and equality:

[3:195] Their Lord responded to them: "I never fail to reward any worker among you for any work you do, be you male or female - you are equal to one another. Thus, those who immigrate, and get evicted from their homes, and are persecuted because of Me, and fight and get killed, I will surely remit their sins and admit them into gardens with flowing streams." Such is the reward from God. God possesses the ultimate reward.

Any discrimination between men and women in rights or responsibilities is forbidden according to the divine justice- the same as any other discrimination:

[9:71] The believing men and women are allies of one another. They advocate righteousness and forbid evil, they observe the Contact Prayers (Salat) and give the obligatory charity (Zakat), and they obey God and His messenger. These will be showered by God's mercy. God is Almighty, Most Wise.

Divine justice can never be for Muslims only. It secures the rights of all human beings, whatever their beliefs may be. It is especially protective of the rights of belief and practicing one's belief, "there shall be no compulsion in religion" (2:256). Defending all houses of worship is legitimate and urged:

[22:40] ...If it were not for God's supporting of some people against others, monasteries, churches, synagogues, and masjids - where the name of God is commemorated frequently - would have been destroyed. Absolutely, God supports those who support Him. God is Powerful, Almighty.

Muslims are taught by the Quran to build their relations with others on kindness, while the minimum obligation which should be strictly observed is justice (60:8). They should always have in mind that no hostility stays permanently, and that if they follow God's guidance, their behavior may turn an enemy into a close friend:

[60:7] God may change the animosity between you and them into love. God is Omnipotent. God is Forgiver, Most Merciful.

[41:34] Not equal is the good response and the bad response. You shall resort to the nicest possible response. Thus, the one who used to be your enemy, may become your best friend.
[41:35] None can attain this except those who steadfastly persevere. None can attain this except those who are extremely fortunate.

Islam secures the human rights even for those who may violate the human rights of others, since two wrongs do not make one right. A violation should be stopped instantly, but the rights of the violator as a human being should be secured. Islamic law aims to fight the crime in its origin, not just to inflict punishment. Islamic penal law is enforced in order to prevent the sources of violation and transgression without social justice and public education for all. It is required that every possible effort be made to educate and rehabilitate an offender, not to destroy him/her.

We do definitely agree with Dr. Osman on these points. The Quranic verses are very strong supporting the view he had taken. He continues;

Islamic civil and commercial law prohibits illegitimate and exploitative gains while protecting the principle which has been earned legitimately and legally before usurious additions:

[2:275] Those who charge usury are in the same position as those controlled by the devil's influence. This is because they claim that usury is the same as commerce. However, God permits commerce, and prohibits usury. Thus, whoever heeds this commandment from his Lord, and refrains from usury, he may keep his past earnings, and his judgment rests with God. As for those who persist in usury, they incur Hell, wherein they abide forever.

Dr. Osman then discusses the Islamic laws during the war.

The Islamic law of war requires an open declaration of the start of military operations, and limits fighting to the combatants only. As soon as the aggression itself is stopped and the aggressor submits to justice, justice should be maintained in relation to both parties equally:

[49:9] If two groups of believers fought with each other, you shall reconcile them. If one group aggresses against the other, you shall fight the aggressing group until they submit to God's command. Once they submit, you shall reconcile the two groups equitably. You shall maintain justice; God loves those who are just.

Any of the enemy's army who asks for protection or shelter should be granted it, and may be returned to his camp if he so requests:

[9:6] If one of the idol worshipers sought safe passage with you, you shall grant him safe passage, so that he can hear the word of God, then send him back to his place of security. That is because they are people who do not know.

The wounded and deserters from the enemy's army should not be attacked, but should be cared for until they are cured or repatriated.

It is clear from the article by Dr. Osman that Quran protected the human rights of all individuals. The Muslim jurists actually condensed Islamic law, as mentioned before, into the securing and developing human personality in five main areas: life, family, mind, faith, and property. The human rights covered by these five areas include the collective rights of groups and peoples as well as the rights of individuals; political and social rights have their place side by side. A collective effort to defend the powerless and the oppressed against a powerful oppressor is an essential Islamic obligation. Every right is considered a responsibility and an obligation. In addition to human rights being considered a collective responsibility of the umma (the Muslim people as a group) and the authorities, every holder of a right must also struggle for him/her self to obtain, maintain and enjoy this right.

As Dr. Osman affirms an accurate balance has to be maintained between basic spiritual and moral development and education on one side, and the protection of values by the law and the state on the other. A balance should be maintained as well between rights and duties:

[57:25] We sent our messengers supported by clear proofs, and we sent down to them the scripture and the law, that the people may uphold justice. And we sent down the iron, wherein there is strength, and many benefits for the people. All this in order for God to distinguish those who would support Him and His messengers, on faith. God is Powerful, Almighty.

Based on faith in God, the Islamic perspective on human rights is comprehensive and deep. Quran repeatedly confirmed and assured the equality of all individuals and guaranteed their rights to live in peace, free of oppression or fear.

Dr. Osman concludes, "This was the message of Islam in early times: a universal liberation and establishment of justice and maintenance of human rights. It is thus to maintain, develop and spread such an understanding of the divine message in our times."