HUMAN dignity has been one of the central themes in Islamic teachings. Islam has given a distinct position to humanity by viewing humans as the noblest of creatures and man as the vicegerent of God on earth.
According to the Holy Quran, human beings have been inspired by the divine spirit, therefore their status is unique among the creatures (38:72). In another verse human dignity is affirmed very explicitly: “We have honoured the sons of Adam … and conferred on them special favours above a great part of Our Creation” (17:70).
There are numerous examples in the Quran which highlight the high status of human beings and stress on upholding it. From the teachings of Islam it is revealed that the divine spark is present in every human; however, it needs an enabling society to ignite it.
Islam has identified different aspects of human life which are considered crucial for maintaining human dignity. To uplift humanity, multidimensional efforts are required in order to develop the multiple facets of human life such as the physical/economic, intellectual, social/ethical and spiritual aspects.
In the Quran and the teachings of the Holy Prophet (PBUH), helping the less privileged and the weak is constantly underlined. According to the eminent Muslim scholar Dr Fazlur Rahman, the Holy Prophet’s fundamental effort was to reduce the social and economic injustices prevalent in society in order to uphold human dignity.
The sense of deprivation affects human self-worth and drags it to the lowest level. It is evident that poverty limits human potential in many ways. For example, sometimes it compels a person to indulge in crime.
Islam has given high value to human life and health. It has put significant emphasis on caring for the sick and disabled and articulated it as a duty. Good health is termed a divine gift.
The sanctity of human life is highlighted by equating the saving of one life with the saving of all of humanity (5:32). Similarly, according to a hadith “God has sent down a treatment for every ailment”. Hence good health is very crucial for holistic human development.
The intellectual dimension of human beings is constantly highlighted in Islamic teachings. The Holy Quran has reinforced the concept of human beings using their intellect and reflecting on the mysterious creations of God. Education and seeking knowledge are viewed as important to develop the intellectual capacity of human beings.
Therefore, in Islam seeking knowledge is viewed as abundantly good and it is obligatory for every Muslim to seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave.
In the Islamic tradition, knowledge has been viewed as light, ignorance as darkness. When the human being is not developed through education then ignorance prevails. Consequently, the individual as well as society suffers.
Spiritual uplift is viewed as a very important area for human development. Human beings are a combination of the body and the soul. Hence we are linked to the Creator while we have an association with fellow beings and other creatures.
According to Islamic teachings for spiritual development, one has to strengthen both relationships. To strengthen the bonds with the Creator one needs worship, and to strengthen the relationship with fellow human beings one needs to fulfil his or her social responsibilities.
The ethical/social dimension is viewed as a very important aspect of human development. It is directly linked to other dimensions of life such as physical, intellectual and spiritual development. Hence, Islam stresses on fulfilling the social/ethical responsibilities for balanced, holistic development of the human being.
To realise the multiple dimensions of human beings, it requires a society that provides opportunity for people to nurture and actualise their gifted potential and use it for the benefit of society.
Developing an enabling society for the people is closely related to good governance and leadership. According to Islamic thought, governance and leadership mean not just to rule but to create an environment where the human potential can be actualised and used for the benefit of society. Therefore, the Holy Prophet envisioned and strived for a society that could help nurture human potential.
Today, many Muslim countries like Pakistan, unfortunately, face huge challenges in human development in terms of poverty, ignorance, corruption etc. For example, in Pakistan a large percentage of people are living below the poverty line. Proper healthcare facilities are not available for a large number of people. Due to different forms of violence, human lives are lost. This situation affects the lives of nearly all the people in the county.
Similarly, the literacy rate of Pakistan is said to be not more than 56 per cent; this means that nearly half of the population is illiterate. According to one report, more than 25 million children are not attending school and as for the students who go to public schools, most of them are not provided the opportunity to develop their potential.
Furthermore, corruption is another big problem in society. Also, spirituality is sometimes viewed only as performing some religious rituals and the moral/ethical aspect is not reflected in society.
In such a situation, the dignity of the human being, as envisioned by Islam, seems like a major challenge. Hence, serious reflection is required particularly on governance and leadership practices in order to develop a society that can help the people actualise their gifted potential in order to uphold the dignity of human life.
The writer is an educator.