RIGHT from the time of the Holy Prophet (PBUH), Islam has advocated for the protection of human rights. It says that every individual — male or female — possesses a soul. Therefore, every individual is entitled to respect, dignity and fair treatment.
In the Holy Quran, Surah 80 (Abasa) tells the story of a blind, poor, yet pious man. He was unattended in a gathering vis-à-vis other persons who were wealthy and socially rich. God did not like this unfair treatment.
The lesson we can draw from the story is that every individual deserves respect, dignity and decent treatment. The entire concept of human rights hinges on the treatment of all human beings as equals, with the same rights and privileges that other members of society enjoy.
Why is a human being so privileged? Perhaps this can be deduced from the famous 10th-century fable of the Brethren of Purity, or Rasail Ikhwan al-Safa. The fable features a trial in which legatees of the animal cause sue humans for unjust treatment. Man’s physical and intellectual abilities, his religious and metaphysical aspirations, his moral conduct, his rights and obligations vis-à-vis the rest of creation are all called into question throughout the narrative until the last part when man salvages the situation by adducing the immortality of his soul, whereby he has an edge over other creatures.
Allah has honoured mankind with special rights.
The violation of human rights mostly occurs in a society which is factionalised with all kinds of divisions. The illiterate, the defenceless and the financially weak mostly suffer at the hands of the powerful. Education is almost nonexistent in such societies; therefore, the powerless cannot protect their rights, nor are they able to respond in the event of violation of their rights. Though it is the responsibility of all tiers of government to ensure the proper enforcement of laws related to human rights, they often ignore their responsibility. Educating society is the sure key to empowering people and protecting their rights within the framework of the law.
Since primitive times, human history is replete with events mentioning the violation of human rights on the basis of religion, caste, creed, colour etc. Many human societies had struggled to acquire their rights as provided by God. When the tradition of slavery prevailed, prisoners and other powerless people used to be traded. However, in the seventh century, with the arrival of Islam in Arabia, this practice was disapproved and Muslims were encouraged to free their captives to gain Allah’s blessings.
Presently, we live in an age that is striking in its unprecedented technological sophistication. But the prejudices and inequities that have plagued humanity in the past continue to exist and are responsible for untold suffering. Slavery in a new shape has come into existence. It has rightly been said by 18th-century philosopher Rousseau that man is born free but is everywhere in chains. This echoes the plight of modern society. The poor and other helpless and vulnerable people are treated cruelly and their rights are usurped; thus we still hear painful stories of servitude, forced and compulsory labour, human trafficking etc. The violation of human rights seems rampant; those who possess power — material or physical — often suppress and oppress the powerless.
However, the teachings of Islam are clear in this respect. We are servants of none but Allah, and the soul He put in our bodies before our birth is worthy of respect. What is the soul? It is an essence, immaterial, invisible and core element through which we live and move in the world. The body is material, limited in time, space and subject to the vicissitudes of life. The body is born and one day it will die, whereas the soul is eternal. According to the Quran, the soul is from the command of Allah … and of that knowledge, humankind has been given only a little (17:85).
Though human beings have been given a modicum of soul-related knowledge, they are considered to be the crown of creation. They have an edge over other creation. They are empowered to use the forces of nature in a positive manner. Allah has ennobled and honoured mankind with special rights as stated in the Quran: “Verily We have honoured the Children of Adam. We carry them on the land and the sea; and have made provision of good things for them and have preferred them above many of those whom We have created with a marked preferment” (17:70).
Unfortunately, many people are unaware of their position as human beings, which Islam has bestowed. They live, act and treat themselves and others like animals, or even less than animals. They have to be educated so that they may know their position along with rights in society.
The writer is an educationist with an interest in religion.
Published in Dawn, February 3rd, 2023
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