Islam, as the last divine monotheistic religion, is the most perfect of the religions: “Today I have perfected your religion for you… and I have approved Islam as your religion.” (5:3). By introducing Islam, Allah has completed His blessings upon human beings (5:3). In other words, Islam provides everything that humans need to reach their perfection and salvation in the afterlife ; what they require for a divine life in this world and the tools they need for their social life, too; including their rights and responsibilities. The Islamic responsibilities of each individual towards others were thoroughly discussed previously. Here, the focus will be on Islamic responsibilities that concern the rights and benefits of people in society.
When reviewing the Islamic teachings, one can notice the importance of congregation, unity, and brotherhood in the society. That is why many duties such as those to parents, neighbors, relatives, sick people, the elderly, the young people, mentors, etc. as various members of society are defined in Islam. Doing good to orphans, those in need, the traveler and the beggar, and freeing slaves (2:177) is another Islamic principle that concerns the members of society.
Hence, it can be concluded that in most cases, Islam has preferred the benefits of the congregation over the individual, even if it imposes a limitation or a loss to the individual. This can be compared to some of the social rules that aim to bring order in society but are limiting to individuals (e.g., red light).
In Islam, there is no place for arrogance and racism, but brotherhood towards other Muslims and a general sense of humanity towards every human being have been encouraged . According to the Quran, the diversity of life and the various languages and colors of human beings are all signs of Allah’s majesty (30:22). Also, as Islamic teachings suggest, no privileged class exists, and everyone is equal in society, the only criteria for superiority over others is having piety or moral excellence (49:13).
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) has also emphasized this in a narration where he (PBUH&HP) says that all human beings are from the same father (Adam (AS)) and no nation or race is superior to the other . In another narration, he (PBUH&HP) says that whoever knows more than others is more respected , and he repudiates the discriminations based on tribe, origin, color, and wealth.
By many of its rulings and duties considered for its followers, Islam aims to direct the attention of each individual to other’s needs. One way of achieving this goal is through the Alms-Tax (Zakat). Zakat is an exact amount of money that must be paid according to the rules of Sharia to be used in favor of the people in need or for certain beneficial deeds in society. Zakat can be given to poor people or can be spent on public welfare or creating jobs.
It should be noted that one can directly pay Zakat to the needy people only under the permission of his/her religious expert (Marja’). The aim is to manage and organize the resources by an expert aware of the requirements of the society; Marja’. This is one of the solutions to prevent a particular group of community to manipulate the economy. It empowers those who have been neglected in society to become productive and useful.
Sadaqah is giving away something (money, clothes, food, teaching, etc.) voluntarily to someone in need without expecting anything in return and with the intention of pleasing Allah: “spend from what we have provided you” (63:10). Giving charity in the form of Sadaqah is highly recommended in Islamic teachings. However, the manner of giving charity is of high importance in Islam. Sadagah should be offered discreetly to needy people rather than in public with the intention of showing off and pretending to be generous. This means that Islam encourages the preservation of human dignity.
Here, we reviewed a general Islamic viewpoint that guarantees the rights of every member of the society and the importance it gives to social expediency. These Islamic recommendations will ultimately promote human rights and dignity.
- M H Tabataba'i, “Tafsir al-Mizan”, Surah Al-Maidah.
- islam and humanity
- M. Karajaki, “Ma’dan al-Jawahir wa-Riyadat al-Khawatir”, p. 21.
- Shaykh Saduq, “al-Amali”, p. 27.
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH & HP) has been sent as a perfect role model for human beings, both in deeds and behavior. This is emphasized in the Quran (33:21) and the sayings of Infallible Imams (AS): “Certainly, in the Prophet of Allah (PBUH and HP) was sufficient example for you and a proof concerning the vices of the world, its defects, the multitude of its disgraces and its evils” . Being mercy to all humans, Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH & HP) compassion included not only Muslims but every human being. This fact is evident in his manner towards opposers and how he dealt with the followers of other religions that we reviewed some of them in the first part of the topic and the rest will be introduced here.
As mentioned in the Quran, Islam is a religion for the people all around the world: “We did not send you except as a bearer of good news and warner to all mankind” (34:28). Hence, it was a duty over the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH & HP) to promote Islam in other parts of the world, too. As soon as his message had been spread in the region of Hejaz, and the Islamic government had been established after the settlement of conflicts among parties in dispute, Prophet (PBUH & HP) received the divine order to universalize his mission (9:33-48:28). Accordingly, he sent several messages to the governors of various countries. In these messages, he neither threatened to war nor obliged them to obey him. Instead, he used kind words to invite them to monotheism (Tawhid). About 185 messages are reported that had been sent to the leaders of countries, heads of tribes, and emperors, which all shared a peaceful approach .
All the messages he sent to Al-Muqawqis, the ruler of Egypt, Heraclius, the Emperor of the Byzantine Empire, and Al-Najashi, the king of the Kingdom of Aksum, started with salutations and greetings. Then, they were asked to let their people hear the divine message that Prophet (PBUH & HP) had and decide freely whether they want to follow it or not. The reason behind sending letters to the heads of countries and tribes was that, if the leader of a group were convinced to change his\her mind and accepted Islam, then he\she would let his\her people hear the message of Islam and invite them more easily to Islam; like what happened with Al-Najashi. Hearing the Surat Maryam and realizing the truth, he let those Muslims who had moved from Mecca to Aksum to save their lives and settle down safely in his realm. This permission caused Islam to be spread readily in that land, and many people accepted Islam willingly.
This matches the principles of “peaceful coexistence” and “religious coexistence” that are encouraged in Islam : “Say, ‘O People of the Book! Come to a common word between us and you: that we will worship no one but Allah, that we will not ascribe any partner to Him, and that some of us will not take some others as lords besides Allah.” (3:64).
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH & HP) always encouraged Muslims to justice, fairness, respecting the rights, and avoiding harassment in dealing with the followers of other religions . He said: “Whoever oppresses who is in agreement with Muslims and imposes a burden on him more than his tolerance, I will be against him on the judgment day.”  and “whoever offends who is under the protection of Islam, has offended me.” . Those who were under the protection of Islam were the Jews and Christians who participated in providing the expenses of the Islamic government in return for being protected by paying money called “Jizya.” This shouldn’t be confused with paying for the right of life, but it means that the Jews and Christians were considered as common citizens who lived in a friendly ambiance with Muslims in the society, and no one was permitted to hurt them.
Moreover, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH & HP) cared about the living conditions of non-Muslims such that he ordered Muslims to give charity to the People of the Book (Jews, Christians, Sabians, and Zoroastrians) who were in need . This was an act of humanity, and not a religious obligation, that originated from Prophet’s (PBUH & HP) exemplary character.
He respected non-Muslims such that once he was among his companions that people brought the corpse of a Jew. Prophet (PBUH & HP) stood up as a sign of respect. The companions told that the dead one was a Jew. He answered that one should stand up to respect the dead body, whether it belongs to a Muslim or a non-Muslim .
From what has been discussed above, one can see that Prophet Muhammad (PBUH & HP) has truly represented the peaceful essence of Islam through his words and acts. And actually, many of his enemies and non-Muslims embraced Islam due to his lovely noble character.
- “Nahjul Balaqa,” Sermon 160.
- A. Ahmadi Miyanji, “Makatib al-Rasul,” p. 261-263.
- M. A. Amini, “The principle of peaceful coexistence with non-Muslims in Islam,” Ma’rifat Journal, no. 165, p. 35-52.
- S. Balaqi, “Justice and judgment in Islam,” p. 57.
- A. A. F. Thibarah, "Ruhuddin al-Islami," p. 276.
- Jafar Sobhani, “Introduction to principles of Islam,” p. 528-529,
“Imam Hussain is the leader of humanity” Rabindranath Tagore
People have looked into the movement of Imam Hussain (AS) from different aspects throughout the history of Islam. Some see it as a historical trajectory, where the teachings of Islam were distorted and violated by the tyrant caliph of the time, Yazid, thus Imam Hussain’s movement as a revolutionary act and sacrifice to revive true Islam.
To some others, yet, the most important lesson we can learn from the event of Karbala is its moral or ethical dimension. As Imam Hussain (AS) himself puts: “I seek to enjoin what is good and forbid what is evil and follow the traditions of my grandfather (Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP)) and my father (Imam Ali (AS))” .
One of the moral principles that Imam Hussain (AS)’s movement represents and emphasizes is the Golden rule. Based on this rule you should treat others the way you would like to be treated by them: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” .
Although it is often said that the term ‘Golden Rule’ first started to be used in the 17th or 18th century , we can also find it much earlier in the words and acts of Imam Ali (AS) and the other infallible Imams (AS). Imam Ali (AS) tells his son Imam Hassan (AS) in his last will that: “like for others whatever you like for yourself, and whatever you dislike happening to you, spare others from such happenings” .
Imam Hussain (AS) also advises people (as a general rule and a decent way of life): “If you do not believe in any religion, at least be free-spirited and honest in your actions” .
A newer version of the Golden rule also says: “act only in accordance with that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law” .
So, for an action to be considered morally good, you should ask yourself whether you could always reason or defend it as a universal law. In other words, to be a good person, you must be good for goodness’ sake, no matter what.
Now let’s see how this ethical value was manifested in Imam Hussain (AS)’s conduct.
A question anyone might ask after reading about the event of Karbala is ‘why didn’t Imam Hussain (AS) take an oath of allegiance to Yazid to save his life? Why did he choose to be martyred?’ [i]
One clear answer to this question is that he was the perfect leader (Imam) and role model for the Muslim community. A role model is someone who serves as an example and whose behavior is emulated by other people. To be a good role model you have to observe all your acts so that you set proper examples for others to follow.
Now, if Imam Hussain (AS) had pledged allegiance to Yazid’s tyranny, would he be a good exemplar of resistance against injustice for people? Wouldn’t his compromise then make the tyrant ruler more powerful and dominant?
The answer is obvious. Imam Hussain (AS) chose not to follow the indecent tyrant of his time since he intended to act on that maxim he wished it would become a universal law.
On the other hand, some people criticize Imam Hussain (AS)’s decision, saying he could have pledged allegiance to Yazid while at the same time trying to fight him and his injustice over time.
This would also contradict Imam Hussain (AS)’s maxim and is paradoxical, too. In fact, Yazid’s deviations from true Islam and the moral norms were so many that Imam Hussain (AS) could not turn a blind eye to them.
Imam Hussain (AS) did not want to compromise with those so-called Muslims whose behavior and actions had nothing to do with Islam. Instead, he chose to do the right thing, which any free-spirited, wise and virtuous man would do. And with his movement, he invited us all to do the same and follow in his footsteps.
The other ethical lesson we learn from Imam Hussain (AS) is that he never disregarded human values on his way to achieve his purpose. And he always advised his followers to choose the right way in life. For him, the end did not justify the means. What mattered to him more than anything else was the values not the victory in its apparent sense.
As Imam Ali (AS) says: “The victory achieved through sins is not, in fact, a victory, the one who dominates with the help of evil is defeated” .
It is due to this ethical principle that Muslim ibn Aqil did not kill his enemy, Ubayd Allah ibn Ziyad, before the event of Karbala (before the enemy declared war against them), when he had every chance of doing so in his friend’s house.
He did not kill him because the Holy Prophet (PBUH) forbade any guile: “Verily, Islam became an obstruction of deceit and an obstacle of trickery” . Imam Hussain (AS) and his companions were seeking to revive the teachings of Prophet Muhammad (AS). So, killing even the most wicked person on earth through deceit, and before he has shown an act of hostility against you, is not compatible with Islamic teachings.
In another account from the event of Karbala, Zuhayr, one of Imam Hussain (AS)’s companions, recommended fighting the enemy when they were fewer in number and so easier to defeat. But Imam Hussain (AS) replied he did not intend to start a war; [he would rather defend if a war was imposed on him].
The examples mentioned above manifestly show the behavior of a great role model. Imam Hussain (AS) only wanted to restore what was right, the true teachings of Islam which had been distorted by the tyrant ruler of the time. He tried to preserve human dignity and values.
He could have saved his life as well as that of his family’s and companions’ by accepting Yazid’s allegiance. But this would have been at the cost of ruining their dignity and living a life humiliation. Never would he put up with such disgrace.
So Imam Hussain (AS) made the most of every opportunity to invite people to the righteousness and prevent bloodshed. However, when he was left with two options, humiliation or death, and war was being forced upon him, he chose martyrdom and bravely fought against injustice.
[i] In one of his sermons to people of Kufa, Imam Hussain (AS) said: “Beware! Now this illegitimate son of the illegitimate father (Ubaydullah bin Ziyad) has stationed me between unsheathing the swords or then bear the humiliation, and far be it that we accept humiliation” .