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Does Islam recognize Human Rights?

To address this question, we need to first clarify what we mean by ‘human rights’. Does the term refer to the so-called Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the UDHR? Or does it simply refer to the rights of humans in a general sense?

Islam and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

To start with, Islam does indeed confirm the basic human rights mentioned in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the UHDR.  That is to say, rights such as the right for life, freedom, equality, etc. are acknowledged by Islam. However, the way Islam looks at these concepts may be different. That is probably the reason why the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam, the CDHR, was composed some years later. The declaration that included nearly the same basic human rights mentioned in the UHDR; what distinguishes the two, however, is the special perspective of Islam on the Human Being and on the subject of rights.

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Islam and Human Rights

Prior to examining human rights from an Islamic perspective, the following points may be considered: Is the concept of human rights a ‘modern’ phenomenon? Are human societies, let’s say human authorities, to define certain rights for human beings? If so, are these established rights all-inclusive? Can they be applied to every human being regardless of time and place or any other particular circumstances?

It seems that Islam has a distinct perspective about human rights; something that has to be elaborated in more detail.

Firstly, Islam views rights as being inherent in human beings.  This means that, according to Islam, God has granted humans with certain rights since the very beginning of creation. There seems no need for a group of people to establish rights for human beings; whether it be the United Nations or any other international institution.

This can explain, to a great extent, any dissimilarity between Islam and the UDHR. Accordingly, there may be certain rights recognized by Islam which are not found in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights and equally, there may be rights stated in the UDHR that are not recognized by Islam.

Human Rights in Islamic Resources: The Quran

If we have a closer look at the Islamic traditions, we realize that not only they have addressed the human individual and collective rights in some great detail, but also gone beyond our ‘modern’ definition of rights of humans!  They have introduced something much more valuable, that is, ‘human dignity’!

To begin with, the Holy Scripture of Islam, the Quran, looks upon human as one endowed with dignity. Human beings’ dignity refers to their advantages. This means that God has endowed them with sublime traits [1].

"Certainly We have honoured the Children of Adam ….. and preferred them with a complete preference over many of those We have created" (17:70).

In addition, all humans are children of Adam and are created from clay. They are equal regardless of gender differences, ethnicity, color, etc.

"Indeed, We created you from a male and a female, and made you nations and tribes that you may identify yourselves with one another"(49:13).

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Human Rights in Islamic Resources: The Hadith (Narrations)

There are plenty of writings on the subject of rights in Islamic resources, amongst which Imam Sajjad (AS)’s The Treatise on Rights is one of the best. Imam Ali b. al-Hussain (AS), known as Sajjad (the Often in Prostration) [2], has left a comprehensive account on the issue [3]. Almost 50 rights and duties are introduced and discussed in this momentous document;  it includes various social relations of any individual such as rights of parents, spouses, children, neighbors, teachers, students, believers, the leader of Congregational Prayer, the government etc. It also defines the duties that humans have towards their ‘self’ and even their organs:

“The right of your ‘self’ (nafs) against you is that you employ it in obeying God”

“The right of the tongue is that you consider it too noble for obscenity, accustom it to good, refrain from any meddling in which there is nothing to be gained, express kindness to the people, and speak well concerning them.” [4]

 

The treatise was written centuries ago, yet it addresses not only the issue of rights in an extensive manner, but also illustrates the ethical principles of citizenship in detail:

 

“The right of your neighbor is that you guard him when he is absent, honor him when he is present, and aid him when he is wronged… if you know of any evil from him, you conceal it…You do not forsake him in difficulty, you release him from his stumble, you forgive his sin, and you associate with him generously”.

“The right of the people of your creed is harboring safety for them, compassion toward them…you should love for them what you love for yourself and dislike for them what you dislike for yourself…” [5].

Our concise examination of Islamic viewpoint on the subject of human rights implies that Islam does recognize human rights. Nonetheless, Islamic particular perspective on human beings as the honored creature of God with specific rights and duties has to be taken into consideration.

 

References:

[1] "Statement on Human Rights" (PDF), Retrieved 2017, from http://franke.uchicago.edu/aaa1947.pdf

[2] Islami, S. H. (2005). Retrieved 2017, from Noormags: http://www.noormags.ir/view/fa/articlepage/98729?sta=%D8%AD%D9%82%D9%88%D9%82%20%D8%A8%D8%B4%D8%B1%20%D8%A7%D8%B3%D9%84%D8%A7%D9%85%DB%8C

[3] Javadi Amuli, ‘Abdullah. Sources Of Human Rights In Islam. Retrieved 2017, from https://www.al-islam.org/islamic-views-human-rights-viewpoints-iranian-scholars/sources-human-rights-islam#man-essence-valuable-and-worthy

[4] ‘Life of Imam Sajjad (a.s)’. Retrieved 2017, from  http://shiastudies.org/article/imam-ali-b-al-husayn-al-sajjad-beginner

[5] ‘Risalat al-huquq’. Retrieved 2017, from http://en.wikishia.net/view/Risalat_al-huquq_(book)

[6] TREATISE ON RIGHTS (RISALAT AL-HUQUQ). Retrieved 2017, from https://www.al-islam.org/treatise-rights-risalat-al-huquq-imam-zain-ul-abideen/rights-allah-against-oneself

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