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HUMAN RIGHTS -- ISLAMIC PERSPECTIVE

Brother Arshad     

Before writing something about Human Rights in Isalmic perspective, I would like to mention three events of recent past relating to Human Rights which were in sharp focus in the mass media. The moves to extradite Former-President Pinochet of Chile, the anniversary of the International Declaration of Human Rights, and US bombing in Iraq.

Muslims everywhere are always deeply distressed by any acts of violence against their brothers and sisters, whether it be in Iraq or Kosovo, in Kashmir or Palestine. The Ummah is one single body. When one side hurts, they all feel their pain and suffering, and they agonize because they appear to be so helpless. If only they could stop those Cruise missiles and so-called smart-bombs. Their pain is increased by the weak explanations that are offered for this carnage. They cannot help comparing the eagerness to bomb Iraq, with the indifference to the slaughter of Muslims in Bosnia and Kosovo, and the continued injustice in Palestine and Kashmir over so many years.

I could devote this entire writing to grievances of Muslim Ummah, but that wont be very useful. Let us rather look at the wider issue of human rights, and ask ourselves, what each one of us can do, to promote Islams message of Peace with Dignity and Justice.

Where did the idea of Human Rights begin? What is the Islamic view? Is it achievable, or merely an impossible dream? And what should we Muslims do to promote human rights? In these few lines, it wont be possible to cover all these questions in detail. So, well have to be brief.

Throughout history, man has struggled to be freed from oppression by his fellow man. When the Pharaoh Ramses oppressed the Bani Israel, Prophet Moosa led them out of Egypt. Thousands of years later, the Conquistadors, who were really, militant Catholic Fundamentalists, drove Muslims and Jews out of Spain. Who can forget the fall of Granada? More recently, the Palestinian Muslims were driven from their homes to make way for the state of Israel. Indeed, the whole story of human rights is linked to the story of refugees and minority groups around the world.

200 years ago, long-suffering French peasants overthrew their monarchy and declared a Republic. Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, were the slogans of the French Revolution.

In North America, a civil war gave birth to the Constitution of the United States, with its Bill of Rights, and it took another two centuries before the American with black complexion could win the same rights as was meant for the Americans with white skin.

After the Second World War, the United Nations Organization set out the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. It proclaimed the right to life, liberty, and security of person; to freedom of conscience, religion, association, speech, expression, political association, and so on. It includes the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty; to travel from a home country at will and return at will, and so forth; It sets out in broad terms, what basic human rights must be safeguarded in all countries.

Not all, but few non-govern-ment organizations do excellent work in publicizing abuses of human rights and campaigning for change.

If we look at the attitude of Christian or secular governments of West, and sadly, even some governments led by so-called Muslim rulers, concerning human rights, the record is disappointing. Their observance of human rights is based on expediency. Its OK, as long as it doesnt hurt their own economic interests. Todays only superpower, the United States, is not even subtle in its disregard for fair dealing with other nations. In US foreign policy, their motto is not universal justice or even-handedness, but: our national self-interest. It does not matter who gets hurt, how many lives are lost, how many millions have to suffer ill health, injustice, or an early death. As long as a policy serves their own advantage, their own narrow self-interest, there is no room for moral or ethical considerations. Closer to this, it has also been the policy of successive British governments, to sell arms to any cruel dictatorship who has the means to pay, despite the customers Human Rights record. While in opposition, one heard many cries of righteous indignation from New Labour, but once in government, these principles were quickly forgotten. When asked about the so-called Ethical Foreign policy that he promised while he was shadow Foreign Minister, the Robin Cooks excuse is: Well, if we dont sell them these weapons, somebody else will!

So much for Western Liberal democracy that is accepted as a norm by secularists and even Christians and Jews! What is the Islamic view on human rights?

In Islam, Justice is not there, only for the convenience of Muslims. It is not based on expediency, to be observed or ignored as they please. The Muslims are not Gods chosen people, with one law for themselves, and another law for others. They must earn their way to Allahs pleasure, with effort and sacrifice, every day. No prophet died for their sins, and each one of them carries his or her own burden. They are urged to stand up against oppression. So often, todays victim can be tomorrows oppressor. Islam, therefore, goes beyond other ideologies in its pursuit of justice. They are urged to be just, even to their enemies:

It is told in Quraan: O you who believe! Stand out firmly for Allah as witnesses to fair dealing; and let not your hatred of a people, lead you to act unjustly towards them. Be just: that is next to Piety: and fear Allah for Allah is well acquainted with all that you do. (Surah Al-Maaida: 8)

And, at another they are reminded, they are told:
O you who believe! Stand out firmly for justice as witnesses to Allah, even as against yourselves or your parents or your kin and whether it be (against) rich or poor: for Allah can best protect both. Follow not the lusts (of your hearts) lest you swerve. If you distort (justice) or decline to do justice, verily Allah is well-acquainted with all that you do. (Surah An Nisaa)

Islam also teaches absolute equality before the law:
A woman belonging to a high and noble family was arrested for stealing. She was brought to the Prophet (SallAllaho alaihe wa sallam), and it was recommended that she might be spared from the punishment because of her status. Prophet Muhammad, (SallAllaho alaihe wa sallam), replied:
The nations that lived before you were destroyed by Allah, because they punished the common man, and let their dignitaries go unpunished for their crimes. I swear, by The One Who holds my life in His hand that even if my daughter, Fatimah, had committed this crime, I would have cut off her hand.

Perhaps the Islamic view on Human Rights is best explained, in that historic sermon of Prophet Muhammad(SallAllaho alaihe wa sallam), in the last Hajj (Pilgrimage). Here are some points that he made:
O People! Lend me an attentive ear, for I know not whether, after this year, I shall ever be amongst you again. Therefore listen to what I am saying to you carefully and take these words to those who could not be present here today..O People, just as you regard this month, this day, this city as Sacred, so regard the life and property of every Muslim as a sacred trust. Return the goods entrusted to you to their rightful owners. Hurt no one so that no one may hurt you. Remember that you will meet your Lord, and that He will reckon your deeds.

Further on, the Prophet (SallAllaho alaihe wa sallam) said .. O People! You have certain rights over your women, but they also have rights over you. If they abide by your right then to them belongs the right to be fed and clothed in kindness. Do treat your women well and be kind to them for they are your partners and committed helpers.. Every Muslim is the brother of every other Muslim. You are one brotherhood. All are equal. No one has superiority over others except in piety and good actions.

Further on in his sermon, Prophet Muhammad (SallAllaho alaihe wa sallam) said:
Remember, one day you will appear before Allah and answer for your deeds. So beware, do not stray from the path of righteousness after I am gone.O People! No prophet or apostle will come after me and no new faith will be born. Reason well, therefore, O People, and understand these words, which I convey to you. I leave behind me two things, the Quraan, and my example, the Sunnah. If you follow these you will never go astray.All those who listen to me shall pass on my words to others and those to others again; and may the last ones understand my words better than those who listen to me directly. Be my witness, Oh Allah, that I have conveyed your message to your people.

Prophet Muhammad (SallAllaho alaihe wa sallam) delivered Islams own International Declaration of Human Rights, 1316 years before the United Nations did! Soon after the Hijrah (Migration), he also produced in Madinah al Munawwarah, the written treaty in which the rights of minorities were guaranteed. He is reported in one Hadeeth to have said:

whomsoever kills a Zimmi, (a non-Muslim living under protection of Muslims), he will not even smell the fragrance of paradise

It is, therefore certain, that when non-Muslims live within midst of Muslims, they are shown respect and fairness, and are made to feel welcome and safe. The noble ancestors of Muslims were the protectors of those who were persecuted in Europe. That is why major Muslim cities like Istanbul and Cairo, still have Jewish and Christian quarters. In the time of the beloved Prophet (SallAllaho alaihe wa sallam), the Negus of Abysinnia, a wise and just king, gave protection to the first Muslim refugees from Makkah al Mukarramah. It is also an Islamic duty to protect non-Muslims living in our land. One Hadeeth says: 
A Muslim is he from whose hands and tongue, other Muslims are safe; and a Mumin (a believer), is he in whom Mankind has an sanctury for its life and property. 

Human Rights also imply Human Obligations. This is the other side of the coin. ......

So often in life, todays victim becomes tomorrows oppressor. The Jewish people claim to suffer unspeakable cruelty before and during the Second World War, but today, somehow they seem to have forgotten those lessons in their dealings with Palestines native Muslims.

One can see from the last sermon of Prophet Muhammad (SallAllaho alaihe wa sallam), that Muslims bear a great responsibility. They must carry forward the Message of Islam to others. Perhaps they should add one more right to the list of Human Rights which all people are entitled to: the Right to know the truth about Islam. Its their duty, as Muslims, as khalfatullah, Allahs ambassadors, to make sure that the true message of Islam reaches everyone on this planet. If they do not carry forward this message, they are then partly responsible for their oppression.

The Muslims must not see Human Rights as some nebulous idea, out there, somewhere, that concerns someone else. Human Rights actually begin with them, individually. It is intimately connected with the idea of the Ummah, of community life, of the families, of how they see themselves. They can all start, by treating the people around them better, by adopting the Sunnah attitude towards parents, brothers, sisters, neighbors, and colleagues at work and on the campus. They should remember, they are Islams ambassadors. They must strive for excellence in everything they do.

They all have a tremendous challenge and responsibility, to dispel the lies and propaganda, and to reveal the truth of Islam to the modern world.

If they do their best to fulfill this noble task, we will contribute towards Jihad. And if Allah, the Most Gracious wills it, they could be instrumental in building a strong and permanent presence for Islam in every corner of the world.

History has shown, that nothing, not even Cruise missiles and smart weapons, can resist an idea whose time has come. Communism and Apartheid have vanished. Both are today in the rubbish-bin of history. The influence of Christianity, in the modern society, is also now in terminal decline. Islam is the last, big, and final idea, the last great challenge to Secular Materialism. The battle has already begun. The Muslims know who will win. But it wont come without effort, their own effort. If they fail in this effort, Allah will choose another people to carry His message. He promised this many times in The Holy Quraan.

If they succeed, as, InshaaAllah, they must, it would be their privilege and honor to be chosen for Allahs great mission. When the final outcome of this war of ideas is decided, (and it may not be in our lifetime), then the meaning of that following wonderful verse will become even clearer: 
and say: Truth has come, and falsehood has perished, for falsehood is, by its nature, bound to perish. (Surah Al-Israa:81)

Let us pray, O Allah! Help us to defend the human rights, and also with the same vigor and determination, let us defend the human rights of others. Let us never be among those who demand justice for themselves, but are unwilling to dispense justice for others. O Allah! Help us to develop our full potential as individuals and as a community living anywhere in the world. Help us to become that wonderful band of people described in Quraan:
Let there arise out of you a band of people inviting to all that is good; enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong; they are the ones to attain success. (Surah Aale Imraan:104)

O Allh! Grant us forgiveness for our sins, and let us enter the company of those whom you have blessed. Ameen! 

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