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basic human rights

The first thing that we find in Islam in this connection is that it

lays down some rights for man as a human being. In other words it

means that every man whether he belongs to this country or that,

whether he is a believer or unbeliever, whether he lives in some forest

or is found in some desert, whatever be the case, he has some basic

human rights simply because he is a human being, which should be

recognized by every Muslim. In fact it will be his duty to fulfil these


1. The Right to Life

The first and the foremost basic right is the right to live and

respect human life. The Holy Quran lays down:

Whosoever kills a human being without (any reason like) man

slaughter, or corruption on earth, it is as though he had killed

all mankind ... (5:32)

As far as the question of taking life in retaliation for murder or the

question of punishment for spreading corruption on this earth is con-

cerned, it can be decided only by a proper and competent court of

law. If there is any war with any nation or country, it can be decided

only by a properly established government. In any case, no human

being has any right by himself to take human life in retaliation or for

causing mischief on this earth. Therefore it is incumbent on every

human being that under no circumstances should he be guilty of

taking a human life. If anyone has murdered a human being, it is as if

he has slain the entire human race. These instructions have been

repeated in the Holy Quran in another place saying:

Do not kill a soul which Allah has made sacred except through the due

process of law ... (6:151)

Here also homicide has been distinguished from destruction of

life carried out in pursuit of justice. Only a proper and competent

court will be able to decide whether or not an individual has forfeited

his right to life by disregarding the right to life and peace of other

human beings. The Prophet, may God's blessings be on him, has

declared homicide as the greatest sin only next to polytheism. The

Tradition of the Prophet reads: "The greatest sins are to associate

something with God and to kill human beings." In all these verses of

the Quran and the Traditions of the Prophet the word 'soul' (nafs) has

been used in general terms without any distinction or particularization

which might have lent itself to the elucidation that the persons belong-

ing to one's nation, the citizens of one's country, the people of a

particular race or religion should not be killed. The injunction applies

to all human beings and the destruction of human life in itself has

been prohibited.

'The Right to Life' has been given to man only by Islam. You

will observe that the people who talk about human rights if they have

ever mentioned them in their Constitutions or Declarations, then it is

clearly implied in them that these rights are applicable only to their

citizens or they have been framed for the white race alone. This can

clearly be gleaned by the fact that human beings were hunted down

like animals in Australia and the land was cleared of the aborigines for

the white man. Similarly the aboriginal population of America was

systematically destroyed and the Red Indians who somehow survived

this genocide were confined to specified areas called Reservations.

They also penetrated into Africa and hunted down human beings like

wild animals. All these instances go to prove that they have no respect

for human life as such and if they have, it is only on the basis of their

nationality, colour or race. Contrary to this, Islam recognizes this right

for all human beings. If a man belongs to a primitive or savage tribe,

even then Islam regards him as a human being.

2. The Right to the Safety of Life

Immediately after the verse of the Holy Quran which has been

mentioned in connection with the right to life, God has said: "And

whoever saves a life it is as though he had saved the lives of all

mankind" (5:32). There can be several forms of saving man from

death. A man may be ill or wounded, irrespective of his nationality,

race or colour. If you know that he is in need of your help, then it

is your duty that you should arrange for his treatment for disease or

wound. If he is dying of starvation, then it is your duty to feed him so

that he can ward off death. If he is drowning or his life is at stake,

then it is your duty to save him. You will be surprised to hear that the

Talmud, the religious book of the Jews, contains a verse of similar

nature, but records it in altogether different form. It says: "Whoever

destroyed a life of the Israelite, in the eyes of the Scripture, it is as


he destroyed the whole world. And whoever protected and saved one

life of the Israelite, in the light of the Scripture, it is as if he saved


whole world." Talmud also contains the view that if a non-Israelite is

drowning and you tried to save him then you are a sinner. Can it be

given a name other than racialism? We regard it as our duty to save

every human life, because it is thus that we have been enjoined in the

Holy Quran. On the other hand, if they regard it necessary to save

the life of a human being at all, it should be the life of an Israelite. As

far as other people are concerned, according to this view, they do not

seem to be human enough to deserve protection of their persons. In

their literature the concept of 'Goyim' for which the English word

'Gentile' and the Arabic word ummi (illiterate) is used, is that they

enjoy no human rights; human rights are reserved only for the children

of Israel. The Quran has mentioned this belief of the Israelites and

quotes the Jews saying: "There is no blame on us (for anything we

may do) with regard to the unlettered folk (i.e. the ummi)" (3:75).

3. Respect for the Chastity of Women

The third important thing that we find in the Charter of Human

Rights granted by Islam is that a woman's chastity has to be respected

and protected under all circumstances, whether she belongs to our

own nation or to the nation of an enemy, whether we find her in the

wild forest or in a conquered city; whether she is our co-religionist or

belongs to some other religion or has no religion at all. A Muslim

cannot outrage her under any circumstances. All promiscuous relation-

ship has been forbidden to him, irrespective of the status or position

of the woman, whether the woman is a willing or an unwilling partner

to the act. The words of the Holy Quran in this respect are: "Do not

approach (the bounds of) adultery" (17:32). Heavy punishment has

been prescribed for this crime, and the order has not been qualified by

any conditions. Since the violation of chastity of a woman is

forbidden in Islam, a Muslim who perpetrates this crime cannot escape

punishment whether he receives it in this world or in the Hereafter.

This concept of sanctity of chastity and protection of women can be

found nowhere else except in Islam. The armies of the Western powers

need the daughters of their nation to satisfy their carnal appetites even

in their own countries, and if they happen to occupy another country,

the fate of its women folk can better be imagined than described. But

the history of the Muslims, apart from a few lapses of the individuals

here or there, has been free from this crime against womanhood. It has

never happened that after the conquest of a foreign country the

Muslim army has gone about raping the women of the conquered

people, or in their own country, the government has arranged to

provide prostitutes1for them. This is also a great blessing which the

human race has received through Islam.2

4. The Right to a Basic Standard of Life

Speaking about the economic rights the Holy Quran enjoins upon

its followers:

And in their wealth there is acknowledged right for the needy and

destitute. (51:19)

The words of this injunction show that it is a categorical and un-

qualified order. Furthermore this injunction was given in Makkah

where there was no Muslim society in existence and where generally

the Muslims had to come in contact with the population of the

disbelievers. Therefore the clear meaning of this verse is that anyone

who asks for help and anyone who is suffering from deprivation has a

right in the property and wealth of the Muslims; irrespective of the

fact whether he belongs to this nation or to that nation, to this

country or to that country, to this race or to that race. If you are in

a position to help and a needy person asks you for help or if you come

to know that he is in need, then it is your duty to help him. God has

established his right over you, which you have to honour as a Muslim.

5. Individual's Right to Freedom

Islam has clearly and categorically forbidden the primitive

practice of capturing a free man, to make him a slave or to sell him

into slavery. On this point the clear and unequivocal words of the

Prophet (S) are as follows: "There are three categories of people

against whom I shall myself be a plaintiff on the Day of Judgement.

Of these three, one is he who enslaves a free man, then sells him and

eats this money" (al-Bukhari and Ibn Majjah). The words of this

Tradition of the Prophet are also general, they have not been qualified

or made applicable to a particular nation, race, country or followers

of a particular religion. The Europeans take great pride in claiming

that they abolished slavery from the world, though they had the

decency to do so only in the middle of the last century. Before this,

these Western powers had been raiding Africa on a very large scale,

capturing their free men, putting them in bondage and transporting

them to their new colonies. The treatment which they have meted

out to these unfortunate people has been worse than the treatment

given to animals. The books written by the Western people themselves

bear testimony to this fact.

The Slave Trade of Western Nations:

After the occupation of America and the West Indies, for three

hundred and fifty years, traffic in slave trade continued. The African

coasts where the black-skinned captured Africans were brought from

the interior of Africa and put on the ships sailing out from those

ports, came to be known as the Slave Coast. During only one century

(from 1680 to 1786) the total number of free people who were

captured and enslaved only for British Colonies amounts, according to

the estimate of British authors, to 20 million human beings. Over the

period of only one year (1790) we are told that 75,000 human beings

were captured and sent for slave labour in the Colonies. The ships

which were used for transporting the slaves were small and dirty.

These unfortunate Africans were thrust into the holds of these ships

like cattle right up to the top and many of them were chained to the

wooden shelves on which they could hardly move because these were

only eighteen inches apart, kept one on top of the other. They were

not provided with suitable food, and if they fell ill or were injured, no

attempt was made to provide them with medical treatment. The

Western writers themselves state that at least 20% of the total number

of people who were captured for slavery and forced labour perished

during their transportation from the African coast to America. It has

also been estimated that the total number of people who were

captured for slavery by the various European nations during the

heyday of the slave trade comes to at least one hundred million. This

is the record of the people who denounce Muslims day and night for

recognizing the institution of slavery. It is as if a criminal is holding

his finger of blame towards an innocent man.

The Position of Slavery in Islam:

Briefly I would like to tell you about the position and nature

of slavery in Islam. Islam tried to solve the problem of the slaves that

were in Arabia by encouraging the people in different ways to set

their slaves free. The Muslims were ordered that in expiation of some

of their sins they should set their slaves free. Freeing a slave by one's

own free will was declared to be an act of great merit, so much so that

it was said that every limb of the man who manumits a slave will be

protected from hell-fire in lieu of the limb of the slave freed by him.

The result of this policy was that by the time the period of the

Rightly-Guided Caliphs was reached, all the old slaves of Arabia were

liberated. The Prophet alone liberated as many as 63 slaves. The

number of slaves freed by 'Aishah was 67, 'Abbas liberated 70, 'Abd

Allah ibn 'Umar liberated one thousand, and 'Abd al-Rahman

purchased thirty thousand and set them free. Similarly other

Companions of the Prophet liberated a large number of slaves, the

details of which are given in the Traditions and books of history of

that period.

Thus the problem of the slaves of Arabia was solved in a short

period of thirty or forty years. After this the only form of slavery

which was left in Islamic society was the prisoners of war, who were

captured on the battlefield. These prisoners of war were retained by

the Muslim Government until their government agreed to receive

them back in exchange for Muslim soldiers captured by them, or

arranged the payment of ransom on their behalf. If the soldiers they

captured were not exchanged with Muslim prisoners of war, or their

people did not pay their ransom money to purchase their liberty, then

the Muslim Government used to distribute them among the soldiers of

the army which had captured them. This was a more humane and

proper way of disposing of them than retaining them like cattle in

concentration camps and taking forced labour from them and, if their

women folk were also captured, setting them aside for prostitution.

In place of such a cruel and outrageous way of disposing of the

prisoners of war, Islam preferred to spread them in the population and

thus brought them in contact with individual human beings. Over and

above, their guardians were ordered to treat them well. The result of

this humane policy was that most of the men who were captured on

foreign battlefields and brought to the Muslim countries as slaves

embraced Islam and their descendants produced great scholars, imams,

jurists, commentators, statesmen and generals of the army. So much

so that later on they became the rulers of the Muslim world. The

solution of this problem which has been proposed in the present age is

that after the cessation of hostilities the prisoners of war of the

combatant countries should be exchanged. Whereas Muslims have been

practising it from the very beginning and whenever the adversary

accepted the exchange of prisoners of war from both sides, it was

implemented without the least hesitation or delay. In modern warfare

we also find that if one government is completely routed leaving her in

no position of bargaining for the prisoners of war and the winning

party gets its prisoners easily, then experience has shown that the

prisoners of war of the vanquished army are kept in conditions which

are much worse than the conditions of slaves. Can anyone tell us what

has been the fate of the thousands of prisoners of war captured by

Russia from the defeated armies of Germany and Japan in the Second

World War? No one has given their account so far. No one knows how

many thousands of them are still alive and how many thousands of

them have perished due to the hardship of the Russian concentration

and labour camps. The forced labour which has been taken from them

is much worse than the service one can exact from slaves. Even perhaps

in the times of ancient Pharaohs of Egypt such harsh labour might not

have been exacted from the slaves in building the pyramids of Egypt, as

has been exacted from the prisoners of war in Russia in developing

Siberia and other backward areas of Russia, or working in coal and

other mines in below zero temperatures, ill-clad, ill-fed and brutally

treated by their supervisors.

6. The Right to Justice

This is a very important and valuable right which Islam has given

to man as a human being. The Holy Quran has laid down: "Do not let

your hatred of a people incite you to aggression" (5:2). "And do not

let ill-will towards any folk incite you so that you swerve from dealing

justly. Be just; that is nearest to heedfulness" (5:8). Stressing this


the Quran again says: "You who believe stand steadfast before God as

witness for (truth and) fairplay" (4:135). This makes the point clear

that Muslims have to be just not only with ordinary human beings but

even with their enemies. In other words, the justice to which Islam

invites her followers is not limited only to the citizens of their own

country, or the people of their own tribe, nation or race, or the

Muslim community as a whole, but it is meant for all the human beings

of the world. Muslims therefore, cannot be unjust to anyone. Their

permanent habit and character should be such that no man should ever

fear injustice at their hands, and they should treat every human being

everywhere with justice and fairness.

7. Equality of Human Beings

Islam not only recognizes absolute equality between men

irrespective of any distinction of colour, race or nationality, but makes

it an important and significant principle, a reality. The Almighty God

has laid down in the Holy Quran: "O mankind, we have created you

from a male and female." In other words all human beings are brothers

to one another. They all are the descendants from one father and one

mother. "And we set you up as nations and tribes so that you may be

able to recognize each other" (49:13). This means that the division of

human beings into nations, races, groups and tribes is for the sake of

distinction, so that people of one race or tribe may meet and be

acquainted with the people belonging to another race or tribe and

cooperate with one another. This division of the human race is neither

meant for one nation to take pride in its superiority over others nor is it

meant for one nation to treat another with contempt or disgrace, or

regard them as a mean and degraded race and usurp their rights.

"Indeed, the noblest among you before God are the most heedful of

you" (49:13). In other words the superiority of one man over another

is only on the basis of God-consciousness, purity of character and high

morals, and not on the basis of colour, race, language or nationality,

and even this superiority based on piety and pure conduct does not

justify that such people should play lord or assume airs of superiority

over other human beings. Assuming airs of superiority is in itself a

reprehensible vice which no God-fearing and pious man can ever dream

of perpetrating. Nor does the righteous have more privileged rights over

others, because this runs counter to human equality, which has been

laid down in the beginning of this verse as a general principle. From the

moral point of view, goodness and virtue is in all cases better than vice

and evil.

This has been exemplified by the Prophet in one of his sayings thus:

"No Arab has any superiority over a non-Arab, nor does a non-Arab

have any superiority over an Arab. Nor does a white man have any

superiority over a black man, or the black man any superiority over the

white man. You are all the children of Adam, and Adam was created

from clay" (al-Bayhaqi and al-Bazzaz). In this manner Islam established

equality for the entire human race and struck at the very root of all

distinctions based on colour, race, language or nationality. According to

Islam,God has given man this right of equality as a birthright. Therefore

no man should be discriminated against on the ground of the colour of

his skin, his place of birth, the race or the nation in which he was born.

Malcolm X, the famous leader of African Negroes in America, who had

launched a bitter struggle against the white people of America in order

to win civil rights for his black compatriots, when he went to perform

the pilgrimage, and saw how the Muslims of Asia, Africa, Europe,

America and those of different races, languages and colours of skin,

were wearing one dress and were hurrying towards God's House-the

Ka'bah and offering prayers standing in one row and there was no

distinction of any kind between them, then he realized that this was the

solution to the problem of colour and race, and not what he had been

trying to seek or achieve in America so far. Today, a number of non-

Muslim thinkers, who are free from blind prejudice, openly admit that

no other religion or way of life has solved this problem with the same

degree of success with which Islam has done so.

8. The Right to Co-operate and Not to Co-operate

Islam has prescribed a general principle of paramount importance

and universal application saying: "Co-operate with one another for

virtue and heedfulness and do not co-operate with one another for the

purpose of vice and aggression" (5:2). This means that the man who

undertakes a noble and righteous work, irrespective of the fact whether

he is living at the North Pole or the South Pole, has the right to expect

support and active co-operation from the Muslims. On the contrary he

who perpetrates deeds of vice and aggression, even if he is our closest

relation or neighbour, does not have the right to win our support and

help in the name of race, country, language or nationality, nor should

he have the expectation that Muslims will co-operate with him or

support him. Nor is it permissible for Muslims to co-operate with him.

The wicked and vicious person may be our own brother, but he is not

of us, and he can have no help or support from us as long as he does not

repent and reform his ways. On the other hand the man who is doing

deeds of virtue and righteousness may have no kinship with Muslims,

but Muslims will be his companions and supporters or at least his well-


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