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Are Human Rights Compatible with Islam ?- Part 3 (Final)


E. Right to Acquire Knowledge

The Qur'an puts the highest emphasis on the importance of acquiring knowledge. That knowledge has been at the core of the Islamic world-view from the very beginning is attested to by Surah 96: Al'Alaq: 1-5, which Muslims believe to the first revelation received by the Prophet Muhammad.

Asking rhetorically if those without knowledge can be equal to those with knowledge [40], the Qur'an exhorts believers to pray for advancement in knowledge [41]. The famous prayer of the Prophet Muhammad was "Allah grant me Knowledge of the ultimate nature of things" and one of the best known of all traditions ("ahadith") is "Seek knowledge even though it be in China."

According to Qur'anic perspective, knowledge is a prerequisite for the creation of a just world in which authentic peace can prevail. The Qur'an emphasizes the importance of the pursuit of learning even at the time, and in the midst, of war [42].

F. Right to Sustenance

As pointed out by Surah 11: Hud: 6, every living creature depends for its sustenance upon God. A cardinal concept in the Qur'an - which underlies the socio-economic-political system of Islam - is that the ownership of everything belongs, not to any person, but to God. Since God is the universal creator, every creature has the right to partake of what belongs to God [43]. This means that every human being has the right to a means of living and that those who hold economic or political power do not have the right to deprive others of the basic necessities of life by misappropriating or misusing resources which have been created by God for the benefit of humanity in general.

G. Right to Work

According to Qur'anic teaching every man and woman has the right to work, whether the work consists of gainful employment or voluntary service. The fruits of labour belong to the one who has worked for them - regardless of whether it is a man or a woman. As Surah 4: An-Nisa': 32 states:

...to men
Is allotted what they earn, And to women what they earn [44]

H. Right to Privacy

The Qur'an recognizes the need for privacy as a human right and lays down rules for protecting an individual's life in the home from undue intrusion from within or without [45].

I. Right to Protection from Slander, Backbiting, and Ridicule

The Qur'an recognizes the right of human beings to be protected from defamation, sarcasm, offensive nicknames, and backbiting [46]. It also states that no person is to be maligned on grounds of assumed guilt and that those who engage in malicious scandal-mongering will be grievously punished in both this world and the next [47].

J. Right to Develop One's Aesthetic Sensibilities and Enjoy the Bounties Created by God

As pointed out Muhammad Asad, "By declaring that all good and beautiful things to the believers, the Qu'ran condemns, by implication, all forms of life-denying asceticism, world- renunciation and self-mortification.[48] In fact, it can be stated that the right to develop one's aesthetic sensibilities so that one can appreciate beauty in all its forms, and the right to enjoy what God has provided for the nurture of humankind, are rooted in the life-affirming vision of the Qur'an.[49]

K. Right to Leave One's Homeland Under Oppressive Conditions

According to Qur'anic teaching , a Muslim's ultimate loyalty must be to God and not to any territory. To fulfill his Prophetic mission, the Prophet Muhammad decided to leave his place of birth, Mecca, and emigrated to Medina. This event ("Hijrah") has great historical and spiritual significance for Muslims who are called upon to move away from their place of origin of it becomes an abode of evil and oppression where they cannot fulfill their obligations to God or establish justice.[50]

L. Right to "The Good Life"

The Qur'an uphold the right of the human being only to life but to " the good life ". This good life, made up of many elements , becomes possible when a human being is living in a just environment. According to Qur'anic teaching, justice is a prerequisite for peace, and peace is a prerequisite for human development. In a just society, all the earlier-mentioned human rights may be exercised without difficulty. In such a society other basic rights such as the right to a secure place of residence, the right to the protection of one's personal possessions, the right to protection of one's covenants, the right to move freely, the right to social and judicial autonomy for minorities, the right to the protection of one's holy places and the right to return to one's spiritual center, also exist [51].

To Table of Contents

Rights of Women: Qur'anic Ideals Versus Muslim Practice
Muslim men never tire of repeating that Islam has given more rights to women than has any other religion. Certainly, if by "Islam" is meant "Qur'anic Islam" the rights that it has given to women are, indeed, impressive. Not only do women partake of all the "General Rights" mentioned in the foregoing pages, they are also the subject of much particular concern in the Qur'an. Underlying much of the Qur'an's legislation on women-related issues is the recognition that women have been disadvantaged persons in history to whom justice needs to be done by the Muslim "ummah". Unfortunately, however, the cumulative (Jewish,Christian,Hellenistic, Bedouin and other) biases which existed in the Arab-Islamic culture of the early centuries of Islam infiltrated the Islamic tradition and undermined the intent of the Qur'an to liberate women from the status of chattels or inferior creatures and make them free and equal to men.

A review of Muslim history and culture brings to light many areas in which - Qur'anic teaching notwithstanding - women continued to be subjected to diverse forms of oppression and injustice, often in the name of Islam, while the Qur'an because of its protective attitude toward all downtrodden and oppressed classes of people, appears to be weighted in many ways in favor of women, many of its women-related teachings have been used in patriarchal Muslim societies against, rather than for, women. Muslim societies, in general, appear to be far more concerned with trying to control women's bodies and sexuality than with their human rights. Many Muslims when they speak of human rights, either do not speak of women's rights at all,[52] or are mainly concerned with how a women's chastity may be protected[53]. (They are apparently not worried about protecting men's chastity).

Women are the targets of the most serious violations of human rights which occur in Muslim societies in general. Muslims say with great pride that Islam abolished female infanticide; true, but, it must also be mentioned that one of the most common crimes in a number of Muslim countries (e.g., in Pakistan) is the murder of women by their husbands. These so-called "honor-killings" are, in fact, extremely dishonorable and are frequently used to camouflage other kinds of crimes.

Female children are discriminated against from the moment of birth, for it is customary in Muslim societies to regard a son as a gift, and a daughter as a trial, from God. Therefore, the birth of a son is an occasion for celebration while the birth of a daughter calls for commiseration if not lamentation. Many girls are married when they are still minors, even though marriage in Islam is a contract and presupposes that the contracting parties are both consenting adults. Even though so much Qur'anic legislation is aimed at protecting the rights of women in the context of marriage[54] women cannot claim equality with their husbands. The husband, in fact, is regarded as his wife's gateway to heaven or hell and the arbiter of her final destiny. That such an idea can exist within the framework of Islam - which, in theory, rejects the idea of there being any intermediary between a believer and God - represents both a profound irony and a great tragedy.

Although the Qur'an presents the idea of what we today call a "no-fault" divorce and does not make any adverse judgements about divorce [55], Muslim societies have made divorce extremely difficult for women, both legally and through social penalties. Although the Qur'an states clearly that the divorced parents of a minor child must decide by mutual consultation how the child is to be raised and that they must not use the child to hurt or exploit each other[56], in most Muslim societies, women are deprived both of their sons (generally at age 7) and their daughters (generally at age 12). It is difficult to imagine an act of greater cruelty than depriving a mother of her children simply because she is divorced. Although polygamy was intended by the Qur'an to be for the protection of orphans and widows[57], in practice Muslims have made it the Sword of Damocles which keeps women under constant threat. Although the Qur'an gave women the right to receive an inheritance not only on the death of a close relative, but also to receive other bequests or gifts during the lifetime of a benevolent caretaker, Muslim societies have disapproved greatly of the idea of giving wealth to a woman in preference to a man, even when her need or circumstances warrant it. Although the purpose of the Qur'anic legislation dealing with women's dress and conduct[58], was to make it safe for women to go about their daily business (since they have the right to engage in gainful activity as witnessed by Surah 4: An-Nisa' :32 without fear of sexual harassment or molestation, Muslim societies have put many of them behind veils and shrouds and locked doors on the pretext of protecting their chastity, forgetting that according to the Qur'an[59], confinement to their homes was not a normal way of life for chaste women but a punishment for "unchastity".

Woman and man, created equal by God and standing equal in the sight of God, have become very unequal in Muslim societies. The Qur'anic description of man and woman in marriage: "They are your garments/ And you are their garments" (Surah 2: Al-Baqarah: 187) implies closeness, mutuality, and equality. However, Muslim culture has reduced many, if not most, women to the position of puppets on a string, to slave-like creatures whose only purpose in life is to cater to the needs and pleasures of men. Not only this, it has also had the audacity and the arrogance to deny women direct access to God. It is one of Islam's cardinal beliefs that each person -man or woman- is responsible and accountable for his or her individual actions. How, then, can the husband become the wife's gateway to heaven or hell? How, then, can he become the arbiter not only of what happens to her in this world but also of her ultimate destiny? Such questions are now being articulated by an increasing number of Muslim women and they are bound to threaten the existing balance of power in the domain of family relationships in most Muslim societies.

However, despite everything that has gone wrong with the lives of countless Muslim women down the ages due to patriarchal Muslim culture, there is hope for the future. There are indications from across the world of Islam that a growing number of Muslims are beginning to reflect seriously upon the teachings of the Qur'an as they become disenchanted with capitalism, communism and western democracy. As this reflection deepens, it is likely to lead to the realization that the supreme task entrusted to human beings by God, of being God's deputies on earth, can only be accomplished by establishing justice which the Qur'an regards as a prerequisite for authentic peace. Without the elimination of the inequities, inequalities, and injustices that pervade the personal and collective lives of human beings, it is not possible to talk about peace in Qur'anic terms. Here, it is of importance to note that there is more Qur'anic legislation pertaining to the establishment of justice in the context of family relationships than on any other subject. This points to the assumption implicit in much Qur'anic learning, namely, that if human beings can learn to order their homes justly so that the human rights of all within its jurisdiction - children, women, and men - are safeguarded, then they can also order their society and the world at large, justly. In other words, the Qur'an regards the home as a microcosm of the "ummah" and the world community, and emphasizes the importance of making it "the abode of peace" through just living.

1. Raimundo Panikkar, "Is the Notion of Human Rights a Western Concept?" in Breakthrough, p.31 (New York: Global Education Associates, Spring 1989).
2. Ibid.
3. Aquinas quoted by E.W. Fernea in her presentation on "Roles of Women in Islam: Past and Present", at the Ta'ziyeh Conference held at Hartford Seminary, Connecticut, on May 2, 1988.
4. Thomas Carlyle, "The Hero as Prophet. Mahomet:Islam," in On Heroes, Hero-Worship and the
Heroic in History, pp. 47-77.
5. Reference here is to The Qur'an, Surah 53: An-Najm: 42; the translation is by Muhammad Iqbal, The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, p. 57 (Lahore: Shaikh Muhammad Ashraf; 1971).
6. For instance, see Surah 15: Al-Hijr: 85; Surah 16: An-Nahl: 3; Surah 44: Ad-Dukhan: 39; Surah 45: Al-Jathiyah: 22; Surah 46: Al-Ahqaf: 3.
7. Reference here is to, Surah 6: Al-An'am: 151.
8. Reference here is to, Surah 5: Al-Ma'idah:32.
9. For instance, see Surah 17: Al-Isra': 70.
10. Reference here is to Surah 33: Al-Ahzab: 72.
11. Reference here is to Surah 2: Al-Baqarah: 30-34.
12. Reference here is to Surah 95: At-Tin: 4-6.
13. For instance, see Surah 5: Al-Ma'idah: 8 and Surah 4: An- Nisa': 136.
14. A.A.A. Fyzee, A Modern Approach to Islam, p. 17 (Lahore: Universal Books, 1978).
15. Ibid.
16. Reference here is to Sarah 53: An-Najm: 38-39.
17. Reference here is to Surah 2: Al-Baqarah: 177.
18. Reference here is to Surah 4: An-Nisa': 95-96.
19. Reference here is to, Surah 24: An-Nur:2.
20. Reference here is to, Surah 4: An-Nisa': 25; Surah 33: Al-Ahzab: 30.
21. G.A. Parwez, Tabweeb-ul-Qur'an,(Urdu), Volume I, p. 78 (Lahore: Idara-e-Tulu'-e-Islam, 1977) .
22. Abdullah Yusaf Ali(translation) The Holy Qur'an, p. 148 (Brentwood, Maryland: Amana Corporation, 1989).
23. For instance, in Surah 4: An-Nisa': 36.
24. For instance in Surah 2: Al-Baqarah: 177; Surah 4: An'Nisa': 92; Surah 5: Al-Ma'idah: 89; Surah 9: At-Tawbah:60; Surah 24: An-Nur: 33; Surah 58: Al-Mujadalah: 3.
25. Muhammad Asad (translation) The Message of the Qur'an, p. 778 (Gibraltar: Dar Al-Andalus, 1980).
26. G.A. Parwez, Islam: A Challenge to Religion, p. 346 (Lahore: Idara-e-Tulu'-e-Islam, 1986).
27. Reference here is to, Surah 42: Ash-Shura: 21.
28. Reference here is to Surah 12: Yusuf: 40.
29. "Islamic law - Its Ideals and Principles"in The Challenge of Islam, p.157(A. Gauher, editor, 1980; London: The Islamic Council of Europe).
30. Reference here is to the Qur'an, Surah 42: Ash-Shura: 38.
31. The Message of the Qur'an, p. 57.
32. For instance, see Surah 6: Al-An'am: 107; Surah 10: Yunus: 99; Surah 16: Al-Nahl: 82; Surah 42: Ash-Shura: 48.
33. For instance, see Surah 18: Al-Kahf: 29.
34. For instance, see Surah 6: Al-An'am: 108.
35. The Holy Quran, pp. 33-34.
36. For instance, see Surah 6: Al-An'am: 108.
37. Reference here is to Surah 2: Al- Baqarah: 256; The Holy Quran, p-106.
38. Reference here is to Surah 4: An-Nisa': 135.
39. Reference here is to Surah 2: Al-Baqarah; also see G.A. Parwez, "Bunyadi Haquq-e-Insaniyat" (Urdu), in Tulu'-e-Islam, pp. 34-35 (Lahore, November 1981).
40. Reference here is to Surah 39: Az-Zumar: 9.
41. Reference here is to Surah 20: Ta-Ha: 114.
42. Reference here is to Surah 9: At-Tawbah: 122.
43. For instance, see Surah 6: Al-An'am: 165; Surah 67: Al-Mulk:15.
44. The Holy Qur'an, p. 194.
45. For instance, see Surah 24: An-Nur: 27-28, 58; Surah 33: Al-Ahzab: 53; Surah 49: Al- Hujurat : 12.
46. Reference here is to Surah 49: Al-Hujurat: 11-12.
47. For instance, see Surah 24: An-Nur: 16-19; also see Surah 4: An-Nisa': 148-149.
48. The Message of the Qur'an, p. 207.
49. For instance, see Surah 7: Al-A'raf: 32.
50. For instance, see Surah 4: An-Nisa': 97-100.
51. In this context, reference may be made to several Qur'anic verses. e.g., Surah 2:Al- Baqarah:229; Surah 3: Al-'Imran: 17,77; Surah 5: Al-Ma'idah:1; 42-48; Surah 9: At-Tawbah: 17; Surah 17: Al-Isra': 34; Surah 67: Al-Mulk:15.
52. For example, R.A. Jullundhri, "Human Rights in Islam", in Understanding Human Rights (A.D. Falconer, editor: Dublin: Irish School of Ecumenics, 1980).
53. For example, A.A. Maududi, Human Rights in Islam (Lahore: Islamic Publications: 1977).
54. For instance, see Surah 4: An-Nisa': 4,19; Surah 24: An-Nur: 33; Surah 2: Al-Baqarah: 187; Surah 9: At-Tawbah:71; Surah 7: Al-A'raf:189; Surah 30: Ar-rum: 21.
55. For instance, see Surah 2: Al-Baqarah: 231,241.
56. The reference here is to Surah 2: Al-Baqarah: 233.
57. The reference here is to Surah 4: An-Nisa': 2-3.
58. For instance, see Surah 24: An-Nur: 30-31; Surah 33: Al-Ahzab:59.
59. The reference here is to Surah 4: An-Nisa': 15.

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