Sources of Human Rights in Islam
By: Ayatullah Abdullah Javadi Amuli
Man is in essence valuable and worthy
The holy Qur’an regards man as one endowed with dignity.
“We have honoured the children of Adam.” (Surah al-Isra 17:70)
This dignity is a theoretical value, which may find a practical aspect. However, it must not be imagined that this theoretical value exists in the considerations. Man’s dignity is the same as the dignity of the angels and the Qur'an, which is the manifestation of God’s dignity. Of course, the Holy Spirit is in essence great. Man's dignity shows that he has advantages. In other words, man’s dignity implies that he has sublime traits. By virtue of the same reason, after the creation of this great essence, God thus addressed lblis (Satan), “Why did you not bow down before what I created with my own hands?” (Surah Sad 38:75)
This statement, namely the creation of Adam by God’s two hands shows that man is in essence valuable and worthy, for this statement is used when we regard especial respect for something. For instance, if someone prays for something with open hands, it shows his special favor, as God is such when granting something.
“O you who grant things with two open hands.”1
This explanation elucidates the point that the implications of such statements are not that God has physical body or hand but the idea is that all divine essence has played a part in the creation of Adam; hence, man can be the manifestation of all divine qualities and consequently, God’s viceroy.
This theoretical dignity may contain much practical greatness. Due to this dignity, all legal and ethical teachings must be designed in accordance with this theoretical principle. When we admit that man is in essence valuable and worthy, we are consciously or unconsciously induced to believe that neither freedom, security and so on is his right but they should be designed in such a way which might correspond with his dignity.
Man is a God-seeking being
Man innately tends to seek God, for he sees Him, not with his physical eyes but with the eyes of his heart. This God-seeking attitude is not unconscious, as it is not deterministic. It must not be assumed that man seeks after someone lost but after a God whom he loves. On the basis of reason, man does not have an independent entity but his existence is constantly dependent. However, this dependence has nothing to do with another dependent being but it is dependent upon an independent soul. Man is nothing but a dependent being. It is not such that man has perfect relation to God but that the relation between Man and God is like spiritual poverty and perfect need for Him; “O people! You are poor before God.” (Surah al-Fatir 35:15)
In this verse, there are two realities: firstly, man does not have an independent soul; secondly, his relationship is only with God and he has no other relationship whatsoever.
Thus, any kind of formulating rights should correspond with this Godseeking spirit. The set of rights considering for man an independent soul or considering man independent of God does not spring from a divine source. Of course, those who do not accept this source generally fall into the pitfall of comparing things while everyone knows that man is a dependent soul. The atheists have pinned their hopes on something or someone. The difference is that they do not consider God as the independent soul.
Man is eternal
From other sources in Islam, it is understood that man is eternal. This is perceived both by reason and by the holy sayings. The holy Qur'an regards that man has an eternal soul who will step into another world after this world and will enjoy eternity there. According to reason, man has an incorporeal soul and that this soul is not exposed to destruction. According to reason, death includes the separation of the soul from the body. And once more this separation is obliterated at the command of God, the body becomes fit for the hereafter.
Everyone accepts this and the existing differences arise from the mistakes in comparison. All human beings long for a longer life and strive to live longer. This implies that man innately seeks after eternity; however, in comparison, some think that belongs to the hereafter.
However, one must know that man is a traveler on the path of life; of course, man comes to middle abode in the minor apocalypse, then he enters the major apocalypse but the world comes to destination in the minor apocalypse. The holy Qur'an holds that all cosmic order moves towards God. This cosmic order goes towards resurrection to testify what its travelers have done or complains of what they have done to redeem them. According to authoritative hadiths, this cosmos and all its parts complain of, testify to or redeem deeds of man.2
Thus, all human beings seek after eternity but some others think that the world is eternal and do not know that eternity is particular to the spirituality. This ignorant way of thinking has taken hold of people from the very beginning. People accumulate wealth to achieve eternity or to destroy death. On different occasions, the holy Qur’an views this way of thinking to be vain and elucidates the real eternity: “What is with you comes to an end but what is with God abides.” (Surah an-Nahl 16:96)
Man reaches the abode of stability
It might be imagined that eternity means reaching the abode of stability. However, it must be noted that these two are separate from each other for we can imagine a being to be eternal but he will never reach the destination but wander for all the time to come. The holy Qur’an uses delicate statements to show that the cosmic order is purposeful.
“They will question thee concerning the Hour, when it (world) shall berth.” (Surah al-A’raf 7:187 and Surah an-Naziat 79:42)
According to this statement, the cosmic order sails like a ship in the ocean of the Being. It is impossible that this ship may keep sailing but it must someday berth. From this one gathers that the world will stand still somewhere and reach its abode of stability. Besides, the abode of stability in this world is resurrection when man comes to meet the Almighty. For the same reason, one of the names for paradise is Eden. Eden means place of rest. ln resurrection, man reaches his real place of rest.
Man has Genetic Relationship with the Cosmos
Man - this eternal incorporeal essence that comes to meet the Almighty has inseparable relationship with the Cosmos. Hence, nothing happens in man unless it affects his soul. Any movement, speech and writing issuing from man affect his temperament; it begets either light or darkness. Hence, all the issues including the legal principles are associated with man’s nature. With the acceptance of this principle, it may no longer be concurred that man is free in everything. Eating, dressing and the likes affect man.
Lawful (halal) food does not exercise the same effect that unlawful (haram) food does. Truth does not have the same effect that untruth does. All these have special functions. For example, sin blackens the heart and removes purity from it: “What they have done has blackened their hearts.” (Surah al-Mutaffifin 83:14)
Upon committing a sin, some dust settles upon the heart and if man does not remove the dust, the heart gradually becomes blocked and real blindness begins. Even any good or bad memory affects the heart and the mind. With an ugly glance, the dust of sin settles on the heart. Then, it seems that the ears and the eyes are functioning properly but they are out of their proper function. Although the Holy Qur'an has stated the same thing about the eyes, but it is clear that this is allegorical, not particular to the eyes only.
“It is not the eyes that are blind, but blind are the hearts within the breasts.” (Surah al-Haj 22:46)
By virtue of the same reason, although the Almighty transmitted His message to mankind, there are some people that do not understand it. This verse also suggested the same thing as implied in other verses that regards this group as deaf and dumb.3 Thus, according to Islamic doctrine, every human act exercises a deep impact upon the soul and the mind.
Man has two Dignities: Social and Individual
To explain this, we have to talk in brief about the dignity of man.
That it is man that has originality or the society is to be dealt in the realm of philosophy, for originality means true human being; and it is the philosopher who can determine what really exists. Thus, the researchers in this field are indebted to the philosophers, for as long as the principle of social life has not yet been detennined, it is impossible to provide proofs. It is clear that as the present article does not deal with a philosophical topic, we should suffice ourselves with brief explanations.
The real existence of the society is always questioned; however, there is no doubt that many people are really existent and each one of them has a special entity, their special attitudes and functions and understand their being by intuitive knowledge. It has not occurred to anyone that the existence of others is hypostatized, for anyone can perceive that their fellow beings exist and that many of the traditions and customs are according to their nature. In some aspects, they satisfy his needs and in some other aspects, they are in need of him. So, neither the existence of a large multitude of people nor the mutual effects are rejected.
If a society has real entity, it has real single effects. However, if its existence is hypostatized, it has no single effect. However, whatever comes from it, belongs to the members of the society. In the present discussion, the topic will be dealt with in two parts: firstly, does the individual have originality in the active system or the society? Secondly, which one of them is original in the ultimate system?
On discussing the originality in active system, we shall discus whether the individual has effect on the society and that the individual has the power to cause his ascent or descent. Of course if a society has an independent entity, the discussion is clear; but if the individual himself does not have independent entity, then the implication is that anyone who enters a group consciously or unconsciously is affected by it and will follow the laws and the traditions.
What can be said in the first part is that ordinary persons are usually influenced by the traditions and ways of others, for although the society has no separate entity from the individuals, it is mightier than a single person for it is made up of many individuals. In contrast, the geniuses who are endowed with exceptional talents and can distinguish right from wrong, have the courage to break from the false traditions and customs. Some of them have the power to understand the truth in the society and put aside the untruth and repair the shortcomings for themselves and not for others.
However some others have the power to correct others. Among them are exceptional people who embark on correcting the whole society and attempt to enliven the truth and bury the untruth and withhold no sacrifice in this regard. Regarding them, one can say that originality belongs to them, for their power exceeds that of the society. In other words, in the present system, originality is stronger than that. If the power of the society is greater than the individual, the originality belongs to him; and if the individual is more powerful than the society, it is he who leaves influence on the society.
All these explanations were, in fact, about the geniuses save the prophets and the divine authorities. The manifestation of prophecy and the rise of esoteric guidance is far greater than the genius of man and basically, one cannot compare them with each other.
“This is Allah's grace; He shall give it to whom He pleases.” (Surah al-Maidah 5:54)
The Almighty chooses these people with certain criteria and assigns them to transmit the holy message: “Allah best knows where to place His message.” (Surah al-An’am 6:124)
Such people are a society in themselves and have the power to change the society; “Surely Abraham was a nation.” (Surah an-Nahl 16:120)
The study of manners of these great people implies how they could make the monotheism echo in the pagan atmosphere of the society and even sometimes, they struggled long for their goal; “And certainly We sent Noah to people, so he remained among them a thousand years save fifty.” (Surah al-Ankabut 29:14)
Now that these principles are elucidated, it might be said that originality belongs to the individual; for any wise individual leaves effect on others and this influence extends to the far stretches of the society. Where the society leaves effect on the society, it influences several people for when the rights of individuals and the society are in mind, the right of the society is of primary importance, and the rights of individuals have priority over the rights of one individual. Albeit, every multiplicity has priority over every unity although it might be preferred to superior unity.
Now we must see how things stand in the ultimate society. In this part, we shall be discussing whether the ultimate goal in the human society is leading the individuals to bliss or that the ultimate goal includes leading the society to bliss.
If we say that the goal is leading the individual to bliss, the idea is that we regard originality as being particular to individuals and if believe that the goal includes leading the society to bliss, it means that originality belongs to the society. That what bliss is, depends upon the social insight. The materialists do not believe that bliss is outside the realm of nature and they found any interpretation of morality and spirituality on material values. However, according to the theologians, bliss is of a vaster realm and embraces both nature and metaphysics.
Those who do not think beyond their whims and passions, act on the hypothesis of individual originality. Hence, they found their way on despotism, exploitation and enslavement. It is with this thought that some believe they are a better race than others. Among them are those who lord over people and all social forces should be in their service. Pharaoh was one of them who said, “I am a better god.” (Surah an-Naziat 79:24)
In contrast, there is another group who has achieved relative freedom. They hold that originality is particular to the society and step in the way of serving people. They think that if the society is corrected, the ultimate goal is achieved. If this way of thinking belongs to a monotheist, it arises from his ignorance; for this way of thinking is particular to the school of materialism. It must be noted that a materialist grabs at this thought ignorantly, for he cannot believe sacrificing himself for others.
The secret of this matter lies in this that a materialist accepts that death is the end of man and that he does not perceive any pleasure or pain after death. On the same basis, how can this person learn about social welfare after death? After all, the life of any living creature is based on truth. If man does not have eternal soul, how can one sense people's pains and pleasures?
The third group are the monotheists who have freed themselves from the dungeon of the individual and the society and have ascended to the peak of divine school. They all have the divine color, which are above all other colors.
“Who has a·better color than the Almighty?” (Surah al-Baqarah 2:138)
They protect their deeds from any sort of desruction and reach to the glorious peak of goodness after passing the stage of justice and seek others joy at the cost of their own pain to lead others to bliss. They justify their hunger with the saturation of people and buy their thirst by quenching the thirsty ones and justify their lack of shelter by sheltering others. They are the striking examples of this verse: “They prefer others to themselves, although they are themselves in need.” (Surah al-Hashr 59:9)
Another characteristic of this group is that they always prefer others to themselves, but try to vie others in goodness.
“They vie each other in good deeds.” (Surah al-Baqarah 2:148 and Surah al-Maidah 5:48)
The most important point to be taken into consideration is that they do sacrifices simply because they wish to provide perfection to elevate their souls. In other words, all this goodness is not only the sign of the originality in the ultimate order but it is a sign for the originality of the individual as well, namely that in the ultimate order, one has to do good works to elevate his spirituality.
Thus, in divine school, individual originality finds its special meaning. Therefore, in the active order, the superior human beings make the society and originality belongs to them. In the ultimate order, originality belongs to individuals but as it was expressed.
It must not be forgotten that these words are brought up in legal and moral discussions. However, if they take the shape of philosophy, then it becomes evident that in the ultimate order and the active order, originality belongs to God alone, and not to the individual or the society. This is our belief: “God is the beginning and the end.” (Surah al-Hadid 57:3)
With this conviction, the originality of anything save God in the active order does not correspond with the priority of truth; as the originality of anything but God in the ultimate order does not correspond with the truth which is the end of anything.
1. Mafatih al-Janan, Deeds of Friday Night
2. Bihar al-Anvar, Vol.7, chapter 16
3. For example, Surah al-Baqarah, verse 18 &171; Surah al-Anfal 8:22