Principles of Human rights in Islam
By: Ayatullah Abdullah Javadi Amuli
Everyone has the right to life
The first right enumerated for man by the holy Qur’an is the right to life. There are two phases for life: physical and spiritual. No one has the right to take this right from others. The violation of physical right is done with killing. According to the holy Qur’an, this is equal to destroying the whole society unless it is done under sound reasons.
“Whoso slays a soul not to retaliate for a soul slain, nor for corruption done in the land, shall be as if he had slain mankind altogether.” (Surah al-Maidah 5:32)
The violation of the spiritual right to life is done by misleading others. They destroy their spiritual life. The loss of spiritual life means the loss of bliss; otherwise the spirit of man shall not be destroyed. For the same reason, the Holy Qur’an regards spiritual life as opposed to atheism. In other words, anyone that becomes atheist, they shall lose bliss and die spiritually. This contrast is thus described: “... that he may warn whosoever is living, and that the Word may be realized against the unbelievers .” (Surah Yasin 36:70)
As is evident from this verse, those who have not become pagans are living; in other words, the infidels do not enjoy life.
According to the holy Qur'an, the right to life is granted to man by God and hence, it is God who can interfere in it. Thus, any kind of violation of physical or spiritual right without God’s permission is forbidden. In other words, life is the right of man, it is his duty, and no one can shirk this responsibility.
It was said that the right to life is the first right of man. On the other hand, in Treatise on Rights, Imam Sajjad (peace be upon him) holds that rights spring from the knowledge of God. The secret of the words of that venerable Imam lies in the aforementioned words; if anyone does not know God, he indeed divests himself of the right to life. Thus, the knowledge of God is enjoying spiritual life.
Thus, according to the Holy Qur’an, those who have surrendered to the Culture of Ignorance are dead: “You were dead; then, God gave you life.” (Surah al-Baqarah 2:28)
In this verse, the meaning is the life after this world and the spiritual life after ignorance.
Kinds of life and the Relationship between Them
As was mentioned in the previous part, the Holy Qur’an elucidates two kinds of life; spiritual and physical. Now we shall be discussing three types of life; vegetable, animal and human.
In many Qur'anic verses, God sends down rain for the growth of plants and for the growth of man. This life is called vegetable life. It seems that this verse talks about vegetable life: “We created every living thing from water.” (Surah al-Anbiya 21:30)
This vegetable life belongs to those who summon up all their power to grow up and nothing else. This group does not enjoy animal life, let alone human life. Plants have the same life and their growth is limited to their getting tall.
A superior stage is the animal life. In this stage, there is the question of kindness, love, affection and hatred and hostility. The present order of the world is founded upon this animal life. Even the formulation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has been meant to silence the oppressed.
When the Holy Qur’an talks about animal life, it places men in the rank of the cattle.
“These blessings are for you and the cattle;” (Surah an-Naziat 79:33 and Surah al-Abasa 80:32)
“do you eat and pasture your cattle.” (Surah Taha 20:54)
It is evident that the Holy Qur’an should be refined in style. This way of talking is because it intends to impart a message to us. That message is that these blessings are common among you and the cattle and if you stick to them, you shall be relegated to the degree of animals.
However, when the Holy Qur’an talks about human life, man is ranked among the angels. For instance, about the virtuous sages, the Holy Qur’an has stated: “God bears witness that there is no god but He-and the angels and men possessed of knowledge-upholding justice.” (Surah Aale Imran 3:18)
This spiritual life is also described in the Holy Qur’an: “And whosoever does a righteous deed, be it male or female, believing, We shall assuredly give him to live a goodly life.” (Surah an-Nahl 16:97)
The attribute pure for life shows that this life is superior. This pure life may never be found in vegetable or animal life.
Sometimes, the holy Qur’an describes the kind of life they conduct. For example, about the martyrs, it says, “Count not those who were slain in God's way as dead, but rather living with their Lord, by Him provided.” (Surah Aale Imran 3:169)
In this verse and other verses as this, we realize that they have spiritual and human life; otherwise, having the advantage of living is not enough, for as mentioned earlier, death does not exist. Even those who are slain in the cause of falsity are eternal although they do not have the same eternity as the martyrs: “They are summoned from a distant land.” (Surah al Fussilat 41:44)
This truth may be observed in a scene from the Battle of Badr. When the holy prophet addressed people near the well abounding with the dead bodies of the pagans: “You have now understood that the divine promise has been fulfilled.”1
As mentioned earlier, the holy Qur’an proves the different kinds of man’s life. Concerning the vegetable and animal life, corresponding indication was as it was shown but the indication per nexum is expressed through verses which forbid the killing of others.
However, concerning the human life the corresponding indication comes from the verses quoted above. And the indication per nexum comes from the verses which condemns life like Noah who prayed to God to destroy all the pagans, for their life jeopardized the spiritual life of others: “If you do not kill the pagans, they will lead your servants stray.” (Surah Nuh 71:27)
Besides, the Holy Qur’an refers to the relation between the two kinds of spiritual and physical life. According to the holy Qu’'an, if man has to choose one between the two, he should sacrifice the physical life and choose the spiritual life. Those who live with the truth have always this choice in mind like the combatants who fight in the cause of God: “Those who sacrifice the physical life for the spiritual one, must fight in the way of God.” (Surah an-Nisa 4:74)
Those who do not make this choice will suffer on the Last Judgment: “Why did we not gather provision for our spiritual life?” (Surah al-Fajr 89:24)
Another point mentioned by the holy Qur’an is that spiritual life is more fruitful than the physical life. Thus, those who threaten the spiritual life are more dangerous than the ones who threaten the physical life: “Persecution is more grievous than slaying” or “Persecution is more heinous than slaying”. (Surah al-Baqarah 2:191 & 2:217)
Dissension includes the violation of spiritual life and religious belief. One of the examples of dissension is disseminating false and corrupted thoughts. Hence, it is far harder and more useful to combat dissension than to combat crimes such as killing.
The Most Important Distinct Feature between Physical and Spiritual Life
In the two previous parts, we talked about the two aspects of life. Now the question is how useful this division may be to the understanding of human rights. To discover this effect, one must understand the relationship between the soul and the body.
The most important feature of the body is that it has different conditions in different situations, for instance, the difference in climate, race and geographical features of different people. Even the way plants influence other things in a certain area is geographically different. Sometimes it is observed that the plants with medicinal properties grown in the tropical areas are void of medicinal properties in other areas. Even a wise and experienced pharmacologist cannot say for sure that a certain medicine has equal properties for different people.
However, man's incorporeal spirit is never prone to climatic differences. This spirit which may exist in the east exists in the west. A spirit in the equator has the same features as a spirit in the South Pole. The incorporeal spirit is bound neither to the earth nor to the sky. However, it is on earth and in the sky. In other words, unlike the body, the spirit is one, not plural; it is static but not dynamic. For the same reason, there is no change in the spirit: “There is no change in the creations.” (Surah ar-Rum 30:30)
If the spirit is only on earth, it cannot move in the sky while man's spirit can find God in the sea and in the sky: “O you who are in the earth and in the sky.” 2 Because of this lack of boundary of the human spirit, God says: “Wherever you tum, you see the face of God.” (Surah al-Baqarah 2:115)
Now, the fruit of this discussion can be observed in legal topics. Human rights are formulated within the realm of human body. Hence, these rules are dependent upon different places. Thus, they cannot be universal. However, religion, which is in the realm of the spirit, does not belong to time and place. It is obvious that all the things associated with religion, including legal-religious rules have the same characteristics. For the same reason, the prophets have brought down the message of the sublime religion. For the same reason, one can never reach a dogmatic certainty in material sciences. Every day the world witnesses something new founded on other propositions. However, religious concepts never know decay and change.
Islam Condemns Suicide
More than any other religions, Islam has placed stress on the prohibition of suicide. There is historical evidence that says, the holy prophet said about someone, “He will surely go to hell.” Upon hearing this, people were surprised and asked the reason because the person in question was outstanding as a warrior and as a politician. Afterwards, they learned that the person in question had committed suicide.3 The right to life is so valuable that if ever anyone violates this right and commits suicide will go to hell.
It must be noted that mental suicide is far worse than physical suicide. It may not be imagined that Islam accepts such freedom of opinion. According to other religions, man is free to choose his own way of life. However, as mentioned earlier, the holy Qur’an holds that life is not only man's right but also his duty. This is a precious gem in the hands of man and he should try his best to guard it. It goes without saying that the violation of spiritual life is worse than the violation of physical life. It is interesting to note that committing physical suicide is forbidden by certain religions but cramming the minds with poisonous ideas is not considered forbidden.
Reasons for Forbidding Suicide and Homicide
Now we must see why suicide or homicide is forbidden. Firstly, it must be said that even the angels considered the shedding of each other's blood as a vile act: “Will thou set therein man who will shed blood?” (Surah al-Baqarah 2:30)
If there were no truth in what the angels said, God would not have accepted it. God implicitly accepts this truth which shows that the idea of homicide was vile and revolting. In later ages, other signs for this prohibition were seen. For example, one of the promises taken from the Sons of Israel was not shedding blood: “And when We took compact with you: ‘You shall not shed your own blood.’” (Surah al-Baqarah 2:84)
This promise is not particular to one single group, but belongs to all religions. Retaliation used as a means to stop blood shedding is common in all religions. Thus, the Holy Qur’an states retaliation with a view to approving the previous holy books.4
However, besides these common examples there are other reasons. The prohibition of killing is one of the first commands of the holy Prophet: “Come, I will recite what your Lord has forbidden you; that you associate not anything with Him, and to be good to your parents, and not to slay your children because of poverty; We will provide you and them; and that you approach not any indecency outward or inward, that you slay not the soul God has forbidden, except by right.” (Surah al-An’am 6:151)
In yet less limited realm, the killing of children by parents has been forbidden. In the Age of Ignorance, some people killed their children. There were so many motivations for this. Sometimes, they killed their daughters, for they thought they would be ravished by the enemy in case of invasion. Sometimes they killed their children in fear of drought and hardship. In this regard, the holy Qur'an states, “Do not kill your children because of poverty . We shall provide you and them.” (Surah al-Isra 17:31)
Sometimes they killed their children before the idols to come close to them. This indiscreet act was also prohibited by God: “Those who killed their children ignorantly suffered.” (Surah al-An’am 6:140)
The same prohibition is included among the conditions for entering into covenant with women. The Holy Qur'an states, “Enter into covenant with those who do not kill their children.” (Surah Mumtahanah 60:12)
ln this part, one can resort to verses, which determine the punishment for the killer. This is one of the reasons for prohibiting killing. Some of these punislunents are spiritual and some others physical. Physical punishments include retaliation or paying blood money. One of the spiritual punishments for killing a believer is remaining eternal in fire.
“Whoso slays a believer willfully, his recompense is Gehenna, therein, dwelling for ever.” (Surah an-Nisa 4:93)
If anyone slays a believer for his faith, he is a disbeliever and his recompense is dwelling in Gehenna forever. However, if he has slain him not for his faith, he will dwell long in Gehenna.
The violation of others right to spiritual life incurs the selfsame punishment. Those who lead others astray should repent of their deeds. However, this repentance is accepted when they repair all the destructive thoughts they have brought about. Thus, repentance is considered as a solution for these people: “... be cursed by God and the cursers, save such as repent and make amends, and show clearly- towards them I shall turn.” (Surah al-Baqarah 2:160)
To put it in a nutshell, Islam regards life as man's right and duty, considering two phases for it: physical and spiritual; it prefers the spiritual phase to the physical one. It considers certain punishments for the violators of this right.
1. Bihar al-Anwar, Vol.8, chapter 1, p.187, tradition no. 18
2. Mafatih al-Janan
3. See: Bihar al-Anwar, Vol.2, chapter 12, p.98, tradition no.28
4. See: Surah al-Maidah (5:45-48)