Human Rights in the West and Islam
By: Dr. Sayyid Mustafa Muhaqqiq Damad (Tehran, Iran)
I would like to provide you with a linguistic and philosophical analysis from the perspectives of, Islam and Christianity and offer a legal and political analysis.
The term "human rights" as it is used today, does not have a long history in the literature and law tradition of the West. Reviewing the work of the greatest philosopher of the era of the enlightenment, namely Kant, who more than any other philosopher, took man and his grandeur as the origin and criterion of practical philosophy, we will be surprised to find no trace of the term "human rights" in his works.
Actually, this term was created in the context of a socio- political movement in France, thereby preserving its original meaning and political content up to now, without which it does not make sense. In practice, human rights is manipulated in the domain of certain states, and is used as a means to impose their opinions and authority. On this basis, the legal concepts compiled under the umbrella term, human rights, include these rights: right of living, right of freedom, right of equity, right of pleading for justice, right of security against abusing authority, right of security against torture, right of dignity and reputation, right of asylum, right of minorities, right of social life, right of thinking, faith and speech, right of religion, right of participating in public gatherings, economic rights, right of ownership, right of working, right of sharing the material and spiritual affairs, right of having a family, right of women, right of education, individual's right of living, right of abode.
Obviously, the main principle of enjoying these rights requires that they should not contradict with other human rights. These rights may be logically classified into the following:
These include the right to security and defense against other human beings and the state, the right of living and having physical health, the right of having faith, morals as well as the right of ownership.
They comprise participation in political and social affairs including freedom of press, freedom of sciences, freedom of education and research, freedom of gathering and forming societies.
Primary social rights
These comprise the right to work, social security, cultural and social development, etc.
This is a brief list of the terms that are popular as human rights. With respect to the Islamic World, in "the international Conference of Islamic Scholars" held in September 1991, it was concluded that from the outset, Islam has mentioned clearly twenty human rights, some of which are the right of living, right of security against invasion and persecution, right of asylum, right of minorities, right of faith, right of social security, right of working, right of education and right of spiritual enrichment. Yet, practically these values are inferred as rights but in Islamic jurisprudential terms, they are regarded as jurisprudential and moral obligations.
In other words, a Muslim is obliged to do these duties, some of which are obligatory (wajib) or preferable (mustahab). That is to say that, in Islam, instead of the question of 'right', the question of obligation is set forth. It is from these obligations that we derive these rights.
Here, we going to express the principal difference between human rights as the product of the historical, political and intellectual tradition of the West from the beginning (the age of Greek philosophers) up to the present day, and the views of Islam in this respect.
Some points about the term "human rights"
The term "human rights" poses the question, why and in what sense human is the focal point of this term. It is not possible to mention the historical and social reasons to answer the question just raised. But it should be noted that in the eighteenth century the Western World, or rather the Western nations came to the conclusion that peaceful life is possible only when man is devoid of features such as: religion, policy, relation, race, skin color, sex, position, wealth and without any identity except his/her humanity or as we term it, humanity for humanity's sake, not as a Muslim, a Christian, a Jew, a secular, a black, a white, a rich, a poor, a sage, an ignorant, the ruler and subordinates. As soon as man was defined in this way in the phenomenon of human rights, his rights were defined differently. Here, the 'right' is his most natural and primary claim, present spontaneously in the existence and nature of each individual, which has been given to him by no one and which cannot be taken from him by anyone. This right does not refer to any person but things like life, freedom, equity, etc. There are, in contrast, rights of children, parents, wife, husband and vice versa.
The question that is raised now is that of the legitimacy of religious duties and the rights derived from them, and whether all were provided from the origin of revelation or a particular source of law-making. Where is the legitimacy of human rights, Islamic laws, Christian laws or...? These have a spiritual origin, Therefore, where is its legitimacy? The legitimacy that would have civil sanction and the rewards and punishment resulted from it. This legitimacy should conform with these limitations. Where is the source and reference of this legitimacy? To prove this case, the founders of human rights neither wanted nor were able to refer to any religions or sources. Otherwise, the question of man would not have become humanity for humanity's sake. They had to find the legitimacy and civil sanction of these rights in man and his substantial necessities, as it was created in tlie philosophy of the Enlightenment.
They took the dignity of man as the most important and clearest phenomenon of a typical human being, which could function as a major principle and be accepted unanimously by all humans anywhere and at any time. As all religions confirm, dignity is a characteristic that can be found in all human beings. This means that human dignity is a primary principle, not a right, which is a part of man's nature.
The next step that would give general credit to this individual aspect was necessity. The phenomenon of equity fulfilled this duty. The equity accepted by all humans was a dignity that was able to persuade all people of the necessity of preserving their substantial needs, and prove the right of questioning those who deprive the people from their rights.
It is not only the question of accepting this general principle but its civil sanction, which secures the active aspect of dignity and equity. That is to say, dignity and equity is something within humans. The physical aspect is the implementing aspect that should be directed from the top and another aspect. Only the phenomenon of justice has been shared by all humans. It addresses in general the owners of authority as well as all humans who somehow, even at a small scale, have the status of superiority over others.
This was a brief account of the philosophy of human rights evolution, its content and its civil sanction. Now, let's see why there exists a difference between what the West understands about man and eventually his rights and what religions, particularly Islam, pose as human rights. The root of such difference appears to be in the perception or rather in the method of applying the two distinctive pictures of man in the Western World on the one hand and Semitic religions on the other.
In the Semitic religions, as the Noble Qur'an states, God is at the center of the world view. Man, in the true sense, is the one who bases and realizes his existence, intellect and acts on sincerity and devotion to the unique God. On this basis, the source of man's dignity is his sincere attention to God and the pure virtue of this human being before God.
As it is stated, the most dignified man for God is the one with the greatest virtue. The Western world view of man is in contrast with this one. The thought and intellect of the West gives centrality to man; the notion that man is the criterion for the measurement of everything is a philosophical principle dating back to the era before Socrates. The Greek mythology and then all their philosophical schools had this principle as the origin of their movement. The Greek gods, universe and incidents, either positive or negative, revolve around the pivot of man and his demands. Gradually, this notion stemmed from those who were not Jew and followed other religions and the tradition of European Christianity. Nevertheless, the Theo-centralism was replaced by human-centralism, and thus in this sense, God was the source of addressing man and his demands.
The notion of sin as a substantial aspect of man, and the belief in the necessity of avoiding sin culminates in a theological mechanism that necessitates the sacrifice of man's God within Jesus Christ. The crucifixion of Jesus Christ to save man from sin is actually something at the service of man or human-centralism, without any advantages for God or Jesus Christ. As a consequence, the Theo-centralism of Semitic religions is replaced by human - centralism of the West.
However, man is depicted differently in Islam. That is, man has been created with a nature moving towards uniqueness, (religion-nature), and Theo-centralism is the principal element of his existence. In other words, in contrast to the human-centralism in the West, Theo-centralism is dominant in Islam. Obviously, throughout history, the church has repeatedly strive to limit human centralism by imposing the Church's principles and commands. Ultimately, however, the power of human-centralism succeeded in freeing Western man from these obligations and limitations.
The impact of the theo-centralism in the Semitic religions, particularly Islam, and human-centralism in Western culture with respect to human rights are as follows:
The human rights derived from the religions consider these rights in the framework of the divine will and command, and thus cannot ignore all credits and aspects. When one talks about human rights in Islam, man is not absolute. It is man who is related to God. The same applies to Christianity whereas human rights fail to give way to any limitations whatsoever.
This distinction has brought about debates between the advocates of human rights in its Western sense, and the followers of the schools such as the Catholic Church and Islam.
The boundary line existing between absolute human rights and human rights limited by religious obligations has been discussed formally between Muslims and Christians in different times and places.
The philosophical and linguistic aspects of human rights have just been briefly stated. Now, let us have a look at the historical trend of codes and laws related to human rights in the West, and then touch on the current status of human rights in the West.
Philosophical and mystical principles of human rights in Islam
The origin of the principal difference between the Islam's and the West's views of human rights in this connection is in their sources. In Islam, human rights are founded on philosophical and mystical principles, which are necessarily in accordance and coordinated with religious laws. The following is a brief account of these principles:
1. The principle of man's dignity: In the Noble Qur'an man is regarded as a creature to whom God has disposed dignity (I have given dignity to Adam's children, (17:70). Such dignity is a theoretical value that can have practical implications. Man's dignity from the perspective of the Qur'an is not a credential but a real affairs, indicting that in existential dimension, man is prominent and credited. That is to say that man is the supreme creature of the universe. That is the reason why God, after the creation of man, demands of Satan, "Why did you not prostrate yourself to what I created with my own two hands?"
This theoretical dignity can carry along with it valuable and practical generosities. For the sake of this dignity, all the ethical and legal education should be in full conformity with it. As soon as one accepts that man is a dignified and precious gem, one automatically believes that no only freedom and security are his rights, but also they should be so arranged and interpreted as to conform with one's dignity.
2. The principle of man's demand for God: In principle, man demands for God. Man feels God at the bottom of his heart though he does not see His face. Man's need for God is not unconscious, nor is it compulsory. One should not think of God as an unknown thing whom one cannot find. Man looks for God who is familiar and by Whom he is fascinated. According to a law of theosophy, man's existence is not separate and independent, but it is thoroughly dependent and linked. Yet this linked existence is not connected to another being with a linked existence; it is linked to an independent creature. Man is nothing more than this very dependency and linkage. It should not be deemed that man is a creature capable of praising God, but that man's relation with God is rooted in man's intrinsic flaws and his mere need of God:
"O men, you are the ones that have need of God,"(35:15)
In this verse, both truths are included: firstly, man's existence is not independent; and secondly, man's connection is only to God, not to any other creature.
As a result, any legal order or arrangement for man should conform to his spirit of God-demanding. Those legal teachings presupposing independent existence for man, or relating him to someone other than God, do not stem from the source are often prone to error in adaptation otherwise they know that man is a dependent creature. Pagans too are fond of something or someone and trust in it or in him. Here, the difference is that they have chosen something other than God as an independent creature, and have slipped into wrong ways at the adaptation stage.
3. The principle of man's immortality: One of the other advantages of Islamic human rights is that man never vanishes. This claim may be realized through reasoning or citation. The Noble Qur'an regard man as a creature possessing a soul, who is believed to enter another world after leaving this world, and who will enjoy eternal life there. Theosophy too considers man as having abstract soul, and states that this soul is immortal. From the theosophical perspective, only man's body dies, and death is simply the separation of body from soul. And when following the God's will, this separation ends, the soul will be united with the body appropriate for the next world.
This principle has been adopted by all humans, and the existing differences are the outcome of mal adaptation. All human beings demand longer life, and make every effort to live a little bit longer. This reveals that man looks for immortality by nature. However, in the course of adaptation, some believe that eternity belongs to this world, whereas both man and the present world are sojourners. Of course, man reaches his mid-abode after death and then moves on to the great resurrection. In contrast, the world goes straight ahead to the great resurrection. The Qur'an regards the whole universal system as moving like man, towards God. The universe also goes towards doomsday to testify in favor of or against the deeds of its passengers, or to complain about their deeds, or to intercede for them. It is cited in our traditions that the present world and its elements witness our deeds or complain or intercede for us.(1) Therefore, all humans seek immortality, but some think of the present world as being eternal, and do not know that eternity belongs to the soul, not matter, and that whatever remains eternal from them, do not include the material things of tins world or wealth.
This foolish idea has been urging the material and layman to become rich so that he can have access to eternal life by his fortune, and to destroy or control death. The Noble Qur'an considers this idea false and unripe, and reveals the pure eternity:
"Whatever is at your disposal is doomed to die, and whatever is at God's disposal lasts for ever. "(16:96)
4. The principle of eventual peace for man: It might be assumed that eternity means reaching the peaceful abode, however, these two are different. One may think of an eternal creature which never reaches its abode, and is always astonished and wandering. The Noble Qur'an uses a delicate metaphor to indicate that there is an aim in the universal system:
"They will question thee concerning the Hour, when it [universe] shall berth. "(7:187)
According to this interpretation, the whole universe resembles a ship moving in the ocean of nature. This ship is not likely to move for ever; sooner or later it should drop anchor. In other words, it may be inferred that the universe will stop moving one day, and will reach its destiny, which is the doomsday of th( universe and man, when man meets God. Accordingly, one of th( terms used instead of paradise is Eden, which means the peaceful abode.
5. The principle of the world of being and man's genesis relation: Man, the unique eternal gem, has an everlasting connection with all elements of existence. That explains the impact of his deeds on his life and soul. Man's speech, writing and behavior affects his temperament: these are either enlightening or darkening. For the same reason, one can find no legal rule that is not somehow related to man's temper and destiny. With the acceptance of this principle, one can no longer claim that man is free to do anything he wishes on his own.
The effect of different foods are different. The true words differ from the false ones. Each of these have different outcomes Sin, for instance, takes the brightness of the heart's mirror and replaces it with darkness:
"No indeed; but what they were earning has rusted upon their hearts. "(83:14)
When the heart's pores are covered with specks of dust representing sins, and the dust is not removed, the heart gets dark gradually, and one loses his senses of sight and hearing. Even good and bad memories affect man's soul. An indecent and sinful look at someone covers the heart with dust. At the time, man's eyes, ears nd tongue are apparently active, but in reality, they are not. The Qur'an refers to the eyes but clearly that it is only an instance, not he only one; the same is true with ears, the tongue as well as other organs:
"It is not the eyes that are blind, but blind are the hearts within the breasts. " (22:46)
On the same basis, God sends his message and true words to people, yet there are some groups who do not hear and comprehend them. This verse from Surah al-Hajj represents many other verses which call sinners blind, deaf and dumb. Thus, in the divine view, man's actions have a profound impact on his soul, so much so that in some cases these actions do not conform to or resemble his appearance.
The history of human rights in Islam
To identify the history of human rights in Islam, one should divide it into the following parts, and study them independently.
1) The history of the creation of human rights in Islam, and
2) the history of compilation of human rights in Islam.
In relation to the first part, it should be noted that the collection of Islamic laws comprises the verses of the Noble Qur'an the Prophet's statements, his deeds and advice. Consequently, the citation of typical verses and traditions would suffice in this part.
1. In one of the fractions, it is stated that, "believers' friendsnip, kindness resembles a unique body in which the pain and injury of one organ causes pain and fever in other organs signifying their sympathy and empathy".(1)
This tradition makes the point that the members of the religious look like a body whose organs have kindness, sympathy and sentiment. The balance of values of the individual and society is emphasized. In Islam's view, values and roles and social creativity are rooted in individuals, and therefore, individual development is a major aim of life. Yet the value and nobility of the society is never ignored. To sacrifice society for the individual is illogical and in the direction of destroying values. The sacrifice of the individual for society is equally destructive and damages values and stops the development of man.
2. There is another tradition saying that: "Community satisfaction reflects the firm foundation of unity and integrity"(2) it is the basis of democracy in Islamic political thought. Without the community's satisfaction, the political system loses its legitimacy.
"Surely this community of yours is one community, and I am your Lord; so serve Me. "(21:92)
It is implied in one of the verses that in the Islamic theory of community, the individual, in terms of perception, will, freedom and belief in high values, accepts the totality of society, nation and community, and the individual devotes or sometimes sacrifices himself to save them. This is the highest stage of man's freedom.
4. In Islam's world view, the right to freedom and will is man's undeniable right under every condition, and man cannot be deprived of it. The Qur'an's verses clearly point to these views: "Surely we guided him upon the way whether be thankful or unthankful. " (76:3)
"So let whosoever will believe, and let whosoever will disbelieve" (18:29)
5. In Islam's political thinking, it is not only the matter of automatic reaction of individual or society to turmoil or the phenomenon of tyranny that necessitates respect of human rights. It is so analyzed because man believes in his need for development.
Man's high destiny and dignity is termed as having God's soul in the Noble Qur' an:
"And I breathed My Spirit into him. " (15:29)
6. In the Islamic perspective, ignorance of man's position and status and of his high value is the source of all injustice, tyrannies and lack of proper cognition of the self, without which man will remain ignorant about his responsibilities:
"The worst ignorance for man is his inability to recognize the value of the self."(3)
7. In Islamic texts, despite the worldly charms and conventional classifications, a great emphasis has been put on man's value and dignity: Imam 'Ali ('a) addressed his governor in Egypt, be respectful and kind to everybody:
"Since they are of two kinds, either your brother in religion or are like you in creation.'"(4)
8. Human's creation and nature are identical:
"Who created you of single soul, and from it created its mate, and from the pair of them scattered a broad many men and women "(4:1)
9. The verse denies difference and unjust discrimination
"Mankind was but one nation, but differed (later) "(10:19)
10. In the perspective, of the Noble Qur'an differences are not based on values but merely related to the complexities of the system of creation and are agents of knowledge and man's intellectual development:
"O mankind, We have created you male and female, and appointed you races and tribes, that you may know one another. "(12:49)
11. To condemn every type of unjust discrimination among humans, the honorable Prophet stated that,
"Surely, you have only one God and one father. You are all the ancestors of Adam and he was created of earth."(5)
12. The value and place of any person in society is ultimately related to his deeds.
Every soul is held in pledge for what it earns (74:38)
13. Islam denies ambition based on wealth and force and condemns it. The Noble Qur'an refers this indecent feature to snobs and states:
And they say'.We have more wealth and children, and we shall not be punished. (34:35)
14. In proper Islamic judgment, equity should even cover looking at people. Imam 'Ali once told the judges:
To regard justice even when they look at the prosecutor and
15. In Islam, the criterion of equity is justice and truth. Imam 'Ali has said: "All the people should be equal in right before you."(7)
16. The Noble Qur'an regards security as the outcome of man's growth and development:
"And will give them in exchange, after their fear, security. "
"God has struck a similitude:a city that was secure at rest. "