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Human rights in Islam

by Fethullah Gülen on . Posted in Prism

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What is Islam's stance on the issue of rights?

Islam is a universal religion, and the significance it gives to rights is inclusive of all creation. Animals as well as people fully benefit from this comprehensive perspective of Islam on safeguarding rights.

Concerning this issue, it is easy to provide many examples dating right back to the time of the Messenger of God, peace and blessing be upon him. Once while resting on the way back to Medina from a military campaign, some companions saw a bird's nest and took the chicks out. The mother bird appeared at that moment, and upon seeing her chicks in their hands, she started circling above them in the air. Prophet Muhammad was worried as soon as he became aware of the mother bird beating its wings in grief and ordered them to return the chicks to the nest.[1] The Prophet's concern in this incident alone is enough to show that Islam is an all-embracing system that has unequivocally guaranteed the fundamental rights of every creature; such an all-inclusive concept of rights is beyond the reach of any other system.

The Qur'an explicitly asserts that taking the life of one human being is the same as taking the lives of all of humanity: "He who kills a soul unless it be (in legal punishment) for murder or for causing disorder and corruption on the earth will be as if he had killed all humankind; and he who saves a life will be as if he had saved the lives of all humankind" (Maeda 5:32). It is impossible to see sensitivity on the issue of rights in any other religion or in modern law. Islam takes the issue so seriously as to equate the killing of one person with the killing of all of humanity. The Qur'an draws our attention to the event which took place between the two sons of Adam, whose names are mentioned as Cain and Abel in the Old Testament, and informs us of the recompense awaiting the first murderer in human history in the following verse: "His carnal, evil-commanding soul prompted him to kill his brother, and he killed him, thus becoming among the losers" (Maeda 5:30).

In another chapter the Qur'an emphasizes that the eternal punishment of hell is the recompense for one who kills another unjustly: "Whoever kills a believer intentionally, his recompense is Hell, to abide therein. And the wrath and the curse of God are upon him, and a dreadful penalty is prepared for him" (Nisa 4:93). It should be noted that the word halidan in the verse is used by itself without the word abadan, or forever, being added. Although the word abadan is explicitly used in some other verses in the Qur'an, Ibn Abbas and some religious leaders of the generation that followed the Companions deduced from the word halidan being used in the verse that eternal punishment is the recompense of the murderer, the same as that for those who deny God. This signifies Islam's stance on human rights, which has evolved out of such essentials. As attested in an authenticated hadith, one who dies while protecting his life, intellect, property, lineage, or religion is a martyr. Accordingly, striving for the preservation of these basic rights is accepted as jihad. Today, indeed, it is a fact that preserving these five universals are the foundations of the modern Bill of Rights throughout the world. It is to be noted that preservation of these universal principles forms the very foundations of the books of Islamic canon law. First and foremost, Islam calls us to preserve the religion. We are also responsible and accountable for upholding all other universal principles.

Consequently, human rights in Islam embody the entire needs of society, and it is incumbent on every Muslim to preserve and maintain their rights. It is Islam that recognizes the right to free enterprise and free activity alongside the security and safety of one's own life and that of their offspring. In addition, it is only in Islam that human beings are favored with being the vicegerent of God on earth, and in which they are delegated to make use of the resources through this vicegerency granted to them. From this perspective, therefore, human beings have been unequivocally guaranteed all of their rights in perfect compliance with human nature.

[1] Abu Dawud, Adab, 164.