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Human Rights Under Islam

18 August, 2005

By Amjed Jaaved


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The Holy Quran has several verses dealing with tolerance of dissent and rival faiths, and justice. Normally, two witnesses are required for conviction of an Islamic offence.  But, for zina, four witnesses are required.  There is severe punishment of 80 lashes for hurling a false accusation about modesty of a woman.

A woman can get right of divorce delegated to her within framework of the nikahnama.  Besides, she has the right to seek khula through the court.  A woman, planning to apply for khula, was shot dead in Asma’s office.  That’s an isolated incident, which was overblown in HRCP’s reports.

Neither Islam nor the law of the land allows such behaviour. To be a Muslim means, to believe in God, who is “Rabb al-’Alamin”:  creator and sustainer of all peoples and universes?  The Qur’an is the primary source of normative Islam.  But,the self-styled NGOs equate  un-Islamic conduct of a few individuals as misconduct of the whole  government or state of Pakistan. That’s unfair. Al-Qur’an points out that Allah’s creation is "for just ends" (surah 15: al-hijr: 85) and not in "idle sport"(surah 21:  al-anbiya: 16).  Humanity, designed "in the best of moulds" (surah 95:  at-tin : 4), has been created in order to serve Allah (surah 51:  Adh-Dhariyat : 56).

According to Qur’anic teaching, service of Allah cannot be separated from service to humankind.  Those who believe in Allah must honor both” Rights of Allah (haquq ullah) and rights of creatures (haquq ul-`ibad”).  Fulfilment of one’s duties to God and humankind  constitutes righteousness, as stated in surah 2: al-baqarah: 177, which  reads as follows: It is not righteousness that ye turn your faces  towards East or West; but it is righteousness to believe in Allah, and  the Last Day, and the angels, and the Book, and the Messengers; to  spend of your substance, out of love of Allah, for your kin, for  orphans, for the wayfarer, for those who ask, and for the ransom of  slaves; to be steadfast in prayer, and practice regular charity; to  fulfill the contracts which ye have made; and to be firm and patient,  in pain (or suffering) and adversity, and throughout all periods of  panic.

Such are the people of truth, the Allah-fearing. Al-Qur’an is the Magna Carta of human freedom.  It directs the believers to free human beings from the bondage of traditionalism, authoritarianism (religious, political, economic, or any other), tribalism, racism, slavery or anything else that prohibits or inhibits human beings from actualizing their divine endowments to the fullest. Verses in Qur’an advises course of moderation in various situations of life. 

It warns lest liberty should degenerate into license, self-rule degenerates into dictatorship or despotism. “It is not conceivable that  a human being unto whom God has granted revelation, and sound judgment, and prophethood, should thereafter have said unto people, ‘Worship me  beside God’; but rather (did he exhort them), ‘Become men of God by spreading the knowledge of the divine writ, and by your own deep study  (thereof).” (surah 3: aal-‘Imran: 79). Qur’an states clearly that man and woman were made from the same source, at the same time, in the same manner, and that they stand equal in the sight of God.  The Qur’an forbids injustice in all its forms and manifestations. In surah 5: Al-Ma'idah:8, it tells the believers:  "O you who have attained to faith!  Be ever steadfast in your devotion to God, bearing witness to the truth in all equity; and never let hatred of any one lead you into the sin of deviating from justice.  Be just: this is the closest to being God-conscious.” Surah 4: an-nisa: 136 ordains upholding justice: “O ye who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be (against) rich or poor: for Allah can best protect both. Follow not the lusts (of your hearts), lest ye swerve, and if ye distort (justice) or decline to do justice,  verily Allah is well-acquainted wth all that ye do. The Qur'anic proclamation in surah 2: al-baqarah : 256.  "There shall be no coercion in matters of faith”. Guarantees freedom of religion and worship.  A number of Qur'anic passages also state clearly that the  responsibility of the Prophet Muhammad (p.b.u.h.) is to communicate the  message of God and not to compel anyone to believe (For instance surah  6: al-an’am: 107; surah 10: yunus: 99; surah 16: an-nahl : 82; surah 42: ash-shura : 48).The right to exercise free choice in matters of belief is unambiguously   endorsed by the Qur'an in surah 18 : al-kahf : 29, which states: the  truth is from your Lord: Let him who will believe, and let him who  will, reject (it).

Unfortunately, despite definitive texts of the Holy Quran and ahadith, some influential people disgrace or kill women for “honour”. Their individual acts are projected in our media as failure of state machinery.  But, "Honor killings" are not exclusive to Pakistan only.   They are committed in India, Britain, United States, Brazil, Ecuador, Israel, Italy, Sweden Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Turkey, Uganda and Bangladesh. The government of Pakistan is trying its best to curb the evil.  But, changing attitudes, fossilised over centuries, is not easy. It is not understood why Pakistan is dubbed as a violence-promoting state, when the historical records of the USA are far less savoury.

According to human-rights groups’ studies, the USA is a 'violent, crime-ridden society'. Almost 12 million criminal cases were reported in the country, with the number of homicide cases being 16,110. The US ranks first in private ownership of guns, and some 350,000 gun-related crimes were recorded. Many of these cases involved juveniles who have easy access to firearms.

There are some 21,500 sinister gangs in the US with a combined membership of around 731,000. The ratio of prison inmates in the US remains one of the highest in the world. The number of inmates exceeds 2.1 million. In other words, 701 out of every 100,000 people in the country languish in jails.

Some 700,000 inmates are held in high security jails, many of them being subjected to ruthless treatment and humiliation. There have been reports of some of them being put to death by prison guards. According to a statement issued by Human Rights Watch, one in five male inmates in the US faced forced sexual contact in custody, and one in ten had been raped.

Several female inmates are said to have sexual relations with male guards in the hope of better treatment or even to get a can of cola or food. One out of six US inmates are said to suffer from various kinds of mental illnesses, including schizophrenia and serious depression. The total population of such patients numbers between 200,000 and 300,000.

Black and coloured people receive twice or three times more severe  penalties than whites for the same crimes, and the number of blacks who received the death penalty for killing white people is four times that  of white people who killed blacks. Blacks account for about 47 per cent of the inmates in state prisons, while they form only 13 per cent of the country's total population. The black poverty rate is over 24 per cent, and the average black annual income is 40 per cent less than the average American income.  Black students are also routinely subjected to racial discrimination.

Many blacks receive significantly less pay than whites with the same qualifications. Akbar S. Ahmed in his Islam under Siege (pages 9-10) rightly points out “misunderstanding about Islam since September 11” that it, and by corollary, Islamic states, “encourage violence”.  He stresses, “The actions of the nineteen hijackers had little to do do with Islamic theology.  Killing a single innocent person is like killing all of humanity, warns the Quran (surah 5, Verse 32).  The Quran clearly preaches tolerance, understanding, diversity of races…(surah 49, verse  13).

End.

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