Owing to some unfortunate developments in recent years, the universal values of Islam have come in for denunciation. Actions of some misguided individuals are used to typify the character and conduct of millions of Muslims. Efforts have been on to equate Islam with bigotry and obscurantism. This is most unfortunate at a time when there is a dire need to bridge the gulf between Islam and the West. The proponents of ‘Clash of Civilizations’ and their counterparts in the Islamic world are bent upon creating differences aimed at spreading confusion and misunderstanding about the teachings of Islam.
Man has always strived to ensure human dignity and equity without any sort of discrimination and bias. The message of Islam, on the other hand, has consistently and universally promoted human rights and freedoms as fundamental for human development. In Islam, the origins and implications of human rights are supported by the revelations in the Quran. The holy Quran says:
‘O mankind! We have created you from a single (pair) of male and female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other. Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of God is the most pious of you. And God has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).’
This Quranic verse is the testament alone to the foundation of diversity and pluralism in Islam. In the abovementioned verse, Allah Almighty is addressing the whole mankind; not just one group; stating that all of humanity is one, created by the One. Thereby, declaring the sovereignty of our God-given human rights, universal and timeless, regardless of race, gender, language, colour or creed. No legislator, dictator, or any other authority can take these rights away from us.
So where does this leave the followers of Islam?
Well, based on the teachings of Islam, every Muslim should be a champion of human rights, because the principles of human rights, as per the Quran, must underpin a Muslim’s daily life, since the Quran teaches us how to respond to the needs of the most marginal and vulnerable people. In the words of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH):
‘You do not truly believe until you love for your brother what you love for yourself.’
The fact is that Islam inspires mankind to create a society in which there is acknowledgement of the need for human dignity and respect for one another. Ironically, the basic human right to acquire education is so often withheld in the name of the religion that is so rooted in education. Sadly, it is the absence of education that has prevented the teachings of human rights in Islam, and its practical applications to human beings to be totally neglected.
Human beings with various beliefs, in various forms and capacities, have continued to violate human rights across the world. Although the reality of Islam is not to be single-minded, the integration of nations through the process of globalization has brought to light the confusion and conflict people face in accepting pluralism. Unfortunately, the word of God is lost in the language of cultural interpretations, which fails to understand the Islamic perspective in realizing that discrimination and bias are counterproductive to equity and justice; therein misrepresenting Islam.
No wonder the issue of human rights and equity, as per Sharia, is one of the most misrepresented and least understood issues of our times, because the Quranic view, as per the teachings of Islam, is absent. The problem is further enhanced by ideologies that project their sense of juristic interpretations, as if they were synonymous with the Word of God, leaving behind the primary sources of Islam. Failing to acknowledge that full equality and equity of all human beings before God is beyond doubt.
Nonetheless, the promotion and protection of human rights, as revealed by the Qur’an, rests upon mankind. God has entrusted each and every human being with the responsibility of being his trustee on earth, to prevent harm and stand up for justice:
‘O you who have believed, be persistently standing firm in justice, witnesses for Allah , even if it be against yourselves or parents and relatives. Whether one is rich or poor, Allah is more worthy of both. So follow not [personal] inclination, lest you not be just. And if you distort [your testimony] or refuse [to give it], then indeed Allah is ever, with what you do, Acquainted.’
When examined, the revelations in the Quran, and Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) example in creating the first written constitution in the world, known as the Medina Charter in the year 622 AD, should inspire those with understanding to establish a moral code of justice. The Qur’anic view of human rights frees human beings from the bondage of traditionalism, authoritarianism (religious, political, economic, or any other), tribalism, racism, sexism, slavery or anything else that prohibits or inhibits human beings from experiencing God’s vision of human dignity and respect as embodied in Islam.
Many people, today, spit venom of hate as a weapon to discredit an entire religion such as Islam. Many people today lack the balance of understanding the right to express one’s opinion and beliefs and the right to be attacked and undermined to the extent that it affects an individual or group’s capacity to be human and to be active participants in society.