Being Honest and Consistent With Respect to Human Rights For All

Ustadz Imam Shamsi Ali saat menyampaikan khutbah sholat Jumat di Amerika Serikat. (Foto: J5NEWSROOM.COM)

By Imam Shamsi Ali

AMONG the many misunderstandings about Islam, especially in the minds of those in the West, is the idea that Islam is a religion that inspires and supports human rights violations and abuses. Most of those accusations are either baseless or based on a complete ignorance of the religion.

However  it must be admitted that some human rights violations and abuses have happened  in some majority Muslim countries. But that is not as a result of religious belief, rather that is due to the actions of politics and human beings who do things for their own purposes and may or may not hide behind religion as an excuse. The same can also be said for many non Muslim majority countries; muslim majority countries are not unique in this respect.

As I have said many times before much of the misunderstandings of Islam due to the ignorance and/or misrepresentation of Islam by the Muslims themselves. The beauty of the religion is hindered (mahjoob) by this gnorance and misrepresentation of Islam in some Muslim majority lands. Often unfortunately in the name of Islam or Shari’ah, things I am sure happen in some Muslim lands and known openly to many Muslims worldwide.

I begin by confessing that as far as I know there is no single teaching, be it religious or non religious (secular) that will be superior to Islam when it comes to the issue of human rights. Both on theological and practical aspects, as well as historical dimensions, the  teachings emphasize  the urgency of respect, honor, and defense of human rights.

Islam is determined by its followers commitment to build a solid two dimensions of relationships. These  two dimensions of relationships in the Quran are known as “??? ?? ???? ???? ?? ?????” which means “relationship with Allah and relationship with mankind” (Al-Quran).

Using the commonly used term I tend to translate the word “hablun” here with “rights”. So “hablun minallah” is translated as “Allah’s rights”. While “hablun minannas” is translated as “the rights of fellow humans” or “human rights” as commonly known.

Therefore, human rights in Islam is deeply rooted in our religious teachings, to the point that no one can fulfill his or her religious obligations without fulfilling the two dimensions of rights; Allah’s rights and human’s rights. A Muslim can not claim to be true to the faith by only fulfilling his vertical relations with Allah (Allah’s rights) while failing his relationships with his/her fellow human belongs (human rights).

There are several basic rights that every human being is entitled to. These rights are rooted in Islam and believed to be divinely granted and guaranteed by the Creator. And none has any right to take them away from them. Islam teaches that taking away any human’s right is against the authority of the Creator.

First, it is a basic right of all people to have an inherent human dignity. In Islam human dignity is believed to be divine and godly, that God Himself granted and guaranteed for all children of Adam (human kind). This is stated in the Holy Quran: “verily we have dignified all children of Adam” (Al-Quran).

One of the important element of human dignity is human equality. This means all human beings are equal and must be treated as such. In Islam human superiority is based on “values” (faith and characters). Islam uses the term “taqwa” which means “piety” or “righteousness” for it. Both the Quran and the hadith emphasize that the only distinction a person may have is based on his or her “taqwa”.

Allah says: “verily, the most honorable of you in the sight of Allah are the most righteous of you” (Ch. 49:13).

The Prophet then said: “There is no superiority of an Arab over a non Arab, nor superiority of a non Arab over an Arab except by the virtue of taqwa”.

Therefore, it is an inherent right for all humans; black, white, brown, or whatever physical and social status they belong to be treated and to treat others equally. This equal treatment is an inherent human dignity that every person deserves.

Second, it is a basic right of all people to be treated with justice. Justice is part of human nature. No one wants to be treated unjustly in any way and in any aspect of life.

In Islam justice is equivalent to life itself. You may live luxuriously under a dictatorial government. But that luxurious life can not guarantee you peace and happiness if justice is not observed.

For this very reason justice is directly associated with Allah. The only Name or Character of Allah which is mentioned using a noun from (ism) is justice. Allah is “Al-Adl” (Allah is justice). Allah doesn’t call Himself as “the Just” (Al-Aadil) like “the Creator” (Al-Khaliq) in reference to His being the Creator of all creations.

Justice in Islam in considered a higher form of righteousness. And it must be established even if it is against one’s or families’ interests. In fact, justice must be established for those whom we may dislike.

Therefore, justice is an inherent right of all human beings. And America claims it is it intended for all (justice for all), not only for some or certain people.

Third,  it is a basic right of all human beings to be free (the right to freedom). In fact, in Islam the foundation of human freedom is rooted in our very basic tenet of “tauheed” (oneness of Allah). Our believe in “laa ilaaha illa Allah” signifies that all humans are inherently free any domination and enslavement except to the Master of the heavens and the earth (Rabb as-samawati wa al-Ardh). None has the right to dominate and enslave any person or any group of people but the Creator.

There are many aspects of freedom to talk about. I just want to underline two aspects which are also misunderstood by many in  western society. Those are freedom of religion and freedom of speech.

In Islam, freedom of religion if fundamentally protected. It is because to believe in something is to trust one’s inner consciousness. None can believe in anything by force. Therefore, in Islam “compulsion in religion” is not only a matter of prohibition. It actually doesn’t exist at all. Allah emphasized in the Quran: “there is no compulsion in the religion” (Al-Baqarah. 256).

It’s well known in the history of Islam how the Prophet (pbuh) and his followers granted religious freedom to non Muslim members of the community living under the Muslim authority. One examole was when Umar bin Khattab, the second Caliph invited the Jewish Community to come back to Jerusalem after there were expelled by the Roman Christians who had thrown them out of the city.

In addition to freedom of religion, freedom of speech and expression are also fundamentally granted and protected in Islam. An example I always mention is when Allah wanted to create Adam and place him on this earth, He then told the angels about it.

The angels whom we know never questioned Allah’s decision and instructions asked: “Are you creating someone to create mischief and shed blood?” In response Allah did not blame the angels. Instead he said: “I know better what you don’t know” (Al-Quran).

The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) allowed his  companions to express themselves, and often accepted their opinions/ideas even if he viewed the matter otherwise. The battle of Khandaq is possibly one of the great evidence of such.

Therefore, Islam without any doubt guarantees the right of all to believe in any religion or not to believe at all: . And also Islam guarantees the right of all people to speak and express themselves. This is the fundamental reason why we Muslims support the right of the students to speak and express themselves, including in opposition to the ongoing massacres in Gaza.

Fourth, every person has the basic right to ownership (Al-milkiyah). To own in life is a basic human natural tendency and therefore Islam granted and protect  it. Allah mentions in the Quran: “He is (Allah) who created for you whatever in the heavens and in the earth”. The word “lakum” signifies ownership.

Among the way to guarantee the right to ownership in Islam is through the institutionalization of  inheritance (Al-miiraath). From the very beginning of Islam, the right to inherit has been regulated in a very detailed and sophisticated way. More interestingly, Islam guaranteed equally the right of both man and women to inherit centuries before western women were able to get that right.

Fifth, every person has an inherent right to “belong” (belongs to). It is  human nature to associate him/her self to something or someone. Among the important aspect of belonging is to be belong to a community with all its levels.

The first level of a community is the family. It is a basic human right to be guaranteed to associate and belong to his or her family. In fact Allah emphasizes this in the Holy Quran (see Ch. 4 verse 1).

The second level of a community is to be associated with a tribe and a nation. In the language of the Holy Quran, it is a divine decree that Allah has made all people to belong to different nations and tribes.

The third level of a community according to Islam is a global one. Within the Islamic community this is known as “Ummah”. The idea of the Ummah is that every single Muslim belongs to this global family of the believers. Allah mentions in the Quran: “Verily this Ummah (Muslims) is one single community” (Al-Quran).

All of the above basic rights are also included in the US Constitution as well as in United Nation Commission on Human Rights.

In conclusion, I just wanted to remind people again that Islam does not have any competitor when it comes to the issue of basic human rights. The history of Islam witnessed the golden era of respect and honor to human rights and human dignity.

Unfortunately but it is deeply shameful to those who claim to be human rights champions while at the same time  practicing double standards in their reality by either being directly involved in human rights violations and abuses around world or by being complicit with it.

What we are witnessing in Palestine and Gaza these days, uncovers all the double standards and hypocritical stances of those nations claiming to be human rights proponents. Apparently human dignity, human rights, equality and justice, are not for all any more. “Justice for all” simply remains a slogan that has no value when it comes to the right of the Palestinians.

What a tragedy there in the world we live in today!

Manhattan, 8 May 2024

Penulis adalah Direktur Jamaica Muslim Center New York Amerika Serikat. Naskah ini dikirim via japri oleh penulis ke J5NEWSROOM.COM, Kamis (9/5/2024).