Understanding right to dignity in Islam
By: Umer Riyaz
Human dignity is recognition that human beings possess a special value intrinsic to their humanity and as such are worthy of respect. It unfolds that a person is inherently and by nature venerable and honorable.
None has the right to humiliate, insult and diminish the respect of any human being irrespective of the reasons and circumstances. Human dignity is a fundamental value that elevates a person’s feeling of being revered creation. Everything that diminishes human dignity contradicts the principle of honor and respect such as torture, insult and humiliation.
But unfortunately, the world is witnessing a visible violation of human rights in the contemporary times. The status of human life as well as its dignity is largely depreciated. However, the Quran says: “And We have certainly honored the children of Adam and carried them on land and sea and provided them with good things and preferred them over many of those whom We have created”(Al-Isra:70). Human dignity is a basic principle upon which not only the principles of human rights are based but also all the principles of the divine religions endorse the same. This dignity is equal for every human being irrespective of his cast, creed and gender.
Islam came with the message of equality without affecting differences in livelihoods, ages, colors and races centuries before the formulation of modern human dignity theories. It was a manifestation of the greatness of the Creator and His wisdom in the construction of the universe within a framework of coexistence, cooperation and integration.
The Quran explicitly defines this concept in the following verse: “O people, indeed We created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes so that you may know one another. Indeed, the most honorable of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you” (Al- Hujrat:13).In other verse it is mentioned: “And among His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth and the diversity of your languages and colors. Indeed, in that are signs for those of knowledge” (Al- Rome:22).
The quality of life of the corporeal being is depended on food and nourishment while as the souls or ethereal being is depended on honor which diminishes by humiliation, oppression and disrespect. Therefore, the Prophet ﷺ forbade striking on anybody’s face because it is a subject of one’s dignity.
Similarly, Almighty forbade any action which degrades or lowers human dignity by saying: “O you who have believed, let not a people ridicule another people, perhaps they may be better than them, nor let women ridicule other women, perhaps they may be better than them, and do not insult one another and do not call each other by offensive titles.
Wretched is the name of disobedience after one’s faith. And whoever does not repent then it is those who are the wrongdoers” (Al- Hujrat:11).The aforementioned verses depict that almighty Allah forbade the believers from making fun of others by mocking them and looking with contempt.
Moreover, He forbade cursing anyone with unpleasant words because that becomes a catalyst of hatred and lead people to ignorance. Thus, sarcasm and mockery does not emanate except from a soul polluted with arrogance and it is a tool for destroying human relations. The Almighty states: “And speak kindly to people”. (Al- Baqarah:83)
Allah commanded mankind not to be suspicious of any human being including slaves and not to spy on their private lives and follow their shortcomings. Furthermore, He also commanded not to talk ill about them or make backbiting in order to corrupt their image. Allah terms these social evils equivalent to eating the flesh of one’s own dead brother. On contrary, He commanded us to protect ourselves from these reprehensible things and to stampout the root of these evils. On the authority of Al-Ma’rur bin Suwaid, he said, “I met Abu Dhar who was wearing a cloak and his slave too was wearing a same so I asked him about the reason. He replied: I insulted a man by cursing his mother so the Prophet ﷺ said to me: O Abu Dhar, you still have some characteristics of ignorance. Your slaves are your brothers…” (Bukhari).
Human dignity is a one of the basic spirits of Islam, it obligated Muslims to observe the human dignity that Almighty Allah bestowed to man with His bounty and mercyin which He did not differentiate between Muslims and non-Muslims. The Prophet ﷺ resoundingly and reverberatory said on farewell pilgrimage: “O people, your Lord is one, your father is one, and there is no superiority for an Arab over a non-Arab, nor for a non-Arab over an Arab, nor for a white over a black, nor for a black over a white except with piety.”(Bukhari)
Islam commanded its followers to preserve the dignity of non-Muslims and respect their feelings and sentiments. The Almighty Allah says: “And do not argue with the People of the Book except in a way that is best, except with those who do wrong among them”(Al Ankabut:46).In Islamic perspective man is honored being regardless of his ethnicity, culture, origin, religious belief and his position and value in the society. Almighty said: “And do not insult those who invoke other than Allah, lest they insult Allah as an enemy without knowledge” (Al-An’am:108).
There is an explicit prohibition against harming the gods of the other faiths in order to preserve human dignity, freedom, and to respect their religious sentiments and emotions. While interpreting this verse Imam Al-Qurtubi says, it is not permissible for a Muslim to insult their students, their religion, or their churches and not expose anything that leads to that as it is the way that leads person to sin.
Preserving human dignity is evident to us in the Prophet’s ﷺ dealings with non-Muslims even with the dead among them. On the authority of Jabir bin Abdullah, he said: “A funeral passed by us, so the Prophet ﷺ stood up for it, and we also did the same, so we said: O Messenger of God, it is the funeral of a Jew! He said: “If you see the funeral, stand up.” (Bukhari). This depicts that Islam is a religion of peace, mercy and justice that seeks to guide people and bring them out of darkness into light.
In numerous hadiths, Prophet ﷺ urged Muslims to uphold the divine morals and to deal others with mercy as Allah is merciful to his servants. In other traditions Messenger ﷺ of Allah says: “Those who are merciful will be shown mercy by the Most Merciful, and have mercy on those on earth and He who is in heaven will have mercy on you” (Tirmidhi). He also says: “He who does not have mercy will not be shown mercy” (Muslim). Thus, Islamic law preserves human dignity and considers all those acts against the spirit of Islam that undermine human dignity.
(The author is a Research Scholar, Department of Arabic BGSB University, Rajouri)