Fundamental Rights in Islam


In the West, though the issue of fundamental or (also called) human rights was raised by the thinkers of the post-Renaissance period, it is only since the last two hundred years or so that it became an issue of prominence and fundamental significance. First of all Magna Carta (Charter of Liberty) was promulgated on June 15, 1215. In 1225 King Andrew II of Hungary issued the Golden Bill in the words of Magna Carta. In 1283 King Peter III of Aragon bestowed upon his subjects the Law of Privileges. In 1355 British Parliament re-affirmed the declaration of Magna Carta and introduced the words due process of law. It stated, No man of what state or condition so ever he be, shall be put out of his lands or tenements nor taken nor imprisoned nor put to death, without he be brought in to answer by due process of law. In 1689 the British Parliament passed the Bill of Rights which Lord Acton described as the greatest thing done by the English nation. In 1690 John Locke propagated theory of social contract attempting to reconcile sovereignty and democracy. There were two great revolutions at the end of 18th century, in America and in France inspired by philosophers like Samuel Adams, Jefferson, Rousseau and Kant who emphasized on the Law of Nature and the natural rights of man. Similarly in Virginia in 1776, Declaration of Rights was promulgated which guaranteed freedom of press and religion, rights to jury trial and other safeguards of a criminal trial. It made the military authorities to civil power and provided for free elections. In 1776 there was also the declaration of American independence drafted by John Locke. The preamble read: All men are created equal that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. In 1789 the American Congress passed the Bill of Rights in the shape of ten amendments of the Constitution while in France the French Assembly adopted the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen. It recited: Men are born free and equal in rights, aim of every political association is the preservation of the practical and imperceptible right of man. The rights are liberty, property, security and resistance to oppression.

In the 18th and 19th centuries the basic human rights were included in the constitutions of various nations, Sweden, Spain, Norway, Belgium, Sardinia, Denmark and Switzerland, Russia, Turkey, China, etc. The fourth Amendment of the American constitution in 1868 stipulated: No state shall deprive any person of life, liberty or property without due process of law, nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction, the equal protection of law. In 1941 President Roosevelt stressed on four freedoms, Freedom of speech, Freedom of Religion, Freedom from Want and Freedom from Fear. The same year Winston Churchill wanted to ensure that the war ended, with the enthronement of human rights. France in the pre-amble of its Constitution of 1946 reaffirmed: Every human being without distinction of race, religion or belief possesses inalienable and sacred rights. The 1946 Constitution of Japan provided: The people shall not be prevented from enjoying any of the fundamental rights.

During the last decades the emphasis on fundamental rights reached its climax in the West. With the formation of the UNO after the Second World War and the subsequent drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a concrete model came into existence that can serve as a criterion and basis of our judgment and analysis of the ideals voiced in this regard during the last two hundred years and especially in the last few decades.

In the light of the above it may be concluded that the West had no concept of human rights before the seventeenth century; and it was not until the end of the eighteenth century that the concept took on practical meaning in the constitutions of America and France. The claim that the world first derived the concept of basic human rights from the Magna Carta of Britain is not correct because the Magna Carta contained only the principles of trial by jury, Habeas Corpus and control by Parliament of the right of taxation. Thereafter, although the constitutions of many countries contained references to basic human rights, more often than not these rights existed only on paper. Unfortunately, still the Declaration of Universal Human Rights consists of just expressions of aspirations and hopes. They have no sanctions behind them and there is no force, physical or moral, to enforce them. Despite all the high-sounding resolutions of the United Nations, human rights continue to be violated and trampled upon.

Now we come to the fundamental or human rights in Islam that had been granted by God. Fourteen centuries ago. Rights granted by kings or legislative assemblies can be withdrawn or amended as easily as they are conferred. The rights accepted and recognized by the dictators are also too temporary to be relied upon. They can confer rights when they please and withdraw them when they wish; and they can openly violate them when they so desire. But no individual and no institution on earth have the authority to withdraw or amend the rights bestowed upon by God. Secondly, being the unequivocal verdict of the Holy Quran and part and parcel of the Islamic faith, these rights excel in every respect and from every angle all the charters and the proclamations and the resolutions of the United Nations. Thirdly, Islam does not seek to restrict human rights or privileges to the geographical limits of its own state but applies to humanity as a whole and these are to be observed and respected under all circumstances for all persons residing within or outside the territory of the Islamic state. Now we enumerate the fundamental rights ordained in Islam as below:

Security of Life and Property

The first and foremost basic right is the right to life. The Holy Quran lays down: if any one slew a person – unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land – it would be as if he slew the whole people: and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people. (5:35)

The propriety of taking life in retaliation for murder or for spreading corruption can be decided only by a competent court of law. During a war it can be decided only by a properly established government. There are several forms of saving a human life. If a man is ill or wounded, it is our duty to get him medical help. If he is dying of starvation, it is our duty to feed him. If he is drowning, it is our duty to rescue him. Thus it is incumbent upon us to ensure the safety and security of every human life as enjoined by the Holy Quran. At another place the sanctity of life has been elaborated by the Holy Quran in these words:

“Be good to your parents; kill not your children on a plea of want; We provide sustenance for you and for them; come not nigh to shameful deeds whether open or secret; take not life, which God hath made sacred, except by way of justice and law: thus doth He command you, that ye may learn wisdom.” (6:151)

Homicide is thus distinguished from death sentenced by court of law. The Prophet (blessings of Allah and peace be upon him) declared homicide as the greatest sin after polytheism. A Tradition of the Prophet reads: “The greatest sins are to associate something with Allah and to kill human beings.”

In all the verses of the Quran and the Traditions of the Prophet the word ‘soul’ (nafs) has been used in general terms and the injunction applies to every human being whether he is a Muslim or non-Muslim, a native or a foreigner. Thus the ‘Right to Life’ has been given to man as a whole only by Islam whereas in Constitutions of many a country the right to life is applicable only to the citizens of that country or to the white race. For example, human beings were hunted down like animals in Australia and the land was cleared of the aborigines for the white man. Similarly, the aboriginal population of America was systematically destroyed and the Red Indians who somehow survived this genocide were confined to reservations. In Africa human beings were also hunted down like wild animals. Contrary to this partial concept of human rights, Islam recognizes such rights for all human beings.

And do not eat up your property among yourselves for vanities, nor use it as bait for the judges, with intent that ye may eat up wrongfully and knowingly a little of (other) people’s property. (2:188)

According to the Quran, no person is allowed to grab or snatch anyone’s property wrongfully. To men is allotted what they earn, and to women what they earn (4:32) Even a husband has no right to usurp the property of her wife. In the address which the Prophet delivered on the occasion of the Farewell Hajj, he said: “Your lives and properties are forbidden to one another till you meet your Lord on the Day of Resurrection.” The Prophet also said about the dhimmis (the non-Muslim citizens of the Muslim state):

“One who kills a man under covenant (i.e., dhimmi) will not even smell the fragrance of Paradise.”

Equality of mankind

O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise each other). Verily the most honored of you in the sight of God is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And God has full knowledge and (with all things) is well acquainted (49:13)

Mankind was one single nation. (2:213)

Islam not only recognizes absolute equality of mankind irrespective of any distinction of color, race or nationality, but makes it an important and significant principle. The word of God that “O mankind, we created you from (a single pair of) male and female” obviously means that all human beings are brothers to one another. They all are the descendants from one father and one mother. “And we set you up as nations and tribes so that you may be able to recognize each other” (49:13) denotes that the division of human beings into nations, races, groups and tribes is for the sake of distinction, so that people of one race or tribe may meet and be acquainted with the people belonging to another race or tribe and cooperate with one another. This division of the human race is neither meant for vanity or superiority over one another nor for treating one another with contempt or disgrace. “Verily the most honored of you in the sight of God is (he who is) the most righteous of you.” (49:13). In other words the superiority of one man over another is only on the basis of piety, goodness and high morality, and not on the basis of color, race, language or nationality, and even this superiority based on piety and pure conduct does not justify that such people should assume lordship or airs of superiority over other human beings. From the moral point of view, goodness and virtue is in all cases better than vice and evil.

This has been exemplified by the Prophet in one of his sayings: “No Arab has any superiority over a non-Arab, nor does a non-Arab have any superiority over an Arab. Nor does a white man have any superiority over a black man or the black man any superiority over the white man. You are all the children of Adam, and Adam was created from clay”. In this manner Islam has established equality for the entire human race and struck at the very root of all distinctions based on color, race, language or nationality. On the eve of Hajj (pilgrimage), all the Muslims belonging to different races, languages and colors of skin, are clad in two pieces of white cloth and hurrying towards God’s House, the Ka’bah offer their prayers standing in one row and there is no distinction of any kind seen between them. Today, a number of non- Muslim thinkers, who are free from blind prejudice, openly admit that no other religion or way of life has solved this problem with the same degree of success with which Islam has done so.

Right to Acquire Knowledge

The first revelation that the Prophet Muhammad received starts remarkably with special emphasis on the importance of knowledge: Proclaim! (or read!) In the name of thy Lord and Cherisher, Who created ; Created man, out of a (mere) clot of congealed blood ; Proclaim! And thy Lord is Most Bountiful; He Who taught (the use of) the pen; Taught man that which he knew not. (96:1-5) Asking rhetorically: “Are those who know equal to those who do not know? (39:9), the Quran exhorts believers to pray for advancement in knowledge: Be not in haste with the Quran before its revelation to thee is completed, but say, “O my Lord! Advance me in knowledge” (20:114).

The famous prayer of the Prophet Muhammad used to be: Allah grant me Knowledge of the ultimate nature of things. The Prophet who himself was devoted to knowledge and science as distinguishing him from all other teachers preached the value of knowledge in one of the best known of all traditions (ahadith) Seek knowledge even though it be in China. In another tradition he remarked:

Acquire knowledge, because he who acquires it in the way of the Lord performs an act of piety ; who speaks of it, praises the Lord ; who seeks it, adores God ; who dispenses instruction in it, bestows alms ; and who imparts it to its fitting objects, performs an act of devotion to God. Knowledge enables its possessor to distinguish what is forbidden from what is not ; it lights the way to Heaven ; it is our friend in the desert, our society in solitude, our companion when bereft of friends ; it guides us to happiness ; it sustains us in misery ; it is our ornament in the company of friends ; it serves as an amour against our enemies. With knowledge, the obedient servant of God rises to the heights of goodness and to a noble position, associates with sovereigns in this world, and attains to the perfection of happiness in the next. He would often say: the ink of the scholar is more holy than the blood of the martyr.

It was due to injunctions of the Holy Quran and instructions of the Prophet that the knowledge has been at the core of the Islamic world-view from the very beginning. Among his followers intellect, arts and learning prevailed and flourished on gigantic scale and the Muslims made glorious and marvelous achievements in almost every field of scientific knowledge including Astronomy, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Medicine and Social Sciences.

According to Quranic perspective, knowledge is a prerequisite for the creation of a just world in which authentic peace can prevail. The Quran emphasizes the importance of the pursuit of learning even at the time, and in the midst, of war: Nor should the Believers all go forth together: if a contingent from every expedition remained behind, they could devote themselves to studies in religion, and admonish the people when they return to them – that thus they (may learn) to guard themselves (against evil) [9:122]

Right to Basic Necessities of Life

Speaking about economic rights, the Holy Quran enjoins its followers:

“And in their wealth there is (acknowledged) right for the needy and destitute.” (51:19)

The wording of this injunction is categorical and unspecified. Furthermore, this injunction was given in Makkah where there was no Muslim society in existence and where the Muslims came in contact mostly with disbelievers. It obviously means that anyone who is needy and poor has a right to have his share in the property and wealth of a Muslim; irrespective of whether he belongs to Islam or any other religion. If one is in a position to help and a needy person asks for help or if one comes to know that he is in need, then it is one’s duty to help him.

Freedom to all religions

Those who believe (in the Quran), and those who follow the Jewish (scriptures), and the Christians and the Sabians – any who believe in God and the Last Day, and work righteousness, shall have their reward with their Lord; There shall be no fear come upon them, nor shall they grieve. (2:62)

Islam entertains or the individual not only the freedom of conviction and freedom of conscience, but also ensures that his religious sentiments will be given due respect and nothing will be said or done which may encroach upon his right. 6. The Protection of Prestige and Honor: The Holy Quran lays down: The Qur’an recognizes the right of human beings to be protected from defamation, sarcasm, offensive nicknames, and backbiting. The Qur’an recognizes the right of human beings to be protected from defamation, sarcasm, offensive nicknames, and backbiting. O ye who believe! Let not some men among you laugh at others: It may be that the (latter) are better than the (former): Nor let some women laugh at others:

It may be that the (latter are better than the (former): Nor defame nor be sarcastic to each other, nor call each other by (offensive) nicknames: Ill-seeming is a name connoting wickedness, (to be used of one) after he has believed: And those who do not desist are (indeed) evil-doers. (49:11)

O ye who believe! Avoid suspicion as much (as possible): for suspicion in some cases is a sin: And spy not on each other behind their backs. Would any of you like to eat the flesh of his dead brother? Nay, ye would abhor it…But fear God: For God is Oft-Returning, Most Merciful. (49:12)

The above lines are self-explanatory and give a clue to the fact how the protection of an individual’s prestige and honor has been guaranteed in a society when nobody will be allowed to laugh at others, no obscene, unchaste, lewd, sarcastic or defamatory remarks will be passed for anyone, no nicknames which are likely to offend someone will be permissible and when people will be advised to shun backbiting, suspecting or spying anyone whether he or she is rich or poor, high or low, young or old, Muslim or non-Muslim. Nothing could be more abominable than back-biting as it is tantamount to eating the flesh of one’s dead brother. Furthermore, no person is to be maligned on grounds of assumed guilt: Those who love (to see) scandal published broadcast among the Believers, will have a grievous Penalty in this life and in the Hereafter: God knows, and ye know not. (24:19)

Sanctity and Security of Privacy:

The Qur’an recognizes the need for privacy as a human right and lays down rules for protecting an individual’s life in the home from undue intrusion from within or without:

O ye who believe! Enter not houses other than your own, until ye have asked permission and saluted those in them: that is best for you, in order that ye may heed (what is seemly). If ye find no one in the house, enter not until permission is given to you: if ye are asked to go back, go back: that makes for greater purity for yourselves: and God knows well all that ye do. (24:27-28)

The Individual’s Right to Freedom

Islam has categorically forbidden the primitive practice of capturing a free man to make him a slave or to sell him into slavery. On this point the unequivocal words of the Prophet (blessings of Allah and peace be upon him) are as follows: “There are three categories of people against whom I shall myself be a plaintiff on the Day of Judgment; Of these three, one is he who enslaves a free man, then sells him and eats this money” (Bukhari and Ibn Maja). The words of this Tradition of the Prophet have not been qualified or restricted to a particular nation or race, or to followers of a particular religion. The Europeans take great pride in claiming that they abolished slavery from the world, though they had the decency to do so only in the middle of the last century. Before this, the Western powers had been raiding Africa on a very large scale, capturing free men, putting them in bondage and transporting them to their new colonies. The treatment which they meted out to these unfortunate people was worse than that given to animals. Accounts in Western books themselves bear testimony to this fact.

Freedom of Conscience

Let there be no compulsion in religion. (2:256)

It clearly indicates that there would be no coercion in the matter of faith.

Rule of Law

And when ye judge between man and man that ye judge with justice: Verily how excellent is the teaching which He giveth you! For God is He Who heareth and seeth all things. (4:58)

Islam gives its citizens the right to absolute and complete equality in the eyes of the law. A woman belonging to a high and noble family was arrested in connection with theft. The case was brought to the Prophet, and it was recommended that she might be spared the punishment of theft. The Prophet replied: “The nations that lived before you were destroyed by God because they punished the common man for their offenses and let their dignitaries go unpunished for their crimes; I swear by Him Who holds my life in His hand that even if Fatima, the daughter of Muhammad, had committed this crime, I would have amputated her hand.”

The Right to Justice

This is a very important and valuable right which Islam has given to man. The Holy Qur’an has laid down: “Let not the hatred of some people in (once) shutting you out of the Sacred Mosque lead you to transgression (and hostility on your par t). Help ye one another in righteousness and piety, but help ye not one another in sin and rancor: fear God: for God is strict in punishment.” (5:3). “O ye who believe! stand out firmly for God, as witnesses to fair dealing, and let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just: that is next to piety: and fear God for God is well-acquainted with all that ye do.” (5:9). Stressing this point the Quran again says: “O ye who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to God, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be (against) rich or poor: for God 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 God is well-acquainted with all that ye do. (4:135).

These remarkable words need special attention: Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to God, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be (against) rich or poor. Justice rendered on these lines is without any iota of doubt is real, exemplary and unparalleled. Muslims have to be just not only with ordinary human beings but even with their enemies. In other words, the justice to which Islam invites her followers is not limited only to the citizens of their own country but is meant for all the human beings of the world. Muslims therefore, cannot be unjust to anyone. Their permanent habit and character should be such that no man should ever fear injustice at their hands, and they should treat every human being everywhere with justice and fairness.

No Liability for Actions of Others:

There is no liability for actions of others and Islam also recognizes the right of the individual not to be arrested or imprisoned for the offenses of others. The Holy Quran has laid down this principle clearly:

“No bearer of burdens shall be made to bear the burden of another.” (35:18)

The Right to Protest against Tyranny:

Among the rights that Islam has conferred on human beings is the right to protest against government’s tyranny. Referring to it the Quran says: God loveth not that evil should be noised abroad in public speech, except where injustice hath been done; for God is He who heareth and knoweth all things. (4:148)

In Islam all power and authority belong to God, and with man there is only delegated power which becomes a trust; everyone who becomes a recipient of such a power has to stand in awful reverence before his people toward whom and for whose sake he will be called upon to use these powers. This was duly acknowledged by Hazrat Abu Bakr who said in his very first address: “Cooperate with me when I am right but correct me when I commit error; obey me so long as I follow the commandments of Allah and His Prophet; but turn away from me when I deviate.”

Free Trade

O ye who believe! Squander not your property among yourselves in vanities except it be a trade by mutual consent (and good-will): Nor kill (or destroy) yourselves for verily God hath been to you Most Merciful! (4:29)

Freedom of Expression:

Islam gives the right of freedom of thought and expression to all citizens of the Islamic state on the condition that it should be used for the propagation of virtue and truth and not for spreading evil and wickedness. The Islamic concept of freedom of expression is much superior to the concept prevalent in the West. Under no circumstances would Islam allow evil and wickedness to be propagated. It also does not give anybody the right to use abusive or offensive language in the name of criticism. It was the practice of the Muslims to enquire from the Holy Prophet whether on a certain matter a divine injunction had been revealed to him. If he said that he had received no divine injunction, the Muslims freely expressed their opinion on the matter. The Holy Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.) proclaimed: People are all equal as the teeth of a comb. He preached freedom of speech and opinion in his own words: The highest kind of Jihad (Holy War) is to speak upon, for truth, in face of a Sultan (King of government) who deviates from right path.

Right to develop one’s Aesthetic Qualities and Enjoy the Bounties of God

As pointed out Muhammad Asad, By declaring that all good and beautiful things to the believers, the Quran condemns, by implication, all forms of life-denying asceticism, world- renunciation and self-mortification.[38] In fact, it can be stated that the right to develop one’s aesthetic sensibilities so that one can appreciate beauty in all its forms, and the right to enjoy what God has provided for the nurture of humankind, are rooted in the life-affirming vision of the Quran. Say: Who hath forbidden the beautiful (gifts) of God, which He hath produced for His servants, and the things, clean and pure, (which He hath provided) for sustenance? Say: They are, in the life of this world, for those who believe, (and) purely for them on the Day of Judgment. (7:32)

Respect for the Chastity of Women

In the Charter of Human Rights granted by Islam a woman’s chastity has to be respected and protected under all circumstances, whether she belongs to our own nation or even to that of an enemy, whether we find her in the wild forest or in a conquered city; whether she is our co-religionist or belongs to some other religion or has no religion at all. All promiscuous relationship has been forbidden to a Muslim, irrespective of the status or position of the woman.

The most significant words of the Holy Quran in this connection are: “Do not approach (the bounds of) adultery” (17:32). There is heavy punishment for this crime. Since the violation of chastity of a woman is forbidden in Islam, a Muslim who perpetrates this crime cannot escape punishment whether he receives it in this world or in the Hereafter. Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty: that will make for greater purity for them: And God is well acquainted with all that they do (24:30). The concept of chastity and protection of women found nowhere else except in Islam has been further magnified and glorified in the next verse of the Holy Quran in these words: And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands, their fathers, their husband’s fathers, their sons, their husbands’ sons, their brothers or their brothers’ sons, or their sisters’ sons, or their women, or the slaves whom their right hands posses s, or male servants free of physical needs, or small children who have no sense of the shame of sex; and that they should not strike their feet in order to draw attention to their hidden ornaments. And O ye Believers! Turn ye all together towards God, that ye may attain Bliss (24:31). How serious and severe is the Quranic reprimand for those who slander chaste and discreet women: Those who slander chaste women, indiscreet but believing, are cursed in this life and in the Hereafter: for them is a grievous Penalty; On the Day when their tongues, their hands, and their feet will bear witness against them as to their actions (24:23-24). It is noteworthy to read the charter that the Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.) granted to the people of Najran:

The people of Najran and their followers are granted the protection of Allah and the security of Muhammad, the Prophet, the Messenger of Allah, in respect of their persons, religion, lands and possessions including those of them who are absent and those who are present, their camels, messengers and images. The state in which they previously were shall not be changed nor any of their religious services or images be changed. No attempt shall be made to turn a bishop from his bishopric, a monk from his office as a monk nor a sexton from his office whether what is under control of each is small or great. They shall not be held responsible for any wrong deed or blood in pre-Islamic times. They shall not be called to tread their land. Syed Ameer Ali aptly remarked about the Prophet: His democratic thunder was the signal for up rise of human intellect against tyranny of priests and rulers.

Caliph Umar addressed the people of Jerusalem as below:

In the name of Allah, the Merciful, the Compassionate. This is the security which Umar, the servant of God, the Commander of the faithful grants to the people of Aelia. He grants to all whether sick or sound, security for their lives, their possessions, their churches and for all their concerns their religion. Their churches shall not change into dwelling places nor destroyed, neither shall they nor their appurtenances be in any way diminished nor the crosses of the inhabitants nor ought of their possessions nor shall any constraint be put upon them in the matter of their faith nor shall any of them be harmed.

Keeping in view the above-mentioned injunctions of the Holy Quran and Sunnah, and glorious instances set by the Muslim rulers, one can easily arrive at the conclusion how effective, flawless and consummate the fundamental rights are as ordained in Islam. On the contrary, those who drafted the Declaration of Human Rights, they aimed to extend their domination and hegemony over the world. They are the same people who wiped out tens of thousands of human beings mercilessly by an atom bomb in the twinkling of an eye.