Rights and Duties


We often talk and hear much about fundamental or human rights but we seldom talk or hear about fundamental or human duties. It stands to reason that duties ought to be prior to rights; it is for functioning of fundamental duties that human beings need certain rights to be secured. All ethics is grounded in the urge of love that is the greatest force that brings humanity into synchronization, coherence, coordination and harmony and realizes co-operation and integration with other selves. Love, which moves the sun and the Milky Ways, lifts every soul to the realm of nobility before life comes to an end in this temporal and mundane world. The philosophers who endeavor to lay down ethics on purely logical grounds totally fail to give it a firm foundation. Kant reduced all morality to the categorical imperative of duty but depleted duty of love; for him an action done out of love is not a moral action. He created a chasm between duty and happiness, both of which, according to him, are equally rational demands but they do not coincide on this plane of mundane existence. The fact is that wisdom, in the words of Will Durant, if it were young, would cherish love, nursing it with devotion, deepening it with sacrifice, vitalizing it with parentage, making all things subordinate to it till the end. Even though it consumes us in its service and overwhelms us with tragedy, even though it breaks us down with its passing and weighs us down with separations, let it be first. Jalal-ud-din Rumi has propounded that love is a sovereign remedy for mental, moral and physical diseases. Love starts biologically at the relation of parents to offspring. As life advances to higher stages, it requires the extension of the same sentiment in ever-expanding concentric circles developing into a cosmic consciousness of love and harmony. Bergson did reach this truth at the end of his career, recording his convictions in his book, The Two Sources of Religion and Morality. He said that the creative urge of life, the lan vital which is apprehended, not only by illogical intellect, but by intuition as a love urge, is the source of the universal morality of Prophets and saints which is something quite other than the common morality of mankind, which is nothing but group morality originating in the collective egotism of groups.

Let us see if morality preached by the great Prophet was of this nature. He starts with universalism in his view of existence. The universe is a unity in spite of the infinite variety of phenomena; it is a universe and not a multiverse because its creative source is the Unitary Being. Existence is not governed by a multiplicity of gods at loggerheads with one another, nor is it an eternal battleground of Yazdan and Ahrman. Then follows the optimistic view about all reality that it is sustained and nourished by a beneficent force, which creates, improves and guides. The primeval unity manifests itself in subordinate unities and organic wholes. The whole in its entirety is riftless, in which apparent discords are transcended and harmonized:
He Who created the seven heavens one above another: No want of proportion wilt thou see in the Creation of (God) Most Gracious. So turn thy vision again: seest thou any flaw? Again turn thy vision a second time: (thy) vision will come back to thee dull and discomfited, in a state worn out. (67:3-4)

Humanity is one of the supreme derivative unities. It multiplies itself into individuals, clans, communities and nations with a great diversity of colors, languages and modes of life, but it is essentially the same in all human beings because they have a common origin:
O mankind! Reverence your Guardian-Lord, who created you from a single person, created, of like nature, his mate, and from them twain scattered (like seeds) countless men and women; reverence God, through whom ye demand your mutual (rights), and (reverence) the wombs (That bore you): for God ever watches over you. (4:1)

The Holy Prophet said: You are all sons of Adam and Adam was created of clay.

Addressing the Arabian tribes, God points to the blessings conferred on them in welding them into one fraternity:

And hold fast, all together, by the rope which God (stretches out for you), and be not divided among yourselves; and remember with gratitude God’s favors on you; for ye were enemies and He joined your hearts in love, so that by His Grace, ye became brethren; and ye were on the brink of the pit of Fire, and He saved you from it. Thus doth God make His Signs clear to you: That ye may be guided. (3:103)

It has been praised even by the non-Muslim historians as a remarkable achievement of the Prophet. Lifting the numerous warring tribes out of their immemorial tribalism and uniting them into a solid fraternity is one of the miracles of history. But the Prophet did not mean to consolidate Arab nation. He was to uplift the humanity as a whole. In his last sermon he struck at the root of all racial nationalism by proclaiming that the Arabs as Arabs have no superiority over the non-Arabs, nor can the non-Arabs as such claim any superiority over the Arabs; superiority or inferiority among human beings lies only in their character, all other criteria of judgment are wrong:

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 is well acquainted with all things (49:13)

Islam proceeds further to establish universal peace by proclaiming that the Messengers of God, had proclaimed essential truths about God and Man to all civilized communities; all spiritual religions were essentially true; therefore, the spiritual leaders and founders of all communities are to be acknowledged as Prophets of God. The Muslims are exhorted to deal with all religious communities on this universal presumption. Islam was well aware of the fact that the whole of humanity shall never become one religious community with identical laws and identical modes of conduct and worship. But it is possible to bring humanity round to a belief in universal values, to actualize, which communities and nations may strive in their distinctive ways. As differences of colors and tongues are not basic, so differences of modes in the implementation of universal values and variation of types of worship of One Universal Reality ought not to constitute grounds of segregation and antagonism. The Quran praised the pious followers of other creeds and thereby indicated that the followers of Muhammad (S.A.W.) alone are not the monopolists of truth and salvation:

Of the People of the Book there is a party that stand (For the right): They rehearse the Signs of God all night long, and they prostrate themselves in adoration. They believe in God and the Last Day; they enjoin what is right, and forbid what is wrong; and they hasten (in emulation) in (all) good works: They are in the ranks of the righteous. Of the good that they do, nothing will be rejected of them; for God knoweth well those that do right. (3:113-15)

Human fraternity cannot become real if exploitation of one class by another is not prevented and if the weak and the poor are not assisted by law and social legislation. Islam did not rest contented with merely preaching love and goodwill but tried to stop all the avenues of exploitation. Muhammad (S.A.W.), having consolidated the whole of Arabia, was not crowned as a king. He continued to live in his mud-hut, sweeping his floor, mending his shoes and milking his goats. He claimed no special privileges for himself and his family. Having been made all citizens equal before law, he warned if even his dear daughter Fatima committed theft, she would not escape punishment like an ordinary thief. The main source of exploitation was feudalism in which estates passed undivided to the eldest son according to the law of primogeniture leaving the other heirs and dependents unprovided. The Islamic law of inheritance could not have allowed feudalism to develop because the estate would be divided among all the sons in equal shares, women and daughters also having their prescribed shares. No feudal lords and no serfs.

Islam envisaged a society of free human beings. The Prophet is reported to have said: On the day of Judgment God will turn away His face from the man who had enslaved a free man. The Prophet set an example in never having a slave himself nor allowing his dearest daughter Fatima to have one, in spite of her entreaties fro assistance in the very taxing domestic work of grinding corn and fetching heavy water from distant springs. The other exploited class was that of poor debtors whose blood was sucked by money-lending usurious vampires. All types of usury and economic exploitation in their obvious and disgusted shapes were severely tabooed and were held equivalent to waging war against Allah and His Prophet. Hoarding of cereals and essential commodities in expectation of realizing high prices was made a crime.

There was another oppressed class, the women. In the martial society of Arabian tribes, girls were considered to be a liability, as the birth of a daughter upset the parents. Infanticide of girls was so common and condoned by the mores of this cruel society. Once a man after conversion to Islam related to the Prophet how he took his baby girl who had just started toddling and talking, to the edge of a pit and as he pushed her into it she continued crying: Papa, Papa, Papa. Having heard this woeful tale, the tender-hearted Prophet wept so bitterly and for so long that his beard became wet with tears. The Quran improved mans view about women in relating the legend of Adam and Eve and took away all blame from Eve as she was considered to be induced by Satan. But actually she did not mislead Adam; Adam and Eve were equal partners in the act of transgression. However, after repentance both of them were forgiven. According to Islam, no sin sticks to the soul after sincere repentance and no sin is passed on to the progeny. Sin is a matter of individual responsibility, and repentance and good actions wipe away its evil and adverse effects. Love between the sexes is held by the Quran to be a blessing by God. Human beings can believe in a loving Creator only because they feel the reality of basic fact of existence and rich manifestation of biological and cultural life. The following verses point to this great truth:

And among His Signs is this, that He created for you mates from among yourselves, that ye may dwell in tranquility with them, and He has put love and compassion between your (hearts): verily in that are Signs for those who reflect. (30:21)

Carlyle, in his essays on Muhammad, Hero As Prophet, refers to this verse as one of the great truths revealed to Muhammad. Quran uses a beautiful metaphor about the mutual relation of husband and wife: They are a garment for you and you are a garment for them (2:187). Let us try to look deeply into the metaphor. All civilization starts with some sort of covering for the body; the fig leaf must develop into some sort of dress even at the start of primitive culture. Besides biological and psychological utility a body covering is the first thing upon which the aesthetic sense prevails through all its development through millenniums dress has served for beauty, benefit and blessedness. The other purpose of dress is to protect the sexual urge from going waste and make it chaste. When the Quran says that men and women are garments or body coverings for each other, they are jointly held to be custodians of social, moral and cultural refinement and in this respect both of them deserve equal credit and credibility and contribute towards a good deal of sophisticated sense and sensibility. Islam makes marriage a sacred agreement and civil contract in which any legitimate conditions, acceptable to both parties and not contrary to morality could be inserted and made legally binding. Given equal opportunities a woman can prove as intellectual as a man. But who can deny that she is constitutionally created for motherhood? Nietzsche said rightly that a woman is essentially a woman and her physiology and psychology revolve round this pivotal fact that constitutes glory of womanhood that makes women assimilate to some extent the attributes of the Absolute Creator. While she is confined to the life of motherhood, man looks for subsistence and becomes protector and defender of wife and children. In making men physically stronger God has granted men an extra endowment, which is burdened with multifarious responsibilities:

Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because God has given the one more (strength) than the other, and because they support them from their means (4:34)

It was one of the great achievements of Islam to convert a society, which practiced female infanticide and deplored the birth of a baby girl as a calamity in the past, but now began to reckon the nobility and dignity of womanhood, accepted their rights of inheritance and economic independence and treated equally their sons and daughters. Bringing up daughters with love was promised by the Prophet as a guarantee of entering into the bliss of Paradise in the Hereafter. The Prophet said: Whoever brings up two girls with loving kindness till they attain to youth shall stand shoulder to shoulder with me and shall be in he same rank. For illustration he lifted up two joined fingers as a symbol of proximity. This marvelous change of attitude towards girls developed to such an extent that people contested to get the guardianship of orphan girls. Ali, his brother Jafar and Zaid each put forth arguments to take the orphan daughter of the martyred Hamzah. The Prophet was pleased to see how they were competing with one another and decided to entrust the girl to her aunt, saying that the aunt is like a second mother. The Prophet is reported to have said: Whoever has a daughter and keeps her without any indignity and prefers not a boy to her in treatment, shall enter Paradise. How apprehensive and thoughtful was the Prophet about the bad treatment of children in the same family is evidenced by another instance. A father made a gift to one of his sons and came to the Prophet to attest it. He asked the man if he had made similar gifts to other children. When the man answered in the negative, the Prophet said: I shall not be a witness to an unjust act.