by : Sheikh Abdu Allah Al- Turki*
وَلَقَدْ كَرَّمْنَا بَنِي آدَمَ وَحَمَلْنَاهُمْ فِي الْبَرِّ وَالْبَحْرِ وَرَزَقْنَاهُمْ مِنَ الطَّيِّبَاتِ وَفَضَّلْنَاهُمْ عَلَىٰ كَثِيرٍ مِمَّنْ خَلَقْنَا تَفْضِيلًا
Truly, We have honored the children of Adam. We carry them on the land and the sea, and have made provision of good things for them [to eat], and have preferred them above many of those whom We created with a marked preferment.} (QS: Al-Israa: 70)
The idea of human dignity in Islam is as old as Islam itself.
It comes straight from the Quran and the Prophet’s Sunnah, It is not the result of social or political evolution, as it is in the case of other systems of thought, in which the idea of inalienable “human dignity” is a relatively modern idea, developed after a long evolution in the legal, social and political spheres.
The Quran explicitly states that the children of Adam are honored. Many centuries later, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights would echo this verse, saying: “Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom.”
The dignity of “the children of Adam” is a constituent element of the Islamic belief system, and it is strongly linked to religious beliefs and ethics.
The very term “children of Adam” already excludes any discrimination based on race, color, or gender.
Human dignity is universal, since all human beings are Adam’s descendants, are firmly established by religious texts that not only uphold this principle, but also evoke penalties for its violation. For instance, human life is sacred. Allah says:
قُلْ تَعَالَوْا أَتْلُ مَا حَرَّمَ رَبُّكُمْ عَلَيْكُمْ ۖ أَلَّا تُشْرِكُوا بِهِ شَيْئًا ۖ وَبِالْوَالِدَيْنِ إِحْسَانًا ۖ وَلَا تَقْتُلُوا أَوْلَادَكُمْ مِنْ إِمْلَاقٍ ۖ نَحْنُ نَرْزُقُكُمْ وَإِيَّاهُمْ ۖ وَلَا تَقْرَبُوا الْفَوَاحِشَ مَا ظَهَرَ مِنْهَا وَمَا بَطَنَ ۖ وَلَا تَقْتُلُوا النَّفْسَ الَّتِي حَرَّمَ اللَّهُ إِلَّا بِالْحَقِّ ۚ ذَٰلِكُمْ وَصَّاكُمْ بِهِ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَعْقِلُونَ
Come I will recite what your Lord has forbidden to you (remember) that you do not associate anything with Him and show kindness to your parents, and do not slay your children for (fear of) poverty We provide for you and for them and do not draw nigh to indecencies, those of them which are apparent and those which are concealed, and do not kill the soul which Allah has forbidden except for the requirements of justice, this He has enjoined you with that you may understand.(QS: Al-An’am : 151)
A penalty is incurred in the event a violation. Allah says:
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا كُتِبَ عَلَيْكُمُ الْقِصَاصُ فِي الْقَتْلَى ۖ الْحُرُّ بِالْحُرِّ وَالْعَبْدُ بِالْعَبْدِ وَالْأُنْثَىٰ بِالْأُنْثَىٰ ۚ فَمَنْ عُفِيَ لَهُ مِنْ أَخِيهِ شَيْءٌ فَاتِّبَاعٌ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ وَأَدَاءٌ إِلَيْهِ بِإِحْسَانٍ ۗ ذَٰلِكَ تَخْفِيفٌ مِنْ رَبِّكُمْ وَرَحْمَةٌ ۗ فَمَنِ اعْتَدَىٰ بَعْدَ ذَٰلِكَ فَلَهُ عَذَابٌ أَلِيمٌ
O you who believe! retaliation is prescribed for you in the matter of the slain, the free for the free, and the slave for the slave, and the female for the female, but if any remission is made to any one by his (aggrieved) brother, then prosecution (for the bloodwit) should be made according to usage, and payment should be made to him in a good manner; this is an alleviation from your Lord and a mercy, so whoever exceeds the limit after this he shall have a painful chastisement. (QS: Al-Baqaroh : 178)
It is a penalty that is applied in respect of specific legal conditions detailed in the books of Islamic law (fiqh). These are conditions that guarantee the rights of both the society and the individual.
Similarly, charity is an institution to uphold the dignity of all human beings and ensure that their basic needs are met. Allah says:
وَالَّذِينَ فِي أَمْوَالِهِمْ حَقٌّ مَعْلُومٌ And those in whose wealth there is a fixed portion (QS: Al- Ma’arij : 24), لِلسَّائِلِ وَالْمَحْرُومِ For him who begs and for him who is denied (good) (QS: Al- Ma’arij : 25)
The obligation of zakat (obligatory almsgiving), which is one of the pillars of Islam, specifically allocates a share of people’s property to foster social solidarity in Muslim society. Allah describes in the Quran the categories of people who are entitled to receive these funds from society for their livelihoods:
إِنَّمَا الصَّدَقَاتُ لِلْفُقَرَاءِ وَالْمَسَاكِينِ وَالْعَامِلِينَ عَلَيْهَا وَالْمُؤَلَّفَةِ قُلُوبُهُمْ وَفِي الرِّقَابِ وَالْغَارِمِينَ وَفِي سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ وَابْنِ السَّبِيلِ ۖ فَرِيضَةً مِنَ اللَّهِ ۗ وَاللَّهُ عَلِيمٌ حَكِيمٌ
The alms are only for the poor and the needy, and those who collect them, and those whose hearts are to be reconciled, and to free the captives and the debtors to those fighting, and for the cause of God, and (for) the wayfarers (in need).(QS:At-Taubah:60)
Human dignity is the basis for human equality. The Quran teaches that the only real criterion by which people surpass each other is that of piety– and the performance of righteous deeds that result from it. The Quran states:
يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ إِنَّا خَلَقْنَاكُمْ مِنْ ذَكَرٍ وَأُنْثَىٰ وَجَعَلْنَاكُمْ شُعُوبًا وَقَبَائِلَ لِتَعَارَفُوا ۚ إِنَّ أَكْرَمَكُمْ عِنْدَ اللَّهِ أَتْقَاكُمْ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَلِيمٌ خَبِيرٌ
Oh humanity! We have created you male and female, and have made nations and tribes that ye may know one another. Lo! The noblest of you in the sight of God are those with the greatest piety.(QS:Al-Hujuraat: 13)
Islam warns never to discriminate against people on the basis of race or skin color. When a Companion of the Prophet yelled at another Muslim by calling him “the son of a black woman” the Prophet scolded him and told him that his words betrayed the ignorance of the days before Islam. Such an attitude was that of primitive and ignorant societies.
The noble Companion then laid his cheek on the ground in front of the person he insulted and then asked that person to forgive him.
Ever since the Quran was revealed, human dignity has never been a mere slogan, but rather a principle that is integral to Islam’s legal system, beliefs and ethics. Indeed, it is distinguished by the fact that it relies on a general conception of Islamic beliefs.
In Islam, human dignity is an important and irrevocable right established on clear foundations. To begin with, human beings are the noblest and most favored of creatures. Their honor comes from the fact that Allah shaped their first father with His own Hands. Allah says:
فَإِذَا سَوَّيْتُهُ وَنَفَخْتُ فِيهِ مِنْ رُوحِي فَقَعُوا لَهُ سَاجِدِينَ
So when I have made him complete and breathed into him of My spirit, fall down making obeisance to him.(QS: Al- Hijr : 29)
He then taught Adam the names of all things. Allah says:
وَعَلَّمَ آدَمَ الْأَسْمَاءَ كُلَّهَا ثُمَّ عَرَضَهُمْ عَلَى الْمَلَائِكَةِ فَقَالَ أَنْبِئُونِي بِأَسْمَاءِ هَٰؤُلَاءِ إِنْ كُنْتُمْ صَادِقِينَ
And He taught Adam all the names, then showed them to the angels, saying: Inform me of the names of these, if you are truthful.} (QS: Al- Baqaroh :31)
The Quran shows that, of all creatures, human beings are the most perfect, considering their constitution and morphology.
لَقَدْ خَلَقْنَا الْإِنْسَانَ فِي أَحْسَنِ تَقْوِيمٍ
Surely We created the human being of the best of forms. (QS: At-Tiin : 4)
This does not prevent human beings from having weaknesses inherent in their creation, and indeed Allah says:
يُرِيدُ اللَّهُ أَنْ يُخَفِّفَ عَنْكُمْ ۚ وَخُلِقَ الْإِنْسَانُ ضَعِيفًا
Allah desires that He should make light your burdens, and man is created weak (QS:An-Nissa : 28).
Nevertheless, human beings are the creatures Allah endowed with free will and reason. They are the ones to whom He subjected what is in the heavens and on Earth. Allah says:
وَسَخَّرَ لَكُمْ مَا فِي السَّمَاوَاتِ وَمَا فِي الْأَرْضِ جَمِيعًا مِنْهُ ۚ إِنَّ فِي ذَٰلِكَ لَآيَاتٍ لِقَوْمٍ يَتَفَكَّرُونَ
And He has made subservient to you whatsoever is in the heavens and whatsoever is in the earth, all, from Himself; most surely there are signs in this for a people who reflect. (QS: AL-Jaatsiyah :13)
Many verses of the Quran assert that God has placed the world at the service of humanity.
The universe itself, through its course and regularity, the day and night, as well as the path of the Sun, the Moon, the stars and planets in their respective orbits, shows us innumerable aspects of Allah’s blessings toward humanity and many signs of His greatness and power. Thus, the dignity Allah has conferred upon humanity is not just an honorary epithet, but an integral part of Islam, supported and confirmed by many passages of the Quran and Sunnah.
This human dignity persists from the time a person is born birth, throughout life, and even after death. Indeed, children are a blessing for their parents at the time of their birth. From that time on they are unique persons who deserve to live and enjoy their rights in human society. Then when they die, they are treated with dignity. They are washed and then a funeral prayer is conducted for them where people pray for them to receive Allah’s mercy and forgiveness.
Islam warns us not to violate the sanctity of the human body except for a legitimate need. Therefore, it is forbidden to mutilate a body even of the deceased who cannot feel anything. The Prophet also forbade breaking the bones of the deceased, in respect for the dignity God has conferred upon the human being. Aisha reported that Allah’s Messenger said:
“Breaking the bones of a dead person is the same as breaking them while he is alive.” (H.R. Abu Dawud ).
Islam was the first value system in history to recognize human dignity in such a comprehensive manner, long before all of the conventions and treatises that have been drafted in the modern era. Muslims have appreciated this for more than fourteen centuries. This dignity is granted by Allah, and it is general to all human beings, regardless of their ethnic origin, color or social standing. Islamic Law protects the rights of non-Muslims living in Muslim lands.
It guarantees the sanctity of their lives, persons, honor and property, whether as members of the Muslim polity or as people at peace with the Muslim polity living outside of it.
These matters are described in detail in the Quran and Sunnah. They are further expounded upon in the books of Islamic Law that draw upon those two sources. (T/Imt/R03)
Mi’raj Islamic News Agency (MINA)
Source: Islam Today, onislam