Human Rights in Islam: an Overview
In different expressions, human right is sometimes referred to as ‘fundamental rights’ or ‘civil rights’. Yet they are actually referring to the same thing. Human right has been a worldwide slogan, which affects the current systems of the New World order. The issue of human rights has interrupted the political situations and will go further over boundaries. Given the fundamental importance of its protection, most legal systems are now incorporating it into their constitutional provisions. Now the concept of human rights is always related to the constitutional issues. Here we are to digest and appreciate how the Islamic teaching generally views the concept of human rights.
First before we observe the Islamic teaching, it is to highlight here that the concept of human rights rest on the normative predicate that human beings have intrinsic worth and dignity.This corresponds the principle of human dignity indicated by Quran as we shall see. Human dignity necessitates the protection of their rights. Be it fundamental or at lesser importance.
In Islam, Qur’an acts as a constitution in its broad meaning. This position entails Muslims to appreciate Qur’anic constitutional perspective in dealing with constitutional issues. And among those perspectives is that the Qur’an does protect human fundamental rights in the light of Allah’s divine rights.
In the light of this constitutional perspective, it is submitted, the protection of human fundamental rights is an inherent principle of Islamic teaching since Allah has created human in the best of moulds.This noble position is required for the human’s vicegerency of Allah in this world. And this in effect leads to the necessity of the protection of human’s fundamental rights. Being ‘fundamental’ is significant here, that such rights are to be referred to in dealing with those Qur’anic constitutional injunctions. Thus, by using the constitutional perspective, the right to freedom of speech, for example, needs to be digested and extracted comprehensively from the guidance of Qur’anic injunction.
Such concept when explained further reveals how it could emerge. In other words, we have to be clear how these rights take place. Indeed, they are granted by God. This divine gift is important to remember to keep one clear on what he has to do with his fundamental rights. They are there to be utilized for the sake of worshipping Allah, and they are not open to alienation. As Abul A’la Mawdudi writes, that “the rights granted by kings or legislative assemblies can be withdrawn as easily as they are conferred, but no individual and no institution has the authority to withdraw the rights conferred by God”.
Comparing this rights protection with the United Nation-promoted Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) 1948, Mawdudi writes that, while the rights under the UDHR are not obligatory on anybody, the rights sanctioned by God are an integral part of the Islamic faith, and all Muslims have to accept, recognize and enforce them.This show how fundamental is the inherent nature of the human rights in Islam.
Meaning and Scope of Right to Life
Right to life is among the basic human right that is sought to be protected in modern constitutions. The nearest dictionary definition of life to our discussion here is that the life is the state of being alive as a human being, it also means the qualities, events and experiences of human existence.In this regard, one might pose the question on what shall be the sphere in which the protection of human right to life has jurisdiction. In other words, whether it only protects “the state of being alive”, or whether the protection is extended beyond that.
In attempt to answer the above questions we may start by observing what has been the provision of such protection under the UDHR 1948 and how it is reflected in the civil jurisdiction. The UN-promoted UDHR 1948 is preceded by recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family as the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world. The right of life is protected under Article 3 of the Declaration, which reads, “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and the security of person.”
Corresponding this Article, the Malaysian Federal Constitution in its Art. 5(1) provides that “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty save in accordance with law.” Such ‘arbitrary’ restriction in the Malaysian Federal Constitution is not found in the Indian Constitution. Thus in India parliament’s law may be challenged if it is inconsistent or restrictive to the fundamental liberties and rights.
From the provisions exposed above, it is found that the life is neither defined nor explained. However, it is interesting to find that this right to life is always followed by the right to liberty of person. It shows as if the life of a person is not complete without ensuring his right to liberty. This little observation might not be conclusive enough to understand the nature of life to be protected here, nevertheless it gives us light as to be ready to extend the meaning of life to a more than just the state of being alive.
The extension that can be delegated in the protection of human’s life can be found from case laws decided by courts. There are some cases from Malaysia and other jurisdictions, notably that of India and the United States’ precedence as the persuasive source, that deal with this issue. From those cases, it is much clearer then that the life that is sought to be protected here is not merely the existence of physical or animal life. The inhibition against its deprivation extends to all those limbs and faculties by which life is enjoyed. It includes the food preservation, health maintenance, education, peaceful and healthy environment, etc. It is the quality of life that is protected.
In Malaysian court, In 1996, the then Judge of the Malaysian Judge of the Court of Appeal, Gopal Sri Ram JCA., says in Tan Kek Seng’s case:
I have reached the conclusion that the expression ‘life’ appearing in Art. 5(1) does not refer to mere existence. It incorporates all those facets that are an integral part of life itself and those matters which go to form the quality of life. Of these are the right to seek and be engaged in lawful and gainful employment and to receive those benefits that our society has to offer to its members. It includes the right to live in a reasonably healthy and pollution free environment.
Nevertheless, this judicial observation is reached only at the stage of the Court of Appeal, and not in the highest stage. One may argue therefore that such extended interpretation of the meaning of life is not yet giving a clear position of the protection. It is submitted here that such position, as long as remains upheld by the court of law, and not being overruled, shall be the recognized scope of protection of life in Malaysia.
The Right to Life in Islam
When analyzing the protection of human right to life in Islam, we would like to digest the basis and justification from the Qur’an mainly as the ultimate source of Islamic law. And, keeping in mind the constitutional perspective of Qur’anic interpretation as discussed earlier, here is to show how the Qur’anic constitutional verses can be understood in accordance with the notion of fundamental liberty.
In Islam, protecting human’s life is verily the foremost aim of shari’ah right after the protection of religion in the context of five basic necessities (Al-daruriyat al-khams). Shari’ah is so given to establish this protection, and the right to life is therefore duly recognized to be inherent of every human being.
Life is seen as among the biggest bounty granted by Allah. The existence of life itself is a trust for every human being to utilize it, and it is the basis of rights and duties, for there is no liability born by a dead body or thing. That is why life is so much regarded and protected from being interrupted or discontinued by human intervention. Killing is prohibited and counted as among the biggest sin. In this respect, the Holy Qur’an lays down: “Whosoever kills a human being (without any reason, like) manslaughter, or corruption on earth, it is as though he had killed all mankind” (5:32). Thus, no killing shall be committed by human except there is valid justification. “Do not kill a soul which Allah has made sacred except through the due process of law” (6:151). This process of law include the capital punishment in the Islamic law, which is also used in other legal systems.
Indeed, the protection of life as denoted by Qur’anic verses must not be exclusively understood as it is. Extension of the scope of life shall be permitted so as to allow the protection granted effectively and inline with the purposes of human’s life itself. It is not only the existence of life, but the quality of life safety is also protected in Islam. Allah says, “And whosoever saves a life it is as though he had saved the lives of all mankind” (5:32). The human’s health, wealth, environment, pollution, earning, education, economic activities, and many other things in human’s life are all attended and given concern in Islam. Allah warns those who would leave their family in the state of weakness and poverty (Qur’an, 4:9). In other while, Allah praises those who possess knowledge compared those who don’t. Furthermore, the protection of whole five basic necessities (i.e., the religion, soul, intellect, kinship and property) also corroborate this submission, that it is the quality of life that is sought to be protected as the extension of the protection of life.
The constitutional perspective, when used to understand the constitutional notion of Qur’an, will necessarily lead us to a better and clearer understanding. The Qur’an as the most primary source in Islam may remain the same, but the correct perspective in understanding it will make difference as to give effect to its meaning, in accordance with the purposes of shari’ah.
Here it is submitted that human rights are not foreign notion in Islam, for it is by virtue of, and as the reflection from, Allah’s mercy that these rights come into existence. Human rights therefore are integral part of human life which can not be repealed by anyone. Furthermore, right to life in Islam is to be found and protected in the Qur’an with its constitutional capacity. Thus such protection is to be appreciated and preserved within constitutional perspective and in the light of the aims/purposes of the shari’ah.