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“All Citizens are Equal before Law and are Entitled to Equal Protection of Law”-Article 27 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh

Issue No: 186
April 16, 2005

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Human Rights in Islamic Law

Dr. ABM. Mahbubul Islam

Human right has been a burning issue in the contemporary world today. The western secular philosophy claims to be the pioneer and champion in initiating, promoting and protecting of human rights and vigorously condemns others of not observing it. On the other hand Islamic law does not only refute this notion of being untrue, immature and false but it claims that the human right is coherent with Islam itself and it is far ahead of the modern secular concept thereof. This short paper mainly aims at presenting some of the Islamic concept of human rights, briefly, so as to anser to the accusation on this reoard. For doing so it is felt imperative to bring forward a little information about the secular concept of human rights as well.

Human Rights: what it is?
It is a power or authority that a citizen of a particular state enjoys under the purview of law. There are differences of opinion among the secular philosophers with regard to the inception of human rights. For example, according to sociological, naturalist and positivist theory; the right of man first born in a social practices and norms of individual in a society. Once such practices receive the recognition of concerned legal body or state then it transforms in to a law - hence a right.

Some of the early documents of the of human rights in secular west are Magna Carta (MC) 1215, Bill of Rights of England 1679, Bill of Rights of America 1791. It is claimed that the Magna Carta played a decisive role for …individual rights for all. However, this notion is to be refuted here, firstly the MC was not the ancient document for human rights; secondly, it was a partial and defective document. Because it had simply secured the rights of the baron - the upper class citizen of England of that time. Moreover, it failed to address man and woman equal in many cases. As Article 34 of the document provides:

"No man shall be taken or imprisoned upon the appeal of a woman for the death of any one other than her husband.

United States of America (USA) claims to be the champion and self declared leader of human rights despite the fact that the first document of the said right appeared in the history of the USA in 1791 only with the declaration of Bill of Rights of America. The said right was also faulty for many reasons. Such as, it did not provide freedom of religion. The right to freedom of religion was approved only with the 10th amendment of its constitution. Prior to that, it provided a sect of Christianity, of Puritanians, as the sate religion and non observance of that religion was made subject to capital punishment. As the Virginian Code provides:

"Any one who speaks maliciously against the doctrine of Christian faith shall be punished with death for blaspheming God and His religion".


Islamic Concept of Human Rights
Human rights in Islam is as ancient as the Islam perse. It is at least 1326 years ahead of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. Al Quran and al Sunnah are the main sources of human rights. However, an official declaration of human rights was promulgated by the prophet Muhammad Slm., in the year 623 when he declared the Charter or Constitution of Madina. Dr. Hamidullah, an Indian origin Muslim settled in French, claimed that this is the first written Constitution of the World. The charter of Madina has been the practical demonstration of al Quran and al Sunnah. This has been evident that the journey of Islamic Constitutional government and human rights therein is as early as the Islamic political system is.

As regards the beginning of human rights in Islam M. Makki, an Omani representative in the United Nations wrote:

"The basic concept and principles of h}man rights have, from the very beginning, been embodied in Islamic law."

This is about the first journey of human rights, now it is deemed fit to say about some rights that Islam guaranteed for the humanity.

There is quite big number of rights |hat Islamic law identified and ouaranteed. Some of them would be presented here without much explanation. Here are very brief analyses about the rights mentioned and guaranteed in Islam. I would bring one or two evidences only from al Quran or Hadith so as to prove that the root of these rights are available in the form of revealed texts.

Right to Life
Life is the most precious thing in human life. No body, in Islam, is allowed to kill himself or another person without any just cause. As Allah Ta`ala says: "Nor take life which Allah makes sacred except for just cause and if any one is slain wrongfully, We give his heir authority to demand retaliation.

Right to be Free from Persecution
To enjoy a peaceful life one has to be free from persecution of others and maltreatment. Islam guarantees this right by awarding serious punishment against the offenders. As Allah Ta`ala says: And those who annoy men and women undeservedly they bear on themselves a calumny and glaring sin"

Right to Equality and Equal Treatment of Law
All men are the children of Adam and Adam is created out of dust. Hence, men are the slaves as well as vicegerent of Allah on earth. All have the same honor and dignity. It means no man is allowed to maltreat and undermine the others without any lawful cause. As Allah Swt,. Says: O mankind! We have created you from a single pair of man and woman and made you into nations and tribes that you know each other."As regards equality the Messenger of Allah say, Al nasu sawasiatun ke asnan al misht.(Sunan Ibn Majah, Al Hadith). It mean the man is equal like the teeth of a comb.

Right to Privacy
Every body has the right to live with his or her privacy. No body is allowed to violate it by causing slander, backbiting, false accusation, libeling, peeping etc. Islam even prohibits entering into the house of others without the permission of the owner. As Allah Ta`ala says: O you who believe! Enter not into the house of others than your own un|il permission is given. If no permission then enter not." House is a secluded place, therefore, possibility of committing wrong remains there.

Right to Food, Shelter, Property, Cloth, Healthcare and Education
Islam wants a life to be honorable and dignified in this world. As such, it guarantees right to food by imposing obligation on the rich to share their food with the poor and less fortunate people. Cloth is a means of decoration as well as protection from seasonal effect. Islam provides the right to cloth. Education is one of the most essential and important right. Islamic law imposed obligation on each and every Muslim man and woman to acquire education. As the Messenger of Allah says: Seeking of knowledge is obligatory on both Muslim man and woman."

Right to Fair Justice
Doing justice and having justice is a cardinal principle of Islamic law. Islam strictly prohibits of doing injustice and commands to secure justice in all matters including litigations. As Allah Ta`ala says:

"O you who believe! Stand out firmly for Allah as witness to fair dealing and let not the hatred of others make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just that is next to piety."

Right to be innocent till the Guilt is proven
A person may be labeled as accused of an offence by a relevant authority but he is presumed to be innocent until proven guilty by qualified court law or board. Under Islamic law no body shall be held responsible for the offence of the others. As Allah Ta`ala says: "Every soul will be held in pledge for its own deed (and not for the deeds of the other.")

Right to Freedom of Religion and Conscience
Acceptance of religious belief is a matter heart. No body in Islamic law is allowed to accept or change his or her religion by force. Islam strictly prohibits forceful conversion. As Allah Swt., says: "There is no compulsion in religion and Nor you will worship that which I worship. To you be your way and to me mine."

Right to Association, Assembly and Speech
Association is to organize themselves for good cause. Allah Ta`ala authorizes it. As He says: " And hold fast the cord of Allah and be not divided among yourselves. Assembly is to explain the philosophy of association, which are correlated. Islam permits it within the purview of law. As Allah Swt., says: When you are told to make room in the assembly make it." Association and assembly is to be useless without the right of speech or expression. Islamic law authorizes each and every citizen to express their opinion within the purview of law and morality." As the Messenger of Allah say: Speak the truth even though it is unpleasant and best jihad is to speak the truth in front of an oppressive ruler."

In fact concept of human rights itself is a big and wide topic. It is impractical to write details of it in a single short space. Hoever, an attempt is made here to bring forward some of the idea of human rights both in Islam and secular law.

The author is an Associate Professor in the Department of Law and Justice of Southeast University, Dhaka.


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