23 March 2007

Transcript of Friday Sermon- Human Rights

Bismillahi ar-Rahmani ar-Raheem
In the Name of Allah, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful

The Quran states:
" O you who believe! Stand out firmly for Allâh as just witnesses and let not the enmity and hatred of others make you avoid justice. Be just: that is nearer to piety, and fear Allâh. Verily, Allâh is Well-Acquainted with what you do.." (5:8)

Since God is the absolute and the sole master of men and the universe, He is the sovereign Lord, the
Sustainer and Nourisher, the Merciful, Whose mercy enshrines all beings; and since He has given each man human dignity and honor, and breathed into him of His own spirit, it follows that, united in Him and through Him, and apart from their other human attributes, men are substantially the same and no tangible and actual distinction can be made among them, on account of their accidental differences such as nationality, colour or race. Every human being is thereby related to all others and all become one community of brotherhood in their honourable and pleasant servitude to the most compassionate Lord of the Universe.

Human Rights

Human rights refer to universal rights of human beings regardless of jurisdiction or other factors, such as ethnicity, nationality, religion, or sex.

When we speak of human rights in Islam we really mean that these rights have been granted by God; they have not been granted by any king or by any legislative assembly. The concept of human rights existed in Islam, long before they were formalised into documents, legislation and law.

In Islam human rights have been conferred by God, no legislative assembly in the world, or any government on earth has the right or authority to make any amendment or change in the rights conferred by God. No one has the right to abrogate them or withdraw them. Nor are they the basic human rights which are conferred on paper for the sake of show and exhibition and denied in actual life when the show is over. Nor are they like philosophical concepts which have no sanctions behind them.

Islam does not seek to restrict human rights or privileges to the geographical limits of its own state. Islam has laid down some universal fundamental rights for humanity as a whole, which are to be observed and respected under all circumstances, no matter where that person lives, or whether he is at peace or at war.

Human Rights violations and issues, there are so many:
Palestine, Iraq, Kashmir, Sudan, Zimbabwe and all over the world.
War against terrorism.
Slavery- new form of slavery. Corporate slavery. Looting Africa. Devastating effects of Capitalism.

I will attempt to touch on a few rights. And remember with rights come responsibilities. Consider what responsibilities go with these rights:

Right to Life
The Qur'an upholds the sanctity and absolute value of human life and points out that, in essence, the life of each individual is comparable to that of an entire community and, therefore, should be treated with the utmost care.

Right to Respect
The Qur'an deems all human beings to be worthy of respect because of all creation they alone chose to accept the "trust" of freedom of the will. Human beings can exercise freedom of the will because they possess the rational faculty, which is what distinguishes them from all other creatures. Though human beings can become "the lowest of the lowest", the Qur'an declares that they have been made "in the best of moulds", having the ability to think, to have knowledge of right and wrong, to do the good and to avoid the evil. Thus, on account of the promise which is contained in being human, namely, the potential to be God's vicegerent on earth, the humanness of all human beings is to be respected and considered to be an end in itself.

Right to Justice
The Qur'an puts great emphasis on the right to seek justice and the duty to do justice. In the context of justice, the Qur'an uses two concepts: "'adl" and "ihsan". Both are enjoined and both are related to the idea of "balance".

Right to Freedom
As stated earlier, the Qur'an is deeply concerned about liberating human beings from every kind of bondage. Recognizing the human tendency toward dictatorship and despotism, the Qur'an says with clarity and emphasis in Surah 3: Al-'Imran: 79:

It is not (possible) That a man, to whom Is given the Book, and Wisdom, And the Prophetic Office, Should say to people: "Be ye my worshippers Rather than Allah's" On the contrary (He would say): "Be ye worshippers Of Him Who is truly The Cherisher of all."

The institution of human slavery is, of course, extremely important in the context of human freedom. Slavery was widely prevalent in Arabia at the time of the advent of Islam, and the Arab economy was based on it. Not only did the Qur'an insist that slaves be treated in a just and humane way, but it continually urged the freeing of slaves.

Right to Acquire Knowledge
The Qur'an puts the highest emphasis on the importance of acquiring knowledge. That knowledge has been at the core of the Islamic world- view from the very beginning is attested to by Surah 96: Al'Alaq: 1-5, which Muslims believe to the first revelation received by the Prophet Muhammad.

Asking rhetorically if those without knowledge can be equal to those with knowledge, the Qur'an exhorts believers to pray for advancement in knowledge. The famous prayer of the Prophet Muhammad was "Allah grant me Knowledge of the ultimate nature of things" and one of the best known of all traditions ("ahadith") is "Seek knowledge even though it be in China."

According to Qur'anic perspective, knowledge is a prerequisite for the creation of a just world in which peace can prevail. The Qur'an emphasizes the importance of the pursuit of learning even at the time, and in the midst, of war.

Right to Sustenance
As pointed out in the Quran (Surah 11: Hud: 6), every living creature depends for its sustenance upon God. A cardinal concept in the Qur'an - which underlies the socio-economic-political system of Islam - is that the ownership of everything belongs, not to any person, but to God. Since God is the universal creator, every creature has the right to partake of what belongs to God. This means that every human being has the right to a means of living and that those who hold economic or political power do not have the right to deprive others of the basic necessities of life by misappropriating or misusing resources which have been created by God for the benefit of humanity in general.

Right to Work
According to Qur'anic teaching every man and woman has the right to work, whether the work consists of gainful employment or voluntary service. The fruits of labour belong to the one who has worked for them - regardless of whether it is a man or a woman. As Surah 4: An- Nisa': 32 states:
...to men Is allotted what they earn, And to women what they earn

Right to 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.

Right to Protection from Slander, Backbiting, and Ridicule
The Qur'an recognizes the right of human beings to be protected from defamation, sarcasm, offensive nicknames, and backbiting. It also states that no person is to be maligned on grounds of assumed guilt and that those who engage in malicious scandal-mongering will be grievously punished in both this world and the next.

Right to Develop One's Aesthetic Sensibilities and Enjoy the Bounties Created by God
As pointed out Muhammad Asad, "By declaring that all good and beautiful things to the believers, the Qu'ran condemns, by implication, all forms of life-denying asceticism, world- renunciation and self- mortification. 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 Qur'an.

Right to "The Good Life"
The Qur'an uphold the right of the human being only to life but to " the good life ". This good life, made up of many elements , becomes possible when a human being is living in a just environment. According to Qur'anic teaching, justice is a prerequisite for peace, and peace is a prerequisite for human development. In a just society, all the earlier-mentioned human rights may be exercised without difficulty. In such a society other basic rights such as the right to a secure place of residence, the right to the protection of one's personal possessions, the right to protection of one's covenants, the right to move freely, the right to social and judicial autonomy for minorities, the right to the protection of one's holy places and the right to return to one's spiritual center, also exist.

Rights of Women
Muslim men never tire of repeating that Islam has given more rights to women than has any other religion. Certainly, if by "Islam" is meant "Qur'anic Islam" the rights that it has given to women are, indeed, impressive. Not only do women partake of all the "General Rights", they are also the subject of much particular concern in the Qur'an. Underlying much of the Qur'an's legislation on women-related issues is the recognition that women have been disadvantaged persons in history to whom justice needs to be done by the Muslim "ummah". Unfortunately, however, the cumulative (Jewish, Christian, Hellenistic, Bedouin and other) biases which existed in the Arab-Islamic culture of the early centuries of Islam infiltrated the Islamic tradition and undermined the intent of the Qur'an to liberate women from the status of chattels or inferior creatures and make them free and equal to men.

A review of history and culture, both Muslim and not, brings to light many areas in which - Qur'anic teaching notwithstanding - women continued to be subjected to diverse forms of oppression and injustice, often in the name of Islam, while the Qur'an because of its protective attitude toward all downtrodden and oppressed classes of people, appears to be weighted in many ways in favour of women, many of its women- related teachings have been used in patriarchal Muslim societies against, rather than for, women.

Muslim societies, in general, appear to be far more concerned with trying to control women's bodies and sexuality than with their human rights. Many Muslims when they speak of human rights, either do not speak of women's rights at all, or are mainly concerned with how a women's chastity may be protected. (They are apparently not worried about protecting men's chastity).

South Africa- History:

Human Rights Day- after the fateful events of 21 March 1960 when demonstrators were gunned down by police.
The Native Laws Amendment Act of 1952 extended Government control over the movement of Africans to urban areas and abolished the use of the Pass Book (a document which Africans were required to carry on them to ‘prove’ that they were allowed to enter a ‘white area’) in favour of a reference book which had to be carried at all times by all Africans.
Failure to produce the reference book on demand by the police, was a punishable offence. The PAC proposed an anti-Pass campaign to start on 21 March 1960. All African men were to take part in the campaign without their passes and present themselves for arrest.
Campaigners gathered at police stations in townships near Johannesburg where they were dispersed by police. At the Sharpeville police station a scuffle broke out. Part of a wire fence was trampled, allowing the crowd to move forward. The police opened fire, apparently without having been given a prior order to do so. Sixty-nine people were killed and 180 wounded.
In apartheid South Africa this day became known as Sharpeville Day and although not part of the official calendar of public holidays the event was commemorated among anti-apartheid movements.

Almost 50 years later, this week, we once again remember those who lost their lives in the struggle against Apartheid. Those who lost their lives resisting oppression. Those who paid the ultimate price for our freedom.
We all know very well the evils of Apartheid- a system that ultimately denied people their basic human rights.

We are entitled to rights as I mentioned above- security, education, opportunities, food, shelter, water, the list is endless. And most of us, Alhumdulillah, have most of these. Now as I mentioned earlier- what level of responsibility comes with enjoying these rights?
And by not fulfilling these responsibilities, are we not shooting ourselves in the foot? We are all constantly affected by crime. We blame the government and the police. But lets ask ourselves, are we not part of the problem? Or, by us not fulfilling our responsibilities, are we delaying the solutions?

50 years after people died struggling for their rights, there are still people struggling. The face of the problem may have changed, but the problem is the same- we have large numbers of people who are daily being denied basic human rights- our neighbours. What are we doing to help them get their basic rights? Its our responsibility...


Zahira said...

as a nation that fought for basic human rights we continue to see the struggle within poour own country as well as in many other countries...
The question that I have to ask then is how is it we allow these atrocities to continue...
In terms of the government how can they sit back and not take a stance on a country like Zimbabwe...

queen_Lestat said...

Personally, I think it's our duty as human beings to treat everyone with the same rights and respect that we'd like to see ourselves treated with. I don't think we should have to be religiously or secularly ordained to do so. I think that deep down, we should be human enough to be humane.

SingleGuy said...

rights and ethics are very topical discussions. I'd like to throw something into the pot....does one have the right to be happy???

You say that the Quran entrenches the right to a good life....does that mean happyness?

Our constitution doesn't gaurantee happiness because it can't. Even the US constitution does not...they do however talk about the Pursuit of Happiness.

So if a good life can be equated with happiness....how can that be achieved?

Also if happiness is then a right in the Quran...then it reflects the superiority of the Quran to any man-made constitution. Another compelling reason for muslims and mankind in general to study and implement the lessons of the quran.

Bilal said...

how can we! we need to ask ourselves that question. But as I said on radio on sat- the first step is to recognise a problem. Then we commit to solving it- otherwise we just talk too much and nothing happens or ever changes!

I agree. And if it does not come from within, chances are it will never come- but I believe that the guidelines and boundaries are sought from the Quran. Coz really, people are all intrinsically good- but when we take for ourselves, and knowingly or un-knowingly, infringe on the rights of others; that's when we see what we are currently seeing. But point taken...

Yes, I believe that we have the right to be happy. And the Quran more than allowing us that, guides us towards that happiness.
Thanks for the excellent input- much appreciated...