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A.S. El Dahab: Rights for Both Muslims and Non-Muslims

Published in Dialogue & Alliance, Spring/Summer 2010 issue

Human rights, affirmed by the Holy Qur’an, are basic rights in Islam enforced and protected by law, authority, and all concerned in the Islamic community.

Islam has dignified humanity in general. Allah says: “We have conferred dignity on the children of Adam, and borne them over land and sea, and provided for them sustenance out of the good things of life, and favored them far above the rest of our creation” (17:70).

Evidence of such dignification lies in the orders of Allah for the angels to prostrate themselves in worship of Adam. What distinguishes man above all creatures is his being blessed with a mind, a tool of reasoning that enables humans to distinguish between good and evil. It is a blessing that Allah endowed humans with in order to establish justice and freedom and to pay respect to others in society.

We have to remove all obstacles that are in the way in order to lead a decent, free life. Injustice is a major obstacle hindering our implementation of what we have been ordered by Allah to do. Allah empowers those God-conscious worshipers: “As for that (happy) life, in the life to come, we grant it (only) to those who do not seek to exalt themselves on earth, nor yet to spread malevolence, for the future belongs to the God-conscious” (28:83).

Protecting human rights is a religious duty for every Muslim. Muslims believe that Allah (Praise the Lord!) created mankind in equality, with no distinction or privilege in terms of wealth, lineage, or descent: “O humanity! Be conscious of your Lord, Who has created you out of one living being, and out of him, created his mate, and out of the two, spread a multitude of men and women. And remain conscious of Allah, in Whose name you demand your rights from one another, and of these ties of kinship. Truly Allah is Ever Watchful over you” (4:1). And, “O humanity! Behold, We have created you all out of a male and a female, and have created you into nations and tribes, so that you might come to know one another. Truly the noblest of you in the sight of Allah is the one who is most deeply conscious of Allah. Behold, Allah is All-Knowing, All-Aware” (49:13).

In Islam, justice is not, and cannot, be only for Muslims. It includes non-Muslims as well. The Qur’an states: “Let there be no compulsion in religion. Truth stands out clear from error. Whoever rejects anything worshiped besides Allah and believes in Allah has grasped the most trustworthy handhold, that never breaks. And Allah hears and knows all things” (2:256).

[Source: Islamic Perspectives on Peace. Tarrytown, NY: Universal Peace Federation, 2006.]