Where Are Human Rights in the Quran? (Part 2)

Freedom & Knowledge in Islam:
The greatest guarantee of personal freedom for a Muslim lies in the Quranic decree that no one other than God can limit human freedom.

Part 1  -  Part 3

In Part 1, we discussed the rights of life, respect, and justice.

This part continues the discussion on human rights in the Quran. 

Right to Freedom 


Islam is deeply concerned about liberating human beings from any kind of bondage.


God is aware of the human tendency toward dictatorship and despotism. Thus, in the Glorious Quran, which Muslims believe is the word of God, we can read what means, 


{It is not (possible) for any human being that Allah should give him the Book and wisdom and prophethood and then he should say to humankind, "Be my servants rather than Allah's," but (he would say), "Be you faithful servants of the Lord by virtue of your constant teaching of the Book and of your constant studying thereof."} (3:79) 


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 Quran insist that slaves should be treated in a just and humane way, but also it continually urged the freeing of slaves.


In the context of treating slaves humanely, God says what means: 


{And serve Allah. Ascribe nothing as partner unto Him. (Show) kindness unto parents, and unto near kindred, and orphans, and the needy, and into the neighbor who is of kin (unto you) and the neighbor who is not of kin and the fellow traveller and the wayfarer and (the slaves) whom your right hands possess. Lo! Allah loveth not such as are proud and boastful.}  (4:36) 


By enjoining Muslims to free the prisoners of war (either by an act of grace or in return for a ransom), the Quran virtually abolished slavery, as most slaves were prisoners of war. 


{And afterward either grace or ransom till the war lay down its burdens.}  (47:4) 


In fact, the Quran does not explicitly state that slavery is to be abolished. However, it does not follow that it is to be continued, particularly in view of the numerous ways in which the Quran seeks to eliminate this absolute evil. 


one other than God can limit human freedom

A book that does not give a king or a prophet the right to command absolute obedience from another human could not possibly sanction slavery in any sense of the word. 


The greatest guarantee of personal freedom for a Muslim lies in the Quranic decree that no one other than God can limit human freedom. 


{Or have they partners (of Allah) who have made lawful for them in religion that which Allah allowed not?} (42:21) 


This guarantee also lies in the following statement: 


{Judgment rests with Allah alone.} (12:40) 


The Quranic proclamation that:


{There is no compulsion in religion.} (2:256), guarantees freedom of religion and worship. This means that, according to the Quranic teachings, non-Muslims living in Muslim territories should have the freedom to follow their own religious beliefs and traditions without intimidation or harassment. 


A number of Quranic verses clearly state that the responsibility of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was to convey the message of God, not to compel anyone to believe in it. The right to exercise free choice in matters of belief is unambiguously endorsed in the Quran. 


{And say, "(It is) the truth from the Lord of you (all)," so let those who please believe, and let those who please disbelieve.}  (18:29) 


In the Quran, the right to religious freedom is recognized, not only in the case of other believers in God, but also in the case of unbelievers in God (if they are not aggressive toward Muslims). 


{And do not revile those whom they call upon besides Allah, lest they wrongfully revile Allah out of ignorance. Thus unto every people have We made their deeds seem fair; then to their Lord shall be their return, so He will inform them of what they did.}  (6:108) 


Standing up for the truth is a right and a responsibility

This right to freedom includes the right to be free to tell the truth. The Quranic term for truth is haqq, which is also one of God's attributes. Standing up for the truth is a right and a responsibility that a Muslim may not disclaim even in the face of the greatest danger or difficulty.


{O you who believe! Be you staunch in justice, witnesses for Allah, even though it be against yourselves or (your) parents or (your) kindred, whether (the case be of) a rich man or a poor man, for Allah is nearer unto both (than you are). So follow not passion lest you lapse (from truth) and if you lapse or fall away, then lo! Allah is ever informed of what you do.}  (4:135) 


While the Quran commands believers to testify to the truth, it also instructs society not to harm those testifying to it. 


{And have witnesses when you sell one to another, and let no harm be done to scribe or witness. If you do (harm to them) lo! it is a sin in you.} (2:282)  


Right to Privacy 


The need for privacy as a human right is recognized in the Quran.


The Quran also lays down rules for protecting an individual's life at home from undue intrusion from within or without.  


{O you who believe! Enter not houses other than your own without first   announcing your presence and invoking peace upon the folk thereof. That is better for you, that you may be heedful.} (24:27) 


In this verse God directs the Muslims to high politeness by ordering them not to enter other people's houses directly without a permission to keep and respect their privacy. Moreover, Islam considers the privacy among the members of the same house. 


God says in the Quran what means, 


{O you who believe! Let your slaves, and those of you who have not come to puberty, ask leave of you at three times (before they come into your presence): Before the prayer of dawn, and when you lay aside your raiment for the heat of noon, and after the prayer of night. Three times of privacy for you. It is no sin for them or for you at other times, when some of you go round attendant upon others (if they come into your presence without leave). Thus Allah maketh clear the revelations for you. Allah is Knower, Wise. And when the children among you come to puberty then let them ask leave even as those before them used to ask it. Thus Allah maketh clear His revelations for you. Allah is knower, Wise.} (24:58-9) 


In these two verses, God orders the movements of the house members inside the house as a respect of each one's privacy. 


Slander, Backbiting, & Ridicule 


The Quran also states that no person is to be maligned on grounds of assumed guilt.

In the Quran, the right to protection from defamation, sarcasm, offensive nicknames, and backbite is also recognized: 


{O you who believe! Let not a folk deride a folk who may be better than they (are), nor let women (deride) women who may be better than they are; neither defame one another, nor insult one another by nicknames. Bad is the name of lewdness after faith. And whoso turneth not in repentance, such are evil doers. O you who believe! Shun much suspicion; for lo! some suspicion is a crime. And spy not, neither backbite one another. Would one of you love to eat the flesh of his dead brother? You abhor that (so abhor the other)! And keep your duty (to Allah). Lo! Allah is Relenting, Merciful.} (49:11–2) 


The Quran also states that no person is to be maligned on grounds of assumed guilt. It warns that those who engage in malicious scandal-mongering will be grievously punished in both this world and the next. God says in the Quran:


{When ye welcomed it with your tongues, and uttered with your mouths that whereof ye had no knowledge, ye counted it a trifle. In the sight of Allah it is very great. Wherefore, when ye heard it, said ye not: It is not for us to speak of this. Glory be to Thee (O Allah) ; This is awful calumny. Allah admonisheth you that ye repeat not the like thereof ever, if ye are (in truth) believers. And He expoundeth unto you His revelations. Allah is knower, Wise. Lo! those who love that slander should be spread concerning those who believe, theirs will be a painful punishment in the world and the Hereafter. Allah knoweth. Ye know not.} (24:15–9) 


God urges throughout that human beings should treat one another with sensitivity and compassion for He says in the Quran: 


{Allah does not love the public utterance of hurtful speech unless (it be) by one to whom injustice has been done, and Allah is Hearing, Knowing. If you do good openly or do it in secret or pardon an evil, then surely Allah is Pardoning, Powerful.}  (4:148–49) 


Acquiring Knowledge 


According to the Quranic perspective, knowledge is a prerequisite for the creation of a just world

The Quran puts great emphasis on the importance of acquiring knowledge. Knowledge has been at the core of the Islamic world view from the very beginning.


The following verses were the first revelation to be received by Prophet Muhammad: 


{Read in the name of your Lord, Who created .He created man from a clot. Read and your Lord is Most Honorable. He Who taught (to write) with the pen — taught man what he knew not.} (96:1–5) 


The following verse is asking rhetorically if those with knowledge can be equal to those without knowledge, 


{Say, "Are those who know and those who do not know alike? Only those of understanding are mindful.} (39:9) 


God exhorts believers to pray for advancement in knowledge:


{…and say: My Lord! Increase me in knowledge.} (20:114) 


According to the Quranic perspective, knowledge is a prerequisite for the creation of a just world in which authentic peace can prevail.


The Quran emphasizes the importance of the pursuit of learning even during times of war. God says in the Quran what means,


{And the believers should not go out to fight all together. Of every troop of them, only a party should go forth that they (who are left behind) may gain sound knowledge in religion and that they may warn their folk when they return to them, so that they may beware.}  (9:122)

This article was first published at irfi.org. It is republished here with kind permission.
First Published: June 2009
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