I am continuing a series of blogs on human rights that I began in December: “Towards Human Rights.” The purpose of this blog series is to make the case for the implementation and acceptance of human rights as a global values system. It is based on my Human Rights: Towards a Universal Values System?
“…recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.” … Preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948
Towards Human Rights as a Global Values System, part 20
By Dr. Denise R. Ames
A History and Philosophy of Human Rights, Islam, Part 1 Islam is one of the three monotheistic religions, along with Christianity and Judaism that
trace their roots to the patriarch Abraham. The religion is based on the teachings found in the Qur’an (Koran), believed by followers to be the exact words of Allah (God) as revealed to the Arab prophet Muhammad (570-632 CE) through a messenger, the angel Gabriel. Muhammad did not write the Qur’an, but his companions reportedly wrote down his recitations while he was alive.
Qur’an, meaning recitation, is divided into 114 suras or chapters and contains 6,236 verses. The earlier suras are primarily concerned with ethical and spiritual topics, while the later suras mostly discuss social and moral issues important to the Muslim community. The Qur’an is more concerned with moral guidance than legal teachings, and believers look to it as the sourcebook of Islamic principles and values. A follower of Islam is a Muslim, meaning “one who submits” to God.
Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world today with 1.3 billion followers and a growth rate of 1.84 percent per year. It is the second largest religion in the world, after Christianity. The Five Pillars of Islam found in the Qur’an represent the core practices that each member of the faith follows.
The Five Pillars of Islam
- Faith, recited as “There is no God but Allah; Muhammad is His prophet.”
- Pray five times daily facing Mecca (a city in Saudi Arabia).
- Almsgiving, or giving to the poor.
- Fasting during the holy month of Ramadan.
- Pilgrimage to Mecca, if possible, once a lifetime. End]
The Qur’an, like many of the religious texts before it, does not directly address human rights. Rather, it calls attention to the fact that all rights come from God through the prophets. Therefore, human rights in Islam are clearly rights that God has granted; they are not necessarily rights granted by the government.
The Constitution of Medina, drafted by Muhammad in 622, was an early document that set out rights for Muhammad’s community. It was a formal agreement between Muhammad and the city of Medina, including Muslims, Jews, and those who practiced indigenous religions. Muhammad drew up the document to bring an end to the bitter fighting between tribes.
It spelled out a number of rights and responsibilities for the different religious communities of Medina in order to bring them within the fold of one community. One of the significant rights was that the community would protect freedom of religion, and Medina would serve as a sacred place, barring all violence and weapons.
In the field of human rights, early Islamic judges introduced a number of legal concepts before the 12th century that helped shape the field of human rights known today. These included charity, brotherhood, human self-respect, the dignity of labor; the notion of an ideal law; the condemnation of antisocial behavior, the presumption of innocence, fair contracts, freedom from usury (interest on loans), women’s rights, privacy, individual freedom, equality before the law, legal representation, supremacy of the law, independence of judges, tolerance, and democratic participation.
The life and property of all citizens in an Islamic state are sacred, whether a person is Muslim or not. Islam also protects honor, so in Islam, insulting others or making fun of them is prohibited.
About the Author:
Dr. Denise R. Ames is a long-time educator, grade 7-university, author of seven books, and president of an educational non-profit, Center for Global Awareness, based in Albuquerque, New Mexico. CGA provides books, resources, and services with a holistic, global- focused, and perspective-taking approach for their three programs: Global Awareness for Educators, books and resources for educators and students grade 9-university; Gather, Global Awareness Through Engaged Reflection, a self-organizing study and conversation program for adults focusing on seeing different perspectives of pressing global issues; and their most recent program Turn, Transformative Understanding and Reflection Network, which encourages lifelong and transformative learning to help us arrive at a place of personal and global well-being using a seven “path” approach.
For more information about the topic of human rights see Dr. Ames’ book Human Rights: Towards a Global Values System, $17.95, 225 pgs. Also available on Amazon.