Purdah and Veiling

Islam and Human Rights

51Review of Religions – September 2002 It is a sad fact that generations of European writers have presented Islam to the Western audience in the most negative manner. In the works of an overwhelming major- ity of European writers, Islam is portrayed as a religion with deep moral faults, preaching violence and extremism. Admittedly from time to time a fresh start has been attempted by some fair-minded We s t e r n Europeans ready to look at the religion of Islam with objectivity and honesty. However, more often than not, their views are negated by overwhelming negative publicity in the media. September 11th, 2001 is still fresh in our minds. This awesome tragedy perpetrated by a few fanatics for their political gains had nothing whatsoever to do with Islam. Many decent people around the world who saw the event unfold in front of their eyes on TV screens felt the same way, irrespective of their religious b a c k g r o u n d . No true Muslim can ever condone this act of terrorism. Islam expressly forbids suicide, genocide, fratricide and any killing of innocent people. Sanctity of life is guaranteed in Islam as laid down in Article 3 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights: ‘Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.’ Suicide bombing and related acts of terrorism have no place in the Islamic teachings and whoever uses the name of Islam to justify such acts, commits a calumny of grossest proportions. September 11th took our politi- cians by complete surprise and their initial reaction was of uncertainty and confusion. Various statements were made in the heat of the moment and later withdrawn. Luckily, the general public is much more mature and not as gullible as the media thinks and they refused to believe every word that was printed in the media or uttered by the politicians. They want to know the truth and they want to know about Islam. The new awareness of the people imposes a great responsibility on us that we Islam and Human Rights Rafiq Hayat – Amir UK 52 Review of Religions – September 2002 Islam and Human Rights furnish them with honest information about the true Islam. All the histories of civilisation written in the Western media mention a thousand years as Dark Ages, conveniently omitting that during that period the Islamic civilisation had brought about a tremendous revolution in all spheres of life. The arts, philosophy, humanities, sciences and medicine flourished in that age, from which the later civilisations benefited. The same is true with the issue of human rights. World history records that December 10th 1948 was a landmark in the march of human civilisation when the United Nations proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. No one can deny the credit that is due to the United Nations because it was the first time ever when the consensus of the contemporary nations of the world, for once unanimously agreed to give the dignity and assurance to human race that they possess inviolable funda- mental rights. With 30 articles, this Charter is one of the most comprehensive in assuring the equality of man without any prejudice to colour, creed and race. 1400 years ago, Allah A l m i g h t y, through His Divine Commandments revealed the most comprehensive Charter of Human Rights in the Holy Qur’an through the Prophet of Islam (sa). It is impossible in such a short article to quote the Qur’ a n i c injunctions to show that all 30 Articles of the Declaration have been mentioned in detail. Let us take the very fundamental Articles 1 and 2 that lay stress on the freedom, equality and dignity of man. It is a unique feature of Islam that it holds all faiths in respect and reverence. Islam bases itself on the truth that the Divine guidance has been promised to man throughout the ages. Muslims believe that all great faiths had the same divine origin and must therefore be respected. Belief and respect of all the past prophets of God is part of faith for every Muslim. Allah Almighty says in the Holy Qur’an: Say ye! We believe in Allah and what has been revealed to us and what was revealed to Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac and Jacob and his children, and what was given 53Review of Religions – September 2002 Islam and Human Rights to Moses and Jesus and what was given to all the Prophets from their Lord. We make no difference between any of them and to Him we submit ourselves. (Ch.2: v.137) Again the Holy Qur’an stresses: And We caused Jesus, son of M a r y, to follow in their footsteps, fulfilling that which was revealed before him in the Torah; and We gave him the Gospel which contained guidance and light, fulfilling that which was revealed before it in the Torah… (Ch.5: v.47) Belief in all the Holy Books stresses the common origin of man having been created by the common Creator and the diversity that we observe all around us is part of the Divine Design and is, indeed, an expression of Divine Wisdom. The Holy Qur’an says: And among His Signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth and the diversity of your tongues and colours. In that surely are Signs for those who possess knowledge. (Ch.30: v.23) This diversity reflects the richness in Allah’s creation and must not be seen as an indication of inferiority, which confers special privileges to some at the expense of others. O mankind, We have created you from a male and a female and We have made you into tribes and sub-tribes that you may recognise one another. Ve r i l y, the most honourable among you in the sight of Allah is he who is the most righteous among you. Surely Allah is All-Knowing, All- Aware. (Ch.49: v.14) Part of diversity in the divine scheme is the diversity of man’s intellect. This leads, among other things to diversity of faith and creed. This has often been considered a source of conflict. If we follow the Qur’anic teachings, this conflict should not arise. No compulsion is permissible in so vital a matter as the funda- mentals of faith. It is part of the dignity with which man has been endowed by his Maker that his conscience must be free. By its very nature, it cannot be compelled. It is proclaimed by the Holy Qur’an unequivocally: 54 Review of Religions – September 2002 Islam and Human Rights There should be no compulsion in religion. S u r e l y, right has become distinct from wrong. (Ch.2: v.257) And say, ‘It is the truth is from your Lord; wherefore let him who will, believe, and let him who will, disbelieve. (Ch.18: v.30) S u r e l y, if anyone rejects the truth, he suffers the disadvantage. But whatever disadvantage he may suffer, he cannot be forced in the matter of his choice. This is the most fundamental freedom given 1400 years ago; and if there is to be any hope of peace between mankind, this freedom must be scrupulously observed. The Holy Qur’an goes so far in establishing this freedom that it proclaims that even God Himself, Who indeed possesses the power to do so, would not force anyone in the matter of conscience. Whatever a person does in this respect must come from his free choice. Let me, therefore, send this message to all the Muslim countries who deny this funda- mental injunction of Allah Almighty, that they should revise their policies. Otherwise they lose the right to call themselves Muslim nations. It is an enduring characteristic of the Holy Qur’an and Islamic teachings that all issues are addressed at the very funda- mental and basic levels: equality of man, freedom of thought, freedom of faith etc. The Holy Qur’an repeatedly draws atten- tion towards the ties of kinship binding humanity together in having created mankind of one species. The spirit of brotherhood is emphasised again and again and shows from the repeated injunctions of the Holy Prophet(sa) himself. He is recorded as saying, ‘None of you can be a believer unless he desires for his brother what he desires for himself.’ He urged his followers, ‘Go to the aid of your brother whether he be oppressor or oppressed.’ On being asked how an oppressor may be helped, he replied, ‘Stop him from his course of oppression.’ Similarly Islam deals with other issues. Islam gives everyone the right to life, liberty and security. As mentioned earlier, Islam forbids suicide and infanticide. 55Review of Religions – September 2002 Islam and Human Rights The sanctity of life of other persons can be measured from the verse of the Holy Qur’an: On account of this, We prescribed for the children of Israel that whosoever killed a person… it shall be as if he had killed all mankind; and whoso gave life to one, it shall be as if he had given life to all mankind. (Ch.5: v.33) The rights of orphan are preserved as well as of other relatives. The Holy Prophet(sa) of Islam, in his last address at the occasion of the Farewell Pilgrimage in the plains of Arafat, advised and admonished, ‘ Your persons, your properties and your honours are declared sacred like the sanctity attached to this day, this month and this place. Let them not be violated!’ (Hanbal V, p411) This farewell address of the Holy Prophet(sa) is a complete Charter of Human Rights stressing the equality of man irrespective of colour, creed or race. It lays down the duties and obligation of one person towards the other and even the obligations of the State towards its people. When he concluded his address, he charged all those present to convey what he had said to those who were unable to hear him. In his words, ‘Maybe, one who is not present today may even be more mindful than the one who is.’ His address is considered as his testament and because of his instructions and the contents of this address, wide publicity continues to be given. Article 4 of the Charter prohibits slavery and slave trade. From the very beginning, the Holy Prophet of Islamsa looked at the slavery and slave trade with distaste and abhorrence and he took the strongest measures to eliminate this loathsome practice. One needs to look at the historical, political and social perspective before realising the importance of abolition of this form of servitude from the society of the 7th century. The Holy Qur’an is replete with injunctions about the abhorrence of slavery and the rights of prisoners of war. Even making war on others is strictly forbidden except when it is in defence to repel or halt the aggression. Even during the fighting, Muslims are forbidden to use unduly aggressive means. Fight in the cause of Allah against those who fight 56 Review of Religions – September 2002 Islam and Human Rights against you but do not transgress. Surely, Allah loves not the transgressors. (Ch.2: v.191) Muslims are often portrayed as violent and war mongering. The fact is that Muslims are only permitted to take up arms in defence of freedom of conscience and when their rights are violated. As the Holy Qur’an lays down: Permission to fight is given to those against whom war is made, because they have been wronged – and Allah indeed has power to help them – those who have been driven out from their homes unjustly, only because they said, ‘Our Lord is Allah’. And if Allah did not repel some men by means of others, there would surely have been pulled down cloisters and churches and synagogues and mosques wherein the name of Allah is oft commemorated. And Allah will surely help one who helps Him. Allah is indeed powerful, Mighty. (Ch.22: v.40-41) Muslims never indulge in war mongering. They are only allowed to defend themselves. Their J i h a d is always a defensive war against those who declare war on them. S i m i l a r l y, Islam lays down the laws about dispensation of justice. It lays down duties for the litigants and strict rules for the Judges. Islam provides safeguards against the arbitrary use of executive or adminis- trative power. There are checks and balances in every dimension of life that has been covered by the Articles of the Charter of Human Rights. Article 16 of the Declaration elaborates on the rights of men and women. I would like to dilate on the distorted European view of the position of women in Islam. It is erroneously presumed that women have no rights in a Muslim society or that they are somehow considered inferior. The Holy Pr o p h e t( s a ) consulted his wife Hadhrat Khadija(ra) and his later wives and his daughters once they had grown up, on all aspects of Islamic community and they acted as advisors to the new converts. They engaged alongside men in the public observance of religious rituals and worshipped together with men in the mosque. Women accompanied their husbands, fathers and 57Review of Religions – September 2002 Islam and Human Rights brothers in the battlefield against the enemies of Islam. There is no question that the first Muslim community under the guidance of the Holy Prophet(sa) was built by men and women. The Holy Qur’an unequivocally gives spiritual equality: S u r e l y, men who submit themselves to God and women who submit them- selves to Him, and believing men and believing women, and obedient men and obedient women, and truth- ful men and truthful women, and men steadfast in their faith and steadfast women, and men who are humble and women who are humble, and men who give alms and women who give alms, and men who fast and women who fast, and men who guard their chastity and women who guard their chastity, and men who remember Allah much and women who remember Him – Allah has prepared for all of them forgiveness and a great reward. (Ch.33: v.36) Muslim women were given the entitlements to those rights 1400 years ago that have been laid down in Article 16 of the Charter. They were entitled to ownership and were permitted to inherit property and wealth in their own rights without any encumbrance. This facility was denied to women of Europe until recently. Muslim women were granted equal rights of consent in the matter of their marriage and divorce. In fact women are considered equal in all respects. All this is fully realised in the Canon Law. But God, in His wisdom has equipped them differently for the fulfilment of their role in the society. In structure and physique, man is stronger than woman, who is more delicate and possesses greater s e n s i t i v i t y. Were it not so there would have been little cause of attraction between the two. As Allah says in the Holy Qur’ a n : And one of His Signs is this, that He has created wives for you from among yourselves that you may find peace of mind in them, and He has put love and tenderness between you. In that surely are Signs for a people who reflect. (Ch.30: v.22) The measure that has been taken by the Europeans to be the symbol of women’s inferior status is the veil. Special rules applied 58 Review of Religions – September 2002 Islam and Human Rights to the wives of the Holy Prophet(sa) against the intrusion of the curious, but for women in general, the Holy Qur’an says simply that they should draw their head-dress over their bosoms or pull close to themselves part of their dresses when in presence of men from outside their family. And say to the believing women that they restrain their eyes and guard their private parts, and they not display their beauty and embellishments except that which is apparent thereof, and that they draw their head covers over their bosoms, and that they display not their beauty and embellishment save to their husbands… (Ch.24: v. 32) O Prophet! tell your wives and your daughters, and the women of the believers, that they should pull down upon them of their outer cloaks from their heads over their faces. That is more likely that they may thus be recognised and not molested. And Allah is Most Forgiving, Merciful. (Ch.33: v. 60) The wording and commandments amount to little more than a requirement to dress modestly – something, it must be added, is expected of men as well: Say to the believing men that they restrain their eyes and guard their private parts. That is purer for them. Surely, Allah is well aware of what they do. (Ch. 24: v. 31) Another issue is Article 25 of the Declaration. It declares that everyone has a right to a standard of living adequate and worthy of human dignity including food, clothing, housing, sanitation and medical care. Although the society has set up institutions to overcome poverty and disparity among different nations, among the affluent and the destitute, the gap has widened and created an unpleasant divide between the so-called North and South. In the 1 9 6 0 ’s our hopes were raised when Premier Heath and Chancellor Kohl took this initiative within the European Union to close this gap. However, almost twenty-five years later the situation has only deteriorated and the gap has increased. The poor nations, instead of pros- pering, have been weighed down 59Review of Religions – September 2002 Islam and Human Rights with interest incurred on their debts. There are too many reasons for the defective or rather ineffective result of these aids and assistance. Developed countries have double standards and tend to exploit poor nations through their aid programs. Some of the problems in Africa, especially where they experience drought, can be resolved simply and with minimal expenditure. A British MP has mentioned of his visit to Burkina Faso that he was surprised to see the projects being undertaken by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in remote areas where we are installing tube wells to supply water for irrigation projects. Each well costs approximately $3000 and can support up to 300 individuals. Therefore, if the West truly wanted to assist poor drought ridden African countries surely as an initial step, they should be investing in such projects rather than sending sacks of maize stamped with USA just to get media attention. If politicians are sincere then they should divert attention to these basic requirements of the third world and unless we can address this inequity and provide proper aid, we would continue to see conflict in the world. Islam put the first effective concept of the Welfare State. Within a few years of the organisation of the first Islamic State, the provisions of basic necessities were assured. The Holy Pr o p h e t ’s( s a ) exhortations and his own example had infused a sense of brotherhood that sharing everything, even in the face of a d v e r s i t y, became a unique Muslim characteristic. The Holy Q u r’an bears witness to this practice. Of the Ansars of Medina and early refugee settlers, it says: And those who had established their homes in this city before them and had accepted faith, love those who come to them for refuge and find not in their breasts any desire for that which is given them…… (Ch.59: v.10) It is the measure of this remarkable sharing and brotherliness that by the time of the Abbasid Khilafat, there was hardly anyone in the Islamic Empire, Muslim or non-Muslim, who was in need of any charity. This revolution is indeed the proof 60 Review of Religions – September 2002 Islam and Human Rights of the effectiveness of the Islamic values, as laid down in the Holy Q u r’an and explained by the Holy Pr o p h e t(sa). The basic objectives of this Article can be achieved at macro level to a high degree under Islamic teachings. Sharing, rather than lending on high interest and aiding by educating and relieving poverty by building infrastructure for essential supplies would be the answer. There are 30 Articles in the Charter of Human Rights but they cover only certain aspects of human life and man’s relationship with man. But all this requires legislation, administrative and judicial powers to be imple- mented. Religion goes far beyond these limited ideals. Religion tries to concern itself with totality of life – life in this world and in the Hereafter. The religion of Islam addresses the problems of man more comprehensively than ordinary declarations can. The Holy Qur’an, in dealing with all issues of life is unique in that its treasures are inexhaustible. The Holy Qur’an rightly claims: And if all the trees that are in the earth were pens and the ocean were ink, with seven oceans swelling it thereafter, the words of Allah would not be exhausted…. (Ch.31: v.28) The message of the Holy Qur’an is for all times and for all people. That is why Allah has promised to safeguard and preserve the message. The Holy Prophet of I s l a m( s a ) realised that the message, however compre- hensive and pristine, may get distorted by human short- comings. That is why he gave the assurance that Allah would continue to raise someone among his people, at the beginning of each century, to revive and resurrect the faith. The Holy Qur’an also assures us: He it is Who has raised among the Unlettered people a Messenger from among them- selves who recites unto them His Signs and purifies them and teaches them the Book and wisdom, although they had been, before, in manifest misguidance. And among others from among them who have not yet joined them. He is the Mighty, the Wise. That is Allah’s Grace; He bestows it on whom He pleases; and 61Review of Religions – September 2002 Islam and Human Rights Allah is the Master of immense grace. (Ch.62: v.3-5) The verse forecasts the advent of a prophet among the Muslims. This prophecy was fulfilled in the person of Hadhrat Ahmad(as) of Qadian, who under Divine revelation claimed himself to be the Promised Messiah, the Awaited One, in all religions. Thus his advent fulfilled the promised rebirth of Islam as described in the Holy Qur’an: And among His Signs is this: that you see the earth dried up, but when We send down water on it, it stirs and swells with verdure. Surely, He Who quickened it, can quicken the dead. Verily He has power over all things. (Ch.41: v.40) We notice the growth of verdure in the Islamic world, indeed in the whole world and perceptible and imperceptible changes have been taking place. Islamic society has a long way to go before it can claim to observe all the articles of human rights as laid down in the Holy Qur’an. That change will come about not with force, not with coercion, not with violence but with love, with persuasion and with a change of heart. This is the mission entrusted to the Pr o m i s e d M e s s i a h( a s ). The message of the Holy Prophet of Islam( s a ) was of friendship and unity. Similarly the message of the Pr o m i s e d M e s s i a h( a s ) is one of love and amity and hatred does not feature in the plans of Islamic revival. We respect the freedom of conscience of people belonging to any religion – Sikhism, Hinduism, Christianity or Judaism. But there is a message for others as well. It is high time that confrontation gave way to mutual respect and tolerance. Unless the West begins to form a more sympathetic and wholesome view of true Islam, the medieval rancour will continue, breeding hatred, violence and turmoil. If the West learns to respect the Holy Pr o p h e t( s a ) and the religion of Islam, it can hope to be respected in return. It is hoped this contribution will go some way towards the building of this understanding. All praise belongs to Allah, the Lord of the Universe. The author is the National President of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in the UK and the former Editor of the Review of Religions and the former Chairman of MTA International.