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Islam on Human Rights
By: Professor Maqsood Jafri



The other day I read a book entitled “Islam for Dummies,” written by an American scholar, Professor Malcolm Clark.  It is indeed a praiseworthy effort.  He taught in the Department of Religion at Butler University for 30 years. The problem with the author, however, is that he exhibits only superficial understanding of Islamic concepts.  He fails to present Islam as a religion which stresses the importance of human rights and incorporates many practices to guarantee them. This is a serious failure in any treatment of Islam which represents itself as balanced. While it is true that the track record of human rights in the majority of Muslim countries is deplorable, this is no more attributable to Islam than abuses within American society are attributable to Christianity.  Abuses of human rights are political and social issues.  They happen because the perpetrators ignore the just and compassionate provisions given by God through the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH).

On page 280 of his book, Malcolm Clark states, “Provisions of Islamic law sometimes conflict with human rights and international law in the area of due process.”  This is a false statement.  Nowhere does Islam conflict with human rights and international law. If by human rights he means the freedom of expression, democracy, choice and conscience, these all are granted in Islam.  If he includes within the subject of human rights condoning such practices as homosexuality, then it is true that Islam disallows it.

Professor Clark further writes, “While international law requires countries to relate to one another on a basis of peace and reciprocity, ‘Sharia’ according to some interpretations, imposes an obligation on Islamic states to conduct war against non-Islamic states to bring them under the control of Islamic law”.  This is simply untrue. The religion of Islam is based in the Qur’an and in the practices of the Prophet of Islam.  Time and again, the Qur’an states that there can be no compulsion in religion.  The Qur’an says; “for you your religion and for me mine.”  The Holy Prophet was never offensive.  His nobility of character was legendary.  He was a respecter and protector of women and of less privileged members society. It is highly misleading to confuse Islam with the deeds of evil, imperialist Muslim emperors who acted in the name of Islam. Such individuals are a disgrace to Islam and most certainly do not represent it. 

Islam means peace.  Islam is the religion of peace.  Any Muslim who violates the principles of peace and sheds the blood of innocent civilians is a terrorist.  He cannot be regarded as a true Muslim.  The Holy Prophet says that a true Muslim, one who is surrendered to the Will of God, must not hurt anyone.  The true meaning of jihad is to struggle against evil within oneself. Obviously, if the safety of life and faith are threatened, they must be defended.

In his chapter on human rights, Professor Clark has made a point with which I agree.  He writes, “Many Muslim countries deny human rights not only to women and non-Muslims, but also to their own Muslim citizens.  Human rights organizations are often harassed in Muslim countries, even when asserting the rights of Muslims, including Islamist groups.”  This statement is true. However, when he presents the opinion of a Gallup poll in the spring of 2002 about the attitude of Americans toward Muslims, he fails to make the distinction that this poll concerns Muslims and Muslim countries as opposed to the religion of Islam. It is probably safe to assert that 99 percent of non-Muslim Americans have not studied the Qur’an. Unfortunately, there are also many Muslims who have not studied the Qur’an.  It is tragic that so many believers maintain beliefs which have no foundation in the Qur’an.  These people cannot substantiate their beliefs within the Qur’an. 

It is alarming that Professor Malcom, who is a scholar and a professor, should make such gross errors in a published book.  He should have been careful to differentiate between Islam itself and Muslim states.  There is not a shred of doubt for centuries Muslim emperors have been violating human rights.  They have silenced people, incarcerated, killed and exiled their political adversaries.  They have exhibited callous cruelty and should be condemned for it.  We cannot blame Islam for the fact that these monarchs have denied human rights to women, non-Muslims and even to Muslims. Islam has given all rights to women and to non-Muslims as well.  Relative to the equal rights of male and female, Sura Al-e-Imran in the Qur’an says: “And their Lord had heard them (and He said): Lo; I suffer not the work of any worker, male or female to be lost.”(3:195). The Holy Qur’an at different places has stressed much about the respect and equality of women.  When the daughters were being buried alive and they were treated as cattle and chattel, Islam stood for the rights of women.  In Sura The Confederates the Qur’an says: “And those who annoy believing men and women undeservedly, bear (on themselves) a calumny and a glaring sin” (22:58).  Then in Sura The Women the Qur’an says: “Do not covet what Allah has given to some of you in preference to others – men have a portion of what they acquire and women have a portion of what they acquire; but ask Allah for His bounty.  Allah has knowledge of all things (4:32).   There is a full chapter titled “The women” in the Qur’an, which deals with womens’ rights and other concerns.  In the last sermon delivered from the Mount of Arafat, the Holy Prophet exhorted the Muslims about the rights of women.  The last sermon of the Holy Prophet is the basic charter of human rights.  The human rights charter of the United Nations Organization is an offshoot of the last sermon of the Holy Prophet.  Sahih Bukhari records a saying of the Holy Prophet; “The whole of a Muslim for another Muslim is inviolable; his blood, his property and his honor.”  Not only the Muslims but the non-Muslims have also full protection and all human rights in an Islamic state. 

Mahmoud Abu-Saud in his book entitled “Concept of Islam” on page 131 writes; “every citizen of Islamic state, whether he is a Muslim or a non-Muslim, has the right to live decently.  The state must provide the indigent and needy citizens with ample food, decent clothes, a suitable dwelling and opportunities for education.  The government is also responsible for providing work for those who have no jobs.”

Islam is a complete code of life and is the religion of state and society.  It provides solutions for all problems.  It is a religion of humanity and human rights.  We should differentiate between Muslims and Islam.


(The writer is an eminent speaker and scholar on comparative religions and a political activist. He can be reached at    

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