Saturday, January 30, 2010

Human Beings, Born Free and Equal –My Quranic Perspective (Part 1)

by: Jahaberdeen Mohamed Yunoos

[Image thanks to here]
On December 10, 1948 the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (“UDHR”). Article 1 of the UDHR  states:

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood”.

Article 1 of the UDHR states two concepts – “rights” and “dignity”. Rights are something that is owned by the person who has that right and it cannot be taken away. It is something that he possesses.  For example, everyone has a right to life and therefore his life cannot be unjustifiably taken away.  By contrast, a privilege does not permanently attach to the holder. It is something that can be taken away by the body or person who gives that privilege.

Dignity refers to a sense of self – respect, self esteem or worthiness. It also implies honour.

Article 2 of the UDHR spells out various rights such as the right to life, ownership of property, education, equality before the law and so on.

When we say that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity we mean that every human being has to have the same opportunity in life, example: in getting a job, education, or attaining resources necessary for life.

The honor and appointment of human beings as trustees by God

Surah At-Tin verse 4 of the Quran says:

Verily, We created humans (insanaa) in the best stature (taqwim) (mould)” (Quran: 95: 4)

The word “insanaa” refers to all human beings and not to any one specific individual or groups of individuals.  The word “taqwim” has been translated by some to mean “organizational structure”.  In other words, this verse may be taken to mean that since God has created human beings in the best stature, mould or organizational structure, no one human being is “inferior” to another.

In a world that has encouraged exclusive individualism where we are led to believe that we alone are special, God tells us that the truth is that we are ALL special.

The Quran relates the story of how human beings came to become appointed as the vicegerent or trustee on earth:

“Behold, your Lord said to the angels: "I will create a vicegerent (khalifatan) on earth." They said: "Will You place therein one who will make mischief therein and shed blood?- while we do celebrate Your praises and glorify You?" He said: "I know what you know not."  (Quran: 2:30) 

As khalifatan on earth, all human beings are trustees (Quran 33:72) of the resources on earth and in the “heavens”. As trustees, the Quran in surah An - Nisa verse 58 clearly commands us to act justly in the distribution and allocation of these resources:

God commands you to render back your Trusts to those to whom they are due; And when you judge between man and man, that you judge with justice: Verily how excellent is the teaching which He gives you! For God is He Who hears and sees all things (Quran: 4:58) 

Equal Opportunities to partake of God’s resources and Mercy

It is the will of God that we all have equal opportunities to partake and taste God’s resources and Mercy. This is a right that God has given us.

See you not (O men) that God has subjected for you whatsoever is in the heavens and whatsoever is in the earth, and has completed and perfected His Graces upon you, (both) apparent and hidden? Yet there are among men those who dispute about God, without knowledge and without guidance, and without a Book to enlighten them!” (Quran: Surah Luqman, 31:20)

While the message in the above verse is clear, there are however mischief makers on earth who advocate unequal distribution of resources on dubious basis such as colour, race, religion, ‘status’, national boundaries and such. It is also a sad fact today that two thirds of the world’s resources are consumed by one third of the world’s population. Hence, we have countries like Ethiopia in abject poverty while some other countries waste resources. We have situations where two people live in a mansion and a family of six lives in pigeon holes called flats. Such situations are, in my mind, cruel and against the divine order.

Many Colours, One Father

According to the Quran, we are ALL descendants of one father – Adam.

We have honored (karamna) the children of Adam;  provided them with transport on land and sea; given them for sustenance things good and pure; and conferred on them special favors, above a great part of Our creation.” (Quran: Al-Israa 17:70)

In the above verse, Allah says that He has honored human beings, among other things, by conferring on us special favours above the great part of His creation.  Further if we are all children of Adam, then how can we discriminate against each other or withhold equal opportunities for each other?

We sadly observe that differences in colour, race and languages have become a divisive factor among humankind.  In fact, some people find differences in languages and race disturbing, as if any other language and race other than theirs is a problem and a curse.  They devise discriminatory policies and conjure up lies of superiority of their own race or clan to the exclusion of the rest.  Since such a situation appears to be the reality in the eyes of some, we may ask God: why have you created created many colours and many tribes?

Why many colours and many nations?

God has explained His rationale for the creation of diverse languages, colours and nations in the following two verses in the Quran.

“O humanity!  We have created you from a single male and female and have made you into nations and tribes that you may know one another (not that you have pride over one another).  Verily, the most honorable (أَكْرَمَكُمْ ) of you in the God’s Sight is the one most righteous. And God has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).” (Quran: Al-Hujraat, 49:13)

One can easily discern from the above verse that the reason for the diverse tribes, nations and cultures is for us to learn from each other. It is common sense that inter-cultural exchanges enrich human relationships and knowledge.

Further, many who love and believe in God want to “seek” God. God says that one of the ways in trying to understand Him is to look for the clues that He has given us. These clues or signs are called “ayatiin” in Arabic. 

And among His Signs (ayattin) is the creation of the heavens and the earth and the differences of your languages and colors.  Verily, in that are indeed signs for people of sound knowledge.” (Quran Surah Ar-Room, 30:22)

The different colours and diverse languages that He has created are His signs. We are supposed to celebrate His signs, praise Him for it. Unfortunately, misguided ones among us use this diversity as a point of division and proclaim its exclusivity. All languages and and all the colours are creations of the Creator!  They are all HIS!!! How can anyone who claims to believe in the Creator belittle any of His creations?

So, a true believer will not be able to use diversity of colours and languages as an excuse to create unequal opportunities for others. Only mischief makers do.

Next: Schemes and concepts devised to create unequal opportunities (Final and Part 2)