It is only in light of this understanding of human responsibilities that he question of human rights must be considered. To comprehend the meaning of human rights in the Islamic context, it is essential to ask now Muslims refer to the concept of “rights” and what they understand by it. In Arabic the basic term for “right” is huqq, which is first of all a Name of Allah, who is al-Haqq, that is, Truth and Reality. The term huqq also possesses the meaning of “duty” as well as “right,” obligation as well as claim, law as well as justice. It means also what is due to each thing, what gives reality to a thing, what makes a thing be true. Its derivative form, ihqaq, means to win one’s rights in a court of law, while another derivative, tahqiq, means not only to ascertain the the truth of something, but on the highest level to embody the truth. The term haqq, which is one of the richest in the Arabic language, involves Allah the Quran (which is also called al-haqq), law, our responsibilities before Allah and His Law, as well as our rights and just claims.
Everything by virtue of the fact that it exists has its haqq, which means both responsibilities to Allah and rights. Each thing has its due by virtue of the nature with which it has been created. Rights do no belong to human beings alone, but to all creatures. Today, as a result of an emphasis of human rights over the rights of other creatures, we are rapidly destroying the natural environment, and as a result people now speak of animal or plant rights. This latter perspective is perfectly in accord with the Islamic view, according to which rights are not the prerogative of the human state alone, but belong to all creatures. In the deepest sense “rights” means to give each being, including ourselves as human beings, its due (haqq).
Turning to the more specific question of human rights as currently understood in the West, according to Islam human beings have rights that are directly related to the responsibilities they have accepted as Allah’s servants and vicegerents on earth. These rights range from the religious and personal to the legal, social, and political. The first rights of human beings concern their immortal souls. Men and women have the right to seek the salvation of their souls, which Islam, like other religions, considers our first duty toward ourselves and toward Allah, to Whom we must offer our souls. This right means the freedom of conscience in religious matters. Allah does not wish to compel His creatures to believe in Him, but wants them to do so on the basis of their own free will and conscience. To obey the laws of society is one thing, but to be coerced to have faith is quite another. The great drama of every human soul to accept or reject the call of Heaven is inseparable from the human state itself, and Islam, while emphasizing our duties to Allah, also emphasizes our right and even duty to engage in this drama. No eternal authority can take this right—and duty—away. Furthermore, the right to practice one’s religion ro not to, as long as the later does not destroy social norms and laws, is at the heart of the |Islamic understanding of human rights. The rights of non-Muslims to practice their religion is also guaranteed by Islamic Law, as mentioned above, unless it is a pseudo-religion or cult, which Islam has opposed as much have Christianity and other traditional religions. Needless to say, the understanding of what constitutes an authentic religion and what constitutes a cult is not the same in the traditional Islamic world and in modern Europe and America, where man cults, some quite dangerous, dot the landscape, but the principle of the right to the practice of one’s religion, whether is Islam itself or any of the other heavenly inspired religions, is ingrained in the Islamic understanding of human rights. Furthermore, in this crucial matter there is no difference between men and women, who stand equal before Allah.
By Mehar Nawaz