The Justification for “Human Rights” in an Islamic Framework
What is meant here by “justification for human rights” is the justification of the human rights sanctioned in Islam, as just described, and not an Islamic justification for the human rights of the contemporary human rights platform.

The question of the justification for such “human rights” in Islam is clear and uncomplicated. The source for such rights is Allah’s revelation to the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). Granted, non-Muslims may not find this justification convincing. However, that was the point of the earlier discussion: No one has been able to claim or declare any justification for human rights that must be or is acceptable to all. Thus, if Islam is to be faulted for supporting rights on a basis that is not acceptable to all, the human rights movement must be faulted for the same weakness. Actually, the human rights paradigm is in a much weaker position. At least among Muslims, there is a clear and definitive basis for human rights sanctioned by Islam. In the secular human rights paradigm, there is still no clear and definitive basis for human rights. The human rights movement simply has not come to terms with this reality and continues to try to enforce its will upon others, even though others simply do not believe in its rather weak foundations.

All that is being said here is that in Islam there are “human rights” and these human rights have been granted and declared by God. That should be sufficient for a Muslim to accept, respect and implement them in his or her life.These rights will be applied to any or all who are designated by Islamic Law as deserving of them. Like all systems—whether human rights utopian visionaries will admit to this or not—some rights may be restricted to certain groups of people (like citizens) and under certain circumstances. This is simply another reality of the application of rights.

The particular justification for “human rights” in Islam, the fact that they have been revealed and sanctioned by God, has further ramifications, which are related to the unique characteristics of “human rights” within the Islamic paradigm.

Unique Features of “Human Rights” within the Islamic Paradigm
Now that it has been established that there is something within Islam that one may call “human rights,”it is also important to recognize how the “Islamic human rights” differ from the human rights proposed in the contemporary human rights paradigm.

Due to the source, foundation and basis of human rights in Islam, these “human rights” have some unique qualities that distinguish them from the human rights of the contemporary human rights paradigm.

These unique aspects include the following:
(1)    “Human rights” in Islam are given by God; they are not rights that one human, a human organization or the entire body of humankind has given to any other. When humans give others anything, they may feel that they have the “right” to take it back, use it as leverage and so on. The Islamic rights have been declared by God. Humans had no role in bestowing them upon others.

(2)    Human rights, as outlined in Islam, are intrinsic and eternal rights, which cannot be cancelled, modified, abrogated or suspended; they are binding because they are ordained by the Great Creator (Allah Almighty). Therefore, no human being, whoever he may be, has the right to suspend or to transgress upon them. They do not lose their inviolability; not by willful relinquishment by the individual nor by the will of the society represented in the institutions, regardless of the nature of the institutions orof the authorities these institutions might have.

(3)    Since these rights are God-given, a Muslim believes that it is his absolute duty to believe in them and fulfill them. In other words, there should be a complete and sincere dedication to these rights on the part of the Muslim. Theoretically, these rights should not be compromised in the name of “personal interest” because a Muslim should believe that his ultimate personal interest is in submitting to God. These are not simply political slogans put out to receive applause and praise from other countries of the world. These are the commands from Allah. Every Muslim takes them deadly seriously. They cannot be changed, tampered with, temporarily done away with—no matter how expedient that may be for the masses or the people in power. Furthermore, it is only Islam that gives these rights the moral backing and fortitude that can drive a people to truly sacrifice on behalf of these rights. The Muslim will risk his life for these rights, even if it means defending a non-Muslim of the Islamic state, for example, because he is doing that for the sake of Allah and his reward rests solely with Allah.

(4)    “Human rights” in Islam involve rights as well as prohibitions.In other words, there is more than the simple right to do something but there is also an emphasis on the obligation to do something. It is not simply a neutral system but a positive system in which people are obligated to do what is correct, noble and helpful toward others, assist in the enforcing of what is virtuous and assist in the removing of what is harmful. These societal obligations and rights rely upon one another to form the basis of a true fraternal society. Thus, when Allah speaks about the relationship between the believers, in particular, He emphasizes this mutual characteristic before mentioning any of the other characteristics of personal worship. Allah says, “The believing men and believing women are allies of one another. They enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong and establish prayer and give zakah and obey Allah and His Messenger. Those - Allah will have mercy upon them. Indeed, Allah is Exalted in Might and Wise” (al-Taubah 71).

(5)    Human rights in Islam are not absolute rights. This fact is easily recognized and admitted, as opposed to some of the claims that Mayer and others make about rights in the contemporary human rights movement while in reality even in that framework, as discussed earlier, the claim to absoluteness is false. Thus, the community and individual members of society are protected by restricting even the rights that Islam has granted. Thus, there are, admittedly and for good reason, restrictions on freedom of expression in Islam, freedom of private ownership and so on. This aspect of “rights” in Islam is a distinctive feature of Islamic human rights and must be recognized from the outset.

(6)    Human rights in Islam are fixed and not changing.  The Islamic view of the revelation that the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) received is that it is comprehensive and flexible  and intended for all of humanity until the Day of Resurrection. Hence, it contains all of the basic human rights that humans shall ever need. One of the greatest disputes concerning contemporary human rights is that people are demanding “new” human rights that the nations who signed the original documents never envisioned. This is what all the commotion concerning the Cairo and Beijing Conferences was all about. From an Islamic perspective, the nature of humans has not actually changed over time. Hence, what humans need as human rights is something fixed and determinable and thus the religion of Islam came with what humans needed and there is no need for further dispute or claims for new types of human rights. Since the revelation has come from God, there is no need for groping and testing which rights may be good human rights and which may be harmful or do not make any sense. This is actually the process that is continuing to go on within the contemporary human rights movement, as they continue to debate the merits or demerits of newly proposed “rights.”

(7)    Human rights in Islam are comprehensive in nature. They include all types of rights, whether political, economic, social or cultural. They also cover rights related to the husband, wife and children, as well as rights of neighbors, travelers, elderly, and so on. In fact, even goes beyond the living to the rights of the deceased.Furthermore, it covers personal relations and ethics as well, such as rights related to one’s honor and dignity, which would include positive aspects as well as prohibiting acts like envy, backbiting and so on. (Mayer, in particular, critiques these rights as frivolous, trivial and meaningless and states that they would never form part of international law  but this simply highlights the insufficiency of international law as every society can recognize the importance of standards of this nature.)

(8)    Human rights in Islam are practical and not simply theoretical. They have been the backbone and practice of numerous Islamic societies and communities throughout history, starting with, of course, but not ending with, the community of the Prophet and his Companions. No one claims that any society has been perfect and made up of “angels.” However, for most part, these rights were there, protected and fulfilled from the top down.

(9)    Islam’s view of “human rights” is also a dynamic one in the sense that it is involved with ethics, education and reformation. Once again, Islam being a complete code of life and a “closed system,” brings to humans not only the rights that people deserve but also the motivation to enforce and protect those rights for others as well as for oneself. Islam inculcates within individuals the belief in Allah and Islam. It then trains the individual to become a true Muslim, thereby giving all others the rights that they deserve. For example, with respect to alcohol, Islam does not simply state that alcohol is forbidden and then expect everyone to abstain from alcohol. America’s experience with prohibition demonstrated that such is a useless approach. However, when one first has a strong belief and confidence in the message, one has the internal strength and will-power to fulfill the guidance, even if it requires effort and sacrifice on one’s part. Without this spiritual growth and development, humans have other forces working within them that may drive them to disrespect others’ rights and not fulfill their obligations towards them. Thus, Allah says, “Indeed, mankind was created anxious: When evil touches him, impatient, And when good touches him, withholding [of it], Except the observers of prayer - Those who are constant in their prayer…” (al-Maarij 19-22).This is an area in which the contemporary human rights paradigm has little direct involvement although numerous writers on human rights emphasize that the first step in truly implementing human rights is the proper education and respect for others’ rights. But, once again, since the human rights paradigm has no true foundation to fall back on, this educational and developmental process will be lacking, as the content cannot be much more than an empty whole. The possible solution for the human rights paradigm is to then rely upon religion or other sources to fill this void. However, from a human rights paradigm perspective, this would probably create more problems than it would solve.

(10)    Human rights in Islam are both concerned with societal rights as well as individual rights. In the contemporary human rights movement, there has been a great deal of discussion over this question of society vis-à-vis individual. Most Western human rights proponents are somewhat adamant in their view that individual rights reign supreme. Socialist leading authors and some Muslim authors declare that the rights of society clearly take precedence over the rights of the individual.  The fact, as explained by al-Qaisi, is that in Islam there is a balance between the rights of the society/community and the rights of the individual. Islam proposes that there is a middle ground—although it seems that proponents on both ends, such as socialists vis-à-vis writers like Mayer, cannot envision such a middle ground.There are times in which the rights of the individual will have to take precedence and then there are times in which the rights of the society will have to take precedence. Since the limitations of these are hard to define, God alone would be the only proper source to make such delineations.

One of the important aspects of Islam—perhaps this should actually say: one of the important aspects of those writing about Islam—is that it is honest in its treatment of issues. Instead of making such bold claims about freedom of expression and freedom of belief and then limiting freedom of expression and freedom of belief in numerous ways—which every society and nation does, no matter how much dedicated they are to the human rights platform, and one would hope that human rights advocates would have it that way—it clearly states that the rights people have are only those rights granted to them by Allah. There is no contradiction and no hypocrisy here.