Uploaded on August 6, 2020
Human dignity and the Islamic scheme of things
Dr Mohammad Manzoor Alam
We are always prone to forgetting, or missing, some of the truths that radically affect our lives and life’s crucial decisions. For instance, how often as believers do we remember Allah’s clear declaration in the Quran that He “conferred dignity on Adam’s children” while dealing with people?
Do we take care to keep it in our mind while dealing with our subordinates, people from other faiths, beggars and the destitute, domestic help, other manual workers? In fact, livelihoods of the last groups are shorn of any dignity at all. So, how do we try to compensate for the loss of dignity of such people? After all, they too are children of Adam as all of us are, and hence dignified in the view of Allah.
So, how do we go about honouring the Word of Allah concerning human dignity? The best way to do is through a study of the Quran (Allah’s Word), so that we know the intent and purpose of Creation and how a believer is supposed to live within Allah’s Scheme of things. Unless we know the basics we cannot do full justice to protecting human dignity.
Islam is clear that to live with dignity and to honour other people’s dignity one must have “knowledge” of good and evil, pursue “useful knowledge” and shun knowledge like sorcery, witchcraft, knowledge of how to run prostitution and gambling rackets. Muslims often pray, “O Allah, I ask for useful knowledge”.
Because Islam puts so much of emphasis on acquisition of knowledge, the injunction to “read” is the Quran’s first revelation. And because of the gravitas of this injunction we often talk about “knowledge” as a desideratum in itself, undifferentiated and absolute. However, it is not always the case.
Muslims are told to ask Allah for yusr (ease), not usr (difficulty). Some “knowledge” can go against this basic principle. When Adam and Eve partook of the forbidden food they were stuck by a terrible “knowledge.” They suddenly realised their stark nakedness and in despair tried to hide it with fig leaf. They knew that their “clothes” had been taken away as punishment of Allah’s disobedience. They had fallen out of Allah’s Grace. Soon their banishment from paradise came. They knew what had happened to them and why. Will any Muslim ever try to seek such experience and knowledge?
We have also to keep in mind that all knowledge is not created equal and one kind of knowledge would not work in a situation requiring another kind. An engineer’s knowledge is not always functional when a dying patient is revived. Only a doctor’s knowledge would work.
I will get back to these issues in coming articles. Here I would limit myself to how a close reading of the Quran would clearly convince us about the dignity (and equality) of all human beings. Islam emphasises equality of all human beings. The Quran unambiguously asserts that all humans are equal as they are from Adam and Adam was from clay. Hence, everyone of is equal to everyone else in dignity. This Quranic knowledge is essential for all of us to grasp how every human has been gifted with dignity, without exception.
The prophet (PBUH), whose life was a living interpretation of the Quran, was particularly careful about human equality and dignity. In his historic address during his last Hajj (which was also his first) he laid down a clear guide map for living on earth to be followed by all Muslims to come till the Final Day. Among his words were, “No white man has a superiority over a black man; no black man has a superiority over a white man; no Arab has a superiority over a non-Arab; no non-Arab has superiority over an Arab, except in piety.” In the eyes of Islam, everyone is equal in dignity.
So, how do we ensure that Allah’s Will and Purpose behind conferring dignity on all humanity is given proper consideration by, if not all of human kind, at least the followers of Islam? One way is to look closely at the Prophet’s (PBUH) life, who treated everybody, friend or enemy, with dignity. Out of many many examples I refer to one before closing this write-up.
During his final days on earth the Prophet (PBUH) told certain things to his companions, which he had been telling earlier also, but the advice from the last days is etched on the mind and conscience of the Ummah forever. It was about the humane and dignified treatment of the underprivileged. He said, “After me treat the women, slaves and non-Muslims kindly.” He also warned that if a non-Muslim was harmed by a Muslim the Prophet (PBUH) would stand with that person before Allah, not with the Muslim. That is an example of equality in dignity.
(To be contd.)