Rights of Humanity, Kindness to Kinsfolk, Stolen Land

Issue 1008 » July 20, 2018 - Dhul-Qida 7, 1439

Living The Quran

Rights of Humanity
Al-Isra (The Night Journey) - Chapter 17: Verse 70

"We have confirmed dignity on the children of Adam; bore them over land and sea; given them sustenance from the good things of life; and favoured them specially above many of those We have created."

The idea of human rights in the Quran is firmly based on the notion of human dignity. The Quran provides a direct and uncompromising affirmation of the dignity of human beings in the above verse. This dignity is neither something that is earned, nor is it based on righteous conduct; it is innate, the natural endowment and God-given right of everyone, whoever they are, pious or sinners, whatever their race, colour, creed or nationality. And it can never be compromised.

In the Quranic framework, a crucial aspect of human dignity is the absolute right of individuals and communities to the essential necessities without which life cannot be sustained. The bounty of God cannot be restricted; and everyone has the right to be free from want, from abject poverty that undermines human dignity.

The difference between the Quranic view of rights and the various UN conventions is that in the Quranic framework rights are equated with duties, and both are interdependent. Humankind has the 'right' to survive, for example, only insofar as it performs the duty of maintaining the world—that is, that it acts as a proper trustee (khalifa) of God and fulfils properly and appropriately the responsibilities and trust that God has placed on humanity. In the Western scheme, the emphasis is on the individual; the Quran, in contrast, gives equal importance to the community and the notion of group rights. In the Western liberal tradition, the focus is on personal freedom that signifies the ability to act. In the Quran the emphasis is on the ability to be, to exist. It is necessary for the community not just to survive but to provide a social, cultural and spiritual environment where an individual can realise his or her full potential to be. The overall concern of the Quran is not just the rights of the human but the rights of humanity, including the humanity of the individual.

All this, however, does not mean that Muslims should be against the conventional notion of human rights—even though, perversely, some are. The idea that people deliberating in international bodies to establish conventions on human rights is an illicit activity which somehow undermines the authority of the Quran is the height of folly. Getting as many people as possible to recognise basic principles, which are entirely consistent with the Quran, is undoubtedly a good thing. Enunciating principles is not the issue, but actually making them real and available equitably to all. Muslim societies have been notably lacking in that regard, as have many others, whether they subscribe to the UN conventions or the Quranic route. But also, it means that some Muslims are concerned about the limitations of conventional thought, the thinking and implementation behind the UN conventions, and would like to take the human rights discourse a few steps further.

The problem is not with principles. The problem is the interpretation and implementation that bedevil activity on behalf of the UN conventions as much as on behalf of the Quranic viewpoint. Instead of redundant argument about which declaration is more perfect, a genuine effort to see whose activity is more humane and life-enhancing for those denied their rights by whatever code would do a great deal to carry us beyond nitpicking on the head of a pin.

Compiled From:
"Reading the Qur'an: The Contemporary Relevance of the Sacred Text of Islam" - Ziauddin Sardar, pp. 261-264

Understanding The Prophet's Life

Kindness to Kinsfolk

The Prophet (peace be upon him) stressed the importance of maintaining good relations with one's relatives. Abu Hurayrah quotes the Prophet as saying: "Whoever is pleased to have his provisions increased and his life extended should be kind to his kinsfolk." (Bukhari, Muslim.) In this hadith, the Prophet raises before us two things that every human being loves to have: a better standard of living and a longer life. This will be the reward God grants to people who are kind to their relatives. It is worth noting that the Prophet uses the Arabic term rahim for kinsfolk. This is a word that includes all relatives, but with stronger connotations in referring to female relatives, young and old.

In another statement, the Prophet defines the sort of kindness he wants Muslims to show to their relatives: this is not reciprocating what our relatives do towards us, but rather being kind to those who are unkind to us. Abdullah ibn Amr reports: "I heard God's Messenger when he said: 'Kindness to relatives is not to return their kindness. It is to be kind to those relatives who turn away.'" (Bukhari.)

The Prophet was keen to spread this concept among his Companions. He expressed its importance in a variety of ways. For instance, Uqbah ibn Amir mentions that he once met the Prophet who said to him: "Foster your relation with those who cut you off; be generous to those who deny you; and forgive those who are unfair to you." (Bukhari.)

Compiled From:
"Muhammad: His Character and Conduct" - Adil Salahi


Stolen Land

"Settler" refers to anyone who is not Indigenous living on Indigenous lands. It means not just long-dead ancestors, but any non-Indigenous person who continues to benefit from the colonial seizure of land from its original occupants. This can be hard to accept. Most of us don't think of ourselves as colonizers or occupiers. We are not all descendants of colonial administrators or occupying soldiers. We have many stories. People leave their place of birth for all sorts of reasons. Most in recent history are not thinking of conquest and colonization. Generally, they are looking for a better life, for prosperity or escape from insecurity. Some, indeed,are descended from people taken by force from their native lands and sold into slavery in the "new world."

Nonetheless, we need to recognize how colonization has and does still affect us, individually and personally as well as in society. Those of us in particular who believe our politics are "progressive" need to examine our own complicity in upholding and perpetuating colonialism, and whether our ideals truly help or hinder Indigenous movements.

From Idle No More to the Unist'ot'en resistance against oil pipelines in British Columbia, such movements strive to turn around 500 years of history between the continent's first inhabitants and its relative newcomers. Support for them is essential and important. But solidarity alone does little to change the colonial mentalities and practices that continue into the 21st century.

This is why it is important to acknowledge and restore the traditional names of territories. When we remember that Toronto is derived from the Haudenosaunee word Tkaronto, meaning "where there are trees in water," or we replace "Queen Charlotte Islands" with "Haida Gwaii," we recognize the importance of Indigenous histories, experiences and continuing presence.

We can all choose to read and listen to Indigenous voices, in particular, those speaking to us from the lands we occupy. All of us have the opportunity to join demonstrations of settler support for Indigenous struggles. Active solidarity can start closer to home. We can reach out to other settlers where we live and work, and try to expose the colonial privileges and complicities that we all carry.

Acknowledging the lands that we are on at the start of public and private events is gradually becoming commonplace, a small contribution of thanks and appreciation to the original peoples as stewards of lands that we can now enjoy the use of. When our institutions, businesses or associations contemplate actions that might bear on Indigenous neighbours, we can argue for fully consulting them. We can attend to Indigenous voices in discussions about public and social issues. We can step back from putting our own voices at the forefront.

We are here. Whatever our personal past, how and when we came to this land, we are here now and the colonial legacy of the place has become part of our story. In many ways, shedding that legacy is nothing more - or less - than developing a radical understanding of where "here" is. Understanding what lands we are on, which peoples call them home, and how those lands have been altered. Then we may begin to listen more closely to Indigenous voices and to learn from them a respect for the land that will preserve our own sustenance and life.

Compiled From:
"Living on Stolen Land" - Adam Lewis