The Tenth General Conference :Islam and The 21st Century
Civilizational Content of Islamic Teaching!Relevance for 2lst Century
Civilizational Content of Islamic Teaching!
Relevance for 2lst Century
Professor Dr. Tahir Mahmood
Chairman, National Commission for Minorities
New Delhi, India
Saiyidina Muhammad, the 7th Century Prophet who proclaimed the
new world religion known as Islam, was one of the greatest Social
Reformers in the known human history. The contemporary non-Muslim
world, following Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism and other religious
faiths, may not recognize him as a Messenger of God. That is his religious
position and status for the Muslims who are his followers in terms of
religion. However, his extraordinary contribution to the growth of human
civilization - if seen through unprejudiced eyes and analyzed by unbiased
brains - must be gratefully acknowledged by the entire human fraternity. It
can be denied by none; and its inherent values and riches remain highly
relevant to the human society even today - 1500 years after his times when
human history is going to enter the 2lst Century AD.
Some prominent characteristics and salient features of Islamic
teachings make it a Value System much different from and superior to a
mere religious faith - rather one of the many religious faiths - as Islam is
often now seen. Certain historical facts and realities concerning Islam's
contributions to the growing human civilization are undeniable even by its
worst enemies. The past impact of these characteristic features and
contributions of Islam, and their potential for the future, merit a careful
examination. This brief paper is illustrative of such features and
contributions and indicative of their potential for the future.
11. Humanitarianism in Islam
Islam's message is basically humanitarian. Man, as a human being,
occupies the pivotal position in Islamic teachings. Allama Abdullab Yusuf
Ali begins his commentaries on the Holy Qur'an with these memorable
Glory to Allah, Most High, full of grace and mercy;
He created all including Man;
To Man He gave a special place in His creation;
And to that end endued him with understanding;
So that he should understand Nature;
All injunctions and precepts of the Holy Qur'an aim at enabling
Humans to live a peaceful and purposeful life, with perfection in all its
walks, and in mutual co-existence with each other. They concentrate on
Man's welfare and well-being, subject him to rules of discipline in his own
interest, and bind him with a meticulous network of checks and balances in
the spirit of live and let live. The basic humanitarian touch in Islamic
teachings is evident in the following fundamental precepts:
(i) Man is not permitted to worship any fellow human being or any
other creature. The doctrine of Tauhid enjoins this prohibition to protect
Man's dignity, self-respect and freedom from superstition.
(ii) The foundations of the Islamic Code of Life lie in Mercy and
Compassion. God is Al-Rahman, and Al-Rahim Most Gracious, Most
Merciful. The Prophet is a Mercy for Mankind Wa ma arsalnaka illa
(iii) All that is there in the Universe, including the celestial world, has
been subjected to Man's intellect, power of enquiry and control. Nothing in
the Earth and in the other Planets is forbidden for Man's inquisitorial skill
(iv) It is asserted in the Qur'an that God wants Ease (Yusr) and not
Constraint (Usr) for Man. Life is sought to be made for Man an enjoyable
and eventful venture, not a misery to be dreaded.
(v) The Qur'an further declares that God does not burden anybody
except in accordance with one's capacity -- La yukallifallahu illa wus'aha.
Obligations of Man are, in other words, to be strictly proportionate to his
capacities. There to be no overburdening whatsoever.
(vi) Man's actions are to judged not by their outward appearance but
by his intention and notice - Al-a'mal bi al- niyah. This is the Islamic
nucleus of what in modern criminal jurisprudence in known as the doctrine
of Mens Rea. What is decisive of Man's actions in the Islamic Value System
is not what he has done, but why he has done it.
(vii) The Sunnah asserts that it is far better for a judge to err in
acquittal than in conviction. This is the Golden Rule of Justice that gave
birth to the modern legal principle of 'Benefit of Doubt'.
(viii) There is no vicarious liability under the Islamic Code. No one can
be held responsible for any one else's guilt.
These and numerous other precepts in Islamic religious texts establish
the fact of Islam being a Humanity-based, rather that a Spirituality-based,
Code of Conduct.. No wonder, there is no celibacy in Islam, no Church and
no priestly hierarchy.
III. Human Rights in Islam:
Islam is the only one among the world religions which at its very
inception furnished a mature and advanced theory of Human Rights.
Huquq-ul-lbad were declared to be as sacred and inviolable as the Huquq-ul-
Lah. The charter of Human Rights clearly identifiable. In the Islamic
religious texts of the 7th Century, if viewed with an unbiased mind, will he
found indeed dazzling even for the most ardent modern votaries of rights of
Man. The following basic Human Rights, now being emphasized in modem
International Jurisprudence and enshrined in the Universal Declaration of
Human Rights 1948, are clearly spelt out in the Qur'an and the Ahadith.
1. Right to Life
2. Right to Personal Liberty
3. Right to Basic Freedom of Action
4. Right to Freedom of Conscience
5. Right to Dignity and Honour
6. Right to Freedom of Thought and Expression
7. Right to Justice and Fair Deal
8. Right to Education and Learning
9. Right to Privacy and Personal Life
10. Right to Family and Domestic Relations
Ii. Right to Livelihood and Ownership of Earnings
12. Right to Participation in Governance
13. Right to Protection of Morals
14. Right to Mobility and Movement
15. Right to Protest against Tyranny
These and many other Human Rights stressed in the Islamic teachings,
if strictly and faithfully adhered to, can change the face of the human world,
even in our times, and render the contemporary human life free from
miseries and misfortunes.
Rule of Law in Islam
The Legal Code of Islam is based on the doctrine of Rule of Law. This
(a) No one is above the law. This applies to the Ruled and the Ruler
alike, as also to the top echelon in the ruling hierarchy.
(b) Law is absolutely the same for all. There are no double standards in
the Law, no duality of principles, discriminatory precepts whatsoever.
Nobility, descent, social status or economic affluence, has no relevance to
the applicability of legal provisions.
(c) There is no absolute immunity for anyone from any mandatory legal
provision. The practice in early Islamic history shows how ordinary people
in the Rulers' courts challenged them to prove the legal validity of their
actions and conduct, and bow Caliphs stood in the witness box in the
people's courts on an equal footing With their opponents.
Injunctions on Justice, Fair Deal and Good Governance, in the Islamic
texts aims at strictly enforcing the Rule of Law - rather than Rule of Man
and Man-made political bodies. The potential of this fundamental feature of
Islam for a social transformation of the Globe is too apparent to need any
IV. Global Human Brotherhood
While the modern world has, in the present Century, tried to come
mutually closer by establishing international institutions like the League of
Nations and the United Nations, Islam has from the very beginning laid
stress on a Global Human Fraternity rather than Comity of Nations in the
political sense. Addressing the Man, God says in the Holy Qur'an:
We created you from one couple;
And made you into Nations and Tribes;
That you might recognize each other.[XLIX :13]
And, in his Farewell Address the Prophet declared:
All of you are Adam's progeny;
And Adam was made of clay.
Taking the clue from these Islamic precepts, eminent-philosopher of India
Dr. Sir Mohammad Iqbal had said:
Makke ne diya khak-e-Geneva ko ye paigham;
Jam, `iyat-e-Aqwam ke Jam `iyat-e-Adam?
From Makkah over to Geneva a message we find;
Unity of Nations or the Unity of Mankind?
The spirit and potential of this Islamic doctrine of Global Human Unity
and Trans-National Fraternity merit a serious consideration by the modern
scholars of Political jurisprudence and International Relations.
V. Social Development
Numerous precepts in the Islamic Code aim at promoting, augmenting
and advancing an all-round Social Development of the Human Society. A
selection of such precepts follows:
(i) Bad and Good cannot be equated;
though one may find the Bad in excess.
(ii) Those few who are virtuous are superior;
To those few who are undesirable.
(iii) To know and learn is a sacred obligation;
For all men and for all women.
(iv) The ink of a scholar's pen is holier;
Than the blood of the best of martyrs.
(v) Acquire knowledge;
Even if it be found in the distant China.
(vi) One who goes his belly full;
While his neighbour is hungry;
He is not among the Believers.
(vii) Each one of you is a herdsman (ra'i);
And will on the Day of Judgment;
Be answerable for the good of his herd (ra'iyah).
(viii) What is regarded as good by the Believers;
That is surely the best conduct;
Also in the sight of God.
(ix) Intellect is the lost property;
Of all those who are Believers.
(x) God never changes the condition of those;
Who are not anxious to change themselves.
(xi) Co-operate with one another;
For virtue and good deeds;
And never cooperate with one another;
For vice and aggression.
(xii) Should someone shower abuse on you;
And proclaim your faults;
Do not pay back in the same coin;
Adopt an attitude of dignified restraint;
That will cam you merit.
(xiii) To a learned miser indeed in the sight of God;
Superior is he who is compassionate though illiterate.
(xiv) Charity is meritorious;
Begin it with your home.
With those who you must care for.
(xv) If a crime remains unknown;
It affects none but the offender;
If it becomes common knowledge;
It harms people at large.
(xvi) Have mercy on others on Earth;
God will have mercy on you in Heaven.
(xvii) Whatever be the verdict of a judge;
Obtain the verdict of your own conscience.
(xviii) A man of faith is like a standing crop;
Which bends when their is breeze.
(xiv) Those who feed the hungry souls;
They will be Heaven's honoured guests.
(xx) Fear God in the matter of women;
Let the Day of Judgement come;
You will be questioned about their rights.
In short, Islam is not just dogmas and beliefs or rites and rituals. It
had given to the Human World a new Culture, a novel Human Civilization,
a System of unprecedented Human Values. These rich contents of the
Islamic teachings, and their continued relevance for Man even on the
threshold of the 2lst Century, need a fuller exploration, an authentic
exposition, a faithful translation into day-to-day action, and an empirical
presentation to contemporary world. If all thin is effectively done, the
world will have to look at Islam as a great Social Reform Movement and a
giant step towards the civilizational advancement of Mankind - rather than
a mere dogmatic religious faith. Those who can do this will indeed be
rendering the noblest service to Islam.
Let me conclude by reminding my listeners of a very meaningful
observation about the Muslim jurists of the past made by a great western
scholar Count Leon Ostrorog:
"Those Eastern thinkers of the 7th Century laid down the principle of
the Right of Man in those very terms comprehending the rights of
individual liberty and of inviolability of person and property; described the
ruling power as based on a contract implying conditions of capacity and
performance and subject to cancellation if the conditions under the
contract were not fulfilled; elaborated a law of war the human and
chivalrous prescriptions of which would have put to the blush belligerents
in the Great War; and expounded a Doctrine of Tolerance of non-Muslim
creeds so liberal that our West had to wait a thousand years before seeing
equivalent principles adopted".
- The Angora Reform, London, 1927
Let we Muslims of the world live up to this great legacy of our noble
forefathers. Let us revive our Social Reforms of the 7th Century, so as to
enter into the 21st with grace - ably demonstrating to the world that what it
looks at merely as o! of the world religions was, and remains, a Great
Resolution capable of changing Man's destiny.