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This series of articles aims to present the principles of human rights as perceived by Islam. In this part, we shall focus on the right to life, the kinds of life and the relationship between them.
Everyone has the right to life
The first right enumerated for man by the holy Qur’an is the right to life. There are two phases of life: physical and spiritual. No one has the right to take this right from others. The violation of physical rights is done with killing. According to the holy Qur’an, this is equal to destroying the whole society unless it is done for sound reasons.
“Whoso slays a soul not to retaliate for a soul slain, nor for corruption done in the land, shall be as if he had slain mankind altogether.” (1)
The violation of the spiritual right to life is done by misleading others. They destroy their spiritual life. The loss of spiritual life means the loss of bliss; otherwise, the spirit of man shall not be destroyed. For the same reason, the Holy Qur’an regards spiritual life as opposed to atheism. In other words, anyone that becomes an atheist, they shall lose bliss and die spiritually. This contrast is thus described:
“… that he may warn whosoever is living, and that the Word may be realized against the unbelievers.” (2)
As is evident from this verse, those who have not become pagans are living; in other words, the infidels do not enjoy life.
According to the holy Qur’an, the right to life is granted to man by God and hence, it is God who can interfere with it. Thus, any kind of violation of physical or spiritual rights without God’s permission is forbidden. In other words, life is the right of man, it is his duty, and no one can shirk this responsibility.
It was said that the right to life is the first right of the man. On the other hand, in Treatise on Rights, Imam Sajjad (peace be upon him) holds that rights spring from the knowledge of God. The secret of the words of that venerable Imam lies in the aforementioned words; if anyone does not know God, he indeed divests himself of the right to life. Thus, the knowledge of God is enjoying spiritual life.
Thus, according to the Holy Qur’an, those who have surrendered to the Culture of Ignorance are dead:
“You were dead; then, God gave you life.” (3)
In this verse, the meaning is life after this world and the spiritual life after ignorance.
Kinds of life and the Relationship Between Them
As was mentioned in the previous part, the Holy Qur’an elucidates two kinds of life; spiritual and physical. Now we shall be discussing three types of life; vegetable, animal and human.
In many Qur’anic verses, God sends down rain for the growth of plants and for the growth of man. This life is called vegetable life. It seems that this verse talks about vegetable life:
“We created every living thing from water.” (4)
This vegetable life belongs to those who summon up all their power to grow up and nothing else. This group does not enjoy animal life, let alone human life. Plants have the same life and their growth is limited to their getting tall.
A superior stage is animal life. In this stage, there is the question of kindness, love, affection and hatred and hostility. The present order of the world is founded upon this animal life. Even the formulation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has been meant to silence the oppressed.
When the Holy Qur’an talks about animal life, it places men in the rank of cattle.
“These blessings are for you and the cattle;”(5)
“do you eat and pasture your cattle.” (6)
It is evident that the Holy Qur’an should be refined in style. This way of talking is because it intends to impart a message to us. That message is that these blessings are common among you and the cattle and if you stick to them, you shall be relegated to the degree of animals.
However, when the Holy Qur’an talks about human life, man is ranked among the angels. For instance, about the virtuous sages, the Holy Qur’an has stated:
“God bears witness that there is no god but He-and the angels and men possessed of knowledge-upholding justice.” (7)
This spiritual life is also described in the Holy Qur’an:
“And whosoever does a righteous deed, be it male or female, believing, We shall assuredly give him to live a goodly life.” (8)
The attribute pure for life shows that this life is superior. This pure life may never be found in vegetable or animal life.
Sometimes, the holy Qur’an describes the kind of life they conduct. For example, about the martyrs, it says,
“Count not those who were slain in God’s way as dead, but rather living with their Lord, by Him provided.” (9)
In this verse and other verses like this, we realize that they have spiritual and human life; otherwise, having the advantage of living is not enough, for as mentioned earlier, death does not exist. Even those who are slain in the cause of falsity are eternal although they do not have the same eternity as the martyrs:
“They are summoned from a distant land.” (10)
This truth may be observed in a scene from the Battle of Badr. When the holy prophet addressed people near the well abounding with the dead bodies of the pagans: “You have now understood that the divine promise has been fulfilled.” (11)
As mentioned earlier, the holy Qur’an proves the different kinds of man’s life. Concerning the vegetable and animal life, the corresponding indication was as it was shown but the indication per nexum is expressed through verses which forbid the killing of others.
However, concerning human life, the corresponding indication comes from the verses quoted above. And the indication per nexum comes from the verses which condemn life like Noah who prayed to God to destroy all the pagans, for their life jeopardized the spiritual life of others:
“If you do not kill the pagans, they will lead your servants stray.” (12)
Besides, the Holy Qur’an refers to the relationship between the two kinds of spiritual and physical life. According to the holy Qur’an, if a man has to choose one between the two, he should sacrifice the physical life and choose the spiritual life. Those who live with the truth have always this choice in mind like the combatants who fight for the cause of God:
“Those who sacrifice the physical life for the spiritual one must fight in the way of God.” (13)
Those who do not make this choice will suffer on the Last Judgment:
“Why did we not gather provision for our spiritual life?” (14)
Another point mentioned by the holy Qur’an is that spiritual life is more fruitful than physical life. Thus, those who threaten the spiritual life are more dangerous than the ones who threaten the physical life:
“Persecution is more grievous than slaying” or “Persecution is more heinous than slaying”. (15)
Dissension includes the violation of spiritual life and religious belief. One of the examples of dissension is disseminating false and corrupted thoughts. Hence, it is far harder and more useful to combat dissension than to combat crimes such as killing.
Continue in the next article: ( Principles of Human Rights in Islam 2 )
1. Surah al-Maidah 5:32
2. Surah Yasin 36:70
3. Surah al-Baqarah 2:28
4. Surah al-Anbiya 21:30
5. Surah an-Naziat 79:33 and Surah al-Abasa 80:32
6. Surah Taha 20:54
7. Surah Aale Imran 3:18
8. Surah an-Nahl 16:97
9. Surah Aale Imran 3:169
10. Surah al Fussilat 41:44
11. As a similar instance, see: Surah al-Hujurat 49:11
12. Surah Nuh 71:27
13. Surah an-Nisa 4:74
14. Surah al-Fajr 89:24
15. Surah al-Baqarah 2:191 & 2:217