Rights Of Citizens In An Islamic State
We have discussed human rights in general. We turn now specifically to the question of the rights of citizen in an Islamic state. At these rights are more extensive than the general human right which have been described earlier, they need separate treatment.
1. The Security Of Life And Property
In the address which the Prophet (blessings of Allah and peace be upon him) delivered on the occasion of the Farewell Hajj, he said: "Your lives and properties are forbidden on one another till you meet your Lord on the Day of Resurrection." Allah Almighty has laid down in the Holy Qur’an: "Anyone who kills a believer deliberate will receive as his reward (a sentence) to live in Hell for ever. Allah will be angry with him and curse of Allah and peace be upon him) has also said about the dhimmis (the non-Muslim citizens of a Muslim state): "One who kills a man under covenant (i.e. a dhimmis will not even smell the fragrance of Paradise" (Bukhari and Abu Dawood).
Islam prohibits all killing except that done in the due process of law. This is referred to in the Qur’an as bi'l-haqq ("with the truth"). During wars or insurrections, only a jut and righteous government, which follows the Shari’a, can decide whether the taking of a life is justified.
These weighty decisions may not be left in the hands of a court which has become heedless of Allah's will and is under the influence of the administration. Such judiciary may miscarry justice. Nor can the state seek justification in the Holy Qur’an or Traditions if it murders citizens because they oppose unjust policies and actions or criticize it for its misdeeds; equally, the state has no right to hire assassins to kill innocent people and then protect the assassins from the just retribution of the courts. The very existence of such a government is a crime and none of the killings carried out by it can be called "execution for the sake of justice", as the Holy Qur’an puts it.
Along with security of life, Islam has with equal clarity conferred the right of security of ownership of property. The Holy Qur’an goes so far as to declare that the taking of people's possessions or property is prohibited unless done by lawful means: The law of Allah categorically declares: "Do not devour one another's wealth by false and illegal means" (2:188).
2. The Protection Of Honour
The second important right is the right of citizen to the protection of their honour. In the address delivered on the occasion of the Farewell Hajj the Prophet (blessings of Allah and peace be upon him) not only prohibited Muslims taking the life and property of other Muslims, but also any encroachment on their honour, respect and chastity. The Holy Qur’an lays down:
(a) "You who believe, do no let one (set of) people make fun of another set.
(b) Do not defame one another.
(c) Do not insult by using nicknames.
(d) And do not backbite or speak ill of one another" (49:11-12).
This law is superior to the Western law of defamation. Under Islamic law, if it is proved that someone has attacked the honour of another person, then, irrespective of whether the victim is able to prove himself a interesting and honourable person, the culprit will be punished. The interesting a fact about the Western law of defamation is that the person who files suit for defamation has first to prove that he is a man of honour and public esteem and during the interrogation he may be subjected to scurrilous attacks and accusations by the defence counsel - to such an extent that the court hearing may be more damaging than the attack on his reputation which originally led him to the court. In addition, he also has to produce witnesses to testify in court that, the defamatory accusations have damaged his reputation in their eyes.
Good gracious! What a subtle point of law, and what an adherence to the spirit of law! How can this unfair and unjust law be compared to the Divine law? Islam has declared defamation a crime irrespective of whether the accused is a man of honour, or of whether the words used have actually disgraced the victim and harmed his reputation. Under Islamic law it is sufficient to prove that the accused said things which, according to common-sense, could have damaged the reputation and honour of the plaintiff.
3. The Sanctity And Security Of Private Life
Islam recognize the right of every citizen in an Islamic state to no undue encroachment on the privacy of his life. The Holy Qur’an has laid down the injunction: "Do not spy on one another" (49:12). "Do not enter any houses except your own homes unless you are sure of their occupants' consent" (24:27). The Prophet (blessing of Allah and peace be upon him) went to the extent of instructing his follows that a man should not enter even his own house suddenly or surreptitiously. He should somehow indicate to those inside that he is entering so that he may not see his mother, sister or daughter in a condition in which they would not like to be seen, nor in which he himself would like to see them.
Peering into the houses of other people has also been strictly prohibited ¾ so much so that there is the saying of the Prophet (blessings of Allah and peace be upon him) that if a man finds another person secretly peering into his house, and he puts out his eye or eyes as a punishment, he will not be liable to prosecution.
The Prophet (blessings of Allah and peace be upon him) has even prohibited people from reading the letters of others; indeed, if a man is reading his letter and another man casts sidelong glances as it and tries to read it, his conduct becomes reprehensible. These are examples of the sanctity of privacy that that Islam grants to individuals.
On the other hand, in the so-called modern civilised world we find that not only are the letters of other people read and censored, but even that photostat copies are retained for future use or blackmail, Bugging devices are secretly fixed in houses so that conversations taking place behind closed doors can be taped. In other words, in many spheres of life individuals have no real privacy.
This prying into the life of the individual cannot be justified on moral grounds by a government saying that it needs to know the secrets of potentially dangerous person. The basis of this philosophy is the fear and suspicion with which modern governments look at those of their citizens who are intelligent and dissatisfied with official policies. This is exactly what Islam has called the root cause of mischief in politics. The injunction of the Prophet (blessings of Allah and peace be upon him) is: "When the ruler begins to search for the causes of dissatisfaction amongst his people, he spoils them" (Abu Dawood)). The Amir Mu'awiya has said that he himself heard the Prophet saying: "If you try to find out the secrets of the people, then you will definitely spoil them or at least you will bring them to the verge of ruin."
"Spoiling" people is what happens when secret police are spread all around a country looking into their affairs: men begin to look at one another with suspicion, so much so that they are afraid of talking freely in their houses lest some word should escape from the lips of their wives and children which may put them in embarrassing situations. In this manner it becomes difficult for a common citizen to speak freely, even in his own house; society begins to suffer from mutual distrust and suspicion.
4. The Security Of Personal Freedom
Islam has laid down the principle that no citizen may be imprisoned unless his guilt has been proved in open court. To arrest a man only on the basis of suspicion and to throw him into prison without proper court proceedings and without providing him with a reasonable opportunity to produce his defence is not permissible in Islam.
It is related in the Traditions that the Prophet (blessings of Allah and peace be upon him) was once delivering a lecture in the Mosque, when a man rose and said: "O Prophet of Allah, for what crime have my neighbours been arrested?" The Prophet appeared not to hear the question and continued his lecture. The man rose again and repeated the question. The Prophet again did not answer and continued his lecture. The man rose for a third time and repeated the question. Then the Prophet ordered the man's neighbours to be released.
The reason why the Prophet had not answered when the question was asked twice earlier was that the police officer who had carried out the arrest was present in the Mosque; if there had been valid reasons for the arrest, he would have got up to give them. Since the police officer did not, the Prophet ordered that the arrested persons should be released. The police officer was aware of Islamic law and therefore he did not get up to say: "The administration is aware of the charges against the arrested men, but they cannot be disclosed in public. If the Prophet inquires about their guilt in camera I will enlighten him." If the police officer had made such a statement, he would have been dismissed then and there. The fact that the police officer did not give any reasons for the arrests in open court was sufficient for the Prophet to give immediate orders for the release of the arrested men.
The injunction of the Holy Qur’an is very clear on this point. "Whenever you judge between people, you should judge with (a sense of) justice" (4:58). And the Prophet (blessings of Allah and peace be upon him) said: "I have been ordered by Allah to dispense justice between you." This was the reason why the Caliph "Umar said: "In Islam no-one can be imprisoned except in pursuance of justice." The words used here clearly indicate that justice means due process of law in open court.
If a government suspects that a particular individual has committed a crime or is likely to commit an offence in the near future, it should give reasons for its suspicion before a court of law and the culprit or the suspect should be allowed to produce his defence. If good reason for suspicion is proved, he should be informed of how long he will be kept in preventive detention.
In all such circumstances, it is essential that the public hear the charges brought by the government, as well as the defence made by the accused, and thus have the opportunity of seeing that the due process of law is being carried out.
The correct method of dealing with such cases in Islam is exemplified in the famous decision the Prophet (blessings of Allah and peace by upon preparations for the attack on the city when one of his Companions, Hatib bin Abi Balta'a, sent a letter through a woman to the authorities in Makkah informing them of the impending attack. The Prophet came to know of this through a Divine inspiration. He ordered 'Ali and Zubair: "Allah quickly on the route to Makkah, at such and such a place, you will find a woman carrying a letter. Recover the letter from her and bring it to me." So they went and found the woman exactly where the Prophet had said. They recovered the letter from he and brought it to the Prophet.
This was indeed a clear case of treachery. In fact, one cannot think of a more serious crime during a time of war than giving a military secret to one's enemy. What could have been a more suitable case for a secret hearing than one into the betrayal of a military secret? But the Prophet summoned Hatib to the open court of the Mosque of the Prophet and in the presence of hundreds of people asked him to explain his position with regard to the letter addressed to the leaders of Quraysh.
The accused said: "O Allah's Messenger (may Allah's blessings be on you) I have not revolted against Islam, nor have I done this with the intention of betraying a military secret. The truth of the matter is that my wife and children are living in Makkah and I do not have my tribe to protect them there. I had written this letter so that the leaders of Quraysh may be indebted to me and may protect my wife and children out of gratitude." 'Umar rose and respectfully submitted: 'O Prophet, please permit me to put this traitor to the sword." The Prophet replied: "He is one of those people who took part in the battle of Badr* and the explanation he has advanced in his defence would seem to be acceptable."
Let us look at this decision of the Prophet in perspective. It was a clear case of treachery and betrayal of military secrets. But the Prophet acquitted Hatib on two counts. Firstly, that his past record was clean in that he had fought at the battle of Badr when there were heavy odds against the Muslims. Secondly, his family was in fact in danger in Makkah. In such circumstances it was sufficient punishment that his secret offence became public and that he was disgraced and humiliated in the eyes of the Believers.
The attitude and activities of the Kharijites in the days of the Caliph ‘Ali are will known to students of Muslim history. They used to abuse the caliph openly, and threaten him with murder. But whenever they wee arrested for these offences, ‘Ali would set them free and tell his officers: "As long as they do not actually perpetrate offences against the state, the mere use of abusive language or the threat of use of force are not such offences for which they can be imprisoned." The Imam Abu Hanifa has recorded the following saying of the Caliph ‘Ali: 'As long as they do not set out on the armed rebellion, the Caliph of the Faithful will not interfere with them."
On another occasion, ‘Ali was delivering lecture in the Mosque when the Kharijites raised their special slogan there ‘Ali said: We will not deny you the right to come to the mosques to worship Allah, nor will we stop your share from the wealth of the state, as long as you are with us (and support us against the unbelievers) and we shall never take military action against you as long as you do not fight with us."
One can visualize the opposition which ‘Ali was facing; more violent and vituperative opposition cannot be imagined even in a present-day democratic state; but the freedom that he allowed to the opposition was such that no government has ever since been able to give to its opposition.
5. The Right To Protest Against Tyranny
Among the right that Islam has conferred on human beings is the right to protest against a government's tyranny. The Qur’an says: "Allah does not love evil in public unless it is by someone who has been injured thereby" (4:148). This means that Allah strongly disapproves of abusive language or strong words of condemnation, but that the person who has been the victim of injustice or tyranny has the right to protest strongly against the injury that has been done to him.
This right is not limited to individuals. The words of the verse have general application. If an individual or a group of people or a party usurps power and, after assuming the reins of authority, begins to tyrannize individuals or groups of men or the entire population of the country, then to raise the voice of protest is the Allah-given right of man. Trying to usurp this right is tantamount to rebellion against Allah. The talisman of Section 144* may protect such a tyrant in this world, but it cannot save him from hell-fire in the Hereafter.
6. Freedom Of Expression
Islam gives the right of freedom of thought and expression to all citizens of an Islamic State on condition that it is used for propagating virtue and not for spreading. This Islamic concept of freedom of expression is far superior to that of the West. Indeed, the right to freedom of expression to propagate virtue and righteousness is not only a right, but an obligation. Anyone who tries to deny this right to his people is openly at war with Allah, the All-Powerful. It is equally a right of and an obligation on an individual to attempt to stop evil, whether this evil is perpetrated by an individual or by a group of people or the government of one's own country or the government of some other country. Over and above this, he should openly condemn the evil and point to the morally correct course which would be adopted.
The Holy Qur’an has described this quality of the Faithful in the following words: "They enjoin what is proper and forbid what is improper" (9:71). By contrast, describing the qualities of a hypocrite, the Qur’an says: "They bid what is improper and forbid what is proper" (9:67). The main as follows: "If we give authority to these men on earth they will keep up prayers, and offer welfare due, bid what is proper and forbid what is improper" (22:41). The Prophet has said: "If any one of you comes across an evil, he should try to stop it with his band (using force); if he is not in a position to stop it with his hand then he should try to stop it by means of his tongue (meaning he should speak against it). If he is not even able to use his tongue then he should at least condemn it is his heat. This is the weakest degree of faith."
The obligation to try to persuade people along the paths of righteousness and away from the paths of evil is incumbent on all true Muslims. Any government which deprives its citizens of this right is in direct conflict with divine injunction. Such a government is then not in conflict with its people, but with Allah it is trying to usurp that right of its people which Allah has conferred not merely as a right but as an obligation.
7. Freedom Of Association
Islam has also given people the right to freedom of association and formation of parties or organization. This right is subject to certain general rules. It should be exercised for propagating virtue and righteousness and never for spreading evil and mischief. We have not only been given this right to spread righteousness and virtue ¾ we have been ordered to exercise it. Addressing the Muslims, the Holy Qur’an declares:
"You are the best community which has been brought forth for mankind. You command what is proper and forbid what is improper and you believe in Allah" (3:110)
This means that it is the obligation and duty of the entire Muslim community to enjoin people to righteousness and virtue and forbid them to do evil. If the Muslim community as a whole does not perform this duty then "let there be a community among you who will invite (people) to (do) good, command what is proper and forbid what is improper, those will be prosperous" (3:104). This clearly indicates that if the community collectively begins to neglect its obligations, then it is absolutely essential for there to be at least one group within the community prepared to meet them.
It is ironic that in a Muslim country* the assembly and association that has been formed for the purpose of spreading evil and mischief should also have the right to rule over the country and the association and party which has been formed for the purpose of propagating righteousness and virtue should live in perpetual fear of harassment and of being declared illegal. Conditions here are the reverse of what has been prescribed by God. The claim is that we are Muslim and that this is an Islamic State, but the work that is being done is directed to spreading evil, to corrupting and morally degrading and debasing people, while there is active and effective hindrance on the work being carried out to reform society and point people to righteousness. Moreover, the lives of those who are engaged in spreading righteousness and checking the spread of evil and wickedness are made intolerable.
8. Freedom Of Conscience and Conviction
Islam gives the right to free doom of conscience and conviction to the citizens of an Islamic State. The Holy Qur’an has laid down the injunction: "There should be no coercion in the matter of faith" (2:256). Although there is no truth or virtue greater than Islam, and although Muslim are enjoined to invite people to embrace it and advance arguments in favour of it, they are not asked to spread this faith by force. Whoever accepts it does so by his own choice. Muslims welcome such converts to Islam with open arms and admit them to their community with equal rights and privileges. But, equally, Muslims have to recognize and respect the decision of people who do not accept Islam: no moral, social or political pressures may be put on them to change their minds.
9. Protection of Religious Sentiments
Along with freedom of conviction and freedom of conscience, Islam guarantees the individual that his religious sentiments will be given due respect and that nothing will be said or done which may encroach on this right. It is ordained by Allah in the Holy Qur’an: "Do not abuse those they appear to instead of Allah" (6:108). These instructions are not limited to idols and deities ¾ they also apply to the leaders or national heroes of the people. If a group of people hold certain convictions and certain persons in an esteem which you feel is not deserved, then it is not justifiable in Islam for you to use abusive language to them and thus injure their feelings. Islam does not prohibit people holding debate and discussions to be conducted in decency. "Do not argue with the people of the Book unless it is in the politest manner" (29:46) says the Qur’an. This order is not limited to the people of the Scriptures, but applies with equal force to those following other faiths.
10. Protection From Arbitrary Imprisonment
Islam recognizes the right of the individual not to be arrested or imprisoned for the offences of others. The Holy Qur’an has laid down this principle clearly: "No bearer of burdens shall be made to bear the burden of another" (6:164). Islam believes in personal responsibility. We ourselves are responsible for our acts, and their consequences cannot be transferred to someone else.
It is a matters of great regret and shame* that we are seeing this just and equitable principle, which has been framed by the Creator and Nourisher of the entire universe, being flouted and violated before our eyes. So much so that if a man is guilty of a crime or if he is a suspect, he wife is also liable to arrest. Indeed, things have gone so far that innocent people are being punished for the crimes of others.
To give a recent example: a man in Karachi was suspected of being involved in a bomb-throwing incident. In the course of police investigations he was subjected to horrible torture to try to extract a confession from him. When he insisted on his innocence, the police arrested his mother, his wife, daughter and sister and brought them to the police station. They were all striped naked in his presence, and he was stripped naked before their eyes so that a confession of the crime could be extracted for him. It appears as if for the sake of investigation of crime it has become proper and legal in our country to stripe innocent womenfolk of a household in order to bring pressure on a suspect.
I would here like to ask what right such tyrants who perpetrate these crimes against mankind have to tell us that they are Muslims or that they are conducting the affairs of the state according to the teachings of Islam. They are flouting a clear law of the Holy Qur’an by stripping men and women naked. They disgrace and humiliate humanity ¾ and then they claim that they are Muslims.
11. The Right to The Basic Necessities Of Life
Islam has recognized the right of the needy to assistance. "And in their wealth there is acknowledged right for the needy and the destitute" (51:19). In this verse, the Qur’an has not only conferred a right to every man who asks for assistance in the wealth of the Muslims, but has also laid down that if a Muslim comes to know that a certain man is without the basic necessities of life, then, irrespective of whether he asks for assistance or not, it is his duty to give all the help that he can.
For this purpose Islam does not depend only on voluntary charity, but has made compulsory charity, zakat, its third pillar, next only to the Prophet (blessings of Allah and peace be upon him) has clearly instructed us that: "It will be taken from their rich and given to those in the community in need" (Bukhari and Muslim).
In addition, it has also been declared that the Islamic State should support those who have nobody to support them. The Prophet has said: "The Head of State is the Guardian of him who has nobody to support him" (Abu Dawood, Tirmidhi). The word wali which is used by the Prophet has a wide range of meanings. It is the duty and the responsibility of the state to support and assist orphans, the old, the unemployed and the sick if they duty off the state to arrange for his burial. A true Islamic State is therefore a true welfare state.
12. Equality Before the Law
Islam gives its citizens the right to absolute equality in the eyes of the law. As far as Muslims are concerned, there are clear instructions in the Holy Qur’an Hadith that in their rights and obligations they are all equal: "The believers are brothers (to each other)" (49:10). "If they (disbelieves) repent and keep up prayer and pay the welfare due they are your brothers in faith" (9:11). The Prophet has said that: "The life and blood of Muslims are equally precious" (AbuDawood, Ibn Maja). In another Hadith he has said: "The protection given by all Muslims are equal. Even an ordinary man of them can grant protection to any man" (Bukhari, Muslim, AbuDawood). In another more detailed Tradition of the Prophet, it has been said that those accept the Oneness of Allah, believe in the Prophethood of His Messenger, give up primitive prejudices and join the Muslim community and brotherhood, "then they have the same rights and obligations as other Muslims have" (Bukhari, Nisai). Thus there is absolute equality between converts to Islam and born followers of the Faith.
This religious brotherhood and the uniformity of their rights and obligations is the foundation of equality in Islamic society. The position of non-Muslim citizens in an Islamic State has been well expressed by the Caliph ‘Ali: "They have accepted our protection only because their lives may be like our lives and their properties like our properties" (AbuDawood). In other words, their lives and properties are as sacred as the lives and properties of Muslims. Discrimination based on class was one of the greatest crimes that, according to the Qur’an, Pharaoh used to indulge in: "He had divided his people into different classes," ... "And he suppressed one group of them (at the cost of others)" (28:4).
13. Rulers Are Not Above The Law
Islam insists and demands that all officials of an Islamic State, from most senior to most junior, are equal in the eyes of the law. One of them can claim immunity from it. The most humble citizen has the right to file a legal complaint against the highest executive in the land. The Caliph 'Umar said; "I have myself seen the Prophet, may Allah's blessings be on him, taking revenge against himself (penalizing himself for some shortcoming or failing)." On the occasion of the battle of Badr, when the Prophet was straightening the rows of the Muslim army, he hit the stomach of a soldier in an attempt to push him back in line. the solider complained, "O Prophet, you have hurt me with your stick." The Prophet immediately bared his stomach and said, "I am very sorry, you can revenge by doing the same to me." The soldier came forward and kissed the abdomen of the Prophet and said that this was all that he wanted.
A woman belonging to a high and noble family was arrested in connection with a theft. The case was brought to the Prophet and it was recommended that she be spared punishment. The Prophet replied: "The nations that lived before you were destroyed by Allah because they punished the common man for their offences and let their dignitaries go unpunished for their crimes; I swear by Him (Allah) who holds my life in His hand that even if Fatima, the daughter of Muhammad, had committed this crime, then I would have amputated her hand."
During the caliphate of 'Umar, Muhammad the son of 'Amr bin al-'s, the Governor of Egypt, whipped an Egyptian. The Egyptian went to Madina and lodged his complaint with the Caliph, who immediately summoned the Governor and his son. When they appeared before him the Caliph handed a whip to the Egyptian plaintiff and asked him to whip the son of the Governor in his presence. After the Egyptian had taken his revenge, 'Umar said to him: Give one stroke of the whip to the Honourable Governor as well. His son would certainly not have beaten you were it not for the false pride that he had in his father's high office." The plaintiff submitted. "The person who had beaten me, I have already avenged myself on him." 'Umar said: "By Allah, if you had beaten him (the Governor) I would not have checked you from doing so. You have spared him of your own free will." Then he ('Umar) turned to 'Amr bin al-'s, and said angrily: "O 'Amr, when did you start to enslave the people, though they were born free of their mothers?"
When the Islamic State was flourishing in its pristine glory, the common people could equally lodge complaints against the caliph of the time in the court and the caliph had to appear before the qadi to answer the charges. And if the caliph had any complaint against any citizen, he could not act without first referring the case to the court of law.
14. The Right to Avoid Sin
Islam confers the right on every citizen to refuse to commit a sin or a crime; if any government or administrator orders an individual to do a wrong, he may refuse to comply. Not only is his refusal not an offence, the giving of an order to one's subordinates to commit a sin or do a wrong is itself an offence and such a serious one that the officer who gives it, whatever his rank, is liable to summary dismissal.
These clear instructions of the Prophet are summarized in the following Hadith: "It is not permissible to disobey Allah in obedience to the orders of any human being" (Musnad of Ibn Hanbal). In other words, no one has the right to order his subordinates to act against the laws of Allah. No offender may seek to prove his innocence or escape punishment by saying that the offence was committed on the orders of a superior. If such a situation arises, the person who commits the offence and the person who orders it are equally liable to criminal proceedings.
15. The Right To Participate In The Affairs Of State
According to Islam, governments are representatives (khalifa) of the Creator of the universe; this responsibility is not entrusted to any individual or family or to any particular class or group of people, but to the entire Muslim community. The Holy Qur’an says: "Allah has promised to appoint those of you who believe and do good deeds as (His) representatives on earth" (24:55). This clearly indicates the khalifa is a collective gift of Allah in which the right of every individual Muslim is neither more nor less than the right of any other person.
The method recommended by the Holy Qur’an for running the affairs of the state is as follows: "And their business is (conducted) through consultation among themselves" (42:38). According to this principle it is the right of every Muslim either to have a direct say in the affairs of the state or to have a representative chosen by him and other Muslims to participate in the running of the state.
Under no circumstances does Islam permit an individual or a group or party of individuals to deprive the common Muslims of their rights or usurp powers of the state. Nor does Islam regard it as right and proper for an individual to put on a false show of setting up a legislative assembly and by means of such tactics as fraud, persecution, bribery and so on, get himself and men of his choice elected to the assembly. This is not only treachery against the people who rights are illegally usurped, but also against the Creator who has entrusted Muslims to rule on earth on His behalf, and has prescribed the procedure of an assembly for exercising these powers.
The shooraor legislative assembly should embrace the following principles:
1. The executive head of the government and the members of the assembly should be elected by free and independent choice of the people.
2. The people and their representatives should have the right to criticize and freely express their opinions.
3. The real conditions of the country should be bought before the people without suppression of fact so that they are in a position to judge whether the government is working properly or not.
4. There should be adequate guarantee that only those people who have the support of the masses should rule over he country and those who fail to win this support should be removed from their position of authority.
This article is based on a talk by
Syed Abul A'la Maudoodi and has been translated
into English by Prof Ahmed Said Khan and
Prof Khurshid Ahmad. It was published by the
Islamic Foundation, UK.