The Quran lays down sacrosanct human rights as basic rights of every human being:
وَلَقَدْ كَرَّمْنَا بَنِي آدَمَ
(17:70) – NOW, INDEED, We have conferred dignity on the children of Adam. [Asad]
That is, Allah has conferred dignity and honor on every human being. Every human being is worthy of equal respect – by virtue of being human. Respect must be given to one’s humanity, not to any physical attributes. So, the core universal value is: whatever is done in the name of Islam – whether establishing a system, developing a concept, enacting a law, or conducting a business – if there is anything in it that disrespects or denigrates any human being, then it is non-Quranic, it is non-Islamic. It is a crime against humanity, because Allah has declared that He has conferred dignity to all humans.
Another universal value is related to work ethic. The Quran describes this universal value as a principle related to occupation in life:
وَلِكُلٍّ دَرَجَاتٌ مِّمَّا عَمِلُوا ۖ وَلِيُوَفِّيَهُمْ أَعْمَالَهُمْ وَهُمْ لَا يُظْلَمُونَ
(46:19) – And to all are (assigned) degrees according to the deeds which they (have done), and in order that (Allah) may recompense their deeds, and no injustice be done to them. [Yusuf Ali]
The principle is that one must be assigned a position purely based on merit, qualification, and performance of duty. One will receive full recompense of one’s endeavors irrespective of demographics or any other consideration – such as elitism due to birth; or religious or temporal connection or confederation. None will be shown any favor, and no one will be wronged. This is Allah’s Law of Requital. If anyone is denied this merit-based appointment for a job, then one should be able to demand justice based on one’s God-given human rights.
Therefore, leaving aside other principles, even if these two basic principles – (i) equal dignity to all human beings and (ii) appointment to positions based purely on merit and qualifications and everyone receiving full recompense of one’s effort – get established in a society, then won’t that society turn into heaven on earth? In Arabic the root of ظلم (Dhulm) (ظ – ل - م) means things not being kept at their proper place: a human given lower position than the one he/she deserves or vice versa. This is the real source of corruption in society. The cries we hear – that there is corruption everywhere – is the result of this unfairness or ظلم (Dhulm).
But people who deny the truth (of Allah’s Law of Requital), make enjoyment of worldly comforts and luxuries the sole aim of life till they reach their graves (102:1). They become arrogant and glorify themselves and cause corruption and imbalance in the world in clear violation of Allah’s order (55: 8-9). They achieve greatness without doing any good (balance-restoring) deeds.
The Quran says:
وَيَوْمَ يُعْرَضُ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا عَلَى النَّارِ أَذْهَبْتُمْ طَيِّبَاتِكُمْ فِي حَيَاتِكُمُ الدُّنْيَا وَاسْتَمْتَعْتُم بِهَا فَالْيَوْمَ تُجْزَوْنَ عَذَابَ الْهُونِ بِمَا كُنتُمْ تَسْتَكْبِرُونَ فِي الْأَرْضِ بِغَيْرِ الْحَقِّ وَبِمَا كُنتُمْ تَفْسُقُونَ
(46:20) – And on the Day when those who were bent on denying the truth will be brought within sight of the fire, [they will be told:] “You have exhausted your [share of] good things in your worldly life, having enjoyed them [without any thought of the hereafter]: and so today you shall be requited with the suffering of humiliation for having gloried on earth in your arrogance, offending against all that is right, and for all your iniquitous doings!” [Asad]
وَمَا هَـٰذِهِ الْحَيَاةُ الدُّنْيَا إِلَّا لَهْوٌ وَلَعِبٌ ۚ وَإِنَّ الدَّارَ الْآخِرَةَ لَهِيَ الْحَيَوَانُ ۚ لَوْ كَانُوا يَعْلَمُونَ
(29:64) – For, [if they did, they would know that] the life of this world is nothing but a passing delight and a play - whereas, behold, the life in the hereafter is indeed the only [true] life: if they but knew this! [Asad]
If they were to use their intellect and wisdom, they would clearly realize that if life means continuance of breath only, then there would be no high ideal or objective before human beings. Living would mean only the satisfaction of physical desires and nothing but a passing delight or a display. If they analyze logically they will realize that real life means “living at human level.” Life at human level goes on even beyond death. Life that ends with death is the physical body, the “animal level of life” of the human. Allama Iqbal says:
It is what human does that defines his “life” of heaven or hell;
The human, made of dust, in its nature, is neither fire nor light!
The Quran distinguishes human “life” from human “age.” The stoppage of human breath ends his age not his life. Death ends the physical life, but the human life moves on. Age is related to physical processes and ends due to physical reasons. But “life” is built with balance-restoring righteous deeds (عَمِلُوا الصَّالِحَاتِ - ‘Amilus Saalihaat) which then moves ahead carrying these deeds with it to the next level after the physical death. Those who do not believe this, their deeds are related to age; and their deeds and the results of their deeds end with age. They receive their high accolades in the world. They receive all the credits of their good charitable deeds in the world. They do everything for allure of age, and it ends with the end of age. This is their motive. So, there would be nothing left for them in the Hereafter. But the driving force for achieving continuous stream of life is quite lofty, well beyond their motive to gain worldly fame and accolades. As Allama Iqbal says:
Your way is to count the number of breaths;
My way is focused on how to boost life itself.
Achieving Greatness in World
Achieving greatness in and of itself is not bad. But what is bad is trying to achieve greatness بِغَيْرِ الْحَقِّ (without The Truth) (46:20). The Quran says that مومنین (Momineen) will be on top of the world (3:139). Standing on top of the minaret when the declaration of اللہ اکبر (Allahu Akbar – Allah is great!) is made, then what does it really mean? Does Allah require our declaration and affirmation that He is great? Whether or not we affirm, He is great by Himself – He is the Almighty Creator of the Universe and everything in it. This, in fact, is the declaration that Allah’s divine system when implemented in the world will lead to greatness of the people; that Allah is the sole Sovereign Authority over them; that they will not accept any other authority along with Allah in that system. This is the meaning of:
أشهد أن لا إله إلا الله
– That there is no other sovereign authority whose obedience we will accept except that of Allah’s. Those who accept and implement this system will achieve greatness in the world (3:139). This will be the hallmark of مومنین (Momineen).
The Quran says:
أَلَّا تَعْبُدُوا إِلَّا اللَّـهَ
(46:21) – Do not accept the obedience of anyone else except that of Allah’s.
No one has right to rule over humans except Allah (12:67):
إِنِ الْحُكْمُ إِلَّا لِلَّـهِ
Sovereignty only belongs to Allah and to no one else (114:2-3). No one – absolutely no one – can be partner in His Sovereignty:
وَلَا يُشْرِكُ فِي حُكْمِهِ أَحَدًا
(18:26) – He allots to no one a share in His rule! [Asad]
Thus, the foundation of Islam, the کلمه (Kalimah) – أشهد أن لا إله إلا الله – is a revolutionary proclamation that “no one except Allah is the Sovereign Ruler and Authority” in the world.
But, when religion replaced دین (Deen), Muslims became satisfied with this fake definition of کلمه (Kalimah) that “no one is to be worshiped except God,” and accepted the obedience of barbaric tyrants and governments while suffering worst kind of humiliation and rebuke at their hands. The traditional Muslim scholars have perpetuated the myth that having freedom to practice the rituals is enough for Islam. This was the reason Allama Iqbal was compelled to say:
If Mullah is free to pray in Hind;
Islam is free, the ignorant thinks!
The Purpose of Sending Messengers
Every messenger used to convey the same message to his people: Do not adopt the obedience of anyone except that of Allah (23:23, 23:32, and 23:44). Form this we can surmise why their people went after them. Prophets were threatened with dire consequences to the extent that they wanted to drive the prophets away; and they even killed them (2:91, 3:21, 3:112, 3:181, 3:183). Who could tolerate this revolutionary call for overthrowing those who possessed authority and control? How could those at the top tolerate revolution to dismantle status quo?
The messengers conveyed the divine message to their people: that ultimately they will be destroyed if they persist in their unjust ways. It does not matter to Allah whether or not one accepts His obedience. He is the Almighty Creator and His Sovereignty reigns supreme over the Universe. He was Absolute Sovereign before He created the Universe and He will remain so after the Universe is gone. He does not need human obedience. Humans need His obedience if they want to succeed in the long term. He does not punish humans. Humans get punished by the results of their own wrong deeds. Unchecked, human mentality gets wild and cruel. These tyrants acquire power and impose their own tyrannical system on people. History bears witness that every nation has been punished by their own tyrants. Every messenger was given the same reply when he invited his people to Allah’s message:
وَإِذَا قِيلَ لَهُمُ اتَّبِعُوا مَا أَنزَلَ اللَّـهُ قَالُوا بَلْ نَتَّبِعُ مَا أَلْفَيْنَا عَلَيْهِ آبَاءَنَا
(2:170) – But when they are told, “Follow what God has bestowed from on high,” some answer, “Nay, we shall follow [only] that which we found our forefathers believing in and doing.” [Asad]
The Quran replies in response to their demand to bring the punishment:
قَالُوا أَجِئْتَنَا لِتَأْفِكَنَا عَنْ آلِهَتِنَا فَأْتِنَا بِمَا تَعِدُنَا إِن كُنتَ مِنَ الصَّادِقِينَ ﴿﴾ قَالَ إِنَّمَا الْعِلْمُ عِندَ اللَّـهِ وَأُبَلِّغُكُم مَّا أُرْسِلْتُ بِهِ وَلَـٰكِنِّي أَرَاكُمْ قَوْمًا تَجْهَلُونَ
(46:22-23) – They answered: “Hast thou come to seduce us away from our gods? Bring, then, upon us that [doom] with which thou threaten us, if thou art a man of truth!” Said he: “Knowledge [of when it is to befall you] rests with God alone: I but convey unto you the message with which I have been entrusted; but I see that you are people ignorant [of right and wrong]!” [Asad]
It is important to note here that the divine messenger’s addressees were not asking why we would be punished? Or, how could we avoid it? Or, what could we do to minimize its effect? In their hubris, they were challenging the messenger to bring this destruction. In utter foolishness they were asking him to tell them its timing. This is the mindset of tyrants. They are not used to discussing and resolving things. Subconsciously they think nothing will happen to them because they have the power and authority over everything in their dominion; that they have made all their plans for protection. But the Quran says that destruction will come from sources that they are not even aware of:
أَفَأَمِنَ الَّذِينَ مَكَرُوا السَّيِّئَاتِ أَن يَخْسِفَ اللَّـهُ بِهِمُ الْأَرْضَ أَوْ يَأْتِيَهُمُ الْعَذَابُ مِنْ حَيْثُ لَا يَشْعُرُونَ
(16:45) – Can, then, they who devise evil schemes ever feel sure that God will not cause the earth to swallow them, or that suffering will not befall them without their perceiving whence [it came]? [Asad]
Do those who lay down evil plans, are so certain that Allah will not abase them in the earth or that chastisement will not come to them from sources that they are not even aware of? The Quran describes that the things they think will bring them success, in fact, will become the source of their destruction.
مَن كَانَ يُرِيدُ الْعِزَّةَ فَلِلَّـهِ الْعِزَّةُ جَمِيعًا ۚ إِلَيْهِ يَصْعَدُ الْكَلِمُ الطَّيِّبُ وَالْعَمَلُ الصَّالِحُ يَرْفَعُهُ ۚ وَالَّذِينَ يَمْكُرُونَ السَّيِّئَاتِ لَهُمْ عَذَابٌ شَدِيدٌ ۖ وَمَكْرُ أُولَـٰئِكَ هُوَ يَبُورُ
(35:10) – He who desires might and glory [ought to know that] all might and glory belong to God [alone]. Unto Him ascend all good words, and the righteous deed does He exalt. But as for those who cunningly devise evil deeds - suffering severe awaits them; and all their devising is bound to come to naught. [Asad]