Holy Prophet Muhammad(sa) was 40 years of age when the angel Gabriel came to him in the cave of Hira and asked him: “Recite!” The Holy Prophet answered, “I am not a reciter”, where upon as he himself related, “the angel took me and whelmed me in his embrace until he had reached the limit of my endurance, then he released me and said, “Recite!”. I said again that I am not a reciter and again he took me and whelmed me in his embrace and again when he had reached the limit of my endurance, he released me and said, “Recite!” and again I said that I am not a reciter. Then a third time, he whelmed me as before, then released me and said, “Recite in the name of thy Lord Who createth man from a clot of blood, recite and thy Lord is the most bountiful, He Who hath taught by the pen, taught man what he knew not!” He recited these words after the angel who thereupon left him. So he fled from the cave and when he was half way down the slope of the mountain, he heard a voice above him saying, O’ Muhammad, thou art the Messenger of God, and I am Gabriel.” He raised his eyes heavenwards and there was his visitant. Still recognizable, but now clearly, an angel filling the whole horizon. The Holy Prophet(sa) descended the slope and went to his house.
“Cover me, cover me,” he said to his wife Khadija(ra), as with still quivering heart, he laid himself on his couch. Alarmed, yet not daring to question him, she quickly brought a cloak and spread it over him. When the intensity of his awe subsided, he told her what he had seen and heard. Hazrat Khadija’s answer was, “Do not worry. It is not possible that you will be unsuccessful because you are a kind-hearted person, you treat your relations in the best manner, you help the needy, you establish the morals and knowledge which have disappeared from the world, you honor your guest and if anyone is in trouble you are always there to help him.”(1)
In the comments of Hazrat Khadija(ra), we find five basic points about the character of the Holy Prophet(sa) which are the foundation of human rights. It was an observation during the 16 years of her marriage and it was such a spontaneous response that there was no doubt that these qualities existed in the Holy Prophet(sa). It was the reflection of that light which the Holy Qur’an has mentioned in Surah Noor that the Holy Prophet(sa) was Noor (light) even before he was given the gift of prophethood. When the prophethood came, the noor became noorun-ala-noor or light upon light. Let us examine the qualities of the Holy Prophet(sa) as related by Hazrat Khadija(ra).
First of all she mentioned that he was a kind-hearted person. It should be noted that the attribute of kind-heartedness pertains to family members, tribes, nations, fellow citizens etc. Everyone within these categories must be treated with kindness. There are many people who will not be kind to their relations but are very nice and courteous to the strangers. Certain races may be courteous and cordial to only certain races and discriminate against others. For example, some white Americans may be very friendly with other Whites but as soon as they have to get together or associate themselves with African-Americans, their whole character changes to disgust, and kindness has no part in it. The Holy Prophet(sa)’s kind heartedness was for everyone. He was kind to his family members, his relatives, friends, countrymen, his tribesmen and he would treat them according to their status and this is the basis of establishing peace in the world among diverse races, religions and countries.
The best example of the unlimited kindness was reflected at the time of the victory of Mecca when he forgave everyone. But, here is an instance to show how kind he was even to the criminal enemies.
Holy Prophet Muhammad(sa) came to Medina and a tribe attacked and took camels belonging to the Holy Prophet(sa) and ran away. The shepherd who was watching over the camels came to the Holy Prophet(sa) and told him that some tribal men came and ran away with the camels. A companion of the Holy Prophet named Akwah(ra) was the only one present at that time and the thieves were considered to be in large numbers. Akwah(ra) called around to see if anyone was nearby to help him chase the thieves. But no one answered and he decided to chase them by himself. Akwah(ra) was excellent in using the bow and arrow. He was hiding in the trees and throwing arrows at the thieves and they were getting injured one at a time. He chased them along hiding in the trees for miles and kept on injuring them until they could not maintain control of the camels while attending to their wounds. Akwah(ra) then took all the camels and brought them back to the Holy Prophet(sa). He stated: O’ Prophet of Allah, the thieves were real thirsty and as they would try to milk the camel, I would throw arrows at them. They are thirsty and wounded and therefore cannot run either. They are right now about ten miles from here. Let us send some men there to arrest them. Holy Prophet(sa) answered: You got your property back, why do you want to hurt the poor men? Let them go. There is no need to chase them.(2)
The second attribute that Hazrat Khadija(ra) mentioned was the exemplary treatment of guests. There is one kind of entertainment that people do which is of reciprocal nature. We entertain some guests because we know that we will be entertained in return by them in future. The better kind of entertaining and serving the guests is when we have no hope or chance to get reciprocal treatment. For example, we receive a guest from Australia and we have no plans or foreseeable opportunity to visit Australia but we go ahead and entertain the guest in the best manner possible. This is the real attribute of hosting a guest. The key factor is that we honor and serve our guests whoever they happen to be, again without discrimination. The Holy Prophet(sa) set the example that no matter what nationality, religion or tribe a guest was from; his treatment of the guest was consistent.
The third quality mentioned was that the Holy Prophet(sa) helped the needy. It pertains to the people who are handicapped, orphans, widows etc. Hazrat Khadija was asserting that the Holy Prophet(sa) not only took care of his own responsibilities but of all others who could not took care of themselves. This quality is essential for any nation to progress and establish the best form of human rights.
The fourth quality mentioned by Hazrat Khadija(ra) is that when someone is in trouble, Holy Prophet(sa) was there to help him. This is a different category of people than mentioned already. There is always a group of people who are not handicapped, orphans or widows but due to limited income or resources get in bad times in different parts of their lives. This is an area that most nations, governments and individuals overlook. A lot of people feel sympathy for a blind person or someone without a leg and look forward to helping them financially and otherwise. However, if a person due to limitations of formal education or experience cannot earn to raise the family, majority of the people either do not care or don’t go out of their way to help them.
Please note that we are referring to the people with legitimate requirements of help and assistance, not individuals who due to their laziness would not be productive. Holy Prophet(sa) through his keen vision always kept knowledge of the group of people mentioned here and helped them in their needs.
The fifth attribute that Hazrat Khadija(ra) stated was that the Holy Prophet(sa) has established knowledge and morals which had disappeared from the world. This quality encompasses everything needed to guarantee the human rights. Through excellent morals, the general populations become righteous and the human rights get preserved.
This is an amazing incidence where the response of Hazrat Khadija(ra) was so immediate and precise that it described the absolute reflection of the forty years of the Holy Prophet(sa)’s life. Now let us examine how the human rights were protected and improved as the light of prophethood started shining and added the eternal light to the shining nature of the Holy Prophet(sa).
In 1948, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted and proclaimed the universal declaration of human rights. It is interesting to note that almost all the articles of this declaration were already declared, publicized and practiced by the Holy Prophet of Islam 1400 years before the United Nations wrote them, voted on them but have not had the opportunity to enforce their practice anywhere in the world. I would only present a few articles which are very basic and examine how the Holy Prophet’s teachings and practice had already established them.
Articles 1 of the declaration of human rights states:
“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act toward one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”
Article 2 sort of expands on the first one and states:
“Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedom set forth in this declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion national or social origin, property, birth or other status.
Furthermore no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international; status of the country, territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other unitations of sovereignty.”
Holy Prophet Muhammad(sa) declared to the world through the Holy Qur’an on this issue in the following verses:
“O mankind, worship your Lord Who created you and those who were before you, that you may become righteous, Who made the earth a bed for you and the heaven a roof, and caused water to come down from the clouds and therewith brought forth fruits for your sustenance.”(3)
“O mankind, be mindful of your duty to your Lord Who created you from a single soul and from the same created its mate, and from them twain caused to be spread large number of men and women, and be mindful of your duty to Allah, in Whose name you appeal to one another, and be mindful of the ties of kinship.”(4)
So far as is apparent, the equality of mankind is assured in Islam as is in Article 1 of the declaration of human rights. The declaration did spell out that a person should not be given a status or privilege for belonging to a particular religion, national origin, sex or language. However, it did not establish on what basis the privileges could be extended. The Holy Qur’an, on the other hand, established that part as well.
The Holy Qur’an declared: “O’ mankind, We have created you from male and female, and we have made you into tribes and sub-tribes for greater facility of inter-exchange. Verily, the most honored from among you in the sight of Allah is he who is most righteous among you. Surely Allah is All-Knowing, All-Aware.”(5 )
The spirit of brotherhood is emphasized at every turn in Islam and permeates every section of Muslim society. It is the practical expression of the truth that all men are creatures and servants of the same Beneficent Creator and must for His sake, and for the purpose of wining His pleasure, live together as brethren.
The Holy Prophet of Islam declared and kept on reminding as in the following hadith: “You are brothers, one to another, so let no one transgress against another, nor leave another to endure transgression unaided. Remember that he who occupies himself in assisting his brother will find Allah coming to his own assistance, and he who strives to relieve his brother of anxiety will find himself shielded against anxiety by Allah on the Day of Judgment, and he who overlooks his brother’s fault will find his own faults overlooked by Allah.”(6)
Holy Prophet(sa) has been reported to state: “None of you can be a believer unless he should desire for his brother what he desires for himself.”(7)
It is one thing to declare and announce and yet altogether a different thing to implement it. History tells us that in 1948, when the declaration of human rights was being signed by the members of the United Nations, the signing countries knew fully well that they were in violations of it while signing it and had no intention of changing their ways. On the other hand we find that the Holy Prophet(sa)’s declarations were in full accordance with his practice.
The day Holy Prophet Muhammad(sa) was married, he established the practice of the first article of human rights declaration by freeing all the slaves owned previously by his wife Hazrat Khadija(ra). Slavery was not to be allowed and to be practiced by him at his household before it could be preached to anyone else. Not only the principle of men being equal was established but in the same action kindness was reflected to its fullest extent. One of the slaves refused to go with his relatives. He wanted to stay with the Holy Prophet(sa). Zaid(ra) had experienced the light and he would rather be a slave of the master Muhammad(sa) than be free with his natural father and mother. The response of the love shown by Zaid(ra) was returned by the greatest kindness that could be hoped for by a slave at that time in Arabia. The Holy Prophet(sa) declared this freed slave to be his adopted son. It was a real loving relationship. During the time of the second Khalifa, Omar(ra), his son Abdullah(ra) asked him why he had rated Usamah son of Zaid(ra) higher than Abdullah in a particular case while Abdullah son of Omar had served Islam much more than Usama had. Hazrat Omar’s reply was: “For the reason, son, that Usama’s father and Usama were dearer to the Prophet(sa) than thy father and thee.”(8)
This was the beginning of abolishing slavery and proved in a practical sense that all men are created equal. It was like a domino effect that every day slaves were being freed by the masters who would accept Islam. Well to do Muslims would buy slaves from cruel masters and free them only and only to win the pleasure of God. This was the training provided by our kind Prophet Muhammad(sa).
A little bit later we find that another slave named Bilal(ra) was continuously being beaten by his master Umayya for the only crime that he accepted Islam. He was being dragged in the hot sands in Arabia with stones and weights put on his body so he could not move. Finally, on the direction of the Holy Prophet(sa), Hazrat Abu Bakr(ra) went to Umayya while he was beating up Bilal(ra) and offered to purchase him for whatever price he wanted. Umayya sold him saying that he had no use for him anyway. Bilal(ra) was freed and a few years later the world witnessed the account of Bilal(ra) when the Holy Prophet established that not only all men are created equal but through righteousness even Bilal(ra) could reach the heights of spiritualism and achieve the right of privileges only assigned to the righteous.
On the day of the victory of Mecca, Muslims were marching towards Mecca in the leadership of the Holy Prophet(sa). It was that day when the declaration was made that anyone under the flag of Bilal(ra) will be guaranteed his life. Just imagine and try to comprehend the position of Bilal(ra). The slave who was a useless thing to them, could be bought and sold anytime in the market place, was handed over many times to the youth of Mecca to be beaten and dragged in the streets. The same Meccans were running to go under his flag to have their lives saved and their protection was guaranteed. What the Holy Prophet(sa) had taught and preached was being practiced to its fullest meaning of the text.
Other than the discrimination based on race, we find that even in the modern Western countries, there is an abundance of discrimination based on sex as well. However, even in this category, the Holy Prophet(sa) has set up excellent teachings and practice. It should be noted that at the time of the Holy Prophet(sa), a woman was placed in a condition in which she could not be the owner of her property. Her husband was regarded as the owner of her property. She did not have a share in the property of her father either, nor could she inherit the property of her husband. When married, she was either assigned to her husband for good as his possession, or in the alternative, right was given to the husband to divorce her but not given to her to separate herself from the husband.
Holy Prophet Muhammad(sa) changed all that. First of all he declared that God had particularly entrusted to him the task of safeguarding the rights of women. He proclaimed in the name of God that man and woman by virtue of their humanity were the equal of each other, and when they lived together, just as man had certain rights over the woman, so had woman certain rights over the man. Women could own property in the same way as men. A husband had no right to use the property of his wife as long as the wife, of her own free will, would let him have some of it. She was to inherit the property of her parents just as well as her brothers. She was also given the right to get a legal separation from her husband if she could not bear to live with him for whatever reasons. Women, in short, were to have an independent status. All the spiritual rewards were to be open to her. She was to command the highest excellences of life. She could take part in different departments of civil administration. In this regard she was to have the same consideration paid to her claims as that accorded to man.
Holy Prophet(sa) stated that women should be treated with tenderness because she was created from the ribs. It is an excellent example and description how women should be treated. The meaning of being created from the rib is not of course in a literal sense as some Christians take it. The similitude of the rib is that just as the ribs cover the heart but seem to be visible as a separate unit, in the same way the woman has her whole focus toward the man but has an independent existence. The woman should be treated with tenderness because if you try to pressure her or be harsh with her, just as the rib, she will break. In all relations in the world, husband-wife relation is the only one that is so close and yet it can be broken. A relation of brothers, father and son, mother and daughter can never be broken no matter how bad the relationship gets. On the other hand, a husband and wife can be respectful and loving to each other so that their relationship can be stronger than any other relations and yet it can be broken. Just as the rib, woman is part of the body, but has its own existence. The Holy Prophet(sa) established the tenderness for women in his time when the whole culture whether in Arabia or outside would not allow any such thing.
Once, the Holy Prophet(sa) was coming back from the Battle of Khayber and his wife Hazrat Safiyya(ra) was riding the camel along with him. Something happened and the camel got scared and in that process the Holy Prophet(sa) and his wife fell down from the camel. Hazrat Abu Talha(ra) Ansari’s camel was right behind, he jumped off his camel and ran to the Prophet(sa) to help him get up and ask if he was hurt. As soon as Abu Talha(ra) reached near the Holy Prophet(sa), he said: Go to the lady first, go to the lady first. It should be noted that the companions were in such love for the Holy Prophet(sa) that the thought of seeing him hurt was unbearable for them. They could care less if anyone else was hurt while their Prophet was falling down. The Holy Prophet(sa) knew the feelings of the companions and made the point that he knew how much they cared for him and loved him but he instructed to find out first if the lady was hurt, and not to worry about him. This was the training that the Holy Prophet(sa) provided to the companions to establish the fine treatment of women taught by the Holy Qur’an.
In discussing the human rights violations, in addition to the discrimination based on race and sex, there is the ever present discrimination based on religion. It has been over 70 years since the declaration of human rights was signed by all nations of the globe but the violations of the human rights based on religion still exist and in some countries are on the rise. Especially in Muslim countries the rise in human rights violations can be directed attributed to them not following the wonderful examples of the Holy Prophet(sa).
Holy Prophet Muhammad(sa)’s example in this regard was unparalleled to followers of any other religion. The respect and love that he showed to the followers of other religions is outstanding. When a group of Christians from Nijran visited the Holy Prophet(sa) in Medina and the time came for their prayer services, they asked to be excused so they could leave the mosque and perform their services. The Holy Prophet(sa) insisted that they perform their services in the mosque because it has been constructed for the worship of God.
During the Gulf war, in Chicago Tribune, there was an editorial about how amazing it was that in Saudi Arabia, since the American troops have been allowed, the Jews and Christians are performing their religious services in the cities where they were not even allowed to go before, let alone performing their own services.
Therefore, it is not such an occurrence that should have astonished the people that it made the editorial pages of Chicago Tribune. The astonishment has only occurred because the Americans know that while they have signed the declaration of human rights, there is no way that they could allow any Muslim to perform services in their churches. Such tolerance of religious differences and courtesy could not be found except in the teachings and practice of our Holy Prophet(sa).
Astonishment could also be result of the fact that Muslim countries such Saudi Arabia do not allow the Christians or the Jews to worship in their mosques. The Saudis do not even let them enter in sacred lands. So the exception to their practice obviously was noticeable.
In essence, it is obvious that the Holy prophet Muhammad(sa) was the blessing for mankind. He established the basis for human rights protection that the world needs so badly today. There is no declaration and no philosophy that can even get close to take its place. The salvation of the world is in following his teachings and his practice.
- Bokhari Hadith 3, Book of Revelation, narrated by Ayesha
- Sahih Muslim, Book of Jihad and Expedition, Chapter Battle of Dhu Qarad
- Holy Qur’an 2:22-23
- Holy Qur’an 4:2
- Holy Qur’an 49:14
- Bokhari, Hadith 622, Oppression
- Bokhari, Kitaabul Imaan, An Yohibbo Le Akheehay
- How to love the Prophet Muhammad by Nabil Hamid al Mu’adh, page 130