‘Amritasya Putrah Vayam’ – “We are all begotten of the immortal.”
This is how Hinduism introduces human beings.
“Every individual soul is potentially divine”, proclaimed Swami Vivekananda.
It is necessary to delve into the fundamentals of Hinduism in order to comprehend its position on human dignity, human rights etc. The fundamentals of Hinduism are in those great dialogues that took place in the Himalayas some 4-5 Millennia back very much like the Socratic dialogues. They are not commandments but informed suggestions.
Ethical-Spiritual Identity of Human Beings:
Hinduism doesn’t recognise human beings as mere material beings. Its understanding of human identity is more ethical-spiritual than material. That is why a sense of immortality and divinity is attributed to all human beings in Hindu classical thought.
“Consistent with the depth of Indian metaphysics, the human personality was also given a metaphysical interpretation. This is not unknown to the modern occidental philosophy. The concept of human personality in Kant’s philosophy of law is metaphysical entity but Kant was not able to reach the subtler unobserved element of personality, which was the basic theme of the concept of personality in Indian legal philosophy”, observes Prof. S.D. Sharma. (Sharma SD, Administration of Justice in Ancient Bharat, 1988)
An invisible Atman – the soul – dwelling in each body as the quintessential identity of all creatures forms the basis for all discussion on the status of human beings in Hindu classical thought starting from the times of the Vedas, indisputably the ancient-most literature of the world.
It is on the principle that the soul that makes the body of all living organisms its abode is in fact an integral part of the Divine Whole – Paramaatman – that the Vedas declare unequivocally:
Ajyesthaaso Akanisthaasa Yete
Sam Bhraataro Vaavrudhuh Soubhagaya
– RigVeda, Mandala-5, Sukta-60, Mantra-5
‘No one is superior or inferior; all are brothers; all should strive for the interest of all and progress collectively’.
The RigVeda is the first of the four Vedas and is considered the essence of all knowledge – Jnana. In fact the Vedas emphasise the quintessential oneness of the entire creation.
Samaani va Aakootihi Samaanaa Hridayaanivah
Samaanamastu vo Mano Yathaa Vah Susahaasati
– RigVeda, Mandala-10, Sukta-191, Mantra-4
“Let there be oneness in your resolutions, hearts and minds; let the determination to live with mutual cooperation be firm in you all”.
It is worthwhile to mention here that it was much later and very recently that the world had come up with the ideals of French Revolution or for that matter the first Article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) that exhorts:
“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood”.
Three famous ideals that inspired the French Revolution i.e. Liberty, Equality and Fraternity have subsequently found place in almost all the democratic constitutions of the world including that of Bharat. Liberty and Equality are the ideals that can be achieved through constitutional means. But for achieving Fraternity we need something more than constitutional means.
“What does Fraternity mean?” Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, the Architect of Bharat’s Constitution questioned, and went on to explain that “Fraternity means a sense of common brotherhood of all Indians – of Indians being one people. It is this principle that gives unity and solidarity to social life.” (B.R. Ambedkar and Human Rights, Complete Works – 8)
Fundamental Unity – Omnipresent Consciousness:
Human dignity can not be ensured merely through constitutional means. It has to be embedded in the basic Sanskaras – the value system of the society. The ancient sages of Bharat have thus visualized the grand idea of the oneness of Atman and Paramaatman – and universal oneness of human beings based on ‘Chetna’ – the collective consciousness. That the same Consciousness pervades all creation is the greatest contribution of the Hindu classical thought to the wisdom of the world.
Nobel Physicist Schrödinger concluded in his book My View of the World after many experiments in Physics and neurophysiology that:
“In all the world there is no kind of framework within which we find consciousness in the plural. This is something we construct because of the temporal plurality of the individuals. But it is a false construction… The only solution to this conflict, in so far as any is available to us, lies in the ancient wisdom of the Upanishads”. (Swami Jitatmananda, Modern Physics and Vedanta, Sri Ramakrishna Ashrama, Rajkot)
Upanishads are the fountainhead of Hindu philosophy which the great German philosopher Schopenhauer described as “the solace of my life” (Harbilas Sharda, Hindu Superiority). Vedic and Upanishadic literature abounds in ideas that proclaim universal oneness and universal well-being. Hinduism is the essence of all that wisdom handed down to generations after generations. These ideas have shaped and guided the Hindu socio-religious life for centuries.
When one enters the Parliament Building in Delhi one comes face to face at the very entrance with a Sanskrit verse:
Ayam Nijah Paroveti Ganana Laghu Chetasaam
Udaara Charitaanaam tu Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam
It says: “Small and narrow-minded people look at the reality in terms of ‘this is yours and this is mine’; for those of higher consciousness the whole world is a family”.
This ideal of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam – the World as One Family – is unique in this age of Globalisation in the sense that while the ancient sages of Bharat have proclaimed that the whole humanity is like a big extended family, the modern-age pundits want us to believe that the whole world is, in fact, a huge market. While the Hindus stand for One World, the Globalisation stands for One Market. In reality what we are actually achieving is not Globalisation, but Mc Donaldisation.
While emphasizing on the fundamental unity of the Atman – consciousness, Hinduism does recognize that there exists diversity in God’s creation. This diversity is not seen by a Hindu as a misnomer. Neither does he set out to destroy this diversity in his quest for uniformity when he talks about the innate oneness. Diversity in form and unity in spirit is what Hinduism stands for.
The secular ideals of Europe are nascent in front of the Hindu ideal of ‘Sarva Dharma Samabhav’ – ‘Equal Respect for all Religions’. Whereas the secular ideology stops at calling for ‘tolerance’ to the diversity, Hinduism goes much further. It doesn’t just tolerate; it accepts every religion. It transcends all barriers of religious bigotry and even celebrates diversity.
Some wrongly portray it as polytheism or pluralism. Pluralism means existence of parts that are not inter-connected. However the Hindu ideal of respect for and celebration of the diversity in the Creation stems from its core belief that whatever we see in the universe is nothing but the manifestation of the Supreme Reality only.
The Chandogya Upanishad describes it beautifully as: ‘Sarvam Khalvidam Brahma’ – meaning ‘All that we see in this universe is Brahman (Supreme Consciousness) only’. The Mundaka Upanishad says that this Atman (Consciousness-existence – Bliss-absolute) has interpenetrated everything in the universe.
Lord Krishna refers to the omnipresence of the Divine in his discourse to Arjuna in the Bhagawat Gita.
‘Mayi Sarvamidam Protam Sutre Manigana Iva’ – ‘I have interpenetrated the universe like gems threaded together’.
It is interesting to observe the scientific developments in Quantum Physics that seem to proceed along the same lines. After successful experiment on Bell’s Theorem, eminent Physicist David Bohm wrote:
“The essential new quality implied by the quantum theory is non-locality, i.e. that a system cannot be analyzed into parts whose basic properties do not depend upon the whole system. This leads to new notion of unbroken wholeness of the universe”. (Swami Jitatmananda, Swami Vivekananda – Prophet and Path-finder)
We shall term it Omnitheism. The purpose of life for a Hindu is to realize this, feel One, and through this feeling, liberate spiritually. Omnitheism guides the Hindu way of life. He sees God everywhere, in trees, in rivers, in serpents and even in the vacuum. For him all creation – animate and inanimate – is sacred. He worships a river and calls it Ganga Mata – Mother Ganges. He worships a cow and calls it Go Mata – Mother Cow. Even if he were to cut a tree for laying up a road, he would do that only after offering his obeisance to that tree and seeking pardon from it. Hence every Hindu might have a personal deity like patron saints culled from historical figures enshrined in folk memory. This is not polytheism as these deities are as divine as any in the creation and merely a part of the Whole.
‘Ekam Sat Viprah Bahudha Vadanti’ – ‘Truth is one; Wise men call it by various names’, exhorts Rig Veda.
“We not only tolerate, but we Hindus accept every religion …. Knowing that all religions, from the lowest fetishism to the highest absolutism, mean so many attempts of the human soul to grasp and realize the infinite, each determined by the conditions of its birth and association, and each of them marking a stage of progress” – exhorted Swami Vivekananda at the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893. (Subhash Kashyap; Understanding Bharat – Relevance of Hinduism, 2007)
In fact the Narada Smriti, one of the many constitutions Hindus have had during the course of their long history enjoins upon the king to protect non-believers too.
“Pashandanaigama sreni poogavraata ganadishu
Samrakshet samayam Raja Durge Janapade Tatha”
“The king should accord protection to compacts of associations of believers of Vedas (Naigamas) as also the non-believers (Pashandis) and others” (Narada Smriti, Dharma Kosha)
To put in a nutshell, the Hindu perceives global diversity as the Divine Game and sets out to preserve and enrich it rather than trying to establish a Global Standard Culture.
Right of Happiness:
Hinduism is the religion of bliss. It considers the Right of Happiness to be the highest fundamental right of all humans. The ultimate goal for Hindusim is material and spiritual well-being of the mankind. It is pertinent to mention here that this all important Right of Happiness doesn’t find a place in the acclaimed Universal Charter of Human Rights.
The holy prayer of Hindus from time immemorial has been:
Sarvepi Sukhinah Santu
Sarve Santu Niramayah
Sarve Bhadrani Pashyantu
Ma Kaschid Dukhabhag Bhavet
Let all be happy
Let all be free from diseases
Let all see auspicious things
Let nobody suffer from grief
Another prayer that finds place in the Sikshavalli (Chapter on Education) in the Taittareya Upanishad is also very significant.
Om Sahanavavatu
Saha Nau Bhunaktu
Sahaviryam Karavavahai
Tejaswi Navadhitamastu
Ma Vidmishamahai
Om shantih shantih shantih
May He protect us together
May He nourish us together
May we work together with greater energy
May our study be vigorous and effective
May we not hate each other
Let there be peace allover
It may be noted that all these prayers essentially talk about the material well-being and happiness of the entire mankind. In that sense the modern thinkers are not the first to think in terms of the welfare and happiness of the mankind. However the ‘Maximum Benefit to Maximum Number’ principle of the modern economic thought was never accepted by the ancient Hindu seers. ‘Total Good of All Beings’ has been the life-ideal of Hinduism.
Karma – Highest Obligation:
Another significant aspect of the Hindu view on Human Rights is its emphasis on duties. In fact Hinduism doesn’t support the idea of separation of Rights and Duties. Thus in Hindu discourse no Right is absolute. All the Rights bestowed upon a section enjoin upon another section corresponding Duties too. And for a Hindu the highest obligation is Karma – performance of his Duty.
For example, the Right to Happiness was prominently emphasized in the Artha Shastra of Chanakya. But it also enjoined upon the King the obligation to ensure that those Rights of all his subjects are protected.
Prajasukhe Sukham Rajnah Prajanam cha Hite Hitam
Naatmapriyam Hitam Rajnah Prajanaam tu Priyam Hitam
“In the happiness of the subjects lies the happiness of the King; in their welfare his welfare. The King shall not consider what pleases himself as good; whatever pleases his subjects is only good for him” (Artha Shastra)
In the Bhagwat Gita, Lord Krishna declares to Arjuna:
Dharmenaavirodheshu Kaamosmi Bharatarshabha
“I am those desires that are not against the Dharma”
A very enlightening exchange took place during the Second World War between two stalwarts – Mahatma Gandhi and H.G. Wells on this question of Human Rights. Mahatma Gandhi steadfastly refused to accept the Rights discourse that was taking place in the 40s within the Western tradition. Eminent English writer H.G. Wells had drawn up a list of Human Rights. But Mahatma Gandhi told him that he would do better by drawing up a list of the duties of man.
“Begin with a Charter of Duties of Man… and I promise the Rights will follow as spring follows winter. I write from experience. As a young man I began life by seeking to assert my Rights and I soon discovered that I had none not even over my wife. So I began by discovering performing my duty by my wife, my children, friends, companions and society and I find today that I have greater Rights, perhaps than any living man I know”. (Richard L. Johnson, Gandhi’s Experiments with Truth)
As an essential prerequisite for the Right to Happiness, the Rig Veda unequivocally declares that all human beings are equal. The Atharva Veda goes further and talks about various Rights and obligations or Duties.
Samani Prapaa Saha Vonnabhagah
Samane Yoktre Saha vo Yunajmi
Aaraah Nabhimivaabhitah
“All have equal Rights to articles of food and water. The yoke of the chariot of life is placed equally on the shoulders of all. All should live together in harmony supporting one another like the spokes of a wheel of the chariot connecting its rim and hub”. (Atharva Veda – Samjnana Sukta)
In his important work ‘Happiness for All to Secure Social Harmony’, Js Rama Jois writes: ‘The Vedas and Upanishads were the primordial source of Dharma, a compendious term for all Human Rights and Duties, the observance of which was regarded as essential for securing peace and happiness to individuals and society. The Smritis and Puranas were collections of the rules of Dharma including Civil Rights and criminal liabilities (Vyavahara Dharma) as also Raja Dharma (Constitutional Law). There were also several other authoritative works on Raja Dharma, the most important of them being the Kamandaka, Shukra Niti and Kautilya’s Artha Shastra. All of them unanimously declare that the objective of the State was to secure happiness of all”. (M. Rama Jois, Guruji and Social Harmony, Sri Guruji Janm Shatabdi Samiti, Karnataka)
Bharat’s Constitution has Part – III containing details of the Fundamental Rights enjoyed by every citizen of the country. Commenting on this Part Js. Bhagwati said:
“These Fundamental Rights represent the basic values cherished by the people of this country since the Vedic times and they are calculated to protect the dignity of the individual and create conditions in which every human being can develop his personality to the fullest extent”. (Maneka Gandhi Vs Union of Bharat, 1978 (1) SCC 248)
Rights of Women:
Mr. Herbert Spender, the great apostle of individual freedom, says that the position of women supplied a good test of the civilization of the people. In Bharat, women have always occupied a position of very high esteem. Prof. H.H. Wilson says: “It may be confidently asserted that in no nation of antiquity were women held in so much esteem as amongst Hindus”. (Mill’s History of Bharat, Vol. II)
God in Hinduism is Artha Nareeswara in form and gender-free in formless.
Women enjoyed not only equal opportunities and privileges with men in the classical Hindu literature; they even enjoyed rights that were not available for their counterparts.
Manu Smriti, the greatest work on Hindu social codes, declares:
Yatra Naryastu Pujyante Ramante Tatra Devatah – “Where women are worshipped there the angels tread”.
This great law-giver of Hinduism defined the status of a wife and her equal rights thus:
1. If a wife dies, her husband may marry another wife. (Manu, Chapter V, Verse 168). If a husband dies, a wife may marry another husband. (Manu, quoted by Madhava and Vidyanatha Dikshita; Parasara; Narada; Yagnavalkya; Agni Purana)
2. If a wife becomes fallen by drunkenness or immorality her husband may marry another. (Manu, Chapter IX, Verse 80). If a husband becomes fallen, a wife may re-marry another husband. (Manu, quoted by Madhava and several other scholars)
3. In particular circumstances, a wife may cease to cohabit with her husband. (Manu, Chapter IX, Verse 79)
4. If a husband deserts his wife, she may marry another. (Manu, Chapter IX, Verse 76 and several others)
Varnashrama (Later day Caste System) and Human Dignity:
No discussion on Human Dignity and Rights with respect to Hinduism can be complete with out taking up the question of the Caste system and the hierarchical arrangement therein.
The Hindus perfected social organization. The Hindu Varnashrama was the most scientific principle of social organization. The Varnashrama was not the same as the present day Caste system. The society was organized into four Varnas/Castes. However unlike the Caste system of the present day the Varnas were not hereditary. Untouchability and caste-based discrimination were unknown during the Varnashrama days. No one was high and no one low.
Shankara Digvijaya of Adi Shankaracharya boldly proclaims:
Janmanaa Jaayate Shudrah Sanskaraat Dwija Ucchate
Vedapaathi Bhavet Viprah Brahma janaati Brahmanah
“By birth all are Shudras only. By actions men become Dwija (twice-born). By reading the Vedas one becomes Vipra and becomes Brahman by gaining the knowledge of God.”
A passage in the Vanparva of the Mahabharata runs thus: “He in whom the qualities of truth, munificence, forgiveness, gentleness, abstinence from cruel deeds, contemplation, and benevolence are observed, is called a Brahmin in the Smriti. A man is not a Sudra (low Caste) by being a Sudra nor a Brahmin by being a Brahmin”.
The Shantiparva in Mahabharata categorically rejects the idea of some castes being superior to others.
Na Visheshosti Varnanaam Sarvam Braahmyamidam Jagat
Brahmanaa poorva Sristhim hi Karmabhih Varnataam Gatam
“There are no distinctions of castes. Divine consciousness is omnipresent in the world. It was Brahmanic entirely at first. The Varnas have emerged in consequence of men’s actions.”
In his paper read before the International Congress of Orientalists at Berlin in 1881, Mr. Shyamji Krishna Verma, a renowned scholar and said:
“We read in the Aiteriya Brahmana (ii.3.19), for example, that Kavasha Ailusha, who was a Sudra and son of a low woman, was greatly respected for his literary attainments, and admitted into the class of Rishis – the pre-eminent Hindu sages. Perhaps the most remarkable feature of his life is that he, Sudra as he was, distinguished himself as the Rishi of some of the hymns of Rig-Veda (Rig., X. 30-40). It is distinctly stated in the Chandogyopanishad that Jabala, who is otherwise called Satya Kama, had no gotra, or family name whatever (Chan. Upa., IV. 4). Though born of unknown parents, Jabala is said to have founded a School of the Yajur Veda. Even in the Apasthambha Sutra (II. 5-10) and Manu Smriti (x. 65) we find that a Sudra can become a Brahman and a Brahman can become a Sudra.” (Harbilas Sharda, Hindu Superiority)
From Vyasa, Valmiki, and Vishva Karma to the present day saints one finds countless eminent Rishis who are Sudras by Varna. Even Megasthenes, the great Greek historian wrote that there were four castes in Hindus and a Hindu of any caste may become a Sophist (Brahmin).
Caste hierarchy and privileges based on caste had no sanction in Hinduism. They are the result of the distortions crept in to the Hindu body-politic during the Medieval period. Hinduism has witnessed a continuous stream of social reformers to uproot this malice like Narayana Guru, Swami Vivekananda, Jyotiba Phule, Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. B.R. Ambedkar.
“Wherever you go, there will be caste. But that doesn’t mean that there should be these privileges. They should be knocked on the head. The duty of the Advaita is to destroy all privilege. The days of exclusive privileges and exclusive claims are gone, gone forever from the soil of Bharat”, exclaimed Swami Vivekananda. (Subhash Kashyap, Understanding Bharat – Relevance of Hinduism)
Interestingly the caste system is no longer the exclusive appendage of Hinduism. Almost all religions in Bharat have these castes today, and they are afflicted by the system of caste-based privileges leading to conflicts within. Dalit Christians is a word frequently used to describe the converts to Christianity from the so-called low caste Hindus. These Dalit Christians complain that they suffer a number of disabilities and discrimination within the Christian Church establishment in Bharat. There were instances when it lead even to violence and separation of Parishes on caste lines as in the recent incidents in the South Indian city of Pondicherry in March 2008.

No way of life or philosophy can be free of contemporary aberrations. Hinduism is no exception. Myriad jostles of history and further deliberate misinterpretations have left it scarred albeit cautious. In its present continuous, it connects simultaneously with the highest philosophic deliberations and variegated folk systems of worship while embracing with happy understanding all other systems of belief. The only reservation is about exclusivist medieval codes which refuse to allow other faiths to survive. The supreme salvation of Hinduism, which is no different than Realization of Self as an essential component of the Divine Whole, is achieved thus by peaceful coexistence rather than aggressive ambition, by cooperation rather than competition.
As Gandhi’s deity Ram says in Ramcharitmanas, the most popular religious text in modern times:
“Nirmal Man Jan So Mohi Pawa
Mohi Kapat Chhal Chhidra Na Bhava”
(The Pure of Heart can find me in them. I do not come to Pretenders, Deceivers and Vicious persons.)
* * *
“Today we are still living in this transitional chapter of the world history, but it is already becoming clear that a chapter which had a Western beginning will have to have an Indian ending if it is not to end in self-destruction of the human race. At this supremely dangerous moment in human history the only way of salvation for the mankind is an Indian way” – Arnold Toynbee, Introduction to ‘World Thinkers on Ramakrishna and Vivekananda’.

The Adi Granth means more to Sikhs than even the Qur’an means to Muslims, the Bible to Christians, and the Torah to Jews. The Adi Granth is the Sikhs’ perpetual Guru (spiritual guide).” Arnold Toynbee1
Adi Granth, the Sikh Scriptures, contains over 6,000 verses composed by the Sikh gurus and several Hindu Saints and Muslim Sufis.2 Set to music, the rapturous songs of divine love and mystical emotions also raise a powerful voice for human equality, human rights, and human dignity.
The fundamental Sikh tenet is that the formless Creator, the Supreme Soul, resides in every individual. Entire mankind is the manifestation of the Absolute One. There is no non-believer; each human being is entitled to equal respect and equal dignity no matter what the person’s religion, faith, belief or station in life may be. Social divisions, which classify a person as superior or inferior to the other based on birth, stifle socio-economic growth.
The One God is the Father of all
We are all His children
Rag Sorath, page 611
Truth (Satu), contentment (Santokh, spiritual discipline) and compassion (Daya) are the real ornaments of Dharama (ethical value system, religion).
Sri Rag, page 51
Compassion, feeling and sharing somebody else’s pain and predicament , is of essence in Sikh belief.
Dharma is born of compassion
Through contentment, it (compassion) creates harmony
Japji, page 3
God is addressed by numerous names including Mother, Sister, and female Friend., thereby emphasizing sexual respect and equality: Woman has a unique role and an exalted place in Creation.
Of a woman are we conceived,
Of a woman we are born
It is a woman who is friend and partner of life
It is a woman who keeps the race going
From woman alone is born a woman,
Without woman there can be no human birth.
Rag Asa, pages 463-75
The underlying forces which infringe on human rights and human dignity are lust, wrath, greed, worldly attachment (Maya) and ego. These need perpetual cleansing.
Root out the choking weeds
Of lust and anger;
Loosening the soil,
The more thou hoest and weedest,
The more lovely grows the soul
Rag Basant, page 1171
In India, Islam “impinged on Hinduism violently”.3 The Gurus witnessed the carnage and looting of the innocent and vociferously denounced the atrocities. Even God was chastised for the rampant inhumanity:
Terrible was the slaughter
Loud were the cries of the lamenters,
Did this not awaken pity in Thee, O Lord?
Thou art part and parcel of all things equally, O Creator:
Thou must feel for all men and all nations.
Rag Asa, page 360
The age is like a knife, the Kings are butchers;
Goodness has taken wings and flown,
With obstinacy, Man
Clings to his petty self-hood.
Rag Majh, page 145
Greed is the root cause of exploitation:
Men have become as dogs,
They eat the ill-gotten gains,
And bark out their lies;
Giving no thought to righteousness,
They have no honour in life,
And leave evil name after death.
Rag Sarang, page 1242
Sikh Scriptures condemn the disease of intolerance. The Sikh Gurus vehemently espoused the right of free speech and free choice of faith and defended human rights. No price is too much to pay to protect these values.
True valiant is he
Who fights for the oppressed
And though battered into bits
Abandons not the battlefield
Rag Maru, page 1105
If you seek to play the game of love
Then enter, with your head on your palm
Var 20, page1412
The Sikh Gurus themselves paid that price with grace. The first Guru was imprisoned along with other bards of the day. The fifth Guru was executed for refusal to pay an unjust tax. The sixth Guru was imprisoned for organizing the people to defend their rights. The ninth Guru was executed for his refusal to change faith. The tenth Guru was assassinated for proclaiming the sacred right of the people to defend themselves. Till this day, the Sikhs have never let go of that courage to stand up and be counted for freedom.
Grant me this boon
O God, from Thy Greatness,
May I never refrain
From righteous acts:
May I fight without fear
All foes in life’s battle,
With confident courage
Claiming the victory!
Dassam Granth, Epilogue to Chandi Charitar,
Peace within and Peace without, shared happiness and love for all is the cherished goal of a Sikh. The Sikh prayer ends with supplication for the common well being of every person in the world.
1 UNESCO: The Sacred Writings of the Sikhs, George Allen and Unwin, London 1960, p. 9.
2The Adi (first) Granth was formally invested with the function of a “Living Guru” by the last of the ten Sikh Gurus (continuum 1469 to 1708). The Sikhs address it as Guru Granth Sahib. The writings of the tenth Guru, over 2,000 Hymns, constitute the “Dassam Granth” (book of the tenth Guru) and are not part of the sacred Adi Granth.
3UNESCO: op. cit. p. 10.
Note: page numbers refer to the pages of the Adi Granth.
Before I discuss the human rights in Islam I would like to explain a few points about two major approaches to the question of human rights: the Western and Islamic. This will enable us to study the issue in its proper perspective and avoid some of the confusion which normally befogs such a discussion.

The Western Approach:
The people in the West have the habit of attributing every good thing to themselves and try to prove that it is because of them that the world got this blessing, otherwise the world was steeped in ignorance and completely unaware of all these benefits. Now let us look at the question of human rights. It is very loudly and vociferously claimed that the world got the concept of basic human rights from the Magna Carta of Britain; though the Magna Carta itself came into existence six hundred years after the advent of Islam. But the truth of the matter is that until the seventeenth century no one even knew that the Magna Carta contained the principles of Trial by Jury; Habeas Corpus, and the Control of Parliament on the Right of Taxation. If the people who had drafted the Magna Carta were living today they would have been greatly surprised if they were told that their document also contained all these ideals and principles. They had no such intention, nor were they conscious of all these concepts which are now being attributed to them.
As far as my knowledge goes the Westerners had no concept of human rights and civic rights before the seventeenth century. Even after the seventeenth century the philosophers and the thinkers on jurisprudence though presented these ideas, the practical proof and
demonstration of these concepts can only be found at the end of the eighteenth century in the proclamations and constitutions of America and France. After this there appeared a reference to the basic human rights in the constitutions of different countries. But more often the rights which were given on paper were not actually given to the people in real life.
In the middle of the present century, the United Nations, which can now be more aptly and truly described as the Divided Nations, made a Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and passed a resolution against genocide and framed regulations to check it? But as you all know there is not a single resolution or regulation of the United Nations which can be enforced. They are just an expression of a pious hope. They have no sanctions behind them, no force, physical or moral to enforce them. Despite all the high-sounding ambitious
resolutions of the United Nations, human rights have been violated and trampled upon at different places, and the United Nations has been a helpless spectator. She is not in a position to exercise an effective check on the violation of human rights. Even the heinous crime of genocide is being perpetrated despite all proclamations of the United Nations. Right in the neighbouring country of Pakistan, genocide of the Muslims has been taking place for the last twenty-eight years, but the United Nations does not have the power and strength to take any steps against India. No action has even been taken against any country guilty of this most serious and revolting crime.

The Islamic Approach:
The second point which I would like to clarify at the very outset is that when we speak of human rights in Islam we really mean that these rights have been granted by God; they have not been granted by any king or by any legislative assembly. The rights granted by the kings or the legislative assemblies, can also be withdrawn in the same manner in which they are conferred. The same is the case with the rights accepted and recognized by the dictators. They can confer them when they please and withdraw them when they wish; and they can
openly violate them when they like. But since in Islam human rights have been conferred by God, no legislative assembly in the world, or any government on earth has the right or authority to make any amendment or change in the rights conferred by God. No one has the
right to abrogate them or withdraw them. Nor are they the basic human rights which are conferred on paper for the sake of show and exhibition and denied in actual life when the show is over. Nor are they like philosophical concepts which have no sanctions behind
The charter and the proclamations and the resolutions of the United Nations cannot be compared with the rights sanctioned by God; because the former is not applicable to anybody while the latter is applicable to every believer. They are a part and parcel of the
Islamic Faith. Every Muslim or administrators who claim themselves to be Muslims will have to accept, recognize and enforce them. If they fail to enforce them, and start denying the rights that have been guaranteed by God or make amendments and changes in them, or
practically violate them while paying lip-service to them, the verdict of the Holy Quran for such governments is clear and unequivocal:
“Those who do not judge by what God has sent down are the disbelievers.”
(Kafirun). 5:44
The following verse also proclaims: “They are the wrong-doers (zalimun)” (5:45),
while a third verse in the same chapter says: “They are the evil-livers (fasiqun)” (5:47).
In other words this means that if the temporal authorities regard their own words and decisions to be right and those given by God as wrong they are disbelievers. If on the other hand they regard God’s commands as right but wittingly reject them and enforce their own decisions against God’s, then they are the mischief-makers and the wrong-doers.
Fasiq, the law-breaker,is the one who disregards the bond of allegiance, and zalim is he who works against the truth. Thus all those temporal authorities who claim to be Muslims and yet violate the rights sanctioned by God belong to one of these two categories, either they
are the disbelievers or are the wrong-doers and mischief-makers. The rights which have been sanctioned by God are permanent, perpetual and eternal. They are not subject to any
alterations or modifications, and there is no scope for any change or
by ‘Allamah Abu al-‘A’la Mawdudi, al Tawhid Journal, vol. IV No. 3 Rajab-Ramadhan 1407

It is difficult to speak definitively about human rights because it’s such an esoteric topic, subject to personal opinion, historical precedent, and situational ethics. “Human rights” are those things that people naturally deserve by nature of their identity as human beings. But from an entirely ethical standpoint, our only right is that of eternal damnation because of our sinful nature. When seen from a Christian standpoint, human rights are what we should have by nature of being created in the image of God. But in this regard, the only rights are to be able to multiply, use the earth, and to rule over animals—and those are rights given to mankind, not necessarily individuals.
From a biblical standpoint, there is no “right.” There is only what God intended for us to have. Half of this includes elements of a lifestyle that is beneficial to us as humans. The other half is justice.
Human rights as our God-given lifestyle
God set up society in specific ways, many of which are subtle and must be read from context. Historically, these ways have been determined through the observance of nature. When we observe, the “rights” we discover vary depending on who is interpreting nature and how their historical preferences and prejudices influence their judgment. It would be better to go to the Bible. Most of the rights identified by the lifestyle God ordained are not universal—even the ideal situation does not guarantee everyone the opportunity to partake. But, in general, these are situations that God has designed for our benefit.
– Marriage (Genesis 2:24)
– Family (Psalm 127:5)
– Opportunity to work (2 Thessalonians 3:10)
– To be part of a group for safety and identity (Numbers 33:54)
These “rights” are things that may be taken away by the side effects of living in a sin-filled world. The right to marry can be thwarted if suitable partners are beset by sin or not available, or if the object dies too young. Family may be impossible if infertility is involved. Work can be hard to find, as can a safe community. None of these things are necessarily the result of a particular malicious act, but the slow degradation of society and genetics due to sin.
Human rights as God-defined justice
This category is stronger. Instead of trying to interpret the message of nature, we can see God’s justice in His word. Rights as defined by justice, for the most part, are comprised of ways in which people should not be victimized. Here are a few listed in the Bible:
– To not be murdered (Exodus 20:13)
– To not be robbed (Exodus 20:15)
– To not be insulted (Matthew 5:22)
– To not be kidnapped/enslaved (Exodus 21:16)
– To not be cheated on in one’s marriage (Exodus 20:14)
– To not be lied about (Exodus 20:16)
– To not be disrespected by children (Exodus 20:12)
– To not be cheated in business (Proverbs 16:11)
– To not be victimized by society such that one’s life is threatened (Deuteronomy 14:29; 24:17)
– To not be raped (Deuteronomy 22:25-27)
– To not be denied access to a place to worship God (John 2:11-12)
– To not be defenseless (Exodus 22:2-3)
– To not be denied reconciliation after apologizing for an offense (Matthew 18:22)
– To not to be barred from entering a land that is safe (Leviticus 19:34)
– To learn about God (Deuteronomy 6:7)
These rights of justice can be threatened by specific sins. It is sin to murder, steal, insult someone, kidnap, commit adultery, lie, disrespect one’s parents, cheat, ignore the needy, rape, use worship space for business, attack someone, hold a grudge, and mistreat foreigners. Justice is an absolute, and God intends that everyone receives it (Isaiah 30:18).
Human rights as God-ordained mercy
When speaking of rights in the Bible, God rarely mentions what rights we should demand. Instead, He tells us what we are responsible for. This is seen in most of the laws on justice, but He also tells us to go beyond justice and into mercy. As an absolute, justice would require we all go to hell. In response to Jesus’ sacrifice, we are to emulate Him and extend mercy.
– Return another’s possessions (Exodus 23:4)
– Help another’s need (Exodus 23:5)
– Feed the needy (Deuteronomy 24:19)
– Sacrifice your investment for another’s safety (Deuteronomy 24:17)
Human rights in the Bible
In the Bible, there are very few rights we are given by nature of our status as humans, and any of these can be taken away by impersonal circumstances. Instead, God focuses on human responsibilities. We are responsible to enforce justice and extend mercy (Micah 6:8). If everyone concentrated on what they are supposed to do, rights wouldn’t be an issue. We would receive what we need.


(In the best interest of the public in general and the Indian subjects particularly contents of this write up are collected from various web-pages/websites to enable readers to study various aspects of Human Rights as per different religious beliefs. In case we receive any objection we will remove the contents without fail – Admin,

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