IN today’s world, ‘human rights’ has become quite a buzzword, so much so that even blatant violators of the people’s rights try to cover up their misdeeds through spin and denial.
But from the perspective of Islam, the rights of man have been a central concern right from the beginning; the Holy Quran declares in very emphatic words that Allah “desired to show favour upon those who were oppressed in the land and make them leaders” (Surah Qasas), while the Holy Prophet (PBUH) has also greatly emphasised huqooq ul ibad (rights of individuals/mankind).
And following in the footsteps of the Holy Prophet, his grandson Imam Husain took the field in Karbala on this day 14 centuries ago to raise a voice for these very rights and confront head-on the Umayyad imperial challenge to the Muslim faith’s egalitarian order. While some revisionists never tire of saying that Karbala was a struggle for power, Imam Husain himself clarified, during his sermon in Mina that, “O God! Everything we did was not prompted by rivalry for political power, nor for a search for wealth and abundance; rather it was done to demonstrate to men the shining principles and values of Your religion. …”
Indeed, Karbala was a battle for these very values, a stand for the weak and oppressed against the arrogant and the vain. The facts of the battle and its tragic aftermath have been explained by scholars of repute. However, one key witness of Karbala, Imam Ali ibn al-Husain Zain al-Abidin, Imam Husain’s son, who could not participate in combat due to his indisposition, has discussed the issue of rights in a very lucid and succinct manner after the tragedy that befell his family on Ashura.
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Imam Sajjad’s, as Imam Zain al-Abidin is also known, contribution to rebuilding the edifice of Islamic ethics and spirituality through his duas as recorded in Sahifa-i-Sajjadia after the Karbala tragedy is well-known. But the Imam has also discussed the question of rights in a document which is known as Risalah al-Huqooq or ‘treatise on rights’. Indeed, such a collection of the Imam’s sayings — narrated by a scholar of Shaikh Suduq’s standing — is quite awe-inspiring, especially considering that it was written sometime in the seventh century, and that too after the Imam witnessed the events of Karbala.
Imam Sajjad outlined in clear terms that all people had rights which had to be respected.
In Risalah al-Huqooq, Imam Sajjad has discussed multiple rights, such as the rights of the tongue, the eyes, the ears, the rights of prayers, which fall into the realm of ethics and morality, while also discussing the rights of the ruled, the wife, the child, the neighbour, etc, which concern sociopolitical issues. In an era when rights were trampled upon without any restraint, Imam Sajjad made it clear — using the Quran and hadith as a barometer — that from the most powerful segments in society to the weakest — slaves, children, women — all had rights which had to be respected.
“The right of the tongue,” the Imam says, “is that you consider it too noble for obscenity, accustom it to good.” And in an age where the treatment of women was far from ideal, the Imam advises that “the right of your wife is that you know that God has made her a repose and a comfort for you … so you should honour her and treat her gently”.
To encourage social cohesion and build community relations, Imam Sajjad says: “The right of your neighbour is that you guard him when he is absent, honour him when he is present, and aid him when he is wronged.” As for mentoring the youth, he says, “the right of him who is younger is that you show compassion towards him through teaching him, pardoning him, covering his faults”.
And these are just a few examples of the divinely inspired maxims of Imam Sajjad contained in Risalah al-Huqooq. It is testament to the Imam’s lofty character that he gave the Muslim world such gems after seeing his beloved father, brothers, kinsmen and supporters massacred by the merciless Syrian hordes on the burning sands of Karbala. Moreover, this gentle soul had to suffer the tribulation of having his aunts — the granddaughters of the Holy Prophet — sisters and other female relatives taken prisoners of war, while he himself was cruelly made to march to Kufa and then on to Damascus.
But Imam Sajjad proved through these spiritual gifts to the ummah that he was a worthy successor to Imam Husain, Hazrat Ali and the Holy Prophet, guiding the masses and pointing the people towards the principles of forbidding evil and promoting good even under the most trying of circumstances. Today, when we see many Muslim societies, including our own, devoid of rights, gems such as the Risalah al-Huqooq point the way to what a better society based on mutual rights and responsibilities can look like.
The writer is a member of staff.
Published in Dawn, September 10th, 2019