Human dignity

The Spirit Of Islam

Khalid Baig

WE are witnessing today a clash between two opposing views of human worth. The first holds that human beings have an inherent dignity conferred on them by the Creator. The other insists that human beings have no more claim to dignity than other animals, from which they differ only in the number and sequencing of DNA molecules. From tiny bacteria to human beings all are creations of accidental processes; therefore none of them can claim special status over others.
We cannot ignore it as a debate that is taking place in some obscure religion or philosophy class which should not interest the rest of us. Its vast implications affect every one of us wherever we happen to be: in our homes, businesses, schools, on the streets or at the airports. This is so because a society’s treatment of other humans depends upon its perception of the status and value of humanity itself. If there is no inherent human dignity than there can be no inherent human rights. Then human rights are reduced to the level of a policy to be decided by the calculations of governments. If, on the other hand, we accept first view then human rights become both serious and inalienable; they cannot be taken away in the name of this or that expediency.
The first view is expounded by the Quran which declares in no uncertain terms: “Now, indeed, We have conferred dignity on the children of Adam” (17:70). This is brought out through the Story of Creation. For God created man “with My two Hands” (38:75). Further, He breathed into Adam from His Spirit (15:29). This was so because Man was created as God’s vicegerent on earth (2:30).
Islam is not alone in asserting this dignity. All previous prophets had the same message. Thus both Judaism and Christianity affirmed it because man was created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). This view was challenged by modern science. Resting on the twin pillars of Darwinism and Freudianism, its great “achievement” was in announcing that dignity and nobility of the human soul was a myth. Darwin claimed that man was not specially created. Freud added that he had no free will that would distinguish him from animals. Rather man was subject to instinctive drives, unconscious impulses, and emotions over which he had no control. It was not that science had discovered that the first view was baseless, since it had no capacity to affirm or reject claims about matters it could not observe. Rather it was that some of its proponents had developed a fanatical religious hatred against all religion because of their bad experience with some of it. As it evolved under their patronage, modern science became a new faith that claimed to have made the faith in God and the moral values based on it obsolete. Of course, it could measure the speed of light, split the atom, and analyse the structure of DNA to “prove” its claims.
Those who have been mesmerised by the achievements of science have been torn between these opposing claims about human dignity. They claim that human beings have inalienable rights then proceed to forfeit those rights on one or the other pretext. They champion religious freedom then proceed to curb it. They affirm commitment to human dignity then proceed to defile it. — Courtesy: