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. The Quran 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). 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.
Uncorrupted human nature abhors nudity. That is why Adam and Eve frantically started to search for something to cover themselves at its first occurrence. This tendency distinguishes human beings from animals, for which nudity is natural. Hence the reminder from God: “Children of Adam! Let not Satan tempt you as he brought your parents out of the Garden, stripping them of their garments to show them their shameful parts” (7:27). The immediately preceding ayah also tells us that clothing is a gift from God and concealing the parts of the body that must be concealed is its primary purpose, while protection from elements and adornment are secondary objectives.
In fact that function is integral to a central value in Islam: Haya. Although normally translated as modesty for lack of a better word, haya encompasses much more than that. It is modesty, decency, moral propriety, and inhibition against all evil, with special emphasis on concealing parts of the body. Haya is the antithesis to nudity. As for its importance, the Holy Prophet (PBUH) said: “Every religion has a distinct call. For Islam it is haya.” [Ibn Majah]. Another famous hadith says: “ Haya is a branch of Iman (faith) “ [Bukhari, Muslim]. It is the basic building block of Islamic morality. When it is lost everything is lost.
But haya is the call of the uncorrupted human nature, a universal value that should bring together all the people of conscience who value morality and decency. While some governments have rushed to introduce these machines, others have raised strong objections. Representing them, the new European Justice Commissioner, Viviane Reding, said, “we will not let anyone dictate to us rules that go against fundamental rights on anti-terrorism grounds . . . our need for security cannot justify any violation of privacy. We should never be driven by fear, but by values” (11 Jan. 2010, testimony before the European Union Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, Legal affairs and Women’s committees). Which values? That will be determined by the ongoing clash between the two views of human dignity.
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