Human dignity

The Spirit Of Islam

Khalid Baig

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 then 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 the 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.
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.
Back to the Story of Creation that gives us special insights about this particular aspect. It tells us that the prestigious status given to mankind had its jealous enemy right from the start. It was the devil himself who came up with a plan to show that Man did not deserve the honor bestowed on him. And so Satan’s very first attack was on the most important reflection of this dignity. It was launched with subterfuge and its purpose was to produce nudity. When under Satanic persuasion Adam and Eve tasted of the forbidden tree, “their shameful parts were manifested to them, and they began to piece together onto themselves some of the leaves of the Garden” (Quran 7:22). This narrative reminds us that the 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.
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