Human Dignity in Islam: Its Theological Foundations and

Human Dignity in Islam: Its Theological Foundations and

Ethical Implications

By Dr. Muzammil H. Siddiqi

(Chairman, Fiqh Council of North America)

Human dignity is an important concept. It emphasizes the dignity of human beings as humans regardless of their color, gender, race or religion. It emphasizes the inherent honor of the human self and ensures human freedom and responsibility. The implications of the concept of human dignity are individual and collective as well as spiritual, moral, social and political. It is a core concept behind all human rights as well as responsibilities.  In the following we shall discuss some of the theological foundations of this concept and its social and political implications in Islam.

Islam stands for human dignity and honor and gives a very comprehensive concept of dignity. It emphasizes that every human being should recognize his/her own worth and value and guard it. All human beings should live in a dignified way and honor the dignity of their fellow beings. Islam teaches the principles that insure human dignity and forbids those that cause its loss.

Human Dignity in Islam:

The main and most important theological principle in Islam is that there is only one God. God is the Creator of the whole universe, of everything whether visible or invisible. God has most beautiful Names and Attributes. All Divine Names indicate God’s majesty, power, love and kindness. God is One and Unique, there is nothing comparable to God and there is none who is equal to God. The Qur’an says about God:

Everything in the heavens and earth glorifies God – He is the Almighty, the Wise. The kingdom of the heavens and earth belongs to Him; He gives life and death; He has power over all things. He is the First and the Last; the Outer and Inner; He has knowledge of all things. He created the heavens and earth in six days and then established Himself on the throne. He knows what enters the earth and what comes out of it; what descends from the sky and what ascends to it. He is with you wherever you are; He sees all that you do; control of the heaven and earth belongs to Him. Everything is brought back to God. He makes night merge into day and day into night. He knows what is in every heart. (Al-Hadid 57:1-6)

God, there is no god other than Him. He knows what is hidden as well as what is in the open, He is the Lord of Mercy, the Giver of Mercy.  He is God: there is no god other than Him, the King, the Holy One, Source of Peace, Granter of Security, Guardian over all, the Almighty, the Powerful, the Truly Great; God is far above anything they consider to be His partner. He is God: the Creator, the Originator, the Shaper. The best names belong to Him. Everything in the heavens and earth glorifies Him: He is the Almighty, the Wise. (Al-Hashr 59:22-24)

Islam teaches that human beings are among the most honored creation of God. God has created human beings and He has honored them above many of His creations. God says in the Qur’an:

We have honored the children of Adam and carried them by land and sea. We have provided them good sustenance; and favored them especially above many of those We created.

(Al-Isra’ 17:70)

Aspects of Human Dignity in Islam

We can summarize the concept of human dignity in Islam by the following eight aspects:

  1. Human beings are created in a special way
  2. Human beings are given the best form
  3. Human beings are the recipients of Divine breath
  4. Human beings are granted intellect, speech and pure nature
  5. Human beings are God’s deputies (khalifah), given special knowledge  (‘Ilm),  honored by God’s creation, including the angels
  6. Everything in the universe is created for the sake of Human beings
  7. Human beings are given freedom of will and choice
  8. Human beings are guided by God through His Prophets and Messengers
  1. Human Beings as Special Creation:

Islam teaches that human beings are special creation of God. In the very first revelation, received by Prophet Muhammad – peace be upon him- when he was chosen by God to be His Prophet, it was said to him:

Read! In the name of your Lord who created. He created human being from a clinging lump. Read! Your Lord is the Most Bountiful One who taught by (means of) the pen, who taught man what he did not know. (Al-‘Alaq 96:1-5)

The commentators of the Qur’an point out that here the word ‘created’ is used twice. First time it is used for the whole creation, everything in the heaven and earth; and the second time it is used to describe the creation of human being. Although human beings are part of the Divine creation, God used second time the word ‘created’ to indicate that humans are His special creation. Thus here we have an indication of distinct creations: general creation of the heaven and earth and all that they contain and then a particular creation, the human beings.

The Qur’an also tells us that God created human beings from dust. This is mentioned in several places in the Qur’an.[1] God’s choosing the dust for the creation of human beings is significant. It emphasizes the link of the human beings to God’s other common creations as it also teaches that human beings should remain humble because their origin is dust. God could have created them from some celestial elements or from diamonds; but He chose to create them from the humble dust. However, it is also significant to note that this dust was chosen by God and He formed the human beings by His own hands. God says in the Qur’an:

Your Lord said to the angels, ‘I will create a man from clay. When I have shaped him and breathed from My Spirit into him, bow down before him.’ The angels all bowed down together, but not Iblis, who was too proud. He became a rebel. God said, ‘Iblis, what prevents you from bowing down to the man I have made with My own hands? Are you too high and mighty? … (Saad 38:71-75)

The famous commentator of the Qur’an Al-Razi explains this by saying: “The Great King would not perform an action by His own hands unless He wanted to direct His utmost attention to that action.”[2]  God could have asked the angels or Jinns to make a human being. He could have simply said, “Be”[3] and human being would have been created. Instead He created human being by His own two hands. The symbolic meaning of this gesture is clearly that God created human being with great love, care and consideration and thus He honored and dignified human beings.

Another highly significant and fundamental aspect of this creation story is that all human beings are one in their origin. God says that He created first one human being, then He created his spouse and then through their union, He created all other human beings. The Qur’an says:

Humankind, be mindful of your Lord, who created you from a single soul, and from it created its mate, and from the pair of them spread countless man and women far and wide; be mindful of God, in whose name you  make requests of one another. Beware of severing the ties of kinship: God is always watching over you. (Al-Nisa; 4:1) O people, We created you all from a single man and a single woman, and made you into races and tribes so that you should recognize one another. In God’s eyes, the most honored of you are the ones most mindful of Him: God is all knowing, all aware. (Al-Hujurat 49:13)

This gives another very important lesson that as human beings are linked with the elements of the earth, they are also linked with each other. Human beings did not emerge in different parts of the world in different ways, but they were all linked to each other by one parent: Adam and Eve. Even Adam and Eve are linked to each other by being created from one being. Thus one was made two and from two came many. This beautiful story emphasizes many important links that have significant moral and social implications, as we shall see later.

  • Best Form and Image of God:

In telling about human beings God also tells us in the Qur’an that He created human beings in the best form.

We created man in the finest state.(Al-Tin 95:4) O Man, what has lured you away from your Generous Lord, who created you, shaped you, proportioned you and in whatever image He chose he formed you. (Al-Infitar 82:6-8)

The Prophet Muhammad –peace be upon him- explained this when he said, “God created Adam in His image.”[4]  Man as “imago dei” is a common point in all three Abrahamic traditions. In Islam, however, the word “image (surah)” is not taken in its literal sense. Man created in the image of God does not mean that God looks like human being. God is not white or black, tall or short, male or female, Arab or non-Arab. The Qur’an says that “There is nothing like Him and He is the All Hearing and the All Seeing.” (Al-Shura 42:11) The word “image” is understood in its metaphorical sense to mean character and qualities. God has endowed human beings with some of His noble qualities and characters. The believers are expected not only to follow the rules of God, but also to reflect the divine qualities and characters (al-takhalluq bi akhlaq Allah)[5]  Islam categorically denies that God is anthropomorphic; it, however, accepts and encourages human being to become theomorphic, reflecting divine virtues and qualities.

  • Recipients of Divine Breath:

According to the Qur’an human beings are not only linked to the elements of the earth and to each other, but they are also linked to God in a very special way. The Qur’an says that after creating human form from the elements of the earth, God breathed into the human His spirit.

Your Lord said to the angels, ‘I shall create a mortal out of dried clay, formed from dark mud. When I have fashioned him and breathed My spirit into him, bow down before him’.

(Al-Hijr 15:28-29)

Divine spirit is a special gift of God for human beings. No other material creations are said to be endowed with this noble gift. We cannot fully grasp and define the exact nature of this spirit; nevertheless it profoundly indicates some link between humans and God. According to the Qur’an the spirit is from “the command of God and you are not given from (its) knowledge except a little.” (Al-Isra’ 17:85).[6] This gives us another important aspect of human dignity and honor in Islam.

  • Endowed with Intellect, Articulation and Good Nature:

Among His many gifts that God has bestowed on human beings are intellect (‘aql, fu’ad), the power of the tongue and a pure and clean nature. Intellect is a special gift of God. It is mentioned in many places in the Qur’an and humans are urged to use this gift.[7] Some people have interestingly counted the use of the words faith (iman in several forms) and reason (‘aql and some similar words) in the Qur’an and have pointed out that both of these words occur equal times (800 times each) in the Qur’an. Whatever the significance of this may be it is indeed important to note that reason is a special divine gift to human beings and it distinguished them from other creatures.

Speech or articulation is also another special gift of God to human beings and it helps them to learn, grow and make progress. The Qur’an describes this gift [8] and counts this as a special honor of human beings that distinguished them from the rest of God’s creation. Beside intellect and articulation there is a general reference to the purity and goodness of human nature (al-fitrah). The original nature of human being is divine oriented and moral and it is the locus of God’s primordial covenant with human being.[9] Just as all natural order is good, man in his primordial nature is also good. God says in the Qur’an:

…The natural disposition God instilled in mankind – there is no altering God’s creation – and this is the right religion, though most people do not realize it. (Al-Rum 30:30)

God has favored all human beings without any distinction of race, color, or gender with a wholesome nature (al-Fitrah) that can distinguish between right and wrong, truth and falsehood, good and bad, harmful and useful, and so on. Al-Fitrah is a universal natural standard that is given to all human beings and it is also part of their dignity and honor. [10]

  • God’s deputy (khalifah), endowed with knowledge ‘ilm) honored by all God’s creation, including the angels

The story of the creation of man as mentioned in the Qur’an sets the foundations for human dignity in Islam. There are several important and significant aspects of human dignity in this story. This story is told in seven places in the Qur’an.[11] Each time it has emphasized different lessons.  In the second Surah of the Qur’an God says,

When your Lord said to the angels, ‘I am going to put a deputy on earth,’ they said, ‘Would You put someone there who will cause damage and bloodshed, when we celebrate Your praise and proclaim Your holiness?’ but He said, ‘I know things you do not.’ He taught Adam all the names (of things), then He showed them up to angels  and said, ‘Tell Me the names of these if you truly (think you can).’ They said, ‘ May You be glorified! We have knowledge only of what You have taught us. You are the All Knowing and All Wise.’ Then He said, ‘Adam, tell them the names of these.’ When he told them their names, God said, ‘Did I not tell you that I know what is hidden in the heavens and earth, and I know what you reveal and you conceal?’ When God told the angels, ‘Bow down before Adam,’ they all bowed. But not Iblis, who refused and was arrogant: he was one of the disobedient… (Al-Baqarah 2:30-34)

In this story it is said that human being is God’s Khalifah on this earth. God gave him authority to use the resources of the earth freely but responsibly. In another place in the Qur’an human being is also called the trustee. No other creation of God was able to take this trust except human being. (al-Ahzab 33:72) As deputy man has authority but as trustee man is responsible to behave according to the will and wishes of the one who gave him the trust. In this story it is also said that after creating Adam, God taught him all the names.[12] God gave him the knowledge that He did not even give to His angels. Though angels are considered most obedient creation of God; humans are, nevertheless, superior to angels (or most of the angels) in knowledge. The knowledge is a special gift of God to man and increases man’s honor and dignity among God’s other creations. Man should try to increase his knowledge by continuously learning.  According to the Qur’an the higher status does not come because of race, color or gender, money or worldly power; the higher status comes from knowledge. [13]

From this story we also learn that in the contest of knowledge Adam won over the angels. God then commanded angels to bow to human being. Man is thus called in Islamic tradition the “Masjud al-Mala’ikah” the one to whom the angels bowed. This is a highly honorable title and sets human position above any other creation of God. The ‘sajdah’ (bowing or prostration) here is not meant as the bowing of worship, but it was to show the honor and dignity of human being.  It was common among Arabs before Islam, as in other religions and cultures that human beings used to worship various angels as divine. Arabs before Islam used to call angels God’s daughters, a belief that was rejected by Islam. This story is told to remind human beings that they should not lose their dignity by bowing to anyone other than God.

  • Everything in the universe is created for the service of Human beings:

The Qur’an repeatedly reminds human beings that God created everything in the universe for the service of human beings. He put the sun, moon, stars, oceans, mountains, rain and winds all for the benefit of human being. This whole universe is for human beings and human beings should be thankful to their benefactor, the God Almighty. God says in the Qur’an:

It is God who created the heavens and earth, who has send down water from the sky and with it brought forth produce to nourish you; He has made ships useful to you, sailing the sea by His command, and rivers too. He has made the sun and the moon useful to you, steady on their paths; He has made the night and day useful to you and given you some of everything you asked Him for. If you tried to count God’s favors you could never calculate them: man truly unjust and ungrateful. (Ibrahim 14:32-34)

  • Freedom of Will and Choice:

Freedom is part of the human dignity and honor. The Qur’an tells us that everything in the universe obeys God and nothing can go against His command. Among His creation only human beings are given the freedom of the will and choice. They can obey God and can also disobey Him.  God says:

By the sun in its morning brightness and by the moon as it follows it, by the day as it displays the sun’s glory and by the night as it conceals it, by the sky and how He built it and by the earth and how He spread it, by the soul and how He formed it and inspired it (to know) its own rebellion and piety! The one who purifies his soul succeeds and the one who corrupts it fails.

 (Al-Shams 91:1-10)

God has given human soul the inclination for good and for bad both and it is left to their choice. The Prophets and the divine scriptures are to help human beings make right choice but God does not compel humans to choose any particular path. When they make good choice they succeed and when they make bad choices they fail. This freedom is a special honor of human beings, albeit it is also their trial and test. 

  • God’s Prophets and Messengers from amongst the Human Beings:

Another honor of human being is that God chose from among them His prophets and messengers. Prophets were the best creation of Allah. They were the leaders and most exemplary personalities. They were the honor and blessing of God among their people. The Prophets were God’s noble servants; they never claimed divinity; but they obeyed God and invited their fellow human beings to submit to God. Prophets were sent to all nations and tribes to guide them and show them the right path. The Prophets were sent to increase the honor and dignity of their people.

We sent a messenger to every community, saying, ‘Worship God and shun falsehood.’ Among them were some God guided, misguidance took hold of others. So travel through the earth and see what was the fate of those who denied the truth. (Al-Nahl 16:36)

Finally, Prophet Muhammad was chosen by God from among the Arabs as His last and Final Prophet and Messenger. He was appointed as a Prophet for all people and he was sent as “Mercy to the worlds” (Rahmat lil-‘alamin).  

The social and political implications of Human Dignity

The implications of the belief in human dignity are many. Islam urges every human being to enhance and protect his/her own dignity and also recognize the dignity of others. All human beings are honored by God and they have their rights. Every effort must be done to establish a social order and civil society where the dignity of all human beings, males and females, rich and poor, white and black etc. are protected and promoted.

For an individual to preserve and protect his/her own dignity, Islam emphasizes that dignity is not arrogance, self-conceit or the meanness of character. Dignity entails honorable behavior and responsibility towards others. It means honesty, sincerity, purity, justice, generosity and peacefulness. A society becomes dignified where all people are treated with justice and equality and their rights are recognized without any double standard. We shall look now at four major values that are directly derived from the concept of human dignity and honor. The negligence of these values takes away both the dignity of the people in that society as well as the honor and prestige of that society.

  1. Freedom and Equality
  2. Justice
  3. Consultation
  4. Peaceful resolution of conflicts
  1. Freedom and Equality:

Freedom and equality are the direct implication of the concept of human dignity. There is no dignity for a person who is not free and who is not treated as an equal citizen. God has created all human beings free and Islam teaches that one must live free and must equally wish and work for the freedom of others. Freedom and equality are interrelated.  We cannot practice freedom without practicing equality. However, it is important to remember that freedom in Islam means freedom to do good things, not freedom to do anything that one likes. In the Arabic language the word “hurr” does not mean only “free” but it also means “noble.”   The whole religion of Islam is to protect and promote freedom. Islam emphasizes human dignity and it is freedom that promotes and ensures human dignity. Freedom opens the minds and souls to reach to higher and higher goals.

In his Last Sermon during his Farewell Pilgrimage, Prophet Muhammad told his followers:

People, listen to my words, for I do not expect that I and you shall ever meet again in this place after this year.  O ye people, God says, “O People, We created you from one male and one female and made you into groups and tribes, so that you may know one another.  Verily in the sight of God, the most honored among you is the one who is most God-fearing among you.” (al-Hujurat 49:13)  There is no superiority for an Arab over a non-Arab and a non-Arab over an Arab, nor for the black over the white or the white over the black, except in Taqwa (the fear and consciousness of Allah).[14]

Human freedom is not against God’s power and knowledge.  In Islam we believe in the qada’ and qadar (decision and determination). This means that God knows everything of past, present and future and He has power over everything.  However, by His own will and power God has given us the freedom to choose. He gave us the free will, but this does not mean that He does not know what we do or He has no power over us.

The concept of freedom is also not against the Islamic concept of ‘Ubudiyah (service) to God.[15] Islam itself gives us the idea of freedom as well as that of service and obedience of our Creator. The foundation of Islam is submission to God alone. Therefore, the Islamic concept of freedom is to liberate human being from all bondages other than the bondage to God. Absolute bondage to anyone other than God is disgrace while submission to God brings dignity and honor to human beings.  

Freedom in Islam is not freedom from moral obligations and responsibilities or freedom from truth, justice, virtue and righteousness.  Freedom from these values is not freedom, but anarchy and corruption. Islam says that human beings must be free mentally, spiritually as well as physically.

Islam ensures religious freedom for all people. There should not be any compulsion in religion (Al-Baqarah 2:256).  People should be free to practice their religion, but they should not force their religion on others.  Similarly Islam allows freedom of expression but people should not utter falsehood and lies. Islam teaches political freedom so that people choose their leaders by their own consent and if the leaders are dishonest or incapable then to remove them from their office. Islam allows economic freedom. People should be free to earn and to own as much as they want but without indulging in fraud, deception and cheating.

Islam teaches freedom of the soul, mind and body. Islam teaches freedom of the individual and the society. Islam teaches freedom in this world and in the Hereafter. In the Qur’an the concept of freedom is described with many words and expressions, such as “hurr or tahrir” (free or making a slave free) “najat” (protection, salvation), “fawz” (reaching the target, achieving the goal) and ‘falah” (total well-being, flowering of the potential, fulfillment of the latent qualities). In the Hadith it is called “‘itq” (meaning emancipation and liberation).

Freedom has both positive and negative connotations: freedom for something and freedom from something.  Islam wants freedom for living happy, healthy, prosperous, moral and dignified life. Islam wants people to be free to worship, to express themselves, to earn, to have family and to have a government of their choice. On the other hand Islam wants people to be free from economic, political and social oppression.  Islam wants people to be free from materialism and selfishness.  Islam wants people to be free from religious persecution. Finally and most importantly Islam wants people to be free from hell in the eternal life and to live happily in Heaven in the company of God.

  • Justice:

Justice is described in the Qur’an with two important words: al-‘Adl and al-Qist. ‘Al-‘adl’ means “equity, balance.”  It means doing things in a proportionate manner, avoiding extremes.  Al-Qist means “share, portion, measure, allotment, and amount.”  It means that everyone and everything has a due.  One who gives everyone and everything its due is a just person (muqsit) and the one who takes away others dues is called oppressor (qasit.)  God says: “…and be fair: for Allah loves those who are fair (and just).” (al-Hujurat 49:9) God also says, “But those who swerve from justice, they are the fuel for Hell-fire. (al-Jinn 72:15)

Justice means to maintain the balance and to give everyone and everything its proper due.  It means living one’s own life in a balanced way maintaining the balance between the needs of the body, mind and soul.  It also means recognizing rights of God (Huquq Allah), rights of human beings (Huquq al-A‘Ibad) and right of things (Huquq al-Ashya’). Islam teaches that we should be just in every aspect of our life, to all people and things and at all times.  The opposite of justice in Islam is not only injustice, but oppression and corruption. The opposite of ‘Adl is Zulm. Zulm means “disorder, wrong, oppression and evil.  Wherever there is injustice, it will lead to oppression, exploitation, evil and corruption.  God says in the Qur’an:

O you who believe! stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be (against) rich or poor: for Allah can best protect both. Follow not the lusts (of your hearts), lest ye swerve, and if ye distort (justice) or decline to do justice, verily Allah is well-acquainted with all that ye do. (Al-Nisa’ 4:135) O ye who believe! stand out firmly for Allah, as witnesses to fair dealing, and let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just: that is next to Piety: and fear Allah. For Allah is well-acquainted with all that ye do. (Al-Ma’idah 5:8) We sent aforetime Our Messengers with Clear Signs and sent down with them the Book and the Balance (of Right and Wrong), that men may stand forth in justice; and We sent down Iron, in which is (material for) mighty war, as well as many benefits for mankind, that Allah may test who it is that will help, unseen, Him and His Messengers: for Allah is Full of Strength, Exalted in Might (and able to enforce His Will). (Al-Hadid 57:25)

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” is the famous quote of the famous American Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King. It also conveys the basic Islamic message on this subject. When people do injustice or tolerate injustice in one place, sooner or later its terrible effects reach to other places. Injustice brings the downfall of mighty nations. The famous Muslim theologian Ibn Taymiah (d. 1328) said: “The nations may live long in spite of their disbelief, but they cannot live long when they do oppression.”

  • Consultation:

Consultation is both a social as well as a political principle. In Islamic terminology it is called ‘shura.’ It means openness, discussion and participation in the decision making process. Islam emphasizes that in any matter where the interests of two or more people are involved consultation should be done. Consultation should be in the family, in society, in government and in all situations. Consultation is derived from the concepts of justice, equality and dignity.  The Qur’an teaches that the believers’ affairs should be conducted with consultation.  It is thus rightly recognized as the most democratic principle of Islam. The Qur’an describes the believers as:

Those who hearken to their Lord and establish regular Prayer; who (conduct) their affairs by mutual Consultation; who spend out of what We bestow on them for Sustenance.

(Al-Shura 42:38)

God told His Prophet Muhammad:

It is part of the Mercy of God that you deal gently with them. Were you severe or harsh-hearted, they would have broken away from about you: so pass over (their faults), and ask for (God’s) forgiveness for them; and consult them in affairs (of moment). Then, when you have taken a decision put your trust in God. God loves those who put their trust (in Him).

(Al ‘Imran 3:159).

  • Peaceful resolution of conflicts:

Tension and conflicts are natural in human society. No society has ever been completely free of tensions and conflicts. Tensions and conflicts may happen within the members of any society as well as in their relations with other societies. Islam teaches a dignified and peaceful resolution of conflicts in every situation.  The Qur’an says, “Reconciliation is the best.” (4:128) Peace and reconciliation should be established in the family to reduce the breakup of families and wherever two parties quarrel or fight each other, it is the duty of the believers to make reconciliation among them.[16]

Tension and conflicts occur when people lose patience with each other.  The Qur’an again and again teaches patience.  God loves those who exercise patience.  Jihad is a struggle that a person has to make continuously to establish good and to eradicate evil. This struggle begins with one’s own self and then towards the society.  The purpose of Jihad is not to dominate others, or to coerce people to accept Islam, but it is to establish justice and to eliminate oppression. 

Jihad is not a war; it is indeed not ‘holy war.’  Holy war is a wrong translation of the word ‘jihad.’ In Islam war is not holy; it is peace that is holy because one the names of God is ‘Al-Salam’ (Peace, 59:23).  Jihad means ‘struggle and effort.’ One must strive and struggle to live without sin, oppression and injustice. Jihad is personal effort as well as social. It may also take the form of military action (qital) only when peaceful alternatives are tried and exhausted.

Salam or peace according to Islam does not mean accepting oppression.  Salam is not istislam (surrender or capitulation).  Salam means that one should do one’s utmost to eliminate tension and conflict.  However, one must try to use peaceful means as much as possible.  In Islamic history from the time of the Prophet until now, Muslims most of the time resisted oppression and struggled for liberation in non-violent and peaceful manners. It was their enemies who imposed wars upon them. Ideally Islam is against war. It wants wars to be eliminated or reduced to the minimum. War is an option only when peaceful negotiations and all efforts of dialogue and negotiations fail. War is to be waged only against aggression and oppression. War must stop as soon as there is any possibility of peaceful resolution of conflict. The Qur’an says,

Fight in God’s cause those who fight you, but do not do aggression, for God loves not the aggressors. …So if any one makes aggression against you, you may likewise aggress against him, and be conscious of God. Surely God loves those who are conscious of Him.” (2:190-194) “If they (enemies) incline towards peace, you must incline towards it and put your trust in God: He is the All Hearing and the All Knowing. (8:61)

The war is allowed in Islam under strict ethical and moral rules. Those who engage in war must be fully aware of these rules, otherwise they commit sins of omission and commission. It is the rule of war in Islam that non-combatants and civilians should not be harmed.  The civilian targets such a homes, places of worship, animal forms or agricultural lands should not be attacked. 

Terrorism against the innocent civilians is under no circumstances permissible in Islam.  Islam encourages the oppressed people to resist injustice and struggle for their liberation. Islam does not allow terrorism or targeting of the innocent people. Modern terrorism in the Muslim world did not originate with Islam and is not acceptable to Islam.[17]     

Islam wants to establish a world order where all human beings -Muslims and non-Muslims – can live with justice and peace, harmony and good will.  It gives its followers full guidelines to find peace in their personal and social lives, but it also tells them how to extend the good will on the basis of human relations towards others.  Muslims worked under these principles for centuries.  People of many faiths lived with them and among them. Islamic societies were known for their tolerance, generosity and humanity.

This is a challenge that we have today in our modern society where non-Muslims are living with Muslims in the Muslim countries and Muslims are living with non-Muslims in countries where non-Muslims constitute a majority.  It is our task to bring better understanding among ourselves, work for peace and justice for all people and cooperate with each other in matters of goodness and virtue in order to stop all terrorism, aggression and violence against the innocent people. In this way we can preserve human honor and human dignity.

[1]  See al-Hajj 22:5; al-Rum 30:20; Fatir 35:11; Ghafir 40:67)

[2] See Al-Razi, Al-Tafsir al-Kabir, explaining the verse 38:75.

[3] The Qur’an says in many places that God creates by His command “Kun” (Be). See 2:117; 16:40; 19:35; 36:82.

[4] Muslim, Al-Sahih, Hadith no. 4731.

[5] This is an expression used very often by the scholars of Hadith as well as by the Sufis.

[6]  Muslim scholars emphasize that the spirit is from God, but it is not God. Ibn Taymiyah makes a distinction between God’s spirit (ruh) and God’s life (hayat).  God breathed into man His spirit, he did not give man His life. See Ibn al-Qayyim, Kitab al-Ruh (Beirut, Al-Maktabah al-‘Asriyah, 2004), pp. 174-175.  

[7] Al-Hajj 22:46; al-Nahl 16:78; al-Mu’minun 23:78.

[8] Al-Rahman 55:4;

[9] See the Qur’an, al-A’raf 7:172.

[10] According to most of the classical commentators of the Qur’an, al-Fitrah mentioned in the verse in Surah al-Rum (30:30) means the recognition of God. Al-Tabari, the famous commentator says:  “Ever since God created Human beings from Adam, He created them recognizing God, as God said in the Qur’an, “When your Lord took out offspring from the lions of the children of Adam and made them bear witness about themselves, He said, ‘Am I not your Lord?’ and they replied, ‘Yes, we bear witness.’ So you cannot say on the Day of Resurrection, ‘We were not aware of this,’ or ‘It was our forefathers who, before us, ascribed partners to God and we were only the descendants who came after them. Will you destroy us because of falsehood they invented?’  In this way we explain the messages, so that they may turn (to the right path). (Al-A’raf 7:172-174)Thus al-Fitrah is the natural disposition of the human being to believe in One God (tawhid).  The prophets of God came to remind (tadhkir) human beings about this. It is reported in a Hadith that the Prophet –peace be upon him- said, “‘When you go to bed,  make the ablutions that you do for salat, then lie down on your right side and say: ‘My God, I turn my face to Thee, I confide my cause to Thee, I give back to Thee that which I have, with desire and reverent fear of Thee; this is no refuge nor shelter from Thee other than in Thee; I believe in thy Book which Thou hast caused to descend, and in Thy Prophet whom Thou has sent.’ And if you die, you will die in the state of the primordial nature (al-Fitrah); so do so as to have these as your final words.” (Al-Bukhari, Hadith no. 239) Al-Fitrah can also be interpreted as the pure way of life. The Qur’an says that “There is no altering in God’s creation.” (al-Rum 30:30). This is explained either as “there should not be any altering in God’s creation,” meaning that God’s way should not be changed and altered. Or it could mean that al-Fitrah cannot be changed regardless what happens in any time and place. There will be always people who will recognize one God and follow the right path.  It seems to me that there is more inclination towards first interpretation that al-Fitrah is susceptible to corruption and change so man needs guidance. Some scholars refer to another Hadith of the Prophet on Fitrah. It says, “Every child is born on al-Fitrah, then his parents make him a Jew, a Christian or a Magian. As you see the animals are born intact. Do you see any among them with slit ears?” (Al-Bukahri, 1271)  The Prophet –peace be upon him- here was referring to the pagan custom of dedicating their camels by slitting their ears. He meant to say that as your camels are not born dedicated to your pagan gods, so are also human beings not born in any religion other than the natural and pure way.

[11] Al-Baqarah 2:30-39; al-A’raf  7:11-25; al-Hijr 15:26-44; al-Isra’ 17:61-65; al-Kahf 18:50; Taha 20:115-123; Sad 38:71-85.

[12] There is a difference of opinion among the commentators of the Qur’an about the nature of these ‘names.’ Were they the names of people or things?

[13] See al-Zumar 39:9; al-Mujadilah 58:11.

[14] Ibn Ishaq, Sirah of Rasul Allah, translated by A. Guillume, Oxford University Press, 1974, pp. 650-651.

[15] The Qur’an says, “Do you not consider that to Allah bow down in worship all things that are in the heavens and on earth, the sun, the moon, the stars, the hills, the trees, the animals, and a great number among mankind? But a great number are (also) such as are fit for Punishment: and such as Allah shall disgrace, none can raise to honor: for Allah carries out all that He wills.” (Al-Hajj 22:18)

Muhammad Iqbal, the famous modern Muslim philosopher and poet of Indo Pakistan subcontinent said that the prostration to God saves human beings from thousands of other prostrations. In his own words:

The one prostration (to God) that you find it so difficult;

Actually it liberates human being from thousands of prostrations (to others.

[16]  See Surah al-Hujurat 49:9.

[17] Here I would like to refer to the Fatwa of the Fiqh Council of North America issued on July 28, 2006. It said:

The Fiqh Council of North America wishes to reaffirm Islam’s condemnation of terrorism and religious extremism.
Islam strictly condemns religious extremism and the use of violence against innocent lives. There is no justification in Islam for extremism or terrorism. Targeting civilians’ life and property through suicide bombings or any other method of attack is haram – prohibited in Islam – and those who commit these barbaric acts are criminals, not “martyrs.”

The Qur’an, Islam’s revealed text, states: “Whoever kills a person, unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land, it is as though he has killed all mankind. And whoever saves a person, it is as though he had saved all mankind.” (Qur’an, 5:32)

Prophet Muhammad said there is no excuse for committing unjust acts: “Do not be people without minds of your own, saying that if others treat you well you will treat them well, and that if they do wrong you will do wrong to them. Instead, accustom yourselves to do good if people do good and not to do wrong (even) if they do evil.” (Al-Tirmidhi)

God mandates moderation in faith and in all aspects of life when He states in the Qur’an: “We made you to be a community of the middle way, so that (with the example of your lives) you might bear witness to the truth before all mankind.” (Qur’an, 2:143)

In another verse, God explains our duties as human beings when he says: “Let there arise from among you a band of people who invite to righteousness, and enjoin good and forbid evil.” (Qur’an, 3:104)
Islam teaches us to act in a caring manner to all of God’s creation. The Prophet Muhammad, who is described in the Qur’an as “a mercy to the worlds” said: “All creation is the family of God, and the person most beloved by God (is the one) who is kind and caring toward His family.”

In the light of the teachings of the Qur’an and Sunnah we clearly and strongly state:

  1. All acts of terrorism targeting the civilians are Haram (forbidden) in Islam.
  2. It is Haram for a Muslim to cooperate or associate with any individual or group that is involved in any act of terrorism or violence.
  3. It is the duty of Muslims to cooperate with the law enforcement authorities to protect the lives of all civilians.

We issue this fatwa following the guidance of our scripture the Qur’an and the teachings of our Prophet Muhammad –peace be upon him. We urge all people to resolve all conflicts in just and peaceful manners. We have deep concern for the suffering and pain of millions of Muslims in different parts of the world. We deplore those who cause death and destruction to them. However, we urge Muslims to not lose their moral grounds. God’s help is with those who follow the right path.

We pray for the defeat of extremism, terrorism and injustice. We pray for the safety and security of our country United States and its people. We pray for the safety and security of all inhabitants of this globe. We pray that interfaith harmony and cooperation prevail both in United States and every where in the world. 

Other Articles

February 25, 2021

RAMADAN & SHAWWAL 1442 (2021) “O you who believe, ...

May 13, 2020

Fiqh Council of North America Fatwā regarding Ṣalāt al-E ...

April 7, 2020

Written by: Dr. Zulfiqar Ali Shah Default Janazah rulings ar ...

April 6, 2020

Written by: Dr. Zulfiqar Ali Shah Mass Janazahs and burials ...

September 6, 2018

Muslims all over the globe hold two opinions about when to o ...

February 25, 2012

From the practically universal perspective of the nearly 1.6 ...

February 25, 2012

Love is one of the most central attributes of God. God is de ...

December 3, 2012

I. INTRODUCTION In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Me ...