Champion of Human Rights


Today is the day when Allah, the Most Exalted, bestowed a favour on humankind. The Imam-ul-Anbia (on whom be peace) was born and the world was freed from the fetters of thralldom. “We sent thee not, but as a Mercy for all creation.” (The Quran, 21:117) The most revered Prophet (pbuh) conferred rights on women. He did not even forget the animals. He laid great emphasis on human rights.

The Holy Prophet (pbuh) took part in eighty battles that were imposed on him. Around one thousand people were killed in this fighting. An equal number suffered injuries. The modern world fought just two wars. Human-beings were killed in millions in these conflicts that changed not only the history, but also the geography of the world.

The Holy Prophet (pbuh) was the first human-being to say that everything was not fair in war. His instructions to his worthy companions (RA) merit special mention here:
“Do not kill non-combatants, do not kill the enemy when he surrenders, do not cut trees, do not destroy standing crops, do not harm the bishops, do not touch children and women, do not subject elderly people to inconvenience.”

Hundreds were taken prisoner during these battles. Nobody was subjected to extra-judicial execution. Nobody “disappeared.” Nobody was killed in a fake encounter. Nobody was tortured, and nobody was stripped or humiliated. On the contrary, the prisoners were fed well and treated well.

The seventeenth of Ramadhan is an important date in the history of humankind as it changed the course of world history. On this day, a handful (just 313) of Muslims defeated an army of opponents. The day is remembered for a variety of reasons. On this day, the most revered Prophet (pbuh) stressed on the need for enforcing the rights of prisoners. This day, therefore, is also called the Day of the Prisoners.

Scores were taken into custody after they suffered a resounding defeat at the hands of the Muslims. Soon after, the Holy Prophet (pbuh) sought the counsel of his companions (RA). Hazrat Umar (RA) the Great was in favour of killing the prisoners. But the Prophet’s friend, Hazrat Abu Bakr (RA) advocated granting pardon to all of them. The prisoners were released, some in lieu of a consideration, but most of them without any conditions. A handful of them were told to teach Muslims to win their freedom. Ultimately all of them were released. Why?
Before migrating to Madinah, the most revered Prophet (pbuh) had received a revelation about prisoners: “And they feed, for the love of Allah, the indigent, the orphan and the captive.” (Ad-Dahr verse 8)

In this surah, Allah, the Most Exalted, narrates the story of the creation of man, of how the righteous shall be rewarded, and the wrong-doers punished. While revealing to the Holy Prophet (pbuh) the qualities of the righteous, Allah says: “And they feed, for the love of Allah………..”

So a person who loves Allah the Most Exalted treats prisoners well. How could the Holy Prophet (pbuh), therefore, accept the counsel of Hazrat Umar (RA) the Great? How could he order the execution of the prisoners?
The story does not end here. Since there was no jail for the prisoners, the Holy Prophet (pbuh) directed his pious companions (RA) to take the prisoners to their homes. “Treat them well. Respect them,” the companions (RA) were told.
Nobody raised any eyebrow. The order was carried out in its totality. Most Muslims in those days were poor. Notwithstanding this, they would first feed the prisoners and then take a few morsels to keep themselves going. This had an impact. Most of the prisoners later accepted Islam.

While prisoners cannot be harassed in captivity, measures have also to be taken to make them feel good. “O Prophet ! say to those who are captive in your hands, If Allah findeth any good in your hearts, He will give you something better than what has been taken from you, and He will forgive you, for Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.” (Al Anfaal, verse 70).

There is no scope for Abu Ghraibs, Guantanamo Bays, or Papa 1s and Papa 2s in an Islamic set-up. A prisoner is a human being and nobody can snatch from him his rights.

After a few years, the most revered Prophet (pbuh) conquered Makkah. It was a conquest with a difference. Not a single drop of blood was shed. Abu Sufian, who was the leader of the unbelievers and often used to hatch conspiracies against Islam and the Muslims, was not humiliated or harmed. Instead, his house was declared a place of peace for the nonbelievers. “Whoever is in Abu Sufian’s house will not be harmed,” the most revered Prophet (pbuh) announced.

Yes, in contemporary times, Muslims find themselves involved in wars and confrontation. But an in depth analysis reveals that they are only resisting external aggression, be it Afghanistan, Palestine, Iraq or Kashmir.

A follower of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) cannot be a ruthless killer. If a Muslim does not respect the right to life of a person (not only of a Muslim), he has not understood the teachings of the most revered Prophet. Remember that the very concept of human rights owes its origin to Islam. The modern world began showing concern for human rights only sixty years ago. But what the authors of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights came out with after deliberating for several months has been there for fourteen centuries in the last sermon of the most revered Prophet (pbuh).