The United Nations observes March 1 every year as Zero Discrimination Day, with the aim of promoting equality before law and in practice. This day was first observed in 2014 and was launched by UNAIDS executive director Michel Sidibe on Feb 27 of that year. The day aims to celebrate everyone’s right to live a life free from discrimination and to create global solidarity towards ending all forms of discrimination. According to UNAIDS, “Zero Discrimination Day 2021 is dedicated to taking action to end the inequalities surrounding income, sex, age, health status, occupation, disability, sexual orientation, drug use, gender identity, race, class, ethnicity and religion that continue to persist around the world.” Its report mentions that inequality is growing for more than 70% of the global population. This is not only exacerbating the risk of division but also hampering economic and social development. Unfortunately, the inequalities worldwide have been deepened due to COVID-19, which is hitting the most vulnerable people the hardest. Even vaccines against COVID-19 are becoming available with “great inequality in accessing them”.
Tackling inequality is not a new commitment—in 2015, all countries pledged to reduce inequality within and between countries as part of the Sustainable Development Goals. But it is not yet a promise that the world has delivered on. Tackling inequality will make societies better prepared to beat COVID-19 and other pandemics and support economic recovery and stability. Fulfilling the promise to tackle inequality will save millions of lives and benefit society as a whole. To do this, we must confront discrimination in all its forms.
Ending inequality requires transformative change. Greater efforts are needed to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger and there is a need to invest more in health, education, social protection, and decent jobs. We can all play our part by calling out discrimination where we see it, setting an example or by advocating for change. We all have a role to play in ending discrimination and thereby reducing inequalities.
Islam on equality
“It is not righteousness that ye turn your faces towards East or West; but it is righteousness to believe in Allah and the Last Day, and the Angels, and the Book and the Messengers; to spend of your substance, out of love for Him, for your kin, for orphans, for the needy, for the wayfarer, for those who ask, and for the ransom of slaves; to be steadfast in prayer, and practice regular charity, to fulfill the contracts which we have made; and to be firm and patient, in pain (or suffering) and adversity, and throughout all periods of panic. Such are the people of truth, the God fearing.” (Quran 2:177)
In a long hadith recorded in Hadith Qudsi, it is said that Allah on the Day of Judgment will be displeased with those who do not care for the sick, and who do not give food to those who ask. This hadith is a reminder of human beings’ obligation to respond to the needs of others.
One basic element in the value system of Islam is the principle of equality or equity. This value of equality is not to be mistaken for or confused with identicalness or stereotype. Islam teaches that in the sight of Allah Almighty, all people are equal, but they are not necessarily identical. There are differences of abilities, potentials, ambitions, wealth and so on.
The limitations in these examples are natural. The social limitations are those imposed by society as a result of experience and practice; in the final analysis, they are intellectual attitudes related to traits of character or social status. There is, for instance, the established difference between the ignorant and the learned. No one would assign major responsibilities that are crucial to the community to an ignorant person.
Yet, none of these differences can by themselves establish superiority of one man or race over another. The stock of man, the colour of his skin, the amount of wealth he has and the degree of prestige he enjoys have no bearing on the character and personality of the individual as far as Allah is concerned. The only distinction which Allah recognises is the distinction in piety; the only criterion which Allah applies is the criterion of goodness and spiritual excellence.
The differences of race, colour or social status are only incidental. They do not affect the true stature of man in the sight of Allah. Again, the value of equality is not simply a matter of constitutional rights or the agreement of noblemen or condescending charity. It is an article of faith which the Muslim takes seriously and to which they must adhere sincerely. The foundations of this Islamic value of equality are deeply rooted in the structure of Islam.
The Prophet (may Allah exalt his mention) was asked: “Who among men is most favored by Allah?’ He replied: “A man who does the most good to people.” [At-Tabaraani]
As far as equality of respectability is concerned, human dignity is an inherent, inalienable and inviolable right of every human being. Allah has honoured all the children of Adam. All human beings must be treated with honour, respect and regard, without distinction of any kind. There is no aristocracy, no religious elite, no priesthood or any privileged class in Islam.
It would be unrealistic to assert the absolute equality of human beings, although humans are basically equal in rights, duties and accountability, and there is some degree of similarity in physical and mental traits which enables them to understand and apply rules and laws. At the same time, it is obvious that there is a natural diversity among human beings in terms of traits and talents; therefore, there will be limitations in natural, social and political positions. Some of the limitations are temporary, some permanent; some are infrequent, some frequent. However, a limitation is specific to a particular situation. It may not be generalised to inequality in other rights. A person who is morally upright is not equal to a crook in terms of morality, but they may be equal otherwise. Nor is an intelligent person equal to a dull one, but they are equal in other spheres. In the same way, a woman is not identical to man in her traits, gifts and abilities, and vice versa.
While a certain level of respect and honour is due to all human beings, those who demonstrate the highest level of integrity deserve the highest degree of honour. The criteria for greater honour do not include wealth, property, race, ethnic background, skin colour, gender, nationality, social background, language, occupation or anything else but integrity. It is neither any academic degree nor any level of education or religious affiliation which translates into integrity of character.
The writer is a student of Nursing at Rajiv Gandhi College of Nursing Jammu. [email protected]