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    Mihai Martoiu Ticu

    There is an apparent contradiction between the scourge of human rights abuses in the Islamic world, Muslim’s craving for values we associate with Western democratic states[1], and their view that rather more Sharia[2], not less, would bring Muslims happiness. I hope to explain this contradiction by describing the Islamic concept of human dignity.


    “The Qur’ān has proclaimed human dignity an inherent right of the individual in an absolute and unqualified sense (…) and this then provides a matrix for the rest of his basic rights.”[3] “Dignity is the essence of being, the core of the human entity and the backbone of his character.”[4] The word dignity occurs seven times in the “Arab Charter on Human Rights” and six times in the “Universal Islamic Declaration of Human Rights”. So what does this human dignity mean in Islam?

    Linguistic Significance

    Abdulaziz Othman Altwaijri explains that “karama” (verb “karuma”), the Arabic for dignity, means unlimited generosity, giving with ease, charitable soul, kindness, “one that never gives to take and always confers without expecting a return of favours or profits”, unmatched hospitality.[5] Karama is also used for “an indisputable extraordinary gift.” A synonym of the verb refers to preciousness and precious stones. When linked with God’s name it denotes a bestowal of honour, and protection from sully. But a person can honour herself (karrama) by rising above all sins, misdeeds and all matters belittling. The generous is tolerant and forgiving. “Thus, all meanings converge to convey the idea of abundance, munificence, ease and facility in giving and granting with no underlying interests (...)Placed before the utterance (qualum karim), this adjective confers on this saying the aspect of ease and softness, and is generally used to refer to the best of everything. Takrim then is conferring all these virtues and noble meanings on the person.”[6]
    Googling one can find also other meanings of the word family like: 
    كَرَّمَ (karrama = verb)
    glorify, venerate, reverence, revere, respect, laud, lionize, admire, ennoble, eulogize, extol, hold in esteem, make great, do honor to, confer honor upon, look up to, exalt, regard as grand, regard as magnificent
    كَرَم (karam = substantive)
    magnanimity, openhandedness, liberality
    كَرُم (Karoema = verb)
    be free-handed, be munificent
    bestowal of honors upon, doing honor to, deference, tribute, welcome

    Uncompromised Fraternity bestowed by God

    The human dignity is characterized by unity and equality. Dignity, nobility and honour is bestowed on all human beings at birth, without limitations or qualifications, the pious and sinner alike, it is a absolute and “proven right of every human being regardless of colour, race or religion(…) a natural right.”[7] It is surely not something conditionally obtained, or earned by meritorious conduct, nor does it depend on personal attributes or status in society, “but for the fact that they are human beings”. Equality is stressed in the right to justice, protection of the law, education, employment and enjoyment of basic liberties. Even criminals are entitled to dignified treatment. Punishment is for retribution and reform not indignity and humiliation.[8]
    According to Christopher Weeramantry this egalitarian spirit is stressed in Islam from the beginning:
    “All being brothers and all being alike the children of Adam, there could be no affront to the human dignity of any single person without being an affront to the dignity of all – including the dignity of the perpetrator of indignity. Man, being God’s creation on whom he had showered his choicest blessings, could not be subject to a violation of that dignity by man. Dignity was intrinsic to his personality and no regime, however powerful, could take it away from him.”[9]

    Physical and Spiritual Pre-Eminence

    The human is created as an image of God, in the best “form” and best “image”, with beauty and elegance, matched by a ”spiritual endowment of the highest order.” Man takes a special place in the Universe, is appointed God’s vicegerent on earth and his mission is to establish a just order. The angels have to prostrate to man as sign of his superior spirit and his superior capacity for knowledge. In a sense this kind of dignity seems close to the meaning of the word when used in relation to dignitaries. A Muslim can only worship God as Sovereign and he will not humble himself to anybody else. The capacity for speech and man’s faculty to perfect himself, to fulfill his enormous potential are considered a part of his dignity. All those capacities are a sign of God’s love for humanity.

    Sanctity of life and personal safety

    Life is sanctified and in the prohibition of aggression against it Muslims and non-Muslims are alike. During a military engagement combatants have a special responsibility not to destroy civilian life, it is unlawful to attack women, children, elderly, the insane, the ill, invalids, blind, the unconscious, priests and monks engaged in worship, farmers not involved in the conflict. One should be fair and avoid excessive violence and be inclined towards peace. While the law forbids taking another person’s property without his consent, it permits a starving person to rob another of his excess food or water. The religious rituals and duties can be interrupted for safety reasons. The right to personal safety is also dignity as constraint. One is not allowed to commit suicide, must avoid life-threatening situations, dangerous drugs, exposure to diseases. Granting others permission to kill her is legally void. Mutilations of the (dead) body is forbidden, except for medical reasons. Eight out of nine classical legal schools permitted contraception. There is division about abortion, when allowed is up to 120 days

    Virtue and character

    There is a special attention for a upright character as a proof of distinction and dignity in the eyes of the law. Backbiting is a major sin and Islam takes very serious offence in the attacks on the honor and good name of upright individuals. Dignity is violated by ridicule, defamation, sarcasm, acrimonious bickering, insulting disbelievers. Slanderous accusation is punished by eighty whip lashes, and the slanderous accuser is forbidden to witness again, because she might have inflicted irreparable damage to the good name and honour of her victim and humiliating a fellow Muslim makes one an “evil-doer”. One should conceal the weaknesses of others and turn a blind eye to their failings. Suspicion amounts to the worst form of lying. Kamali considers a commitment to virtue, the promotion of good and the prevention of evil (hisbah) related to human dignity, especially tolerance. Moral excellence avoids the reciprocity warranted by law and justice, and promotes forgiveness. Virtue manifests itself also in humility, meekness (al-haya) and leniency (al-rifq). A major theme in Islam’s teaching is the pleasant social behavior and dignified social encounter, beautiful manners

    Freedom of conscience, moral autonomy, individuality

    “The dignity of man is manifested, perhaps more than anything else, in his freedom of conscience, moral autonomy and judgment.” Kamali acknowledges that the common good takes priority, to large extent, in the event of conflict of interests between individual and community, but the individual is not totally subsumed by social purpose and interest. Talking about individual interests as something fundamentally different from the interests of the community is “neither accurate nor sound”. The idea of common good is “inherently relative and often involves a compromise of some sort between individual and social interests (…) The Sharia would normally not sacrifice the basic rights and liberties of the individual and his human dignity and honour in the name of common good, or of communal interest (…) The individual is thus seen, not just as a member of the community and subservient to its will, but as a morally autonomous agent who plays a distinctive role in shaping the community’s sense of direction and purpose.” Respect for personal privacy is manifested in the sanctity of a the home and inviolability of the personal correspondence, rejection of eavesdropping and espionage. Thus authorities have to act on what they already know through direct observation, not on suspicion.

    Government accountability and basic needs

    As part of the individual dignity there is an individual right to correct a ruler and attack his decisions. In order to become reality dignity necessitates considerations for basic human needs and poverty is seen as degradation. The Muslim society has a duty to take care of the sick, the orphan and the poor.


    Human dignity plays a central role in Islam. Dignity is seen as God’s love and honour for man, is inherent to human nature, without exceptions. Dignity is infinite and ultimate value. Premised on dignity are the inviolability of life, liberty, property and honour. Although the common good receives priority in many cases, Islam does not make a clear distinction between the individual and public interests, individual happiness on earth being one of the aims. Dignity manifests itself in moral autonomy and virtues, like charitable traits, tolerance, refrain from violence and respect for others. Considering the importance of human dignity in Islam, their well-known human rights abuses make the tyrants in the Muslim world look like alien dignitaries from out of space. No insult intended to aliens.


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