The Foundations of Human Dignity in Islam

[1]. Paper presented by Dr Abdolrahim Gavahi at the Sixth Round of Dialogue Between Abrahamic Religions, Oslo, June15-18, 2008.

In Islam, all principle of faith and religious injunction are based on Quran and the Tradition. In this short paper, we will try to address human dignity from the point of view of holy Quran. In Quran, different words derived from the root “dignity” are used in about 50 verses. Following, we will examine some of these verses:

  1. Dignity of Gods Vicegerency

“And when your Lord said to the angels: I am going to place in the earth a viceroy…”.[2]

  1. Humanitarian Dignity

“And surely We have honoured the children of Adam, and We carry them in the land and the sea, and We have given them of Our blessings, and We have exalted them over most of those We have created”.[3]

  1. Dignity of Life

“For this reason, We prescribed to the children of Israel that whoever slays a soul, unless it is for retaliation or because of that person’s corruption in the land, it is as though he slew all men”.[4]

  1. Dignity of Religious Freedom

“There is no compulsion in religion; truly the right way has become clearly distinct from error; therefore, whoever disregards Satan and believes in Allah, he has laid hand on the firmest handle which shall never break off, and God is most-hearing and most knowing”.[5]

  1. Dignity of Free will

“Surely We have created the man …. and We have shown him the way; he may be thankful or unthankful”.[6]

  1. Dignity of Material Wealth and Children

“Wealth and children are ornaments of the life of this world …”.[7]

  1. Dignity of Sustenance

“Then as for those who believe and do good deeds, they shall have forgiveness and dignified sustenance”.[8]

  1. Dignity of the Social Life

“Do not mischief on the earth, after it hath been set in order”.[9]

  1. Dignity of the Plants

“Do they not look at the earth, how many noble plants of all kinds we have produced therein?”.[10]

  1. Dignity of the Holy books

“That this is indeed a very dignified Quran”.[11]

  1. Dignity of the Holy Prophets

“That this is verily the word of a dignified messenger”.[12]

  1. Dignity of the God Almighty

“O man! What has seduced thee from thy Lord Most Beneficent”.[13]

Nevertheless, there are a set of other issues that though they are not described with the attribute of “dignity” in Quran, but because of their important role in exalting man’s spiritual status, one may say they act as prerequisites for achieving and preserving individual dignity. These issues, as referred to in the holy Quran, include submission towards God,[14] peacefulness,[15] corporal and spiritual purification,[16] piety and chastity,[17] patience and endurance,[18] struggle in the way of God,[19] and finally repentance and return to God.[20]

It is worth mentioning that Quranic verses on human dignity and human inherent rights are more than to be all mentioned here. As it was said, in this holy book, all the creatures such as the man, plans, heavens, the earth, mountains, the mother nature, the God, prophets, sacred Books, angels, messengers of God, … etc. are dignified. That is why man is obliged, as the vicegerent of God on earth and the noblest creature, to behave honourably in all aspects of life, even when he intends to help an orphan.[21]

Indeed, near Quran, man is “dignified” and honoured by God Himself,[22] and so he is expected to respect and honour the God, the world, and his fellow men.

In conclusion, as a teacher of “foreign” (non-Islamic) religions, I have found no other sacred book to be as comprehensive as Quran on the subject of human dignity. Though, unfortunately, one has to confess that the historical record of us, the Muslims, on learning these vital teachings of Quran and putting them into action has not been much commendable; in the same way that our Jewish and Christion brothers have in some parts of their past history been much distanced from the genuine teachings of Moses and Jesus, too. In this respect, we should all excuse ourselves against our holy prophets.

 [2] . HQ 2/30

[3] . HQ 17/70

[4] . HQ 5/32

[5] . HQ 2/256

[6] . HQ 76/2-3

[7] . HQ 18/46

[8] . HQ 22/50

[9] . HQ 7/56

[10] . HQ 26/7

[11] . HQ 56/77

[12] . HQ 69/40

[13] . HQ 82/6

[14] . HQ 40/66

[15] . HQ 10/25

[16] . HQ 33/33

[17] . HQ 59/9

[18] . HQ 2/53

[19] . HQ 22/78

[20] . HQ 5/39

[21] . HQ 89/7

[22] . HQ 89/15

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