Imam Hussain and Human Rights - Part 1

By: Dr. Abdullah al-Yousif

When studying the speeches, quotes and slogans of Imam Hussain during the battle of Karbala, we find that they focus on basic human rights as a fundamental part of man’s dignity and insurance for his rights and freedom.

 Maintaining Man’s Dignity

One of the basic rights of man is maintaining his dignity from transgressions or degradation both physically and verbally.  If we refer to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we find that it recognizes a human being’s dignity in its introduction. It also recognizes their equal rights as a basis for peace, justice and freedom. It argues that humanity seeks a world in which individuals enjoy freedom of speech, belief and actions. It is thus essential that laws protect humans and their rights from tyranny and oppression.

The introduction of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adds that member states stressed in the foundational charter of the United Nations, issued on 26 /6 /1945, their belief in basic human rights, individual dignity and value in having equal rights and the determination to promote social progress. Member states were also determined to improve standards of living and advance freedom. Member states have promised, in cooperation with the UN, to ensure the respect of human rights and freedom.

In article (1) of the Declaration, it states that people are born with equal rights and dignity. They are granted reason and conscience and have to deal humanely with each other. Article (2) states that every individual man enjoys the right and freedom mentioned in the declaration with no discrimination based on sex, color, language, religion, political opinion, different views, national origin, social status, wealth, nor any other factors.

Imam Hussain focused on maintaining human dignity in his reformational uprising by refusing to be subjugated and preferring death with dignity to life in humiliation. He said: “Verily, the pretender [Yazid] and son of pretender have made us choose between humiliation and swords. And far from us is humiliation. Allah, his prophet, the believers, the honored spirits, and the dignified souls reject our humiliation and prefer us not to submit to evil people but instead to face an honorable death”(1).

Imam Hussain rejects submitting to tyranny and enjoys no dignity granted by Allah to mankind. He chose the path of martyrdom in order to defend such dignity and reforming the state of the nation. He said: “I have not rebelled for the sake of evil, fun, corruption, nor oppression. I have rebelled for the reformation of my grandfathers nation. I seek enjoying good and forbidding evil”(2).

In another place, Imam Hussain said: “NayI swear by Allah, I do not submit to you meekly and never escape like slaves”(3). Imam Hussain preferred to die with honor than to live in humiliation with disrespect, because man loses his value when dignity is absent.

1- Al-Luhuf fi Qatla al-Tufuf, Ibn Tawos al-Hussaini P. 59

2- Bihar al-Anwar, al-Majlisi p.329

3- Al-Irshad, al-Shaykh al-Mufeed p. 263


Enjoying the Freedom

General and individual freedom are among the most distinguished rights of human beings. These include the right of belief and opinion. Islam respects freedom, considering it as one of the most important human values. It is a right of man and he is supposed to enjoy it fully as Allah wishes: “He will relieve them of their burdens and of the shackles that weigh upon themHoly Quran 7:157

Imam Ali is narrated to have said: “Never be a slave of others when Allah created you free” (1). In general, nobody has authority over others. However, this can only be exceptionally with religious reference.

Imam Hussain pointed out the necessity of enjoying freedom. Moreover, he demanded his enemies to be free in their worldly life. He said: “If you adhere to no religion and feared no hereafter, then be free in your worldly life” (2). This quote points out that his focus on the value of freedom, since man must be free in life even if he is not religious because freedom is required in itself, with which man feels his value. Imam Hussain said: “I find happiness in death and misfortune in living with oppressors” (3).

1- Meezan al-Hikma, part1, p.582

2- Bihar al-Anwar, al-Majlisi p.51

3- Mnaqib al abi Talib, Ibn Shahar Ashoob, p. 76 

 Death in honor and freedom is better than living in humiliation and oppression because man can never find happiness and dignity while being under oppression, tyranny and dictatorship. That was why Imam Hussain chose death over life.