The third universal gift of Islam is its declaration that man has been endowed with the highest rank and dignity in the entire scheme of God’s creation. Before the prophethood of Muhammad, on whom be the peace and blessings of God, man had degraded himself to the position of the most inconsequential being on earth. Numerous beasts and trees connected with mythological traditions and pagan beliefs were held as holy and cared for more than man himself. They had to be protected even at the cost of innocent lives; sometimes human beings were sacrificed at the altars of these holy objects. We still come across such gory incidents even in such civilised countries as India.
The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) restored the dignity of man by declaring that man is the most respectable and prized being in the whole Universe and nothing has a greater claim to honour and love and protection than he. The Holy Prophet raised man to the highest conceivable level, that is, the position of the vicegerent of God on earth. It was for man that the world was created. Says the Qur’an:
It is He who created for you all that is (Al-Baqarah: 29).
The Qur’an described man as the paramount and best of creations in the whole Universe.
We have honoured the children of Adam and guided them by land and sea.And provided them with good things and exalted them above many of Our creations. (Al-Isra’: 70) What can affirm human eminence and honour better than the following observation by the Prophet of Islam: The entire creation constitutes the family of God and he is dearest of Him who is the best in his dealings with God’s family.
Can there be a better concept of human dignity and nobility? Has man ever been granted this honour under any religion or social philosophy? The Prophet of Islam made Divine mercy contingent on man being kind to man:
The Most Merciful is compassionate to the softhearted. Show mercy to those on the earth and the Owner of Heavens will be merciful to you.
All those who know about the social and political condition of the world prior to the advent of Islam can appreciate the determined efforts the Prophet made in order to drive home the concept of the worth and dignity of man. The lives of innumerable human beings depended on the whims of a single individual before the prophethood of Muhammad (peace be upon him). Any tyrant could made in Blood across countries and continents to gain political ascendancy or just satisfy his whims.
Alexander the Great (356-324 B.C.) rose like a tempest, subdued Syria and Egypt, and crossing Babylonia and Turkistan reached India. He swept the older civilizations before him. Julius Caesar (102-44 B.C.) and several other conquerors like Hannibal (247-182 B.C) exterminated large populations remorselessly as if those were not human beings but beasts of prey.
These pitiless massacres continued all over the world even after the advent of Jesus Christ. The Roman Emperor Nero (A.D. 54-68) murdered his own wife and mother, persecuted his own countrymen and played the fiddle while Rome burnt, for which he was himself probably responsible. Barbarians like the Goths and Vandals were busy destroying civilisations in Europe and Africa only a hundred years before the prophethood of Muhammad (peace be upon him).
Little regard for human life among the Arabs had made fights and forays a pastime for them and even the most trivial matter could lead them to the battle-field. Bakr and Taghlab, the two tribes of Bani Wa’il, continued to fight for 40 years during which time they fought many a sanguinary battle although it all started by the shooting of an arrow at the udder of a camel which mixed milk with blood. Jassas ibn Marrah killed Kalayb and then Bakr and Taghlab started fighting and about which Kalayb’s brother, Al-Muhalhil, remarked: “Men have died, mothers have become childless, children have become orphans; tears stream from the eyes and the dead are lying shroudles.’
Similarly the Battle of Dahis-o-Ghabra was sparked off simply because Dahis, the horse of Qays ibn Zuhair, had overtaken that of Hudaiqa ibn Badr. A man of Asad slapped Qays at the instance of Hudaiqa which made his horse lose the race. Thereafter, the war of attrition started in which a large number of people lost their lives and many had to leave their hearths and homes.
The number of battles fought by the Prophet was 27 or 28 while he is reported to have sent out 60 forays and expeditions. In all these battles and expeditions only 1018 peoples, Muslim as well as non-Muslim, lost their lives.
The purpose of these fighting was to restore law and order and to protect human life and property from senseless destruction. A civilised code of conduct was prescribed for warfare and this changed the character of war from prosecution to disciplinary action.
The moral teachings of Islam create such a strong sense of human dignity that one never treats another person as a sub-human being. A Muslim never treats another man as a chattel or slave nor discriminates between himself and others. An incident preserved by history amply illustrates the sense of human dignity embedded in Islam. Anas relates that he was with ‘Umar, the second Caliph, when an Egyptian Copt complained to the Caliph that his horse had beaten that of Muhammad, son of ‘Amr ibn al-As, the Governor of Egypt, and was witnessed by a number of people. When he claimed that he had won the race, Muhammad became enraged and lashed him with a whip. Caliph ‘Umar asked him to wait and wrote to ‘Amr ibn al-‘As asking him and his son to present themselves before him. ‘Amr ibn al-‘As sent for his son and enquired about the matter, who then denied having committed any crime. Then both ‘Amr ibn al-‘As and his son repaired to Madina. Caliph ‘Umar sent for the Copt and giving him a whip asked him to beat ‘Amr ibn al-‘As’s son. After the Copt had exacted retribution, Caliph ‘Umar ordered the Copt to move the whip over ‘Amr ibn al-‘As’s head for it was because of him that he had been flogged. The Copt refused saying that he had already had his revenge. Thereupon ‘Umar remarked: “Had you beaten him I would not have intervened.” Then, turning to ‘Amr ibn al-‘As he said, “Whence did you make them slaves who had been born free?” Thereafter, turning to the Copt, ‘Umar said, “Go back and have no fear. If anything happens, inform me.”