Issue 82 / July - August 2011
The Truth, Rights, and More
M. Fethullah Gulen
The Truth is one of the beautiful of names of the Divine, al-Haqq, which is linguistically both an infinitive and an adjective. Some of the meanings that flash through from the shade of the Truth are an immutable reality whose existence is absolute, compliance with the true nature of a thing, the opposite of falsehood, and to exist as oneself. It also denotes a share or portion, preordination, and duty. Indeed, this word is the unique source of all rights, whether they are real, proportional, relative, or nominal; it is the true essence and the very foundation of the reality that spans all universes. All truths, whether we are cognizant or not, truths that are either exoteric or esoteric, material or spiritual, peripheral or central, are each a theophany of the divine name the Truth revealing itself in various wavelengths. Each are a shade or reflection from the disclosure, permanence, and existence of this name in the realms in which it operates (af’āl) and produces works (āsār). The Truth may sometimes relate to the imagination and at other times to what is apparent; but what we behold and comprehend beyond this noble name is the reconciliation between the mind and the eyes, the subjective and the objective, and between knowledge and the known. Yes, the Truth is a title of the agreement between these phenomena, and it ultimately alludes to the “self-existent One.”
Existence is in two kinds: self/independent and dependent. “The One that essentially exists” exists by and of oneself and this attribute is exclusive only to God Almighty, the unconditionally rich One Who is in need of nothing, the absolutely Independent, the One free from all shortcomings, Who is neither a matter, a substance, nor a quality, nor is He bound with space, the one and only Lord of eternity and the Possessor of all perfect attributes. The Truth in this sense is one of the beautiful names of the Divine, and all other truths and rights are nothing but Its manifestations and disclosures in their respective ways. The agreement between oneself and the outer world and their uniform nature are not as such by themselves or by their own rights; they exist by His right, because He deems them necessary, thus granting them the right to exist and be. It is false to bind their being to themselves, for self-existence is not possible for themâ€”things are real only in relation to the Truth. They maintain temporarily in this world bound with the calendar of Divine destiny, and indefinitely in the world to come.
In this respect, truth is One in its independent existence. It is the absolute and immutable existence of the Divine Truth; everything else is a ray thereof. All things other than Him exist dependently, thus are defective due to their permanent need for a point of support. Yet, because they exist through the rays of the Truth, they are considered to be existent and constant. All that we consider constant in its existence is a ray of the light of the Truth’s existence. Each emergence, development, work, activity, duty, and responsibility that occurs in “the realms of acts and works” carries a value as long as it is related to the Truth. Any activity that cannot be connected or related to the Truth, anything that is not operated, started with, analyzed or synthesized according to this relationship, is false and a means of devastation. All kinds of operations, initiations, and activities, and whatever outcome they may yield, even faith and virtuous deeds (if virtuous is still the right word) that are not related to the Truth are nothing more than delusions, propositions, andâ€”in the words of the lawgiver Prophetâ€”“fatigue in vain.”
True believers relate all their deeds to the Divine name of The Truth; it is indispensable, and with this conviction they take action. They consider being faithful to The Truth as a compulsory levy, and as a sign of Divine grace (jabri-lutfi). Respect for The Truth adorns their lives, and they are always occupied with it. They value transient, perishable, and seemingly deceptive thingsâ€”things that are in one sense the opposite of truth because of their dependent, relative worth, which is the measure of their engagement with them. Believers seek for what is eternal and permanentâ€”for that which promises direction and a good ending, for that which reminds of Him, for that which speaks of Him in plain words, for that which falls within the Truth in the true sense of it, for that which prompts considerations of the Truth in the spirit. They always thrive to walk along the axis of truth determined by the True One. Their path is as wide as a highway along which they believe in truth, act in truth, relate in truth, speak in truth, stand with truth, and behave in truth. They call upon the Truth to overcome all obstacles as they head for the True One’s pleasure. They carry out their works faithful to the truth, are always occupied in truthful activities, and tirelessly work to elevate truth. When they are supposed to take, they take only what is due to them. For the rights they are expected to grant, they do so without failure. They are always cautious about those things that do not have any relationship to the truth, for they lead to falsehood.
Truthâ€”and rights in relation to itâ€”has a wide domain of connotations: the opposite of falsehood, the heavier side of the scale balancing power, everyone’s lot, and the fulfillment of individual rights pertaining to interests, privileges, needs, and obligations as recognized by a legitimate regime.
The real proprietor of all these rights is God, the Truth, to whom all parts and wholes, substances and qualities, causes and effects belong to. Nevertheless, through some authorized posts, He conferred these rights to some in the form of interests and authorizations, and to others with the capacity to benefit from these interests and to assume authorities. Those who take on these capacities have to maintain a balance by caring for public rights as much as individual rights.
On the face of what we can see in this world, these rights are assumed by individuals or corporate bodies. Still, as touched upon above and to emphasize once more, all rights belong to God, the True One, and they have been entrusted to human beings as gifts. What we call “the rights of God,” “the rights of human beings,” or “civil rights” arise from legal judgments developed from these rights and pertain to the jurists’ terminology. Now, let us open a small window into the jurisprudential classification that deals with rights under three headings:
1. The rights that are due only to God, as God Almighty is the true Owner of everything. Public law that “relatively” belongs to the society is considered within these rights.
2. Rights of individuals by virtue of natural provision that allows people with the capacity to possess, appropriate, increase, and benefit from them.
3. Rights bound with provisions under common law that relates to both individuals and the society with respect to interests, benefits, and capacity to appropriate.
Rights that are due to God only are superior to all other rights. These rights are immune from all interventions, the way they operate cannot be changed, and they have priorityâ€”no other right can surpass them. Pardons cannot be operated, conciliations cannot be sought, nor can they be forfeited, not even can it be attempted. Violation of any of these rights, in whatever form and nature, relates to the public and renders all of society the plaintiff; however, the protection of these rights has been conferred to the state on behalf of the public to investigate violations. Every member of society has the right to complain about such violations and testify when necessary.
Rights of God in Islam include worship (salah), fasting (sawm), purifying alms (zakah), pilgrimage (hajj) as well as taxations like ushr (tithe), sadaqa al-fitr (compulsory charity paid after the month of Ramadan), haraj (land tax), legal punishments and expiations. Rights in kind, receivables, and provisions on individual freedoms under private law are also considered within this category according to their respective degree of significance. In Islam, individuals are granted the full discretion of things they are eligible to use, as long as they do not waste and use extravagantly. They may choose not to benefit from some of their due rights, and redistribute them to others, or spend in learning and education, establish foundations and thus convert their charity into a lasting one. Individuals may give up from some of their rights and forgo some of their claims from other individuals or the public.
Benefits and interests in common law belong to both individuals and the public, thus decisions over these rights are made according to the balance whether a certain right weighs heavier on the scale of the individuals or the public. Such matters are usually taken care of by jurists.
Human rights are what we speak of more than ever in our age. According to Islam, every human being is born free. Every one is equal to one another in their rights and worth. Freedom of thought, freedom of expression, and freedom of conscience are indispensable rights of every individual. Islam recognizes the same rights and opportunities for everyone regardless of race, sex, language, and religion. As a whole these rights cover the spiritual and physical aspects of human beings, in addition to the rights defined today and those that will be defined in the future.
Throughout human history, human rights have evolved through lengthy processes until we have attained the current level of understanding; yet, it is questionable whether this level is sufficient. There have been great struggles in this direction many times: definitions were stretched to extremes, and many false actions were takenâ€”while correcting one falsehood, another was produced. When a certain framework was finally drawn, efforts to perfect it with revisions, editing, and fine-tunings have never come to an end, and are not likely to very soon. Corrections, expansions, and elaborations have brought along new sets of mistakes. Frequently, good will and endless efforts have brought about nothing but disappointment, which either resulted in a loss of hope or back to square one. Problems have never ended, neither have alternative searches. Many thoughts have been rendered worthless due to oppositions and disputes, while many fantasies have been chased after in delirium for no greater purpose than to fill in the gaps; this delirium does not appear to be coming to an end soon.
Human rights were comprehensively defined with the advent of Islam. These rights, which were expressed in earlier religions only in general terms, or left latent as allusions that needed explanation with independent reasoning, were established once more by the very clear style of the Qur’an and the Prophet’s practice, without leaving room for deviation.
The Holy Qur’an has outlined human rights in detail in an utterly unique language. One can see a great emphasis on the protection of these rights in the Qur’an, which declared certain sanctions according to the conditions in question. The lawgiver Prophet clearly delineated these rights with the transactions he carried out himself. He warned insistently that these rights also pertain to the rights of God, and being in full compliance with them is necessary.
In Islamic terminology, all rights originate from God’s will, and each are a blessing entrusted as a sign of His grace even if out of our will (jabri-lutfi) to humanity. Rights, therefore, are granted to every human by creation and they cannot be purchased or traded, reduced, increased, or exchanged; they cannot be passed on to the discretion of the sovereign nor can they ever be used as a commodity. The greatest assurance of rights is when members of a society and the respected and honest authorities embrace this definition of rights wholeheartedly, and make it a part of their nature, honor it like their own souls, and strive for its protection.
This perception of rights is only be possible in a society that recognizes these rights as gracefully bestowed by God Almighty, a society that is appreciative to all the blessings of the Divine, a society that proceeds straightforward with an extraordinary refinement, believing in the fact that they will be held accountable tomorrow for what they do today, a society that upholds the truth and respects all rights. It is not possible to talk about human values and human rights in the truest sense of the word among masses who have no faith in God and the Day of Judgment, masses who do not follow scriptures or acknowledge messengersâ€”they do not value rights nor do they show respect to truth. They have no appreciation for essential matters of belief; they give the impression of having some kind of faith, but a faith of their own, which revolves around sensuality. For them, it is not faith if it does not give way to their carnal desires; it is not science if it does not comply with their wishes. Those who are not from among them cannot be a scholar, andâ€”when completely lost in deliriumâ€”they consider everyone other than themselves ignorant and every believer reactionary. They defame those who do not think the same as outdated, and in classifying individuals they divide society into camps. Indeed, their thoughts do not stem from common sense, and their behavior is bigoted. The satanic intellectual legacy they have inherited is an overused, worn-out conflictual dialectics that is deceptive. The crude power they employ against truth is a desperate, diabolical product of impotent reason; when they fail intellectually, it is customary for them to resort to demagogy or conflictual dialectics, a method implemented for the first time by Satan at the mysterious order of God to prostrate to the Prophet Adam. Thus, Satan can be considered as the inventor of conflictual dialectics; its later subcontractors have been the abusers of power who failed against the truth.
Muslims always strived at the highest of their capacity to observe human rights in the most scrupulous manner, not least during the Age of Lightâ€”the time of the Prophet. Their firm faith in God and the Hereafter, their well-settled spiritual conviction for the superiority of the rule of law, and their determination to continue on the straight path required them to act in harmony with the nature of their being. A genuine aspect of their condition was to be in sincere servanthood to God Almighty. They painstakingly fulfilled what was expected of them, and remained upright by their inner inclinations, which were shaped by the consciousness of “perfect goodness,” or ihsanâ€”consciousness that God is All-Aware and All-Seeing. They did what they did because they were ordered to do so, aware of the fine line between obedience and disobedience. They welcomed all the orders and advice of the Prophet, the Master of the Law, wholeheartedly; during his time, opposition was limited to a small circle of hypocrites. None of the Prophet’s words were left floating; whatever he said reached its target and went far beyond mere semantics.
When the Prophet honored Medina, he meticulously observed the stipulations of the Charter he signed with a diverse community of different faiths, worldviews, and ethnicities. Regardless of religion, race, and social rank, the law was equally implemented for everyone, and the city of Medina became a safe haven for each community. It was a golden age and the town of the Prophet was like a garden of Paradise. Those who remained close to this age have been close to God and to fellow human beings, while others who failed to strive against their carnal desires and ambitions and darkened their centuries have turned to dust.
Neither the Medina Charter, nor a few examples confined within this framework, were all Islam had to say about human rights. The Sultan of Messengers taught us about human rights throughout his lifetime. He warned us to pay the utmost attention to all rights, and never to ignore even seemingly minor ones. For him, anything that is underestimated is no longer minor. He reminded us how far the respect and fear of God Almighty could reach, so that he could prevent the violations of major rights. He was determined, and always implemented what he said. He was known for his sensitivity and virtue, and these qualities made every believer set a throne for him in their hearts.
Just before he passed away to his Lord, he gave his farewell to an angelic community of tens of thousands during the hajjâ€”his one and only major pilgrimageâ€”and addressed not only them, but all his followers to come until the end times. One last time, he recounted all the principles he had been teaching for years, and each of his statements during the sermon were a human rights declaration. Masters of speech could indeed discern that every word of his final sermon resonated with his lifetime message. His audience, not unfamiliar with these sayings, perhaps was honored to hear those pearls from him again, though they were stated rather differently this time. The Prophet declared his message one last time to his community, a community of loyal followers who drank in his words and practiced them, to pass them on to the next generation.
The Sultan of Speech touched on many diverse issues that day, from the rights of God to family law, and laid down in one sense the core of his mission. The majority of all rights belongs to God, and thus he started his sermon, naming other rights according to their significance, though it may be to the extent of a passing note or an implication. “Fear God and refrain from disobeying Him” was his first word. As a matter of fact, belief in God and obeying Him with due respect would be an assurance and sanction of respect for all human rights. Lack of it would render respect for human rights very difficult, perhaps impossible.
Then he pointed to the duties and responsibilities of spouses to one another, repeatedly emphasizing that women are blessings preciously entrusted, and must be treated accordingly. He warned about the harmony within the family as an essential principle that makes a society what it is and urged us to fear God in this respect. He trod on all the deeply rooted customs from the time of ignorance.
Protection of one’s property, life, mind, religion, and progeny was one of the key issues he stressed over and over with refreshed breath, as if he was speaking from beyond, standing on the rim of the other world. “Your Lord is one, and your father is one: all of you are of Adam, and Adam was of soil,” and he raised his voice, offering a golden key to solve a major problem that afflicts our age like a plague.
In the sermons he delivered during the farewell hajj, he always referred to a grand court where each of us will be questioned on the minutiae of our lives, and enjoined us to carefully observe rights of all kinds. Certain issues of human rights have not yet been resolved even in modern times. Islam, however, established very firmly the principle of lawfulness centuries ago. Unless definitely judged, no one is a criminal, and even the convicted has certain rights that can never be taken away. No one should be interrogated based on probabilities; no one should be tortured. Each right is precious and should never be undermined. The power should be dependent on the right, and no right can be sacrificed against power.
Power has always been like the arch-enemy of truth, be it in social, economic, administrative, and political life. Those who have crude power used this power according to their own self-interest. They interpreted life as an arena of conflict and struggle, thus denied rights to others as much as their power and prevailing circumstances allowed them to; “I have the power!” they cried, as they deliriously raised their sword to the sky.
But for those who take the truth and what is right as their point of support, they have preferred the good pleasure of the True One, placing virtue over their personal interests as well as they could. They considered all rights as manifestations of the beautiful Divine name of the Truth, and observed them accordingly, as they have embraced all human beings as brothers and sisters, and rushed to their help when needed. Such truthful believers strived to restrain their carnal desires, and tried to live as mystics, spending their lives turned toward Heaven, thus turning this world into a heavenly garden.
These people of light used lasting solutions for the protection of minorities, laborers, children, the sick, the homeless, and the unemployed, through various funds and foundations. It was not basic human rights only that were under care in the world of Islam: others also had rights over the possessions of Muslimsâ€”it was a tax on the wealthy for those who were in need. And as they shared their belongings, believers were very careful not to make others feel indebted for this favor.
For as long as we represented our values, this is how we have believed, lived, and behaved. When significant junctions like belief, religion, and goodness have cracked apart, then falsehood has replaced the truth, the powerful have oppressed the weak, and rights have been violated. Then God has taken away from us consciousness of fraternity, feelings of security and compassion, respect for rights, and all the blessings He had graciously entrusted. Would He give them back? I do not know. But He always granted them to those who were truthful in their liabilities, faith, submission, and patience. He never deserted those who were loyal to their word and turned to Him in devotion to truth.
God has an infinite number of names, starting with the Truth
How great it is for a servant to uphold it,
Think, why did the blessed Companions read sura Asr,
Before they adjourned.
For well-versed in this chapter is the secret of salvation
True faith comes first, followed by prayer
By truth and perseverance: this is humanness,
When all four are combined, there are no more worries for you.