By Imam Murtadha Gusau
In the name of Allah, the Most Merciful, the Grantor of Mercy
All perfect praise be to Allah, The Lord of the Worlds. I testify that there is none worthy of worship except Allah, and that Muhammad (Peace be upon him), is His Servant and Messenger.
Dear brothers and sisters, unfortunately over 43 poor farmers have been slaughtered by Boko Haram animals and terrorists in north-east Nigeria recently.
The animals tied up poor agricultural labourers working in rice fields and slit their throats near Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state.
This attack is one of the worst attacks in recent months in a region where the Boko Haram and the so-called Islamic State West Africa insurgent groups are active.
More bodies were reportedly found later – but the exact number of the victims was not immediately known.
The victims were poor labourers from Sokoto, Zamfara and Kebbi states in north-western Nigeria, who had travelled to the north-east to find work so that they can take care of their family. They were buried the following day Sunday, with the state’s governor, the people’s governor, professor Babagana Zulum in attendance.
Also last month, the animals, Boko Haram terrorists killed 22 farmers working on irrigation fields in two separate incidents.
Despite the efforts to end terrorist’s campaign of violence, the group has stepped up its attacks in recent months.
Respected brothers and sisters, apart from the Boko Harams who are slaughtering human beings mercilessly, there should be no doubt in anybody’s mind that human life has a very special status, more than that of animals. True and sincere Muslims believe that the first human Allah created was the Prophet Adam (AS), He created Adam with “His own two Hands.” Allah created him from clay, then Allah taught him, and then commanded the Angels to bow down to him.
Then Allah created from Adam, his wife, Eve (Hauwa), and from them both came the whole of mankind. Humans, the offspring of Adam and his wife, have the ability to think logically, we have developed sophisticated forms of communications, we have creative skills that we use in architecture, building, travel and science. Humans also have the Allah-given ability to choose between right and wrong. Muslims believe Allah has commanded humans throughout the ages to worship Him alone and to behave in a manner that He, the Most High, has commanded and is pleased with. By behaving in accordance to the religion of Allah, mankind lives in peace and security with each other, and Allah showers upon them an abundance of bounties and blessings.
True and sincere Muslims also believe in other creatures created by Allah in the “unseen” world. So there are the “Jinn” that were created from smokeless fire. They have the same obligations upon them as human beings, and they are also given the ability to choose between right and wrong. Also from the “unseen” creatures are Angels. Angels were created from light and are utterly obedient to Allah. Therefore animals have no such free will, and they do only that for which they are created.
You can see from this that human beings have a unique position amongst creation according to Muslims. However, this does not mean that we can abuse other living things just because we are superior to them in many ways. Islam has guidelines in place that ensure that humans only use animals when needed to advance human life in a manner that is pleasing to Allah. So Muslims, for example, can eat meat but have to make sure the animal is cared for when alive and killed humanely.
Humans use certain animals for agriculture, others for riding upon, and others for their wool in the case of sheep. All of this is permitted for Muslims but without mistreating the animals talk less of mistreating human beings. The Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, once passed by a camel that was so emaciated that its back had almost reached its stomach. He said:
“Fear Allah with respect to these beasts who cannot speak.” [Abu Dawud]
A group of Companions were once on a journey with the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) and he left them for a while. During his absence, they saw a bird with its two young, and they took the young ones from the nest. The mother bird was circling above in the air, beating its wings in grief, when the Prophet came back. He said:
“Who has hurt the feelings of this bird by taking its young? Return them to her.” [Reported by Muslim]
The Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) stated that a prostitute once saw a dog on a very hot day going round and round a well, lolling its tongue because of its thirst. She drew some water for it using her shoe, and for this action her sins were forgiven. [Reported by Muslim]
The Messenger of Allah, once saw a donkey which had been branded with fire on its face and he said:
“May Allah curse the one who branded it.” [Reported by Muslim]
The Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon him) said:
“A woman was once punished after death because of a cat which she had kept confined until it died, and because of this she entered the Fire. She had neither given it food or drink while confining it, nor had she let it free to eat the creatures of the earth.” [Reported by Muslim]
The fact that human life is special leads us to the concept of the sanctity of life. This means that in Islam, the lives of humans are protected from being harmed and killed, talk less of slaughtering them. Allah stated in Qur’an:
“To kill one person is like killing the whole of mankind, while if any saves a life it is as if he saves the lives of all mankind.” [Qur’an, 5:32]
In a narration the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) said:
“The killing of one believer (or any innocent person) is more severe in the sight of Allah than the destruction of the Ka’abah [in Makkah].”
In another narration he said:
“Whoever kills a non-Muslim under covenant will never smell the fragrance of Paradise.”
These authentic sayings show the importance of the preservation of life. This means that no person has the right to damage and destroy the life of another against the wishes of Allah.
Respected servants of Allah, wallahi human dignity has been one of the central themes in Islamic teachings. Islam has given a distinct position to humanity by viewing humans as the noblest of creatures and man as the vicegerent of Allah on earth.
According to the Noble Qur’an, human beings have been inspired by the divine spirit, therefore their status is unique among the creatures (Qur’an, 38:72). In another Qur’anic verse human dignity is affirmed very explicitly. Allah Almighty says:
“We have honoured the sons of Adam … and conferred on them special favours above a great part of Our Creation.” [Qur’an, 17:70]
There are numerous examples in the Qur’an which highlight the high status of human beings and stress on upholding it. From the teachings of Islam it is revealed that the divine spark is present in every human; however, it needs an enabling country and society to ignite it.
Islam has identified different aspects of human life which are considered crucial for maintaining human dignity. To uplift humanity, multidimensional efforts are required in order to develop the multiple facets of human life such as the physical/economic, intellectual, social/ethical and spiritual aspects.
In the Qur’an and the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him), helping the less privileged and the weak is constantly underlined. The Prophet Muhammad’s fundamental effort was to reduce the social and economic injustices prevalent in the society in order to uphold human dignity.
The sense of deprivation affects human self-worth and drags it to the lowest level. It is evident that poverty limits human potential in many ways. For example, sometimes it compels a person to indulge in dangerous crime.
Islam has given high value to human life and health. It has put significant emphasis on caring for the sick and disabled and articulated it as a duty. Good health is termed a divine gift.
The sanctity of human life is highlighted by equating the saving of one life with the saving of all of humanity (Qur’an, 5:32). Similarly, according to a Hadith:
“Allah has sent down a treatment for every ailment.”
Hence good health is very crucial for holistic human development.
The intellectual dimension of human beings is constantly highlighted in Islamic teachings. The Noble Qur’an has reinforced the concept of human beings using their intellect and reflecting on the mysterious creations of Allah. Education and seeking knowledge are viewed as important to develop the intellectual capacity of human beings.
Therefore, in Islam seeking knowledge is viewed as abundantly good and it is obligatory for every Muslim to seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave.
In the Islamic tradition, knowledge has been viewed as light, ignorance as darkness. When the human being is not developed through education and knowledge then ignorance prevails, and he can do any kind of evil in the society. Consequently, the individual as well as society suffers.
Spiritual uplift is viewed as a very important area for human development. Human beings are a combination of the body and the soul. Hence we are linked to the Creator while we have an association with fellow beings and other creatures.
According to Islamic teachings for spiritual development, one has to strengthen both relationships. To strengthen the bonds with the Creator one needs worship, and to strengthen the relationship with fellow human beings one needs to fulfil his or her social responsibilities.
The ethical/social dimension is viewed as a very important aspect of human development. It is directly linked to other dimensions of life such as physical, intellectual and spiritual development. Hence, Islam stresses on fulfilling the social/ethical responsibilities for balanced, holistic development of the human being.
To realise the multiple dimensions of human beings, it requires a society that provides opportunity for people to nurture and actualise their gifted potential and use it for the benefit of society.
Developing an enabling society for the people is closely related to good governance and leadership. According to Islamic thought, governance and leadership mean not just to rule but to create an environment where the human potential can be actualised and used for the benefit of society. Therefore, the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) envisioned and strived for a society that could help nurture human potential.
Today, many countries, unfortunately, face huge challenges in human development in terms of poverty, ignorance, corruption etc. For example, in Nigeria a large percentage of people are living below the poverty line. Proper healthcare facilities are not available for a large number of people. Due to different forms of violence, human lives are lost. This situation affects the lives of nearly all the people in the county.
Similarly, the literacy rate of Nigeria is said to be not more than 56 per cent; this means that nearly half of the population is illiterate. According to one report, more than 20 million children are not attending school and as for the students who go to public schools, most of them are not provided the opportunity to develop their potential.
Furthermore, corruption is another big problem in society. Also, spirituality is sometimes viewed only as performing some religious rituals and the moral/ethical aspect is not reflected in society.
In such a situation, the dignity of the human being, as envisioned by Islam, seems like a major challenge. Hence, serious reflection is required particularly on governance and leadership practices in order to develop a society that can help the people actualise their gifted potential in order to uphold the dignity of human life.
It is a manifestation of the dignity of man that Islam has placed an infinite value on human life. This is expressed in the Qur’an in the following terms:
“We ordained for the children of Israel that if anyone slew a person, unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land, it would be as if he slew the whole of mankind. And if anyone saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of a whole people.” [Qur’an, 5:32]
The reference to the children of Israel, that is, the Jews, represents continuity of the basic values that are common to all revealed religions. Both Judaism and Islam are committed to the protection of human life. It makes no difference whether the victim is a Jew, a Muslim or anyone else. The value that is advocated is holistic and indivisible in that aggression against one is tantamount to aggression against all. Life is not only of infinite value, it is also sacred:
“Nor take life which Allah has made sacred, except for a just cause.” [Qur’an, 17:33]
Muhammad al-Ghazali has quoted these Qur’anic verses and drew the conclusion that:
“In respect of the sanctity of life and the prohibition of aggression against it, Muslims and non-Muslims are equal. Attack on the personal safety of non-Muslims invokes the same punishment in this world and the Hereafter.” [See Huquq al-Insan, page 54]
In times of military engagement, the warriors are under a personal duty not to destroy civilian life. It is consequently unlawful to attack women and children, the elderly and the insane, the ill and the invalid and this include the blind, the lame, the crippled and the unconscious. The exempted categories also include the priest and the monk and those engaged in worship as well as farmers who occupy themselves with their works in the field provided that they are not involved in the conflict. The Hadiths contains detailed instructions on all of these and the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) has generally advised military commanders and soldiers in the battlefield to be fair, avoid excessive violence and incline toward peace. Sheikh Wahbah Az-Zuhaili has quoted five Hadiths on the subject. [See for details, Az-Zuhaili, Al-Fiqh al-Islami wa Adillatuh]
All praise and thanks are due to Allah alone, Lord of the worlds. May the peace, blessings and salutations of Allah be upon our noble Messenger, Muhammad, and upon his family, his Companions and his true and sincere followers.
Murtadha Muhammad Gusau is the Chief Imam of Nagazi-Uvete Jumu’ah and the late Alhaji Abdur-Rahman Okene’s Mosques, Okene, Kogi State, Nigeria. He can be reached via: [email protected] or +2348038289761.
This Jumu’ah Khutbah (Friday sermon) was prepared for delivery today, Friday, Rabi’ul Thani 18, 1442 AH (December 04, 2020).