Principle of Human Sacredness (Hurmah) & Nobility (Karamah)

These are edited transcripts of khārij lessons given between December 15th 2018 to December 29th 2018, on the topic of Citizenship Law and Religious Minorities by Shaykh Haider Hobbollah.

In the context of religious minorities living under an Islamic government, there are various jurisprudential principles that can be cited to manage the rights of such minorities. One such principle that has been popularized over the last century is the principle of human nobility (karāmah al-insān) or at times known as the principle of human sacredness (ḥurmah al-insān).

The following transcripts argue whether such a jurisprudential principle even exists, and if so, what are its extents and limitations.

The notes are based on what was primarily transcribed in class, however, the complete book with finer details can be accessed in the published book, Qawā‘id Fiqh al-‘Alāqah ma‘ al-Ākhar al-Dīnī – Dirāsah fī Ḍaw’ al-Naṣṣ al-Islāmī wa al-Masīḥī (al-Ḥuqūq al-Siyāsīyyah Taṭbīqan), pgs. 55 to 117.

Human nobility, human dignity, and human sacredness are phrases closely tied to the topic of human rights, and in particular, the rights of religious minorities. The term human dignity is itself a rather new term within Islamic discourse and literature, especially with the meaning that is intended with it today. Historically speaking, the phrase ‘human dignity’ can be dated back to around 1155 AD in Europe, but it was not until the 20th century that the idea of human sacredness began being put forth by Muslim scholars. Before the 20th century, what you find in Islamic discourse is the idea of sacredness of a believer (mu’min), or at the very most, sacredness, nobility, and dignity of a Muslim.

The modern concept of “human” dignity and nobility originates in an idea that gives centrality to our humanness. In other words, the concept says: humans qua humans are sacred. The main object and subject of this proposition is man himself, and it implies that things revolve around him. It further assumes that one does not need any qualifications or characteristics, except being human, for one to possess sacredness and nobility.

To illustrate with an example: consider yourself as an Imami Shī‘a entering Najaf or Qom. You will not feel left out or strange, or out of place, and that is because there are certain qualities you share with the people of Najaf and Qom. However, if you visit a Sunni country such as Egypt, you may feel strange, left out and even intimidated. Proponents of human nobility will argue that simply being human should have been enough for you to not feel left out and strange, particularly in the context of laws and rights that are applicable to you.

Proponents of this principle do not necessarily deny that being a Muslim or a believer cannot, or will not, give you certain other rights, but rather they are arguing for certain primary rights that are established for all humans equally, for simply being humans. Hence, the topic of human rights is also closely related to natural rights, since one of the arguments made for human rights, such as the right to life, is through the nature of humans. Once again, proponents are not saying natural rights cannot be taken away in certain cases, like if a person commits a crime, rather they are speaking of what is fundamentally established. A natural right could be taken away under certain circumstances because if it is not, it can harm general human rights such as the nobility and dignity of other humans.

One of the challenges we observe in this discussion, particularly in works already written on the subject, is that there is no clear definition of human dignity and nobility. The main question we want to answer is: Does simply being human establish the right of sacredness and nobility for someone, such that certain laws and implications are affirmed for them – at the very least, the right to life? What do verses of the Quran and ḥadīth say about this? This is the question we wish to explore.

Discussions Related to Karāmah al-Insān

There are several perspectives from which the principle of human nobility has and can be discussed:

1. Are humans ontologically (takwīnan) noble? If they are ontologically noble, this would imply they are the greatest of God’s creation, but this greatness is not in conflict with someone holding the legislative view (tashrī‘an) that only a Muslim, or a believer has a certain type of nobility that grants them specific rights. We should not confuse ontological nobility and legislative nobility.

2. When it comes to nobility as a legal construct for humans, another question to answer is whether God has made humans noble – legislatively speaking – without considering any extra qualities or not. In other words, has God legislatively granted nobility to humans qua humans? If the answer is yes, then the principle will be proven.

3. If the legal principle of karāmah is established, then what is Islam’s opinion and horizon of karāmah within its religious texts? When does Islam legislate and recognize the karāmah of someone? We are talking about the concept of karāmah, not the specific word, so it is possible that religious texts have not used the word “karāmah”, but have discussed its concept. For example, in modern thought, one of the instances of karāmah is for someone to be allowed to construct their gender, however, Islam does not give such a right any recognition; in fact, it may even say it is an attack on human nobility. This is what we need to determine: what exactly is karāmah, why is one party saying granting someone the right to construct their gender is a karāmah, but Islam says no?

Consider this verse:

فَأَمَّا الإِنسانُ إِذا مَا ابتَلاهُ رَبُّهُ فَأَكرَمَهُ وَنَعَّمَهُ فَيَقولُ رَبّي أَكرَمَن  وَأَمّا إِذا مَا ابتَلاهُ فَقَدَرَ عَلَيهِ رِزقَهُ فَيَقولُ رَبّي أَهانَنِ كَلّا ۖ بَل لا تُكرِمونَ اليَتيمَ

[89:15-17] As for man, whenever his Lord tests him and grants him honour and blesses him, he says, ‘My Lord has honoured me.’ But when He tests him and tightens for him his provision, he says, ‘My Lord has humiliated me.’ No indeed! Rather you do not honour the orphan.

This verse implies that humans consider something to be honour (ikrām) and humiliation (ihānah), in material benefit, but Allah (swt) says your criterion is wrong. In fact, Allah (swt) uses the word test (ibtilā’) for both scenarios, whether a material benefit is given or not.

In other words, we must see what the religious texts themselves define as nobility and sacredness for a human. Perhaps Islam might say humans are noble (mukarram) as long as they do not show animosity and enmity (‘udwān) against a certain reality. For example, Shaykh Ṣanaei says if a disbeliever is negligent (muqaṣṣir) then they are considered impure, but if they are not negligent (i.e. they are qāṣir) they are not considered impure.

We also have to recognize instances where Islam grants more takrīm through secondary qualifications – the concept of mufāḍala which is greater preference and priority – for example:

i) Based on one belief and faith:

إِنَّ أَكْرَمَكُمْ عِندَ ٱللَّهِ أَتْقَىٰكُمْ

[49:13] Surely the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous among you.

This verse shows that nobility is a gradational quality, depending on the level of your God-consciousness and righteousness.

ii) Based on one’s knowledge:

أَمَّنْ هُوَ قَـٰنِتٌ ءَانَآءَ ٱلَّيْلِ سَاجِدًۭا وَقَآئِمًۭا يَحْذَرُ ٱلْـَٔاخِرَةَ وَيَرْجُوا۟ رَحْمَةَ رَبِّهِۦ ۗ قُلْ هَلْ يَسْتَوِى ٱلَّذِينَ يَعْلَمُونَ وَٱلَّذِينَ لَا يَعْلَمُونَ ۗ إِنَّمَا يَتَذَكَّرُ أُو۟لُوا۟ ٱلْأَلْبَـٰبِ

[39:9] Is one who is devoutly obedient during periods of the night, prostrating and standing [in prayer], fearing the Hereafter and hoping for the mercy of his Lord, [like one who does not]? Say, “Are those who know equal to those who do not know?” Only they will remember [who are] people of understanding.

According to this verse, knowledge is something that grants someone more nobility.

iii) Based on one’s struggles and jihad:

لَّا يَسْتَوِى ٱلْقَـٰعِدُونَ مِنَ ٱلْمُؤْمِنِينَ غَيْرُ أُو۟لِى ٱلضَّرَرِ وَٱلْمُجَـٰهِدُونَ فِى سَبِيلِ ٱللَّهِ بِأَمْوَٰلِهِمْ وَأَنفُسِهِمْ ۚ فَضَّلَ ٱللَّهُ ٱلْمُجَـٰهِدِينَ بِأَمْوَٰلِهِمْ وَأَنفُسِهِمْ عَلَى ٱلْقَـٰعِدِينَ دَرَجَةًۭ ۚ وَكُلًّۭا وَعَدَ ٱللَّهُ ٱلْحُسْنَىٰ ۚ وَفَضَّلَ ٱللَّهُ ٱلْمُجَـٰهِدِينَ عَلَى ٱلْقَـٰعِدِينَ أَجْرًا عَظِيمًۭا

[4:95] Those who stay at home—except those with valid excuses—are not equal to those who strive in the cause of Allah with their wealth and their lives. Allah has elevated in rank those who strive with their wealth and their lives above those who stay behind ˹with valid excuses˺. Allah has promised each a fine reward, but those who strive will receive a far better reward than others—

According to this verse, those who went to war and those who remained back are not the same.

iv) Based on one’s invitation to the religion and justice:

وَضَرَبَ ٱللَّهُ مَثَلًۭا رَّجُلَيْنِ أَحَدُهُمَآ أَبْكَمُ لَا يَقْدِرُ عَلَىٰ شَىْءٍۢ وَهُوَ كَلٌّ عَلَىٰ مَوْلَىٰهُ أَيْنَمَا يُوَجِّههُّ لَا يَأْتِ بِخَيْرٍ ۖ هَلْ يَسْتَوِى هُوَ وَمَن يَأْمُرُ بِٱلْعَدْلِ ۙ وَهُوَ عَلَىٰ صِرَٰطٍۢ مُّسْتَقِيمٍۢ

[16:76] And Allah sets forth a parable of two men: one of them is dumb, incapable of anything. He is a burden on his master. Wherever he is sent, he brings no good. Can such a person be equal to the one who commands justice and is on the Straight Path?

According to this verse, a person who invites others to truth is not the same as a person who does not do that. The Quran says the person who does not command and invite to justice is like a mute slave.

v) Based on the extent of struggle at different times:

وَمَا لَكُمْ أَلَّا تُنفِقُوا۟ فِى سَبِيلِ ٱللَّهِ وَلِلَّهِ مِيرَٰثُ ٱلسَّمَـٰوَٰتِ وَٱلْأَرْضِ ۚ لَا يَسْتَوِى مِنكُم مَّنْ أَنفَقَ مِن قَبْلِ ٱلْفَتْحِ وَقَـٰتَلَ ۚ أُو۟لَـٰٓئِكَ أَعْظَمُ دَرَجَةًۭ مِّنَ ٱلَّذِينَ أَنفَقُوا۟ مِنۢ بَعْدُ وَقَـٰتَلُوا۟ ۚ وَكُلًّۭا وَعَدَ ٱللَّهُ ٱلْحُسْنَىٰ ۚ وَٱللَّهُ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ خَبِيرٌۭ

[57:10] And why should you not spend in the cause of Allah, while Allah is the ˹sole˺ inheritor of the heavens and the earth? Those of you who donated and fought before the victory ˹over Mecca˺ are unparalleled. They are far greater in rank than those who donated and fought afterwards. Yet Allah has promised each a fine reward. And Allah is All-Aware of what you do.

According to this verse, those who sacrificed and donated during the period of hardship for the Muslim community are more meritorious than those who sacrificed when things were not as challenging.

vi) Based on their affinities:

وَأَشْعِرْ قَلْبَكَ الرَّحْمَةَ لِلرَّعِيَّةِ، وَالْـمَحَبَّةَ لَهُمْ، وَاللُّطْفَ بِهِمْ، وَلاَ تَكُونَنَّ عَلَيْهِمْ سَبُعاً ضَارِياً تَغْتَنِمُ أَكْلَهُمْ، فَإِنَّهُمْ صِنْفَانِ: إِمَّا أَخٌ لَكَ فِي الدِّينِ، وَإمّا نَظِيرٌ لَكَ فِي الْخَلْقِ،

Imam Ali’s (a) words in letter 53 of Nahj al-Balagha to Mālik Ashtar he writes: Habituate your heart to mercy for the subjects and to affection and kindness for them. Do not stand over them like greedy beasts who feel it is enough to devour them, since they are of two kinds, either your brother in religion or one like you in creation.

So far, we have looked at two aspects of this principle: ontological and legislative and have highlighted the next steps of discussion that we need to have.

Classical Fiqh & Karāmah

After inductively exploring the Islamic textual tradition, someone like Dr. Muhammad Arkoun says there is a clear emphasis on humanity within it. Is this conclusion correct? We ask you, after studying for decade or so in the seminary, studying Fiqh and Uṣūl, have you concluded that there is something in our textual tradition that grants humans qua humans this level of respect? We want to see what we can derive from religious sources.

After looking at Islamic jurisprudence up until the 20th century, there was nothing known as human sacredness qua human; the jurists have not said anything about this. In the religious tradition, it is obvious that karāmah revolves around faith (īmān) and that is the subject-matter of karāmah. We do have karāmah for other people, but that is not granted to them because they are humans, but rather because they may be in some form of a contract with the Islamic state or with Muslims, such as a mu‘āhid, or musta’min, or ahl al-dhimmah – all three are granted respect due to some sort of contractual agreement. If there was no significance and sacredness (ḥurmah) of the contract, then such a person qua human is not considered sacred (muḥtaram). A simple implication of that would be that you can backbite them.

In fact, even the nobility granted to them through these contracts is not absolute. We have traditions, such as the famous tradition of Sakūnī from Imam Ṣādiq (a) who says, “there is no sacredness (ḥurmah) for the women of Ahl al-Dhimma” and therefore you can look at their hair, which shows that even after being in the contract of dhimma, it is not the case that absolute karāmah is granted.

Classical Islamic jurisprudence considers anyone who is not part of these three aforementioned contracts as an enemy combatant (ḥarbī), even if the disbeliever is not physically engaged in a war with you and has no interest in doing so. If someone is a ḥarbī, that means they are not sacred, and it also does not matter whether they are negligent or not. Of course, there exist theological discussions on what will be their fate on the Day of Judgement, but we are speaking about the topic in the context of law.

All of what we have said so far indicates that classical and traditional Islamic jurisprudence does not acknowledge a legal construct known as human nobility qua humans. Instead, what we find is the notion of acquired nobility (karāmah iktisābīyyah). The ontological nobility that is granted to all humans by God simply means humans are superior to plants and animals, but the nobility which is attained by themselves is something that is done through effort and struggle, and not everyone can attain it.

We can thus ask the question of whether nobility really is something that is acquired. What about Muslim children who have nobility but have not done anything to earn it? It seems that to restrict nobility to something that is acquired is not universally consistent even with Islamic law. What about those people who really tried hard and put in the effort, but were unable to become Muslims? How is it justice that such people have no nobility, while on the other hand there are some Muslims who appear to be Muslims but are hypocrites or non-practicing, yet they are to be granted nobility?

Due to the absence of any explicit legal principle or discussion on the nobility of humans qua humans, what we find in contemporary times are multiple discussions by scholars on this subject. Many of these discussions pertain to reconciling the idea of human nobility with what we observe in the Islamic jurisprudential system. Many scholars such as Shaykh Jawādī Āmulī, Shaykh Miṣbāḥ Yazdī and others, who recognized the reality of jurisprudence and that it appears to contradict the idea of human nobility, began offering their explanations.

A few of these reconciliations are as follows:

1) Shaykh Muḥammad Taqī Ja‘farī and Shaykh Jawādī Āmulī

These two scholars have argued that those who do not ascribe to a religion, cause themselves to lose their religious sacredness which comes with maintaining piety. Once piety is discarded, the element of sacredness is also negated which they had originally been created with. Shaykh Jawādī Āmulī argues that humans have been made vicegerents and there is no way someone can be a vicegerent unless they are characterized with the attributes of Allah (swt) who they are representing on earth. If a human does not represent Allah (swt), then the status of khilāfah is taken away from them, which also results in them not being an instance of [17:70] Indeed, We have dignified the children of Adam. The phrase “Children of Adam” is used for the vicegerents of Allah according to Shaykh Jawādī Āmulī.1

Response: This reconciliation is not precise when it comes to explaining the jurisprudential heritage that we have. They are suggesting humans have been essentially granted nobility, but they themselves discard it by abandoning piety, which is a crime. If this was correct, we would have at least seen a difference between a qāṣir and muqaṣṣir in jurisprudence when it comes to nobility, but we do not see this even in the jurisprudence of Shaykh Jawādī Āmulī. The point of something being essential is that it cannot be removed, otherwise you might as well say that the nobility is based on faith.

The concept of karāmah for Shaykh Jawādī Āmulī came from the verse of the Quran and then he brings the concept of khilāfah. This implies the verse of Quran is not giving them essential nobility. Banī Ādam would then technically just mean a mu’min. Perhaps the fallacies these scholars are committing is that they are jumping between takwīn and tashrī‘.

2) Shaykh Miṣbāḥ Yazdī 

In his Naẓarīyyeh Ḥuqūqī Insān and Ma‘ārif-e Qurān, he gives an explanation saying that humans have essential nobility qua humans, but the moment they abandon their faith they are like animals.2 Shahīd Muṭahharī has similar words to Shaykh Miṣbāḥ, although in some other words it seems he believed in something much more expansive.3 Perhaps these scholars took this idea from verses and narrations that talk about how humans can go higher than angels and lower than animals.

Response: This is trying to change the meaning of humans and Banī Ādam and give it a new meaning. Does Shaykh Miṣbāḥ take this meaning of humans and then apply it on the rest of the verses or narration? For example:

وَٱمْتَـٰزُوا۟ ٱلْيَوْمَ أَيُّهَا ٱلْمُجْرِمُونَ ۞ أَلَمْ أَعْهَدْ إِلَيْكُمْ يَـٰبَنِىٓ ءَادَمَ أَن لَّا تَعْبُدُوا۟ ٱلشَّيْطَـٰنَ ۖ إِنَّهُۥ لَكُمْ عَدُوٌّ مُّبِينٌ

[36:59-60] But step aside today, you guilty ones. Did I not command you, O Children of Adam, not to follow Satan, for he is truly your sworn enemy.

Who are the Banī Ādam in this verse? Is God addressing the righteous people and condemning them? It is important to consider the use of these words in their colloquial meanings, and to give the word “human” some new meaning just to defend the idea of essential nobility goes against the prima-facie of the Quran.

What is strange is that in Tafsīr-e Nemunah, Shaykh Nāṣir Makārim Shīrāzī says when the Quran uses the word Banī Ādam, it is always used in praise for humans, but the word insān is used when it is condemning them.4 The aforementioned verse of Surah Yāsīn suggests the complete opposite and there are other verses of the Quran that also go against this view of Shaykh Makārim.

Shaykh Miṣbāḥ might respond back by saying that the absence of humanity from a non-believer is conventional, not in reality, but if he says that then he will fall into the same issue as the first group did.

3) Differentiating Essential Nobility from Implied Nobility

Some contemporary scholars have argued that nobility is merely something that has been facilitated for humans to achieve, but it is not something essentially part of them.

There is no critique of this view, because Islam says being a human necessitates they can attain some sort of karāmah. However, the problem is in the word karāmah, because they do not really intend by it that a non-mu’min or a Muslim is still mukarram. This view is just trying to deceive others into thinking that the conclusion is that humans are mukarram in all instances, while the conclusion of this view is that a disbeliever is not mukarram.

These are the three prominent positions taken by contemporary Muslim scholars.  Muslim scholars after 20th century onwards began to cite this view within Fiqh works. Many scholars have discussed it, such as Muḥammad ‘Abduh, ‘Allāmah Tabāṭabā’ī, Shahīd Muṭahharī, Mālik b. Nabī, Mūsa Ṣadr, Bāqir al-Ṣadr (in his discussion of contradictions when addressing the narrations regarding Kurds), Ali Shariati, Sayyid Faḍlullah, Shaykh Shams al-Dīn and many other contemporaries. In fact, it is a principle that is also present in the constitution of the Islamic Republic in article 6.

Despite this, this principle has never become a part of any seminary lessons, not in Uṣūl al-Fiqh, nor in Fiqh, nor in theology, etc. Therefore, we can say that discussion on this principle, and the principle itself is still in its infancy.

From the discussions that we do have on the subject, there are two major camps on this principle. Those who accept it and those who reject it.

Arguments of Proponents of Aṣālah al-Karāmah

Proponents of this legal principle believe there is a general principle we have for human nobility (karāmah al-inṣanīyyah). Within these proponents, there are two methods: a top-down approach and a bottom-up approach.

The first approach says we have religious texts which convey the general principle to us, or that there is a recourse principle derived from the religious text in case there is doubt. Based on this method, if a narration is against our bird-eye view, then there are a few things we can do:

a) We say that the religious text proving karāmah cannot be restricted, in which case we will be forced to reject a tradition that seems to go against our principle of nobility in any way possible (i.e. either we contextualize it or find another means).

b) We accept the principle, but we say it can take on certain restrictions. Of course, if we start seeing a lot of restrictions, we may begin to doubt the original evidence for the principle.

This shows that simply proving human nobility is not enough, rather you need to be able to apply it correctly and deal with traditions that seemingly go against this principle.

The majority of the proponents of this legal principle have taken this method, like Shaykh Shams al-Dīn.

The second method which is bottom-up is when a jurist goes through all the chapters of Fiqh from al-Ijtihād wa al-Taqlīd until Diyyāt and looks at how Fiqh is dealing with a non-Muslim and a non-Mu’min. In the fundamental principles, if a non-Muslim is treated the same way as a Muslim, then one will say Islam accepts karāmah of a human. This is the approach that Sayyid Baqir al-Ṣadr takes in Iqtiṣādunā to prove his argument.

The second method is very difficult hence no one else has taken this approach. The conclusion reached by the second approach can have an implication:

Let us assume we pick up 50 relevant instances from Fiqh and we check that in 30 of those cases Islam accepts karāmah. If you reach 40 instances you can use induction and accept its binding force like al-Shāṭibī to argue for a principle, even before analyzing all 50 instances.

The issue, however, is applying the principle and not necessarily proving the principle through this second case.

First Argument: Quranic Verses

Let us look at some of the evidence proponents use for this legal principle:

1) The most important argument is the following verse of the Quran:

وَلَقَدْ كَرَّمْنَا بَنِىٓ ءَادَمَ وَحَمَلْنَـٰهُمْ فِى ٱلْبَرِّ وَٱلْبَحْرِ وَرَزَقْنَـٰهُم مِّنَ ٱلطَّيِّبَـٰتِ وَفَضَّلْنَـٰهُمْ عَلَىٰ كَثِيرٍۢ مِّمَّنْ خَلَقْنَا تَفْضِيلًۭا

[17:70] And We bestowed dignity on the children of Ādam and provided them with rides on the land and in the sea, and provided them with a variety of good things and made them much superior to many of those whom We have created. 

According to this verse, it appears children of Adam have been granted nobility by God and it does not differentiate between Muslims or non-Muslims.


What was the context (siyāq) in which this verse was being used within Islamic literature?

a) Theological Context: in the discussion of preference (tafḍīl) of Prophets (p) over angels and vice-versa. The verse says we gave them preference (faḍīlah) over many creations, not all – and it says man, not . Man includes angels, jinns and humans – we know humans are superior to jinns, and since it says most of them, we know angels are not included. Sayyid Murtaḍā writes a treatise and many other theologians have written a lot of works on this topic. This discussion does not concern us, since its dealing with the last part of the verse.

b) Ontological Context: This exists in Shī’ī works, meaning they are mukarram ontologically, but not legislatively. Shahīd Thānī brings several examples to argue for what he believes makes humans mukarram, such as eating with hands, the intellect, understanding, authority he gives etc. Majlisī I in Rawḍa al-Muttaqīn says humans are mukarram because Prophets are from them. Mohsin Gharawīyān says humans are created upon fiṭrah (mafṭūr) of monotheism (wahdānīyyah) hence they are mukarram.

Though there are only 3-4 narrations on this verse, perhaps the narrations in our works pushed the scholars to understand takrīm in this way. In Tuhaf al-Uqul there is a narration that says all of the perfection of creation is for humans; a narration in al-Āmālī of Shaykh Ṭūsī from Zayd b. ‘Alī implies humans are preferred over other creation; a report in Tafsīr of ‘Alī b. Ibrāhīm from Abu Ḥamzah5 says Allah (swt) does not grant nobility to the soul of a disbeliever, which indicates the presence of this nobility in the soul of humans.

This second ontological context is relevant to us.

c) Jurisprudential Context: this matters the most for us. We find this a lot in Sunni legal texts, but not amongst Shī’a until very recently. However, even in the Sunni discussion, it does not mean they grant karāmah to all humans. In what cases have they used this verse for?

1) Negating essential impurity – some Sunni jurists use this verse to argue against it. You will never find a Shī’ī jurist use this verse. ‘Abd al-Raḥmān al-Jazarī in his al-Fiqh al-Madhāhib al-Arba‘a argues this and says najāsah is spiritual.

2) Negating the impurity of a dead body – when humans die, they are not najis, in fact considering it najis is a type of humiliation. Al-Rafi‘ī, a Shāfi’ī scholar, in his Fatḥ al-‘Azīz argues for this.

3) Negating the impurity of human milk – this argument is mentioned in works like I‘āna al-Ṭālibīn of al-Bakrī.

4) Negating the impurity of human sperm – Shaykh ‘Alī Kāshif al-Ghiṭā mocks this argument of the Sunnis in his Al-Nūr al-Sāṭi’ fī al-Fiqh al-Nāfi’.

5) Negating the use of hair for other purposes (such as a wig) – though hair is pure, it is seen as a humiliation (perhaps wigs were seen like that in the past).

However, traditionally even the Ahl al-Sunnah have never used this verse to derive a legal principle, unlike some contemporary Sunni jurists. The traditional discussions all have to do with the human body and have nothing to do with rights and responsibilities.

d) Legal Theory Context: Some legal theorists have cited this verse as an example for the principle. Fakhr Rāzī in his al-Maḥṣūr brings one evidence to prove the principle of subordination of laws to expediency, though he himself does not accept the principle. The principle suggests, if humans are mukarram, then Allah (swt) does not legislate anything except that which has maṣlaḥa for it.

Shahīd Ṣadr when speaking about the idea of putting narrations against the Quran, says that humans are equal in many aspects and uses the idea of karāmah of humans to abandon narration that belittles the Kurds. However, if you look at Sh. Sadr’s text a bit more closely you will see he does not even cite the verse, nor even seem to speak about this principle. He is talking about humans being equal in responsibility, not about being mukarram.

Our Position

Banī Ādam is definitely a term that includes all humans, and it is not talking about them from the perspective of piety, faith or anything else. The Quran itself uses this phrase elsewhere like in Surah al-A‘rāf :

يَٰبَنِىٓ ءَادَمَ إِمَّا يَأْتِيَنَّكُمْ رُسُلٌ مِّنكُمْ يَقُصُّونَ عَلَيْكُمْ ءَايَٰتِىۙ فَمَنِ ٱتَّقَىٰ وَأَصْلَحَ فَلَا خَوْفٌ عَلَيْهِمْ وَلَا هُمْ يَحْزَنُونَ

[7:35] O children of Adam, if there come to you messengers from among you relating to you My verses [i.e., scriptures and laws], then whoever fears Allah and reforms – there will be no fear concerning them, nor will they grieve.

Or in Surah Yāsīn:

أَلَمْ أَعْهَدْ إِلَيْكُمْ يَٰبَنِىٓ ءَادَمَ أَن لَّا تَعْبُدُوا۟ ٱلشَّيْطَٰنَۖ إِنَّهُۥ لَكُمْ عَدُوٌّ مُّبِينٌ ، وَأَنِ ٱعْبُدُونِىۚ هَٰذَا صِرَٰطٌ مُّسْتَقِيمٌ.

[36:59] Did I not enjoin upon you, O children of Adam, that you not worship Satan – [for] indeed, he is to you a clear enemy – And that you worship [only] Me? This is a straight path.

Likewise, in Arabic dictionaries and language, there is no way we can understand Banī Ādam in a specific sense. As a matter of fact, it is more explicit than the word insān and nās, because insān and nās are easier to interpret as a limited and restricted group.

In Surah Anbyīā [21:26-27], the word mukramūn is used for a specific person. Or Surah Yaṣīn:27 where a small group is given takrīm, Surah Dhāriyāt [51:24], Ma‘ārij [70:35], Ṣāffāt [37:42], Infitār [82:11] and so on – these verses do not mean just because a specific group is getting takrīm, it necessitates the absence of takrim for all humans in general.

Some scholars have tried to restrict Banī Ādam to specific groups and given it takhṣīṣ as Shaykh Tabriṣī says in Majma‘ al-Bayān. This is far-fetched, if we do this then we should apply it to the rest of the verses as well. In fact, if disbelievers are to be included in this verse as it is obvious, then it will be more just for Allah (swt) to argue against them on the day of judgement.

There is no reason to restrict the verse, and what Allamah says in al-Mīzān is also sensible when he says that there is an essence of condemnation in this verse too.

The actual question we must answer is, what exactly is takrīm? Is it just an ontological nobility or legislative? The ontological nobility is the bare minimum (al-qadr al-mutayaqqin) that is proven. The context of the verse implies that and in fact, most do not have any issue with this, the rest of the verse also helps with its signification, as well as other verses in the Quran.

Legislative nobility is not apparent from it, but we cannot say it is impossible. Perhaps someone can say the context does not harm us here, because we can take iṭlāq on the word takrīm which is inclusive of takwīnī and other cases. However, this is not sufficient either since we are not trying to say there is iṭlāq and then read the rest of the verse, rather we are reading the whole verse and then saying there is no way there is iṭlāq in this verse due to the connected contextual clue (al-qarīnah al-muṭṭaṣilah). Furthermore, the verse is giving a khabar, not a ḥukm (i.e. inshā).

Conclusion: This verse cannot be used to prove the legal principle of human nobility.

Second Argument: Progressing from Ontological Nobility to Legislative Nobility

Dalālat al-Iqtiḍā – an implicit, but required signification indicated by the text – that is studied in legal theory is used to say that it is not possible for human to be ontologically noble, but not legislatively. Humans have a few aspects of nobility mentioned regarding them in the Quran: they are vicegerents, the angels prostrated to them, they have superiority over other creatures, they are given sustenance, they are created in the best of forms, they are given blessings and favours by Allah (swt) etc. In fact, humans are noble because they are born on a fiṭrah and are pure, and God has blown His own Spirit in them. These aspects of nobility are also mentioned in the Old and New Testaments.

If all these aspects of ontological nobility are present in humans, is it possible for there to be a difference in ontology and legislation? How is it possible for someone to have all this ontological nobility, but no legislative nobility simply because they happen to be born as non-Muslims? Since such a signification is absurd, there is no choice but to acknowledge and agree to even a little degree of legislative nobility for all humans, albeit a child, otherwise you must acknowledge humans are not respected.

Response: Proponents of this argument should realize that there is no necessary relationship between ontology and legislation and hence the entire argument is based on this false assumption.

Furthermore, even if were to accept the principle studied in legal theory, there are two issues that the Catholics and Twelver Imamis have to deal with and if they cannot respond to this issue, then this evidence cannot be used.

1) The First Sin in Catholicism implies that humans are born ontologically weak and cannot be pious. You are born problematic and corrupt, and only after coming to Christianity can you work towards becoming a better person. In Protestantism, you are fixed after you become a Christian, but in Catholicism, you still can never be fully fixed. In other words, you are not noble as a human until you have faith.

2) Akhbār al-Ṭīnah6 implies that humans qua humans are not noble. These narrations say that only the clay of the Shī’a is noble and sacred, but non-Shī’ī clay is khabīth. If their clay is not noble or sacred, how can we argue using the aforementioned argument?

Sayyid ‘Abdullah Shubbar mentions several explanations Shi‘i scholars have offered over the centuries for these traditions. Some of these explanations are as follows:

1) Throw these narrations against the wall because they are against the Quran, Sunnah, and the ‘Aql as they imply determinism (jabr).

2) They are thrown against the wall because they are in line with the Ash‘arī view as they believe in jabr. In other words, these narrations were originally said under dissimulation.

3) ‘Allamah Majlisi accepts these reports in some places, such as volume 5 of Biḥār al-Anwār and says if a Shī’a is not under the authority of a tyrant Sunni, they will do good deeds. However, if they are living under a tyrant and are forced to do wrong deeds, their sins will go to the tyrant.

4) They are all metonyms (kināyah) regarding God’s knowledge regarding the two groups of people.

5) They are a metonym regarding human capacity and potential. This does not necessitate jabr, rather just talks about the potential of doing good or bad more so than others.

6) It is referring to one’s affinity towards doing good or bad and it does not necessitate jabr.

7) Allah knows X person will do evil and Y will do good, hence He creates X from bad clay, and Y from good clay.

8) These reports are very much linked with the reports on ‘ālam al-dharr, where we were all equal. We were asked to obey Allah (swt) and those who obeyed and submitted to God, it was their clays that were made good, and those who disobeyed their clays were made worse.

9) Mulla Fayḍ Kashānī’s offers a view that combines certain philosophical and mystical premises.

Third Argument: Progressing from Ontological Submission and Legislative or Natural Rights

This argument is similar to the argument of Natural Rights, which is the basis of rights in Western philosophy and the discourse on rights put forth by Aquinas, Hobbes, and others. Although this is meant to be a rational argument, it is not an argument based on the theoretical intellect, rather it is based on the practical intellect.

In order to understand God’s Actions (not His Speech), we realize that He created us with free-will and free. Our nature is that we are to live. Life, free will, and freedom are part of our nature, we were created this way.

The fact that Allah created us as people who can think, who have free will and are to live, then we want to think, we want to use our free will to live. How could He have created us as humans to live, yet at the same time decide we should not live – that is a contradiction in God’s actions. For life to be taken away, the opposing side needs to bring a justification. If there is no justification for the opposing side, then this implies takrīm.

If you negate this right, not only do you negate human rights, but you also go against God since He is the one who gave us this natural right.

We can give it a more religious touch by saying Allah created us with Fitrah, and human Fitrah is to live. If you kill him, you are going against human Fitrah and not allowing others to live according to their Fitrah.

We mentioned that the general argument is that if God creates humans in a certain way, it means He expects them to live in that way, otherwise it would defeat the purpose of Him creating us in that way.

Response: This is a good argument, but it has two major issues:

1) If it is correct, then religious proponents of natural law with this explanation must also acknowledge the rights of animals. Within Islamic jurisprudence, animals do not have such rights. For example, you can kill an animal without any reason whatsoever and you are not held accountable for it in classical Islamic jurisprudence. With this argument, there will be no reason to restrict natural rights to just humans, and one would have to stretch it to animals as well.

Of course, proponents can say in response that they believe animals have the same rights. They might argue by saying who said we had evidence that animals can be killed without any reason.

2) It is very easy to restrict (takhṣīṣ) this principle through religious sources. Just because you have established natural rights for humans, it does not mean you cannot restrict them and one of those restrictions happens to be kufr.

However, as I said, the argument is good in terms of its origin, especially if the above observations can be addressed.

Fourth Argument: Practical Intellect (al-‘Aql al-‘Amali)

Negating karāmah of humans is an instance of oppression. If the natural rights of humans qua humans is taken away, then the intellect says this is detested (qabiḥ) because it is enmity against humans.

Response: There is no issue with this critique, but the moment you enter a religious atmosphere, you see that religious sources do not really grant these perceptions much authority. For example, in the story of Prophet Musa (a) and Khiḍr, Musa (a) uses the same intellect to say killing an innocent child is not correct. Likewise, Prophet Ibrāhīm (a) does not question God either when asked to slaughter his son. Now if we have traditions saying similar things about kufr how can we use our practical intellect to argue against this?

You would have to explain away a lot of religious texts if you want to use this argument for karāmah here.

Fifth Argument: Taste of the Shari‘ah (Dhawq al-Shar’īah)

Muḥammad ‘Alī Ayāzī and some other contemporary scholars have used the taste of Islamic law to argue that humans have karāmah essentially. They do something similar to what some Sunnis do in induction.

Response: Proving the minor premise is extremely difficult.7

Sixth Argument: Traditions

One of the most important traditions is the letter of Imam Ali (a) to Mālik al-Ashtar. He says humans are either your brothers in faith or in creation.

وَأَشْعِرْ قَلْبَكَ الرَّحْمَةَ لِلرَّعِيَّةِ، وَالْـمَحَبَّةَ لَهُمْ، وَاللُّطْفَ بِهِمْ، وَلاَ تَكُونَنَّ عَلَيْهِمْ سَبُعاً ضَارِياً تَغْتَنِمُ أَكْلَهُمْ، فَإِنَّهُمْ صِنْفَانِ: إِمَّا أَخٌ لَكَ فِي الدِّينِ، وَإمّا نَظِيرٌ لَكَ فِي الْخَلْقِ

The letter of Imam Ali has been authenticated by many scholars. In addition, there are many ethical reports that are absolute, telling you to act nice with humans (al-nās), without restricting them to believers. One of the most important ones is the treatise on rights.

Although it is possible to say these reports (except Imam Ali’s letter) are just referring to personal interactions, and even then, how many non-Muslims were living in these Muslim nations, or vice-versa.


Other than the letter of Imam ‘Alī, the rest of the reports can easily be restricted (taqyīd) by other religious texts. As for the letter of Imam ‘Alī, it is very explicit in its naṣṣ. I have discussed the chain of this letter in Dirāsat fi fiqh al-Islāmi v. 3. It has a very weak chain of transmission to begin with and just because our scholars have accepted it does not prove anything in and of itself. More importantly, the entire letter to Malik al-Ashtar is a political letter and such texts are by default understood temporally.

Conclusion: We cannot find a strong tradition that proves the principle of karāmah, however, based on the previous discussion we had in ḥirābah, humans do have the basic right to life, which includes freedom of religion at least outside of Islamic lands, right to work and eat and sleep, etc.

Arguments of Those Who Reject Aṣālah al-Karāmah

Proponents of the absence of karāmah say there is no argument establishing such a thing. In fact, they go on to say we have arguments proving karāmah is only for believers.

1. Quran Comparing Disbelievers to Animals

Shaykh Muḥammad Taqī Yazdī, Shaykh Jawādī Amuli etc., have mentioned something in their works from which it can be argued that this was what they were referring to. Perhaps they did not intend this, but it is apparent from their words. Some of these verses are:

وَلَقَدْ ذَرَأْنَا لِجَهَنَّمَ كَثِيرًا مِّنَ ٱلْجِنِّ وَٱلْإِنسِ ۖ لَهُمْ قُلُوبٌ لَّا يَفْقَهُونَ بِهَا وَلَهُمْ أَعْيُنٌ لَّا يُبْصِرُونَ بِهَا وَلَهُمْ ءَاذَانٌ لَّا يَسْمَعُونَ بِهَآ ۚ أُو۟لَـٰٓئِكَ كَٱلْأَنْعَـٰمِ بَلْ هُمْ أَضَلُّ ۚ أُو۟لَـٰٓئِكَ هُمُ ٱلْغَـٰفِلُونَ

[7:19] And most certainly have We destined for hell many of the invisible beings and men who have hearts with which they fail to grasp the truth, and eyes with which they fail to see, and ears with which they fail to hear. They are like cattle – nay, they are even less conscious of the right way: it is they, they who are the [truly] heedless!

 إِنْ هُمْ إِلَّا كَٱلْأَنْعَٰمِۖ بَلْ هُمْ أَضَلُّ سَبِيلًا

 [25:44]They are not except like livestock. Rather, they are [even] more astray in [their] way.

 وَٱتْلُ عَلَيْهِمْ نَبَأَ ٱلَّذِىٓ ءَاتَيْنَـٰهُ ءَايَـٰتِنَا فَٱنسَلَخَ مِنْهَا فَأَتْبَعَهُ ٱلشَّيْطَـٰنُ فَكَانَ مِنَ ٱلْغَاوِينَ وَلَوْ شِئْنَا لَرَفَعْنَـٰهُ بِهَا وَلَـٰكِنَّهُۥٓ أَخْلَدَ إِلَى ٱلْأَرْضِ وَٱتَّبَعَ هَوَىٰهُ ۚ فَمَثَلُهُۥ كَمَثَلِ ٱلْكَلْبِ إِن تَحْمِلْ عَلَيْهِ يَلْهَثْ أَوْ تَتْرُكْهُ يَلْهَث ۚ ذَّٰلِكَ مَثَلُ ٱلْقَوْمِ ٱلَّذِينَ كَذَّبُوا۟ بِـَٔايَـٰتِنَا ۚ فَٱقْصُصِ ٱلْقَصَصَ لَعَلَّهُمْ يَتَفَكَّرُون

[7:175-176] [Prophet], tell them the story of the man to whom We gave Our messages: he sloughed them off, so Satan took him as his follower and he went astray – if it had been Our will, We could have used these signs to raise him high, but instead he clung to the earth and followed his own desires- he was like a dog that pants with a lolling tongue whether you drive it away or leave it alone. Such is the image of those who reject Our signs. Tell them the story so that they may reflect

مَثَلُ ٱلَّذِينَ حُمِّلُوا۟ ٱلتَّوْرَىٰةَ ثُمَّ لَمْ يَحْمِلُوهَا كَمَثَلِ ٱلْحِمَارِ يَحْمِلُ أَسْفَارًۢا ۚ بِئْسَ مَثَلُ ٱلْقَوْمِ ٱلَّذِينَ كَذَّبُوا۟ بِـَٔايَـٰتِ ٱللَّهِ ۚ وَٱللَّهُ لَا يَهْدِى ٱلْقَوْمَ ٱلظَّـٰلِمِينَ

[62:5] The example of those who were entrusted with ˹observing˺ the Torah but failed to do so, is that of a donkey carrying books. How evil is the example of those who reject Allah’s signs! For Allah does not guide the wrongdoing people.

Response: These verses have nothing to do with legal constructs or legislation, nor political laws nor are they giving a report about the reality of humans. They are simply figurative comparisons, and this is how the Arabic language worked. The point of comparison (wajh al-tashbīh) is also very clear in them. These verses do not mean Allah wants you to apply the same rulings and treatments of animals upon these humans. In fact, they do the opposite as well, by calling humans as lions or horses when they want to call them courageous, or fast. If these were real comparisons, then why have the jurists not applied the same rulings such as the permissibility of riding on them or proving their impurity through these verses?

Yes, scholars like Shaykh Āyatullah Jawādī will use these verses to prove this is speaking of human reality and that the verses are al-qaḍīyyah al-ḥaqīqīyyah, but that is his methodology and approach altogether, which has been critiqued by many scholars. This is something the mystics generally do because they try to avoid figurative readings as much as possible.

Consider this verse from Surah al-Furqān:

وَلَقَدْ أَتَوْا۟ عَلَى ٱلْقَرْيَةِ ٱلَّتِىٓ أُمْطِرَتْ مَطَرَ ٱلسَّوْءِ ۚ أَفَلَمْ يَكُونُوا۟ يَرَوْنَهَا ۚ بَلْ كَانُوا۟ لَا يَرْجُونَ نُشُورًۭا

[25:40] They have certainly passed by the city ˹of Sodom˺, which had been showered with a dreadful rain ˹of stones˺. Have they not seen its ruins? But they do not expect to be resurrected.

This verse shows that when humans go through a ruined city, they should look at the ruins and remember its meaning, unlike animals who will only see broken walls. This shows that even non-Muslims are not really animals, and it is expected of them to be like the believers – to go from material to questioning the immaterial meaning behind these things.

Another verse says: 

وَلَقَد صَرَّفناهُ بَينَهُم لِيَذَّكَّروا فَأَبىٰ أَكثَرُ النّاسِ إِلّا كُفورًا

[25:50]Certainly We distribute it among them so that they may take admonition. But most people are only intent on ingratitude. 

The pronoun hu (it) would be going back to Quran or rain.

2. Quranic Verses Proving Najāsah of Non-Muslim

يَـٰٓأَيُّهَا ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُوٓا۟ إِنَّمَا ٱلْمُشْرِكُونَ نَجَسٌۭ فَلَا يَقْرَبُوا۟ ٱلْمَسْجِدَ ٱلْحَرَامَ بَعْدَ عَامِهِمْ هَـٰذَا ۚ وَإِنْ خِفْتُمْ عَيْلَةًۭ فَسَوْفَ يُغْنِيكُمُ ٱللَّهُ مِن فَضْلِهِۦٓ إِن شَآءَ ۚ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ عَلِيمٌ حَكِيم

[9:28] O believers! Indeed, the polytheists are ˹spiritually˺ impure, so they should not approach the Sacred Mosque after this year. If you fear poverty, Allah will enrich you out of His bounty, if He wills. Surely, Allah is All-Knowing, All-Wise.

Surah Tawbah says polytheists are impure (najas). The argument is that najas does not restrict the karāmah of humans, rather it is kināyah that they are not muḥtaram. So, from physical najāsah they deduce that it implies an absence of karāmah. There are many narrations on this subject as well – particularly regarding the non-Ahl al-Kitāb disbelievers.

What strengthens this point is that some proponents of karāmah would use the Banī Adam verse to prove the purity of human bodies. Some Shī’a jurists also realized today that takrīm in the Quran implies taharah. This at least shows that there is a conflict between someone being mukarram and being najis.

Whereas in this argument, the opponents are saying since we have proven they are najis, they cannot be mukarram.

Response: There are two ways to respond to this:

i) Foundational (mabnā’ī): You can disagree with the entire foundational premise and say najāsah is not proven for any human. The main evidence for non-Ahl al-Kitāb’s najāsah are 3: a) Shī’ī consensus, in the sense that it is a clear opinion held by the jurists, b) Verse of the Quran, c) Hadith on the najāsah of Ahl al-Kitāb (and hence as a priority the non-Ahl al-Kitāb will also be impure).

ii) Internal (binā’ī): Is there a connection between najāsah and the legislation against the nobility of a human? What if we give a possibility, like Shaykh Montazeri did when he said that the najāsah of a kāfir is different from other najāsah, because it was a political rule. However, we do not want to give mere probabilities, because in reality, the customs (‘urf) will understand such a connection.

Regardless, our issue is more foundational. As for what Shaykh Luṭfullah Gulpaygānī has said,  that najāsah is a type of punishment for kufr in this world, this is not convincing. With that view, how can you be consistent? How can you consider children najis if they are not responsible, or why do you not differentiate between a qāṣir and muqaṣṣir?

3. Traditions on the Rights of a Muslim over a Muslim

The rights that are prioritized are the rights of Muslims – human rights are nothing but Muslim rights.

Response: This doesn’t necessarily negate the karamah of humans, because the traditions could just be emphasizing the rights without denying the other basic rights all humans have.

4. Specific Traditions

The most important tradition is by Abū Ḥamza Thumālī from Imam Ṣādiq (a) which we alluded to earlier:

ان الله لا يكرم روح كافر ولكن يكرم ارواح المؤمنين

Surely Allah has not given nobility to the soul of a disbeliever, but he has given nobility to the souls of the believers.

This narration is very explicit and says there is no karāmah for non-Muslims.

Response: Even though its signification is very clear, it appears in the Tafsīr of ‘Alī b. Ibrāhīm which is a dubious work. On top of that it is a solitary report and you cannot accept a speculative report just like that in such a severe matter. In this matter, the lives of billions of humans are at stake.

Even if we accept both these issues, the chain has Muḥammad b. Fuḍayl in it who was accused of Ghuluw and Shaykh Ṭūsī considered him weak.

5. The obligation of offensive war

The evidence for offensive war says they should be fought until they convert, which shows they have no nobility as a default premise.

Response: We have discussed this already and though this view has a consensus in traditional jurisprudence, we argued against its obligation. Even if we accept it, it does not mean they are not mukarram. It can imply that whenever offensive war is applicable and active, only then they are non-mukarram, otherwise they are mukarram, but it is pending.

Conclusion: There is no evidence that says humans are not mukarram – legislatively – except as Muslims. The ontological nobility of humans is established, but at the same time, there is no principle called human nobility qua human (karāmah al-insānīyyah bi mā huwa insānīyyah). All we can prove is that during war they are not mukarram as far as their lives are concerned and also that all humans have the right to live.


  1. Ḥaqq wa Taklīf Dar Islām, pg. 287.
  2. Naẓarīyyeh Ḥuqūqī Insān, pg. 251-267; Ma‘ārif-e Qurān, pg. 367.
  3. Insān Dar Qurān, pg. 11, 16.
  4. Vol. 12, pg. 204.
  5. Vol. 2, pg. 22 []
  6. See volume 2, chapters 1-3 of al-Kafī
  7. For a detailed exposition of this principle, read: Madhaq al-Shari‘ah (Taste of Shari‘ah) and Ruh al-Shari‘ah (Spirit of the Law)