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Maria Irene Ramalho




Raza Saeed
Publicado em 2019-04-01

Huqūq al-Insān’, ‘Huqūq-e-Bashar’ and ‘Insāni Huqūq’ are the closest translations of the term ‘Human Rights’ into Arabic, Persian and Urdu. The complexity of the relationship between the terms insān/bashar and human/man/subject are acknowledged and documented. But the term Huqūq as a translation of ‘Rights’ has become the term of choice for activists and non-governmental organisations in parts of the Indian subcontinent, and has lost some of its nuanced meaning in common understanding. Haqq, the singular and root word for Huqūq, carries a rich cultural, theological and philosophical history with it.


The meaning of Haqq, most familiar in terms of contemporary human rights discourse, is that of a ‘claim right’, from which its other connotations such as ‘litigation’ and ‘law’ emerge. However, there is a much wider meaning inherent in the term. According to Moosa (2001), one of its essential definitions is ‘that which is established and cannot be denied’, which corresponds to ‘right’ (as opposed to rights) and ‘truth’. In this regard, the term also bears the meaning of ‘justice’ and ‘that what is due’. It is in this vein that Haqq is used in the Qur’an on numerous occasions to refer to ‘certainty’, ‘reality’ and ‘justice’, and is described as an attribute of, as well as a name for, the Almighty. Kamali (1993) describes how the notion of justice ultimately links the concept with ‘benevolence’ and ‘societal benefit’. The most widely recognised categories relate to the rights of God (Huqūq Allāh), rights of fellow humans (Huqūq al-Ibād) and dual rights (Huqūq Allāh wal-Ibād), which emerge from the nexus of secular and religious rationales.


There are certain key points that emerge from these various definitions, which distinguish the idea of Haqq from the contemporary understanding of human rights. First, as a claim right it also includes correlative duties, but the primacy rests with the latter. This has prompted certain scholars to argue that such a system based on obligations is largely communitarian and does not create avenues for the fulfilment of individual rights. There is, however, a more nuanced understanding of rights and duties that is present here. Haqq implies that duties and rights both emerge from the notion of what is ‘just’ and ‘due’ to the other, or in a particular situation. It is this notion of what is ‘due’ that creates claims/rights for one and obligations/duties for the other.


Second, linked with this, is a different engagement with the idea of agency. The history of Civil & Political Rights and Economic, Social & Cultural Rights, along with the issue of differentiation and justiciability, highlight the centrality of agency in contemporary human rights conceptualisation. The idea of Haqq bypasses this by implying that what is due and just will remain so, even if there can be no ready identification of the duty-bearer. One corollary of the above idea is that rights are not dependent on the state alone and oblige duty bearers with regards to their context and situation.


Third, Haqq implies that rights are not ends in themselves; rather they serve as means to attain wider societal interests and public good (maslahāh). Rights and duties, claimed to emerge from divine reasoning or public good, are both entwined with social justice, which attempts to reduce the conflict between public and private interests. While this means that what is ‘due’ and ‘just’ can change depending on the situation, it also implies that the term devotes more attention to the substantive goals of rights rather than procedural and formal requirements.


Fourth, and finally, rights in the tradition of Haqq are always relational. The rights of Authority and of Subjects, or of Parents and Children, emerge from the relation between different actors and are dependent on their situation. This idea of relationality is best evident in the 7th century document called Risālat al- Huqūq (literally, Journal or Treatise of Rights – attributed to Ali Ibn-al Hussain), which is one of the earliest expositions of the religious and secular dimensions of this tradition. The treatise lists fifty different rights ranging from the rights of God to rights of humans in various contexts, rights of debtors and creditors, of masters and subjects, as well as rights of knowledge and one’s body organs.


There are certain aspects that highlight the tension between Haqq and contemporary human rights. For instance, feminist scholars have argued that the notion of ‘due’ and ‘just’, when defined through the lens of patriarchy and power disparity, leads to a violation of rights of women and the marginalised. These are valid critiques and should be engaged further, while recognising that there is a certain value that this concept offers. In the current era, where there is perceived to be an increasing dichotomy between religious (Islamic) doctrines and human rights, there is a considerable need to explore the idea of Haqq as a southern conception of human rights.


References and further readings:

Mohammad Hashim Kamali (1993), “An Analysis of Haqq (Right) in Islamic Law”, American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences, Vol. 10(3): 338-367

Shaheen Sardar Ali (2000) Gender and Human Rights in Islam and International Law: Equal Before Allah, Unequal Before Man? The Hague: Kluwer Law International.

Ebrahim Moosa (2001), “The Dilemma of Islamic Rights Schemes”, Journal of Law and Religion, Vol. 15(1/2): 185-215.


Dr Raza Saeed is Assistant Professor of Law at the University of Warwick, UK. His work focuses on practical and theoretical issues pertaining to human rights, international law, governance and development, particularly in the context of postcolonial and southern jurisdictions.



Como citar

Saeed, Raza (2019), "Haqq", Dicionário Alice. Consultado a 24.09.23, em https://alice.ces.uc.pt/dictionary/?id=23838&pag=23918&id_lingua=1&entry=24297. ISBN: 978-989-8847-08-9