These 700 words uttered nearly 1400 years ago transformed how humans related to one another. The Messenger (peace be upon him) laid the foundations of human rights. No such comprehensive code of human rights existed at that time, so this was unique. It laid out clear guidance for human dignity, freedom, equality and rights of women. In 1948 the UN adopted them in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. In the light of demands for equality and an end to racism in the West this is a good reminder for us to listen to the Prophet’s thought-provoking sermon.
Some 124,000 souls were standing in the plain of Arafat. They attentively listened to the beloved master (peace be upon him) who was mounted on his she-camel, which stood gracefully on mount Rahmah. This was the day of Arafah 9th of Dhul Hijjah, the 10th year of Hijrah (March 632 CE).
“People listen to me carefully, I don’t know if I will ever meet you again in this place where I now stand. People, your lives and property are as sacred to each other as the sacredness of this day and the month you are now in. This is a law for all times until the day you meet your Lord. Have I given the message? My Lord be my witness. So, whoever has been given something for safekeeping must return it to its owner. The usury of the age of ignorance is forbidden and I begin by cancelling the usury due to my uncle ‘Abbas ibn ‘Abd al-Muttalib.
The blood–vengeance of the age of ignorance has also been laid aside forever and the first blood-vengeance we shall start with is that which is due for the blood of my relative ‘Amir ibn Rabi’ah ibn Harith ibn ‘Abd al-Muttalib. The tribal distinctions that were a source of respect in the age of ignorance have been laid aside forever, except for the custodianship of the ka‘bah and the giving of drink to pilgrims.
A murder is subject to retaliation in kind. But an accidental death is subject to payment of one hundred camels, whoever asks for more will be behaving like the people of the age of ignorance. People, the Devil has given up hope of ever being worshipped in this land of yours, though he is satisfied that he will still be obeyed, works you deem to be of little importance. The postponing of the sacredness of a sacred month is tantamount to unbelief, by which those who disbelieve are led astray, making it lawful one year and unlawful in another, in order to match the number [of months] Allah has made sacred. Time has verily come full turn, to how it was the day Allah created the heavens and the earth. The four sacred months are: Dhul Qaida, Dhul Hijjah, Muharram and Rajab. Have I given the message? Allah be my witness.
Men, your women have rights on you and you have rights over them too. They may not lay with another man in your beds, let anyone into your houses you do not want without your permission, or commit indecency. If they do, Allah has given you leave to refuse them, send them from your beds, or reprimand them in a way that does not physically harm. But if they change and obey you, then you must provide for them and clothe them properly. The women who live with you are financially and emotionally dependent on you, unable to manage their affairs by themselves, you took them as a trust from Allah and enjoyed them in a lawful relationship of marriage. So, fear Allah in respect to women, and concern yourselves with their welfare. Have I given the message? Allah be my witness.
People, believers are one another’s brothers and sisters. No one can take his brother’s property without his full consent. Have I given the message? Allah be my witness.
Never go back to being unbelievers, killing each other, I have left among you the Book of Allah and my Sunnah, if you hold them firmly, you will never be misguided after me. Have I given the message? Allah be my witness.
People, your Lord is one and your father is one, all of you are from Adam, and Adam was created from clay. The noblest of you in Allah’s sight is the most God-fearing. No Arab has any merit over a non-Arab other than Taqwa. Have I given the message? Allah be my witness.
Whoever is present here must tell whoever is absent. People, Allah has allotted for every heir share of the estate and no deserving heir may accept a special bequest and no special bequest may exceed a third of the estate. A child’s lineage is that of his father. The adulterers shall be stoned. Whoever claims to be the son of someone besides his father or a bondsman who claims to belong to other than his masters carries the curse of Allah, the angels and all men, no bending of this rule nor ransom be accepted from him. May the peace and the mercy of Allah be upon all of you.”