Respect the Privacy of Others

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The right to privacy, according to Islam, is the fundamental human right. This notion encompasses a whole array of problems starting from Data Protection Laws and ending with the protection against paparazzi. All these are very important and enjoy a great degree of prominence in the Holy Quran. “Do not spy on one another.” (49:12) “Do not enter any houses except your own homes unless you are sure of their occupants’ consent” (24:27). This can be understood not only in its direct context but in much broader sense. “Do not encroach on other people’s privacy”. This means, any trespassing must be sanctioned. If it isn’t, it is against Allah’s Laws.

When applied to social life, this principle evokes the need for ‘moral obligations’ of the members of society. It has become a viral custom to take pictures of other people without their consent in a way most unacceptable. Unmindful of your feelings, such ‘photographers’ can accost you in the street, get up close, film you at various angles, get in your way and meddle at your feet as if you were an inanimate object, or a cute-looking ferret with no soul and sentiment for such treatment. What is worse is that the people around you simply stand and watch.

To state the point further, we can cite an example by the British orientalist Michael Cook, who studied Islam and wrote a huge book entitled Commanding Right and Forbidding Wrong in Islamic Thought.

As stated in the introduction, Cook’s motive for writing this book was an incident reported in the New York Times about a woman who was raped in a train station in Chicago in the presence of several people on the eve of Thursday, 22 September 1988. What provoked Cook about this rape incident was that no one moved a muscle to help the woman or heed her calls for help although the incident occurred during rush hour!

In his book, Michael Cook examines the response of Sharia Law to this situation and notes that unlike the idea of “institutional obligations” (Hisbah) to thwart such crimes there is a much more appealing message in Islam to resort to the ‘moral duty’ of each individual to be the guardian of these rules. Reliance on Hisbah is ‘deferred justice’ and does not hold the same value in the eyes of Allah as putting an end to the encroachment of privacy then and there. Of standing up and dispersing the rapists, of scattering away the paparazzi whom you have noticed besieging someone in the street. This is how the sanctity of privacy should be understood. This is how Islam prescribes them to be understood.

The moral duty of each Muslim is to respect the privacy of others, but apart from that the moral duty of each Muslim is to make others respect his own privacy

and to enforce this respect by means of standing up for yourself and for others when he sees such violations taking place.

This is the message of Allah to our society