April 7, 2007
Islam and Human Rights
Is Islam compatible with International Human Rights standards? The criticism that many Muslims have had of the very term “human rights” and all it encapsulates is that it is a Western notion, introduced amongst us in order to propagate other ideals, which are in contradiction to the Holy Scriptures. Muslim human rights lecturer and advocate Abdullah An Na’im (from
Sudan) says in a paper the following:
Muslims should neither discriminate against people on any of those grounds, nor be required to abandon their religion in order to qualify for these rights. To justify their own human rights claims without distinction on such grounds as race, sex or religion, Muslims must accept the right of others to be entitled to the same rights and without distinction on such grounds.
The problem I see lies in the theology of religion. A religion that proclaims exclusivity like Islam or traditional Christianity is bound to fall into the trap of elevating individuals belonging to that religion over everyone else. A distinctive separation is carved, real or imagined, between “self” and “the other”. Such informed supremacy leads to the notion that entitlement of goods and rights should flow to one over the other. How does one overcome this logical problem? He doesn’t give a specific straightforward answer, but says that:
The attitudes or views of Muslims should be understood in broader historical context, socio-economic and political analysis, as with any other human beings and their communities. In other words, I am calling for applying an historical and social scientific analysis to understanding the role of Islam among Muslims, as should be done with other believers and their societies.
If I can frame it in my own words and limited understanding, the problem is twofold, the first of which can be solved, but the second I’m not sure. Economic, social and cultural rights should logically not be a problem, where equitable and just distribution of resources should be defended even on Qur’anic grounds. But when it comes to civil and political rights… Let’s see, because Islam is a holistic religion that outlines principles for living in all areas of life and government, it has a role to play in defining politics of a country.
If Islam is used as a framework in understanding and shaping politics of a nation, what rights are given to any other religion in contributing to this? Does Islam theologically support the rights of another religion in shaping rules of governance and regulation? According to principles of human rights, each is given the right to express and contribute. But is this theologically acceptable in Islam? Whether or not these are taken into consideration is different question.
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