Islam and Human Rights
literaryguru | June 2, 2011 at 05:47 pmby
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“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”
This essential belief is the foundation for any truly free society and it is codified as Article 1 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Moreover, the specific rights required for a society to be truly just and righteous are further defined as the freedom of speech, freedom of belief, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. In Western society, these rights are extended to everyone, regardless of gender, age or race. We have come to cherish and expect these rights and have been willing to fight and to die to uphold them. If we were to be denied them as a society, it would be an act of war against our freedom, our democratic principles and the very essence of what we call justice. The history of the civilized world has been an ongoing struggle to maintain these principles so we can live at peace with ourselves, in our relationships and with the community that surrounds us. A State that guarantees these rights brings stability and sustainability to its citizens, in that everyone has a voice, a vote and the right to live a peaceful life free of oppression. While we carry the conviction that this is the most humane way to structure a society, there is a completely different structure competing for control on the planet and it has a very different version of how justice is defined. This system of social control is incompatible with our stated values and therefore works to undermine and replace them. This system is Islam.
While there are multiple beliefs in Islam that conflict with our belief in human rights, for the sake of brevity, I will concentrate on two that confirm its incompatibility. First, there is the hard-fought Western belief that women are equal to men. The civilized world has come to accept this as an absolute truth. It is explicit in our laws, shared in our conventional and normative beliefs and we value this conviction as much as we value the half of society this principle protects. Women are ensured the right to vote, free speech, the right to hold political office and all the rest of the rights afforded men in our free society. This is not the case in a civilization structured on Islamic law. The source of this discrepancy is the Quran itself. Regardless of which of the five main schools of Islam a Muslim adheres to, the Quran is viewed as a perfect book and the words and directives within are seen as absolute and void of error. In 4:34 of the Quran, it states very clearly, “Men are superior to women.” This directive is taken very seriously in Islam and is the source of all oppression of women in the Muslim world. It is why women cannot vote or even drive in Saudi Arabia; it is why women are whipped for wearing pants in Sudan and it is why the women of Iran must cover their entire bodies, except their face, according to that government’s laws. The Iranian police have even gone so far as to warn women against smiling in public, as this may arouse “satanic desires.” Even in Indonesia, the largest and most moderate of Muslim countries in the spectrum of Islamic societies, it is illegal for women to wear short skirts or even blue jeans and it is common for them to suffer intolerable conditions in the workplace, simply because of their gender. Where Islam is the dominant ideology, women are not equal and do not share the same freedoms and rights as a man. This is an incontrovertible fact.
The second essential right that forms the basis of a free civilization is freedom of belief. In Western society we put a high value on being able to formulate our own reasons for living, values to live by, political persuasions and the ability to criticise and debate others in a non-threatening, constructive manner. Most importantly, we value the right to change our minds as we develop intellectually throughout our lives. We resent wholeheartedly even the idea of a government that takes this right away from us. This right is a core value of our civilized world. This is not the case in Islam. Again, in all six of the main schools of Islam, there are laws pertaining to apostasy that directly contradict this freedom and the directives for breaking this directive are clear: anyone who chooses to leave Islam must be killed. In the Sahih al-Bukhari, the most trusted hadith of Sunni Islam, the directive for leaving Islam is unambiguous. It says, “Whoever changed his (Islamic) religion, then kill him" (Sahih al-Bukhari, 9:84:57) In the Shia hadiths, the directive for apostasy is no different. Here, the order for apostasy is: “he should be given the chance to repent, otherwise killed" (Al-Kafi 7:257 | 10). In the Quran itself, a Muslim who turns away from Islam is despised by Allah, who will deal with the matter in the afterlife. As you can imagine, being despised by Allah does not leave one in a position of equal social standing in a Muslim society. These fundamental beliefs regarding the decision to change one’s mind regarding spiritual belief in Islamic culture have had a profound effect on the ability of Islamic society to embrace this essential human right. For example, in Egypt –a society that claims to be secular but is still held to Islamic convictions and values, when asked in a poll conducted by the Pew Research Group as to what should be done with those who change their minds about being Muslim, eighty-two percent of Egyptians agreed they should be stoned to death. This staggering statistic comes from a moderately Islamic nation. In a State founded wholly on Islamic law, this percentage is even higher. In Islam, freedom of belief does not exist.
These two examples of conflict in belief between Islam and Western commitments to a universal system of human rights expose how one can never be compatible with the other. Our principles of humanism undermine core principles of Islamic law, belief and tradition and their principles of Islamism undermine our hard-fought convictions for an equal society for all. This is a frustrating yet inescapable truth. In Western societies, the misogynist, undemocratic principles found in ancient Judaeo-Christian scripture were weeded out during the Enlightenment and rejected through a long human rights struggle fought by heroic men and women, many of which died for that cause. We now enjoy these rights proudly and unapologetically. We expect them from our government, our society and our community. We also expect the right to openly criticise any belief system that encroaches on those rights, as I have just done. The first line of defence to protect those rights and ensure their survival is to be aware of social structures that oppose them. This criticism is not directed at the individuals who choose to believe in Allah as their supreme being; that is their right. It is directed at the directives contained within the scripture and rhetoric of Islam; those directives that affect others in an Islamic society and beyond. It is the rights of those “others” that deserve protection. All men and women on this planet should be allowed to live with dignity and it is the responsibility of all to act “with reason and conscience” to ensure this is the case.
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