Examining The Conflict Between Islam And Human Rights: An Attempt At Harmony (Barrister Mulikat Hassan)

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INTRODUCTION: The main purpose of this article is to examine whether indeed conflicts really exist between Islam and human rights. Islam is often referred to as one of the Abrahamic religions the other two being Christianity and Judaism. In some quarters, it is even referred to as a derivative of Christianity.

The concept of human rights can be difficult to define. They can be said to be rights vital to human existence thus constituting political and legal standards. They require political and legal implementation through national, regional and international institutions including if possible effective monitoring mechanisms. The scope of human rights is limited in that it does not represent an all encompassing yardstick by which to evaluate cultures and religions in general. They do not intend to replace highly revered concepts in different religions such as solidarity in Islam, love in Christianity, or compassion in Buddhism.

Heiner Bielefeld posits that the concept of human rights emerged ONLY in the modern era. To be sure, the idea of modern human rights is traceable to the after effect of the second world war. It was provoked by the atrocities committed against non Germans- usually referred to as the holocaust directed mainly at the Jews.

However, to say that human rights are a purely western concept is misleading. Even hostile writers such as Elizabeth Ann Mayer, assert that human rights elements were present in various societies. A.A PBA asserts correctly that the notion of human rights is foreign to no culture and native to all nations.

It is a well known fact that the status of women greatly improved with the advent of Islam. Under pre-Islamic custom, the bride was regarded as an object to be purchased. However, under the Quran, the bride is considered a person whose consent must be obtained to validate a marriage contract.
One area that has continuously baffled western scholars is that the idea of complete equal rights is unknown to the Shariah. Polygamy which is designed to provide for widows and orphans in a pre-modern society is viewed as mirroring the inequality between the sexes. Also, to conclude a marriage contract the woman relies on the authority of a male representative to shape the agreement. The laws of inheritance on its part entitles male heirs to twice the share to which female heiresses are entitled.

Religious tolerance shown to non-Muslims in Muslim countries is seen as falling short of full religious liberty. Non-Muslims were not allowed to marry Muslim women, they had to pay a special kind of tax and were generally excluded from military service.

Traditional Shariah penalties such as amputating the hand for theft,amputating a hand and foot for highway robbery seem to be alarming to western scholars and human rights activists. These punishments known as the 'hadd punishment' are partly derived from the Qur'an.

First of all, can we come to a common understanding of these so called liberties and thereby ensure that these liberties are universally granted to every member of the society? The answer is an obvious NO. How can human rights be universal when there are different schools of thought on the subject such as the pluralists and the relativists to mention a few.

The Islamic model of human rights in particular is striking in its rigor, its vision and its relevance to modern times. It should be noted that the distinguishing feature of human entitlement in Islam is that they are the natural outcomes of a broader practice of faith, deeds, and social behavior that Muslims believe are divinely mandated.

Having this in mind, one would realize that it differs substantially from the prominent ideology obtainable in the west that man is the master of himself. He can do whatsoever he wishes with himself provided his interests do not hurt his fellow human being. It therefore follows that it is the duty of the state to enact laws which will facilitate the achievement of his desires and to avoid laws which will restrict this object. This ideology rejects the notion of God and his commandments or at best aims at shaping His commandments to man's whims and caprices. Islam doesn't accept this western view. Islam subjects men and women under the command of his creator. Criticisms are not necessarily antagonism. A lot of tolerance, open mindedness and patience is key on the practicing Muslims in whatever position they occupy. Indeed, they have to contend with criticisms from two elements- the anti Shariah elements and the zealous pro -Shariah elements.

Now, back to the question. Is there a possibility of harmony between Islam and human rights? I do not hesitate to answer in the affirmative. However, the first step towards harmony should be acceptance. Acceptance of the perceived areas of conflict highlighted above.

Under the Islamic law, women have the right to own property, businesses, vote, receive inheritance do much more. The basis of needing a male authority(wali) is based on the Quranic verse of arrijalu qawamuna... found in Quran 4 verse 4. It would be better for the society if women find strength in their inherent nature rather than try to emulate men in all spheres of life. 

Additionally, a woman is to be provided for despite having her own money! Subhanallah (Glory be to Allah), how merciful HE is. Thus her entitlement to half the share of a man. It follows therefore that part of the man's share comes back to her whilst he is catering for her. What could be more dignifying than this. One point that is obvious from reading the Quran is that it provides a departure from the traditional attitude that demeans women. The Qur'an on the contrary declares both men and women as sharing the same nature. Quran 17:70,Q2:30, Q4:1, and Q7:189 are noteworthy in this regard.

It is a historically correct fact that non Muslims under Islamic law are allowed to practice their religion. A genuine Islamic republic is not only obligated but mandated to respect diversity. See Q109:6,Q:256 and Q60:8-9.

The great and noble liberator Salahuddin Al-Ayyubi washed the streets of Jerusalem with rosewater after liberating it when the Christian populace were certain that brutal slaughter awaited them once the conquering army marched through the gates.

A Muslim male may also marry a Jew or Christian. However, a Muslim woman cannot marry a non Muslim man. This is because a Muslim woman would not receive due respect for her religious beliefs by a non Muslim husband. Furthermore, a marriage between persons of completely different faiths would necessarily break down.

As regards corporal punishment, the caliph Umar was often not quick to use corporal punishment and would even set an accused free once it was established that for example, he stole due to poverty. We should in my opinion not concentrate on corporal punishment but rather concentrate on the methods Islam uses to abolish poverty, unlawful intercourse between the sexes, free mixing and all other vices so there won't be need for corporal punishment.

This article has attempted to highlight the areas Islamic law is perceived not to be at par with modern human rights. It has attempted to examine the emergence of human rights, particularly modern human rights. It has also examined the possibility of harmonization of the two seemingly divergent concepts and concludes that, albeit the difference , Muslims should always bear in mind that we are not made for this world alone. We have guiding principles which are the Qur'an and the hadith. Thus, we do not conform to a 'normative' standard. We are fundamentally different from the rest of the world and should strive to remain and have strength in our weaknesses.

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Heiner Bielefeld:Muslim voices in the human rights debate Human Rights Quarterly 17.4 (1995)

A.A Oba:Improving women's access to justice and the quality of administration of Islamic justice in Nigeria published by Women's aid collective Enugu/Port Harcourt and women's advocates research and documentation centre available at http://works.be press.com/abdulmumini_oba/3/

M.T Ladan: Women's rights, access to and administration of justice under Shariah in Nigeria available at http://works.bepress.com/abdulmumini_oba/3/

Ann Elizabeth Mayers: Islam and human rights: Tradition and Politics 148(1991)
Wiebke Walter:Women in Islam from medieval to modern times 47(1993)

Ahmad Farrah,: Human Rights and Liberties in Islam in HUMAN RIGHTS IN A PLURALIST WORLD:INDIVIDUALS AND COLLECTIVITIES 141 (Jan Betting et all 1990)

The Holy Quran:Yusuf Ali Translation

Azra Awan: Human rights in Islam available at www.whyislam.org/islam123/human-rights-in-islam/

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