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By: Jamaal al-Din M. Zarabozo
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The Under-Secretariat for Publications and Research,
Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Endowments, Da'wah and Guidance

Many scholars are quick to point out that human rights has become a, if not the, dominant theme of the world today. For example, Ann Kent writes in Between Freedom and Subsistence: China and Human Rights, “The problem of human rights lies at the heart of modern political discourse.” Some argue that even those countries which are not completely enamored by the human rights concepts go out of their way to demonstrate that their actions do not violate human rights. Indeed, who could possibly be against a concept entitled “human rights”?

With respect to Islam in particular, Khalid Abou El Fadhl wrote, “Of all the moral challenges confronting Islam in the modern age, the problem of human rights is the most formidable.” Undoubtedly, Muslim countries, organizations, scholars and individuals feel the necessity of explaining exactly where they stand on the question of human rights. Actually, the situation has gone even beyond that to one of apparent acceptance of the concept as a whole. When many Muslims speak about political issues, such as the Middle East conflict, they speak about it in terms of human rights. In fact, many times in intra-Muslim political debates centering about rights, it is the human rights paradigm that often resonates with the audience regardless of who that audience may be.

However, in this author’s view, a number of important questions have gone relatively unanswered. These questions include: Is the human rights doctrine deserving of the amount of respect and admiration that it has received? What, in detail, should be a Muslim’s attitude toward the concept of human rights and the contemporary human rights paradigm in particular? Just as importantly, what is the human rights doctrine’s attitude toward Islam? For example, does a Muslim truly have the right to practice his religion within the framework of contemporary human rights thought?

Due to the general importance of human rights in today’s world, it is important at the outset to state a few important conclusions that this author has reached.
in the contemporary world, a situation wherein human rights are generally recognized and respected seems to be far superior to that of a situation in which such rights are trampled upon and denied. This explains the popularity of human rights among the downtrodden and oppressed, including Muslim masses throughout the world.Regrettably but factually, human rights schemes hold out a promise that many have yet to experience and joy.

even though the philosophies behind the rights are different, there are definitely some recognized human rights that are fully supported by Islam and, as such, it becomes incumbent upon Muslims throughout the world to defend and support such rights—as Muslims must always be a people who defend and support the truth while striving against falsehood, oppression and tyranny.

it must be recognized that the contemporary secular human rights scheme is a not a “complete way of life”—a fact admitted by many human rights proponents (as shall be noted later). At the same time, though, human rights schemes many times become“idolatrous” in the sense that their demands sometimes take precedence over any other beliefs or religion (or they demand that their laws take precedence over religion). The contemporary human rights movement is making demands upon Muslims that touches upon some core Islamic beliefs and practices. It is the argument of this author that if human rights proponents want Muslims to change their religion in the light of their demands, they had best present strong reasons and “proofs” that are convincing enough to require such a demand in a Muslim’s perspective. If such “proofs” cannot be offered, it is unfair to demand that Muslims change their ways for something unproven and which rests on faulty foundations.

when compared to Islam, the stark reality, though, is that the human rights platform has no means for proper guidance of humankind. The most that it can say is that there is a feeling or agreement that humans, for whatever intrinsic reason, are deserving of rights simply because they are human. However, once those rights are formulated and delineated, one finds that they are, in the light of absolute freedoms and rights, illogical and self-contradicting. Thus, even though Muslim authors as a whole, especially those writing in English, have also jumped on the human rights bandwagon, it could be the case that this human rights movement is not much more than another fad like that of the white man’s burden, socialism  and the like. Indeed, it is the thesis of this author that the approach and the synthesis created by many such authors is, in the long-run, unacceptable from an Islamic perspective. In fact, the compromises that are made in the name of Islam will be equally unacceptable to the human rights proponents as well.