The Author’s Understanding of the Proper Islamic Methodology
Before continuing, the author is compelled to explain his understanding of “Islam” or “Islamic methodology.” In other words, what he means by “Islam,” “Islamic” and so on. The reason this is important and why it must be stated forthrightly at the outset is that much of the writing on Islam and human rights is premised on the claim that there is no “one Islam,” instead there are many “Islams” or many types of Muslim. Many contemporary writers, both Muslim and non-Muslim, are arguing that Islam and Muslims are not monolithic.  This may be true. However, their conclusion from this that virtually any expression of Islam should be acceptable and, in fact, should be praiseworthy if it is consistent with human rights doctrine is an illogical and unacceptable conclusion.

In such a view, the issues of human rights and Islam simply boil down to ensuring that the proper “form” of Islam is applied throughout the Muslim world. Thus, in a work entitledReligious Fundamentalisms and the Human Rights of Women, the Algerian Mahnaz Afkhami expresses a not uncommon view in such works of how any understanding of Islam should be equally valid,

The central point in women’s human rights is simple. The Islamists always posit the question of women’s rights within an Islamist frame of reference.That frame of reference determines the boundaries of my existence as a Muslim woman. The questions I ask are: Why should I, as a mature Muslim woman, not have the right to determine how to organize my personal life? What gives another person the right to interfere in my personal life? Why is it that a Muslim cleric arrogates to himself the right to place me forcibly in a preordained framework? Does he derive his authority from God? Does he derive it from the text? Does he derive it from tradition? I reject all of these claims for his authority. I argue that as a Muslim woman I know in principle as well as any man what God ordains or what the text says. I argue that tradition is no longer a valid source of authority because societies change, cultures change, I change, and I am both willing and able to discuss these points with him.

Somehow, perhaps due to historical reasons, this type of reasoning resonates with many human rights activists, especially the feminists among them. Can there be an honest and frank discussion of human rights and Islam if such a position on Islam is considered tenable?

There are a number of important points that must be made concerning this non-atypical passage. Her only claim to understanding Islam is the fact that she is a “Muslim woman.” The question of scholarship, basing one’s view on a sound methodology of interpreting the text and so forth seems to be irrelevant. In fact, it seems that she will reject a man’s interpretation even if it is derived from the text. In reality, could there be any serious religion which claims to presents God’s truth to the world that could open it doors to any interpretation of the faith simply because an individual is a member of that faith or simply because the individual is a human/male/female, regardless of whether one’s understanding of the faith is based upon the texts of the religion of the teaching of the original prophet? Even with all of these shortcomings, her writing finds her way into a “scholarly work” on women’s human rights. Sadly, her voice is one of the few writings about Islam that actually comes from a Muslim, as most anthologies have at the most one or two Muslim authors.

One other occasions, one finds lavish praise forheretical groups in Islam, such as the Khawarij, Mutazilah and Republican Brothers (of Sudan), as representing brands of Islam that will human rights platforms can coexist with. Furthermore, the most common representation of Islam and human rights in Western works is probably that of a modernist/progressive position.

In this work, the author is approaching the issue of Islam and human rights within the framework of “orthodox Sunni Islam.” For those who believe in this understanding of Islam, it is actually the only proper manner by which to discuss this topic. It is true that there are many Muslims throughout the world today who do not believe in or agree with such a perspective. However, that does not negate the fact that it is still one of the most dominant views of Islam today and that much of the Islamic revival that has occurred within the Muslim world during the past century has been in the light of this understanding of Islam. Hence, any serious discussion of Islam and human rights has to take this understanding of Islam head on, rather than offering other forms of Islam that may have very little relevance for the majority of Muslims today.

Some of the seminal features of this “orthodox Sunni Islam” worldview include:
(1) The Quran is the Word of God revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) as perpetual guidance for Muslims. Muslims are obligated to live their lives according to the Quran’s guidance. As the Quran states about itself, it is a “clear book,”  and its general principles and guidance can be understood by all. As for more detailed aspects of its interpretation,its interpretation is based on principles derived from the Quran itself laid down by scholars throughout the ages, including principles related to the Sunnah (words and practice of the Prophet) andArabic language. Any interpretation of the Quran which violates the guidance of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) or the principles of the Arabic language would, thus, not be acceptable.

(2) The Prophet’s Sunnah is an ultimate authority in Islam. There are at least fifty verses in the Quran that establish the importance and authority of the Sunnah of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). Once again, any interpretation or understanding of Islam that stands in clear contradiction to the way of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) must be rejected.

(3) The Companions were guided by the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), there understanding was approved by him and, hence, they were along the Straight Path. It does not mean that they were perfect or super-human but it does mean that their understandings of the general concepts of what it means to be a Muslim were correct. Furthermore, this does not mean that contemporary Muslims of this understanding yearn to return to some “idealized past,”  but it does mean that their examples are to be learned from and emulated.

(4) The consensus (ijmaa) of the Muslim Nation is also an authority in Islam. It is the case that consensus is many times difficult to prove. However, there are definitely times in which something is explicitly stated in the Quran or Sunnah and there is a consensus concerning the understanding of said clear text. An example of this nature would be the amputating of the hand as a punishment for the theft. The Quranic verse is clear on this point and all of the scholars of the past agreed with this general fact.

Again, regardless of whether the reader agrees, disagrees, is pleased or is displeased with this view of Islam, it is a reality for a large number of Muslims throughout the world and it is what one must deal with. Writers about Islam and human rights cannot assume that this view will be changed any time soon among the Muslims. This does not mean that other movements among Muslims do not have some footing, such as the modernist movement. However, still, the overall presentation of Islam that resonates the most with the masses is that of the “orthodox Islam” explained above.

Unfortunately, not everyone who writes about Islam and human rights takes this commonly accepted approach. This has probably caused more confusion than added anything positive to the understanding of the relationship between Islam and human rights. Hence, at this time, it is appropriate to review the basic trends in the literature on Islam and human rights.