When the subject of Human Rights is mentioned, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, The Magna Carta and American Constitution are soon to follow. Despite the importance of these codified set of rights they are usually considered unrelated to the Islamic World. Considering that 20% of the world’s population is Muslim and the diversity of those who practise the faith range vastly, a question rises about whether any ideology or practice can really be considered as unrelated to the Muslim World. If we are to consider these set of rights as not necessarily in contradiction with Islamic ideology but separate, then what rules should Muslims adhere to when the principle of Human Rights is mentioned? Who writes these rules? And who dictates the rights of a person.
These questions have become a contentious issue in recent years, particularly with the increase of democratic states in the Muslim world. Western counterparts have also questioned the ideologies and the idea of freedom in the Muslim – world since Islam has been under the limelight in the Media and Political exchange due to the rise of terror attacks, such as the bombings of the World Trade Centre and more recently the rise of ISIS.
It is a fact that some Muslims often shy away from gender equality and believe that strict adherence to Islamic principles requires a snubbing of gender equality. I have many times fallen into the trap of commenting on misogynistic Facebook statuses. After a few exchanges of heated comments I was alarmed at a response from one particular female who said that “Islam is about equity not equality”. But is there really equity without equality? Does Islam really advocate this ideology?
It is worrying that some Muslim Governments advocate and facilitate discrimination against those marginalised in our Ummah; but even more concerning that Islam is used as a justification for such behaviour.
Pakistan for example has routinely discriminated against the Hijra Community with some Imams quoting hadith, which are proven as weak, to justify discrimination against such individuals. Malaysia have routinely banned women from getting divorced, despite being in violent relationships, as it is considered ‘against Islam’ to unsettle family dynamics. The Holy City of Mecca, the birth place of an egalitarian and tolerant society of Muslims is now dubbed as the Las Vegas of the East with Sky Scrapers, Multi-Billion dollar hotels while the country has 1.5 million migrant domestic workers many of whom are denied salaries and work 15-20 hours a day. Does this mean that the Muslim world has an alternative understanding of human rights? Or simply that the concept of Human Rights is simply ignored to further consumerist causes.
Despite the atrocities and denial of basic human rights in many parts of the Muslim world, it is important to state that the concept of human rights is not alien to Islamic tradition and has been implemented by scholars in the past. Al- Ghazali was a well-revered scholar from the Abbasid era around 12th Century. Al- Ghazali founded the five principles known as the Maqasid al Sharia. These were: right to life, right to religious freedom, right to express your opinion freely, right to property and right to reproduction. These five principles were meant to be the five foundations that the implementation of Sharia law should uphold. The distinct feature of these principles was that they did not uphold the rights of God. As simply God does not need rights and nor does God need his creation to do anything for him. In other words nothing we do affects God in any way. These principles, that uphold Sharia, were purely for the betterment of human life.
Another principle used in Islam as a foundation for Human Rights is the concept ofTawhid, which means unity. All Muslims in some shape or form agree Tawheed as a principle. The binding force of the faith that is uttered by the lips of all Muslims around the world La Illaha Illallah meaning there is no God other than God. The intention behind this prayer is to proclaim that there is no other authority and no other greater ruler that God. This in principle should eradicate all authority and hierarchies in Islam and provide all people absolute equality. A human cannot be God to another human and no human is expected to be submissive to another person other than God. Under this notion one would assume that a ruler has no authority over his people. This is not the case. A relationship between a ruler and his subjects is an exchange of communication and mediation. It should be a relationship of fairness. A person willingly gives up his sovereignty for protection and safety of ones livelihood and family. Islamic authority is not imposed by force. The undemocratic ruling Saudi Arabia is an example of a forced ruling of people. Human rights abuses occur and a person has there freedoms unwillingly taken. Islam at the time of the prophet was not ruled through hereditary tyrants, instead it was a ruling done through consensus (Ijmah).
Those Muslims who live in democratic states live in a contemporary understanding ofIjmah. The concept of tawhid is a significant tool to understanding equality. Some scholars argue that the belief that the first woman was created from man and is a subordinate to men are against the idea of Tawhid as this idea places men at a pinnacle higher than that of a woman. The story that Eve was made of Adams rib is a story that Muslims have borrowed from the bible. Every Muslim has the responsibility of Khalifah fil ardh- a moral agent. This means that it is the responsibility of each Muslim to replicate what the Prophet Muhammed intended. Would the Prophet Muhammed intend the subjection of women and those of other religions in Muslim countries?
This raises the question, how did the Muslim world separate authority from legislature? This issue was solved by the Ottoman Empire. The judge ruled with complete independence from Ottoman rulers. This meant that the ruler of a group never had absolute power – as the legal system was separate with each judge having his own methodology in reviewing cases. As western imperialism grew it was important to conform to the Western super powers. This meant that uncodified legal systems had to be made unified into a more centralised ruing system so that trading with the Europeans became easier. Therefore sharia law and the state marriage is a contemporary occurrence despite the impression that it was intrinsic to Islamic ruling.
We have discussed the concept of Al-Ghazalis Maqasid Al Sharia and we have also discussed how authority in Islam was not always centralised and dictated by those who ruled the state. This shows how Islam had embraced Human Rights and provided those who are marginalised by society with a safe haven with freedom and liberty to express ones opinions. Surley it is not the same as the Universal Human rights but this does not mean to say that Humans Rights were not considered. We have also discussed how some states have defaced the faith of Islam and attempted to turn the faith that once provided the marginalised liberty into a faith that strangulates those minorities with an alternative ideology, culture or lifestyle.