Islam and Human Rights

The media doesn't always help!

When you think of religion and human rights, the mind wonders to conflict, religious wars and extremism. Religion and human rights are often presented as dualistic, secular and religious. I think that this is unhelpful and ultimately detrimental to both religion and human rights.

The potential antagonism that sits between Islam and human rights is a media favourite. In the UK we never hear of human rights being discussed in a religious sense, and equally never hear about Islam in a positive sense (let alone in relation to upholding human rights standards).

If we cannot show that Islam and human rights are reconcilable, then we alienate millions around the world and fail to realise the potential universalism of human rights. Equally, if you fail to acknowledge the role of human rights within religion then you leave your institutionalised faith open to abuse. You leave yourself open to men who use the faith for the most despicable acts. Religious discourse feels itself with absolutism, so why not a human dignity/rights discourse?

There is no shortage of examples where an interpretation of Islam can be seen to be in violation of what we consider to be our human rights. The persecution women of all classes suffered under the Taliban in Afghanistan, honour crimes in Kuwait, Stoning to death for having no marital sex in Nigeria, marital rape not being recognised as an issue in Syria etc and the list could go on. In a few countries religious freedoms are violated with capital punishment available for apostates from Islam; these include Iran, Sudan and Saudi Arabia. The widespread and controversial issue of female genital mutilation (FGM) is still justified by many under religious grounds. It is clear that for some, Islam acts as justification for some heinous acts. In the same light, Christianity and other world religions can act as justification for these terrible acts.

I would argue therefore, we have a responsibly to put forward positive arguments to how Islam (and perhaps more widely religion in general) and human rights can be reconciled.

The academic Biedfelt suggests there are a number of ways a Muslim might square their passion for human rights with their religious belief. These vary from  ‘Islamisation’ which is the belief that Sharia, by its divine nature represents human rights and human dignity; through to ‘Political secularism’ that suggests it is right to remove religion from power politics as the Quran offers no advice in governance. This would suggest that Islam acts as a guide for individuals but not governments.

What Bielefeldt’s analysis clearly illustrates is that there is no such thing as an “Islamic” understanding of human rights. Islam is lucid and is based on individual interpretations (as are all religions).

It is clear that the two variables here, Islam and human rights can both be interpreted and changed to fit into either partly antagonistic or partly supportive understandings of Islam or human rights. There is nothing inherent about any antagonism or overlap.

I am under no illusion that Islam is often used to justify the most heinous actions. In the same way Christianity can be or a plethora of secular ideologies are.

It strikes me that Islam is no more predisposed than any other faith to be compatible with or antagonistic towards human rights. It has the potential to be supportive. It is essential that human rights theorists take a serious look at how human rights fits with the different world religions, because if you do not you risk alienating billions of people around the world whose primary moral compass is religion.

Equally, if religious leaders arrogantly dismiss human rights as a modern secular discourse; they run the risk of removing a moral core from their faith and leaving it open to abuse through misinterpretation and human fallibility.

This article was adapted from the my thesis Human Rights and Religion: A case study of Christianity


Filed under Human rights, Religion

5 responses to “Islam and Human Rights

  1. Nick Newland

    Well… its nice to see the lunatics are still online, and giving the rest of us a chuckle. Where to begin…

    As with all religions, there is an element of faith in the unproven – this is what constitutes a faith over a science and, as with all religions, there are different interpretations of these faith elements. “The problem is people will believe almost anything”. Including idiots on the web.

    “There are no moderate muslims {sic}”. Firstly, we might insert the M in Muslim, if for no other reason than if you want to judge others, and take a highground (moral or otherwise), then it must start somewhere. I grew up with three moderate Muslims as close friends, who live opposite me to this day and who criticise the extremist teachings of certain radical Muslims. For that matter, one might remember Tony Blair referring to the righteousness of his war against Iraq on the basis of a Christian faith. Seems a tad extreme to me…

    Luckily, other faiths have never launched oppressive campaigns of conquest against countries on the other side of the world… Well, apart from the crusades. The Second World War (started by a good Catholic boy and with its focus of hatred against another flavour of “God’s Children”). The first Gulf War (started by a secularist Saddam Hussein, and ended by re-born Christians – though not completely ended, just held in a decade-long stalemate to ensure economic and politcal control of a foreign nation). The second Gulf War, started by two re-born Christian extremists and yet to be ended. So no, apart from these, its all about the Muslim aggression.

    Dishonesty takes many forms. Blair, the peacemaker of Northern Ireland, saviour of Sierra Leone… or Butcher of Baghdad…

    The rate of domestic violence in the UK, particularly within the Anglo-Irish community, is outrageously high, with Irish women taking four or five times the average number of assaults to actually report violence to the police. The vast majority of these families would describe themselves as Catholic. Orthodox Jewish families ostracise their women during certain parts of the menstrual cycle. Small numbers of African “Christian” groups practice extreme behaviour towards women. The point is not that all groups are as bad as eachother, but rather that all people, all races, creeds, religions and viewpoints have humans in them. Some humans act in a way the majority find outrageous, disgusting, painful or upsetting. At the same time, it is the MAJORITY who label the perpetrators as just that.

    One might do well to remember that if all Muslims were really angry, violent, aggressive people, then the world would be a very different place. The way we know this? Muslim groups in the UK regularly condemn extremist violence, and the number of people arrested for participation in, or suspicion of, terrorist activities is miniscule compared to the total number of Muslims in the UK. [That’s assuming, which we shouldn’t and must not, that every investigated or suspected is actually guilty]. Oh, and if we’re all going to jump on the Bush bandwagon and bomb the terrorists and extremists “of all flavours”, might I have twenty-four hours notice to warn my friends and family in Northern Ireland to leave before the B-52s descend over Belfast?

    Unlike the post to which I am replying, I will sign my name. I stand by my beliefs.

    Nick Newland


    • hey thanks for that thoughtful reply 🙂 in response…

      i have a difficult time understanding how followers of a “religion” that idolizes a murdering warlord & his violent exploits against unbelievers can in any way be “moderate”. of course semantics enters the picture here because what does it mean for somebody to be a muslim and what does the adjective moderate mean ? can a person that supports a repressive theocracy based on sharia law in western society be considered moderate ? haven’t we learned anything since the “age of enlightenment” and western society’s centuries long battle to withdraw from the claws of authoritarian christianity ?

      and don’t forget the xtian crusades were a defensive response to 300 years of islamic land grabbing. what territority did islam control in 700ad ? zero. what territory did islam control in 1000ad start of 1st crusade ? africa, spain, east asia and almost europe (see battle of tours)

      and why does somebody have to be angry & violent to support a horrible ideology ? con men of all stripes are friendly approachable people, until after they take what they want from you, and surprise you start wanting it back. do you really want to lose your freedoms (among others) to criticize some nutcake religion ? note that under sharia law it is illegal to blasphemy the prophet, his teachings, the koran etc

      i urge you to learn more about this horrible ideology called islam…


  2. “human rights” in islam is based on their sharia law theocracy which is completely incompatible with western society democracies.

    the twin fogs of political correctness & ignorance must be dispersed before western society better understands this menace. even a brief review of islamic theology & history quickly exposes the deadly roots of this evil ideology.

    see the links in the pdf version below for more accurate info about islam

    islam is a horrible ideology for human rights

    5 key things about islam

    1. mythical beliefs – all religions have these (faith) because its part of being a religion: having beliefs without proof until after the believer dies. the problem is people will believe almost anything.

    2. totalitarianism – islam has no seperation of church and state: sharia law governs all. there is no free will in islam: only submission to the will of allah as conveniently determined by the imams who spew vapors to feather their own nests. there are no moderate muslims: they all support sharia law.

    3. violence – islam leads the pack of all religions in violent tenets for their ideology & history: having eternal canonical imperatives for supremacy at all costs and calling for violence & intimidation as basic tools to achieve these goals.

    4. dishonesty – only islam has dishonesty as a fundamental tenet: this stems from allah speaking to mohamhead & abrogation in the koran which is used to explain how mo’s peaceful early life was superseded by his warlord role later.

    5. misogyny – present day islam is still rooted in 8th century social ethics: treating females as property of men good only for children, severely limiting their activities, dressing them in shower curtains and worse.

    conclusions ??

    there really are NO redeeming qualities for this muddled pile of propaganda.

    islam is just another fascist totalitarian ideology used by power hungry fanatics on yet another quest for worldwide domination and includes all the usual human rights abuses & suppression of freedoms.

    graphics version

    1 page pdf version – do file/download 6kb viewer doesn’t show fonts well, has better fonts header footer links, great for emailing printing etc


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