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The Problematic of Human Rights in Islam



Although Islam advocates elements of human liberty and dignity in general, it does not recognize "human rights" in the Western sense. While in the West the concept of human rights grew out of the recognition of the citizens' rights as a shield against the arbitrary power of the state, there was no such recognition in the Islamic legal tradition.  The author attempts to clarify this distinction by a comparative survey of the opinions expressed by a number of legal and religious scholars on the concept of "Islamic" human rights. The survey is focused on the freedom of faith according to Qur'an, the tradition of the Prophet and writings of Muslim theologians.

The specific Qur'anic verse forbidding "compulsion in faith" seems to be contradicted by a number of other verses stressing the necessity of Jihad against the infidels or apostates. This contradiction can not be solved without a revision of the rules of naskh or "abrogation." A number of contemporary Muslim authors, such as Mahmood Taha, An-Na'im and Abu Sulayman have proposed new rules for such a revision. Some other writers, including Abdolkarim Soroush, have suggested the application of modern epistemological principles for a more timely interpretation of Islamic tenets. Still others have attempted to use concepts such as "human nature" to construct references to freedom of faith in Islam. Neither Jamal al-Din Afghani nor Sheikh Mohammad Abduh who strove to set forth a rational interpretation of Islamic principles made any clear references to the concept of freedom of faith.

In 1981, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, in response to Iran's Islamic Constitution, led a number of Muslim countries to draft and publish a declaration on the Islamic human rights which included references to the basic human rights and freedoms, including freedom of faith and religion. However, the implementation of these rights and freedoms were conditioned on their compatibility with Islamic principles, as the case with the constitution of he Islamic republic of Iran. It seems that in the absence of the concept of human rights in Islamic jurisprudence, the Islamic world continues to remain in a vicious circle in its attempts to deal with the issue of human rights.

Author: 
Ahmad Kazemi Musavi
Volume: 
20
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