Trigger thoughts about Islam and human rights

Just wanted to share piece taken from the document ‘State Religious Exclusivity and Human Rights’ by Jonathan Fox

‘..the Islamic world never experienced the Enlightenment or had its own Reformation out of which the Islamic equivalent of Western concepts of democracy, human rights, and civil liberties could have developed’ (An-Na’im, 2002, p. 31)

Other common themes include: there is a tension betweenWestern and Muslim values on the issue of human rights; sharia (Islamic religious) law, de facto, results in discrimination against members of other religions; Muslim states, especially those in the Middle East, have a poor human rights record; and rather than recognizing the contradictions between Islam and human rights, Muslim fundamentalists tend to question the validity of Western human rights norms (An-Na’im, 2002; Boyle and Sheet, 1997; Halliday, 2000; Lewis, 1993, pp. 96–8; Van der Vyver, 1996).

However,many argue that Islam is compatible with human rights and democracy. Principles within Islam including consultation, consensus, the equality of all men, the rule of law and independent reasoning all provide a basis for an Islamic democracy (Esposito and Piscatori, 1991; Esposito andVoll, 2001; Feldman, 2003; Fuller, 2002). While it is true that there are no democracies within the Middle East, about half of all Muslims live in democratic and semi-democratic states (Stepan, 2000, pp. 48–9). Islamic parties have successfully participated in elections and even pushed for democratic reforms (Esposito and Piscatori, 1991). Also, while there are elements of Islamic doctrine that can inhibit democracy, in practice these aspects of doctrine are rarely fully enforced by governments (Haynes, 1998, pp. 128–9; Hefner, 2001, p. 494). That said, this type of argument has been characterized by some scholars and prominent Muslim clerics as inaccurate and even deceptive apologetics to appease Westerners (Appleby, 2000, p. 256).

Others argue that, like most religions, Islam has a complex set of doctrines and traditions which lead to divergent interpretations. Essentially there is internal pluralism within Islam and the role of human rights in Muslim societies is a subject for debate among Muslims (Appleby, 2000, pp. 256–66; Asfour, 2002; Hefner, 2001, pp. 495–501). This view has considerable merit, as the interpretation of sharia prevalent in countries like Saudi Arabia is clearly not compatible with liberal democracy and human rights, but many sharia scholars elsewhere have doctrines more compatible with tolerance. This is particularly true of Islam in some African states like Gambia and Sierra Leone which have particularly strong records for protecting the religious rights of religious minorities.”


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