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Published in the 16-31 Oct 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Islamic Declaration of Human Rights

By Syed Shahabuddin

Declaration of Human Rights was formulated under the auspices of the Islamic Council, London, by eminent Muslim scholars, jurists and representatives of Islamic movements and lines of thought. It was published by the Council in 1981, reprinted in India by the Islamic Foundation Trust, Chennai, in 1990 and reprinted in 2001.

The Declaration begins on a presumptuous note with the Quranic Verse 3:138 which declares the Holy Quran ‘a declaration for mankind, a guidance and instruction to those who fear God’ as if this human Declaration was comparable to the Quran!

In the Foreword, Salem Azzam, the Secretary General of the Islamic Council, claims that Islam gave to mankind an ideal Code of Human Rights, which being on divine order, inviolable by any human authority. He declares the Code obligatory for Muslim States and Governments to respect and apply them in letter and spirit and calls upon the Muslim peoples to defend their human rights resolutely and courageously. He declares the Declaration to have been based on the Quran and the Sunnah and, therefore, to be in accord with the Shariat.
There are two ways to examine and analyze this Declaration: as an Islamic Declaration, which it says it is, for Muslims in Islamic States and even for those in non-Islamic Muslim or non-Muslim States, but essentially for Muslims. Another approach would be to examine it as a model for mankind, as truly universal, applicable to all human beings, living in Muslim or non-Muslim States, under Islamic or non-Islamic Governments. To sum up, the question arises whether it is an Islamic Declaration or a Universal Declaration. The title says it is both. That it cannot be, because of two reasons. In the democratic age, we live in, Muslims who form roughly 1/8 of mankind cannot impose their norms over the other 7/8. Secondly, its provisions, even its phraseology, presupposes the existence of an Islamic order, at least national, if not international.

To begin with, many economists would question whether mankind, has at its dispersal, ‘superabundant means of economic sustenance’ which the Declaration attributes to Divine Mercy. To say the least, all regions of the earth are not equally endowed in the economic sense or even in a geographic sense.
The affirmation that the Quran and the Sunnah together constitute ‘an abiding legal and moral framework within which to establish and regulate human institutions and relationships’ is the affirmation of a believer, who is an Islamist or Islamic activist, which cannot be shared universally by many Muslims who are prepared to live peacefully under a political order which at least guarantees religious freedom and equal citizenship rights for Muslims. Indeed 40% of the Muslims of the world live in non-Muslim majority States and even among the Muslim majority States - a vast majority of them have not established a political, economic and social order in accord with the legal and moral framework of the Quran and the Sunnah. So the Preamble, finally, relates the Declaration unequivocally to the ‘human rights decreed by the Divine Law’.

It is also obvious from the text that the word ‘Law’ frequently used in the Declaration refers to the Shariat Law, based on the Quran and the Sunnah and, extended to man-made laws, rules and regulations which are in consonance with the Shariat.

The Declaration in its Explanatory Note at the end confirms that the term ‘Law’ means the Shariat which is defined as the ‘totality of ordinances derived from the Quran and the Sunnah and any other laws that are deduced from these two sources by methods considered valid in Islamic jurisprudence’.

Then the Declaration recites the Islamic belief as inclusive of an ‘obligation to establish an Islamic order’ without qualifying as to where the Muslims or the Muslim community lives, what its political circumstances are, because this obligation can take the form of open rebellion or a conspiracy to undermine or overrun the existing order and disturb public order even in Muslim States and visit sufferings and misery upon their people. 

It is interesting to note the definition of Islamic order in the Declaration which presages non-discrimination among human beings on the basis of race, colour, sex, origin, language or religious denomination. This raises the question whether the human rights in Islam apply only to the believers or whether the Declaration envisages a world which is wholly Muslim. But even if that happens, there are many sects and denominations in Islam which freely declare some others as non­believers. So will there be discrimination if one sect achieves political dominance? I may add that Article III [c] does prohibit discrimination for the reason of religious belief.

The other important aspect of Islamic order, as enunciated in the Declaration is that economic resources are to be enjoyed by all. Does the Declaration refer to economic resources of individuals and communities, or of nations and States, or of the world as a whole?

The third important aspect is the invocation of the principle of Shura for conduct of public business and exercise of administrative authority but it limits the Shura to ‘among the believers qualified under the Shariat Law’. This is narrowing down the concept to a theocracy or at least to a guided Islamocracy in which non-Muslims can play no role.

Article VI proclaims the Right to Protection against Abuse of Power but defines abuses of power as administrative and legal ‘harassment by official agencies’ but does not grant the right to change government or introduce systematic changes.

Article X defines the Right of Minorities, obliquely grants freedom of religion by referring to the Quranic Verse "There is no compulsion in religion", which has been interpreted by many Muslim jurists as being in accord with the duty of the Islamic State to guide the non-Muslims towards Islam. Secondly, the minorities are given the right to choose whether to be governed by their own laws or by Islamic law in civil and personal matters but no political, educational or economic rights are mentioned. Article XII adds respect for religious beliefs and feelings of non-Muslims and their protection against public hostility.

Article XIII grants freedom of conscience and worship but falls short of freedom to propagate religion.

Article XI limits the right to participate in the conduct and management of public affairs to the Ummah, thus placing the non-Muslims outside the pale.

Article XII subjects Freedom of Belief, Thought and Speech to limits prescribed by the Law. It also subjects Freedom of Information to security of the society or the State and of the Government.

Article XIV on Freedom of Association is limited to establishment of institutions and agencies which enjoin what is Ma’roof and prevents what is ‘Munkar’.

Article XV relates to Economic Order, reiterates the entitlement of every person to the benefit of natural resources but subjects vocation and profession to accord with the spirit of the Law. Sub-clause (f) bars usury (without defining it) and finally all economic activities are subject to the interest of the Ummah (national or world?) and to the laws and values of the Shariat. It is understood that the obligations of the Ummah are to be fulfilled through the State and its agencies.

Article XIX envisages a patriarchal society which obliges the husband to maintain his wife and children and in which men and women share their obligation according to their sex.

The next Article XX defines the Right of a Married Woman to live in her husband’s house to be maintained by the husband during marriage and during ‘Iddat’ after divorce. However, the wife has also the right to seek and obtain dissolution of marriage (khula) in accordance with the Shariat or through the Courts.

Article XXI speaks of the rights of all persons i.e. man or woman, Muslim or non-Muslim, to education.

Finally, Article XXIII of the Declaration grants all Muslims freedom to move in and out of any Muslim country. But how many do or will?

One wonders at the object and purpose behind the formulation of this Declaration, when the modern States have adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights promulgated by the UNO in 1948 which is subscribed by all Muslim-majority States, whatever their form of government. Even a cursory examination will show that perhaps the Islamists were not very comfortable with the accepted, though not always practised, principles of equal political rights for all citizens, or of democratic governance based on the will of the people or of non­discrimination on the basis of religion. However, no Muslim State has withdrawn from its adherence to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or the innumerable Covenants, Conventions and Declarations which are but are expansions of the UDHR. 

We live in a multi-religious world. The Quran clearly indicates that Allah willed it to be so. States, whatever their religious demography, to be recognized as equal members of the international community, cannot discriminate against or persecute a section of their people on ground of religion. A Muslim-majority State may declare itself as an Islamic State, as several have done, but they are obliged to measure upto internationally accepted norms and standards in their treatment of their non-Muslim citizens. The world has become so interdependent that no State can live by itself, or collectively in association only with other like-minded States, and isolate itself from the rest of the world. So it is a futile exercise to promulgate on Islamic Declaration of Human Rights or for that matter a Christian or a Buddhist or a Hindu Declaration of Human Rights.«


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