by Imam Zaid Shakir

The tragic events of September 11, 2001, have called into question many fundamental Islamic principles, values, and beliefs. The ensuing discourse in many critical areas reveals the weakness of Muslims in making meaningful and substantive contributions towards a clear understanding of the Islamic position on a number of critical issues, here in the West. The purpose of this paper is to examine one of those issues, human rights, in an effort to identify: (1) how human rights are defined in the Western and Islamic intellectual traditions; (2) why current Muslim approaches to discussing human rights are inadequate in terms of contributing to a healthy discourse around the subject here in the West; (3) why human rights issues are of central importance to Islamic propagation efforts in North America; (4) what are the implications of the tragic events of September 11, 2001 for prevailing Muslim views of human rights; and (5) considerations for reframing Muslim conceptualizations of human rights.

This paper is not designed to respond to the attacks of those authors who assail the philosophy, conceptualization, formulation, and application of human rights policy among Muslims. Such a response would be quite lengthy, and owing to the complexity of the project, would probably raise as many questions as it resolved. Nor is it an attempt to call attention to the increasingly problematic indifference of the United States government towards respecting the civil liberties and other basic rights of its Muslim and Arab citizens. Furthermore, it is not an attempt to examine or elaborate on existing Islamic human rights positions. I do hope that this paper will help American Muslims identify and better understand some of the relevant issues shaping our thought and action in the critical area of human rights. Hopefully, that enhanced understanding will help lead to the creation of a meaningful discourse on the subject here in the West, thereby building bridges of understanding which can in turn lead to a healthier appreciation of a fully articulated Islamic position in this vital area.

Defining Human Rights

A review of the relevant literature reveals a wealth of definitions for human rights. Some of these definitions are quite brief, others quite elaborate.1 However, few of these definitions deviate far from the principles delineated by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), issued by the UN General Assembly in 1948. That landmark document emphasizes, among other things:

The right to life, liberty, and security of person; the right to freedom of thought, speech, and communication of information and ideas; freedom of assembly and religion; the right to government through free elections; the right to free movement within the state and free exit from it; the right to asylum in another state; the right to nationality; freedom from arbitrary arrest and interference with the privacy of home and family; and the prohibition of slavery and torture.

This declaration was followed by the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) in 1966. In the same year, the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) was also drafted. These arrangements, collectively known as the International Bill of Human Rights, were reaf- firmed in the Helsinki Accords of 1975, and buttressed by the threat of international sanctions against offending nations. When we examine these and other international agreements governing human rights, we find a closely related set of ideas, which collectively delineate a system of fundamental or inalienable, universally accepted rights.

These rights are not strictly political, as the UDHR mentions: “The right to work, to protection against unemployment, and to join trade unions; the right to a standard of living adequate for health and well-being; the right to education; and the right to rest and leisure.” In summary, we can say that human rights are the inalienable social, economic and political rights, which accrue to human beings by virtue of their belonging to the human family.

Defining human rights from an Islamic perspective is a bit more problematic. The reason for this is that there is no exact equivalent for the English term, “human rights,” in the traditional Islamic lexicon. The frequently used Arabic term, al-Huquq al-Insaniyya, is simply a literal Arabic translation for the modern term. However, our understanding of the modern term, when looked at from the abstract particulars which comprise its definition, gives us insight into what Islam says in this critical area. For example, if we consider the word “right” (Haqq), we find an array of concepts in Islam, which cover the range of rights mentioned in the UDHR.

If we begin with the right to life, Islam clearly and unequivocally guarantees that right. The Qur’an states, “Do not unjustly take the life which Allah has sanctified” (Qur’an 6:151). Similarly, in the context of discussing the consequences of the first murder in human history, “For that reason [Cain murdering Abel], we ordained for the Children of Israel that whoever kills a human being for other than murder, or spreading corruption on Earth, it is as if he has killed all of humanity. And whoever saves a life, it is as if he has saved all of humanity” (Qur’an 5:32).

It should be noted in this regard, as the first verse points out, Islam doesn’t view humanity as a mere biological advancement of lower life forms. Were this the case, there would be little fundamental distinction between human and animal rights, other than those arising from the advancement and complexity of the human mind. However, Islam views human life as a biological reality, which has been sanctified by a special quality that has been instilled into the human being—the spirit (Ruh).2 The Qur’an relates, “then He fashioned him [the human being] and breathed into him of His spirit” (Qur’an 32:9).

It is interesting to note that this spiritual quality is shared by all human beings, and precedes our division into nations, tribes, and religious collectivities. An illustration of this unifying spiritual bond can be gained from considering a brief exchange, which occurred between the Prophet Muhammad (Peace and Blessings of Allah be upon him), and a group of his companions (May Allah be pleased with them). Once a funeral procession passed in front of the Prophet (Peace and Blessings of Allah be upon him) and a group of his companions. The Prophet (Peace and Blessings of Allah be upon him) reverently stood up. One of his companions mentioned that the deceased was a Jew, to which the Prophet (Peace and Blessings of Allah be upon him) responded, “Is he not a human soul?”3

Possession of this shared spiritual quality is one of the ways our Creator has ennobled the human being. Allah says in this regard, “We have truly ennobled the human being. . .” (Qur’an 17:70). This ennoblement articulates itself in many different ways, all of which serve to highlight the ascendancy of the spiritual and intellectual faculties in man. It provides one of the basis for forbidding anything, which would belittle, debase, or demean the human being, and its implications extend far beyond the mere preservation of his life.4 It guarantees his rights before birth, by forbidding abortion, except in certain well-defined instances; and after death, it guarantees the right of the body to be properly washed, shrouded, and buried. It also forbids the intentional mutilation of a cadaver,5 even in times of war, and forbids insulting or verbally abusing the dead, even deceased non- Muslims. While these latter points may be deemed trivial to some, they help create a healthy attitude towards humanity, an attitude that must be present if acknowledged rights are to be actually extended to their possessors.

If we examine other critical areas identified by the UDHR for protection as inalienable rights, we can see that Islam presents a very positive framework for the safeguarding of those rights. In the controversial area of religious freedom, where Islam is identified by many in the West as a religion which was spread by forced conversion, we find that Islam has never advocated the forced acceptance of its creed, in fact, the Qur’an unequivocally rejects this idea, “Let there be no compulsion in [accepting] Religion, truth clearly distinguishes itself from error” (Qur’an 2:256). Allah further warns His Prophet (Peace and Blessings of Allah be upon Him) against forced conversions, “If your Lord had willed, everyone on Earth would have believed [in this message]; will you then compel people to believe?” (Qur’an 10:99).

In this context, every human being is free to participate in the unrestricted worship of his Lord. As for those who refuse to do so according to the standards established by Islam, they are free to worship as they please. During the Ottoman epoch, this freedom evolved into a sophisticated system of minority rights known as the Millet System. Bernard Lewis comments on that system:

Surely, the Ottomans did not offer equal rights to their subjects—a meaningless anachronism in the context of that time and place. They did however offer a degree of tolerance without precedence or parallel in Christian Europe. Each community—the Ottoman term was Millet— was allowed the free practice of its religion. More remarkably, they had their own communal organizations, subject to the authority of their own religious chiefs, controlling their own education and social life, and enforcing their own laws, to the extent that they did not conflict with the basic laws of the Empire.6

Similarly, positive Islamic positions can be found in the areas of personal liberties, within the parameters provided by the Islamic legal code. We will return to a brief discussion of those parameters, and their implications for an Islamic human rights regime. However, it isn’t the purpose of this paper to engage in an exhaustive treatment of this particular subject.

Stating that, we don’t propose that Islamic formulations in this regard are an exact replica of contemporary Western constitutional guarantees governing human rights policy. Muslims and non-Muslims alike, when examining the issue of human rights within an Islamic legal or philosophical framework, should realize that human rights regimes, as we know them, are a contemporary political phenomenon, which have no ancient parallel. However, we are prepared to defend the thesis that Islam has historically presented a framework for protecting basic human rights, and that it presents a system of jurisprudential principles that allow for the creation of a viable modern human rights regime, totally consistent with the letter and spirit of Islam. Having said that, we should note that an uncritical use of the Islamic framework of jurisprudential principles as the basis for the creation of a modern human rights regime, or a meaningful discourse around that regime fails, for reasons we will now examine.

The Inadequacy of Current Muslim Approaches to Discussing Human Rights

Current Muslim approaches to discussing human rights are inadequate for a number of reasons, in terms of their ability to serve as the basis for a meaningful discourse here in the West. First of all, they are all characterized by a Godcentric approach. We read, for example, in Human Rights in Islam, a pamphlet published by the World Assembly of Islamic Youth: “Since God is the absolute and the sole master of men and the universe, and since He has given each man human dignity and honor. . . .” and “Thus, all human beings are equal and form one universal community that is united in its submission and obedience to God.”7 A similar pamphlet published by the Institute of Islamic Information and Education, states: “Every human being is thereby related to all others and all become one community of brotherhood in the honorable and pleasant servitude to the most compassionate Lord of the Universe.”8 Such statements immediately frame the issue of human rights in terms unacceptable to a vast majority of Westerners. Most people here in the secular West would reject the idea of religious strictures and concepts serving as the basis for social or political programs or policies. Others reject the idea of God outright. Hence, by introducing a discourse predicated on the acceptance of the existence of God, and His exclusive right to order human life, Muslims immediately deny the discourse the common ground necessary for it to proceed with any meaning or logic. Although the two citations mentioned above are from brief pamphlets, which by nature tend to be general and lack any academic rigor, lengthier exposes of the subject are similarly flawed.9 Again, we emphasize that this criticism isn’t intended to question the viability of the Islamic position, only its inadequacy as the starting point for a meaningful discourse here in the West.

The quotations cited above illustrate another inadequacy in the current Muslim human rights discourse, namely, its gaping generalities. These generalities, in many instances, gloss over nagging problems in Islamic societies, providing neither the acknowledgement of those problems, nor any meaningful framework for their resolution. Statements concerning a united humanity under God, while entertaining to the average Muslim, provide no clue as to what rights accrue to atheists, communists, secularists, or others who would reject the legitimacy of such a brotherhood.

Similarly, proclamations such as: “According to Islam, Allah is Sovereign. Human beings are His vicegerents. Since the state is not sovereign so [sic] the greatest factor against the implementation of Human Rights is waived. . .”10 totally ignore the fact that Muslim people live under the authority of nation- states, most of which totally ignore the “sovereignty” of God. These states generally grossly violate the basic human rights of their citizens. As their sovereignty isn’t acknowledged by contemporary Islamic human rights formulations, there is no theoretical or practical basis for restraining their hegemony, a hegemony that leads to very real human rights abuses.

Another inadequacy of current Muslim human rights formulations, illustrated by the above quotations, is that they aren’t seminal. Their gross generalities, meaningless rhetoric, and unrealistic theoretical formulations, fail to provide the basis for crafting meaningful policies, legal frameworks, or administrative regimes to insure a realistic chance of their implementation. The implications of this latter critique will be discussed later.

Many contemporary Muslim writers attempt to advance an alternative scheme of Islamic human rights based on a framework provided by the concept of the overarching objectives of the Divine Law (Maqasid al-Shari’ah).11 This scheme, which hinges on the fact that all Divine Law has been instituted to ultimately preserve and foster religion, life, intellect, the family, and wealth, provides an authentic Islamic basis for identifying and defining basic human rights. For all of the promise this scheme provides, it cannot uncritically serve as the basis for a meaningful human rights discourse here in the West. The reason for this is that in its traditional formulation, it is a scheme that prioritizes the preservation of those rights exclusively associated with Islam and Muslims.

This prioritization leads to many rulings that would constitute fundamental human rights violations here in the West. For example, after elaborating the loftiness of the objectives of the Divine Law in Islam, Dr. Muhammad Zuhayli, following many classical scholars, such as Imam al-Ghazali, goes on to assert that Islam legislates killing the apostate, punishing the heretic, censoring one who abandons prayer, or refuses to pay the poor due, in order to protect the sanctity of religion.12 All of these strictures would be considered violations of the fundamental human rights of those being censored, in the Western scheme, as the violators’ freedom of thought and religion would all be infringed on. Similarly problematic strictures exist in those measures that have been legislated to protect life, intellect, and the family.

Again, the point here isn’t to propose that such sanctions aren’t valid, or are void of any benefit, the point is that their implications would have to be thoroughly considered before classically articulated schemes dealing with the objectives and benefits of the Divine Law are advanced as a basis for a meaningful human rights discourse here in the West. We will return to this issue in the final part of this paper—God-willing.

The Relevance of Human Rights for Islam in America

Islam in America has historically been characterized by a strong advocacy of human rights and social justice issues. This is so because it has been associated with people who would be identified as ethnic minorities. The first significant Muslim population in this country, the enslaved believers of African origin, would certainly fit that description.13 The various Islamic movements, which arose amongst their descendants, appeared in a social and political context characterized by severe oppression. That socio-political context shaped the way Islam was understood by the people embracing it. It was a religion, in all its variant understandings, which was seen as a source of liberation, justice, and redemption.14 When the ethnic composition of the Muslim community began to change due to immigration in the 1970s, 1980s, and into the 1990s, the minority composition of the Muslim community remained. These newly arriving non- European immigrant Muslims were generally upwardly mobile, however, their brown and olive complexions, along with their accents, and the vestiges of their original cultures, served to reinforce the reality of their minority status. This fact, combined with the fact that the most religiously active among them were affiliated with Islamic movements in the Muslim world, movements whose agenda were dominated by strong human rights and social justice concerns, affected the nature of the Islamic call in this country, keeping human rights concerns to the fore.

Illustrative of this human rights imperative is the stated mission of the Ahmadiyya Movement when it began active propagation in America. Mufti Muhammad Sadiq, the first Ahmadi missionary to America, consciously called to a multicultural view of Islam, which challenged the entrenched racism prevalent in early twentieth-century American society.15 This message presented Islam as a just social force, capable of extending to the racial minorities of this country their full human rights. However, there were strong anti-white overtones of the Ahmadi message, shaped by Mufti Muhammad Sadiq’s personal experience, and the widespread persecution of people of Indian descent (so- called Hindoos) in America, which dampened the broader appeal of the Ahmadi message. Those overtones were subsequently replaced by the overtly racist proclamations of the Nation of Islam, which declared whites to be devils. In the formulation of the Nation of Islam, Islam came to be viewed as a means for the restoration of the lost preeminence of the “Asiatic” Blackman. This restoration would be effected by a just religion, Islam, which addressed the social, economic and psychological vestiges of American race-based slavery. In other words, Islam was the agent that would grant the Muslims their usurped human rights.16

The pivotal figure who was able to synthesize these various pronouncements into a tangible, well-defined human rights agenda was Malcolm X.17 By continuing to emphasize the failure of American society to effectively work to eliminate the vestiges of slavery, he was an implicit advocate of the justice-driven agenda of the Nation of Islam, even after departing from that movement. His brutal criticism of the racist nature of American society, which he often contrasted with the perceived racial harmony of Islam, highlighted by his famous letter from Mecca,18 in which he envisioned Islam as a possible cure for this country’s inherent racism, was the continuation of the original multi-cultural message of the Ahmadiyya Movement. Finally, his evolving thinking on the true nature of the struggle of the African American people, and his situating that struggle in the context of the Third World human rights struggle, reflected the human rights imperative which figured so prominently in the call of Middle Eastern groups such as Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, and the Indian Subcontinent’s Jamaati Islami, groups which had a strong influence on the founders of this country’s Muslim Students Asssociation (MSA) in 1963.19

These various groupings, along with the Dar al-Islam Movement, the Islamic Party, and Sheikh Tawfiq’s Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood,20 which would develop in many urban centers during the 1960s and 1970s as the purveyors of an emerging African American “Sunni” tradition, a tradition consolidated by the conversion of Malcolm X to the orthodox faith, represented in their various agendas the crystallization of the sort of human rights agenda which Malcolm was hammering out during the last phase of his life. These groups all saw Islam as the key to liberation from the stultifying weight of racial, social, and economic inequality in America.

The Iranian Revolution of 1979 further strengthened this human rights imperative. The revolution was presented by its advocates in America, who were quite influential at the time, as an uprising of the oppressed Muslim masses to secure their usurped rights from the Shah, an oppressive “Taghut.” This message, conveyed strongly and forcefully through the call of the Muslim Students Association—Persian Speaking Group (MSA–PSG) was extremely influential in shaping the human rights imperative in American Islam, not only because of its direct influence, but also because of the vernacular of struggle it introduced into the conceptual universe of many America Muslims, and the way it shaped the message of contending “Sunni” groups. The combined influence of these forces worked to insure that human rights issues were prominent in the call of Islamic organizations and individuals prior to the tragic events of September 11, 2001.

Muslim Human Rights Discourse and the Challenge of September 11, 2001

The tragic events of September 11 present a clear challenge to the human rights/social justice imperative of Muslims in North America. The reasons for this are many and complex. The apocalyptic nature of the attacks of September 11 particularly the assault on and subsequent collapse of the World Trade Center towers, led many observers to question the humaneness of a religion that could encourage such senseless, barbaric slaughter. Islam, the religion identified as providing the motivation for those horrific attacks, was brought into the public spotlight as being, in the view of many of its harshest critics, an anti-intellectual, nihilistic, violent, chauvinistic atavism.21

The atavistic nature of Islam, in their view, leads to its inability to realistically accommodate the basic elements of modern human rights philosophy.22 This inability was highlighted by the September 11 attacks in a number of ways. First of all, the massive and indiscriminant slaughter of civilians belied any Muslim claims that Islam respects the right to life. If so, how could so many innocent, unsuspecting souls be so wantonly sacrificed? Secondly, “Islam’s” refusal to allow for the peaceful existence of even remote populations of “infidels,” the faceless dehumanized “other,” calls into question its respect for the rights of non-Muslims within its socio-political framework. It also highlights its inability to define that “other” in human terms.

As a link between the accused perpetrators of the attacks, Osama bin Laden and the Taliban rulers of Afghanistan, was developed by both the United States government and news media, the human rights position of Islam was called into further question. The Taliban, by any standards of assessment, presided over a regime that showed little consideration for the norms governing international human rights. Much evidence exists which implicates the Taliban in violating the basic rights of women, ethnic minorities (non-Pashtun), the Shi’ite religious minority, detainees, artists, and others, using in some instances, extremely draconian measures. Many of these violations occurred under the rubric of applying what the regime identified as Islamic law. The news of Taliban excesses, coupled with the shock of the events of September 11, combined to create tremendous apprehension towards the ability and willingness of Islam to accommodate a meaningful human rights regime.23

The political climate existing in America in the aftermath of September 11 has been exploited by certain elements in American society to call into question any humanitarian tendencies being associated with Islam. For example, in the aftermath of the brutal murder of Daniel Pearl, an act whose implications are as chilling as the attacks of September 11, Mr. Pearl’s bosses at the Wall Street Journal, Peter Kahn and Paul Steiger remarked, “His murder is an act of barbarism that makes a mockery of everything that Danny’s kidnappers claimed to believe in.” Responding to those comments, Leon Wieseltier, of The New Republic, stated, “The murder of Daniel Pearl did not make a mockery of what his slaughterers believe. It was the perfect expression, the inevitable consequence, of what his slaughterers believe.”24 This, and similar indictments of Islam, challenge the ability of American Muslims to effectively speak on human rights issues in obvious ways.

If we examine the actual nature of American Muslim human rights discourse prior to September 11, we find that it was based in large part on Muslims contrasting the generalities of the Shari’ah, with the specific shortcomings of American society and history in relevant areas of domestic and international policy and practice.25 This discourse ignored the positive human rights strictures contained in sections of the American Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the UDHR, to which the United States is a signatory. As in other areas, this inadequate approach produced a false sense of moral superiority among Muslims in America. This sense was shattered by the attacks of September 11, in that many Americans were suddenly pointing to what they viewed as the inadequacy of Islamic human rights regimes, their inadequate philosophical basis, and their failure to guarantee basic human rights protection, especially for women, religious, racial, and ethnic minorities living in Muslim lands.

Moving Ahead

Responding adequately to these charges will require a radical restructuring of current Islamic human rights discourse, and the regimes that discourse informs. The God-centric approach, which can serve as the basis for a strictly Islamic human rights discourse, cannot serve as the basis for such a discourse here in the West, at least in its initial phases. It lacks the necessary universality. Our efforts at such a discourse must be rooted in the UDHR. Although there are elements of the UDHR that we Muslims would object to, they are few, and as demonstrated above, most of the elements of the UDHR have legitimate Islamic parallels. Such an acceptance would not be illegitimate from an Islamic perspective, as virtually every Islamic nation is a signatory to the UDHR. Acceptance of the UDHR as the basis of our discourse, no matter how critical, would immediately give any Islamic discourse a universal base from which to proceed. It would also provide a framework to begin moving beyond generalities and into the realm of effective policy formulations and executive regimes.

Generalities, which formerly sufficed in Islamic human rights discourse will have to be replaced by concrete, developed policy prescriptions, which stipulate in well-defined, legal terms, how viable human rights protections will be extended to groups identified as systematically suffering from human rights abuses in Muslim realms.

An example of the dangerous and inadequate generalities alluded to above, can be glimpsed from a brief examination of the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam (CDHRI). Article 24 of that document states, “All the rights and freedoms stipulated in this Declaration are subject to the Islamic Shari’ah.”26 Such a statement is meaningless, considering the vast corpus of subjectively understood literature that could be identified as informing the Shari’ah, unless the relevant rulings and principles of the Shari’ah are spelled out in exacting detail, and then effective executive regimes are created to guarantee those rights, once they are effectively enunciated. Existing executive regimes, such as that provided by the Helsinki Accords, can serve as viable models for Muslims, once the framework that led to those regimes has been accepted. This provides another incentive to root our discourse in the UDHR.

While this paper has consciously avoided mention of those features of Islam which would be antithetical to the Western concept of personal liberty, such as the lack of freedom to chose one’s “sexual orientation,” there are major civil liberties issues which must be addressed, in clear and unequivocal terms, if Islam’s human rights discourse is to have any credence. Hiding behind Islam’s cultural, or civilizational specificity to avoid providing answers to difficult questions will not advance a deeper understanding of our faith amongst enlightened circles in the West. Islam indeed has much to say in the area of human rights. However, much foundational work has to be done before we can speak clearly and authoritatively, especially in the changed post-September 11 political climate.

In Islam and Human Rights, Ann Elizabeth Mayer, whose work has been previously cited,27 acknowledges that

the Islamic heritage comprises rationalist and humanistic currents and that it is replete with values that complement modern human rights such as concern for human welfare, justice, tolerance, and equalitarianism. These could provide the basis for constructing a viable synthesis of Islamic principles and international human rights. . . .28

Our scholars have done much of the groundwork needed for a project such as the one alluded to by Mayer to move forward. For example, the Islamic concepts of al-Aman, and al-Dhimmah, concepts that provide the basis for protecting the lives and liberties of non-Muslims living in the Islamic realm, provide a viable framework for creating a modern regime capable of guaranteeing all of the rights ethnic and religious minorities enjoy in Western secular democracies. Similarly, the framework developed by scholars to discuss the overarching objectives of the Divine Law, despite the criticisms mentioned earlier in this paper, by examining the basic interests of the human being in a developed social context, and then categorizing those interests at the levels of essential needs, nonessential needs, and embellishments, provides an Islamic basis for legitimizing most of the fundamental rights identified by the UDHR.

Together, these and related Islamic concepts and frameworks provide the basic for an effective Islamic human rights regime. However, they will have to be further developed if they are to meet the challenges presented by Western ideas of rights and liberties, ideas shaped by the transformation of human thought and institutions by the ascendancy of secular humanism. Such development, far from being a betrayal of Islamic teachings, embodies their continued evolution. What we know as the institutions of the Shari’ah, in their classical sense, were the products of intellectual and institutional development commensurate to the level of societal advance existing in the days of their architects. In this day, when societies are far more complex and developed—both institutionally and intellectually—the Shari’ah must be developed to reflect that advance.

One of the great scholarly contributions of Maqasid al-Shai’ah29 was emphasizing the need to separate elements of legal thought from specific textual proofs. This process, an extension of the methodology of the Mutakallimeen scholars of jurisprudential principles, is essential if we Muslims are to generate the creative energy necessary to engage in grand projects. The restructuring of our thought on human rights and many other contemporary issues is such a project. Our rich heritage provides great insight into how we can proceed. If we are able to master that heritage, and use the best of it to address the burning issues of our day, we will be not only be able to engage in a meaningful discourse in the area of human rights, we will also be able to create a viable regime capable of transforming the best of our thought in this vital area, into meaningful policy prescriptions. Such an effort will not only enhance understanding Islam here in the West, it would also help us to begin correcting the pitiable human rights records of our Muslim states.


1. One such concise definition of human rights is mentioned in Paul E. McGhee, “Human Rights,” in The Social Science Encyclopedia, ed. Adam and Jessica Kuper (London, New York: Routledge, 1985), 369. He states, “Human rights are the rights and freedoms of all human beings.” Cyrus Vance presents a much more elaborate definition in which he envisions human rights encompassing the security of the person, meeting his vital needs, civil and political liberties, and freedom from discrimination. Abridged from Cyrus Vance, “The Human Rights Imperative,” in Taking Sides: Clashing Views on Controversial Issues in World Politics, ed. John T. Rourke (Guilford, CT: The Dushkin Publishing Group, Inc., 1992), 254–255.  
2. Islamic scholars have defined the spirit (Ruh) in various ways. Perhaps the best translation would be “life-spirit.” Its true nature is unknown to any human being, although there has been much speculation as to what exactly it is. It is created before the creation of the bodies, which will house it. Worldly life begins with its entrance into the body, and ends with its extraction from the body.  
3. This incident is based on a rigorously authenticated tradition, which has been conveyed by Al- Bukhari, no. 1312; Muslim, no. 2222; and al-Nasa’i, no. 1920.  
4. A beautiful and lengthy discussion of the ways the human being has been ennobled by God can be found in Imam Fakhr al-Din al-Razi’s commentary of the relevant Qur’anic verse, 17:70. See,  
Fakhr al-Din al-Razi, al-Tafsir al-Kabir(Beirut: Dar Ihya al-Turath al-’Arabi, 1997), vol. 7, 372-374.  
5. This practice is condemned based on a tradition related by Imam Ahmad, Abu Dawud, and Ibn Majah.  
6. Bernard Lewis, What Went Wrong: Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response(Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), 33–34.  
7. World Assembly of Muslim Youth, Human Rights in Islam, (Falls Church, VA: WAMY, no date).  
8. The Institute of Islamic Information and Education, Human Rights in Islam, (Chicago, Ill.: IIIE, no date).  
9. See for example Dr. Shaikh Shaukat Hussain, Human Rights in Islam(New Delhi: Kitab Bahavan,  
1990), 1–3.
10. Hussain, 102.  
11. For an illustration of such attempts see ‘Abdullah ibn Bayya, Fatawa Fikriyya(Jidda: Dar al- Andalus al-Khadra’, 2000), 61–63. See also Dr. Muhammad al-Zuhayli, Huquq al-Insan fi al-Islam (Damascus: Dar ibn Kathir, 1997), 79–99.  
12. Al-Zuhayli, 84.  
13. For a moving, well-document description of the history, lives, institutions, struggles, and legacy of the Africans enslaved in the America, see, Sylviaane A. Diouf, Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas(New York, London: SUNY Press, 1998).  
14. See, Robert Dannin, Black Pilgrimage to Islam(Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press,  
2002). Dannin presents a good summary of the evolution of Islam among African-Americans. His book is especially valuable for its detailed treatment of the evolution of the African-American Sunni Muslim community. See, also Richard Brent Turner, Islam in the African American Experience (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1997).  
15. Turner, 121–131.  
16. For a detailed introduction to the racist ideology of the Nation of Islam, see, Elijah Muhammad, Message to the Black Man(Chicago: Muhammad’s Temple No. 2, 1965). Especially insightful in this regard is a chapter entitled, “The Devil,” 100–122.  
17. The theme of human rights figured prominently in the political oratory of Malcolm X during the last two years of his life. At the time of his assassination, he was in the final stages of a campaign to charge the United States—in the United Nations—with violating the human rights of the then 20,000,000 African Americans in this country. Many observers feel that campaign, a source of great embarrassment for the United States, may have resulted in his death. His views on this subject are presented in, among other places, a speech entitled, “The Ballot or the Bullet” in George Breitman, ed., By Any Means Necessary(New York: Pathfinder Press, 1970), 21–22. See, also, “Interview with Harry Ring Over Station WBAI, January 28, 1965,” in Two Speeches by Malcolm X (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1965), 28–29.  
18. Alex Haley with Malcolm X, The Autobiography of Malcolm X(New York: Ballentine Books,  
1964) 338–342.
19. The Muslim Students Association (MSA) was formed in 1963 among immigrant Muslims. It would eventually evolve into the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA). Formed in 1982, ISNA is the largest Islamic organization in North America. See, Dannin, 73; and Turner, 236.  
20. For a summary of the inter-group dynamics between the Islamic Party of North America, Dar al-Islam, and Sheikh Tawfiq’s Muslim Islamic Brotherhood, see Dannin, 65–73.  
21. For example, The New Republic’s Jonah Goldberg refers to Islam as,”anti-capitalist, alien, sometimes medieval, and often corrupt theocratic fascism.” Jonah Goldberg, “The Goldberg File,” The New Republic, October 1, 2001.  
22. Perhaps the most thorough assessment of Islam and human rights is Ann Elizabeth Mayer’s Islam and Human Rights: Tradition and Politics(Boulder: Westview Press, 1999). Although simplistically lauded by many critics of Islam as “an understated and powerful repudiation of the notion of ‘Islamic Human Rights,’” Mayer’s argument is far more involved. While identifying many of the problems plaguing contemporary Islamic human rights regimes, Mayer sees Islam’s rich tradition as being capable of producing an effective, modern human rights movement.  
23. For an indication of the extent of the reported human rights abuses of the Taliban, see Ahmad Rashid, Taliban(London, New York: I. B. Tauris Publishers, 2000), chs. 4, 5, 8. Also, see Michael Griffin, Reaping the Whirlwinds: The Taliban Movement in Afghanistan(London: Pluto Press, 2001), ch. 12.  
24. Leon Wieseltier, “The Murder of Daniel Pearl,” The New Republic, February 25, 2002.  
25. A widely circulated pamphlet, among Muslims, which illustrates this approach is, Mawlana Abu’l ‘Ala Mawdudi, Human Rights in Islam(Leicester, England: Islamic Foundation, 1980).
26. This declaration was submitted to the World Conference on Human Rights, Preparatory Committee, Fourth Session. Geneva, April 19–May 7, 1993.  
27. See note 16. 28. Mayer, 192. 29. The definitive classical text on this subject is Imam Ibrahim bin Musa Abi Ishaq al-Shatibi, al- Muwafaqat(Beirut: Dar al-Ma’rifa, 1997).

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Source: Cross Currents, Winter 2003, Vol. 52,  No 4.