Human rights law and the cultural barriers in Islamic states

An overview of the Islamic state’s capacity to adopt the current human rights norms – the author holds that the globalization of human rights remains ineffective in transcending cultural barriers. Only when the philosophical ideology is translated into different cultures, as opposed to a more positivist approach, can the gap between globalized human rights and different nations be further mitigated.


By Shafeea Riza, 8th February 2014

1. Introduction

In an increasingly globalising world, where international human rights law plays a dominating role in global politics, one cannot help but wonder whether globalisation of human rights law effectively translates into the domestic realms of the receiving state. I ask this question in relation to Islamic states. Islamic states have responded to the international human rights law norms in different ways. Despite the “universal” aspect of these human rights, and its somewhat adoption by Islamic states, what transpires foremost is the tension between these rights and Islamic traditions.[1] Although there is general consensus of the international human rights law among Islamic states, insistence on holding on to Islamic values appear to be pre-dominant.[2] Such an observation begs the question asked at the beginning of this paper: whether globalisation of human rights truly transcends cultural barriers?

This paper focuses on the relationship between international human rights law systems and Islamic states. In analysing this relationship, I will focus on the response of Islamic states to international law norms. I claim that the universalism contended by international human rights law and norms has trouble in finding legitimacy before competing ideologies that reflects strong cultural identities. I draw support from the infamous proposition made by Samuel Huntington, in his article titled ‘The Clash of Civilizations?’ where he contends that the Western concept of universal human rights is a product of the Western culture and civilisation and hence may not be acknowledged as a concept that is universal by other civilisations.[3] I agree with Huntington as such a hypothesis help to explain why despite formal incorporation of international human rights law norms into legal systems of Islamic states, the two ideas does not sit comfortably with each other. In making this claim, I aim to demonstrate the general trend of responses of Islamic states to the international human rights law norms. Further, to show that globalisation of human rights remain ineffective in transcending cultural barriers.

The argument in this paper is developed in four sections. The section following this introductory section will discuss globalisation of the concept of human rights through international law regimes. Section 3 will discuss the response of Islamic states to international human rights law norms. Islamic states have responded generally in two ways in relation to international human rights. The recent most method has been to directly incorporate international human rights principles into the domestic laws of the state. By contrast, the second method has been to “Islamicise” international human rights by articulating human rights according to Islamic values. I argue that the although the first form is direct acceptance and the second form is resistance, irrespective of the nature of response, international human rights law does not effectively translate into Islamic legal traditions. This is because of the standards unique to the values of Islamic traditions, which finds legitimacy amongst its peoples. In my conclusion in section 4, I will present a final analysis which explores the academic debate on the universalism of international human rights and Islamic traditions. I seek to demonstrate that in its very essence, these two are competing ideologies and therefore one cannot be completely reflected on to the other.

It is important to note at the outset that the topic in hand is a vast one in nature. Due to the limitation on space, I am forced to limit my discussions only in so far as to demonstrate my point for the purposes of the argument made in this paper.

2. Globalisation of the concept of human rights

The concept of globalisation in its common usage has a number of meanings. The discussions of globalisation and human rights usually focus on economic rights that resonates themes such as right to development and inequality.[4] It is true that the globalisation of the economies has brought different cultural identities into contact and has made cross-transmission of ideas and ideals possible. [5] In this analysis, I use the concept of globalisation to mean the rise of the consciousness of the world as a whole.[6] Here, I refer to the rise of the social and cultural consciousness of the world where there is “interdependence and local and national embeddedness of the world society”.[7] It is this social and cultural consciousness of a perceived world society that manifests standards, which aspire to be held by all human beings. It is these aspirations that drive global movements such as human rights. In this part of the analysis, I seek to focus on the role of globalisation as an agent of promoting international human rights law norms and the extent of its influence in the political and legal systems of certain Islamic countries. Before, an inquiry is made in this respect; it is imperative that I set out what I mean by globalisation of human rights through international law regimes.

2.1 Human rights as a universal concept – the appeal to globalisation

The appeal to globalisation by international human rights law lies in the ‘universal’ claim made by the concept of human rights. This is an interesting observation to make, as this highlights the dichotomy between the affects of globalisation on human rights and vice versa. Whereas the trends of globalisation drive the course of human rights, by contrast, human rights do not affect the trends of globalisation.[8] It will be later noted in this analysis how this dynamics play out in the global political stage which affects the positive law in Islamic states.

The concept of human rights in a globalised worldview bases itself on certain fundamental philosophical denominations such as human dignity, equality and freedom.[9] It has been said that all conceptions of human rights essentially come down to the sanctity of human life, which dignifies the human life and pronounces its inviolability.[10] These ethical and moral pronouncements have become the basis of the human rights concept, which makes an appeal to a natural law argument, that human rights is an overriding concept.[11] Under the natural law viewpoint, therefore, human rights are rights belonging to humans by virtue of being human.

In the global stage, such a natural law perspective has given effect to, in an effort to universalise, to positive law outcomes. Many scholars in the human writes debate opine that the International Bill of Human Rights exemplifies the position of public international law on human rights.[12] The International Bill of Human Rights consists of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) of 1948, the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) of 1966, along with the ICCPR’s Option Protocol. Although not binding, the UDHR since its adoption by the United Nations General Assembly has become the single most influential human rights document. It has been suggested that it is undoubtedly the document that manifests the philosophical foundations of what is to be considered as a universal human right.[13] Similarly, scholars who argue in favour of the International Bill of Human Rights, contend that although there is no full academic or political consensus on the authority of some aspects of this Bill, these rights are nonetheless representative and ultimately definitive of statements of what international opinion considers to be human rights.[14]

The caveat is that the concept of international human rights, which has the connotation of being universal, finds their most immediate precursors and articulations from the European and American experiences of the late eighteenth century.[15] It is what these nations developed as fundamental constitutional rights that have formed the rudimentary basis of the United Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The stigma attached to the UDHR as a construct of Western leadership is the primary reason why the retort to a universal concept of human rights lies in rejecting the concept. The retort to a universal standard of human rights is resonated not only within the Islamic countries but also within other traditions that define themselves by their own traditions and standards.[16] Within these cultures, as I will argue in this paper, to find legitimacy of a universal concept has been a complex task and remains as an unfulfilled one. Nevertheless in the stage of global politics, such a universal standard promulgated through international law remains as the primary instrument that drives the globalisation of human rights.

2.2 Globalisation as an agent of promoting international human rights law

International human rights law and democracy are intertwined themes that are foremost in today’s global politics. International institutions and their affiliated network of nation states and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) play a huge role in playing watchdog to activities of other nation states. This well-connected network is a demonstration of the impact of globalisation itself as it evidences the shared consciousness of ideals within the network. Together, this network plays an important role as an agent of promotion and imposition of these ideals on the world society. For example, international institutions and their shared ideals of governance most evidently affected the democratisation processes of the newly democratised Islamic states such as Afghanistan[17], Iraq[18] and the Maldives. In incorporating democratic ideals and universal concepts of human rights into the newly drafted constitutions of these countries, international agencies played a vital role. Not only these countries were under immense international scrutiny but also under deadlines and strong recommendations of the international agencies.[19]

3. International Human Rights law and the Response of Islamic States

In understanding the response of Islamic states to the international human rights law, it is imperative that one comprehends the concept of human rights in Islam.  The concept of human rights in Islam as a religion and in Islam as a form of positive law finds two very different results. As a Muslim writer myself, and coming from although a moderate Islamic legal system, it is imperative that one appreciates this distinction in any commentary of human rights in Islamic traditions. In order to identify the true basis of the concept of human rights in Islam, both as a religion and form of law, I argue that one has to look into the ethics of Islam. Islam is a religion, which does not only proclaim how to worship the God but in its very essence is an embodiment of integrated instructions for the mankind on how to conduct his affairs between the state and individual, between individual themselves and individual and God.[20] These ethical embodiments of Islam primarily lie in the divine revelation of God that all Muslims believe to be the Holy Quran. Nevertheless, what has become to be understood as human rights in Islamic states reflect little of the philosophical foundations of the Quran. Because the basis of the concept of human rights that has been taken into positive law is not primarily based on a philosophical reading of the ethical Islam in the Quran. The positive law rather is based on Islamic law principles, which is commonly known as Shari’ah.[21]

The positive law in Shari’ah is based on pre-modern interpretations and jurisprudence of the Quran and Sunnah, which is the embodiment of the Prophet’s sayings and practices. Since tenth century, Islamic scholars and jurists have been reluctant to open the Quran and Sunnah for interpretation and this has formed the political ideology of most Islamic states. This political ideology entailed in understanding Islamic law is a helpful tool in analysing the response of Islamic states to international human rights law.

3.1 Importation of international human rights law into constitutional framework

The most recent trend of newly democratising Islamic states, such as the Afghanistan, Iraq and the Maldives have been to import international human rights law into the constitutional framework of the country. I use the word ‘importation’ here because on an analysis of the constitutional provisions of these countries one could see a rather direct reference to international human rights law. In the Afghan constitution, the preamble effectively establishes commitment to Islam, the United Nations Charter and the UDHR.[22] Furthermore, Article 7 reiterates the obligation to abide by the United Nations Charter and UDHR. In another example, the Maldivian Constitution of 2008 provides a comprehensive chapter on fundamental rights and freedoms.[23] Although the reference to UDHR is formulated in less direct terms than in the Afghan Constitution, the interpretation of these fundamental rights and freedoms are obligated by Article 69 to be interpreted in a manner that underlies values of ‘human dignity, freedom and equality’[24] in reference to standards in open and democratic societies. Article 69 also provides that in interpreting a right a court shall taken into account the international treaties that Maldives is a party to. In light of the foregoing account, it is evident that these instruments purport to give a direct reference to international human rights law.

An interesting point to note here is that like all other Islamic constitutions, these newly enacted constitutions are subject to constitutional Islamisation provisions that create an over-arching obligation for all the laws of the country to conform to Islamic law. To this effect, Article 3 of the Afghan constitution and Article 10 of the Maldivian constitution provide that no law shall be contrary to Islamic law principles. The outcome is that despite the reference to an international standard of human rights in the constitution, where a right is in conflict with Shari’ah principles, by virtue of constitutional Islamic principles, Shari’ah will prevail.

For example, where personal laws are determined by Shari’ah principles, it is impossible for international law standards of human rights to claim legitimacy because the very essence of Islam as a religion lies in conducting such affairs of the individual. For instance, dissolution of marriage and women’s testimony are areas where Shari’ah principles have already determined gender-based differential treatments in that women have different statuses before law as opposed to men. In marriage dissolution under Shari’ah, a man may unilaterally dissolve the marriage where as the woman does not have an equal right in such matters. In relation to testimony, women have different statuses as to men in that the general rule is a woman’s witness is only allowed in matters where women are only privy.[25] Otherwise, there is always a number requirement to a woman’s testimony, which equally does not apply to a man in similar situations. For example, in economic transactions, Islamic scholars believe the rule to be that “one male witness equals two female witnesses” according to Quranic principles.[26]

These rules when compared with international standards of human rights may demonstrate a clear violation of the equality and non-discrimination rights of women. Equality and non-discrimination under international human rights standards mean equal protection of the laws and equality before the law notwithstanding discrimination on any basis such as gender. Despite the provision to these international standards in constitutions, these standards are not translated into the domestic realm due to the over-arching obligation to observe the Islamic principles. In the Maldivian context, despite the constitution of 2008, the Shari’ah principles in relation to testimony continues to be applied by virtue of Women’s Testimony Act 1972 and Evidence Law Act 1976 which gives reference to the Shari’ah based evidence law principles. This is a situation where the question asked in the beginning of this paper becomes most relevant because one can observe that although international human rights law norms may be formally recognised by a domestic legal system, it really does not translate itself to the normative standards of the system. This is primarily because of the existence of a culture that has a competing ideology with the universalism claimed by international human rights law.

3.2 Islamisation of human rights as a response to international human rights law

The foregoing account represents the response of some Islamic states to international human rights law in their efforts to transform to democracy. In contrast, here I seek to demonstrate the response of certain Islamic states which has taken a different course of direction. In making this demonstration, I use the example of a human rights schemes that Islamic states have put together in a collective effort to portray Islamic values.

In response to international human rights law instruments such as the International Human Rights Bill, Islamic states in collective groups have promulgated the idea of Islamisation of human rights. By ‘Islamisation of human rights’ I mean the modification of the concept of universal standards of human rights that befits Islamic traditions and values. Islamic states and scholars have put forward several reasons for the promulgation of an Islamicised concept of human rights.  As I will explain in the following section, these reasons resonate many themes such as cultural relativism, cultural nationalism, self-determination or purely political strategy. In any case, the cultural differences posed by these two ideologies come out as a major theme.

The Universal Islamic Declaration of Human Rights (UIDHR) was a direct response to UDHR from some Islamic states. The UIDHR was prepared by representatives from Egypt, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and other countries under the auspices of the Islamic Council in 1981.[27] Like several scholars, Elizabeth Mayer, in a comprehensive critique of the UIDHR, has opined that it is generally representative of the conservative Muslim opinion. This suggests that the UIDHR was in itself a form of resistance propagated by the Islamic states which wanted to assert their cultural values against the international human rights law standards with an intention for the former to be the guiding principles for human rights in the Islamic states. The assertion of a universal Islamic concept of human rights is very much evident by the fact that UIDHR relies on Shari’ah to determine scope and qualification of all rights.[28] Further, Mayer suggests the broad definition given to ‘Shari’ah’ in the UIDHR seems to leave room for the governments to freely determine what “Islamic” principles to apply amongst the various schools of Islamic jurisprudence that exists within Islamic law.[29] Such a motive seems to be a deliberate attempt by the Islamic states to allow for the differences in religious interpretations that a state adopts and also to incentivise participation of nation states which may have differing religious views based on schools of thoughts. In other words, it portrays the attempt made by UIDHR to put together the values that conform to Islamic traditions and to give it the stamp of legitimacy.

For example, in relation to equality rights, the UIDHR, in its Arabic version provides certain categories on the basis of which it is impermissible to discriminate. Mayer critically notes that the list does not include sex or religion.[30] Here, the formulation of equality in UIDHR reflects the principles, which are privy to Islamic traditions. Discriminations made based on sex and religion in Islamic law may find legitimacy amongst Muslims who may in turn believe that to be a justified case based on their religious understandings. The claim of international human rights law standards of being universal notwithstanding these moral convictions which are founded upon on equally competing ideologies seem to overlook critical basics of the concept of human rights. The basis of concept of human rights, as already mentioned in this paper, lies in the moral or ethical pronouncements of human beings, which in itself entail a subjective connotation to it. What is considered to be an overriding ethical pronouncement may differ from one society to another. The claim of universality made by international human rights law standards is one which claims legitimacy notwithstanding these differences. In the following section, which will discuss the final analysis will inquire why international human rights law standards need to take these differences into account in order to find legitimacy within distinct cultures such as Islam.

4. Conclusion – A final analysis

In light of the foregoing discussion it is clear that the universal concept of human rights as promulgated by international human rights law does not effectively transcend the cultural barriers inherent in Islamic tradition.  The responses of the Islamic states evidence the difficulty with which one must translate the universal standard into Islamic traditions if at all it is to be done. This brings the analysis of this paper, to a final one, which focuses on the broader issue of whether international human rights law effectively transcends cultural barriers? There has been a multitude of views that highlights the answer of this question, be it given in the affirmative or otherwise. In this paper, I contend the negative – that the claim to universality made by international law standards overlook the cultural differences and in doing so loses its legitimacy in distinct cultural systems.

Here, I highlight on the hypothesis made by Samuel Huntington when he said that the next pattern of conflict would be that between the civilisations.[31] He defines civilisations as the single highest manifestations of cultures and as such defines Islam as one of such civilisations. Huntington identifies that the western ideal of a universal concept of human rights as a construct of the West, which he identifies as a particular civilisation. Huntington seems to suggest that the universal claim made by a western notion of human rights would lose its claim amidst cultural differences in other civilisations. Some human rights scholars make a similar appeal to cultural identity in relation to globalisation effects. Yash Ghai suggests that due to the effects of economic globalisation the lines between nation states as an identifier has diminished which has led for the manifestation of a need amongst people to relate some form of identity. This form of identity is easily taken by cultures which is why the rhetoric of cultural relativism has found its way into human rights.[32] Furthermore, Mayer also offer an explanation of the cultural relativism argument in relation to globalisation by drawing support from Karen Engle’s analysis which indicates, when invoked against human rights universality, “culture” could be a proxy of for many different concerns such as preservation of national sovereignty and opposing Western double standards.[33]

Amongst the Muslim thinkers, on the one hand there are those who firmly contend the above. Abu al-‘A’la Mawdudi[34] and Sultan-Hussein Tabandeh[35] are the most quoted scholars in this debate who rejects the UDHR on the basis of being a Western construct which does not fit with the conceptualisations of human rights in Islam. On the other hand, there are those Muslim thinkers who make an appeal to accommodate the international standards of human rights within Islamic traditions by searching for solutions within Islamic traditions.[36] They call for the reform of Shari’ah through re-interpretation of Quran and Sunnah that give effect to a broad formulation of rights than the existing one. But they also reject the universal claim made by international human rights law by contending the Western bias in questioning the legitimacy of cultural differences.[37]

In light of the foregoing analysis, I submit that for the philosophical motivations of a universal concept of human rights to take legitimacy in strong cultures such as Islam, these motivations shall find legitimacy within these cultural traditions. To begin with this task, the universal claim made by international human rights law shall cease overlooking the cultural differences and treating them as violation of the overriding concept of human rights in international law. The success of the universal concept of human rights in international law lies not in the effective translation of the positive law into the domestic systems. The universal concept of human rights can effectively transcend the cultural barriers when it manages to translate its philosophical ideology into different cultures. To this end, the universal language of human rights must also speak the values and traditions that represents dominating cultures. And thus, this should be the goal of the globalisation efforts of human rights.


[1] See, eg., Ann Elizabeth Mayer, Islam and Human Rights, Tradition and Politics, 4th edn (Westview Press, 2007), and Ekaterina Yahyaoui Krivenko, Women, Islam and international law: within the context of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, Leiden ; Boston : Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 2009, for greater detail of discussion of areas where women’s right are not up to the international human rights law standards in Islamic states.

[2] The 2008 Charter of Organisation of the Islamic Conference affirms the commitment to United Nations Charter and the international laws which was also made in the 1972 Charter that was replaced by the 2008 document. 2008 Charter of OIC available at <http://www.oic-oci.org/is11/english/Charter-en.pdf> (accessed 16 April 2013)

[3] Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations, Foreign Affairs; Summer 1993; 72, 3, pg. 22

[4] Rhoda E Howard-Hassmann, Can Globalization Promote Human Rights?, Pennsylvania State Univ Pr (July 22, 2010), pg 5

[5]  Yash Ghai, Universalism and Relativism: Human Rights as a Framework for Negotiating Interethnic Claims, Cardozo Law Review, Vol. 21, No.4 (2000), pp. 1095-1140

[6] Roland Robertson, Globalization: Social Theory and Global Culture, (Reprint. ed.), London: Sage (1992) (He defined globalisation as , defined globalization as “the compression of the world and the intensification of the consciousness of the world as a whole.)

[7] See, John W. Meyer, Globalization: Theory and Trends, International Journal of Comparative Sociology, Vol. 48, No. 4 (2007), pp. 261-273 (He defines globalisation as the “concept of globalization emphasizes, not expanded exchange, but a very widespread cultural consciousness: a) of  interdependence and b) of local and national embeddedness in world society.”)

[8] Howard-Hassmann, Can Globalization Promote Human Rights?, pg 83

[9] The pre-amble to UDHR provides promotion of human dignity, equality and freedom as goals of the UDHR.

[10] Michael J. Perry, The Idea of Human Rights: Four Inquiries (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998)

[11] Amartya Sen, The Idea of Justice (Belknap Press, 2011), pp 355 – 387; Khaled Aboul El Fadl,A distinctively Islamic View of Human Rights, Does It Exist And Is It Compatible with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights?, in Islam and Human Rights, Advancing a U.S. – Muslim Dialogue, ed. by Shireen T. Hunter & Huma Malik (2005), pp 27 – 42.

[12] Mayer, Islam and Human Rights, pg 27, Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im, Islam and Human Rights: Beyond the Universality Debate, Proceedings of the 94th Annual Meeting of the American Society of International Law 95 (2000), pg 95-101.

[13] An-Na’im, Islam and Human Rights: Beyond the Universality Debate, 96

[14] Mayer, Islam and Human Rights, pg 27

[15] An-Na’im, Islam and Human Rights: Beyond the Universality Debate, 96

[16] For example the Asian values debate that maintained the universal concept of human rights as a construct of western ideals and values.

[17] For example, Afghanistan was heavily under the strict stipulations of Bonn Agreement that was executed in 2001.

[18] For a discussion of constitutions of Afghanistan and Iraq see Mayer, Islam and Human Rights, pp. 95-97.

[19] Ibid.

[20] M.Cherif Bassiouni, ‘Sources of Islamic Law, And The Protection of Human Rights in the Islamic Criminal Justice System’, in The Islamic Criminal Justice System, ed. by M. Cherif Bassiouni (Oceana Publications, Inc., 1982), pg 6

[21] The Shari’ah is primarily comprised of four key sources: the Quran, the Hadith (sayings of the Prophet) and Sunnah, ijma (the consensus of fuqaha/jurists on a decision), and qiyas (syllogism). (See, eg., Deina Abdel Kader, Social Justice in Islam (The International Institute of Islamic Thought , 2000),  pg xv, articulates that “Sunnah is an embodiment of the Prophet’s sayings and practice, which are taken as a guide for Islamic law. It is important to note that Hadith means the sayings of the Prophet, while the Sunnah embodies his words and deeds. Therefore, the Sunnah represents a larger body of reference for Muslims.”) While the Sunnah explains and amplifies the Quran, it cannot be interpreted in any which alters the Quran or in a manner that is inconsistent with the meaning of the specific provisions in Quran. Besides the Quran and Sunnah, other sources of law make possible the application of Islam to contemporary situations. The last source of law, qiyas, allows for the exercise of human reasoning through deduction and inference of the other three sources of law and it has brought about notions such as ijtihad and ra’i in the formation of Shari’ah. According to Netton, ijtihad is defined as “In jurisprudence this term means the exercise of independent judgment unfettered by case law or past precedent. Its opposite is taqlid, which means, literally imitation. The word ijtihad derives from the same Arabic root as jihad.” Furthermore, Netton’s definition of ra’i is “Opinion, idea. In Islamic law al ra’I has the sense of personal opinion, individual judgment, or speculation not based on a recognised source of law.” ((Netton, A Popular Dictionary of Islam (1992), pg 117 & 212)

The Islamic jurisprudence has developed in the course of fourteen centuries during which various schools of jurisprudence emerged, each giving its own meaning and method of interpretation of Shari’a. The four main authoritative schools of jurisprudence in the Sunni approach are the Hanafi, Hanbali, Maliki and the Shafi’i. (On the application of these four schools of thought in criminal law, see, A.F. Bahnasi, Nazariyat Fil-Fiqh Al-Jinaii Al-Islami (1969))

[22] The constitution of Afghanistan available at <http://arabic.cnn.com/afghanistan/ConstitutionAfghanistan.pdf> (accessed: 15 April 2013) (Furthermore, the preamble provides the protection of human rights, human dignity, fundamental rights and freedoms as one of the goals of the constitution.)

[23] Maldivian constitution available at < http://www.presidencymaldives.gov.mv/Index.aspx?lid=15> (accessed 15 April 2013)

[24] Values, which are explicitly outlined in the preamble to UDHR, that suggests that the framers of the constitution were mindful of incorporating a universal standard of measure.

[25] Scott C. Lucas, Justifying Gender Inequality in the Shafi’i Law School: Two Case Studies of Muslim Legal Reasoning, The Journal of the American Oriental Society, April-June 2009 (In his reading of the textbook tradition of the Shafi’i school, he found that topic of female testimony is dominated by both the application of the 2:1 female/male ratio and by debates that concerns in which fields of law female testimony is valid at all. He further identified that Shafi’is begin with the presumption that female testimony is invalid unless evidence to the contrary is found.); Abdul Muin Abdul Rahman, Witness in Islamic Law of Evidence (Pelanduk Publications, 1999) (for a detail on the Shari’ah principles on witness requirement on female and male witnesses)

[26] Quran Ch 2:282: “And get two witnesses out of your own men. And if there are not two men (available), then a man and two women, such as you agree for witnesses, so that if one of them (two women) errs, the other can remind her.” (trans. by Muhsin Khan, available at < http://quran.com/2/282&gt;)

[27] A self-appointed body residing in London representative of local, national, and regional Muslim organisations and institutions.

[28] Mayer, Islam and Human Rights, pg. 91 (In the explanatory notes, UIDHR provides that “In the exercise and enjoyment of the rights referred to above every person shall be subject only to such limitations as are enjoined by the Law for the purpose of securing the due recognition of, and respect for, the rights and the freedom of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare of the Community (Ummah).” Mayer, notes that the ambiguity in the translation of the English document in that the “Law” here  is to mean Shari’ah law by giving reference to the wordings of the Arabic document. (The UIDHR available at <http://www.alhewar.com/ISLAMDECL.html> (accessed 15 April 2013))

[29] Ibid., pg 91

[30] Ibid., pg 106

[31] Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations

[32] Yash Ghai, Universalism and Relativism: Human Rights as a Framework for Negotiating Interethnic Claims

[33] Mayer, Islam and Human Rights, pg 18; Karen Engle, Culture and Human Rights: The Asian Values Debate in Context, New York University Journal of International Law and Politics 32 (2000): 291-332

[34] ‘Allamah Abu al-‘A’la Mawdudi, Human Rights in Islam, 
al Tawhid Journal, vol. IV No. 3 Rajab-Ramadhan 1407, pg 15, 39 (Mawudid writes Islamic law has an earlier and more perfect version of human rights than what was offered by international law. He contends that human rights originated in Islam. He also further contends that Muslim societies are wrongly accused of being culturally backward and complained that people in West have the habit of attributing every beneficial development in the world to themselves)

[35] Sultanhussein Tabandeh, A Muslim Commentary on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights trans. by Charles Goulding (1970), pg 85 (contended that UDHR “has not promulgated anything that was new nor inaugurated innovations”.)

[36] An-Na’im, Islam and Human Rights: Beyond the Universality Debate; El Fadl,A distinctively Islamic View of Human Rights; Riffat Hassan, ‘Women’s Rights in Islam, Normative Teachings Versus Practice’, In Islam and Human Rights, Advancing a U.S. – Muslim Dialogue, pg 47

[37] See, eg., Riffat Hassan, says: “What needs to be pointed out to those who uphold the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to be the highest, or sole, model, of a charter of equality and liberty for all human beings, is that given the Western origin and orientation of this Declaration, the “universality” of the assumptions on which it is based is – at the very least – problematic and subject to questioning. Furthermore, the alleged incompatibility between the concept of human rights and religion in general, or particular religions such as Islam, needs to be examined in an unbiased way.” (Are Human Rights Compatible with Islam? The Issue of the Rights of Women in Muslim Communities)


Shafeea Riza is a legal associate and an adjunct lecturer at the Maldives National University. She has received her LLB from King’s College London, and her LLM from the National University of Singapore.

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