By Aziz El Hassani
By Aziz El Hassani
Ifrane – Since the Universal Declaration of 1948, the theoretical debate on human rights as well as the need for a regional system to protect human rights in the Muslim-Arab World has been growing rapidly. This necessity has been enhanced by the feeling, commonly known among Muslims, that the West has imposed a secular and universal declaration (UDHR) carved by its own jurist, without the involvement of the Arab countries. Likewise, the widespread human rights violations in the entire Arab world has contributed to the creation of Arab and Islamic human rights instruments to defend and protect human rights. In this context, both the Arab Charter on Human Rights and the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam represent the most significant human rights documents, which have gained the approval of the majority of the Arab states.
In short, the establishment of these regional human rights documents coincides with the global movements, which unites all Muslims and Arabs as a community in its long search for its own “golden past.” However, like other fierce political debates in the Arab world, the issue of human rights has also expressed the opposition between modernists (advocates of the ACHR) and the traditionalists (drafters of the Cairo Declaration). This controversial debate does not reject Western society, which plays a crucial role in the global definition and reshaping of the Arab and Muslim Identities.
In 1990, the Islamic Conference of Foreign Ministers adopted the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam. The Islamic Conference succeeded in ratifying this historical document after more than a decade of failed endeavors. Indeed, the Declaration does not represent the majority of Muslim around the world. However, the Cairo document represents a general Islamic vision regarding the issue of human rights. Also, the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam marks a major shift from the international secular standards on human rights by introducing new, more challenging standards on human rights derived from the Islamic religion. In other words, the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights clearly discards the Western notion of human rights by reaffirming that human rights sources belong to the Islamic religion. Hence, this courageous declaration has created a sharp theoretical debate on the matters of universalism and relativism of human rights in the Arab region and worldwide.
In this context, we can find total support of the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights heralded in the literature of many Muslim scholars. Among the famous advocates of this concept, is the famous Islamic scholar Dr. Allamah Abu al-‘A’la Mawdudi, a Pakistani intellectual who sharply criticized the copyright of human rights as originating in the West. He states that the West got the concept of human rights from the Magna Carta in Britain. However, he explains that the Magna Carta itself emerged six hundreds years after the advent of Islam. In brief, the general approach of al-‘A’la Mawdudi regarding human rights in Islam can be summarized in his statement as follows:
“When we speak of human rights in Islam we really mean that these rights have been granted by God; they have not been granted by any king or by any legislative assembly. The rights granted by the kings or the legislative assemblies, can also be withdrawn in the same manner in which they are conferred. The same is the case with the rights accepted and recognized by the dictators. They can confer them when they please and withdraw them when they wish; and they can openly violate them when they like. But since in Islam human rights have been conferred by God, no legislative assembly in the world, or any government on earth has the right or authority to make any amendment or change in the rights conferred by God. No one has the right to abrogate them or withdraw them”
On the other hand, the Arab Charter on Human Rights, approved by the League of Arab States in 1994, distinguishes itself from the Cairo Declaration not only for the announced rights and liberties, but also for its grounds, which are not religious but secular. In other words, the vision of the modern Charter on Human Rights does not dwell in Islamic roots, but mainly in its “Arabicity,” which promotes and defends the Arab-Muslim community. Also, the Arab Charter on Human Rights marks a major success for the Arab world by bridging Western values with Arab ones. To explain, Dr Bartolomeo Conti, a human rights activist, states that the secular feature of the Arab Charter on Human Rights and its strong devotion to meet an open and intellectual dialogue with other civilizations is derived from the clear reaffirmation of “The principles of the charter of the United Nations and the universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as the provision of the United Nations, International Covenant on civil and Political Rights and Economic, social and cultural rights…”
Accordingly, the Cairo declaration on Human Rights has indeed inspired and enticed some modern and secular Arab states to ratify the Charter, which, after all, demonstrates their discontent with the Cairo Declaration. Indeed, the religious particularism in the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam has been illustrated by David Hollenbach, the Director of the Center for Human Rights and International Justice, when he says that, “In the view of most Muslims, both traditionalists and modernists, Islam itself is the strongest guarantee for the protection of human rights available…”
To conclude, both the Cairo Declaration and the Arab Charter on Human Rights remain prominent in the field of human rights in the Arab World. However, the Arab Charter on Human Rights is considered a modern and strong mechanism of human rights, which possesses promising tools to protect and promote human rights in the Arab region. Likewise, the Arab Charter derives its strength from its ability to communicate with other international and regional instrument on human rights. In short, the Arab Charter re-establishes the fair proportion between universal and relativists by presenting it as a particularistic index within the international community; it provides a promising contribution to the international community without referring to the negative and particular notion of claiming the originality of human rights. Finally, I do believe that the Arab world does not need an additional sterile debate over the Islamization or modernization of human rights. Rather, the ordinary Arab citizen is in dire need for an effective human rights instrument, which can both defend and protect his rights immediately.
I.AL-Jazy “ The Arab League and Human Rights protection” PP 212- 221
B.Conti “Universality of Rights tested by Cultures” Islamic and Arab Declarations on Human Rights”
Arab Organization for Human Rights (AOHR) 1995 Report, PP 11-15
D.O’Sullivan” Islam and the Quran-A Valid Perspective for defining “Universal Human Rights”?” Mediteranean Journal of Human Rights, Volume 9, No 1 pp-185-235.
21B.Conti “Universality of Rights tested by Cultures” Islamic and Arab Declarations on Human Rights”
3D.O’Sullivan” Islam and the Quran-A Valid Perspective for defining “Universal Human Rights”?” Mediterranean Journal of Human Rights, Volume 9, No 1 pp-185-235.
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