Islam and Human Rights

Majid Rafizadeh, an Iranian-American political scientist and scholar, is president of the International American Council and serves on the board of the Harvard International Review at Harvard University. Rafizadeh is also a senior fellow at the Nonviolence International Organization based in Washington, DC and is a member of the Gulf project at Columbia University. He can be reached at rafizadeh@fas.harvard.edu. Follow Rafizadeh at @majidrafizadeh.


militants1n-3-webRecently, I met a Syrian Salafist while speaking to Leaders of Democracy Fellows about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Islam and human rights violations in Syria.

The individual who lives in Syria, and who seems to sympathize with Jubhat Al- Nusrah (Al-Nusrah Front), drew several distinctions between Islamic objectives of the global Jihad movement, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, and Jubhat Al-Nusrah.

The argument was that these powerful movements in Syria and beyond attempt to create an Islamic state anchored in Shari’a law, the teachings of Islam, Muhammad, and Allah. But the difference between Jubhat Al-Nusrah and ISIL, according to the person, was that the mission of the Jubhat Al-Nusrah aims at only establishing Islamic social order and an Islamic state in Syria. Whether this mission spreads to other countries is not a part of their objectives, though other countries can adopt this political Islamic platform if they desire.

On the other hand, the objectives and mission of ISIL is a return to the Caliphate system and establishment of an Islamic state throughout the region. In other words, creating an Islamic state and Shari’a law-based government in Syria or in Iraq is not sufficient and will not fulfill the desire of God, Muhammad, and Islamic teachings.

Currently, we can contend that Syrian oppositional groups are functionally dominated by Jihadists from around the world, other Islamist groups, and external groups attempting to create an Islamic order and pursue their own ideological goals.  

Regarding these Islamic movements, my major question is on where human rights stand for them, regardless of the minor or significant differences between these Islamist oppositional groups.

Recently, a seven-year-old boy died because fighters believed him to be an apostate. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a 15-year-old Syrian boy was also killed in the northern city of Aleppo in front of his parents because the Islamist groups believed what the boy said was heretical.

Some of the proponents of Islam and Islamic laws would point out that the ideology and religion of Islam sit at the heart of human rights standards and are totally compatible with the modern notion of human rights. 

But when I delve into the issue, and going into the nuances and details of the question, they seem to dodge answering. How can Islam be compatible with a modern notion of human rights and gender equality, when social and legal laws of Allah’s words in Quran, depict women as inferior to men in every aspect?

Article three of the universal declaration of human rights, states that “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.” But in Islamic countries, a person who rejects and abandons Islam has no right to life. According to Islam, unbelievers commit the gravest sin in Islam.

While article four of the universal declaration of human rights says “one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms,” slavery is officially recognized and accepted in Quran.

Article five states that “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” Cases of stoning, lashings, and other violent acts are rampant in Islamic countries.

How can Islam be compatible with human rights when, according to Muslims and the Quran, Allah specifically states in the Quran that a woman’s testimony in a court of law is considered half the value to that of a man?

“And call to witness, from among your men, two witnesses. And if two men be not found then a man and two women.” [Qur'an (2:282)]

A Muslim told me that scientific data shows women’s logical and speaking neurological center in brain are at the same place, and as a result, they are more forgetful than men! And so, this is why God made their testimony worth half. I was totally confounded and baffled by this ungrounded logic.

How can Islam be compatible with human rights when according to Muslims and the Quran, Allah states that women inherit less than men in several instances?

They ask thee for a legal decision. Say: Allah directs about those who leave no descendants or ascendants as heirs. If it is a man that dies, leaving a sister but no child, she shall have half the inheritance: If a woman, who left no child, Her brother takes her inheritance: If there are two sisters, they shall have two-thirds of the inheritance: if there are brothers and sisters, the male having twice the share of the female. Thus doth Allah make clear to you , lest ye err. And Allah hath knowledge of all things. (Quran 4:176)

All Muslims are expected to follow and implement the rules of Islamic inheritance clearly stated in the Quran, verbatim words of God, accordingly.

In addition, how can the ideology of Islam be in line with human rights when abandoning Islam triggers punishments, including execution? Or does the law that allows a man to marry four wives respect the rights of women? Do these Islamic laws comply with the article one of the universal declaration of human rights that “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood”?

The aforementioned laws reveal how women are restricted and seen as inferior. While men can marry any women from any other religion, Muslim women are not allowed to marry a non-Muslim.

There are also the rights of an accused person to a fair trial, which is mentioned in the Universal Declaration of Human rights. While a women’s testimony is worth half, non-Muslims are not permitted to testify against Muslims.

These are only samples of the contradictions and incompatibilities between the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Islamic laws and doctrines. The critical phenomenon is that as long as the Quran is perceived to be the words of God—and hence should be implemented word by word— and as long Islam views itself as part of the state, I think there can never be compatibility between the modern notion of human rights and Islam.

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  • herb benty

    Well, Majid, we already know this and are way past it. Murdering a 7 yr. old, or 15 yr. old for a few careless words, slaughtering Jews or Christians etc., etc., gives us the urge to pull out the MAGNUMS.

  • Muhammad79

    Islam is the religion of peace and it is much better that Christianity and judism. Christianity and Jud… are not complete religions.

    • loksabha polls2014

      islam christainity and judaism all abraham relgions keep killing eachother for next 10 yrs nuke urself. Buddhists and hindus will win. :)

    • Jake-a-runi

      Religions, “complete” or otherwise, are complete nonsense. The spirit world is vacant, except in the human imagination. And we are stuck with multiple millions of crazy people. The only hope for the survival of our species is the death of religion.

      • Tabitha Bliss

        The greatest killers of our time believed the same thing. (See history of the communist countries that killed the most people over the past century.)
        In fact, democide (or death by gov’t), is the #1 cause of death is the 20th & 21st centuries, the vast majority committed by atheist, communist states.
        Oh but I understand.. Liberal utopia is always just a genocide away from peace.

    • Demetrius Minneapolis

      And you show that peace by insulting two theologies that in modern times thrive on human rights and acceptance. Momo. your ideology (islam) is a fraud. You know it in your heart, that is why you casually troll here. The majority of your ideology are illiterate and for the most part, mentally unstable. What does that tell you ?

    • Gee

      Considering the hundreds of millions that Islam has slaughtered there is nothing peaceful about the Islamofascist cult.
      There will be no peace with racists like you

    • Drakken

      Frankly, I am enjoying the fact that the more you inbred effing savages express your islam is peace nonsense and the more you demonstrate it, will invite a wrath and backlash that will be biblical. Enjoy your Islamic devil worshipping while you can, for soon our motto will soon be, no more muslims means no more problems. So keep up the great jihadi work haji.

      • Jackinxian

        Know peace. No islam.

    • iluvisrael

      it’s a bloodthirsty cult – piss be upon you!

    • Mudpuppy

      Satan is the founder of your so-called “religion”. You stole much of your “precepts” from Judaism and Christianity. Despite your claims, Islam is NOT an Abrahamic religion. It is a Satanic one.

  • Julian

    Nit-Beard bible 33:10 ” Prophet, we have made lawful for you the wives to whom you have granted dowries and the slave girls who god has given you as booty.”.

    In no way was Mohammed a spiritual or moral guide, other than example of ghastly wickedness. It is folly to think that those who idolise him are not damaged persons and will not continue his reign of horror.

    For some born in the “faith” they are somewhat trapped – and we need to say to them – unleash your human decency and common sense, renounce mohammedism.

  • carltjohnson

    Islam, under the practice of their mysticism, their laws and their language prevents them from becoming conscious human beings. Unless that changes, they will never be aligned with the natural laws nor the physical laws of creation and therefore will remain an anti-civilized, anti-human barbaric society. There is just no other way to look at it.

  • Donald J DaCosta

    Simple, straight and to the point. So why all the denials and mass refusal of what should be obvious to the casual observer? It’s a mystery but stark evidence of the fact that people are gullible, unquestioning and stubbornly uninformed. “Islam is a religion of peace.” Case closed. No further investigation required or desired. To say otherwise implies some dark, evil psychosis is present….a phobia. Islamophobia. These unfortunate individuals are not to be taken seriously.

    How else to explain what should be obvious to anyone motivated to make a serious, impartial, online investigation, even if of a cursory nature. But 12+ years after 9/11 and, if anything, the truth about Islam and Jihad is more obscure than ever.

    Doubtful there are very many unaware here but, for any such, here’s a few websites to checkout. But do so with an open mind.

    http://pamelageller.com/
    http://www.jihadwatch.org/
    http://www.investigativeproject.org/
    http://www.raymondibrahim.com/
    http://www.meforum.org/

    • A Z

      Have you been to vladtepesblog.com?

      • Donald J DaCosta

        I had not been but just went. Yet another site attempting to convey the reality of Islam. Not the fictitious “radical Islam” but plain vanilla, orthodox Islam.

        A trip to the homepage and review of some of the comments reveals or at least hints at why this evil cult is so difficult to expose. Ignorance and blatant stupidity are in abundance. Thanks for the heads up..

  • Gayle Spencer

    Are you aware of the “by law” trick/loophole found in all these “universal/UN’ documents? Because of that trick, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights isn’t quite the wonderful document you may think.

    In the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) (1948) you can read about all the wonderful “rights” declared as, well, as universal, applying at all times, in all places. Including the right to be free of enslavement (its ARTICLE 5) and for free speech (its ARTICLE 19). Really, it’s a really nice exercise leafing through these “rights,” what with all the highfalutin verbiage and whatnot. But, and here’s the kicker, be sure to follow the first and most important rule of statutory construction – read the whole statute.

    There, in UDHR’s Article 29 you’ll find the pen of the statist with a slight-of-hand,
    “(2) In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society.”

    That Article with its “by law” trick is a playground for any totalitarian government. In the non-Framers approach to government (embraced fully by the Democrat Party et alia) then, government “gives,” but government can take away, and still be within compliance with the UDHR by simply referring to and relying upon Article 29 and its ability to protect the collective through the “by law” tactic. If a “right’ can be taken away, then no right ever existed. No counterpart of Article 29 exists in the US Constitution.

    This “by law” trick is found in all the leftist documents and treaties (so-called) that have come out of the UN, the EU, the old USSR, and the new Russia. Islam, because it too is a 100% leftist ideology, follows suit. [While Muslims have expressly rejected the 1948 UDHR, they have fashioned their own version, called the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam (1991). All over that document the “by law” trick is played, with the referenced “law” being the Shari’ah (its ARTICLE 25 chillingly reads, “The Islamic Shari'ah is the only source of reference for the explanation or clarification of any of the articles of this Declaration.”)]

    Recall that our Declaration of Independence states the sole purpose of American government was to protect / guard individual rights; that is to say that rights that existed before any government ever came into being. “That to secure these rights [that is, the already-existing rights of individuals], Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed [i.e., those same individuals]”

    • http://Senatormark4.artistwebsites.com/ senatormark4

      Thank you so much for this! It affirms my belief that Pamela and Robert should be fighting for the U.S. First Amendment being enshrined in ALL our relations. It serves as a bright line between those that believe in Freedom and those that shout and wave signs “Death to Freedom”. The battle lines are very vague right not with the E.U. bureaucrats hanging themselves on UDHR 29 apparently.
      I love the “general welfare” phrase. Leftists and now Islamists are going to bury us with it.

  • Mudpuppy

    Islam and human rights don’t even belong in the same paragraph, let alone the same sentence. They neither know nor care about human rights.

  • Yusuf_Al_Kafir

    Good piece. Well said.

    Of course Islam is not compatible with modern human rights aka the ‘Universal Declaration of Human Rights’.
    Honest Muslims can admit this much.

    That’s why the Islamic countries drafted their own Islam-compliant ‘Cairo Declaration on Human Rights In Islam’ in 1990 instead of signing the UDHR in 1948.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cairo_Declaration_on_Human_Rights_in_Islam

  • Johan Tristan Aslim

    For a completely different view on the matter: http://www.halalmonk.com/musdah-mulia-the-tawhid-of-human-rights