, Volume 6, Issue 3, pp 122-137

Revealing and concealing: Islamist discourse on human rights

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Abstract

Historically as well as contemporarily, the relationship between religion and democratic pluralism in the Muslim world has been problematic. In the Muslim world, both governments and popular movements are using religious documents (the Qur'an and the hadith) to inspire political and social change. In the process, the fusion of religion and politics that characterizes revivalist Islam has impeded the development of both democracy and religious pluralism. An area of particular concern has been the reluctance of Muslim countries to implement international standards of human rights as defined in the United Nation's Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Since the adoption of the UDHR in 1948, there has been disagreement in the Muslim world about the relevance of this document for Islamic countries. The reactions have ranged from an angry rejection of human rights as destructive to Islam to claims that Islamic law guarantees the same rights as those embodied in the United Nation's documents. The two most influential international Islamic statements on Human Rights (the Universal Islamic Declaration on Human Rights and the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights) attempt to reconcile Islamic law and modern norms of human rights. These documents claim that human rights are an inherent part of Islam. Such arguments are cause for concern because since the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, documents proposing regional alternatives to international law almost always entail the weakening of international standards. The incorporation of the Cairo Declaration into the UN corpus means that what were once informal, regional obstacles to implementing the protections guaranteed by the UDHR have become formal, regional norms that legitimate Islamist restrictions on rights.