Islam and Human Rights:
Ideas, Issues & Challenges

Introductory comments:
by Dr. Mohammad Omar Farooq

Islam is one of the leading faiths in the world and the global Muslim community is estimated at 1.2 billion. The contemporary Muslim world is characterized by major internal and external tensions. Poverty and illiteracy are widespread. Most Muslim-majority countries have authoritarian/autocratic political regimes. This is contrary to Islam, as it envisions and requires a constitutional, participatory and accountable form of governance. Throughout the history, Muslim societies have experienced a sustained legacy of autocratic/hereditary system of rule.

Human rights remains a serious problem in the Muslim-majority countries, exacerbated by manipulative western powers that abet or even protect abusive, unrepresentative and unpopular regimes. Such environment is conducive for serious human rights abuses, which sometimes have led even to genocides. Some genocides were committed by Muslim ruling elites against non-Muslims (genocide against Armenians – with role of the Ottomans that is seriously disputed) or against fellow Muslims/non-Muslim citizens (as in the case of genocide in 1971 in former East Pakistan).

Muslims also have been victims (e.g., in Bosnia, Chechniya, Kashmir, Palestine, etc.). Historically, Muslims may have been more victims than perpetrators. However, history also bears the testimony to the reality as to how easily ordinary people can be turned into monstrous mobs as instruments of various powers. Preventing Muslims from being either victims or perpetrators of human rights abuses or crimes against humanity, creating better awareness about human rights both in light of contemporary human experience as well as the Islamic principles and legacy is of paramount importance.

There are also those who are either misinformed or misguided in claiming that Islam itself is against human rights, which is completely untrue. If human rights situation is to improve in the Muslim world, the changes will come through the strong, universalist Islamic principles in favor of upholding human rights. For all these reasons, meaningful and vigorous discourse involving Islam and human rights is a must.

[Webmaster’s note: In this comments above there are references to Armenian genocide. Anyone familiar with the discourse about genocides would know that Armenian genocide and the Ottoman/Turkish role is most disputed. Those who want to have the story from both sides should also refer to Link #1, Link #2.]

Books/Documents Articles
  • Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im, (July 1996) Toward an Islamic Reformation: Civil Liberties, Human Rights, and International Law,  Syracuse Univ Pr.
  • Mayer, Ann Elizabeth (1998; 3rd ed.). Islam and Human Rights: Tradition and Politics. Westview Press.