Dr. Iyad Amin Madani, the OIC’s new Secretary General, has issued a welcome and concise statement on human rights issues at a recent meeting of the OIC IPHRC (Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission). Noting the urgent need for a form of measurement of the distance between the Islamic model of human rights and local laws and practices of various UN member countries, he details a number of specific matters in which the United Nations Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR) has gone well beyond Islamic limitations, even though most OIC countries take part in the UDHR.
Attention needs to be given to the increasing use of the term “gender” in rights discussions, rather than the Islamically preferable “rights of men and women”. According to Dr. Madani, the term “gender” inevitably involves subjective issues of self-perception that really cannot be adjudicated within any particular legal framework. His comment recognizes one of the main problems in the interface of Muslim and secular powers, which is the recent tendency to re-define human rights terms in far more wide-ranging ways than were originally intended by the framers of the UDHR many years ago. These changes in interpretations of the Declaration’s position on family values, as well as legislation of sexual behaviour, have become a major obstacle to the peaceful coexistence of Muslim and secular societies, as well as the source of highly inappropriate interference of outside pressures into the internal affairs of Muslim societies.
The Islamic worldview mandates certain limitations in freedom of expression (i.e., laws against blasphemy), in the definition of permitted gender behaviours, in policies that would contradict Muslim constitutional and legal statutes, and in fact control the spread of extremism by refusing public recognition and legal protection for behaviour patterns that have always before been considered by some quarters as strictly private (“in the closet”), and never in the public domain.
In fact, there is a serious divide in the human community today, into those who still respect the sanctity and reputation of religious values, scriptures, and personalities, and those usually secular western societies which consider these issues strictly private and personal and not appropriate for public or legal adjudication beyond the United Nations efforts to secure agreements that are in fact not ideologically possible. This is why, according to Dr. Madani, ways must be found to insure the integrity of Islamic internal affairs against various extreme forms of secular disrespect and even attack.
Issues of women’s rights, such as, are often exaggerated by non-Muslims who have not understood that the religious element is a “red herring”, i.e., not the operant variable in the degradation of these rights. These are rather problems of inequity in education and access to resources that apply to the women of all poor communities, not only the Muslims. Dr. Madani insists that Islam has an exemplary historical position in stating and securing these rights, irrespective of extraneous difficulties in implementation due to earlier colonial influences, present-day neo-colonialization, and so on.
And finally, according to Dr. Madani, the OIC must find ways to neutralize those extreme voices that purport to represent Islam on the world stage, which may be recognized by an excess of stereotyping and stigmatization of people, communities, or even entire religions, in support of some particular economic or political policy. Although such voices will continue to be heard, they must not be given respect beyond their minority positions. Educated and mainstream Muslims everywhere must speak out in their moderation and appropriate criticism. The OIC will make every effort to give the broad-based consensus of educated and enlightened Muslims the credibility and respect they deserve.
MuslimUPRo wishes to congratulate Dr. Madani on his recent appointment, and his lucid statement of the important human rights issues-of-the-day.
Azril Mohd Amin is a lawyer and now chairs the MuslimUPRo, a coalition of Muslim NGOs-Observers Delegation to Malaysia’s Universal Periodic Review, at the United Nations Human Rights Council, Geneva, Switzerland.