Islam and Human Rights: Tradition and Politics

By Ann Elizabeth Mayer | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 1
Comparisons of Rights Across Countries

In the Muslim Middle East there has been a strong but mixed response to the ideals of human rights. Formulations of human rights both on the individual and the governmental levels have often been in Islamic terms, suggesting that Islam is a critical factor affecting Muslims' receptivity to human rights concepts. It is this Islamic dimension of the reaction that is analyzed here.

The Islamic religion was a deeply ingrained feature of the culture of the traditional Middle East. In the course of the difficult modernization process to which all Muslim countries have been subjected, traditional societies in the Middle East have been undergoing transformations that have affected both those societies and their Islamic institutions. Even as the societies involved move through transitional stages en route to modernization, Islam retains great influence, so that the confrontation of modernity on the social level has also become a confrontation of Islam and modernity on the theological and ideological levels.1 International human rights have percolated through Middle Eastern societies at a time when traditional Islam is being challenged by new formulations of Islamic doctrine. Responsive to the changing realities in the Muslim world, these new formulations accommodate the evolving attitudes and aspirations of Islam's followers, which include hopes of greater freedom. The advances of the modernization process have exacerbated Muslims' resentment of the arbitrary, repressive, and despotic governments of their countries and have prompted the growth of movements supporting democratization and human rights.2

The issue of the relationship between the Islamic legal tradition and human rights, which is of great theoretical interest, has gained in practical significance in the wake of the Islamic resurgence that began after the Arab-Israeli war of 1967. Prior to that time, the issue seemed to be academic because the movement toward secularization of legal

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