Islam and Human Rights: Tradition and Politics

By Ann Elizabeth Mayer | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 10
Islam and Culture-based Resistance to Rights

The significance of Islamic culture for the reception of human rights in contemporary Muslim countries is not only a topic of interest to scholars of comparative law but also an issue that is of practical consequence both for proponents and opponents of human rights. A major preoccupation of contemporary Islamic thought is sorting out the relationship between Islamic law and the international legal system, which has been identified by some Muslims with a hostile Western civilization. The principle of the supremacy of international law is a given in the modern international order. The reality of this supremacy confronts Muslims at a time when there are calls for the revival of Islamic law and efforts to develop elements of the Islamic legal tradition to encompass contemporary problems. This is occurring as part of a general effort to marshall tradition in order to withstand the inroads of Western cultural influences, which threaten to overwhelm local culture and obliterate Islamic institutions. The emergence of Islamic schemes of human rights may be seen as one manifestation of ongoing processes of Islamic cultural reassertion, processes that are reactive in character.

Lacking the legitimacy of democratic governments, oppressive regimes in Muslim countries consider Muslims' growing tendency to demand the observance of international human rights to be a threat to those regimes' dominance. Regimes whose entire legitimacy is tied up with the imposition of premodern shari'a rules are particularly threatened by the ascendancy of international human rights models. They face a dual crisis of legitimacy in which both the oppressive, undemocratic political orders and the interpretations of Islam offered by conservative defenders of the premodern shari'a are vulnerable to challenges based on the model of international human rights. The perfect example of a regime struggling with this dual crisis of legitimacy is Saudi Arabia, where both the autocratic ruling family and a powerful

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