Academic journal article The Journal of Baha'i Studies

Striving for Human Rights in an Age of Religious Extremism

Academic journal article The Journal of Baha'i Studies

Striving for Human Rights in an Age of Religious Extremism

Article excerpt

Bahá'u'lláh emphasizes, "Be anxiously concerned with the needs of the age ye live in" (Gleanings 213). Undoubtedly two such "needs" in this present age are dealing with religious extremism and clarifying the role of religion in human rights. The message of the Universal House of Justice to the world's religious leaders in April 2002 bemoans the fact that, "Tragically, organized religion, whose very reason for being entails service to the cause of brotherhood and peace, behaves all too frequently as one of the most formidable obstacles in the path; to cite a particular painful fact, it has long lent its credibility to fanaticism" (¶ 2).

This fanaticism has now grown into the relentless global scourge of violent extremism. Killings are prevalent around the world, and we see the horrors escalate from year to year with no end in sight. For example, take the story of Miriam:

On the night of April 12, 2014, 14-year-old Miriam was jolted from sleep by the sound of a door being kicked in. She knew what it meant: Boko Haram had arrived. She dove under a pile of clothes in a corner of her room and watched as armed men dragged her father and her two teenage brothers out of the house. The rapid gunfire that followed told her that they were dead.

The men then returned for Miriam, her mother, and her fiveyear-old brother. . . . Miriam . . . lived in the village of Marnaghafai, in northeastern Nigeria, where the militant Islamist group Boko Haram has operated since 2010. The group has killed an estimated 8,000 civilians, and another one million people have been forced to flee their homes. Since last year, the group has expanded to Cameroon, Chad, and Niger and has pledged allegiance to the self-proclaimed Islamic State (also known as ISIS).

. . . Boko Haram is perhaps best known for its widespread abduction of women and girls-an estimated 2,000 since 2009. The captives are raped, forced to marry Boko Haram fighters and convert to Islam, and, sometimes, brainwashed to become suicide bombers. The captives include the 276 schoolgirls from Chibok, whose abduction on April 14, 2014, sparked the #BringBackOurGirls campaign and galvanized global outrage. (Segun n.p.)

And, of course, these atrocities are not restricted to Nigeria. For example, UN figures show the thousands of civilians killed each month in the war against ISIS in Iraq. In January 2015, the UN put the number of deaths in the Syrian Civil War at 220,000. Over the last eighteen months, in Myanmar, some 90,000 Rohingya Muslims1 desperately attempting to escape religious extremism have handed themselves over to smugglers and traffickers. Thousands of these refugees die along on the way.2 ISIS terrorism in Tunisia has caused sixty deaths this year (2015), at the Bardo Museum in March and in Sousse in June. Sixty-seven people were killed in an attack by alShabab at the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi in September 2013. On 7 July 2005, suicide bombers in central London killed fifty-two people and injured more than 770 people.

This global scourge is also a grave concern for international human rights law. One international lawyer has commented, "If international lawyers do not engage [in addressing religious/Muslim fundamentalism], we risk making our field unnecessarily irrelevant in the face of some of the most significant international law questions of our time" (Bennoune 698). However, it is not inconceivable that discussion of national security laws against terrorism and other narrow concerns will get the global perspective of human rights law totally crowded out of the response to religious extremism.


In sketching an examination of human rights in an age of religious extremism from a Bahá'í perspective, let us consider four concerns. First, let us examine what human rights law is. Second, let us reflect on human rights law from a Bahá'í perspective. Third, let us observe whether the issue of human rights is consistent with the advancing oneness of humankind, and, if it is, where we can discern this coherence. …

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