The 'Fundamentalist' Agenda for Human Rights: The Sudan and Algeria

By Abdelmoula, Adam M. | Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ), Winter 1996 | Go to article overview

The 'Fundamentalist' Agenda for Human Rights: The Sudan and Algeria


Abdelmoula, Adam M., Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ)


This essay contends that expressions such as "Islamic fundamentalism," "Islamic revivalism," "Islamic absolutism," "political Islam," and "Islamic reawakening," taken independently, do not provide a sufficient description of the phenomenon. The author proposes the use of an alternative expression "Islamic exclusivity" because: (i) these groups seek to monopolize Islam and exclude other groups from its arena. They do not consider differing groups and parties that also invoke the Islamic rhetoric within their respective countries to be Islamists (or sufficiently Islamist). (ii) They call for the application of ancient codes of Islam from a monist perspective that excludes all that amends or contradicts them. (iii) The term gives some sense of the type of political organization these groups adopt an exclusive organization the membership of which is not open to any ordinary or average Muslim. (iv) Although they rarely speak about their plans, these groups adopt all-embracing programs which are exclusive in their nature and attempt to provide solutions to all the problems of humanity. These programs are not necessarily written, in many instances they can only be inferred from the discourse of each movement.

Although Western in origin, the concept of "human rights" is increasingly gaining universality. It presupposes the existence of a universal human nature common to all peoples, emphasizes the dignity and rights of the individual, and implies the need for a democratic society as a necessary atmosphere in which those rights can be enjoyed. Human rights, as embodied in international declarations and various covenants and instruments, are secular in nature and transcendental to religious, cultural, ethnic and economic boundaries.

There have been many attempts to establish human rights documents which parallel that enunciated by the International Declaration of Human Rights. These attempts are usually premised on cultural, regional, and/or religious uniqueness. In the Arab and Islamic Worlds, manifestations of these attempts include the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam, the Bill of the Arab Charter on Human Rights, and so forth. However, these various attempts are either a reaction to the growing influence of international human rights standards developed in the United Nations' context, or are supplements to them. In both cases, they emulate the general structure and language of the international human rights instruments. To the extent that they are a reaction, these attempts either accept, in toto, or reject, in toto, the philosophical foundations of the international instruments. As I will explain later, the so-called "Islamic fundamentalists," are among those who challenge the very foundations of these international instruments and portray them as a product of Christian culture and Western imperialism.

ISLAM AND HUMAN RIGHTS: WHICH ISLAM?

In recent years there has been a remarkable increase in the number of studies focusing on the interaction of Islam and human rights. These studies follow three lines of argument. First: That religion, whether it is Islam, Christianity or any other, is an intolerant institution that brooks no opposition or constructive criticism. Islam has received substantial attention from the proponents of this argument. This view has recently been supported by a conclusion made by Mahnoush Arsanjani who claims that human rights violations should not be justifiable on the basis of compatibility of the act that produced them with "true" Islam.(1) Other authors agree with this argument to the extent that it refers to Islam as it exists in the scriptures.(2) However, they also recognize other interpretations of those scriptures that are more conducive to human rights. Second: That human rights as they are stated in international law are products of Western culture and imperialism, alien to Islam and Islamic societies, and are materialistic in content. …

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