Islam and Human Rights: Tradition and Politics

By Ann Elizabeth Mayer | Go to book overview

Preface

Perspicacious readers will probably note that the title of this book is a misnomer. A more accurate title might be "A Comparison of Selected Civil and Political Rights Formulations in International Law and in Actual and Proposed Rights Schemes Purporting to Embody Islamic Principles, with a Critical Appraisal of the Latter in Terms of International Law and Islamic Jurisprudence." I confess that the actual title stands as it is simply because it is the kind of rubric that people tend to consult when looking for material on human rights in Muslim countries. That is, it has been selected for purely practical reasons despite its not being very informative.

The reference to "Islam" in the book title is potentially misleading, since I repudiate the commonly held view that Islam by itself determines the attitudes one finds in the Muslim world on human rights issues. In fact, I see Islam as only one factor in the reception of human rights in the Middle East. The reason why this book focuses on Islamic responses to international human rights principles is that my own research interests happen to center on the role of Islamic law in contemporary Middle Eastern societies.

A central thesis of this book is that one should not speak of "Islam" and human rights as if Islam were a monolith or as if there existed one settled Islamic human rights philosophy that caused all Muslims to look at rights in a particular way. The precepts of Islam, like those of Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism, and other major religions possessed of long and complex traditions, are susceptible of interpretations that can and do create conflicts between religious doctrine and human rights norms or that reconcile the two. In reality, one cannot predict the position that a person will take on a human rights problem simply on the basis of the person's religious affiliation -- and this is as true of Muslims as of members of other faiths. Even where the discussion is limited, as it is here, to Muslims living in the area stretching from North Africa to Pakistan, Muslims' attitudes toward human rights run the gamut from total rejection to wholehearted embrace.

-xi-

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