Islam and Human Rights: Tradition and Politics

By Ann Elizabeth Mayer | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 4
Islamic Restrictions on Human Rights

One of the most striking features in all the Islamic human rights schemes is the use of Islamic criteria to qualify human rights principles. The consistency of the pattern of restrictions shows that the authors of Islamic rights schemes are aware of the scope of the freedoms offered under international human rights and that they share the view that these freedoms are excessive. They have decided that these excessive freedoms should be cut down to their appropriate size by the imposition of limits -- ones that they present as being inherent in Islam and Islamic law. Provisions in the Islamic human rights schemes reflect the thesis that only when Islamic restrictions are used to circumscribe international human rights do human rights have a proper scope. There is, however, no explicit articulation of this idea.

Reducing the scope of rights according to Islamic criteria opens the door to many questions. Since there was no human rights tradition in Islamic civilization, there are no historical antecedents that establish exactly what limits -- if any -- Islamic criteria impose on the range of civil and political rights afforded by international human rights law. The Islamic human rights schemes avoid clarifying exactly what these restrictions on rights would entail. The ambiguity in these rights formulations, in which rights are qualified by reference to vague "Islamic" limitations that are not specifically described and that are not fixed in Islamic jurisprudence, turns out to be one of their distinguishing characteristics. The significance of these Islamic criteria circumscribing the otherwise applicable international human rights norms is evaluated in this chapter.


Permissible Qualifications of Rights and Freedoms

International law recognizes that many rights protections are not absolute and may be suspended or qualified in exceptional circumstances

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