Human rights are a universal issue that applies to countries and groups around the world. The issue of human rights is also both controversial and sensitive as it applies to humanity around the world. However, the issue of human rights has since become entangled with political agendas around the world. For instance, some recent global conflicts around the world have been pegged on the human rights issues whilst having political undertones. Among the recent issues in the topic of human rights is the question whether the religion of Islam is a natural repressor of human rights (Mayer 2003).
Consequently, there is a big debate as to whether it is possible for an Islamic country to comply with international human rights whilst adhering to Sharia Laws and other religious beliefs. On the other hand, there is a growing concern that most Western powers have dominated the human rights issue and they are using it as a tool of furthering their own agendas. Cingranelli and Richards (2009) observe that among the Muslim community the human rights issue is a ‘foreign’ agenda that is also a source of conflict on various fronts. Most adherents of the Muslim religion also have trouble understanding how the Western ideologies became the benchmarks of human rights around the world.
There is a need to unearth and explore the issue of human rights within the context of Islam. For instance, across most Western countries Islam is considered as a ‘repressor’ of human rights. Some of the practices that are central to the religion of Islam are also the source of conflict across the world including some forms of punishments such as the “Hudud” and “Qisas”. Some scholars have gone to great lengths to prove that Islam and human rights are incompatible. On the other hand, other researchers such as Mayer (2003) find that “it cannot be concluded that Islamic political culture influences human rights practices in Muslim countries because previous research has not considered other factors that affect human rights practices or compared the human rights records of Islamic countries with those of other developing nation”.
Consequently, both religious and political cultures play a significant role in shaping the human rights landscape of country. This paper explores the human rights issue in Islam by analyzing the influence that Islam as a religion has on human rights. The research will touch on both Muslim and Non-Muslim countries by exploring their political, social, and economic variables. The research will seek to establish the truth behind the relationship between Islam and Human rights.
About the Study
The element of religion is not yet a satisfactory element when gauging the correlation between Islam and human rights. In a previous study, Cingranelli and Richards (2009) used the element of Christianity when gauging the issue of human rights but this variable proved to be inconsequential to that research. Poe and Tate (2004) also found the element of religion to be an insignificant variable in when studying about human rights patterns across the world. The religion indicator when studying about human rights issues has been faulted because its results vary when depending with religions.
For instance, Christianity has never been a reliable indicator of human rights issue. In addition, most human rights issues are influenced by political elements. Furthermore, it is not possible to determine how much the predominant religion can influence the political instruments of a certain country. For example, “a country might be 100 percent Christian but Christianity might have little influence on government practice and policy” (Cingranelli & Richards 2009, p. 407). This study takes a similar approach in the evaluation of how Islam relates to human rights issues. Another important issue is to evaluate the claim that Islam facilitates or sponsors systems that transgress human rights. Not all rights that apply to a population can be interfered with by the government and/or political systems.
Stakeholders in Islam have voiced their concerns regarding the allegations concerning their religion and human rights. The most common defense against human rights violations by Muslims is that “individuals will benefit more from obeying the government and following “Sharia”, than they would from having certain rights safeguarded by law….thus, Islam protects human dignity through the performance of duties and obligations rather than through the protection of unalienable right” (Mayer 2003, p. 407). The study also looks at regimes that went from partially Islamic regimes to full Sharia-compliant systems. Overall, this study seeks to explore the issue of Islam and human rights on various levels and through a cross-sectional analysis.
Problems of the Study
The main hypothesis in this study is that Islam does not have a significant impact on the institution of human rights among other problems. Overall, this study aims to address these problems:
- The influence that the political culture of Islam has on the institution of human rights- It is apparent that there are many other factors that influence human rights issues other than religion including ethnicity, language issues, and sectarian influences.
- The existence of sectarian, political, or ethnic divisions within a country supersedes the influence that religion might have on human rights issues.
- Whenever there exists a minority ethnic group within larger political systems, there is a likelihood of higher instances of human rights transgressions- Most of these human rights issues revolve around the allocation of resources.
- Wealthier countries are more likely to have a better track record of ensuring human rights for all their people and vice versa.
- Economic downturns are more likely to be accompanied by poor developments in human rights issues.
- Lack of adequate social mobilization within a certain population often leads to poor enforcement of human rights.
- Rapid processes of modernization or globalization also encompass higher incidences of human rights abuse.
- Without democracy, it is difficult for any religious/political system to police and enforce human rights issues.
Limitations of the Study
There are various limitations that apply to this study on the relationship between Islam and human rights. The research mainly seeks to declassify the Muslim ideologies in respect to human rights issues. One limitation to this study is that it lacks comprehensiveness. For instance, it is almost impossible to address Islam as a homogeneous factor because it has other important factors that apply to it both personal and institutional. One researcher refers to this issue of comprehensiveness by noting that “the implementation of Islam has various dimensions including Islamic jurisprudence, use of Koran, Sunna, and Hadith as the guiding principles of governance” (Cingranelli & Richards 2009, p. 408).
Another limitation to this study involves authenticity, not all literature, methodologies, and approaches that are used in this study can be verified. The prevailing approach is that “Islam is a movement that seeks to return to traditional and indigenous practices” (Park 2007, p. 411). Consequently, some of the materials that can be used for this study contain underlying sentiments of this nature thereby the question as to their authenticity. In addition, it is almost impossible to measure the authenticity of all the resources that are used for this study accurately. For example, when gauging the Islamic element it is important to consider the manner in which a certain group accepts or declines ‘foreign’ concepts, institutions, and legal frameworks within the Islamic context.
Tools of the Study
In the process of conducting research for this study, several variables will be used in respect to the main hypotheses.
- Global Islamic-law surveys are the first tool for this study because their interaction with human rights dictates the direction of this research. There are various varieties of Islamic law and they are all applied on varying degrees depending on other pertinent factors. As used in this study, Islamic law is subject to various considerations and interpretations.
- Democracy indexes of countries will also be applied to this research because it encompasses both a regular notion and an influence of human rights patterns. Some elements of Islam encompass democracy while others utilize liberalism as a central concept.
- Survey of wealth and economic change among countries is another tool for assessing the patterns of human rights within Islam (Poe & Tate 2004). The Study used the gross national product of countries as the measure of economic success of various countries.
- Modernization and development index of various regions was also used as a tool for gauging the level of human rights in relation to Islam. It is difficult to measure modernization and development but this process can be optimized by concentrating on social mobilization and human disruptions that often result from economic growth.
Procedures of the Study
The procedure of the study involved an assessment of 15 regions whose majority of the population was Muslim (at least 75% of each region had to have a Muslim population). A matching number of developing regions was also sampled in the study. The developing regions were mostly picked from non-Muslim populations. Afterwards the samples from the Muslim dominant regions were compared with the ones from non-Muslim regions with the view of determining whether there were significant differences between the human rights patterns of the two regions.
The developing regions were picked in accordance with the criteria in which the World Bank classifies countries and regions. The finer details that were involved in the selection of the samples included political stability and rate of economic changes. In this regard, intense (out of the norm) political culture was considered to be an indicator of volatility in human rights patterns. After the two groups of samples were compared, it was possible to identify how various cases were aligning. The only variable that was factored in this research process was political activity within the sampled regions. The findings of the study were then analyzed whereby recommendations were offered to coincide with these findings. Finally, conclusions were made in reference to the research questions and hypotheses.
Significance of the Study
There is a lot of tension that exists between the Western countries and Islamic teachings on one side and human rights on the other. Consequently, various stakeholders in the West have castigated some of the teachings that are attributed to Islam albeit on different levels. On the other hand, most Muslims consider talk on human rights to be a Western agenda that can be attributed to imperialist tendencies. This study aims to create a scholarly middle ground between the two parties.
One Muslim scholar reckons that in regards to human rights issues “the Western world and the Western civilization should pay attention to the matter and note that Islam has dealt with this issue from many centuries back” (Park 2007, p. 410). Consequently, while most of the Western civilizations consist of new ideas, the ideologies of the Islam are themselves many centuries old. The results of this study can support this ideology because they indicate that Islam has not contributed to human rights transgressions although it has made efforts to change the overall situation.
This study also aims at making clarification that Islam is not a contributing factor when it comes to human rights abuses. However, issues such as ethnicity and economic development have far reaching impacts on human rights. Most Muslims point out that the Koran upholds human rights in the best way possible. The stereotype about human rights and Islam are mostly perpetuated by elements that are outside the Muslim faith. Some of these factors are contained in the ‘recommendations’ section of this paper. Currently, Islam has come under fire because of the actions of some elements who owe their allegiance to the religion and its teachings.
For instance, it has become clear that most Westerners have trouble distinguishing between the actions of Jihadists and Islam in general. On the other hand, most Muslims have pointed out that the actions of the Jihadist elements are not reflective of Islam as a religion. The research that was conducted in this study alleviates the weight that is often placed on the Muslim faith in regards to human rights transgressions on human rights by highlighting the other factors that contribute to this problem within the Muslim and non-Muslim regions.
Aims of the Study
This study provides useful insights on how human rights abuses exist within the peripheries of Islam. For instance, there is concern that most individuals have made a wrong connection between Islam and human rights issues. For example, one author alludes to this issue by noting that “it is a common belief that Islamic-based government, when serving as an ideological foundation for the government, facilitates the poor protection of human rights” (Mayer 2003). Nevertheless, empirical data would point out that the intertwining of Islam and human rights can only thrive as an anecdote or a ‘below-par’ theory. The study also aims to categorize all the other factors that contribute to poor human rights practices within both Muslim and non-Muslim regions. Regions such as the Sudan have proved that human rights abuses are not centralized to religion but other factors such as political environment, ethnicity, and economic wealth.
There are various research questions that apply to this study including:
- What variations exist between countries that are predominantly Muslim in nature and those that are non-Muslim? – The main issue in this research is to identify if there is any tangible evidence that can connect the practice of Islam to human rights issues. Answering these questions indicates whether the research question was successful. The question is how other religions affect human rights issues given that all religions have similar effects on the populous.
- What changes can be accrued to the human rights patterns between developing countries and Muslim regions? It is likely that the existence of various religions contributes towards the existence of poor human rights practices but only the above research question can resolve these concerns efficiently. This coefficient can only be discovered by seeking the effects of low economic development on the prevalence of human rights.
- How does the political climate of a certain region contribute towards its human rights patterns? It is important to include the element of political climate into the research because in the past it has proved to be influential when gauging human rights records. Political climate can also assist in drawing distinctions between human rights and religion.
- Does Christianity contribute to better human rights records? In the current global environment, Christianity is often considered to be the antithesis of Islam in regards to human rights records. Consequently, there is a need to gauge whether Christianity has the opposite effects that Islam is assumed to have on human rights issues.
Islam as a religion is of great influence to the manner in which individuals react to their subsequent environments. Therefore, the teachings of Islam dictate how individuals behave towards others in their respective societies. However, there was a time when Islam as religion did not exist although human rights issues were still applicable to the then societies. Before Islam, religions such as Christianity, Buddhism, and Judaism featured codes of conduct that alluded to human rights within their teachings. Islam borrows its teaching from both Judaism and Christianity. Some of the human rights that are attributed to Islam existed before the religion. For instance, both Christianity and Judaism regard women as lesser citizens. This example indicates that religion is only as good as social norms when considering its effects on human rights.
It is observed that Islam is not only a set of religious beliefs and norms but it also consists of legal concepts, social ethics, logical thinking, political elements, and acceptable behaviors among others (Munir 2008). Consequently, the institution of human rights is adequately accounted for within the Islamic systems. Islam advocates for human rights through the concepts of equality and human dignity.
The concept of human rights as it originated from the West and spread towards most parts of the world is also important to this study. For instance, the “concept of human rights in the West was only enforced within the society after the Second World War” (Mayer 2003. p. 407). The Western idea of human rights is also subject to various interpretations that fall outside the ideology of democracy. Consequently, it is often questioned as to whether the idea of European human rights can exist outside the institutions of democracy. In addition, opponents of Western ideologies have trouble interpreting what ‘rights’ stand for in regards to human rights.
Body of Research
Currently, the issue of human rights in Islam is elicits mixed feelings from various stakeholders across the world. The tension between human rights issues in Islam takes various forms including the existence of great divisions between the Middle Eastern countries and Western powers.
Islamic Law is a norm that is embedded in the constitutions of most countries that are predominantly Muslim. The issue of Islamic law and human rights has been raised by both countries and non-governmental organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. The radar of human rights in relation to Islamic Law interacts with various factors including gay rights, marital laws, and freedom of speech among others. However, the confines of Islamic Law have deep rooted aspects of human rights. In the Koran, “God commands justice, doing good, and generosity towards relatives and He forbids what is shameful, blameworthy, and oppressive” (Munir 2008, p. 6). The rights of individuals across regions that are predominantly Muslim can be examined in relation to how they appeal to the various demographics and rights’ categories.
Muslims Treatment of Non-Muslims
Critics of Islam cite the Koran and its disparaging outlook of non-Muslims as the first aspect of blatant inequality within the faith. For instance, the Jihadist elements base their core beliefs on the fact that the Koran calls upon them to go to war with non-believers in order to ensure the propagation of Islam. However, research indicates that countries that have high ratios of Muslims to non-Muslims have lesser incidences of human rights abuses as compared to those that have higher numbers of non-Muslim population.
The International Human Rights Rank Indicator reveals that some of the countries that have high numbers of Muslims such as Bahrain, Kuwait, and Mauritania have impressive human rights records. On the other hand, some countries that have similar high levels of Muslim population including Afghanistan, Indonesia, and Syria are ranked poorly when it comes to human rights issues. Therefore, one can conclude that the dominance of Islam in certain regions does not contribute to poor human rights issues.
Transgressions of women rights are not central to Islam but they are manifested all across the world. Under Islamic Law, “women have the right to own property and businesses, engage in financial transactions, vote, receive inheritance, obtain an education and participate in legal and political affairs” ” (Munir 2008, p. 7). Failure to make women rights a reality is dependent on the political and developmental progress of any society. The Koran insists on both men and women pursuing righteousness on equal measure.
Summary of Findings
The research study found that there was a general alignment of the cases between political elements and human rights. In the sampled regions, it was found out that most of the regions that have recorded the highest instances of human rights transgressions in the past including Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan do not function under the Sharia laws. Instead, most of these countries operate under democratic regimes that have the involvement of citizens. The findings also revealed that countries with strict Islamic systems also recorded high incidences of human rights.
Consequently, it is safe to assume that high political activity and not religion is responsible for an increase in bad human rights’ practices. On the other hand, the countries that had stable and tolerant governments performed well in regards to human rights. The results also revealed that predominantly Muslim countries have higher incidences of human rights abuse as compared to the countries with mixed populations. This indicates a system that pits Muslims against their fellow believers.
The findings also had strong indications that Islam does not necessarily contribute to bad human rights practices. The results indicated that the element of Islam has a negligible effect on human rights among predominantly countries. However, this coefficient was not a factor when the full sample was analyzed. Therefore, it can be concluded that there the influence of Islam on human rights is negligible at best. Islam is not an enough reason to attribute to the discourses on human rights issues.
Reputable institutions cannot use religion as a basis for justifying human rights abuses among various countries. These findings also reveal that elements such as economic downturns, political instabilities, and levels of distribution have a much higher influence on the institutions of human rights. Furthermore, it is important to evaluate which of the other analyzed factors have the highest influence on human rights. This further analysis is occasioned by the fact that religion is not directly responsible for the repression of human rights across the predominantly Muslim populations.
Further analysis of the study’s results attributes poor human rights practices to the need for political control whereby governments seek to remain in power by oppressing their critics and detractors. On the other hand, it is apparent that democracy (whether it is practiced in a Muslim or a non-Muslim environment) is responsible for the promotion of human rights issues. These findings answer the research question as to how political systems work towards the sustenance of political systems. The existence of democracy has far-reaching effects on both Muslim and non-Muslim environments. Interestingly, it is apparent that Islam does not influence the levels of democracy in various regions. Therefore, Muslims do not treat their fellow adherents any differently than they treat people from other religions in democratic environments.
Non-Muslim countries that have substantial wealth reserves tend to have a greater affinity for upholding their residents’ human rights. On the other hand, predominantly Muslim wealthy regions are not likely to uphold the rights of all citizens in an equal manner. Ergo, wealth is not a significant factor in Islam regions in relation to human rights issues. The first finding can be attributed to the fact that wealth is not highly regarded within the Islamic environment. Furthermore, affluent citizens have higher stakes in their governments’ activities hence their affinity to democratic practices. It can be assumed that Muslim citizens in wealthier countries have higher tolerance for oppression because they are financially stable and they can withstand bad human rights practices.
- Islam does not facilitate the abuse of human rights, as the variable representing Islamic regions is consistently and statistically insignificant regardless of all the doctrinal and academic differentiations between Islamic and ‘Western notions’ of human rights, Islamic countries still support similar standards as the other developing countries: therefore it is difficult to use Islamic Sharia or culture to justify human rights abuses among these populations (Price, 2002).
- Regimes “have used Islam as a justification for censorship, banning associations, persecution of religious minorities, and the denial of certain rights to women…these activities are more related to the repression of civil liberties than the abuse of fundamental human rights” (Munir 2008, p. 7). Henceforth, one can conclude that most of the governments that are based on Islam have poor performance in guaranteeing civil liberties.
- Henceforth, one can conclude that most of the governments that are based on Islam have poor performance in guaranteeing civil liberties.
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