IfI Press Release on the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam from August, 1990

Institut für Islamfragen

The “Organization of the Islamic Conference” (OIC) Intends to Subordinate Human Rights to Sharia

Bonn (August 23, 2010) Twenty years ago, the “Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam” was signed by the forty-five foreign ministers of the “Organization of the Islamic Conference” (OIC). Therein, human rights are subjected to Sharia. The scholar of Islamic studies, Prof. Christine Schirrmacher, from the Institute of Islamic Studies, calls for a stronger commitment on the part of the liberal-democratic states in the rejection of Islamic-defined restrictions of human rights. Universal human rights, so Schirrmacher, may not be undermined through particularistic “human rights”.

According to the preamble of the declaration, the Muslim community is the “best nation”. For this reason, it should take over the leading role in the “solution of the constant problems” of “materialistic civilization”. The OIC understands the individual articles of the declaration as “binding commandments of God”. All freedoms are, for this reason, guaranteed only within the limits of Sharia, that is, the relevant instructions of Islamic law (Articles 24 and 25). This stands in clear contradiction to the “General Declaration of Human Rights” issued by the United Nations in 1948. Most of the, in the meantime, fifty-seven OIC states have signed this declaration also, although they officially reject the binding effect of these, in their view, human-made laws of Jewish-Christian character.

The Human Rights Commission of the United Nations has allowed a vote, in the consequence of which any form of criticism of religiously based acts at variance with human rights is inadmissible. Pakistan, in the name of the OIC, was successful in preventing a discussion of Sharia-justified human rights violations in Islamic countries in the Human Rights Commission.

A look at the individual articles of the Cairo Declaration shows the particular aims of the intended Islamization of human rights.

Women: Equally “Worthy”, but not Endowed with Equal Rights

Article 5, for example, guarantees men and women the right of marriage. According to it, they may “not be deterred from it through any kind of limitations on the basis of race, color of skin, or nationality”. “Religion” is lacking here because, according to Sharia, Muslim men may, of course, marry non-Muslim (Jewish or Christian) women, but Muslim women may not have non-Muslim husbands. Other discriminations against women justified by Sharia in family, inheritance, and evidentiary law also are assessed by Muslim apologists as not being in violation of human rights.

Physical Integrity Guaranteed only by Conduct in Conformity with Sharia

In Article 2d, it is stated: “The right of physical integrity is guaranteed. Every state is obligated to protect this right, and it is forbidden to violate this right except when a reason prescribed by Sharia exists.” Thus, for example, according to the majority opinion of Muslim legal scholars, the husband may punish his wife (more or less severely) when she is disobedient. In individual Islamic countries such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Sudan, and in parts of Nigeria, the amputation of the hand in cases of theft and stoning in cases of adultery are possible. In the course of a campaign by the Interior Ministry in Egypt in 2009 to force compliance with the demands of the fasting month of Ramadan, hundreds of people (also non-Muslims) were arrested because they had eaten or smoked on the street. In this way, the right of citizens (also of non-Muslim citizens) to physical integrity is linked with compliance with Sharia norms.

“Religion in Its Pure Nature” precludes a Change of Religion with the Treat of the Death Penalty

In Article 10, it is stated:

“Islam is religion in its pure nature. It is forbidden to exert any kind of pressure on a human being or to exploit his poverty or ignorance in order to convert him to another religion or to atheism.”

The prohibition prevailing in nearly all Islam-dominated countries against non-Islamic, especially Christian, mission is justified in a quite similar way. The portrayal of Islam as a kind of pure, unadulterated original religion of human beings reflects the conviction of Muslim scholars that there cannot be any understandable, reasonable grounds for turning away from Islam and to another religion. For this reason, the majority of the Islamic scholarly world to the present day justifies the death penalty for those who discernibly turn away from Islam and thus, in its view, betrays the foundation of state and society. Consequently, the right to life in Article 2a also stands under the reservation of Sharia:

“… it is forbidden to take another person’s life, except when Sharia demands it.”

Freedom of Opinion only Within the Limits of Sharia: Criticism of Islam is Tabu

In Article 22a and b, it says:

“Every human being has the right to the free expression of opinion, so far as he thereby does not violate the principles of Sharia. Every human being has the right to champion the cause of justice, promote the good, and warn against injustice and evil in accord with the norms of Sharia.”

Every critical reflection upon the norms of Sharia or the model character of Muhammad, understood as eternally valid, thus, is not covered by the freedom of opinion defined here. On the contrary: In Pakistan, the blasphemy law that foresees the death penalty for insulting Muhammad is repeatedly used as an instrument for the persecution of religious minorities.

Art and Scholarship Protected only When They Further Islamic Values

In Article 22c, it is stated further:

“Information is vital for society. However, it may not be employed and abused in injuring the sanctity and dignity of the Prophet, eroding moral and ethical values, and dividing society, corrupting it, harming it, or weakening its faith.”

A religiously as well as also politically motivated censorship thus is given free reign, and a critical discussion of Islamic-defined roots and values is nipped in the bud. Consequently, art and scholarship also are subject to the guidelines of Sharia (Article 16). The murder threats against Salman Rushdie after the publication of his book The Satanic Verses (1988) and the violent protests in many parts of the world against the Muhammad caricatures in the Danish newspaper Jyllands Posten showed to what such a limited definition of artistic and scholarly freedom can lead.

No Alternative to the Renunciation of the Claim to Political Supremacy

Schirrmacher identifies two reasons above all for the strong resistance to a fundamental reform of this Islamic conception of human rights. On the one hand, the uncompromising acceptance of the understanding of human rights that underlies the declaration of the United Nations would mean the renunciation of the claim to political supremacy of the regimes founded upon Islam. (For the OIC, “Islamophobia” represents the “most terrible form of terrorism”, and critics of Islam’s claim to political supremacy endanger world peace, in this view.) On the other hand, the model character of Muhammad, understood to the present as comprehensive and timeless, and his seventh-century politics would be qualified.

There are Muslim scholars, to the present almost exclusively at Western universities, who already call for a fundamental separation of state and religion in Islam and a non-political exegesis of the Koran. “The liberal-democratic states, for this reason, need the courage to voice a well-founded and resolute contradiction when the states of the OIC attempt to block precisely this necessary reform process on the regional as well as the global level”, so Schirrmacher.

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