Mausoleum of Imam Shafii in Cairo © Konevi (shutterstock)
The UN Declaration of Human Rights applies without exception, everywhere and to everyone – or does it?? 30 years ago, the Islamic states adopted their own declaration. Not much remained of individual freedom.
From the beginning, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights did not have an easy time in the Islamic world. Political and religious leaders increasingly perceived the 1948 U.N. document – a lesson from the crimes of World War II – as alienating culture from Western domination. Although at that time also Islamic countries had worked on it.
For Muslims: only Islamic "divine" law
Re-Islamization in the Near and Middle East since the 1970s has caused the Charter, with its emphasis on individual freedoms, to lose further ground. The representative of the Islamic Republic of Iran explained it this way before the UN in 1981: The set of rules is the secular interpretation of Judeo-Christian traditions. For Muslims, however, only the Islamic, "divine" law applies.
"Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam."
Finally, 30 years ago, on 5. August 1990, the then 45 member states of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) adopted a counter-draft: the "Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam.". The document cites Sharia law as the "only competent source for the interpretation or explanation of each article". The liberal goals of the UN Charter, such as equality of all before the law, regardless of gender or religion, the right to physical integrity and freedom of expression, were thus turned upside down by the authors – in the tone of religious conviction.
For example, the preamble states that all people are subject to Allah, who "created the Islamic Ummah as the best nation". This was intended to "provide leadership to humanity, confused by competitiveness and ideologies, and in solving the perennial problems of this materialistic civilization.". One would rather not imagine the following 25 articles as a global solution approach.
No freedom of conscience or religion
For example, one looks in vain for the public "right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion" declared in the UN Charter in the Cairo Declaration. There, it is only forbidden to diade Muslims from their faith. Behind this is the conviction of Muslim scholars that there can be no reasonable reason to doubt Islam. Even the free expression of opinion is only allowed "as long as it does not violate the principles of Sharia" or "divide society".
The situation is similarly dubious with regard to gender equality. The Cairo document granted women the same "dignity" as men – but not the same rights. However, the woman has rights and duties, while the man is responsible for the upkeep of the family. The Declaration declares the right to life and bodily integrity inviolable "except for a reason prescribed by Sharia law".
So when homosexuals are hanged, adulteresses stoned, apostates beheaded, beer drinkers flogged or critical bloggers imprisoned in Riyadh, Tehran or Kabul, the authorities can invoke "Islamic human rights"? Finally, these punishments are covered by Sharia law, depending on the interpretation.
Sharia law is "symbolic document"
The Cairo Declaration is not binding under international law. Mathias Rohe, a legal and Islamic scholar from Erlangen, recommends not overestimating its importance. He calls the declaration a "symbolic document," a traditionalist Islamic response to the political dominance of the West. Its Sharia proviso is so vague in view of the diversity of Islamic law-making that the declaration has practically no meaning. "Plakativ said: one can defend on the basis of Sharia justifications human rights, but also trample," said Rohe. However, the declaration could help where even the most minimal rights guaranteed by Sharia law are disregarded.
Ultimately, the laws in the individual signatory countries are decisive for the state of human rights. And here the spectrum ranges from rigid Sharia states like Saudi Arabia or Iran to relatively liberal systems like Tunisia. In addition, non-Islamic states such as China or Russia are known to take the UN Human Rights Charter hardly seriously.