Stop demonising human rights

Syerleena Abdul Rashid
The Malaysian Insider
21 August 2015

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak said this at an international Islamic forum: “Even though universal human rights have been defined… in our country, human rights are defined in the context of Islam. Though it is difficult to defend internationally, we must defend our definition of human rights.”

Throughout the forum, he continued to demonise several communities – especially the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered – which echoed the diatribe he unleashed at the National Quran Recital Competition a little over a year ago, where both ideals of humanism and liberalism were reduced to being “retrograde as it glorifies human wants and desires”.

Islam has always been a religion that upheld peacefulness, egalitarian values and humanism. Islam is never the type of religion that curbs personal liberties and freedom.

By definition, Islam in Arabic means submission and surrender to Allah, the Almighty. The Quran upholds the sanctity and absolute value of human life (Surah 6: 151) and reiterated that “the life of each individual is comparable to that of an entire community and, therefore, should be treated with the utmost care” (Surah 5: 32) – both clearly representing the essence of universal values.

So, when we articulate human rights in Islam, what we really mean is that these rights have been granted by God. They were not, by any means, decided by any feudal lord or any governmental council or dictator. Such rights granted by them can also be withdrawn in the same manner in which they were granted, to which these men (and sometimes women) can distort or even openly violate these rights as they please.

But since human rights in Islam are often seen as being second to holiness, no government council in the world has the authority to make any amendments. And, because of this, Islam puts the highest emphasis on the importance of attaining knowledge. In Islam, the intellectual disposition of humankind is “made up of mind or intelligence or reasoning power” based on logic and moral judgment. According to the Quranic perspective, knowledge is a prerequisite and a “requirement for the creation of a just world in which authentic peace can prevail.” So, upholding freedom and liberties isn’t just democratic but it is indeed in line with Islamic values.

But, in 2014, the US State Department’s human rights report highlighted our country’s shameful list of scandals and other incidences that displayed blatant disregard to human rights – death in custody, discriminating policies and practices, abuse of migrant workers, corruption and curbing freedom of expression, to name a few.

Prime Minister Najib frequently reminds us that moderation is the best approach “to empower the younger generation and to curb extreme positions, whether on the militant or liberal end”.

To the present ruling government through the prime minister, the concept of defending our own version of human rights, even if they are not internationally acceptable, is seen more of an excuse. And, rather than addressing causes for this humiliating exposes in human rights violations, they have taken a very dangerous shortcut to resolve this social crisis we now have at hand. – August 21, 2015.

  1. #1 by good coolie on Saturday, 22 August 2015 - 7:57 pm

    Yes, our government should not pay mere lip-service to human rights. Foreigners can see what we are up to, you know. The question is whether we are going in the direction of failed states (e.g. Libya, Iraq, Syria and Yemen), or are we going in the direction of advanced democracies. If we want to be an advanced country (the great 2020 vision), we must have advanced attitudes toward human rights. For the moment, the most urgent matter is the problem of corruption in politics. The Guardian of Democracy is committing offences of Undermining Parliamentary Democracy. Yukk!

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