International Conference on Islamic Human Rights Held at the Faculty of World Studies
May 26, 2014
Iranian and foreign scholars attended the international Conference on Islamic Human Rights that was held on Saturday, April 15, 2017 in Hananeh Hall of the Faculty of Worlds Studies. The Conference was a joint effort by the Islamic Human Rights Commission in London (IHRC), the International Center of Islamic Development Office in Qom, Faculty of World Studies of University of Tehran, and the Scientific Society of World Studies.
Professor Saied Reza Ameli, Dean of the Faculty of World Studies, opened the Conference by greeting and addressing the attendees. “Human rights is a universal rule for all human beings and their lives and does not entitle any geographical limitations or boundaries, incorporating all the people around the world,” he said. “The law of contagion is spread around the world and creating dangers and tensions for any human being or society will affect other people and societies as well. God Almighty says that killing one person is like killing all the people, and resurrecting one person is like resurrecting all the people. This killing and resurrecting has been interpreted to be in relation with guidance and aberrance and, in fact, it means killing or upholding the human dignity and respect.”
The head of the Scientific Society of World Studies continued, “Islamic human rights has been an important and adventurous issue in the world, especially in the past decades. Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 was a response to war conditions and the loss of the lives of nearly 100 million people in the two world wars. This document, however, lacked and still does the necessary universality. It has therefore practically caused amnesia for Europe and the United States in terms using tools like this document to justify war for others and peace and calm for Europe and the US.”
He added, “The important point here is that many of our essential issues are westernized and are in accordance with European and Central American ideas. One of these issues is human rights. While the West itself provides a good space for criticizing modernism in the form of postmodernism and development of critical thinking, these critiques have been less attended by Muslims who look into them through the Islamic holistic mindset.”
“Looking into the human rights literature, we will find that there is a belief that human rights began in the West,” Dr. Ameli argued. “While human rights goes back to the history of human life and divine religions and has nothing to do with Western and Eastern civilizations. In fact, the existence of laws in divine religions is the clear evidence of human rights. Therefore, liberating the concept of human rights from the hands of the prejudiced Western discourse must be considered. The other important point is liberating human rights from domination and hegemony. Policitization and securitization of global human rights led by American domination and hegemony is not in line with the acceptable global reasoning.”
Dean of the Faculty of World Studies mentioned that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights after was authored in 30 Articles and 2 Preambles after World War II in response to a most principal human necessity. “However, wars broke out after the creation of this document that stripped people of their right to live. A right that must be most attentively considered. The United States has engaged in 16 wars during the past two decades and has been responsible for the death of many people, including a lot of children. This proves that this basic right has been ignored and violated in Western human rights,” he said.
“Human rights incorporates a wide range of issues that constitute human lifeworld. This lifeworld includes all physical surroundings and everyday experiences that make up an individual’s world; the nature, other humans, and animals. We need to establish the interactive rights of human to human, human to nature, and human to all the universe. Considering this, it is obvious that human beings, while possessing vast abilities, need some limitations and boundaries. First of all, human is a dependent creature. It needs sleeping, food, and health. Therefore, God Almighty says ‘O mankind, you are those in need of Allah, while Allah is the Free of need, the Praiseworthy.’ He also mentions the potential weakness, rashness, selfishness, and animalism of human nature. Human reason may reach the highest levels of understanding, but it will never comprehensively realize all human needs and sublime principles. Therefore, in the field of human rights, we must refer to the Creator of the world and humans who is in possession of all the resources. We must authorize basic human rights principles through the divine perspective so that we may achieve a healthy and sublime universality. We must attend the universal-dominating knowledge and wisdom. Universal Declaration of Human Rights has nothing to do with our lifeworld. Human has an embryonic, eternal period that is ignored by human rights,” he concluded. “Therefore, due to these weaknesses, we have no other options other than turning to God Almighty to support the two characteristics of universality and credibility.”
The second speaker of the opening ceremony was Dr. Ahmad Va’ezi, professor of philosophy at Baqir al-Olum University of Qom. Addressing the conference about “Freedom from the Perspective of Islamic Rationality”, he argued that, “there is right where one can choose and is permitted to choose between doing or avoiding an act. If there is no choice or doing an act is not permitted, there is no right. Therefore, limiting or stripping one of his or her liberties does not always translate into violation of rights.”
“Economic, technological, and political domination of the West has enabled it to impose its own perspective on different aspects of human life,” he continued. “This imposition by the West over the Third World is not just limited to political and economic aspects. It has also made it possible for us to observe this imposition in many other aspects through establishing modern international institutions that incorporate the domination of Western rationality.”
“This contemporary interpretation of human rights is rooted in Western rationality and a series of beliefs and analyses seen in the Western public culture,” Dr. Va’ezi added.
He stated that one of the most fundamental discussions in the field of human rights is freedom and this is a source of challenge between the Western and Islamic perspectives. “We observe some clear contrasts in surface and depth between Islamic interpretation of freedom and Western interpretation of liberty,” he said.
He also mentioned “negative freedom” as a description of freedom which incorporates negative concepts instead of positive ones; meaning lack of coercion and boundaries. “Human is free when he is able to freely and subjectively pursue all his aims and objectives without encountering any boundaries. This interpretation of freedom which denies any external pressure is supported by a series of beliefs,” he argued.
“One of the supporting elements of this interpretation of freedom is that there is no clear image of human bliss. It means that human must himself choose and identify what is good and what is evil and there is not a standard by which we may recognize bliss,” he said.
This professor of philosophy argued that, “Many liberal theorists claim that human reason is not able to identify human bliss. The human reason’s function is to identify the means to achieve the objective. It is called “functional reasoning” and it means that human reason is only a servant of desires and is a tool which is not to be used in realizing and identifying elements.”
“Many advocates of liberalism argue that why we must be free. It is because our reasoning cannot recognize what is good and blissful and what is evil,” the university professor said.
Dr. Va’ezi asserted that Islamic interpretation of freedom is based on its own specific rationality. “One of the most fundamental aspects of Islamic rationality is its understanding of human being. There are two existential levels for human being in our tradition; instinct and fitra. Human is both in possession of instinct and desires and divine fitra. Human is blamed in about 60 verses of Quran and is also praised in many other instances. In Islamic interpretation, individual freedom is introduced for both of these characteristics. Human is free and responsible in his choices, therefore, he is entitled to a natural right. This natural right of freedom is rooted in human’s free spirit and he must have the right because he is free and responsible,” he said.
“Human is free when he is able to justifiably enact his desires and actions and can flourish his divine talents. The main challenge is that what boundaries could we have for human being. You may not find a thinker who argues for absolute freedom. Everyone has accepted that human freedom is limited due to several reasons. The Western interpretation is that our limitations are too many and we do not allow people to insult the sacred concepts and we do not permit the creation of such cultural products as porn. In fact, the fight is over the extent of limitations,” he said.
“The discussion is about the difference between freedom and the right of freedom. For example, a drug company wants to produce medicine that is destructive. Here, the company is stopped and it is not allowed to produce this specific medicine. Is it correct for the company to claim that its right of freedom of producing the medicine is violated? Although its freedom is limited, its right of freedom is not violated. There is right where one can choose and is permitted to choose between doing or avoiding an act. If there is no choice or doing an act is not permitted, there is no right. Therefore, limiting or stripping one of his or her liberties does not always translate into violation of rights,” Dr. Va’ezi argued.
“Our difference with the West is because we have different resources for limiting freedoms and we have different rationality sources. There are resources for imposing limitations in Islam where morality and moral virtues, like lies and deception, create limitations. In fact, we do not hold freedom as the highest value, rather, we consider the society’s moral health as the highest and most important virtue,” he added.
“A danger always exists when we discuss the Islamic interpretation of freedom. We have to be careful not to lean toward religious authoritarianism. We need institutionalism in Islamic societies in order to protect individual and social freedoms,” Dr. Va’ezi concluded.
Dr Va’ezi’s speech concluded the opening ceremony. The first speaker of the Conference was Muhammad al-Asi, former Imam of the Islamic Center of Washington. He presented his article, “What They Call Human Rights”. He began his speech by saying that, “’Human Rights’ is a trivial media show from countries that have been selected to be attacked, occupied, or colonized. Human rights is but a propagandistic game in this case that aims to rationalize an imposed war that wants to steal the people’s resources and reserves, while simultaneously sympathizing with the same people.”
“Quran is the Muslims’ reference. The term ‘human’ is used in Quran with the two meanings of human and human being. Human being refers to the biological aspects and human, linguistically, refers to its social existence,” he argued.
Former Imam of the Islamic Center of Washington asserted the concept of human dignity in Islam, “God has given dignity to all humans since genesis and birth. It is a right bestowed upon all humans. In contemporary world, however, some people are born with social prejudices and always live in discrimination.”
“The racist policies and trends are one of the fundamental problems human rights that are caused from this the truth that racists and fanatics cannot submit to the will of God in issues such as color, nationality, and race,” al-Asi added.
“According to verses of Quran, human is a social existence that must act responsibly and actively against ethnocentrism, racism, and fascist and Zionist behaviors,” he said.
Muhammad al-Asi asserted that human rights is a trivial media show from countries that have been selected to be attacked, occupied, or colonized. “Human rights is but a propagandistic game in this case that aims to rationalize an imposed war that wants to steal the people’s resources and reserves, while simultaneously sympathizing with the same people. The issue of Palestine is enough for exposing this lie and reveal the true face of imperialism and Zionism,” he said.
The next speaker of the Conference was Arzu Merali; Head of the Research Department of the Islamic Human Rights Commission in London (IHRC). She discussed the “Difficulties of the Current Discourse of Human Rights and Demands for Its Transparency”. “European interpretation of human rights is narrow-minded because human rights has a fluid meaning in international arena,’ she said.
“The West is collapsing from the inside and the single language they have and resort to is human rights. However, the concept is Eurocentric and narrow-minded because its advocates have given it a shape of modern morality and have somehow turned it into a religion,” she added.
“They must first eliminate these limitations. The fundamental concepts of what human is must be reviewed so that not every concept could be utilized in terms of human rights. Also, prioritizing the rights in human rights hierarchy must be dismissed,” Merali continued.
“Today, we have the second and third generation of human rights that are critical in discussions about economy, environment, and women’s rights. This hierarchy is proposed based on the attitude of European man and those who are responsible extend it to the public. Therefore, they consider others who do not agree with their understanding to lack human rights and believe that if one is not in line with Western standards of human rights, one lacks human rights,” said the esteemed researcher of the Islamic Human Rights Commission in London.
“Epistemology of human rights affects the value-setting hierarchy of the subjects and there is an understanding based on which the internal conflicts of the contemporary civilizational perspectives are misused. The West is not universally superior anymore and cannot be influential on other societies,” Merali said.
“In case of France, a Muslim woman who wore burqa was judged in a Eurocentric discourse and was convicted. In that case, all the judges ruled against the woman because they believed that she had violated public emotions and that French citizens’ rights were violated by this woman’s religion. This standard is in conflict with the French principle of cohabitation,” she stated.
Merali argued that human is a social existence. “In global arena, humans are social and connected. We live in a society. Now, what is human? What is its position? What are the effects of its position on its rights?” she concluded.
The third speaker of the Conference was Dr. Muhammad Hossein Talebi, the associate professor of philosophy of law. He discussed “the Relation between the Right to Express Religion and Human Rights”. “The right to have and express religion is part of the human rights and is one of the most important ones,” he said.
“One of the principles that is observed today is the freedom of having a religion. This issue is discussed in two documents; Article 18 of Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 18 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,” he continued.
“According to Article 18 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ‘Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching,’” said the associate professor of philosophy of law.
“Human rights has a history and has been considered as natural rights in the West for centuries. Today, philosophers believe that human rights are in fact natural rights. Therefore, the contemporary human rights is rooted in natural human rights,” Dr. Talebi continued.
He defined human rights as “a set of rights that all the people, regardless of gender or race, are in possession of them.” “It is true that each individual is in possession of the merely because of its humanity, but is religion one of the human rights? The West believes that religion is not part of human rights. I believe that while drinking, eating, and security are human rights, religion is also a human right, maybe the most important one of all. In fact, the right to have and express religion is part of the human rights,” he said.
Dr. Talebi mentioned that for proving the natural rights, we must use natural laws. “Natural laws are the orders of practical reasoning about the principles of human behavior in order to achieve eternal bliss,” he added.
“There are two forces in human nature; reason and the inciting nafs. Abiding by the religion is one of the evidences of abiding by the reason. In fact, abiding by the God’s rules in issues where reason is incapable of functioning is an evidence of abiding by the reason that is called religiosity or deism,” he argued.
“The right to express religion is a fundamental human right and, like all other human rights, it must be observed. Therefore, expression of religion is directly connected to human rights,” Dr. Talebi concluded.
The next speaker was Dr. Sayed Nasrallah Ebrahimi, professor of Faculty of Law and Political Science of University of Tehran. He discussed the issue of “Analyzing Some Important Juridical Rules of Ja’fari Jurisprudence in Supporting and Protecting the Environment”. “There are five rules related to environment in Ja’fari Jurisprudence, including the rule of no harm, the rule of despotic dominion, the rule of liability, the rule of dissipation, and the rule of causality. Shias must abide by these rules,” he said.
Dr. Ebrahimi asserted that there is no doubt that humans are on this earth for a limited period of time and their possessions are in their hands to be utilized responsibly. “We have to return to God all we have been given in the Judgment Day. God Almighty has expressed in Quran that the mountains are spread on earth to maintain balance. This is very important. The verse concerned with animals and other creatures also asserts that all creatures return to god,” he added.
“It is also mentioned that we must not corrupt the earth and there are many other verses that primarily discuss the environment and the message ensures us that preservation of the environment is extremely attended by God. The question is that what is the influence of Shia and its rules in this matter? There is no doubt that God has created signs for humans to directly or indirectly observe the importance of environment,” he said.
“All these documents are credible like the Quran and tradition. There are five rules related to environment in Ja’fari Jurisprudence, including the rule of no harm, the rule of despotic dominion, the rule of liability, the rule of dissipation, and the rule of causality. Shias must abide by these rules. According to the rule of no harm, human cannot and must not harm the environment. Harm here also means misuse. It is interpreted from the concept in Quran that we must not harm the environment and everyone is responsible in preserving the environment,” said the professor of University of Tehran.
Dr. Ebrahimi mentioned that there have been changes and damages to the environment through the period of the rise of civilizations. “Those who do not observe cleanliness and those who obstruct access to clean water are not Shia and, Imam Reza (AS) does not regard them as a Muslim. The principle of Islam is that there must be no harm to anybody. According to an interpretation, there is not a specific law for harms, but if one causes harm to another person, the case would be attended,” he said.
“Imam Khomeini ordered that all harms and damages must be reviewed according to the Constitution and must not be ignored. Therefore, in case of seas and rivers, the unrecyclable materials are considered as damages. The next rule is that you cannot limit anything related to an individual. Although, there are exceptions,” he said.
“Seizing other’s property is against the seizure by guarantor; the right of seizure of something that another one is not entitled to access. One must not cause harm to others, but one’s profit may cause harm to others. The rule of liability is about the mutual responsibilities of the owner and the guarantor. If a property is taken, it must be given back to the owner accordingly. Essentially, properties must not be used by someone other than the owner,” he continued.
“The next rule is the rule of causality in which the individual directly cause harm to a property. Imam Ali (AS) has ordered to pay for damages in case of killing others’ animals or cutting trees. If there is damage to the environment, it is considered as a crime. These Islamic rules are to be reviewed based on temporal rules. Everything is God’s and must be returned to him and preserved for the next generation. There is also the issue of trust and support. There is also the issue of preventing losses that was discussed in the article,” Dr. Ebrahimi said.
“It could be concluded that these damages are prohibited and any loss must be repaired, whether caused unintentionally or criminally. Issues must not be personal and the natural state of the environment must be preserved and transmitted to the next generation as god has asked and we, as the representation of God on earth, must protect the environment,” he concluded.
The evening panel of the Conference began with Mohideen Abdul Kader, Director of Citizens International NGO in Malaysia. His speech was titled “Sharia; the Offspring of Human Rights and Human Dignity”. “We, Muslims, encounter challenges and threats today unlike any other time in history. We not only encounter political, socioeconomic, and cultural challenges, we are also directly questioned about our religion, identity, and values,” he said.
“We are introduced as advocates of extremism, terrorism, violence, and conflicts, followers of an obsolete religion, authoritarians, undemocratic, and oppressor. Our fundamental rights are violated unquestionably in developed countries which advocate human rights in Third World countries. The image of Islam in the media is portrayed as a religion advocating violence and leaders of Islamophobia are assuming power in Europe and the United States,” he continued.
“Universal Declaration of Human Rights is turned into a tool for demonization of Islam and Muslims and portraying them as horrible entities. It also serves in corrupting Islamic values and culture,” Dr. Abdul Kader added.
The next speaker was Dr. Hakimeh Saghaye-Biria, the alumna of the faculty of World Studies. Her speech was about “Global Human Rights, American Exceptionalism, and American Orientalism: Critique of a Hegemonic Project”. “Although the concept of ‘human rights’ is often promoted as a universal set of values, the claim has been proved to be controversial. These controversies are often focused on issues such as influence and applicability. United Nations, Untied States, and other Western countries are usually criticized because of applying dual standards in executing human rights. Western countries, in general, and United States, specifically, have been criticized because they fail in following the national and global standards of human rights. On the other hand, these power centers use the concept to challenge and pressure their opponents,” she said.
Dr. Elham Aminzadeh, Deputy to the President in Civil Rights Affairs and the Member of the Faculty of Law and Political Sciences of University of Tehran, was the last speaker of the evening panel of the Conference. She discussed about the Islamic human rights and the Charter of Civil Rights. “Humans can achieve their rights upon their will. However, they must also observe the civil and social rights attended by Islam,” she said.
Deputy to the President in Civil Rights Affairs mentioned the historical background of civil rights in Islam compared to other traditions. “In Islam, the people’s rights, nation’s rights, and public rights in social, cultural, and economic affairs are attended. Preservation of human life, property, and dignity is the essence of all these discussions and no one must be violated,” she said.
Dr. Aminzadeh asserted the duties put forth by Islam for the Islamic state and continued, “There is not a merely material and experimental approach toward civil rights in Islam. Justice, freedom, equality, and respect for human dignity are explained in Islamic laws and surely attending these four concepts requires a nonmaterial perspective.”
Dr. Aminzadeh asked whether the human desires are absolute or not. “Pure right-orientation or duty-orientation are not considered and there are mutual rights and duties,” she answered.
She discussed freedom of speech, thought, and science and also the right to choose own fate as other dimensions attended by Islam. “Freedom was Imam Khomeini’s main slogan. He described it as the principal human right and not the product of Western countries and values,” she said.
“In Islamic legal system, in addition to material rights and traditions, spiritual dimensions are attended,” said the Member of the Faculty of Law and Political Sciences. “Charter of Civil rights has been authored based on Holy Quran, Nahj al-Balaqa, Imam Sajad’s writings, and international commitments. It is an Iranian-Islamic document.”
“Justice, freedom, equality, and respect for human dignity are the basis for international laws and civil rights. The difference between civil and human rights, however, is that civil rights are not a place for speeches, they must be executed,” she said.
“If international laws are a fact, civil rights are unavoidable facts,” Dr. Aminzadeh concluded.
The speaker of the closing ceremony was dr. Abasali Kadkhoda’i, professor of law at University of Tehran. He presented his article, titled “Precaution; a Conventional Principle in the European Union?”. “If Islam views human rights from a different perspective, it does not mean that it rejects human rights. We believe that Islam has entered the issue of human rights very seriously and the scholars must explain its details,” he said.
“Today, in human rights issues, especially Western human rights, the discussion about the contractual nature of human rights is most attended,” he continued.
Dr. Kadkhoda’i, professor of University of Tehran and the jurist member of the Guardian Council, raised the question that whether we can create and execute human rights through an agreement between the state and the public. “Positivist scholars believe that agreement between the people is the best basis for explaining and executing laws. Have we progressed in all human affairs through agreements? Have all the affairs of human societies been solved through agreements? Agreement is usually the vote of the majority or the agreement of the both parties in favor of either side. This may be of assistance in current social affairs, but many other issues are not up for discussion, like the right to live or the right to dignity. Naturally, these principles are not achieved through agreements and it is simplistic to argue that two states may agree on the right to live ort human dignity,” he answered.
“It is controversial to argue that anything could be agreed upon by half plus one. In elections, this is controversial. What must the other 49 percent do? Therefore, human rights and its principles could not be explained through these agreements,” he added.
“Universal Declaration of Human rights was ratified by about 50 or 60 countries and other states joined afterwards. If states join treaties later on, it is either because they have to or they have encountered threats. Therefore, silence or joining a convention does not necessarily entail accepting the concept and this is why we reject the contractual interpretation of human rights,” Dr. Kadkhoda’i added.
“We believe that human rights could not be identified through agreements and we need another reference,” he said.
“One of the issues we have observed is the cultural diversity and conflicts between religious principal and basic perspective. If Islam views human rights from a different perspective, it does not mean that it rejects human rights. We believe that Islam has entered the issue of human rights very seriously and the scholars must explain its details,” said the jurist member of the Guardian Council.
Arzu Merali and Masoud Shajareh, members of the Islamic Human Rights Commission in London (IHRC), talked as the final speakers of the Conference. “The collection of the scientific articles and speeches provided in this Conference develops a good context for shaping the concept of Islamic human rights. Of course, we need more to do. The objective is to propose the creation of a universal charter of human rights based on Islamic perspective. Maybe after about 70 years of the ratification of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it is the time to critically review the document and re-propose the issue of human rights as a universal and divine principle. The charter may be primarily proposed in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. Then, it could be developed in the United nations and other international institutions. Either way, to produce such a charter, we need more work to be done by scholars of international law and a cooperation between these scholars and scholars of Islamic laws. We hope to achieve this objective through this important activity.