Portal: Islam and Human Rights

While some modern Islamic scholars have struggled to reconcile Islamic and modern, largely Western notions of human rights, the majority of traditional Islamic scholars today have generally defied what they perceive as an attempt at intellectual colonialism. The conflict between modern human rights doctrine and Islamic law can, for the most part, be understood as a product of their extreme historical and contextual distance. Whereas Islamic law was formulated in the harsh, unpredictable, and austere environment of 7th-9th century Arabia, modern Human rights doctrine is generally traced back to the European Enlightenment, starting especially with the English philosopher John Locke's ideas of natural rights in the 17th century.


Islamic scriptures generally employ the masculine pronoun in Arabic, which is used to refer to both men and women. On occasion, the scriptures diverge from this standard, inclusive usage, and comment specifically on men or women. The perspective taken by Islamic scriptures on women is of special interest in recent times due to frequent collision with modern values.

Islamic law and doctrine holds women to be inferior to men in many respects, including in their intellect, their ability to serve as witnesses on topics other than female biology, ability to handle wealth, and ability to operate independently in society, among other things. While modernist Islamic movements have attempted to reconcile Islam with feminism, mainstream orthodox thought remains strictly antithetical. With some adjustments, Islamic law enshrines the gender norms of 7th century Arabia.
Rape, known in Islamic law as zina bil-ikrah or zina bil-jabr (literally "fornication by force"), is generally defined by Muslim jurists as forced intercourse by a man with a woman who is not his wife or slave and without her consent. As with enslaved females, according to Islamic law, married women are required to oblige their husbands sexual advances. The concept of "rape" did not apply in the contexts of marriage or slavery.
Slavery, while no longer permitted in the modern context by most scholars, was a major theme of Islamic jurisprudence. The Quran permits sexual intercourse with those women "whom your right hands possess", and Caliphs from the Umayyads to the Ottomans enjoyed harems full of female concubines, attended by male eunuch (castrated) slaves.
Child marriage and sexual activity between adults and children are sanctioned by Islamic law and were practiced by Muhammad and his companions. The schools of Islamic jurisprudence agreed that a father could contract his virgin minor daughter in marriage. Consummation was to occur when the family considered the child physically ready (no consideration was given to mental anguish). They supported their views variously using Muhammad's marriage to Aisha, the example of his companions, and their understanding of the Quran. In many modern Muslim countries a minimum age of marriage has been introduced or raised in recent decades.
Verse 4:34 of the Quran instructs men to, among other things, beat their wives "from whom [they] fear rebellion" or "disobedience". As a consequence, Islamic law sanctions and instructs wife-beating as a legitimate domestic disciplinary measure. The word used to instruct this beating is "daraba" whose translation has been a source of contention.

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Religious Minorities

Islamic law permits the residence of Christians, Jews, and Sabians (the three groups constituting the People of The Book) in the Islamic caliphate, or state, provided they accept the legal, social, and financial subjugation (the Dhimma system) whose explicit aim, as mentioned in the Quran, is their humiliation viz-a-viz the Muslims. Traditionally, per Islamic scriptures, polytheists and persons of non-Abrahamic faiths were deemed unsuitable for residence in Islamic lands and would have either to convert or face execution following military defeat. Historically, however, the challenge of implementing such policies against large numbers of polytheists (following, for instance, the Islamic conquest of Hindu lands) brought Islamic scholars and political leaders to arrange compromises and additional constraints whereby certain polytheists could live as Dhimmis. The Dhimma legal framework is not in force in modern Muslim states today as civil law is considered to have rendered it inapplicable. Nevertheless, other forms of oppression or persecution of non-Muslim minorities and unorthodox Muslim sects in some Muslim-majority countries occur today.

The word Dhimma in modern parlance refers to the non-Muslim persons permitted to live under the Islamic regime (The Caliphate), namely those of Abrahamic faiths, as well as the system of financial, legal, and social subjugation that must be brought to bear over them so as to bring about their humiliation, as instructed by the Quran. Included in this system are the practices of Zunar (yellow-badge practices) and Jizyah (non-Muslim tax).
The Jizyah is the tax imposed by the Islamic regime, or caliphate, upon the non-Muslims permitted to live under its reign, namely those of Abrahamic faiths. The Jizya tax is intended as a form of humiliation, as stated in the Quran, whereby non-Muslims are financially incentivized to convert to Islam. Conquered non-Muslim peoples are given the choice between conversion, mass execution and enslavement, and paying the Jizyah. The Jizyah is four times the Zakah Tax, imposed upon Muslim.
Part of the subjugation system imposed upon the non-Muslims permitted to live under the Islamic regime, or caliphate, is the Zunar. The Zunar is prominent article of clothing or an accessory designed to plainly distinguish Muslims from non-Muslims so as to enable the humiliation of non-Muslims in social, legal, and financial interactions, such as the requirement for non-Muslims to step out of the way when a Muslim is on a street. Some suggest this was a predecessor of the Yellow-Badges imposed by the Nazis upon the Jews.

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Freedom of Conscience

Traditional Islamic legal scholars overwhelmingly agreed that blasphemers and apostates should be put to death. Most also demanded the death penalty for practicing homosexuals. Religion-critical perspectives were outlawed under the former set of laws, as pronouncing a disagreement with scriptures amounted to apostasy or, at least, heresy, as in much of the pre-modern European world. Similar attitudes prevail in Muslim-majority lands today, with nearly a dozen Muslim-majority countries placing the death penalty on apostasy and/or blasphemy and several more punishing those crimes with imprisonment, fines, and various forms of civil death.

In Islamic terminology, a kāfir is a disbeliever, or someone who rejects or does not believe in Allah as the one and only God and Muhammad as the final messenger of Allah. In the context of Islamic scriptures, "kafir" is the broadest, all encompassing category of non-Muslim, which includes all other sub-categories, such as mushriqun, or polytheists, dahriyah, or those who deny the existence of any gods outright, as well as those who would today identify as agnostics or who are simply ignorant of religious figments.
Apostasy is a serious offense in Islam. Rejecting any part of Islamic doctrine, whether derived from the Quran or from what are held by Islamic scholars to be incontrovertibly reliable hadith, amounts to apostasy. The punishment for apostasy as prescribed by Muhammad and as delineated in all four schools of Islamic law is execution. In Sahih Bukhari, for instance, it is recorded that “Allah's Apostle said, 'Whoever changed his Islamic religion, then kill him'”.
The four Sunni schools of jurisprudence all agree that practicing homosexuality is an egregious crime that earns an especially harsh punishment, although the schools vary regarding what exactly this punishment should be. Punishments range from execution by beheading, execution by stoning, execution by being thrown off a tall building, and imprisonment until death.
According to Islamic law, it is a criminal offense to speak ill of Islam, its Prophet, and its holy Scriptures (Qur'an and Hadith). Blasphemy is punishable by death. Sufficiently unorthodox perspectives constitute blasphemy just as well as only partially orthodox perspectives (that is, those perspectives that affirm some tenants of blasphemy while denying others).

Corporal punishment

Several forms of corporal punishment feature in Islamic law. Crimes for which punishments are not explicitly prescribed in scripture can earn a discretionary corporal punishment so long as it does not exceed the least-severe corporal punishment prescribed by scripture. This upper limit is 80 lashes according to some scholars and 40 lashes according to others. Scriptural punishments include crucifixion, stoning to death, execution by other means, various amputations, and lashings. Such practices have been replaced by civil penalties in most modern Muslim majority countries, though not all.

Islamic law sanctions several forms of physical violence in domestic, civil, and international contexts, ranging from unprovoked imperial Jihad, to wife-beating, to amputations. While a few modern Islamic scholars have challenged the legality of imperial violence, a smaller minority that also of domestic violence, and yet smaller minority that of civil violence, the overwhelming majority of Islamic scholars today embrace the tradition of Islamic violence in all three respects.
Various forms of amputation are prescribed as punishments in Islamic law, drawing on the Quran in particular, which instructs the delimbing of thieves as well as those who 'spread mischief in the Earth' (variously interpreted as everything from political corruption to promoting atheism). A few Muslim-majority countries implement these punishments even today, most notably Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Stoning (رجم, Rajm) is primarily a mode of capital punishment for persons who engage in unlawful sexual relations. The criminals "hands are tied behind their backs and their bodies are put in a cloth sack." They are then "buried in a hole, with only the victims heads showing above the ground. If its a woman, she is buried upto her shoulders." The stones which are to be thrown at the criminal "should not be so large that the offender dies after a few strikes, nor so small as to fail to cause serious injury."
Crucifixion is prescribed as a punishment in the Quran for those who 'spread mischief in the Earth' (variously interpreted as everything from political corruption to promoting atheism). The practice of crucifixion can range from execution and/or torture by tying and/or nailing someone to a cross, stake or tree to the public display of a body after execution.

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Modern movements and events

The sharp contrast between still-practiced Islamic law and modern norms of human rights has brought the archaisms of Islamic law to achieve considerable public attention. International controversies surrounding intentional and unintentional acts of blasphemy against Islam have become commonplace in the twenty first century, the first major harbinger of these events being the supreme leader of Iran's call for the killing of the British novelist Salman Rushdie in 1989 for a book that was deemed blasphemous.

In what became known as The Rushdie Affair or The Satanic Verses Controversy in 1988, the British novelist Salman Rushdie published a novel which in drawing on the Satanic Verses incident from Muhammad's life so incensed large parts of the Muslim world as to compel international protests and a death sentence in the form of a fatwa from the then Grand Ayatollah Khomeini. Numerous deaths followed.
Everybody Draw Muhammad Day began when, on May 20th, 2010, cartoonist Molly Norris responded to death threats directed at follow cartoonists who had drawn Muhammad by suggesting that if everyone drew Muhammad, then Jihadists would be dumbfounded about who to kill. Subjected to threats herself, Norris later recanted, but her idea lives on.
With the banning of the Welfare Party (Refah Partisi, RP), an Islamist political party in Turkey, and a further sanction in the form of a ban on its leaders sitting in Parliament or holding certain other forms of political office for a period of five years, the European Court of Human Rights determined on July 31, 2001, that "the institution of Sharia law and a theocratic regime, were incompatible with the requirements of a democratic society."
In 2005, the Danish newspaper Jylands-Posten published cartoons of Muhammad including, most famously, one of Muhammad wearing a bomb-shaped turban. The cartoons sparked international controversy. Widespread protests throughout the Muslim world followed and more than 250 reported deaths followed. Assassination attempts were made against Kurt Westergaard, who drew the bomb-turban image.

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