Universal Islamic Declaration of Human Rights (UIDHR)
In other articles on internationalrelations.org, we have disused the topic of international human rights and international human rights law . We have looked at the history of international human rights, the role of the United Nations and Human Rights, and also examined sub-topics asylum seekers, refugee rights, etc… One additional subcategory that we have written on is the topic of human rights in Islam.
In this article, we are going to write about the Universal Islamic Declaration of Human Rights (UIDHR) (also known as the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights). We will discuss the history of the document, and then also discuss some of the criticisms of the document with regards to human rights.
What is the Universal Islamic Declaration of Human Rights (UIDHR)?
The UIDHR is a document put forward by many Muslim-majority state leaders in which they address the issue of human rights in Islam. The UIDHR came out of criticisms that Muslim leaders had with international human rights documents such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, along with others such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). The criticisms are not necessarily written into reservations, or manifested in countries not signing the documents (CEDAW was signed and ratified by many Muslim majority states, without reservations (Mayer, 2013).
However, for these leaders, their has been a feeling that the international human rights movement did not take into consideration Islamic reference points with regards to how individuals from the faith tradition might interpret human rights. Thus, by putting forward an “Islamic-based” document on human rights, there is an attempt to marry the two issues within an official document.
History of the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights
In 1981, a number of Muslim leaders from countries such as Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, among others worked with a private organization who had ties to the Muslim World League (an organization out of Saudi Arabia). These states put together a document which they intended to look similar to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They put forward the document to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
The rights section of the document “were devised by the Islamic Research Academy of Cairo, which is affiliated with al-Azhar University” (Mayer, 2013: 31). Following the writing of the document, Universal Islamic Declaration of Human Rights (UIDHR) was then supported in 1990 by Muslim governments in the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation (OIC). The OIC said that they would then create their own Charter on human rights, but this never happened (Mayer, 2013: 31). But the OIC has continued to advocate for the Cairo Declaration, even attempting to “persuade the UN to give weight to what are presented as Islamic concerns in the human rights domain” (Mayer, 2013: 31).
Criticisms of the Universal Islamic Declaration of Human Rights
Despite attempts to present a non-contraversial document on human rights and Islam, there have been a number of criticisms levied at the process, as well as the outcome of the UIDHR.
One of the most noted concerns has been the document’s treatment of women’s rights in Islam. While some might not see it on the surface when reading the document (the Cairo Declaration does not specifically state that women are inferior and unequal to men), as Mayer (2013) writes: “Many of the provisions assigning women to a subordinate role do so indirectly and are written in such a convoluted style that their significance may not be obvious to readers–and especially not to readers of the English version of the document. For example, in Article 19.a of the English version, a provision begins as follows: “Every person is entitled to marry, to found a family, and to bring up children in conformity with his religion, tradition, and culture.” This should be compared carefully with the wording of its international counterpart in the UDHR…” Thus, the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights qualifiers the right to marriage, based on religion and tradition (108). Thus, “this UIDHR provision runs directly counter to the principle in the UDHR that men and women should be allowed, without any religious restrictions, to choose their own spouses” (Mayer, 2013: 108).
There also seem to be concerns about other rights, which include divorce rights, and inheritance rights for women. For example, take the issue of divorce in the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights. Mayer (2013) explains that: “…the reader of the English version of Article 20.c…might interpret the language to mean that a women who wanted to terminate her marriage could claim a divorce as a right. The article provides that the wife “is entitled to seek and obtain dissolution of marriage) (emphasis added)…[However][,] [w]hen one consults the authoritative Arabic version of Article 20.c, one sees that no such right is being offered. The Arabic version says that a women may ask her husband to agree to dissolve their union through a consensual termination of marriage…” (113).
Other issues within the Cairo Declaration include the fact that while there is a call for no discrimination (which includes no discrimination based on religion), the document still heightens Islam, calling the faith “the religion of true unspoiled nature.” One might see this and worry about how religious minorities in a Muslim-based state might be treated; will their faith tradition be given the same status or view?
In addition, the article continues to highlight the importance of Islamic Law (Shariah), and the ultimate law related to rights. While the Universal Islamic Declaration of Human Rights calls for a series of rights, it still says that these rights “are subject to the Islamic Shariah” (Article 24). This addition poses problems for the guarantee of said rights. Why? Well, given this article, it would be easy for a state to deny said rights in the name of Shariah. They could (and often have) made the argument that in the way they interpret Islamic law, the rights supposed to be given are not within the law. There is too much possibility for relativity based on how rulers want to interpret Islamic law and the effects that this would have on the protection of the rights in the Universal Islamic Declaration of Human Rights.
These are just some of the concerns raised with the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights.
Mayer, A.E. (2013). Islam and Human Rights: Tradition and Politics. Boulder, Colorado. Westview Press.