To Liberate or Not to Liberate? Islam, Universalism & Human Rights

A presentation by Arzu Merali dealing with the problems of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights from a Muslim perspective.

Download the report here.

The paper by Arzu Merali was presented at the one day conference, ‘Concepts of Human Rights: Islamic and Western Perspectives.’

In a comparison between Islamic Human Rights and Western Human Rights philosophies, Merali discussed the problems of forcing a European perspective on the rest of the world. Her presentation took place September 12, at the Goethe-Institut and was packed by experts on human rights and a large number of interested members from the public.

“If we are going to have a dialogue about human rights we’re going to have to go back to the drawing board where everyone has a say in establishing the basic criteria,” Merali later said.

Merali criticised support by the EU for several countries that violate the rights of practising Muslims and said that the union’s selective practices meant that human rights “means what a very particular European elite mean it to mean.”

Consistent persecution of Muslim women who wear Islamically mandated headscarves takes place which is a clear sign of double standards stated Merali. Stringent human rights criteria are laid out for Turkey to become a EU member, however, ending persecution of its own women citizens for following their personal Islamic beliefs is apparently not one of them.

Merali added that in Islam, human rights take priority, but because it is different from the European view it is seen as inherently backwards. “The white, western, male top tier of the foregoing value hierarchy is legitimised as the bearer and forerunner of the new morality,” she said.

“Far too long the so-called Universal Declaration has excluded the religious communities in general and Islam in particular and their particular needs and priorities have been ignored. In many cases their needs have been undermined. It is time to take a fresh look if a truly universal perspective is to be established,” said Massoud Shadjerah, chair of the Islamic Human Rights Commission.

Merali’s presentation was part of a panel discussion organised by Islamic College for Advanced Studies, Goethe-Institut London, Islamic Human Rights Commission, and the German and Iranian embassies in London.

There are an estimated 2 million Muslims living in England and over 15 million living across Europe. Islam is the fastest growing religion today.


Photo: Cologne Mosque CC BY-SA 4.0