Saturday, January 23, 2010

Islam and Universal Human Rights

Ever since I had been exposed to the concept 'Universal Human Rights', I always have been reserved to the concept. Elanor Roosevelt was the first person who had realised that in the world, despite different nationality, cultural values, religious inclination, victimisation is a shared phenomenon. And it was with that spirit that she had established the concept.

Coming from a social and cultural studies background, I have always been uncomfortable with the term 'universal', which refers to it being applicable to ALL members of the society - society being those living on earth. So nationality, cultural identity, religion, class all become obsolete within the concept of universality. This is the basic logic that I couldn't fully grasp.

But when I read about honour killing in several societies predominantly Islam, I am realised about my ignorance. In certain contexts, the ensuring of a basic human right, the right to live, to be treated as a human being, as someone with thoughts and hopes and fears and doubts, the right to choose to live, is still ignored. And these victims, victims of the hegemonic ideas in their societies, do deserve protection.

And that these killings are motivated by religion, they say (or their concept thereof), is beyond me. Religion is brought for peace (even the world Islam, salam, relates to the concept of peace. Islamic greets refer to 'peace be upon you'. It is within the particulars and in the generals of Islam).

I read of how Muhammad had always asked advice from his wife, which frequently astounded his companions, as women at that time were not treated with such 'honour'.
I read of how Muhammad washed his own clothes, helped with house chores and cleaned up his own dishes. That domestic work is an honour for him.
I read of how Muhammad protected the rights of women to work.
I read of how Muhammad ensured that, even before Western civilisation did, women are entitled to receive inheritance.

And I cannot fathom, through which part of Islam and how it was practiced by the Prophet, who had communicated the idea, could validate practices such as honour killing. These women were raped and then murdered for having disgraced the family. These women were killed for trying to divorce their husbands for having been beaten up. These women were killed because they refused to be wed to someone they didn't choose.

I believe, based on so little of what I have read, that Islam has always sided with the marginalised. Not only in the cases of how women had been marginalised in the 600s but also Islam's fight against slavery and class divisions. All of which are social marginalisations which had not yet been thought of in Western scholarship.

And it 's painful for me to see that its application in the modern world drifted away, I think, from the fundaments it had been built upon.

I know that belief is subjective to the holder, but when it comes to people who are suffering, I think we all need to try and see the bigger picture. Even if it only comes out in the form of words, without any power to go further than that, it has to start somewhere.

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