A perverse understanding of human rights

July 22, 2013

By Dr Ahmad Farouk Musa

We at the Islamic Renaissance Front were dismayed and horrified by the statement made by a Minister in the Prime Minister Department, Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom that there was no violation of human rights in the banning of Shia teaching.

Coming from a minister of a government that holds a chair at the United Nation Human Rights Council, this statement is clearly inept and inane. It depicts a clear blunder in understanding the language of human rights.

Human rights are inalienable fundamental rights to which any human being is inherently entitled. And a very important value of our society is that all people have certain rights that are so important that they cannot be taken away.

For it is the duty of the government of the day to protect these rights and not to abuse it. Fundamental of these rights are freedom of thought, conscience and religion. As the preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights clearly states that recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in this world.

Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts, which have outraged the conscience of mankind and the advent of a world, in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people.

From the perspective of the Qur’an, these rights came into existence when we did; they were created, as we were, by God in order that human potential could be actualized. No ruler or government could abolish the rights created and given by God. Eternal and immutable, they ought to be exercised since everything that God does is for a just purpose.

Hence the greatest guarantee of personal freedom for a Muslin lies in the Qur’anic decree that no one other than God can limit human freedom and that judgment as to what is right and what is wrong rests with God alone.

The state has no business to dictate what people should believe in and which denomination they chose to subscribe to. Shias have lived side by side with Sunnis for thousand of years. Banning and outlawing a denomination that has been in existence since the early years of Islam only gave credence to the prevailing perception of the authoritarian nature of this government.

A substantial part of the Quran’s message is towards freeing human beings from the bondage of authoritarianism, racism, sexism or anything else that inhibits human beings from actualizing the Qur’anic vision of human destiny as embodied in the proclamation: “Towards Allah is thy limit”. [An-Najm, 53: 42]

In the context of human rights to exercise religious freedom, it is pertinent to note that the Qur’anic dictum “There shall be no coercion in matters of faith” [Al Baqarah, 2: 256] applies not only to non-Muslims but also to Muslims. Therefore no Muslim should be coerced to embrace a mazhab or denomination he or she does not believe in. This right to exercise free choice in matters of faith is unambiguously endorsed by the Qur’an.

Forcing Muslims to adhere to the teaching of Sunni Islam under the Shafii school basically negates the co-existence of other schools of thought in Islam that have been practiced for ages. This is a clear assault on the percept of freedom of religion and an aggression against fundamental liberty.

It must be reiterated here that the Qur’an upholds the right of human being not only to life but also to the good life of harmony and the developments of our human capacities. The good life is only possible when a human being is living in a just society. And according to Qur’anic teaching, justice is a prerequisite for peace, and peace is a prerequisite for human development.

A just society is a society that protects the basic fundamental rights including the right to the protection of one’s holy places and spiritual centers. The repeated harassments of Shias in this country and the desecration of their hawzahs were uncivilized acts of state-sanctioned marauders that brazenly trampled on the dignity of other human beings.

The Islamic Renaissance Front therefore calls upon the government to stop such intimidation and persecution against the Shias, to allow them to practice their faith and to treat them as equals based on fundamental percepts of human rights.

We call upon the government of Malaysia as a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council who has pledged to uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights to keep true to the supposed commitments. For we – Sunni and Shii – are all equally entitled to our human rights without any discrimination.

“A person is either your brother in faith, or your equal in humanity.”
[Imam Ali Ibn Abi Talib]

Malaysiakini, The Malaysian Insider and Harakahdaily initially published the statement.