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Why Don’t Muslims Accept Universal Human Rights?

25 February, 2017
Q Hello again. This is my second question. Thank you for answering my previous question. I have another question about your religion. As a strong believer in human rights, I strongly believe in the principles of the UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS (UDHR). I'm wondering why the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) wouldn't recognize this declaration? Does this mean that Islam doesn't believe in UNIVERSAL Human Rights? The OIC have made their own declaration called the Cairo Declaration of Rights in Islam, which is VERY narrow minded and wouldn't even recognize basic rights such as freedom to change one's religion. Even in the most "moderate" Muslim countries like Malaysia, human rights are being violated. Non-Muslims are not allowed to share their beliefs to Muslims, while in democratic non-Muslim countries, Muslims are free to spread their religion. I've read history and in the previous "caliphates", those who leave Islam are put to death. I've lived in Malaysia and I know MANY, MANY young "Muslims" who told me that they don't believe in Islam anymore, but their identity cards still identify them as "Muslim" because the government won't allow them to convert. Things are even worse in the Middle East. In the UDHR clearly states, in Article 18, that "Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes FREEDOM TO CHANGE HIS RELIGION OR BELIEF, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance." Why is it very hard for Muslim countries to accept this? No matter how Muslims argue that their culture and religion are superior to other systems, I'm still not convinced and I still strongly believe that DEMOCRACY, not Islamic Theocracy, is the BEST form of government. I believe that action speaks louder than words. If you claim that your religion is indeed a religion of tolerance and peace, then you should prove it by your works... and the first step is to acknowledge the most BASIC human rights. By the way, I believe in GOD but I don't believe in any religion. I respect other people's beliefs as long as they respect mine too.


Salam (Peace),

Thank you for contacting About Islam with your question.

Though the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is called “universal”, one of the assumptions constantly voiced by its secular proponents is the idea that these rights are irrelevant to the worldview of religion in general and Islam in particular.

If this is accepted, their claim to universality itself becomes suspect.

Also, it is noteworthy that for Muslims, the Religion of Islam is God-given and therefore any declaration of rights or privileges made by people here can be recognized by Muslims only on the condition that its premises and provisions do not contravene the basic principles of Islam.

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At the same time, it should be underscored that Islam recognizes all the rights of humans for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as long as other people’s rights are not infringed in the process.

Long before the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and even the Magna Carta (1215), the Holy Quran had categorically declared the rights of all humans and recognized them as emphatically, universally valid.

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation adopted its own Cairo Declaration of Human Rights (in 1990), chiefly because the Islamic countries that constituted the OIC could not accept as universal, a Declaration that was in conflict with the Islamic Shari’a, as was clearly asserted in that Declaration itself.

The basic human rights Islam insists on are chiefly the following:

  1. Right to life: The life of one human is like the life of the whole of humanity, and so should be treated with the utmost sanctity. The Prophet declared that the life, property, and honor of a person- regardless of their faith – should be considered sacred and inviolable. (Transmitted by Imam Muslim)
  2. Right to respect: The Quran states that every human is appointed as God’s own ambassador (khalifah) on earth endowed with reason and freewill. On this basis, every human being has a right to respect.
  3. Right to justice: Justice is a key value Islam emphasizes repeatedly. Establishing justice is a duty of Muslims as individuals and as communities. Each person deserves justice and the authorities should see that the weak are not denied this right.
  4. Right to freedom: The Quran lays a great deal of stress on liberating human beings from every kind of exploitation and oppression. Allah states in the Quran: {Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from Error […]} (Quran 2:256) This guarantees freedom of religion. And no one has the right to impose a belief on another: {Say, “The truth is from your Lord”: Let him who will, believe; and let him who will, reject (it)} (Quran 18:29)
  5. Right to knowledge: Acquisition and dissemination of knowledge is of the utmost importance in Islam. The very first verse revealed is: {Read! In the name of thy Lord and Cherisher Who created – Created man, out of a (mere) germ-cell! Read! And thy Lord is Most Bountiful, He Who taught (the use of) the pen – Taught man that which he knew not […]} (Quran 96:1-5) The Prophet also said: “Pursuit of knowledge is obligatory on every Muslim man and woman” (Ibn Majah).
  6. Right to sustenance: As God is the Creator-Sustainer and the Owner of everything in the universe, every creature has the right to sustenance; and no worldly power has the right to deny the resources of life to anyone.
  7. Right to work: Every man and woman has the right to work; and the fruits of labor belong to the one who has worked for them. [i]

You have written of Muslim majority countries, which are not Islamic Governments, where people are not allowed to openly convert to another religion; but you do not mention that these very same countries deny several other human rights such as the freedom to protest against their rulers for their unjust governance. This is un-Islamic

Also, in certain Muslim countries, foreign governments send drones to murder their citizens presumably with the consent of the rulers. Ironically, it is these foreign governments who claim to be the global guardians of human rights!

In some “democratic” countries of the west, Muslim women are not allowed to wear scarves, while Christian nuns have no problem whatsoever.

One may speak glibly of human rights violations in the Muslim countries, ignoring blatant violations of human rights in some other countries.  

Just a declaration of human rights can do nothing, until the mindset of the people changes. One can go on blaming others, while they themselves shamelessly perpetrate worse violations.

How Government is Organized in Islam

The word, “theocracy” means a rule by God or by priests who claim to represent God. In fact, Islam does not visualize a government of God or by priests.

It is true that there are broad provisions in the Quran and the Sunnah (the tradition of the Prophet) as to how the social, political, and economic affairs of a people or nation should be managed.

These are fundamental legal principles or general guidelines for governance given in various contexts in the Quran. And all this would amount to the equivalent of a modern constitution in a nutshell.

But who is authorized to actually rule the people on the basis of those principles? From the example of the Prophet and the Rightly-guided caliphs (Khulafa’u Rashidin), we understand that these are not priests – as priesthood is alien to Islam.

The ruler or rulers should be chosen by the people. The first four caliphs were natural leaders of Muslims who got the “bay’ah” (pledge of allegiance) from the people to be their rulers.

With this example, the ruler(s) in modern times must get their mandate through a process of election. This means that an Islamic government (i.e. a government based on real Islamic principles, not to be confused with the government of a Muslim majority country) cannot be called a theocracy; and it is not a complete democracy either.

The Islamic government follows a constitution that is based on the Quran which is God-given; and to that extent it is religious. And it is chosen by the people for their welfare, and to that extent it can be called ‘democratic’ too.

In short, Islam visualizes a government that is free from the defects of a democracy (which often becomes the dictatorship of the majority), and is free from the malpractices of an authoritarian clergy too.

I hope this helps answer your question.

Salam and please keep in touch.


Are Human Rights Compatible with Islam? By Dr Riffat Hassan:


Please continue feeding your curiosity, and find more info in the following links:

Islam and Social Justice (Part 1)

Islam and Social Justice (Part 2/2)

How Can Old Islam Protect Recent Human Rights?