Islam and Human Rights

In my experience, the Western human-rights community overlooks, or downplays, human rights documents that come from non-Western sources. A good example is the Cairo Declaration, a statement of human rights announced by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in 1990: few human-rights courses in American law schools spend significant time on the Cairo Declaration, notwithstanding its importance in global human-rights debates. That may be because these non-Western sources offer a challenge to Western understandings of “universal” concepts like human dignity. But I’ve written about that subject elsewhere.

Here is a new collection about the OIC from Penn Press, The Organization of Islamic Cooperation and Human Rights, edited by Marie Juul Petersen (Danish Institute of Human Rights) and Turan Kayaoglu (University of Washington – Tacoma). The publisher’s description follows:

Established in 1969, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) is an intergovernmental organization the purpose of which is the strengthening of solidarity among Muslims. Headquartered in Jeddah, the OIC today consists of fifty seven states from the Middle East, Asia, Africa, and Latin America. The OIC’s longevity and geographic reach, combined with its self-proclaimed role as the United Nations of the Muslim world, raise certain expectations as to its role in global human rights politics. However, to date, these hopes have been unfulfilled. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation and Human Rights sets out to demonstrate the potential and shortcomings of the OIC and the obstacles on the paths it has navigated.

Historically, the OIC has had a complicated relationship with the international human rights regime. Palestinian self-determination was an important catalyst for the founding of the OIC, but the OIC did not develop a comprehensive human rights approach in its first decades. In fact, human rights issues were rarely, if at all, mentioned at the organization’s summits or annual conferences of foreign ministers. Instead, the OIC tended to focus on protecting Islamic holy sites and strengthening economic cooperation among member states. As other international and regional organizations expanded the international human rights system in the 1990s, the OIC began to pay greater attention to human rights, although not always in a manner that aligned with Western conceptions.

This volume provides essential empirical and theoretical insights into OIC practices, contemporary challenges to human rights, intergovernmental organizations, and global Islam. Essays by some of the world’s leading scholars examine the OIC’s human rights activities at different levels—in the UN, the organization’s own institutions, and at the member-state level—and assess different aspects of the OIC’s approach, identifying priority areas of involvement and underlying conceptions of human rights.

2 responses

  1. Hi Mark.

    Darren South from Perth Australia here. I’m a human rights barrister, and Baptist Pastor. I follow your blog. I enjoyed your review of this OIC book. Do you know of any other, perhaps more generic but excellent, academic level texts on human rights in Islam? I’m researching in this area at the moment, but I’m a total novice. I’m particularly looking at whether Natural Law concepts have infiltrated Islamic law and society. Or is Natural Law only a western construct? To be very specific, I’m looking at whether heteronormative marriage in Islam could be argued to derive from a Natural Law foundation such that SSM is rejected by Natural Law rather than Qur’anic law. But as mentioned, a generic text on
    human rights in Islam would also be great.

    Thanks Mark

  2. Darren, I can’t say how excellent it is, but I wrote a piece for a symposium a while back that compares the approaches of Islam and Christianity to law. You might try mining it for sources. It’s Fiqh and Canons, 40 Seton Hall L. Rev. 861 (2010). Good luck!

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