Why Are We Lacking in Basic Human Rights?
The concerns for the rights and privileges of our fellow Muslims is a huge concern to most of us, I am sure you will agree. World news is replete with examples of protests and discussions about Palestinian rights, the rights of Muslim women to wear the hijab in France, the rights of Muslims to pray in America. Apparently we love striving towards the rights of our fellow human beings, and are willing to spend a portion of our time and effort on this important Islamic value.
Yet we often turn a blind eye on the human rights abuses going on in Islamic countries. We either don’t know of or refuse to listen when we are informed about the behavior of our own Muslim brothers and sisters in our own backyards. Last week, unbeknown to most Pakistani Americans, Pakistan’s Human Rights Commission published its 2013 report, with harsh words about the state of governmental and individual abuses towards minorities and women in that country. In part, here is a paragraph about specific cases the Human Rights Commission investigated:
Pakistan’s record in protecting members of its religious and sectarian minorities from faith-based violence and discrimination has been far from impressive in recent years. In fact, the year under review saw continuation of the recent trend of violence and impunity that seemed to reinforce each other. The growing problems for the minorities came from extremist militant groups seeking to justify violence and brutalities in the name of religion. Secondly, the challenges came from the local factors; and finally, from the government’s failure to protect members of minority religions and sects from faith-based violence or to confront hate speech, intimidation or intolerance. This year also nothing was done to weed out discrimination against non-Muslim citizens written into law or to introduce safeguards widely acknowledged to be needed in order to prevent abuse of the blasphemy law.
This report in particular may be about Pakistan, but it’s not very different from the record of other Muslim countries as well. Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia – you name it, the human rights violations in many Muslim countries is appalling. Yet we don’t seem to care. We either turn a blind eye, or make excuses. True, poverty and illiteracy in many countries like Pakistan have made life difficult for the average Muslim living there. But is that really a reason to set aside our Islamic values? Think about the time of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). He himself was unlettered, and most of his companions were uneducated as well. Yet the spirit of love, equality, brotherhood and social service was so strong that the values of human rights were upheld regardless.
Why? Because everything we need to know about human rights is in the Holy Quran. Islam teaches us that the object of man is to worship Allah, not just through forms of “ibaadat” but equally through fulfilling the obligations to His creation. We are told not just to treat other Muslims well, but also to treat non-Muslims, even animals and nature, in the finest manner as befits our distinction as the best of mankind. We are exhorted towards kindness and mercy, not towards hatred and harshness.
Despite these excellent moral and social guidelines, we see the opposite in Muslim countries today. Although we claim the reason to be poverty and illiteracy, the real reason in my opinion is a growing distance from “taqwa” which embodies our Muslim experience today regardless of where we live. Taqwa is fear of Allah, and it enables us to live our lives according to the principles of Islam. If we lose taqwa from our hearts, we will lose it from our collective societies. And with that loss, comes a downward spiral of unjust governments, extremist elements and ultimately human rights records that should make us feel truly ashamed.
What can we do? Is there a solution to the problem that we all sweep under the mental rug? I believe that American Muslims can do much to help the suffering of people in Pakistan and other Muslim countries. We can speak up, raise our voices, write articles and make speeches, demanding justice from the governments of our original homes. For instance, when President Obama recently met with the Saudi King, he did not raise the issue of human rights violations in that country. This fact was lamented by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and a host of other organizations, because America is in a unique position to influence Saudi Arabia on key issues. It is unfortunate that American Muslim groups did not express the same sentiment, did not issue any statements or send requests to the President to include human rights in his agenda.
It is common sense that in order to correct a problem, we have to first acknowledge the problem. But in Pakistan and elsewhere, including among American Muslims, there is a tendency to ignore that the immense human rights violations by our own kind exist at all. When I read about Muslims protesting against Israel’s human rights record, or against abuses of Muslims in Africa and Myanmar, it raises some serious questions. Shouldn’t we first take care of our own homes, our own communities, before pointing a finger at others? Shouldn’t we try to live up to the ideals of the Quran and Sunnah? Shouldn’t we be willing to stand up for the rights of those who are not receiving their rights, especially minorities in Muslim countries, who are often persecuted for their faith? Most importantly, shouldn’t we fulfil our obligations as Muslims, as a people who have been sent as a blessing, not a curse, to all of mankind?