ʿAqīl المُصْطَفَوِي

ʿAqīl المُصْطَفَوِي



I don’t actually believe in the concept of “human rights”.

When people invoke the term “human rights” nowadays, they are usually referring to the modern conception of it (particularly the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations), and it is this one that I am sceptical about.

It has become what René Guénon in ‘The Crisis of the Modern World’ calls a “modern idol” (idol as in a representation of a God that is worshipped). The concept itself is a “pseudo-idea”—devoid of any serious substance but used primarily to evoke sentimental reactions.

It gives someone the illusion of thought when they use the word “human rights” but in reality, the word itself has become more important than the notion that it tries to convey. This phenomenon is called “verbalism” by Guénon.

Another aspect of this is the need for individuals to show their ecstatic public support for the notion of “human rights”—to do otherwise is unthinkable, akin to blasphemy. People rush to performatively say they are “for human rights” without establishing what those rights…

mean in the first place. This politicised ‘language ritual’ has become the testament of faith to the liberal orthodoxy. It all becomes somewhat like a religion of its own, as what Prof. Adrian Vermeule (professor at Harvard Law) calls “The Liturgy of Liberalism”.

My main problem (among many other) with the modern, secular notion of human rights is perhaps most succinctly explained by Ryszard Legutko, a Polish philosopher, in his book ‘The Demon in Democracy’. The idea of human beings having inalienable rights is accepted as completely…

true without any metaphysical justifications which is perhaps the only thing that can make it plausible (since metaphysical assumptions about human nature, legislation, power etc are disregarded). The sleight of hand that the Universal Declaration does to avoid this is by…

invoking the concept of dignity. It gives the illusion of a strong view of human nature and endows this nature with qualities that are not explicitly specified but implies something noble. Thus, the Universal Declaration is then exempted for providing any serious philosophical..

interpretation of human nature. With this peculiar concept of dignity, “human rights” devolved into being solely about claims and entitlements and dignity is no longer tied to obligation. People are no longer obliged to strive for any moral merits but to submit whatever…

claims they wished and to justify these claims by invoking dignity that everyone seems to have simply with the mere fact of being born without any moral achievement or effort. Thus, Legutko says that “a person who desired to achieve the satisfaction of a pig was thus equally…

entitled to appeal to dignity to justify his goals as another who tried to follow the path of Socrates, and each time, for a pig and for a Socrates, this was the same dignity”. “Having armed himself with rights, modern man found himself in a most comfortable situation with no…

precedent: he no longer has to justify his claims and actions as long as he qualified them as rights”. The Islāmic framework stands in contrast to this where rights are intimately tied with obligations. The modern Muslim mindset to focus solely on rights and to deny the…

responsibilities that come with it is symptomatic of the larger liberal-democratic mindset. If we think of “rights” as something that is necessary for the well-being of our lives as human beings, then it is obvious that the Sharīʿa grants it.

As Imām al-Shāṭibī said in his al-Muwāfaqāt: إنها—أي الشريعة—وضعت لمصالح العباد The Sharīʿa was instituted for the good of the servants [of Allāh]. The maqāṣid al-Sharīʿa [universal aims of the law] which protects life, property, religion, mind and offspring proves this.

Yet these maqāṣid are not completely separated from the revealed texts which also entails obligations while protecting these rights. Continuing the above example of the right to live one’s life, the Sharīʿa also dictates the responsibility on how to live:

“And I did not create the Jinn and humankind except to worship Me” —Q 51:56 The relationship between rights and responsibilities in the Islāmic framework more importantly prevents fāḥisha and sins from being turned into rights themselves.

Since the obligation is to *steer away* from these acts and to nahy ʿan al-munkar, it becomes incoherent in the Islāmic framework that a sin can be fought for as a right, in contrast to the liberal framework where we see this very thing happening.

To call the rights of human beings in the Islāmic framework as simply “human rights” is perhaps a bit misleading and is more accurately termed “God-given rights to humans”, since all power belongs to Allāh alone. Wallāhu aʾlam. Correct me if I’m wrong.

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