Human Rights Shaped By Cultural Contexts

Statements UDHR

MEDIA STATEMENT ON HUMAN RIGHTS DAY: Human Rights Shaped By Cultural Contexts

10 DECEMBER 2017

1. The Centre for Human Rights Research & Advocacy (CENTHRA), one of the many civil society organisations (CSOs) forming part and parcel of the Malaysian Alliance of Civil Society Organisations in the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Process (MACSA), was formed in response to the urgent need to reconcile the seemingly insurmountable distance drawn between the Islamic model of human rights and local Human Rights practices of various UN member countries.

2. The Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR) as proclaimed by the United Nations in 1948 initially aimed to restore the dignity of human lives much devastated by the World Wars. However, as it stands today, it has failed to take into account of the diverse cultural and religious contexts of the world civilisations at large, and the Islamic civilisation in particular.

3. Over and above its efforts in affirming the Islamically compatible Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam (CDHRI) issued by the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) in 1990, CENTHRA has succeeded in bringing to the attention of Malaysia, and to some extent – to the world, a detailed number of specific concerns, in which the UDHR has gone well beyond Islamic limitations, even though many OIC countries participated in the 1948 Declaration.

4. Of a particular concern was the increasing use of the term “gender” in human rights discourse, rather than the Islamically preferable “rights of men and women”. CENTHRA agrees with the view expressed by the then Secretary General of the OIC, Dr. Iyad Amin Madani, who asserted that the term “gender” inevitably involves subjective issues of self-perception, which cannot be adjudicated within any particular legal framework.

5. His comment recognizes one of the numerous problems found between the interface of Muslim and secular world powers. Among which is the recent tendency to re-define human rights terms in far more wide-ranging ways than were originally intended by the framers of the UDHR despite the Declaration’s own shortcomings, which have yet to be meaningfully addressed.

6. These changes in interpretations of the Declaration’s position on family values, as well as legislation of sexual behaviours, are simply unacceptable for their affront to the teachings and values that many of world cultures and religions hold dear. This superficial discourse has increasingly become one of the major obstacles to the peaceful coexistence of Muslim and secular societies, as well as the source of highly inappropriate political, economic and social interferences from alien societies into the strictly internal affairs of Muslim communities.

7. For MACSA, the only acceptable and correct perspective mandates certain limitations in freedom of speech (i.e., laws against blasphemy), limitations in freedom of expression (the right to preach atheism among followers of other religions), as well as the binary approach to the definition of permitted gender behaviours. No policies or laws can be permitted where they contradict Islamic and Islam-based constitutional and legal statutes. This approach in fact controls the spread of extremism by refusing public recognition and legal protection for behaviour patterns that have always previously been considered strictly private.

8. Beyond these issues, there is a serious divide in the international community today between those who still respect the sanctity and reputation of religious values, scriptures, and personalities, and the liberal societies which consider these issues strictly private and personal and not appropriate for public or legal adjudication. The latter group tend to go beyond the United Nations efforts to secure agreements that are in fact not ideologically possible.

9. It is in this light that MACSA is formed to address the crucial need in the formulation of ways and methods to insulate the integrity of Islamic teachings and values against various extreme forms of secular demands and even, at times, outright affronts. This itself contributes to the defence and affirmation of freedom of religion vis-à-vis protection of human dignity, itself a pillar of universally accepted human rights. We urge the UN human rights bodies to return to its original course in promoting human rights based on dignity and respect as shaped by the cultural and religious understanding of its member countries.

10. Other issues, such as those pertaining to women’s rights, are quite often exaggerated by liberal forces beyond the scope of the reasonable, rational and balanced need for limitation. The liberal fronts, who have not understood that the religious element is a “red herring”, have also failed to see that cultural and religious contexts are not the operant variable in the degradation of these rights. There are rather problems of inequity in education and access to resources that apply to the women of all poor communities, not only Muslims. In fact, Islam has an exemplary historical position in stating and securing these rights, irrespective of extraneous difficulties in implementation due to prior colonial influences, present-day neo-colonialisation, and so on.

11. The way forward for MACSA is to find ways to neutralise those extreme voices that purport to represent Islam in the eye of the world in support of some particular economic or political policies. They are recogniseable as those who deal with stereotyping and stigmatisation of individuals, communities, or even entire religions in order to voice their misguided demands. Although such voices will continue to be heard, they must not be given respect beyond their minority positions. Enlightened Muslims everywhere must speak out in their moderation and appropriate criticism to ensure that human dignity is not undermined in favor of minority demands.

12. It is MACSA’s fervent hope that this year’s Human Rights Day will see its role propelled further towards successful engagement in the UPR Process; that it will make every effort to give the broad-based consensus of educated and enlightened Muslims the credibility and respect they deserve.


Azril Mohd Amin,
Chief Executive, CENTHRA and Chairperson, MACSA or the Malaysian Alliance of Civil Society Organisations in the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Process.

Associate Professor Dr. Rafidah Hanim Mokhtar,
President of The International Women’s Alliance for Family Institution and Quality Education WAFIQ) and Co-Chairperson, MACSA.

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