By Sultan Shahin, Editor, New Age Islam
Notwithstanding Islamic provisions, ‘Islamic’ States are perhaps the biggest violators of religious rights of minorities
United Nations Human Rights Council, 19th session, Geneva – February 27 – March 23, 2012
Agenda item 9: Racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related forms of intolerance, follow-up and implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action
Oral Statement by Sultan Shahin, Editor, New Age Islam
(On behalf of United Schools International)
Ten Years have passed since the Durban Declaration and Twenty years since the adoption by all states in 1992 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Minorities. As UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Madame Navi Pillai has reminded us, we are celebrating the 20th anniversary of the adoption of this Declaration. But it would appear that this has had no impact on a number of countries who are ostensibly fully on board on the rights of minorities and yet do no show the slightest conviction in practice. Perhaps the biggest violators of minority religious rights in the world today are some Muslim-majority countries.
In several Arab countries including Saudi Arabia, for instance, no religious minority can even build their places of worship. And this when not only international conventions to which they are signatories, but even the religion they claim as their own, Islam, fully stands for minority rights. In Chapter 2: verse 256, the Holy Quran says: "La Ikraha fid Deen” (There is no compulsion in religion.) What a travesty then that instead of protecting the rights of minorities, a people who claim to seek guidance constantly from the Quran are themselves the worst violators of these rights.
Similarly ever since the present 19th session of the Council began, as if to mock the 20th anniversary celebrations of the Declaration on Minority rights, perhaps not one day has passed without reports coming in from Pakistan of Hindu girls being kidnapped and forced to convert to Islam before being raped in the name of marriage. Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) said on March 11, 2012 that on an average around 20 to 25 Hindu girls are being forcibly converted to Islam every month in the southern Sindh province.
More than any other country Pakistan seems to be suffering from an epidemic of minority bashing. It is time the UN Human Rights Council reminded these countries to respect their own signatures on the UN conventions, if they cannot follow their own religion.
It’s not as if the human rights bodies are alone in reporting these grave violations. The Pakistan Human Rights Commission’s report was confirmed by Azra Fazal Pechuho, a lawmaker of the ruling Pakistan People's Party, and sister of Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari. She said on March 15 that Hindu girls are being forcibly kept in madrasas and are forced to marry Muslims. Her remarks came against the backdrop of the Pakistan Supreme Court’s recent directive to authorities to produce three Hindu girls who were kidnapped in Sindh.
And it’s not just Hindus, or for that matter Christians, who are suffering from these human rights violations and discrimination in Pakistan. The Chairman of Pakistan Secular Forum Dilshad Bhutto has strongly condemned the massacre of Shias in Pakistan and said federal, provincial Government and Police are often failing to protect the members of religious minorities including Ahmadias, Shias, Christians and Hindus.
This is not only giving these Muslim-majority countries, but our religion, Islam itself a bad image, leading to fear of Islam in the minds of many non-Muslims around the world. I would like to bring to the notice of representatives from the world community that our religion, Islam, stands fully for protecting the rights of the practitioners of all religions.
Indeed, the Holy Quran, while giving Muslims permission for the first time to defend themselves with arms, 13 years after the advent of Islam, asked them to do so in order to protect religious freedom per se, religious freedom of Jews, Christians, Hindus and Muslims, not just the religious freedom of Muslims.
The Quran said in Chapter 22, verse 40: “And had it not been that Allah checks one set of people with another, the monasteries and churches, the synagogues and the mosques, in which His praise is abundantly celebrated would have been utterly destroyed. Clearly this makes it imperative as a religious duty on the part of Muslims to protect by whatever means available to them the rights of religious groups to build and worship God in their churches, synagogues, monasteries, temples, mosques.
In Saudi Arabia, Taliban-controlled areas in Pakistan and Boko Haram controlled zones in Nigeria, for instance, it is impossible for religious or sectarian minorities to even build their places of worship, not to speak of practising their religions freely. The verse from Quran quoted above, makes it imperative on Muslims, in my view, to struggle to the best of their ability and resources, to change this situation. At the very least we should try and convince the authorities in these areas who claim to be Muslim to follow the Quran in letter and spirit and stop adding to the Islamophobia already prevailing in the world.
One reason why many non-Muslim minorities suffer from lack of religious rights is that some Muslim countries simply do not have the concept of citizenship for their states. Even if a migrant were to serve their countries for decades, they would not even give him the right of permanent residence, not to speak of citizenship. Contrary to the conduct of Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him), they have developed a concept of 100 percent Muslim states. As representatives of these states are present here in this august forum of the United Nations, I would request them to study the provisions of the first and only Islamic constitution that Prophet Mohammad has left behind. The Islamic state that Prophet Mohammad had set up was actually a secular state. It was based on a convention called Meesaq-e-Madina. This was based on an agreement the Prophet had made with the Jews and other religious communities to establish a secular state.
Some of its remarkable provisions, that should open the eyes of people who claim to run Islamic states, were the following:
• Medina (which was a multicultural city and had people with differing philosophies, particularly Jewish, Muslims, polytheists and atheists) was declared a nation-state, not a religious state. Its entire population was referred to as Umma - a word now used exclusively for the Muslims alone.
• No religious group could impose their religious laws (i.e. Shariah) on a people who did not share the same set of beliefs. In such cases civil law was to be followed.
• Muslims promised to fight anyone who attacked Medina, or any community living in Medina, even if the attackers were Muslims. (Same applied to other religious groups).
While expressing his anguish over the killing of Christians in Gojra (August 2009) in Pakistan, a reputed Islamic scholar Dr Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri said: “It is high time we introspected ourselves and went back to the teachings of Islam vis-à-vis minorities.” Then the Pakistani scholar went on in his statement to compile quotations from the Holy Quran and Hadith (saying of the Prophet) on the issues. I present here some excerpts that would clarify doubts in the minds of many in the world community regarding Islam’s commitment to protection of the rights of religious minorities because of the conduct of some Muslim countries.
This authority on Islamic ideology says: “Islam espouses values of universal brotherhood, tolerance and mutually peaceful coexistence ordaining its followers to be the source of peace for people around them. It aims at the establishment of such an ideal state and society where all citizens, irrespective of their association, religious identity, race, colour and creed, enjoy similar rights and equality in the eyes of law. The Quranic injunction “There is no coercion in religion” (2:256) negates the element of coercion and oppression in religious matters and forms the basis for protection of rights of minorities. At another place, Allah Almighty says in the Holy Quran: “(So) for you is your religion and for me is my religion” (109:6)
“The importance and sanctity of rights Islam gives to minorities can be further gauged by the saying of the Holy Prophet (saw): “Beware! If anyone dared oppress a member of minority community or usurped his right or tortured him more than his endurance or took something away forcibly without his consent, I would fight (against such Muslim) on his behalf on the Day of Judgment.” (Abu Dawood 3:170)
“This is not merely a warning but has the sanctity of a law, which was promulgated in the Islamic state during the blessed period of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) but which also continued to be implemented in the later period and is still a part of constitution of Islamic state (of Pakistan). The Holy Prophet (PBUH) would always forewarn Muslims about the rights of the minorities. While talking of minorities one day, he said: “Whosoever killed a member of a minority community, he would not smell the fragrance of paradise though fragrance of paradise would cover the distance of forty years.” (Ibne Rushd, Badiya-tul-Mujtahid, 2:299)
“Whenever the non-Muslim delegations would come to the Holy Prophet (pubh), he would extend them hospitality himself. Once a Christian delegation from Abyssinia came over to meet the Prophet of Islam (pbuh) in the blessed city of Madina, he took it upon himself to play host to the guests and made them stay in the Prophet’s Mosque. He said: “These people occupy distinguished and privileged status for our companions, therefore, I chose to extend them respect and hospitality myself.” (Ibne Kathir, as-Seertun Nabvia, 2:31)
“Likewise, another 14-member Christian delegation from Njran came to the holy city of Madina. The Holy Prophet (PBUH) made the delegation stay in the Prophet’s Mosque and allowed the Christians of the delegation to worship according to their religion in the Prophet’s Mosque. (Ibne Saad, at-Tabqatul Kubra, 1:357)
“Such was the deep and penetrating impact of the Holy Prophet’s good treatment of the minorities that their interaction with him was also based on respect and reverence. When an ally Jew was about to die during a battle, people asked him about the possible heir to his huge property, he said that the Holy Prophet (PBUH) would be guardian of his property. This speaks volumes of the reverence the Prophet of Islam (PBUH) had in the eyes of the non-Muslims.
“Imam Abu Yousuf writes in his magnum opus “Kitab-ul-Khiraj” that both Muslims and non-Muslim minorities were treated equally in respect of civil law and law of punishments during the Prophetic period and that of the rightly guided caliphs. Once a Muslim killed a non-Muslim during the period of the Holy Prophet (saw). He ordered the killing of that Muslim by way of Qisas and said: “The protection of rights of non-Muslims is my most important duty.” (Shaafi, al-Masand, 1:343)
“In like manner, the status of a Muslim and a non-Muslim is equal in civil law in an Islamic state. The non-Muslim would also deserve the same punishment which would be meted out to a Muslim in case of committal of crimes. Whether a non-Muslim steals things of a Muslim or otherwise, both would deserve the equal amount of punishment. No discrimination can be allowed in their treatment in the eyes of law.
“Contrary to the teachings of Islam and the sayings of the Holy Prophet (saw), our actual conduct is shameful to put it mildly, which is responsible for bringing Islam into disrepute. No sane Muslim can approve and condone such reprehensible acts as witnessed in Gojra. It is a matter of immense concern as to how a small minority of bigoted and radical Mullahs can hold sway over ignorant people and make them dance to their tune without any fear of reprisal from state and its law enforcement agencies.
“While the administrative failure to nip the evil in the bud may be blamed for the outbreak of riots in the short-run, colossal havoc these happenings caused is a reflection of how extremism has penetrated our attitudes and social behaviours. The state (of Pakistan) cannot allow this situation to worsen by adopting passive and reactive response. It needs to initiate action to undo the damage it did when it promoted and co-opted a particular religious mindset at the cost of social equilibrium, religious tolerance and sectarian harmony. At a time when we need to reach out to other faiths in a bid to engage them in constructive dialogue aimed at finding solutions to the contemporary problems, such acts prove only counterproductive.”
I call upon this Council to direct all states defaulting on human rights of the minorities to recall and respect the fact that they are signatories to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National of Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities and are obliged to follow its provisions. Let these states be reminded that we are celebrating the 20th anniversary of the adoption of this Declaration by all states in 1992 and they are obliged to follow its provisions. How long should the world community wait for these countries to follow the guidelines that they pledged before the world that they would follow.
I would take this opportunity to request the representatives of defaulting countries to read what the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Madame Navi Pillai has said in her foreword to the compilation of recommendations of the first four sessions 2008 to 2011. In the very beginning, she has said: “In 2012 we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the adoption by all States in 1992 of this essential Declaration, which marked a global recognition that the rights of the minorities everywhere must be respected, protected and promoted in the face of continuing violations of the rights of those belonging to certain communities. Twenty years on much remains to be done to make the rights expressed in the Declaration a reality. Many ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities continue to face discrimination, marginalisation and exclusion and, in some countries, the terrible impacts of violence and conflict. The Forum is at the forefront of international efforts to improve the lives of disadvantaged minorities everywhere.”