Contrary to popular belief, the struggle for universal human rights is not a modern one. Although some claim that human rights is a Western concept or ideology (1), Islam was among first institutions to advocate and implement such human rights as universal equality and women’s rights. In fact, Islam promoted the universality of the human experience over 1300 years before the United Nations declared it to exist. Although the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is an excellent step towards acknowledging the importance of human rights on a worldwide political and legal level (1), in reality it is not binding on any government, and therefore often times ignored.Order now
Islam on the other hand, does not limit human rights to political and legal standards, as the UDHR does; Islam advocates human rights as part of a complete way of life. Human rights are inextricable from Islam and Islam, in return, requires that human rights be acknowledged and respected by all Muslims. Realistically speaking, the concept of human rights was thought of, but not taken seriously, by the time humanity had entered into the 7th century. Before Islam entered the world stage, oppression was common, women were regarded as property in many parts of the world, and the right to a fair and public hearing was unheard of. If human rights are one of the standards by which we can judge a civilization, a close reading of history will reveal that the world was not very civilized before the rise of Islam.
Although there were many wonderful civilizations before Islam established itself, they are held in high regard mostly because of their contributions in the field of arts and sciences, and consequently, the production of tangible contributions to humanity. Unfortunately, however, these same civilizations were also engaged in the brutal repression of many human rights. The Roman Empire, The Aztec Empire, and the Chinese Dynasties, for example, provided a relatively decent quality of living for their citizens, but did not address human rights in any way that was deemed permanent. If there were any advances in civil, economic, or human rights, they were dependent on the particular ruler or government then in place, and were not necessarily extended by the successor, who might have had his own ideas on how to govern his empire. In other words, if a ruler happened to grant any human rights, another ruler could take it away if it was deemed necessary or expedient.
History is rife with examples of the peaks and valleys that human rights has endured, but usually end with the same reality: The brutal repression of human rights by all governments at one point or another. The history of Islam, however, took a significantly different course. Although the expansion of Islamic empire under the Caliphate was mainly political and economic in nature, the message of Islam spread withand beyondits borders at a stunning pace. History affirms the claim that Islam is a universal message to all people.
The opening paragraph to a chapter entitled European Colonialism and the Emergence of Modern Muslim States in the Oxford History of Islam elucidates the universality of Islams message: There are today more than fifty Muslim states, extending from the Atlas Mountains in the West to the Malay Archipelago in the East, and from Sub-Saharan Africa to the steppes of Central Asia. They include some of the most populous countries in the world, such as Indonesia, Nigeria, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, as well as some of the smallest such as the Maldives and the Comoros. Some are strong states with effective government institutions; others, like Bosnia-Herzegovina, enjoy only a precarious existence. Some, like Mali and Bangladesh, are poor; others, like Libya, Brunei, Turkmenistan, and Saudi Arabia, are endowed with great natural wealth; still others, like Malaysiathe worlds seventh most exporting country in 1997owe their wealth to successful industrialization.
Some Muslim states are ethnically uniform; others include sizable ethnic, linguistic, or religious minorities. Nearly the entire spectrum of social, economic, ideological, institutional, and political expressions are represented in these states (Esposito, 549)Since human rights are inherently universal, and Islam is both universal in thought and practice, it can only be the unifying nature of Islams message that can provide .