Human Dignity and the Future of Human Human Dignity and the Future of Human

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Rights Debate in Islamic World Ebrahim Azadegan Sharif University of Technolog y 13 OCT 2016 Utrecht Introduction Main Problem while we can find some valuable textual support for even the modern conception of human dignity in Islam but different established views toward the ID: 545469

rights human god dignity human rights dignity god islamic love conception interests duty freedom god




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Human Dignity and the Future of Human Rights Debate in Islamic World

Ebrahim Azadegan

Sharif University of



13 OCT 2016


IntroductionMain Problem: while we can find some valuable textual support for even the modern conception of human dignity in Islam but different established views toward the


we ought to respect the value of humanity

per se

has gotten human right discourse traditionally

unconsidered throughout the Islamic world.

The root of the problem, I suggest, is


in different views or conceptions toward human dignity as many contemporary thinkers suggest, nor in the right-oriented versus duty-oriented world-view but it lies in the methodology concerning the way we ought to respect for humanity.Slide3

Two Conceptions of Human dignityIslamic Conception: Matter of degree state, potential to be developed through faith and good actions. God is the source of Dignity.

In the Islamic tradition the central emphasis is on human duties not on human rights. We ought to respect others’ rights because it is our duty to act according to God’s command that we ought to respect others’ rights.

Modern Conception: Actual state in which human



what mater, and then the concept of human dignity would come to support the intuition behind the appraised rights. Slide4

Four ways open to Muslim thinkers Modern intellectuals try to deny the traditional conceptions and embrace a secular understanding of the basis for human rights.

Puritans on the other hand completely deny any need to such a conception and see it as Eurocentric imported conception, which has to be



thinkers suggest that we have to establish some kind of Islamic human rights convention in contrast with universal declaration or European convention on human rights.


intellectuals in the middle of these debates try to find a resolution for the problem by confirming the universal human rights on the basis of Islamic rational teachings. Slide5

The structure of paperFirst, some re-interpretation of Islamic texts in order to define the Islamic conception of human



I shall examine and compare this concept with


recent views on Judeo-Christian conception of human


Islamic conception of human dignity is not


On what

is the source of so called challenge between Islam and human


Kantian resolution for the so called problemSlide6

God is the source of dignityGod is the source of dignity and is the most honored being:“My Lord is self-sufficient and honored bountiful” (Q 27:40)

“Recite thou, and thy Lord is the most honored generous” (Q 96:3)

“Blessed is the name of your Lord, the owner of majesty and honored generosity” (Q 55:78)Slide7

God and human soulGod’s inspired holy Spirit is the origin of human dignity:“Recall what time thy Lord said Unto the angels: verily I am about to create a human being from clay; (71) Then when I have formed him and breathed into him of My spirit, fall down before him prostrate” (Q 38:71-2)and (Q 15:27-8).

“And We bestowed dignity on the children of Adam and provided them with rides on the land and in the sea, and provided them with a variety of good things and made them much superior to many of those whom We have created.” (Q 17:70)

“So, set your face to the way of faith uprightly, this (way) being the nature designed by God on which He has created the mankind. There is no change in God’s creation. That is the straightway, but most of the people do not know.” (Q 30:30)Slide8

“I breathed into him of My spirit”Faith in Islam is

the way toward God. Human soul is immediately, internally and in its nature is a relationship


God. This esoteric way towards God is the way of love. As we go through this path we become more perfect to the extent that a perfect human being becomes himself or herself a God’s


or successor in the world


It is noteworthy that divine own spirit according to the Quran is Jesus Christ. “The Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, was only a messenger of God, and His


which He conveyed unto Mary, and a spirit from Him” (Q 4:171



to a


interpretation of this verse (Q 4:171) the path of love towards God (


) is an esoteric path which goes through caliphs of God as His spirit.Slide9

Islamic Conception of HDICHD: All human beings regardless of their capacities or functions have divinely inspired human soul that is the ground of universal and ineradicable dignity, which can be improved through the path of love.Slide10

Wolterstorff’s theistic conception of HDWTCHD

: All human beings regardless of their capacities or functions have been honored by divine love of attachment that is the ground of animal-transcendence and ineradicable dignity.

It is clear that this conception of human dignity is extrinsic, ineradicable property. It is also animal transcending if God would have not bestowed this love toward other subsisted beings.Slide11

Two Objections to WTCHDJordan Wessling (2014):Wloterstorff’s

theory falls prey to a sort of

Euthyphro dilemma

. Either God loves all human beings necessarily or contingently. If He loves them necessarily there should be some worth and valued nature in human beings that necessitates such a love. So this intrinsic value can be the source of dignity and so we do not need to appeal to any theistic account in support of human dignity. On the other hand, if divine love is contingent then one cannot show the animal-transcendence or even ineradicable features of human dignity which Wolterstorff emphasizes that every account of human dignity has to accommodate. Slide12

Tasioulas ObjectionJohn Tasioulas (2013): even by Wolterstorff’s

own reckoning, and bracketing the contestable assumption of God’s existence, [his account] grounds very few human rights. So few, indeed, that there is genuine question whether he is addressing the same subject matter as the mainstream human rights

culture, since

there are certain interests fulfillment of which could enhance our wellbeing but, in Wlotersorffian sort of accounts


rights can be inferred from a conception of human dignity that is completely indifferent or careless about to those interests.Slide13

Human interests and human dignityDuty-oriented morality that supports an interest-independent theory of human rights cannot accommodate a method by which one can infer the standard human rights from norms of morality in general.

So it seems that while in order to find a suitable account for grounding human rights appealing to the concept of human dignity seems necessary however this grounding relation does not in any way sufficient for establishing and declaring a full schedule of basic and universal human rights.


need to appeal to basic and impartial human interests to reach to a true and satisfactory theory of human rights. So I accept Tasioulas objection to WTCHD which in par can be leveled against ICHD as well. Slide14

Respect for human interestsRaz defines that one has a right if and only if she can have rights, and, other things being equal, an aspect of her well-being (her interest) is a sufficient reason for holding some other person(s) to be under a duty (Raz 1986, 168). Slide15

Islam and human interestsUnfortunately this urged relation between human well-being-related interests and respect for humanity has not been emphasized in Islamic traditional culture, which dominated by duty-oriented world-view of jurisprudence. Slide16

Respect for Human interests in the Quran“See you not that God has subjected to you (mankind) all that are on the earth, and the ships that sail through the sea by His Command? He withholds the heaven from falling on the earth except by His Leave. Verily, God is, for mankind, full of Kindness, Most Merciful” (Q 22:64


“God gave you (mankind) of all you asked for, and if you count the blessings of God never will you be able to count them” (Q 14:33). God has vouchsafed unto us some of everything we asked Him, and typically we asked Him our worldly or mundane requirements and interests in addition to otherworldly blessedness. Slide17

Divine love and human freedomWe human beings by going through the path of love which is the path we were designed and created upon it can become nearer to our Lord and come into the love relationship with Him and so with our neighbors and in a more general interpretation to all God’s creatures including the environment


However love requires freedom of choice. Nobody can force another one to love him, and it is true also for God



beings as the most suitable creature for coming to the path of divine love has been bestowed by a degree of libertarian freewill



all of God’s creatures between the earth and heaven have been delivered by some sort of freedom. “Then He rose over towards the heaven when it was smoke, and said to it and to the earth: ‘Come both of you willingly or unwillingly.’ They both said: ‘We come, willingly’ (Q 41:11).Slide18

Human rights in contemporary Islam “a comparison of the underpinning of historical Islam and those of human rights conventions reveals that the difference between these two systems is deep and fundamental. Accepting one entails the rejection of other, unless one chooses to believe in both in a superficial way by shutting one’s eyes to their conflicting roots” (


2009, 51).Slide19

Modernist Intellectuals[C]omplete freedom has two elements: moral freedom and bodily freedom. The guardians of Islam have taken our moral freedom away, making us ... subject to their own will in moral issues.... The nations of the East, because of the advent of the Arabs' religion and their domination over Asia, have lost [their] complete freedom at once, and are deprived of the joy of equality and the blessing of human

rights (



Apologetics“As far as my knowledge goes the Westerners had no concept of human rights and civic rights before the seventeenth century



the other hand it hurts one's feelings that Muslims are in possession of such a splendid and comprehensive system of law and yet they look forward for guidance to those leaders of the West who could not have dreamed of attaining those heights of truth and justice which was achieved a long time





: Pakistani and IndianSlide21

Puritans Salafi-Wahabi movements which nowadays become the dominant theological force in Saudi Arabia and some other states which get support from there, resist the influence of modernism and Westernization by escaping toward establishment of pure


laws in Islamic states. This purified religion


sought for is an Islam free from so called corruptions of mysticism,


and rationalism.Slide22

Islamic IntellectualismThe religious-intellectual movement emphasizes on reasonableness and moral depth of Islam and in the same time try to reconcile between the moral interpretation of Shari’a

laws and human rights normative demands.Slide23

Middle way Reconciliation between Islamic apologetics and intellectualsThe resolution is based on the one hand on the acceptance of obeying God’s commands and laws and on the other hand on the affirmation of human freedom of action and human interests which are essential in the process of self-enrichment. Slide24

Kantian Resolution“To secure one’s own happiness is a duty, at least indirectly; for discontent with one’s condition, under a pressure of many anxieties and amidst unsatisfied wants, might easily become a great temptation to transgression of duty” (Kant (

GK) 15).


course the desire for this end (happiness) should not influence one’s will to obey the duty. Then one will act according to duty and for the sake of respecting for law alone however the result is the desired happiness.

It is in this manner, undoubtedly, that we are to understand those passages of Scripture also in which we are commanded to love our neighbor, even our enemy” (Ibid.) Slide25

Kantian ResolutionAccordingly I think for Islamic intellectualist it is not necessary to push in favor of changing the duty oriented world-view to right oriented one which brings too much resistance. In a duty oriented world we can show that respect for our neighbor’s interests and happiness is our religious duty which so emphasized in the Quran and in


of the prophet. Slide26

Kantian ResolutionIf the ideal of highest good has been actualized in the kingdom of end (Summum


) each person’s wellbeing-related interests and happiness will become proportionate to the person’s virtue or moral worth. This is the realm in which all possible ends congregate. This ideal is necessary condition of morality insofar as it is possible only through human freedom. Since free rational being from all sorts of inclinations which has the autonomy to authorize universal laws must consider itself as having an impartial point of view: in which all the maxims of one’s will are universal laws. To have an impartial point of view one has to have a view toward an ideal of the kingdom of ends. But on the other side of the coin “this end can be nothing but the subject of all possible ends, since this is also the subject of a possible absolutely good will (Kant 2005, 55)” which is God’s will alone.Slide27

ConclusionAccordingly these Kantian thoughts can provide us a resource for evaluating our progress toward being a moral and religious person. If our religious commander asks us to act in a way that some people will be treated as a means toward an end even holy one, our moral judgment should prevent us from such action, not only because it is immoral to treat rational beings as a means but also because it is absolutely in conflict with the Holy Good’s will who always respects human beings as His caliphs or children. The role of religion, then, is to foster norms and values that constitute an ethical religious community. Slide28

Thank you for your attention