UK Parliament: Are Human Rights and Islam compatible?
6 December 2016, London – A conference titled “Are Human Rights and Islam Compatible?” was organised by IOPHR, and hosted by the Rt. Hon. George Howarth MP in the UK Parliament.
The speakers at the conference included Commander Mak Chishty, responsible for the Hate Crime Department at Metropolitan Police in London, the Rt Hon Baroness Armstrong of Hill Top, member of the EU External Affairs Sub-Committee and the European Union Committee, and Dr. Seyed Mostafa Azmayesh, a Juristic-Scholar and Human Rights Activist. The conference was attened by members of both Houses of Parliament, including the All Party Parliamentary Group on Religion and Education, as well as members of the community.
The conference began with opening remarks provided by MP Howarth. He expressed that we live in a dangerous world where people tend to divide us rather than focus on what is common. Presently, in our society, extremism with a backdrop of faith or race, is growing rapidly, and these movements are often based on forms of nationalism that constantly emphasise differences rather than similarities within society. It is in this context, that the following event is being conducted.
MP Howarth. Photo: Inter Cultural Centre
The second speaker, Baroness Armstrong, stated that no matter where you are, or who you are – every individual is faced with the topic of faith. It is something we cannot ignore, and it is a topic we all need to familiarise ourselves with. She stressed on the fact that the title of the event could equally be applicable to other religions as well, and not just Islam. This is due to the fact that the history of most faiths, at some point in time, may contain evidence of the violation of human rights in some form or the other. This could especially be valid if the doctrines of a religion are interpreted in such a way, that they suppress the rights of those who follow a particular religion or those who do not adhere to that religion itself.
Baroness Armstrong. Photo: Inter Cultural Centre
The Baroness also argued that as a multi-cultural society, people need not only appreciate other cultures’ values, but also be prepared to be challenged on their own values. This implies that we not only need to understand the role of faith in our own culture, but also in other cultures, so as to attain a well-rounded picture, and communicate in an interactive way.
Commander Mak Chishty from the Metropolitan Police Service, began by speaking about how each of us while being different needs to also co-exist with each other by respecting our differences. Our diversity should not become a type of competition, or a means of creating different classes in our society. Commander Chishty stated that there is a global rise in sectarian violence as witnessed by events in Iraq and Syria. However, this sectarian based antagonistic behaviour also exists in our society, be it in our schools or in our broader community. The response to this sectarian behaviour has to be tolerance and integration. The integration has to be based on improvement in quality of life for all those within a community. The Commander stressed on the need to address issues of lack of self-identity, or issues surrounding segregation within communities; reason being that those who feel marginalised or lack a sense of belonging to a community, may attempt to reach out to extremist ideologies as a replacement. These tensions as result of the identity issues, need to be addressed by the community as a whole, and not be exacerbated by pushing the people in the community towards assimilation.
Commander Chishty. Photo: Inter Cultural Centre
The Commander also mentioned that we need to address the feelings of not belonging, or alienation, that have come into focus since Brexit or the recent rise of populism. Without addressing these concerns, we will only increase discord within our society in the form of islamophobia or racism. The Commander expressed the need for us to stand together as a community, and reject movements that want to divide us. Community vigilance and participation is a necessity in order to remove these threats from our society. Through such a process, with the involvement of local communities, the early signs of terrorism or extremism can be spotted and promptly stopped.
The final speaker was Dr. Azmayesh, who began by addressing the clash of cultures and values that occur as a result of the large number of migrants arriving to the West from several countries. He stated that in order to improve cohesion in our society we need to integrate these newcomers into the western society. He stressed that the cultural and mind-set integration of the immigrants is more important than their physical incorporation in our society. It is crucial to establish the foundation of a civil society based on respect for human rights, democracy, equality, secularism and rule of law.
Dr. Azmayesh. Photo: Inter Cultural Centre
Dr. Azmayesh explained how the issues of integration seen amongst certain Muslim communities may arise due to the lack of knowledge about the constitutional laws and principles of a western society, along with not having studied their own sacred texts. In reality, the Quranic principles express the importance of humanity, and that each person has to be respected and treated equally, regardless of race, gender, or beliefs. Dr. Azmayesh further elaborated that the Quran can be viewed as a guide for social reform, in order to build a virtuous society based on social contracts, freedom of speech, choice, expression, and based on the equality and inclusivity of its inhabitants.
He further stated that gender-neutrality and equality is an underlying theme of the Quran. However, what we see today, in a patriarchal manifestation of what is known as the Sharia law, portrays a very different social framework that has been imposed over the years. This imposed patriarchy, in the name of religion, can be seen in cases of forced veiling and gender-based violence. Having said that, the true picture of the religion is one that remains rooted in equality and mutual respect. Dr. Azmayesh also highlighted one of the most important principles of the Quran – the principle of abrogation. This principle makes the Quran a dynamic book that guides people towards the evolution of humanity. It is a principle that allows for the text to evolve with and incorporate the ever-changing needs and vision of a society as a living and evolving being.
Dr. Azmayesh argued that those who have no appreciation of the above Quranic principles, often have a different world vision. This group’s vision is mostly based on what they have been told by their preachers, who may incite feelings of superiority and segregation with a muslim community, and misguide people away from the actual principles. Misinterpreations and misconceptions have distorted the picture of the religion of Islam. What we see in practice today, has steered far away from the true core rooted in peace, equality and tolerance.
Dr. Azmayesh concluded his remarks by stating that the values of Islam are explicitly declared in the chapter on Human beings in the Quran, which represents a resumé of the teachings of the Quran. These values are based on spiritual chivalry, peace, equality and inclusivity, and provide an accurate picture of the religion of Islam, which stands in compatibility with Human Rights.
The conference then proceeded to answering some questions from the audience. One of the key topics addressed was in relation to countering the groups who promote versions of Islam that are incompatible with Human Rights.
Baroness Armstrong, stressed on the fact that the hard-line ideology does not come from faith, but instead originates from those who use faith as a tool to disguise their intolerant ideas. She concluded that this is an issue not just for Islam but for our entire society, and we all have to address it as a unified community, by challenging misconceptions and radical interpretations of sacred texts. The Commander added that every time Islam is distorted by hard line preachers, it is a violation for all, which we need to confront with positive ideas, expert voices and a persistent and brave stance.
In Dr. Azmayesh’s opinion, when we look at the history of the religion of Islam, we see the two versions of Islam – one version that remains true to the core principles, and another antagonistic version imposed by people who wish to proliferate their own ideologies within society. These versions are the thesis and antithesis, in direct contradiction with each other, existing since the apparition of the religion itself. It shows us that the issues we face today, are not new. For centuries, we have had people who have attempted to preach their own ideology and practices within the garb of religion, as a way to impose their own ideas within society, and gain control. This explains why we often see many versions of the religion that may give an incorrect perception of the compatibility between Islam and human rights.
When considering the issues we face in society today, Dr. Azmayesh reiterated that his years of research proves that religious violence does not exist; what exists is the violence that hides itself under the name of religion, in order to legitimize itself. Dr. Azmayesh stressed in his final remarks, that the core of the religion of Islam is, indeed, compatible with human rights principles.
Photo: Inter Cultural Centre
Highlights from the event can be viewed here.