HUMAN RIGHTS in Western and Islamic Perspective (an Introduction…)

The term of human rights is mostly associated to western civilization as if it is only belonged by them. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, even though it is called “Universal”, articulates the Western trends rather than Islamic or another perspective.

            The consequence of this situation is the term of “human rights” has become an integral part of secular terms universally. In fact, it is frequently assumed, as well as stated, by many advocates of human rights, in both Western and non- Western (including many Muslim) countries, those human rights can exist only within a secular context and not within the framework of religion.

            In today’s discourse, scholars and political experts from many countries realized that human rights term as developed is not compatible to “the real” universal values. Moreover, it can provoke vandalism, social turmoil and global chaos as the global reaction of Prophet Muhammad caricature.

Some proponent of the world politics (politicians), including the secretary general of UN, asserted that there is no the real freedom. Freedom as a part of people’s human rights is limited by another people’s human rights also. By this context, the term of human rights actually should run together with a social responsible and accommodate another perspective outside western world.

This article will discuss about human rights in both Western and Islamic perspective. It is a challenge to prove that “human rights” is very compatible to sit together with religion values. I will give abundant evidences that the essence of human rights has been developed amazingly in Islamic tenets since a long time ago, long time before human rights trends developed in western and becomes a “universal” trends for the last three centuries.


Human rights term is associated to the universal and secular view of humanity values. It is assumed as an urgent necessity of human beings to protect their basic needs for the whole people thorough the world.

The reference of human rights values, unfortunately, is taken mostly from western perspective. This reality is begun when the term of human rights emerge from western experience since 18th centuries, particularly when they tried to escape from tyrannical domination of the country.

This model of human rights, then, had been being “universalized” by westerners through colonialization and – today – neo-colonialization in the rest part of world (especially the third world and Islamic world). Consequently, any form of political or social organization, today, is referring to western human rights point of view.

However, sometimes human rights is applied discriminately only from one side, without considering the permanent of culture’s plurality in all of world’s societies. The result of this situation is the domination of western perspective or – I call it as – westernization of human rights. At the end, human rights are merely trigger of the conflict rather than as a tool of world order.

As the case of Prophet Muhammad caricature by Jylland Posten newspaper, the redactor is seeking for the defense by the name of freedom of press and human rights issues. This self-defense, off course, will violate and hurt Moslem community in the entire of the world. From this case, we can find such different perspective about human right and freedom in western and Islamic perspective. To understand this difference, we will discuss later about human rights from western perspective and Islamic perspective. I will forward this discussion one by one and finally try to get a red line form both perspectives.


Western writers, commonly refer to human rights as belonging to one of three generations. The first generation consist of those civil and political rights that derive from the natural rights philosophy of the late eighteenth century of Rosseau and other that have traditionally been given priority by western states, given more attention by the mass media. This is why one is understood if he thinks that these civil and political rights are identical to the whole human rights nation. In the domain of this first generation are, inter alia, right to a fair trial, freedom of expression, and the abolition of slavery.

The second generation evolves later in the twentieth century. They are those economic, social and cultural rights such as the right to work, the right to social security, the right to an adequate standard of living and the right to education. Compared to the first generation human rights, these rights are of lesser international attention. The reason being is that because the rights under this second generation have little to do with the international community and their protection lies much on local measures. Further, the international measure of enforcement is so much obvious and ready against the violation of first generation rights, more than that against any violation of this second generation’s.

The last decades see the dynamic emergence of human rights concept. There is thus the so called third generation human rights which include right to development, right to a protected environment, and right to self-determination. These rights are more of collective nature. Thus the rights are dealing with the state of a nation or community of public rather than the individuals. The right to self-determination has become major phenomena after the era of colonialism in the first half of twentieth century. One whole nation are given right to express their say on the status of their country.

Western writers usually using these three approach to say about human rights. Commonly, the discussion is lack of understanding about the concept related to the correct human rights, that one has to know that one’s human rights ends when others’ human rights begin.


              Obviously, Islam is not merely a believe system. However, it constitutes the perfect philosophical life whose complexity of culture and something that is develop surrounding the religion. It constitutes political structures, social, economy, law concept, ethics, intellectual tendencies, logic behaviors and attitudes.

            Islam was the first to affirm human rights and urge for the respect and upholding of these rights by those who are in power. Islam brought about the sound-structured and ultimate conception of life and endowed it with eternal and deeply-rooted principles.

                  The rights of the individual and the group were considered in Islam’s teachings as divine rights, and were described as such for their generalized benefit, the magnitude of their impact and the depth of their influence on humanity.

              The notion of right constitutes the focal point of legislation in Islamic Sharia. Therefore, human rights in Islam are Allah’s rights and should be observed and exercised in the best manner possible, in order to achieve purity of worship, total subjugation and obedience to the Almighty, and full compliance with His Teachings.

                Human rights in Islam are the cornerstone that upholds Muslim society. They are not constitutional or political rights only, they are not the intellectual result of a phase in the development of the human mind, nor are they natural rights as stipulated in organic laws. They are, in fact, duties of the faith, entrusted to the individual and the society; each within their domain and depending on their degree of responsibility.

                If the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations Organization on has covered the rights of contemporary men, the Islamic conception of these rights goes beyond the time difference, Islam having affirmed them fourteen centuries ago and elevates them from a status of “rights” to that of “necessities” and to the level of “duties and obligations” .

                In his book entitle “The Fiqh of Sunnah“, Sheikh Sayyed Sabiq listed human rights in detail and explained the main components and bases of these rights, at the same time as the Universal declaration on Human Rights. In a highly praiseworthy and unprecedented step, he enumerated the human rights in Islam as being:

                Right to life; every person has the right to protection of his life. No harm should befall him unless he takes a person’s   life in vain or wreaks havoc to an extent warranting his own killing.

             Right to protection of property; The same sanctity of life applies to one’s property or belongings. A person’s property cannot be expropriated without legally valid reasons.

              Right to protection of honor; No person has the right to violate the honor of another person, even by a slanderous word.

             Right to freedom; Islam not only advocates the protection of lives, honor and property, but also the freedom of worship, thought, choice of a livelihood, and the right to benefit from the services provided by state institutions.

             From this perspective, it is clear that Islam guarantees what no other religion, school of thought or philosophy can claim to guarantee. It is also clear that the depth of the Islamic conception of human rights has no equal in its authenticity and harmony with human environment.



            The term of human rights today is mostly dominated by western perspective. It is proved by the emergence of Universal Declaration of Human Rights that adopted western values.

To western point of view, the discussion of human rights should refer to the three generations. First, to the generation consist of those civil and political rights that derive from the natural rights philosophy of the late eighteenth century of Rosseau. Second, to the generation which evolves later in the twentieth century? Third to the so called third generation human rights which include right to development, right to a protected environment, and right to self-determination. All of these generations discussed human rights as a right that have to be putted in the first place of human activities.

        Islam as a universal religion, actually, has the great and unique perspective of human rights. If western perspective translated human rights as a “right”, Islam having affirmed it fourteen centuries ago and elevates it from a status of “rights” to that of “necessities” and to the level of “duties and obligations”.

            In conclusion, both western and Islam are have the common believe in honoring human rights. Even though we already have a fault line between both perspectives that both of them are respect to human rights values, but we know also about both different perspectives on it. The case of prophet Muhammad caricature can be putted as the real evidence. In my point of view, this different understanding of human rights – especially when translated the freedom of speech and expression – is caused from the different understanding of what is human rights is, whether it is as “rights” or as a “necessities, duties and obligation.” If people understood human rights as necessities, then, they wouldn’t try to disturb the other to looking for their necessities. Wallahua’lam bisshawab.


Abdul Kareen, Amr, l, Freedom and the Cartoon Crisis From the Incident to the Approach, an interview at http://www.islamonline.net/English/contemporary/2006/03/article03.shtml#1

Al Jamri, Mansoor, Human Rights: An Islamist Perspective, at http://www.islam21.net/pages/keyissues/key4-1.htm

Altwaijiri, Abdulaziz Othman, Dr., Human Rights in Islamic Teaching, at http://www.isesco.org.ma/pub/Eng/humanrights/page4.htm

Hassan, Riffat Ph. D, Are Human Rights Compatible with Islam?, at http://www.religiousconsultation.org/hassan2.htm

Singh, Nagendra KR., Dr. Peace Through Non Violent Action in Islam, translated by Ali Afandi, Yogyakarta: Pustaka Alief, 2003.

Zulhuda, Sonny, General Survey on Human Rights: A Comparative Perspective, at www.islamic-world.net

Riffat Hassan, Ph. D, Are Human Rights Compatible with Islam?, at http://www.religiousconsultation.org/hassan2.htm

this explanation quoted from Sonny Zulhuda, General Survey on Human Rights: A Comparative Perspective, at www.islamic-world.net

Dr. Nagendra KR. Singh, Peace through Non Violent Action in Islam, translated by Ali Afandi, Yogyakarta: Pustaka Alief, 2003.

Dr. Abdulaziz Othman Altwaijiri, Human Rights in Islamic Teaching, at http://www.isesco.org.ma/pub/Eng/humanrights/page4.htm


6 Responses to “HUMAN RIGHTS in Western and Islamic Perspective (an Introduction…)”

  1. November 9, 2007 at 1:35 pm

    Ijin ngopi ya bang.. 🙂 baca dirumah aja..

  2. 2 yordangunawan
    November 9, 2007 at 6:32 pm

    ok.. tafadhol

  3. 3 Sonny Zulhuda
    December 29, 2007 at 6:26 pm

    Good to know someone learned like you quoted my article. Keep writing and exploring. Wish you successful undertakings ahead. My regards to Bro Iwan Satriawan of Law Faculty at UMY.

  4. 4 yordangunawan
    December 30, 2007 at 3:56 am

    I would like to say jazakallah for your comment, Pak Sonny. Pak Iwan always told about you, I am so happy, when I got the comment from you..

    One of my dreams is discuss about the topic with you.. Very interesting..

    May Allah give me a time to meet you…

  5. 5 Sonny Zulhuda
    December 31, 2007 at 2:37 pm

    We can always discuss on many things!
    What is the research area you are working on now or in near future? Do email me bro.

  6. 6 yordangunawan
    December 31, 2007 at 3:08 pm

    Waiyyakum Pak Sonny.. I added your e-mail into my YM.. I am studying International Business, now..

    Actually, my background in diploma is International Law, so after graduate from business, I wish I can study in LL.M Program or if available, directly I will continue and pursue my Ph. D, in International Law, international human rights exactly… (in IIUM off course)

    Almost everyday, I always read the book about International Law, besides business as my concentration, now

    So interesting to learn about Human Rights, especially from Islamic perspective..

    Nice to know you Pak Sonny. I will sent the email for you, asap..

    Oiya, Pak.. I’ve sent SMS to Pak Iwan regarding your greetings..

    Btw, do you have a blog, Pak??

    Jazakallah Khoiron Katsiron..

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