11. gods and humans


Aesthetics of Law and Culture: Texts, Images, Screens

ISBN: 978-0-76231-151-4, eISBN: 978-1-84950-304-4

ISSN: 1059-4337

Publication date: 30 December 2004


In order to mark the beginning of the fifteenth century, a group of prominent Muslim theologians and jurists assembled to draft a document that systematically laid out the rights and duties of all human beings according to the dictates of Islam. The year of Christ was 1981, and the occasion was formally the International Islamic Conference, held that year in Paris. The document that these jurist produced seems at first an odd one, titled The Universal Islamic Declaration of Human Rights (Universal Islamic Declaration, 1988). Odd as the document so pointedly invokes the famed 1948 United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Universal Declaration, 1999). But perhaps such an invocation is not odd at all, for the document is first of all a symptom of and a response to two massive contemporary facts. The first is the ubiquity of human rights talk. It is certainly proof of the success of this discourse as a normative and normalizing force that no-one can speak of universality or ethics or even the most drab topic in international relations without paying homage, only sometimes qualified, to the idea that all humans have rights. The second fact to which the Islamic declaration responds is the suspicion if not outright insistence that the religion of Islam in unsuited to this new order of civilization. Amongst the jurists themselves there is a sense that clarification is needed of the relation of Islam to the global (to say nothing of globalizing) discourse of human rights. This much is readily conceded by the drafters, who felt impelled by the forces of the contemporary world scene to formulate the Islamic position in relation to human rights (Weeramantry, 1988, p. 122).Not surprisingly, such a position involves dethroning the sovereign subject (entirely different from its deconstruction) and proclaiming victory once again for God and his absolute sovereignty, even as it involves extending a governmental interest in the life of the individual, from the conditions of his cultural life (article 14) to the legislation of his leisure time (article17). However, in contrast to the Universal Declaration that never once mentions God or Creator, the Islamic Declaration insists that only God to be “the creator the sustainer, the sovereign the sole guide of mankind and the Source of all Law” (Universal Islamic Declaration, 1988, p. 176). A hasty reading would take this as a response not just to the Universal Declaration, which here is named and renamed, but the entire western tradition of rights and secular power after the death of God. This, however, would be a mistake, for it would overlook both the distinctly modern project of power that the Islamic Declaration articulates, and the peculiar construction of the U.N Declaration itself, the way it refers to and refracts the idiom of the famous eighteenth century revolutionary documents – the American Declaration of Independence and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen. Thus in the Universal Declaration the repetition of the American phrase, “endowed by their creator,” becomes simply “endowed with reason and conscience,” with no one doing the endowing. In short, the omission of God from the Universal Declaration is an over determined decision and not one of a casual or inevitable secularism.


Hussain, N. (2004), "11. gods and humans", Kenyon, A. and Rush, P. (Ed.) Aesthetics of Law and Culture: Texts, Images, Screens (Studies in Law, Politics, and Society, Vol. 34), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 241-253. https://doi.org/10.1016/S1059-4337(04)34011-1

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