Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam - Diverges from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in key respects

EuropeNews December 01 2007

The Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam (CDHRI) is a declaration of the member states of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, which provides an overview on the Islamic perspective on human rights, and affirms Islamic Shari'ah as its sole source.

CDHRI declares its purpose to be "general guidance for Member States [of the OIC] in the Field of human rights". This declaration is usually seen as an Islamic counterpart of and a response to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).


Predominantly Muslim countries, like Sudan, Pakistan, Iran, and Saudi Arabia, frequently criticized the Universal Declaration of Human Rights for its perceived failure to take into account the cultural and religious context of non-Western countries. In 1981, the Iranian representative to the United Nations, Said Rajaie-Khorassani, articulated the position of his country regarding the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, by saying that the UDHR was "a secular understanding of the Judeo-Christian tradition", which could not be implemented by Muslims without trespassing the Islamic law.[1]

The declaration was adopted on August 5, 1990 by 45 foreign ministers of the Organization of the Islamic Conference to serve as a guidance for the member states in the matters of human rights.


The Declaration starts by forbidding "any discrimination on the basis of race, colour, language, belief, sex, religion, political affiliation, social status or other considerations". It continues on to proclaim the sanctity of life, and declares the "preservation of human life" as "a duty prescribed by the Shariah". In addition the CDHRI guarantees "non-belligerents such as old men, women and children", "wounded and the sick" and "prisoners of war", the right to be fed, sheltered and access to safety and medical treatment in times of war.

The CDHRI gives men and women the "right to marriage" regardless of their race, colour or nationality, (but not religion). In addition women are given "equal human dignity", "own rights to enjoy", "duties to perform", "own civil entity", "financial independence", and the "right to retain her name and lineage", though not equal rights in general. The Declaration makes the husband responsible for the social and financial protection of the family. The Declaration gives both parents the rights over their children, and makes it incumbent upon both of them to protect the child, before and after birth. The Declaration also entitles every family the "right to privacy". It also forbids the demolition, confiscation and eviction of any family from their residence. Furthermore, should the family get separated in times of war, it is the responsibility of the State to "arrange visits or reunions of families ".

The Declaration prohibits to force anybody "to change his religion to another religion or to atheism", but it gives the individual no freedom to change his religion or belief.

The Declaration protects each individual from arbitrary arrest, torture, maltreatment and/or indignity. Furthermore, no individual is to be used for medical or scientific experiments. It also prohibits the taking of hostages of any individual "for any purpose" whatsoever. Moreover, the CDHRI guarantees the presumption of innocence; guilt is only to be proven through a trial in "which he [the defendant] shall be given all the guarantees of defence". The Declaration also forbids the promulgation of "emergency laws that would provide executive authority for such actions".

The Declaration also emphasizes the "full right to freedom and self-determination", and its opposition to enslavement, oppression, exploitation and colonialism. The CDHRI declares the rule of law, establishing equality and justice for all. The CDHRI also guarantees all individuals the "right to participate, directly or indirectly in the administration of his country's public affairs". The CDHRI also forbids any abuse of authority.

The Declaration grants individuals the right to express their opinion freely. It encourages them to propagate that which is right and good. However, it forbids the misuse of this right in order to "violate sanctities and the dignity of Prophets", "undermine moral and ethical values or disintegrate", "arouse nationalistic or doctrinal hatred" or commit an "incitement to any form of racial discrimination".

The CDHRI concludes that all rights and freedoms mentioned are subject to the Islamic Shariah, which is the declaration's sole source.

The CDHRI declares "true religion" to be the "guarantee for enhancing such dignity along the path to human integrity". It also places the responsibility for defending those rights upon the entire Ummah.


The Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam diverges from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in key respects, most notably in that the former unambiguously recognizes only those human rights that are in accordance with Sharia.[2]

Article 24 of the declaration states: "All the rights and freedoms stipulated in this Declaration are subject to the Islamic Sharia." Article 19 also says: "There shall be no crime or punishment except as provided for in the Sharia."

The role of Islamic law as a sole source of legal opinion is confirmed by the Article 25, which asserts that "The Islamic Sharia is the only source of reference for the explanation or clarification of any of the articles of this Declaration".

The CDHR underscores its basis in the way of life of the Muslim society — Ummah, which is described as the best community and as playing a "civilizing and historical role".

Almost always where the CDHRI refers to human rights, it makes a qualification that those rights must be exercised in accordance with Sharia. Thus, Article 22 restricts freedom of speech to those expressions of it that are not in contravention of the Islamic law:

"Everyone shall have the right to express his opinion freely in such manner as would not be contrary to the principles of the Sharia."

Similarly, the right to hold public office is contingent upon such right being in accordance with Sharia.[2]

The CDHRI has been criticized for falling short of the international human rights standards by not upholding the fundamentality of freedom of religion.[3]

Article 5 prohibits to impose any restrictions on marriage stemming from "race, colour or nationality", notably excluding religion from the list, so that men and women may be prevented from marrying on the basis of their religion.

However, in Sharia law this is due to the fact that it forbids men to attempt to forcefully (by any means) convert their non-muslim wives to Islam, while there is no such guarantee for muslim women should they choose to marry non-muslim men.

Similarly, CDHRI is criticized as not endorsing equality between men and women; moreover, it is accused of affirming the superiority of men.[4]

In the Article 6, women are guaranteed equal dignity, but not equality in other matters. The article also puts upon the husband the responsibility to maintain welfare of the family, while no similar obligation is placed upon the wife. Finally, it makes no mention of the widespread practice of having multiple wives in some Islamic countries.

Adama Dieng, a member of the International Commission of Jurists, criticized the CDHRI. He argued that the declaration gravely threatens the inter-cultural consensus, on which the international human rights instruments are based; that it introduces intolerable discrimination against non-Muslims and women.

He further argued that the CDHRI reveals a deliberately restrictive character in regard to certain fundamental rights and freedoms, to the point that certain essential provisions are below the legal standards in effect in a number of Muslim countries; it uses the cover of the "Islamic Shari'a (Law)" to justify the legitimacy of practices, such as corporal punishment, which attack the integrity and dignity of the human being.[1]

Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam (English text)


1 Littman, David. "Universal Human Rights and 'Human Rights in Islam'". Midstream, February/March 1999

2 Mathewson Denny, Frederick. "Muslim Ethical Trajectories in the Contemporary World" in Religious Ethics, William Schweiker, ed. Blackwell Publishers, 2004. ISBN 0-631-21634-0, p.272

3 Kazemi, Farouh. "Perspectives on Islam and Civil Society" in Islamic Political Ethics: Civil Society, Pluralism and Conflict, Sohail H. Hashmi, ed. Princeton University Press, 2002. ISBN 0-691-11310-6, p.50

4 Rhona, Smith. "Textbook on International Human Rights", Oxford University Press, 2003, ISBN 1-84174-301-1, p.195

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