Are Human Rights and Islam compatible? - European Parliament,Tuesday18th October. A highly relevant conference entitled ‘Are Human Rights & Islam compatible?& The future role of Islam in Europe’ was organized by the Inter Cultural Centre, a UK registered charity that focuses on cultural cohesion. This conference was hosted by MEP Tunne Kelam and MEP Esteban Pons of the European People’s Party.

Azmayesh, Chishti, MEP Kelam, MEP Pons - The speakers at the conference, apart from the two hosts, were Dr Seyed Mostafa Azmayesh, a Juristic Scholar and Human Rights Activist and Commander Mak Chishty, responsible for the Hate Crime Department of the Metropolitan Police in London. The conference was attended by a large and diverse audience which included: Members of the European Parliament, members of the Islamic community, the European Press and dignitaries such as the Ambassador of Kuwait to Europe.

The conference began with Mr Kelam opening remarks, in which he stated: “All great religions of the world teach us to love God and to love your neighbour and if we take these commandments seriously, there will be no serious problems”. He also stated that “It is up to God to judge and not to humans and therefore, we should be cautious in judging our neighbours and religions. The primarily purpose for this conference is to know more about Islam.”

The second speaker, vice chair of the European Parliament and MEP, Mr Pons, stated that Human Rights, just as they are compatible with Christianity, Buddhism and other great religions, are also compatible with Islam. He also stated that education and integration are essential in establishing a society based on Human Rights. Education is necessary for understanding that our enemy is not the Quran, but those who misinterpret the Quran, and other holy texts in order to destroy our society. He said as a catholic, he is proud of the Christian roots of Europe; but as a Spanish person, he is also proud of the Jewish and Islamic roots of Spain. The problem is not our roots, but how we are going to use them to integrate our society.

The third speaker was Dr Azmayesh who started by speaking on the Quran’s view of the role of human beings, within the context of the cosmos and our planet. Dr Azmayesh, stated that according to the Quran, God, who is beautiful and loves beauty, created the universe as a manifestation of his beauty and the role of the human being is to comprehend and admire this beauty. The Quran also states that all human beings, as consequence of being the children of Adam, are the vicars of God on earth. Therefore, according to God, each person has to be respected regardless of gender, race, skin colour or opinion. A virtuous society in reference to the Quran must be based on peace, or ‘Salam’. Thus the principle of Human Rights is compatible with the teachings of the Quran. 

Dr Azmayesh further mentioned that during the Muslim occupation of Andalusia, many great religions lived in peace with each other.  The Andalusian society of the time was modelled on the society created by Prophet Mohammad during the time he lived in Medina. Where all people from different religions and nonbelievers, lived together in Medina.

He also stated that unfortunately, in Medina there were some people who were very attached to their tribal traditions, which were in opposition to the values of a civilised society that prophet Mohammad was trying to establish. These people, who pretended to convert to Islam, then began to interpret the Quran based on their tribal anti-civilisation values, which were in opposition to the Quranic values of equality for all. Quran refers to those people as hypocrites as they undermined the values of Islamic civilisation created by Prophet Mohammad. It is this group which then came to control the history of Islam, and thus the true values of the Quran, which are based on spiritual chivalry, love, service to all humanity, were never allowed to take hold. As to truly love God, one must also love all his creations.

Dr Azmayesh concluded his remarks by stating that all these values are explicitly declared in the Surah Ensan (Human being) in the Quran, which represents a resumé of the teachings of the Quran. Therefore, according to the Quran, each human being wears the crown of God, by the virtue of being the vicar of God, from the moment of his or her conception, and these rights are given by God and it’s not something anyone can take away. Thus a true Islamic civilisation according to the Quran, is based on the principles of Human Rights and rights of citizenship, which are consistent with the modern society we live in.

The final speaker was commander Chishty who began by speaking about how to counter extremism and hate crimes. In his remarks, he stated that these problems can only be solved by communities themselves with the help of the local police and security forces.

Trust between all parties is essential for a united front against the challenges posed by extremism. To facilitate this type of trust an active engagement between the police and local community is needed. However, engagement should not be mistaken with interaction. Engagement is about listening, showing empathy, so that each partner can fully appreciate each other’s viewpoint, and then act accordingly. Furthermore, it requires the results of the actions, or the explanation why certain types of actions were unable to be taken, to be clearly conveyed to all parties. Only when this type of engagement is undertaken, trust can be established. Community officers within each of the communities must act as the lead in this type of engagement.

Through such a process, early signs of terrorism or extremism can be spotted and then promptly stopped. These signs are often very subtle and only with engagement and teamwork they can be put to an end.  Through this type of engagement, the communities themselves can take responsibility for creating guidelines, on how to stop the threat of terrorism. One of the measures the commander mentioned was ‘Active Safeguarding’, where the communities themselves, through vigilance, spot the early signs of change of attitudes or sinister behaviour.  Mr Chishty also stated that the communities can help themselves, by actively challenging wrongful interpretations of the Quran, through speaking against misuses of religious texts to incite hate or extremist behaviour. In that way the sanctity of the Quran will not abused. He also warned against the spreading of conspiracy theories, which undermine the trust of people in security forces, in order to create an atmosphere of victimisation, which often benefit the extremist agenda.

The commander in his speech also mentioned one of the ideas which the communities in London have created and implemented. The idea is based on self-regulation of mosques and donations to charities, in order to create a consistency in the teachings of Imams, and within religious schools. The commander finished his speech by addressing one big misconception about Islam, where in certain Islamic communities, a person who practices Islam, is considered to be superior to other people. Mr Chishty firmly stated that such thinking is totally against the teachings of Quran where equality of all mankind is clearly affirmed.

The remainder part of the conference was dedicated to Q&A where members of audience and the chairperson where invited to put their questions to the speakers. As part of this Q&A both speakers were asked about building trust between different religious communities and their views on punishments imposed in certain Islamic countries on those who convert from Islam to other religions.

The commander in response stated that Islam is about piety and being a good human being and is not about being superior to another person by virtue of being Muslim. All Muslims are accountable for their actions and should not be involved in actions that lead to division. He also said, God has made each being different and he has given us ability to choose, and respect of choice is an important Islamic principle.

Dr Azmayesh, in response stated that we must distinguish between what’s written in the Quran from what people called ‘Fegh’, which is a religious law, created by the clergy that is often based on invented sayings attributed to Prophet Mohammad. These laws are nothing more than dogmas, and often directly oppose to the teachings of the Quran. He also stated that unfortunately the Quran is often simply regarded as a sacred book, and it is rarely studied or meditated on. Therefore, all the problems which relate to intolerant interpretations of Islam, originate from these types of dogma. Dr Azmayesh further stated that according to the Quran, Islam is a process where a person starts from an ill egoistic heart and moves towards a peaceful loving heart. Islam is therefore not a name of a religion, as in the Quran, Islam is referred to as ‘din’ meaning method. Thus Islam is a method for attaining a peaceful immune heart. However, ‘Feqh’ is totally different from what is written in the Quran. The soul of the Quran is based on freedom of choice and we are all responsible for our choices and we should not take ‘Fegh’ as basis of the Islam. For, if we go back to the teachings of the Quran, we can eliminate a great deal of issues associated with extremist ideology which often hides itself under the flag of Islam.

Dr Azmayesh concluded his response by saying, ‘unfortunately the Quran has become a forgotten book and that is why we need exact education and we also need to re-educate the preachers about Islam. In fact many migrants who come from Islamic countries, are not only ignorant of the Islam according to the Quran, but are also unaware of their ignorance. They are instead blindly following what they have heard from the preachers. So all who come here from Islamic countries into Europe, need cultural and mental integration through re-education, otherwise integration is not possible. 

© M. Noorani, ICC London