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Is the fact that the majority of the population in the Middle East belongs to Islam actually the reason why human rights in Muslim-majority countries appear to be so difficult to work out and enforce? Are Islam and human rights not basically compatible? Historically it cannot be disputed that the thought of human rights first took shape in the European and Western context. Over the course of several centuries, it became widely accepted, and finally the thought of human rights also became a political reality as they were implemented in democratic states and constitutions. However, it would be a wrong conslusion, as for instance has been emphasized by Heiner Bielefeldt, the former United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, to say that the ability to implement human rights, in particular thoughts about freedom and the equality of all people, is a one-sided affair and can only occur in the Western-Christian context. As far as Heiner Bielefeldt is concerned, this historic development, however, justifies neither the assertion that it had to happen as it did, nor does it justify Western representatives’ taking sole occupation of considerations relating to human rights thinking. Viewed from this perspective, human rights cannot boast a “Western” origin or a “Christian” character in a way that they would be incompatible with notions justified by Islam. Having that said, one is still to a large degree able to recognize a desolate situation in matters relating to human rights in Muslim-majority countries. But conflicts between Islam and human rights do not arise automatically out of the religious affiliation of a majority of the people. They certainly do stand out in those places where for political decision-making authorities Sharia law ranks higher than human rights and the granting of human rights is made dependent upon a traditional interpretation of the Sharia. Apart from the societal advocacy of human rights, there is the question as to the framework within which theological assessments of human rights questions occur. The following article aims at pointing to three discernable positions about human rights in the context of Islamic theologians, the a) the inclusive position, b) the pragmatic position, and c) the progressive position.
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