Can human rights be de-religionized?

[After “Text and Context of Religious Veil” ]

1. There are human rights activists who see the religious texts as a weapon at the hands of men to dominate women. There are global human rights campaigns that promote women’s rights irrespective of religion. But then that campaign needs to demarcate secular and religious arguments. I denounce the Western Islamophobic politics. But Irene Khan’s argument that ‘for many Muslims the attack on the burqa is an attack on what they consider to be a legitimate form of cultural identity’ is also incomplete. This does not question the fundamental problem with Shariah that for generations contributed to that ‘gender-based cultural identity’. Gender-prejudice of different religious doctrines needs to be highlighted.

2. For those who believe that human rights can’t be de-religionized, I think it is important to highlight the double standards of clergies in manipulating religious texts and ignoring their context. It is important if a campaign intends to reach the religious mass and address the source.

While convenient explanations are made for those verses and different types of veils are introduced, clergies hardly talk about the verse that sets the precedence of the types of veil-

O children of Adam, We have bestowed upon you clothing to conceal your private parts and as adornment. But the clothing of righteousness – that is best. That is from the signs of Allah that perhaps they will remember. (Al-Araf, 7:26)

Even the subsequent verse (7:27) also talks about clothing for private parts only, not full veil . When I see an aged women is asked to put on Burqa, I often think what they are not aware of what verse An Nur 24:60 meant.

3. It also needs to be highlighted how verses are often lost in translations and interpretations. Here is one example how translations by Yusuf Ali and Muhsin Khan changes the doctrine of multiple marriage (Nisa 4:3)-

Translation by Yusuf Ali

If ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly with the orphans, Marry women of your choice, Two or three or four; but if ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly (with them), then only one, or (a captive) that your right hands possess, that will be more suitable, to prevent you from doing injustice.

Translation by Muhsin Khan

And if you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly with the orphan-girls, then marry (other) women of your choice, two or three, or four but if you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly (with them), then only one or (the captives and the slaves) that your right hands possess. That is nearer to prevent you from doing injustice.

Muhsin Khan’s translation added one extra parenthesis— (other). Thus, (when read in connection with the previous verse about protecting orphans) in case of multiple marriage, when Yusuf Ali’s translation reads that a man can only marry orphan-girls (only if they can’t be rescued otherwise), Muhsin Khan’s translation reads that a man can marry “other” women, not the orphans! (do not intend to derail the talk here, but just wanted to make a point about translation/interpretation)

This is what I meant about discussing ‘text and context’ in addressing the rights of religious mass . However, such awareness is a bottom-up approach. I am against any type of top-down enforcement on this, be it from clerics or from States like France.


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