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Mohammad Hossein Mozaffari: The Success of Failure


Dr. Mohammad Hossein Mozaffari is an Iranian scholar whose academic background connects international law with Islamic studies. Given his academic background, he has established research experience which concentrated on interdisciplinary subjects of international law, human rights and Islamic studies.




His research works are chiefly aimed at indigenization of human rights notions in Muslim societies and reconciliation of conflicting areas between the two distinct disciplines of international law and Islamic studies, ranging from philosophical concepts such as human dignity to religious liberty, religious intolerance, peaceful coexistence, war and peace and sustainable development. His career also focuses on interreligious dialogue and he was able to utilize his academic and research background in his career for narrowing the cultural divide between Muslim and Western civilizations through intercultural and interreligious dialogue. He also succeeded to employ his research experience to enrich his career in the field of inter-religious relations, aiming at the promotion of peace and reconciliation among religions and nations.


Based on the article The Success of Failure; The Cairo Declaration of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation on Human Rights published by Dr. Mohammad Hossein Mozaffari, SPCIS has interviewed him on factors contributing to the human rights rhetoric strategy of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, as well as its impacts on the image of OIC members. Additionally, SPCIS asked him about the extent to which the Muslim world will adopt and adapt international human rights principles with a Western background historically. The flowing is Dr. Mohammad Hossein Mozaffari’s answer.


The Success of Failure: The Cairo Declaration of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation on Human Rights


The following is Dr. Mohammad Hossein Mozaffari’s answer.

As for the first question, Dr. Mohammad Hossein Mozaffari first stated that it is a bit more complicated that can be explained in this short interview and requires a more detailed answer. However, he is sure that we are not interested in such discussions and want to have a whole picture from your perspective. In short, there are a number of significant factors that contributed to the emergence of the OIC human rights rhetoric.


First, it is to be recalled that when the UDHR was adopted, many parts of the Muslim World were ruled by colonial powers and they did not have the chance to participate in the formation of International standards of human rights. Even though some 10 Islamic countries were among the founding members of the UN, they also did not have a genuine contribution to this important project. Under the Wester hegemony, even the Eastern bloc who opposed certain parts of the UDHR could not make significant changes in it. Therefore, some Muslim states like Iran and Turkey followed the Western bloc and vote in favor of the UDHR, while Saudi Arabia joined the socialist bloc and abstained. During the 1950's and 1960's the Western bloc lost its dominance at the UN and the Islamic members of the UN increased to 21 members. Nonetheless, when international covenants on Human Rights were being adopted, Muslim states were frustrated to get their legitimate share of the UN human rights project.


For instance, when Muslim states along with other developing countries were insisting on the adoption of a single International Covenant of Human Rights, the Western bloc decided to part it into two covenants; International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. As a result, the frustrated Muslim states decided to develop a separate human rights agenda, in parallel to that of the UN.

Second, in 1981 the OIC took an initiative to develop an Islamic Declaration of Human Rights in with the intention of replacing the UDHR with an Islamic declaration. But, in reality as a state centric organization, they were not theoretically and scientifically well equipped to accomplish such a challenging task and the outcome was a UDHR painted in Islamic colors.

The OIC human rights rhetoric mentioned in the first question is the result of this ling process. This alternative agenda was not designed to embrace human rights and to improve human rights standards in member states, but it was intended to reject the UN human rights system. Thus, this rhetoric actually will not help improve the national image of these countries in the future, as it was not intended to do so. It was designed to challenge the Western hegemony in human rights discourse and it did work well in this direction.


Third, while there is no denial that the OIC have not sincerely embraced human rights discourse, there is no doubt also that there are double standards in human rights politics around the world. In the state-centric international system, national interest determines states’ relations with other nations and human rights policy of many states are defined under their foreign policy. Although this fact becomes more apparent in the OIC human rights rhetoric, but the OIC unfortunately is not the only rare case that adopted such rhetoric.


As for the second question, this is based on the prevailing human rights discourse that frequently make the contrast between the so-called Western democratic approach and Non-Western duty-bound traditions. But, in fact the contrast is between the positivist theories and natural law theories across the globe. To comprehend the relationship between Islamic principles and international human rights norms, we need to move deep beneath of the layers of principles and norms of human rights. Because, the traditional human rights discourse intended to protect the rights of individual against the state violations and therefore, it is not capable to address the challenges posed by non-state actors. The future-oriented approach requires a change of perspectives not only within the human rights standards and norms, but also in the respective of structures and grand theories. In other words, international law of human rights established a vertical relation between the State and individual. This vertical application of human rights cannot address the new challenges of our time mostly posed by non-state actors.


To address the contemporary challenges, there is an urgent need for a complementary system as well. Therefore, the Muslim world will surely embrace 'human rights’ in future when the new approach is properly developed. The Muslim world can contribute to this complementary horizontal human rights system which not only incorporates the notion of duty to human rights discourse, but also accommodates other social discourses such as ethics and religion.


Through this new perspective, the Islamic notion of the “Champion for the Common Good” and the idea of “Harmony” in Eastern traditions can contribute to the development of this complementary system. While Muslims’ rights are fundamental and all human rights violations must be ended, over-emphasis on the rights of individuals should not make them indifferent towards their responsibilities. Muslim world cannot just chant its human rights when other members of human family are suffering from poverty or when women and children are killed and injured in violent conflicts.


Now, the “Shared Destiny” of human family is a reality.


Contact: Dr. Ali

Interview: Pan Tianxiang

Editor: Sun Zhishan

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