Universality of human rights and relativity of their foundations : reconciling the Islamic sharia with international human rights law

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Salsi, Viviana Maria
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Besides their legal dimension, human rights also bear a strong ethical significance. Therefore they can only be understood and accepted on the grounds of people’s pre-rational feelings, moral stands and deepest beliefs. This explains why the universality of human rights is challenged by cultural diversity: some civilisations can find human rights incompatible with their own worldviews. In response to this problem, this thesis argues that the universal recognition of human rights can be achieved by endorsing the relativity of their foundation. In other words, human rights must be reconciled with and founded in different cultures in order to become truly universal. The practical value of this theory will be illustrated by applying it to the conflict between the Shari’a and the international human rights norms. According to this view, Islam would be recognized as a potential source of legitimation for human rights on the same footing as the Western culture. Overcoming its moral paternalism, the West could engage in an egalitarian inter-cultural dialogue with Islam. In turn, this would free Islam from the logic of competition with the West, and trigger a process of intra-cultural reformation. In this way the Shari’a would be reinterpreted in accordance with the needs of the present age, including the respect for human rights.
Second semester University: Université Libre de Bruxelles.
cultural relativism, human rights, Islam, islamic law, multiculturalism