This is a synopsis of a paper prepared for the Doha International Conference for the Family, Doha ,Qatar, November 29–30, 2004. The paper was not read at the conference for lack of time. We have omitted here most of the introductory remarks addressed to the conference sponsors and organizers.

The initial invitation letter [to the conference] from the honorable Secretary General to me months ago meaningfully said:

In spite of our various political policies and visions, the contrast in our social and economic positions and cultural capacities, the current situation requires reaching an international harmony which aims to shape up a strategy that enables the family to undertake its fundamental responsibilities as reflected in our shared principles of faith and as reiterated in governing the international conventions, in particular the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

I fully endorse this message. It is my endeavor to analyze for you in my presentation the ethos and the philosophy of those conventions referred to by the Secretary General as well as to outline in detail the highest significance that our revered faith, Islam, places on the pivotal position of the family for its adherents and, indeed, for humanity. It will not only provide you with the necessary academic and intellectual foundations of this field, but, hopefully, enrich our moral and ethical beliefs towards this subject.

Islam’s Message on Family

Islamic Conceptions Relating to Family

Position of Women in Family

Position of Parents

Economic Responsibilities in the Family

Position of Children and the Weak in a Family

Doctrinal Basis of “Care” Rights

Major International Texts Regarding Family

Islamic States: Countering the Current Threats to Family

Islam’s Message on Family

In the contemporary Western world there is a visible tendency to have the rights of the family give up some of their historical and inherent hierarchal position to newly developed “rules.”

Islam places, as we shall see elaborated in my address, the highest significance in life to the family as an institution, towards its different members, and to the duty of care and responsibility in those that have the worldly ability to provide assistance and help to others in the family that need such aid. The message of Islam is contained in the word of God, the Qur’an itself. These citations will hopefully stress the high significance that our faith places in this matter.

Throughout its history, Islamic faith has been both deeply cherished and misunderstood for its emphasis on enveloping the entirety of a person’s life with its normative structure of rules of conduct and precepts. Among the major norms of such expected behavior are those that are devised to apply to the institution of the family. Simultaneously, the jurisprudence and moral philosophy of the faith also acutely focus on the larger matter pertaining to the subject of human rights.

The contemporary Western world similarly accords tremendous significance to these topics. However, as I see it, the evolution of some newer norms and concepts in the international legal field has been such that, in respect of crucial details, there is a visible tendency to have the rights of the family give up some of their historical and inherent hierarchal position and status to specific and newly developed “rules” in the broader field of human rights.

This discussion proceeds in the background of an acute crisis of international proportions regarding the message and place of contemporary Islam. Whether or not one agrees with the thesis advocated initially in modern times by Samuel Huntington, it cannot be ignored that—from political avocations to the cultural and religious practices and beliefs—Muslims have come under severe criticism in the popular Western press. As such, the “clash” that Huntington spoke of has arisen, realistically speaking, from the imperceptible to the visible.

Many Islamic leaders have plainly become afraid, and few have openly defended anything that Muslims believe in or do.

In my view, Huntington was regrettably realistic in projecting a thesis of a clash of civilizations in the 21st century. This conviction has been strengthened by Pope John Paul’s recent affirmation of this doctrine in his recent address to a multi-congregational audience in Assisi on January 22, 2002, when he said, particularly to the Muslims, that he feared what he saw was an ongoing, even increasing crescendo of clashes, involving the Western civilizations and that of the Islamic peoples.

In the face of such an onslaught, many Islamic leaders have plainly become afraid, and few have openly defended anything that Muslims believe in or do. It is indeed “fashionable” to appear to be “modernistic” in outlook in all that affects the statecraft of such nations. In this context, in a Hegelian sense of historical perspective, recent political events towards a “secularized” Islamic World have to be seen. According to some strategic thinking of contemporary international affairs this is “desirable.” Humanitarian postulates and dogmas of Islam are heavily grounded on principles of high morality. Any dilution in their ethos would be a devastating blow to the religious practices of its millions of adherents, no less to other peoples and nations that direly need such ethical mores to keep afloat their own cultural value systems in an international milieu rapidly losing such values in the wake of contemporary “progress.”

As I shall briefly refer to at the end of this address, the greatest threats to the institution of the family come from contemporary “liberal” philosophies of the predominantly advanced Western civilizations. The problem that we are thus faced with is simple. Some of the “changes” that are currently advocated by a sizeable segment of liberal-based ideologues are such that they aim to denude the very foundations and grundnorms of the institution of the family so as to adversely affect its well-being and character. These challenges emanate from principally two sources, viz the liberal facets of contemporary thinking about human rights and perceivable trends at the United Nations while codifying newer evolutionary norms of this law. One sure way to combat such inherently derailing ideas for the coming generations is by reliance and adherence to the cherished values of our faith. Indeed, all religions that have survived through man’s history over several hundreds of years essentially stress this message.

Islamic Conceptions Relating to Family

These diverse injunctions regarding the family as a social unit signify that laws of divine origin are in place to ensure the integrity of this unit.

Let us now see the corresponding position under Islamic principles. In the context of Islamic family obligations, a family is defined as “a human social group whose members are bound together by the bond of blood ties and/or marital relationships.”[1]

The Qur’anic injunctions created the basic framework of such obligations. The major thrust of such injunctions was to ameliorate the position of women and to grant to daughters rights and privileges ignored by the ancient customs which were present at the advent of Islam: “These Qur’anic reforms, as well as customary practice, constitute the substance of classical family law” in Muslim philosophy.[2]

The basic perception of marriage, which is considered to be the foundation of family life, is in the nature of “the strongest bond”[3] that exists in human relations. Surat An-Nisaa’, the fourth chapter of the Qur’an, allows a marriage of choice but forbids the husband from inheriting the wife’s property against her will.[4] According to the Qur’an, men and women have equitable and proportionate rights and responsibilities in a family. In order to preserve the survival of the family unit and to ensure the viability of the institution, it has been provided that the weaker elements in this unit have higher levels of protection. As such, the Qur’an allows the rights of women not only in the context of marriage,[5] but in protection from slander,[6] maintenance,[7] and care of children.[8] The cumulative quintessence of these diverse injunctions regarding the family as a social unit signifies that laws of divine origin are in place to ensure the integrity of this unit.

In this scheme of the preservation of the family as a unit in a society described briefly above, the Islamic message seems to be to

  • Make marriage based on free consent.
  • Preserve the economic viability of the wife.
  • Make the offspring, with great emphasis on the females of this union, an integral part of this unit, in which they not only owe various duties of loyalty and respect to their parents, but in return the parents must exert their best moral influence on them.

Position of Women in Family

Islam’s initial contribution of immense historical significance lay in recognizing the status of women as equals of men.

While focusing on the institution of the family, two central themes need to be recognized. First, the extraordinarily “secure” position and status Islamic thought gives to females in the family. While addressing the topic of females in a family, the Qur’an has several direct commandments. First, female infanticide, extensively practiced in non-advanced societies throughout history, has been severely condemned. Not only did it prohibit the evil cultural heritage of that seventh century culture in which Islam began its infancy, it rebuked the idol worshipers of Arabia who ascribed daughters to God but wanted only to have male heirs, and reacted accordingly in their prevalent social practices. In Surat Al-Nahl (16:57 -59) the Qur’an says:

[And they assign daughters for Allah! Glory be to Him! And for themselves (sons—the issue) they desire! When news is brought to them, of (the birth of) a female (child), his face darkens, and is filled with inward grief! With shame does he hide himself from his people because of the bad news he has had! Shall he retain it on (sufferance and) contempt, or bury it in dust? Ah! What an evil (choice) they decide on!]9

Islam’s initial contribution of immense historical significance lay in recognizing the status of women as equals of men. Women’s inferior position in pre-Islamic Arabian culture was reflected in them being considered as chattels. According to a leading author, “marriage closely resembled a sale through which a woman became the property of her husband.”[10] Having no importance in either initiation or termination of marriage, she was supposed to follow her husband’s tribe and essentially bear children. Since she legally was supposed to have left her tribe, thereby also deemed to relinquish all property rights therein, as a wife, a woman became totally subject to her husband and his tribe. In this background came the Qur’anic injunctions regarding women’s rights to be respected, particularly as a mother, her property rights, and the right to be considered an integral party of the family unit.[11]

According to Islamic injunctions, the aim and “purpose of marriage is to create and live in an atmosphere of love, harmony, and companionship to fulfill the higher purposes of life.”[12] Leading Qur’anic mandates concerning these aspects of God’s commandments stressing the complimentary roles of both sexes to each other can be gleaned from the following verses:

[They (women) are your garments and ye (men) are their garments.] (Al-Baqarah 2:187)

And again, a famous verse says:

[The Believers, men and women, are protectors one of another.] (At-Tawbah 9:71)

Perhaps equally well known is the following commandment:

[And among His (God’s) Signs is this, that He created for you mates among yourselves, that ye may dwell in tranquility with them, and He has put love and mercy between your (hearts): verily in this are signs for those who reflect.] (Ar-Rum 30:21)

Position of Parents

Islamic teachings lay the greatest stress on the position of parents. Indeed, the Qur’an gives a lofty position of respect to one’s ancestry and places the status of mothers only second to God.[13] The Qur’an expressly mandates:

[Fear Allah through Whom ye demand your mutual (rights), and (reverence) the wombs (that bore you): for Allah ever watches over you.] (An-Nisaa’ 4:1)

Further, the Qur’an says:

The basic manifestation of ihsan (benevolence) has specific reference to the inter se relations between family members.

[And We have enjoined on man (to be good) to his parents: in travail, upon travail did his mother bear him, and in years twain was his weaning: (hear) the command, “Show gratitude to Me and to thy parents,” to Me is (thy final) goal.] (Luqman 31:14)

In another specific commandment God says:

[We have enjoined on man kindness to his parents: in pain did his mother bear him, and in pain did she give him birth. In the carrying of the (child) to his weaning is (a period of) thirty months.] (Al-Ahqaf 46:15)

The mandate to cater for and look after aged parents is directly attended to in the Qur’an. It is said:

[Thy Lord hath decreed that ye worship none but Him, and that ye be kind to parents. Whether one or both of them attain old age in life, say not to them a word of contempt, nor repel them, but address them in terms of honor.] (Al-Israa’ 17:23)

The underlying message in such commandments derives its ethical foundations from the concept, inter alia, of ihsan. This concept, which figures in diverse forms in Islamic teachings, in the words of an author, “denotes what is right, good, and beautiful.”[14] In further analysis it has been articulated by writers that through this divine mandate we are commanded to do “among other things, kindness, compassion, charity, reverence, conscientiousness, and sound performance” and applies with full emphasis to the parent and child relationship.[15]

It is further clear that this basic manifestation of ihsan (benevolence) has specific reference to the inter se relations between family members. In other words, such good will that is expected to be displayed towards the rest of the people in a community, ex hypothesi, increases manifold toward one’s own kith and kin. One author remarks:

It is the Muslim’s religious duty as well as virtue to show ihsan to his parents, be they Muslims like himself or otherwise. Concrete behavioral manifestations of the Divine Ordinance of ihsan to the parents include active empathy or “role taking”, compassionate gratitude, patience, prayer for them even after their demise, honoring their commitments on their behalf when they can no longer do so, sincere counsel, and veneration. An integral part of the children’s absolute religious duty is to provide for their parents in case of need and help them to be as comfortable as possible.[16]

Economic Responsibilities in the Family

Economic responsibility in the family is placed primarily on the husband. Further domestic duties are proportionately to be “shared.” However, it is the duty of the man to support his entire family within the level of his abilities in the social structure of the society. One author maintains it:

The wife’s right to be financially maintained is established by the Qur’an and unanimous consent among jurists.

The wife’s maintenance entails her incontestable right to lodging, clothing, food, and general care. The wife’s lodge must be adequate so as to ensure her privacy, comfort, and independence. This is interpreted by three major Schools of Law to mean that the lodging quarter must befit the means and lifestyle of both mates. However, it is the wife’s home in her capacity as wife; she has exclusive right to it. None of her husband’s relatives, dependents, or any other person may live with her in the same lodge unless she voluntarily agrees to it. The main concern here seems to be the welfare of the wife and the stability of the marriage. The husband’s responsibility for the wife’s shelter does not entitle him to impose upon her any disagreeable arrangement of residence.[17]

These observations are derived from the Qur’an from which the following well-known verse may be cited with advantage:

[Let the women live (in `iddah) in the same style as ye live according to your means; annoy them not, so as to restrict them….Let the man of means spend according to his means: and the man whose resources are restricted, let him spend according to what Allah has given him. Allah puts no burden on any person beyond what He has given him. After a difficulty, God will soon grant relief.] (At-Talaq 65:6-7)

In a family, the wife’s right to be financially maintained is established by Qur’anic injunctions and by unanimous consent amongst jurists of all its principal legal Schools of Law; this right is vested regardless of whether the wife is a Muslim or not, rich or poor. There is also the mention in Islamic thought that this provision of maintenance is not based on some commercial formulations but on the basis of affection, love, and compassion that should exist between the husband and wife. According to one writer, “The essence of marriage is compassion, of which she is entitled to receive as much as she gives. The husband, too, is instructed to be a source of compassion and security for his mate, to initiate and reciprocate in kind, not only to receive.”[18]

Position of Children and the Weak in a Family

The believers are called upon to be kind and forthcoming in their assistance to those in need, the disadvantaged, handicapped, and elderly kin.

The Qur’an mandates that young children be properly looked after and nurtured.[19] It is further stated in the same injunction that the children be raised by mutual consultation between the parents. These directions form a part of the general guidelines provided in the Qur’an dealing with responsibility of family members towards one another and of the responsibility of those who are in a position to help to do so with a sense of a sacred duty. There is a call to the believers that those who truly believe in Him are asked to be kind and forthcoming in their assistance to those in need, or are disadvantaged, or are handicapped. Indeed, these injunctions go as far as to impose hospitality and to provide help to the elderly kin, those who are indigent, or even for those who are traveling.[20]

An allied concept to provide for those in need in the family is that of zakah. It is a basic obligation of a Muslim to participate in social responsibilities by donating a small part of their savings to those in need. This “purifies” the person giving such assistance. While thanking God for His blessings, it is deigned to help others in distress and needing help. The Qur’an says:

[Spend out of (the bounties) We have provided for you, before the day comes when no bargaining (will avail), nor friendship nor intercession.] (Al-Baqarah 2:254)

In order to cause encouragement in assistance of others God says that He will multiply the rewards to the generous in the Hereafter. Indeed, in one passage in the Qur’an it is described as a “loan to God”:

[Who is he that will loan to God a beautiful loan, which God will multiply unto his credit and multiply many times? It is that God giveth (you) want or plenty, and to Him shall be your return.] (Al-Baqarah 2:245)

One of the foremost authors on Islamic learning points out, therefore, that “no religion prior to Islam had consecrated charity, the support of the widow, the orphan, and the helpless poor, by enrolling it among the positive enactments of the system.”[21]

Doctrinal Basis of “Care” Rights

A person must fulfill both the rights of Allah and the rights of His creatures, or his totality of duties remains unsatisfied.

Before examining the allied question of human rights in Islam, it may be instructive to view the doctrinal basis of these “care” rights in the philosophy of the Qur’an; as I see it, predominant themes permeate this subject.

First, the basis of all the desirable human actions emanate in the concept of kindness. In Arabic, the corresponding word for God’s ever-present kindness is designated by the word rahim or rahman. This word appears many times in the Qur’an and indicates one of the titles for God by referring to Him as “the Kind One” or “the One Who gives kindness.” Indeed, this word is oft repeated in Muslim prayers and is perhaps the most beloved of God’s descriptions in human vocabulary. Linguistically, it comes from the root word rahm meaning the “womb.” It underscores the theme of God’s care and love for all His creatures as a “mother.” This is important, for it also shows the status eventually bestowed upon the institution of motherhood in the family.

The loving and compassionate attitude of care reflected in this description of the Almighty is amply reflected in the Qur’an.[22] The Qur’an further indicates that He is pleased with those who are kind and helpful to those in need and distress. He further says that He will reward “good deeds” of this category in a special way.[23] Islamic Law actually, in the positive science of its rules, demarcates two kinds of rights. The first category is that of the rights of God, called huquq Allah. The second category is known as the rights of God’s creatures. This is known as huquq al-`ibad. The Qur’an and Islamic Law are explicit in diverse ways that unless a person fulfills both kinds of rights in his life, his totality of duties remains unsatisfied. Indeed, in terms of spirituality, it is also maintained that obedience to God is not really complete unless help is rendered to one’s family, then to kith and kin, then to ones other distant relatives needing assistance, and finally to neighbors and even strangers that come to visit a person of means.[24] It is said in the Qur’an:

[Seest thou one who denies Judgment (to come)? Then such is the (man) who repulses the orphan (with harshness). And encourages not the feeding of the indigent. So woe to the worshippers who are neglectful of their Prayers. Those who (want but) to be seen (of men), but refuse (to supply) (even) neighborly needs.] (Al-Ma`un 107:1–7)

The second basis of these rights is the Islamic conception of justice. It will be seen that the Qur’an while addressing the matters of human relationships laid the greatest stress on justice.

The Qur’an, in addressing matters of human relationships, lays the greatest stress on justice.

Whether it is a question of the rights of the members of family, or those of the people in a state, the Qur’an mandates in various forms highest adherence to justice, called `adl. While there may be a number of ways to look at this phenomenon, I think the basic message of Qur’an is that merit and the quality of one’s claims and demands or expectations are to be evaluated on the basis of justice and righteousness. Righteousness itself consists of three elements:

Belief (iman)

Just action (`amal)

Justice (`adl)

Accordingly, for human action to be acceptable in a worldly context, it must nevertheless accord high priorities to these notions enumerated above for it to be considered worthwhile in a religious or spiritual connotation. Its most eloquent expose comes in the following Qur’anic pronouncement:

[It is not righteousness that ye turn your faces towards East or West; but it is righteousness to believe in Allah and the Last Day, and the Angels, and the Book and the Messengers; to spend of your substance, out of love for Him, for your kin, for orphans, for the needy, for the wayfarer, for those who ask, and for the ransom of slaves; to be steadfast in prayer, and practice regular charity; to fulfill the contracts which ye have made; and to be firm and patient, in pain (or suffering) and adversity, and throughout all periods of panic. Such are the people of truth, the God-fearing.] (Al-Baqarah 2:177)25

In another notable injunction, the Qur’an candidly asserts:

[The most honored of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you.] (Al-Hujurat 49:13)

One other memorable passage about justice may be mentioned before leaving this point. The Qur’an says:

[O ye who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even as against yourselves. … Follow not the lusts (of your hearts), lest ye swerve, and if ye distort (justice) or decline to do justice, verily Allah is well acquainted with all that ye do.] (An-Nisaa’ 4:136)

The above brief analysis reveals the emphatic focus that the Qur’an places on the concept of kindness and justice. There are other allied concepts as well that tend to generate the ethos of Islamic dynamics towards creating a caring society with the family occupying the pivotal position.[26] It is self-evident that while addressing matters relating to affection for one’s family and the allied expectation of assistance required of a Muslim community, the ingredient of `adl or justice plays a uniquely esoteric and ethical role.

Major International Texts Regarding Family

Contemporary international law supports the pivotal role of the family.

In order to better comprehend the Islamic perspectives on family as adverted to in the Qur’an narrated above, I would now refer briefly to the contents of this subject in the confines of the major international conventions. It would be instructive to view them as such so as to give us a deeper comparative understanding of this field. The established norms on the “family” in major international texts of high authority, it will be seen, not only generally correspond with many of the messages of Islam on this subject, but may be said to be almost borrowing on the ethical Muslim foundations regarding the institution of the family.

The modern day Magna Carta of human rights, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948,[27] asserts categorically in Article 16 as follows:

Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality and religion, have the right to marry and to found a family.

Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of intending spouses.

The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the state.[28]

These concepts are also basically echoed in Islamic teachings referred to by me earlier. This focused attention is then again reflected in both the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.[29] Both these international agreements contain and continue the genesis of the family being regarded as the “natural and fundamental group unit of the society.” The Economic and Cultural Rights Covenant states in Article 10:

The widest possible protection should be accorded to the family, which is the natural and fundamental group unit of society, particularly for its establishment and while it is responsible for the care and education of dependent children. Marriage must be entered into with the free consent of the intending spouses.[30]

In declaratory contemporary international law and texts regarding implementation, there is firm support for the pivotal role that the family has to play in the society.

The same language is then reproduced in Article 23 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which states, inter alia:

The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by the society and the state.

The right of men and women of marriageable age to marry and to found a family shall be recognized.

These texts of general application of international treaty law are largely truly expository of the position of family in contemporary UN law. It is not necessary to cite more similar articulations of this point, but two may be specifically mentioned.

The declaration issued after the Children Summit on September 30, 1990 [31] contains the following important formulation in its Plan of Action for Implementing the World Declaration. Paragraph 14 of the plan says:

The family, as a fundamental group and natural environment for the growth and well being of children, should be given all necessary protection and assistance.

Again, in paragraph 20 (5) it is importantly reiterated:

We will work for the role of the family in providing for children and will support the efforts of parents, other caregivers, and communities to nurture and care for children, from childhood through adolescence.

Another similar landmark supportive statement on these lines is found in the Plan of Action for Implementing the World Declaration on the Survival, Protection, and Development of Children in the 1990s. It is stated in paragraph 33:

Effective implementation of the Plan of Action will require concerted national action and international cooperation. As affirmed in the Declaration, such action and cooperation must be guided by a principle of “first call for children,” a principle that the essential needs of children should be given high priority in the allocation of resources, in bad times as well as in good times, at national level and international, as well as at family level.[32]

It is evident that, both at the levels of declaratory contemporary international law and painstakingly produced available texts regarding implementation, there is firm support for the pivotal role that the family has to play in the society.

Islamic States: Countering the Current Threats to Family

For my present analysis, it is not necessary to advert to those issues wherein the efforts of the international community have also attempted to dilute this transcendental position of the family while addressing allied questions dealing essentially with contemporary conceptions of morals and ethics. However, a brief look at some of the current trends at the transnational level of the anti-family protagonists and the Muslim states will be helpful in evaluating the crucial role that the teachings of Islam have played in this ongoing evolution.

This trend is visible in the United Nations in New York, at the vigorous debates of the UN Human Rights agencies in Geneva, and at other transnational forums where discussions of this subject may take place. When the General Assembly of the United Nations proclaimed 1994 as the Year of the Family, the Muslim states played a key role in the discussions that were to become its guiding spirit and the basis of its dynamism.[33] Several heads of Islamic states or their foreign ministers helped this proclamation to become a reality by committing their countries to this noble cause. Prominent among the leaders of this ideology were countries such as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Egypt, Iran, Malaysia, and Sudan. The main proposals to emerge in the discussions that followed this proclamation of the General Assembly included the establishment of councils of families at national levels.[34]

Why recognize 1994 as the International Year of the Family? the most compelling reason was that the year provided a major opportunity to build and strengthen partnerships between families, governments at all levels, community organizations, businesses and unions, in order to support and share the responsibility of care for children and other family members made vulnerable by illness, disability, or old age. The objective was a better distribution of resources, and opportunities to improve living standards and the quality of life, strengthening the essential interdependence of families, communities, and government policies, thereby integrating private responsibility and social responsibility. This theme of building better partnerships between families, governments, and communities is a priority issue identified by the governments of various countries.[35]

All Muslim countries have, while adopting similar policies in respect of the family, different approaches towards the Shari`ah.

It may be mentioned that all Muslim countries, designated or considered as such, have, while generally adopting similar policies in respect of the family, somewhat different approaches towards the Sharia as being the fundamental law of the land. For example, Malaysia, unlike Pakistan or Saudi Arabia or Iran, while not binding the government by the Sharia as its grundnorm of constitutional jurisprudence, has in its corpus juris of codified law the clear legal mandate that it is the Sharia that still basically governs the family law, where the “Law of God” is applied.[36] But in states like Pakistan or Iran it is the Muslim Law that has a standard of the supremacy of constitutional norms.

The actions and policies of the Muslim countries in defense of the family have been most evident in the proceedings of the UN Human Rights Commission (HRC) meetings in Geneva. At this institution, known for its “liberal” slant in most interpretive efforts of the existing spectrum of human rights, on several occasions matters relating to family rights have been focused upon. Accordingly, the HRC has dealt with many family-connected social, cultural, economic, technical, and administrative matters as well. While the focus of such a diversified scope of activity has been multidimensional, its handling of core issues of concern to family has been less than benign.

In 2003 at the UN Human Rights Commission, a resolution was introduced to promote and protect the rights of all regardless of their sexual orientation.

The most recent examples of such an attitude are most poignantly brought out by its handling of the well-known “sexual orientation” resolution. In 2003 the Government of Brazil introduced during the annual meetings of the HRC the said resolution, which in its operative part said:

Stresses those human rights and fundamental freedoms are the birthright of all human beings that the universal nature of these rights and freedoms is beyond question and that the enjoyment of such rights and freedoms should not be hindered in any way on the grounds of sexual orientation.

Calls upon states to promote and protect the human rights of all persons regardless of their sexual orientation.

Requests the United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights to pay due attention to the violation of human rights of the grounds of sexual orientation.

It is axiomatic that had this Resolution been passed, in my view, it would fundamentally alter the international law governing the family in a drastic manner. Already there is a considerable body of legal opinion that is apprehensive that merely the accumulation of non-binding declarations of international institutions may constitute, within the domestic domain, enough weight to allow an argument to be raised that is fundamentally destructive to the current state of morals concerning marriage, particularly in the West.[37] As such, had a UN Human Rights Commission resolution affirmed in a formal text that “sexual orientation” was a human right, it would clearly lead to a devastating effect on the morals of this matter qua marriage the world over. Consequently, the role that was played by some key Muslim countries and by most concerned NGOs deserves a deeper examination.

When, in 2003, Brazil introduced this resolution, a heated debate ensued on the definition of “discrimination” since it was on this doctrinal basis that this matter came before the HRC.[38] Pakistan distributed a memo on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) asserting that the “resolution directly contradicts the tenets of Islam and other religions and that its approval would be a direct insult to the 1.2 billion Muslims around the world.”[39] Five Islamic countries pursuant to this action of the Government of Pakistan—namely, Egypt, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, and Pakistan—introduced numerous amendments to “kill” the resolution procedurally. Because of this maneuver, on April 29, 2003, the last working day of the Commission’s work, Libya, the HRC Chairman, postponed the discussion of the debate to the 2004 Session.

The HRC’s sexual orientation resolution will be debated again in 2005 with sufficient preparation to contest the Muslim lobby.

In the 2004 session of the HRC, both the sponsoring member countries and supporting and actively helpful NGOs of this resolution put political and economic pressures on countries not supporting this move. Fortunately, the pro-family groups also put up a formidable challenge to such efforts. Their lobbying efforts were very extensive and included the holding of a manor seminar in Geneva in which I was happy to give a major address on the illegal nature of this proposed resolution.[40] These efforts created a formidable atmosphere in the commission halls of the Palais des Nations that led to the withdrawal by Brazil of the resolution and it was announced to “defer” it to next year’s [2005] debates of the HRC.[41]

Before this withdrawal, it was also considered to have this resolution sponsored by a European country. But fearing that it may not possess enough votes, it was decided by its protagonists to contest the Muslim lobby with sufficient preparation next year.[42]

There is thus no gainsaying the fact that the Islamic countries on the basis of their faith, Islam, have stood the brunt of the attacks on the institution of the family in an open and measured manner. This [Doha] Conference itself is the living tribute to this realization that is most noteworthy. We must place our debt on record to the State of Qatar for providing us with this forum for cementing the traditional beliefs and practices concerning the family.

We, therefore, hope that the coming months and years will see the furthering of this thinking in a manner that is both befitting and successful. While the psychological basis of what politically contemporary Islam stands for is certainly a perspective matter, it is clear that the humanitarian and philosophical rationale of fundamental Islamic beliefs have a vigorous and notable role to play in matters relating to human rights, the family, and generally in fields associated with humanitarian efforts.

In an international environment of changing or even “decaying” public mores or traditions, moral and ethical Islamic doctrines can install more progressive yet conservative perspectives in such important matters as those involving the development of family rights, and values revolving around fundamental human rights. As such, there is no gainsaying the fact that Western institutions associated with such topics as have been analyzed in this presentation, are bound to be fortified and preserved by reliance on such comparative criteria from the Islamic teachings and culture. 

By Prof. Dr. Farooq Hassan