Geneva, 14-15 March 2002

Mrs. Mary Robinson, High-Commissioner for Human Rights,

Excellencies, Distinguished Participants,

I have great pleasure to welcome you all at the opening of this symposium, which is being organized by the Organization of the Islamic Conference on the issue of Human Rights in Islam. I would particularly like to welcome Mrs. Mary Robinson, the High-Commissioner for Human Rights, who is honoring us with her presence today as we pay a glowing tribute to her unrelenting efforts in defending the need to respect human rights everywhere, her bold stands to firmly establish human rights, and her public proclamation of her views in the service of these rights in all circumstances. That is why her presence among us today is a mark of her undeniable moral support for this symposium.

I would also like to extend my warm welcome and deep appreciation to the distinguished lecturers for accepting our invitation to participate in the proceedings of this symposium. I am confident that their participation in the dialogue we are opening today will enrich our proceedings and take our deliberations up to the desired level of effectiveness. My thanks also go to all the participants, their Excellencies the ambassadors, and other eminent personalities who have kindly accepted our invitation and set aside a part of their valuable time to follow our proceedings, share our concerns, and enrich our debate.

It had been decided that this symposium was to be held more than one year ago. However, a number of organizational matters delayed it on several occasions until, as providence would have it, its convening today without having any connection with the events of 11 September 2001 in the United States of America. However, those events and their subsequent developments give the subject of this symposium immediate relevance for the prevalent international situation and the implications and issues it involves for Islam and Muslims. Such a coincidence makes of this symposium an opportune occasion to clarify in this European city the position of Islam on several international developments.

A review of the issues for consideration and study by this symposium immediately reveals their importance and key role, particularly in giving prominence to all aspects of the concept of Human Rights in Islam.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Human rights are an integral part of the natural rights which are linked to man since his birth and which are recognized by all religions and creeds since ancient times, despite discrepancies and differences in the degree to which those rights are actually recognized and respected. Islam is distinguished from other religions and creeds because it has advocated a new, larger concept of human rights with more global and generalized dimensions contained in the concept of "human dignity". The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was proclaimed in 1948 as a result of the cumulative, modern civilizational momentum based on the strive of many to obtain individual political freedoms. The perspective of Islam on these rights, ever since it came into being more than fourteen centuries ago, stems from its definition of man on the basis of his relation to his Creator, to the Universe, and to the communities in which he lives. Thus the concept of "human dignity in Islam" is situated within the framework of a sacrosanct socio-spiritual matrix, which goes beyond the material and political rights enshrined in the Declaration of Human Rights to encompass in its scope—in addition to the material and political aspects—the psychological emotions and the moral and spiritual considerations which are essential elements of the word "dignity" and of "honoring" the individual. If the Universal Declaration of Human Rights exhorts or urges those concerned to respect human rights, the respect of human dignity in Islam is a binding and irrevocable commandment entrenched in a sacred religious text that cannot be shirked or ignored.

The realization of human dignity requires the satisfaction of several conditions and diverse requirements, such as collective justice and equality between the members of the one society, whether they are male or female, rich or poor, Muslim or non-Muslim, and demands the application of democracy in its wider sense: as the Holy Coran says: "the conduct of their affairs is a matter of Shura (mutual consent) among them", the fairness and integrity of justice as the Islamic maxim says: "Justice is the bedrock of government", the proper conduct and accountability of governors, as the saying of the Prophet puts it: "the holiest Jihad is the proclamation of right to an unjust ruler", the guarantee of public freedoms, including the freedom of religion and creed, as the Holy Coran says: "There shall be no compulsion in religion". Thus there are no distinctions or rivalry, except in piety, the fear of God, and in vying with each other in attaining an upright moral character. All these expressions in themselves need extensive research and dedicated books to adequately explain and amplify their meanings, which goes beyond the scope of this brief account.

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is evident from the above account that the subject of human rights is as old as Islam itself and that it has a central and fundamental place in Islam. In fact it is the axis on which revolve the state and its philosophy and apparatus.

Hence the special interest accorded by the Organization of the Islamic Conference to human rights, which has led it to formulate several specific conventions and covenants on these rights, such as the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam. This symposium itself testifies to that special interest. The participations of the lecturers will happily address several of these issues, such as human dignity, democracy and Shura in Islam, the fairness of the judiciary, public freedom, the freedom of expression, the rights of the child and of women, the rights of non-Muslims under the Islamic state, etc.

In the light of all this, it becomes, perhaps only too clearly, unfair to target Islam and label it as a religion that does not care for human rights and for anyone to launch attacks on Islamic civilization by generalizing the crimes of some who would claim affiliation to Islam, to the whole Islamic civilization and to all Muslims.

We have in fact seen how states that are committed to the defense of human rights and public freedoms have renounced these very principles when they came under a horrendous terrorist attack that was universally condemned by the whole world led by all Islamic countries. Those states even committed violations and reprisals against innocent people in a way that is unjustified by any measure of justice be it locally or internationally and runs diametrically opposed to the principles of respecting human rights and public freedoms.

This example urges us to exert our continuing efforts to establish the culture of respecting human and public freedoms, not only in the developing countries but also with the peoples of the developed countries where this cruel experience has proved the fragility of the respect by those states of these principles.

Needless to say, imposing the respect of human rights is an important achievement of humanity as a whole, which can only help guarantee the respect of public freedoms, the establishment of justice, and therefore the reign of safety, contentment, and acceptance of the other. This represents indeed a major feat for humanity which, if realized, can lead it to promising horizons of social peace, welfare, prosperity, progress, and a life of dignity. From this perspective and in this hope we look forward to the proceedings of this symposium, hoping that it in turn will constitute a step that brings humanity a little closer to that goal and that noble human aspiration.

Finally, let me repeat my thanks and appreciation to you all for accepting to grace this symposium with your personal presence, wishing you all complete success in your deliberations.

Wassalamu Alaikum Warahmatullah Wabarakatuh.