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The Center for the Study of Islam Democracy

Academics debate Ijtihad, Democracy and Human Rights

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Participants at a seminar in Tunisia discuss ways to balance religion with contemporary ideas of human rights and democracy.

By Jamel Arfaoui | Magharebia in Tunis

Researchers from the Maghreb, Turkey and the United States concluded a two-day seminar in Tunis on Saturday (January 17th). The conference, co-organized by CSID and the Arab Institute for Human Rights (AIHR), treated three subjects: Ijtihad, human rights and democracy.
“The Arab and Muslim peoples have suffered oppression for many centuries, although Islam calls for justice and equality,” said Radwan Masmoudi, President of the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy in Washington, USA. “Muslims today suffer from regimes that… consider criticism a crime punishable by law.”

Read More Tunis Conference 2
Tunis Conference 2According to Masmoudi, ijtihad and modernisation can provide human dignity and the freedom of religion advocated in the Qur’an: “Say, ‘The truth is from your Lord’: Let him who will believe, and let him who will, reject”. [Surat Al Kahf (Cave), verse 29].

“Secularists in the Arab region make a mistake when they ignore the religious element,” he said. “Islamists also make a mistake when they reject ijtihad, social development and the defense of freedoms as a religious duty, just like prayers and giving alms.”

Syrian political researcher Abdallah Torkmani advocated examining the ways employed by the West to solve the dilemma of religion and democracy. “How can the Arab region, where religion plays an essential role, move towards democracy?” he asked. “And how can they convince the people?”

According to Torkmani, a meeting between secularists and Islamists was inevitable. “In the past, the national liberation movements fought their struggles under the slogan ‘religion for God and homeland for all’. Today, it’s a different story.”

Tunis Conference 1Tunis Conference 1Jamila Mousli, a member of the Moroccan Parliament representing the Islamist Justice and Development Party, said that Islam is not in contradiction with equality as set out in contemporary human rights agreements.

“However, we reject the use of equality in an automatic way,” she said. “International conventions allow each country to have reservations on the articles that don’t suit the cultural peculiarities of each country and the nature of its society.”

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