The Malaysian Regional Programme (MRP) is part of the Asian Experts Programme (AXP) under chairperson Datuk Paddy Bowie OBE.

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February 2018 Highlights & Commentary

By Maria Townsend 06/03/2018
Shortly after welcoming the Chinese New Year of the Dog, on 20th February, Paddy Schubert Consultants Sdn Bhd had the honour of hosting an incredibly insightful luncheon speech as part of our Malaysia Regional Programme with the renowned Human Rights barrister and Queen’s Counsel, Mr Karim Khan QC.  The luncheon, held at The Pullman Hotel KLCC, discussed the controversial questions surrounding “Islam & Human Rights: Compatibility, Confusion & Challenges”.

Karim Khan came with a huge list of accomplishments, and a myriad of achievements as a British lawyer and specialist in international criminal law and international human rights law.  In addition to being a QC, he has been called to the Bar in both the England and Wales, as well as Pakistan.  

Presently, Karim is Lead counsel for large groups of victims of human rights violations in Albania, Kenya and Sierra Leone.  He is the President of the International Criminal Court Bar Association which represents both Victims and Defence Counsel eligible to appear before the International Criminal Court and a founding director of the NGOs, the “Peace and Justice Initiative” and “Global Victims Initiative”. He has published a number of leading texts on international criminal law, and is the co-author of Archbold ‘International Criminal Courts’. 

Media coverage of Islam and Islam-related issues has changed dramatically since the beginning of the new millennium.  The events of September 11, 2001, thrust Islam into the global media forefront: not only did coverage of Islam drastically increase, particularly in news and entertainment media, but the way in which Islam was framed by the media changed as well.

The most prevalent Islamic stereotype portrayed by the media is the radical Muslim insurgent, bent on waging jihad, or holy war, against the West. This stereotype usually represents violence as an inseparable part of being Muslim, as well as religion as the justification for its violent acts.

Another Islamic media stereotype involves portrayals of Muslim women, presented as passive victims of male power.  The media sometimes criticizes Islam for marginalizing women and for providing a disproportionate amount of power to men. 

Karim argued that peace was at the core of Islam, and to correctly assess the religion and its values, one must look at the source of the faith, not the often misconstrued version, changed to suit the narrative of others.

Violence taken in the name of Islam, be it Al-Qaeda or Daesh, is done by “so-called Muslims,” but the religion, or any religion, should be judged by their “teachings” rather than by the actions of their followers.

Atrocities have been committed by followers of all faiths such as the Spanish Inquisition by Christians, the plight of the Rohingya people by the Buddhist.  So judging a religion purely by a minority of followers needs to be rejected.  Islam as per the teachings of the Prophet Mohammad, is peaceful by nature.  “I, my servants, my followers defend them … No compulsion is to be on them. Their judges are not to be removed, nor their monks from their monasteries.”.  The standard Muslim greeting means “upon you, peace.”  Karim stressed that this “you” refers not just to Muslims but to all of humanity.

There is no compulsion in Islam.  “We are with them,” the text reads. “I, my servants, my followers defend them … No compulsion is to be on them. Their judges are not to be removed, nor their monks from their monasteries.”  Islam does not compel its followers to follow the rules.  Where there is compulsion, it is more a requirement of the state than a requirement of the religion.

With regards to its supposed suppression of women, we must consider the state of the world and the norms that were prevailing prior to the advent of Islam, as well as the teachings of the prophet. At the time of Islam, the reality is that women were property to be owned, and daughters were killed, buried alive. Islam forbade all of that.

Finally, since media representation of Islam has changed drastically within the past decade, it is necessary to see how these representations have shaped public opinion of Islam. A majority of Westerners perceive Muslims to be foreign and alien, fuelling prejudice and the notion that Islam is a threat to Western culture.  Murder, terrorism and denial of human rights are often blamed on Islam when they shouldn’t be.

At the heart of Karim’s argument was that Islam was in its purity, a religion of peace.  There is an obligation on Muslims not to overreact, but to speak with reason, with knowledge, and within the bounds of what they are taught.  There is also a responsibility of the press to listen to that moderate voice, which may not be as newsworthy as people burning flags, or burning books, or acting violently. It requires on all sides a degree of honesty, both of Muslims to act as Islam enjoins and on the media and leaders in religion and in politics, to try to bring people together, not divide. Ultimately, whatever religion we are talking about, the goal of religion must be to unite.