Howard University’s Muslim Chaplain and chair of government relations for the Muslim Alliance in North America spoke to students about human rights in Islam Monday.
The event was part of Islam Awareness Week, an annual program run by the Muslim Students’ Association. This year’s theme is the universality of Islam.
The chaplain, Imam Abdul Malik Johari, had audience members read aloud from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and compared its articles with Islamic law. Johari showed how the Koran and Muhammad called for equality for women, freedom of religion and other rights found in the Universal Declaration. He also contrasted these ideals and the actions of Muhammad with abuses of human rights in American history.
Johari explained what he called “the Islamic Framework for the development of human rights,” or the theoretical ideas of the Koran, the precedent set by Muhammad, and the law. Using a triangle diagram, he explained that Islam stresses individual morality and responsibility towards the community are above law enforcement, while the opposite is true in the United States.
“What we call Islam…is designed for the whole world…for living in harmony with the rules of God as well as a recognition of those rights and relationships between people,” Johari said. “I think of Islam as a worldwide way of life…with no difference between religious and secular law. The two are in harmony with one another.”
After an hour-long speech, Johari answered questions that members of the MSA had collected on index cards. One attendee asked how a society could be fair to all religions when secular and religious laws were the same.
“The shariya is better than what you and I would come up with…I’m afraid to live in a society that doesn’t have a moral compass,” Johari said, referring to the Islamic holy law. “I’d rather argue over interpretation of this book than have no book.”
At 9 p.m., when the lecture was supposed to end, Johari stayed behind to answer more questions for another hour, most of which focused on current events.
When asked about Osama bin Laden and other terrorists who associate themselves with Islam, Johari said that terrorists and dictators were not true Muslims because their actions went against the Koran.
On the state of human rights in Muslim countries, Johari said, “Most of these countries are only recently out of colonialism. In the colonial period, freethinking practitioners of Islam were imprisoned and murdered…the average people don’t know about the higher ideas of Islam. People have controlled the clerics to teach a kind of Islam that will empower the rulers.”
“People got an understanding that Muslims have a sense of human rights and that that sense is not so much of a departure from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” Johari said. “What I hope will come out of this is more human rights in America. We’re failing to do live up to these principles here and in the so-called Muslim countries.”
Students in attendance said Johari reached out to all students.
“I think it went well,” MSA President Omar Matadar said. “The goal of the week is to reach as many non-Muslims as possible and the majority of people here were non-Muslims, so in that it was a success.”
“I think he explained things in a way that was very easy to relate to…if everybody understood Islam the way he does, we wouldn’t have these kinds of cultural issues and people wouldn’t misunderstand Islam,” senior Ashley Stucki said.
Other attendees said they wished he had focused more on the current state of Islam outside of the question and answer session.