Dr. Abdulaziz Sachedina, who will appear Saturday night at the Islamic Cultural Center of Northern California in downtown Oakland to discuss his new book, Islam and the Challenge of Human Rights (Oxford, $25), says that religion can help persuade its own adherents to respect other humans.
“The role of religions is to forge better relationships,” he said. “The original impulse of religious texts is to recognize the other, create better camraderie ... Secular advocates say religion has no role in these questions, that it’s historically problematic, that it would be better for people to just believe in what they believe and leave it at that. But that would be to deprive religion of a voice, of its best offer to humanity. Human rights need religion, which teaches and has the ability to persuade emotionally ... Religions need to learn that those outside religion itself have human respect, dignity. Religion can’t afford to be exclusive when it comes to human relationships.”
Sachedina spoke specifically about Islam in relation to his study and work on the role of religion in human rights.
“We need to search in our sources, to see what the Quran really does say,” he said. “Is it saying others are less than you? The Quran says all human beings are endowed with a divine nature, naturally understood in dignity. We also have responsibility for the earth, for a peaceful environment. God’s right to be worshiped is not to objectify human beings, but in loving one another, in working for the betterment of the earth. It’s not a ritual where we sit down and close our eyes. To work to improve the quality of life on earth is a human responsibility. That’s the fulfillment of God being worshiped, part of the commitment to do God’s bidding. God does not need to be worshipped. We worship God when we recognize each other.”
Sachedina, originally from Tanzania and of East Indian extraction, studied in Canada, India and Iran, where he was a student of Dr. Ali Shariati’s. Sachedina speaks 10 languages and has taught since the 1970s. He is chair of Religious Studies at the University of Virginia.
Sachedina said he sees the violation of human rights in many countries, including in the Muslim world, as a major concern.
“It is important to convince many people in the faith to recognize that human dignity, the ability to tell right from wrong, is part of our nature and comes from the divine,” he said. “People of the faith need religion to play a role in persuading its own adherents of the necessity to respect other human beings—to be citizens of the world, caring for the environment, for the world as a whole, to participate in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”
Sachedina emphasized that his “life goal, not simply an academic concern, is to be engaged in trying to make people aware of the humanity of others, of belief, of gender, of race—to respect certain inalienable rights as human beings.”
He said that we all had work to do in this regard, and that the Muslim community can’t be self-righteous regarding the dignity of others.
“We should be looking for variety,” Sachedina said. “Human beings have a lot to learn.”
ISLAM AND THE CHALLENGE OF HUMAN RIGHTS
Dr. Abdulaziz Sachedina discusses his new book, 6 p.m., Sat. Nov. 19 at the Islamic Cultural Center of Northern California, 1433 Madison, Oakland. $5-$7. 832-7600. www.iccnc.org.