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Can Faith Substitute for Human Rights?

14 May 2013 14 Comments

Yasmine Mahmoud Fakhry

Yasmine Mahmoud Fakhry
Alexandria, Egypt

“While the international community and human rights activists emphasize that human rights are universal, inalienable and imprescriptible, the truth is that human rights are inherent only in places where the culture of human rights exists.”


Through my work as a human rights educator, I sought to bring hope to young people and motivate them to be agents of change. I lived the happiest days of my life teaching, especially because I maintained a good rapport and a positive relationship with my students. I have been blessed by the warmth and respect of my students, which gave me strength and motivated me to work hard and be the best I can to deserve their love and admiration. Although my passion for human rights grew even more over the years, my students did not share my enthusiasm and strong feelings about the human rights course and many didn’t see any point in learning about human rights even while they were being denied of many of their basic rights.

Talking about human rights was like talking about fairy tales, something which they knew never existed. It sounded like the promise of Heaven, something they considered to be beyond their imagination and probably unreachable. The negative reactions and attitudes of some students did not stop me from carrying on my mission or from dreaming about educating the coming generation for a better future. I was excited that I managed to touch the lives of many other students who started dreaming themselves and becoming more engaged in civil work. On the other hand, the workplace environment was hostile and discouraging, and although I battled every year for more facilities and better service, things would only get worse. So after four years of struggling with corruption, structural violence, underpayment, and inhumane working conditions, I became emotionally drained and I started to lose interest and hope in change.

After a long period of involvement in human rights issues, my inner peace was replaced with anger, rage, and resentment because when I opened my eyes wide and looked closely around me I saw how people are suffering from degrading treatment and severe inhumane conditions. I saw that even what we took as the good things in our lives turned out to be violations of human rights, and what we considered luxurious or secondary needs turned out to be basic human rights. Knowledge of human rights can be depressing in a country where only violations of these rights can be witnessed on the ground. The knowledge of human rights has made me resistant to happiness without dignity and without my rights. I began to understand why my students were resistant to learning about human rights – because they did not want to lose their inner peace.

The reason people have put up with oppression and the  severe conditions under which they lived is because they had Arab values called reda and sabr. The former means to find satisfaction, contentment, and pleasure in everything, including finding inner peace during the hard times and look at the bright side of all the misfortunes and troubles that we face in our lives. The other value is sabr, which means to have patience, tolerance, and strength to face the difficulties at all times. Both reda and sabr help people accept the things that cannot be changed.

Yasmine's students in Egypt

Faith helped us in the last few decades to maintain our inner peace without which violence would have taken place and the inner beast unleashed. When I visited the apartheid museum in South Africa, I came across an interesting quote which was Desmond Tutu’s “When the missionaries came to Africa they had the Bible and we had the land. They said “Let us pray.” We closed our eyes. When we opened them we had the Bible and they had the land.” South Africans survived on faith and they clung to the Bible to find hope and inner peace despite all the pain that they had to live through. Old Egyptian black and white movies portrayed poor people as more decent and happier because they were not greedy and they were thankful for everything God had granted them. They tried to be happy despite all the circumstances, and sometimes the rich even envied them for their courage in the face of all challenges and their fearlessness of tomorrow.

While the international community and human rights activists emphasize that human rights are universal, inalienable, and imprescriptible, the truth is that human rights are inherent only in places where the culture of human rights exists. There are millions of people who have lived all their lives without having ever tasted what human rights are like. Instead, they have survived on hope, drawing their strength from spiritual beliefs and finding happiness by appreciating small things. Awareness of human rights for them is a means to sabotage their happiness and take away the peace they have found for themselves. To tell them you have human rights and you can’t live without them is like telling them “You are fooling yourself and you will never be happy.” These people have lived to tell the tale of how they bravely faced appalling hardships and overcame their grievances.

I wish I didn’t know much about human rights; I have fought daily battles and struggles and I found my happiness in believing in myself and believing that I can make my own happiness. Having traveled a lot, I came to see how indeed it is greener on the other side and how it is not green at all where I stand. I had faith and hope while being denied my human rights, but now I am losing hope and faith too? Is there any chance I can survive?


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14 Comments to “Can Faith Substitute for Human Rights?”
  1. mariam hafez says:

    as her student i learned from her a lot,her way of teaching was interesting and educative

  2. sibusiso says:

    Great and touching article Jasmine. Keep up the good work. as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides in article one that all humans are born free and with equal dignity. Continue to advance human dignity and your work is not in vain

    • Yasmine Fakhry says:

      Thank you all for your comments. It is good to know that you liked the article.

      Thank you Mariam for your lovely comment!

  3. [...] This article is written for peacexpeace organization. [...]

  4. Heba Khalifa says:

    Great article!

  5. Ahmed El-Tabaee says:

    Yasmine, your article is amazing. It provide a new vision for life and how we select to live it. The difference is “Do you want to live for this moment(sabr and reda)?” Or “Do you want to live your current life giving awareness to people to respect their humanity, leaving a sign for the next generations to remember you (human rights)?”. This is everybody choice, not only in human right, either to live the moment, or to work hard to leave a message in any field for the next generations.
    At the end, I love you very much.
    Your Husband…. Ahmed

  6. Ahmed Mohamed says:

    Wonderful article, I really liked it.

  7. Daniel S. Moskowitz says:

    NO, Faith cannot Substitute for Human Rights because an ABSENCE of Respect for Human Rights is an ABUSE OF POWER. Nowhere in the Qu’ran does it say that the Powerful should be allowed to Abuse the Weak….that Men should be able to Abuse Women. This is an Incorrect Understanding of the Qu’ran and Islam. If the Powerful can Abuse the Weak with Impunity and if men are not discouraged from Abusing Women, it is not an Islamic Society….not matter how often people Pray. I’m sure many people are doing a lot of praying in SYRIA right now, but it isn’t working. Why? Because the Powerful and the Strong are abusing Raping and Killing the Weak and the Vulnerable. Faith without respect for Human Rights is just SUPERSTITION. The Qu’ran prescribes a JUST Society…..not “Divine Intervention”. The Torah and the Gospels are the Same as well. They just all get used to justify Racial Caste Systems or Israel’s “Ethnic Cleansing”. Without a Society that Respect Human Rights, a Religious Tradition LOSES ITS LEGITIMACY. That’s why the Dalai Lama has recently been so outspoken in his Criticism of the “Gangster Monks of Burma” who are terrorizing the Islamic Minority there.

    • Yasmine Fakhry says:

      Thank you Daniel for your comments, I do agree with you and I believe that humsn rights are indispensable and I have been trying to raise awareness on human rights for the last few years! But unfortunately there are no human rights, and we WISH we had human rights, but what I am trying to say is that we would either choose to be miserable because we don’t have access to our basic human rights or we can choose to have faith and survive no matter what!

      In the last couple of years, violations against human rights resched the peak and as people became aware ogf the injustice, they started to lose their faith as well and they have reached a state of misery and depression that life has become unbearable!

  8. Rose Gordon says:

    Beautiful and touching article Yasmine. I do not know your language, or the full cultural context. But I am thinking that perhaps there is no conflict between reda and sabr and the pursuit of human rights.
    We need to find some satisfaction, contentment, and pleasure in everything, including finding inner peace during the hard times. Those qualities seem to me to be Essential when we are working to create positive change. Inner peace does not necessarily mean not taking action against what is wrong. I think it means having a deep inner place from which to draw from the Source of Life.
    This creation is beautiful and we can be content at our core, I think, see the beauty and bright side of misfortune and USE THAT STRONG CORE of REDA to sustain us as we do our work.
    It seems to me that SABR, having patience, tolerance, and strength to face difficulties at all times is also essential.
    Without it we could simply be reduced to extremism, frustration, pervasive anger and eventual collapse.
    So the traditional qualities seem to be needed to keep us going…No matter what culture we live in.
    Yes, we can stay alive without human rights…and enjoy some happiness. But is that kind of happiness enough? Or does REDA suggest a deeper happiness, that comes from living and working for justice, and, as Ahmed said, “leaving a sign for the next generation.” I think of all the people who plant trees that will not provide shade for them perhaps, or fruit, but derive happiness because they are serving the future and giving a gift of love to the future.
    Those who thrive on oppression deprive people of their human rights- Not the Creator. That needs to change.
    But, if all we have in our hearts is the bitterness or exhaustion of struggle then we miss the beauty and joy of life. That beauty and joy; a day of warmth after a season of cold, a new crop of spring flowers, sweet winds or the taste or fresh water, being with loved ones and engaging in celebrations of life, are all life giving. They give us the energy to go on.
    I have seen those who lose the capacity to appreciate the simple and sweet beauties of life, their unhappiness does not serve them, or those around them. And their unhappiness can even poison the well of hope and action for change.
    The danger seems, to me, to be in using reda and sabr to avoid seeing and responding to the cruelties imposed when human rights are denied. That injustice deprives the whole society of the full gifts that each person has within them, gifts that our societies and our whole world needs.
    Your teaching and dedication tell me that you are full of hope and strength and appreciation of life.
    I wish you much happiness and continued strength in the face of difficulty, so that your very very good work continues…May you always have peace deep in your heart. How fortunate the world is to have you in it.

    • Yasmine Fakhry says:

      Thank you Rose for your lovely reply and for your exquisite choice of words that really touched the bottom of my heart. I do agree with you, but I am writing this article after a long experience in defending and raising awareness on human rights, after Egyptians have used all means to demand their rights. We used media, campaigns, petitions, and we have revolted but human conditions have gone from worse to worst.

      I wrote this article to talk about this feeling of anger and resentment that became so overwhelming and that I wish I was like those people who are always happy no matter what, I wish to replace this anger and resentment with Reda and Sabr while I still do what I do!

      • Rose Gordon says:

        YES! please always do what you do! We need you and your work and Egypt needs you. We need your heart and mind and dedicated spirit…And when times are tough, the sun is scorching and the road is full of rocks and sharp stones, may you always find shade under the umbrellas of friendship, and sweet fresh water for your heart. And my there always be someone to hear the anger and the pain in a way that renews your spirit so you can go on…I know you have one such person, your husband Ahmed, may you find many more close by, and all of us from far away. Assalm Ayakhum

  9. Nehal magdy says:

    A very inspiring article . i know that one day you’d reach that place you dream of and deserve. faith sometimes woulld bleach human rights with the colour “rose”, but for a wierd reason they don’t usually co your article . keep up the good work dear.

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