Home / All / Fiqh & Socitey / A Critique of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights from the Perspective of Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi

A Critique of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights from the Perspective of Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi

In the world of today, beautiful words like “human rights” are used rather frequently and extensively[1]. Yet, these words are spoken most passionately by the corrupt superpowers, leading even some of the intellectuals to really believe that these powers follow the path of righteousness!


The fact of the matter, however, is that all of these beautiful words are used by the politicians merely as a cover for the crimes that they need to commit to achieve their ambitions.[2]

Some might consider such a view a skeptic one, based on conspiracy theories. But in order to ascertain the veracity of this view, one only needs to take a closer look at the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. A close examination of this declaration reveals several internal contradictions within and between some of its so-called human rights articles.[3]

The Historical Course of the Drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

The World War I and II, which resembled some sort of periodic insanity in the human world, had some awakening effects along with their widely devastating ones.[4]

Following the devastations of WWI, an international organization called the “League of Nations” aimed at maintaining world peace. However, it soon crumbled as WWII was sparked soon after and it was unable to accomplish its primary mission.[5]

Though the League of Nations was a failed attempt toward maintaining world peace, it provided the basis for the establishment of a relatively more successful international organization, i.e. the United Nations, after WWII. At its third session on 10 December 1948, the UN general assembly adopted an interesting document called the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights”[6].

The Necessity to Critique the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Today, we live in a world where human rights are being violated and abused on a daily basis. This is while human rights were clearly depicted in the Universal Declaration of Human rights and are supposedly being enforced by the UN.

In fact, the Universal Declaration of Human rights has yielded reverse results, because it has been turned in to a tool in the hands of the corrupt superpowers to suppress and subdue other nations.[7]

One of the reasons why the Universal Declaration of Human rights had been easily manipulated and abused by the superpowers toward advancing their selfish interests is that it has been drafted by a body of secular intellectuals[8]. Therefore, without consulting the divinely-sent religions it has put forth several articles which, although seem to aim at promoting human rights, have fundamental flaws.[9]

It might not be easy for many to impartially yet critically review this declaration to get a clear picture of its flaws. But it is easy for everyone to understand the impartiality of this declaration when it comes to its specific view on the concepts of God, religion, and human being. Furthermore, this declaration presents a rather vague view of the concept of freedom and it is heavily influenced by the western theories of humanism which are not accepted by many nations.

These problems which are inherent in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights further indicate the necessity to review it critically and improve it in ways that are acceptable by all nations and beliefs.[10]

It is noteworthy that some have tried to justify the problems in this declaration and other similar western intellectual products by referring to the conditions of the advanced western countries as the proof that these products actually work. They then try to pretend that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the result of the efforts made by these advanced countries in order to protect the dignity and rights of all human beings.[11]

However, no matter how optimistic one may be, one cannot miss the spirit of western humanism, egoism, aggression, imperialism, and cruel expansionism behind this hypocritical façade.[12]

This is, in effect, one of the most serious dangers posed by the western civilization to the entire human world; western powers commits all sorts of inhuman crimes and atrocities under cover of these fair-seeming declarations and articles, making simple-minded people believe that they are actually helping other human beings![13]

Some might not easily accept that there are serious flaws in this western-concocted declaration, partly because no detailed review of it has ever been conducted[14]. Therefore, in the subsequent sections, we will present an in-depth review of this declaration in order to see whether the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is actually trying to protect human rights or not.[15]

Denying the Creator of the Universe through Existentialism

Let us begin our discussion in this section by looking at the first article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

Article 1: All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

As it is clear, the first article of UDHR indicates that all human beings are born free, but it does not mention whether they have a creator and, if they do, what are their responsibilities toward Him.

When considered together with the other articles of this declaration, it becomes clear that the UDHR has been drafted with the total disregard of God; in other words, based on this declaration, the belief in God does not have any effect on human freedom or at least on the boundaries of his freedom.[16]

Indeed, when the existence of God is denied, doubted, or disregarded, human life will be restricted to this mundane life and his life in the hereafter will be denied and rejected. However, how would a person who has no fear of being held accountable before God fear accountability to their fellow human beings in this mundane life?[17]

Moreover, when human life is depicted merely as this mundane life which will one day end without any ultimate goal, what motives would drive human beings toward supreme human virtues and values and living based on them?

Under such conditions where no ultimate goal is considered for human life, the only thing which will be valued is “individual interests” which must be promoted at all costs. This is what Jean Paul Sartre has also confirmed:

“… under such conditions, human freedom will turn in to the only basis for values, dismissing all other justifications and values which humans might choose to believe in as unnecessary and useless.[18][19]

The renowned Shi’a cleric Shahīd Ṣadr has also referred to this flaw as follows:

“The European person has eyes only for earthly things [i.e. worldly pleasures], not for heavenly ones [i.e. for spiritual values and obedience to God].[20][21]

Today, in the Space Age, what grieves mankind the most is nihilism which is the result of denying God and the ultimate goal of human life which is defined based on monotheism. The emergence of the new philosophical schools such as existentialism is, in effect, a reaction to this pain and grief of mankind.[22]

The impartial intellectuals who visit the west confirm that, though the western people enjoy high living standards due to their economic and industrial development, they suffer from absurdity and nihilism. This is because they can find no meaning to life and so they feel that they are leading an aimless life which will soon end with death.[23]

Perhaps the reason why the western individual is constantly searching for new forms of pleasure and entertainment is this same sense of absurdity in life.[24] Now, in order to get a clear picture of this pain of mankind, let us take a closer look at some of the basic concepts of existentialism, one of the philosophical school that has emerged as a result of this pain.

One of the famous concepts in existentialism is the following:[25]

“Among all beings, only man understands of the concept of “existing” and is aware of his own existence. Moreover, just as the concept of “existence” is completely clear to man, the concept of “inexistence” is also clear and present in his mind alongside existence.

This means that we, as human beings, understand the inexistence of ourselves or other beings just as we understand the existence of ourselves and other beings[26].”

This concept indicates that, man is not only aware of his own existence, he is also perfectly aware of the possibility of his inexistence. As a result of his awareness of the notions of existence and inexistence, man constantly experiences some sort of anxiety and depression, and it is at this point that man falls prey to absurdity and nihilism. Jean Paul Sartre has made the following remarks with regard to the reason behind this feeling:

“Why have we come in to existence? What is the reason of our “being”? These are the questions for which we have no answer.[27]

A concept of human rights which is based on the concepts of “anthropocentrism”, “individuality”, and “self-possession” will naturally authorize the elimination of any obstacle to one’s freedom in general and freedom of choice in particular. This is clearly because man and nothing else is the focal point of this concept.[28]

These epistemic and philosophical challenges have emerged while in reality God is the owner of all that exists[29]. There are several Islamic teachings which corroborate this fact; one of the pieces of evidence in this regard is the Quranic verse “للَّهِ مَا فِى السَّماوَاتِ وَمَا فِى الْأَرْضِ”[30] [To Allah belongs whatever there is in the heavens and whatever there is in the earth]. This verse clearly indicates that God is the true owner of all beings and things in the entire universe and that man’s ownership of his own self and other things is merely delegated to him by God.[31]

Furthermore, there are various rational arguments which indicate that God is the only being who is necessarily existent by Himself and all other existing beings and things are in need of Him to exist; these arguments also lend support to the above-mentioned view.[32]

When one realizes that there is an All-wise God who has created all things, one clearly realizes that whatever He does has a reason and that He never does anything aimlessly.[33] This entails that man, who is a part of the created world, has been created with a specific purpose, just like the entire world and all that there is in it. Man begins his journey from the lowest level of existence and carries on toward the loftiest spiritual levels, on a path which leads him to attain nearness to God.[34]

To put it in a nutshell, religious belief involves the following:

The entire universe has originated from a source of boundless knowledge; it is like a huge volume of book which has been written based on some unbounded knowledge. Therefore, every single page, sentence, and even word of this book contains unimaginably great realities which need to be discovered, studied, and learned.[35]

Therefore, if one believes that this world has no knowledgeable Creator and that it has evolved as a result of non-intelligent mechanisms, i.e. through chance, luck, and natural factors, why then would one strive to uncover the secrets of the world?[36]

The Dominance of the Liberal Notion of Freedom

Today, mankind is chasing various mirages; one of the things which man vigorously pursues but finds that it is a mere mirage once he actually achieves it is what is promoted in the west as “freedom”.[37]

Like a thirsty person chasing every mirage in a dry desert in the hopes of finding water, the western individual is drawn toward the western notion of freedom, but when he actually finds it, he realizes that there is no true freedom in the west.[38] The notions of the right and the wrong are out of the question in the kind of freedom which is promoted in the west.[39]

But how could this epistemic crisis stem from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights? Let us take a quick look at the article 29 of this declaration before going on with this discussion:

Article 29.

(1) Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible.

(2) In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society.

It can be clearly understood from the second paragraph of this article that the only factor which can limit a person’s freedom and rights is where they might violate those of the other members of the community. This is because based on the principle of “self-possession”, a person’s life belongs to himself alone, not to God, the community, or the government, and he is, hence, entitled to do whatever he likes with it[40].[41]

Obviously, this article of the UDHR paved the way for the west to misuse the notion of freedom and to abandon the philosophy and wisdom behind the freedom of mankind.[42] This allowed the west to promote a version of human freedom which merely authorized the people to indulge freely in pleasure-seeking on the condition that they would not infringe other people’s rights![43]

The western intellectuals believe that whatever happens in the society and whatever the people want must be permitted, as long as it is not against the law, or an infringement of other people’s rights. They believe that it is up to the people themselves to decide whether what they want or do is bad or good.

Clearly, then, in such societies there is no place for moral teaching and guidance as a means of preventing perversion. This is because when the people want something it becomes permissible and allowable though it might be to their own detriment.[44]

The message that the article 29 of Universal Declaration of Human Rights communicates is one is authorized to do whatever they like as long as what they do is not in violation of other people’s rights or privacy. Needless to say that by such standards, unrestrained sexual relations, prostitution, free trade at all costs, and licentiousness will be perfectly normal things[45].

This amoral system has affected the world to the extent where some countries have invested on sex tourism and prostitution as their main source of income.[46]

Freedom, in its western sense, is now so widely promoted and defended that a writer is authorized to write whatever he likes, even if it is considered blasphemous or obscene. By these standards, newspaper columnists and other writers are allowed to insult what millions of people hold as holy and if anyone tries to object, it will be considered a violation of the freedom of thinking, speech, and writing![47]

These are all the consequences of the specific notion of human rights which is put forward by the UDHR which gives man total freedom in every aspects of his life.[48]

Ironically, the individuals who were responsible for drafting this declaration apparently gave precedence to the social life when it comes to “rights” but depicted human “responsibilities” on a personal level.

This is while one of the requirements for a prosperous society is that all its members must abide by their social responsibilities, in addition to their personal duties. In order for the people to be truly socially responsible, they must be free to develop morally and spiritually while being protected against all sorts of moral corruption. It is through this kind of freedom that the true human potentials are actualized.[49]

Without doubt, such an approach has trampled the factors which strengthen human will which is a key factor in ensuring human success on both personal and social levels. For a long time, they have promoted the kind of freedom whose only result is the moral collapse of the society.

It must be kept in mind that, although mankind is granted freedom, he has social responsibilities which he must fulfill; therefore, his freedom is defined within the framework of his responsibilities and is limited by them.[50]

Failure to Create a Balance between Rights and Responsibilities

Another serious shortcoming of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is that it fails to create a proper balance between rights and responsibilities[51].[52] The UDHR has recognized a long list of rights for man but has, rather ill-advisedly, limited his responsibilities[53].

This shortcoming stems from the fact that the UDHR takes the human being as the axial being in the world, not God. The reason behind this has been to give human beings more individual rights and to put aside the Divine ordainment.[54]

This is a clearly incorrect approach because this world is, by nature, a world of conflicting interests. Therefore, even in a true utopia where high levels of faith, piety, morality, and human virtues are the common characteristics of the people, differences in judgments and misunderstandings due to lack of proper knowledge will still be inevitable. That is to say, conflicts over personal rights of human beings are inevitable, unless their social and personal rights and responsibilities are divinely legislated and enforced.[55]

In spite of this, we see today that humanism and individualism are governing the legal systems of secular societies, leading the legislation of the laws in human world toward induction and sensuality[56].

Based on this same approach, the rational yet non-material principles in the fields of ethics and law were dismissed as baseless, and these two fields have been developed solely based on sensible, physical, and empirical criteria. This has, in turn, led to the rejection of the pivotal role of the divinely-legislated social responsibilities of mankind[57].[58]

For instance, according to August Comte, public conscience must be the basis of the rules of law, and it should not be dismissed as baseless. He argues that, this is because it is possible to derive the principles which form the backbone of law through analyzing social events. These principles, he concludes, must then be considered binding as they are derived from the common practices of a wide range of human communities[59].[60]

This human-oriented view which permeates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is in sharp contrast with religions teachings which indicate that mankind’s freedom and freewill come with responsibilities. For instance, though man is granted personal freedom and freewill, he is responsible toward the society in which he lives. He also has certain duties regarding the protection and promotion of the divinely established social values.[61]

Therefore, the rightful legislator is God who has created man and is aware of all his physical and spiritual aspects as well as all the secrets of other beings. He is also aware of all the past and present events and their effects on the events of the present time.[62]

Moreover, God is free of all sorts of mistakes, fears no one, has no shortcomings, and has no personal interests in the laws that He legislates; He has legislated all the laws only for the well-being of mankind. This makes God the best legislator for the legislation of the laws needed for the human world.

 Further, since it is proven that God alone is the worthiest of legislating laws for mankind, recognizing laws other than His are considered a sort of polytheism and straying away from the right way[63].

Thus, Islam has only recognized the Quran, the Prophetic Tradition, the consensus of juristic opinion, and the rational faculty as sources from which the Revealed Law can be derived. This is because only these sources can reflect God’s will in legislating laws which show the boundaries of man’s rights and responsibilities.[64]

Conclusion: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a Tool in the Hands of Imperialists

A quick glance at the world of today shows that public awareness is raised regarding the true intentions behind beautiful words like the articles of the UDHR.[65]

Today, only simple-minded people still believe that the time of imperialism and colonialism is passed and that no one can enslave other nations any more.[66]

The existence of humanistic documents such as the UDHR are indicative of the far-reaching vision of the imperial powers who always planned for future challenges way before they actually arose. These powers knew that they would not be able to physically enslave nations and needed to dominate them in other, more subtle ways. Therefore, they transformed their hard power in to soft power and began dominating other nations through such internationally recognized documents.[67]

A proof as to the fact that the imperial powers are still dominating and enslaving other nations is that these powers are still brutally destroying any nation that stands up to them. They commit the same kinds of crimes against humanity that they used to a few centuries ago in much larger scales today though; they have only found new ways to justify them by referring to the documents that they themselves have drafted and forced upon other nations![68]

This new sort of imperialism is what sociologists refer to as “soft imperialism”, a much more effective tool in the hands of imperial powers to dominate and enslave other nations.[69]



[1] The Message of Imam Amir Al Mu’minīn (‘a), vol. 2, p. 440.

[2] Ibid, p. 268.

[3] Ibid.

[4] The Worldwide Government of Mahdi (‘a), p. 39.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ethics in the Quran, vol. 2, p. 43.

[8] Ibid.

[9] The Reasons behind the Underdevelopment of the East, p. 82.

[10] The speech of Grand Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi in a meeting with the head and the members of the Council of Quranic Studies of the Islamic Seminary in Qom, on 15.10.1393 Sh.

[11] The Reasons behind the Underdevelopment of the East, p. 84.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid, p. 85.

[14] Ibid, p. 86.

[15] The Message of Imam Amir Al Mu’minīn (‘a), vol. 11, p. 155.

[16] The Encyclopedia of Comparative Fiqh, vol. 2, p. 55.

[17] Ibid.

[18] For more information refer to: Islam and Economic Challenges, pp. 55-57.

[19] The Encyclopedia of Comparative Fiqh, vol. 2, p. 55.

[20] For more information refer to the book “Iqtiṣādunā” by Shahid Ṣadr, p. 35.

[21] The Encyclopedia of Comparative Fiqh, vol. 2, p. 56.

[22] The Return and the Afterlife, p. 54.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid, p. 55.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Ibid.

[28] The Message of the Quran, vol. 3, p. 414.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Surah Al Baqarah, v. 284.

[31] The Encyclopedia of Comparative Fiqh, vol. 2, p. 107.

[32] The Message of the Quran, vol. 3, p. 415.

[33] Ibid, vol. 5, p. 194.

[34] Tafsīr Nemūneh, vol. 24, p. 186.

[35] Islam in a Glance, p. 17.

[36] Ibid, p. 18.

[37] Beautiful Parables of the Quran, vol. 2, p. 134.

[38] Ibid.

[39] Ibid.

[40] The Rise and Fall of Western Liberalism, p. 38.

[41] The Beautiful Parables of the Quran, vo. 2, p. 134.

[42] Islamic Ethics as Reflected in Nahj Al Balāghah [Based on the Muttaqīn Sermon], vol. 2, p. 30.

[43] Guidelines of Islamic Economy, p. 18.

[44] Ibid, p. 108.

[45] Religions Q&As, p. 458.

[46] The Beacon of Guidance, p. 218.

[47] Islamic Ethics as Reflected in Nahj Al Balāghah [based on the Muttaqīn Sermon], vol. 2, p. 30.

[48] The Encyclopedia of Comparative Fiqh, vol. 2, p. 29.

[49] Islamic Ethics as Reflected in Nahj Al Balāghah [based on the Muttaqīn Sermon], vol. 2, p. 29.

[50] Ibid, p. 30.

[51] For more information refer to: Universal Declaration of Human Rights, articles 2,3,29, & 30.

[52] The Encyclopedia of Comparative Fiqh, vol. 1, p. 637.

[53] For more information refer to: Universal Declaration of Human Rights, articles 4, 5, 11, 13, 14, 16.

[54] The Encyclopedia of Comparative Fiqh, vol. 1, p. 637.

[55] The Message of the Quran, vol. 10, p. 143.

[56] The Encyclopedia of Comparative Fiqh, vol. 1, p. 659.

[57] General Rules of Law, p. 66.

[58] [58] The Encyclopedia of Comparative Fiqh, vol. 1, p. 642.

[59] For more information refer to: The Philosophy of Law, vol. 1, pp. 244-245; General Rules of Law, pp. 80-81.

[60] The Encyclopedia of Comparative Fiqh, vol. 1, p. 659.

[61] Ibid, vol. 2, p. 279.

[62] The Message of the Quran, vol. 10, p. 68.

[63] Ibid.

[64] The Encyclopedia of Comparative Fiqh, vol. 1, p. 634.

[65] The Message of the Quran, vol. 10, p. 68.

[66] The Secret Behind the Underdevelopment of the East, p. 110.

[67] Ibid, p. 111.

[68] Ibid, p. 86.

[69] Ibid, p. 111.

Source: makarem.ir

About Ali Teymoori

Check Also

In Pictures: President Raisi Laid to Rest at Imam Reza (AS) Shrine as Millions Gather for His Funeral

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has been laid to rest, concluding days of funeral attended by several millions of mourners after his "martyrdom-like passing" in a helicopter crash....

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Google Analytics Alternative