This article challenges the idea that contextualisation of humanitarian aid affects the principle of universality of human rights as well as the principles of neutrality and impartiality. It seeks to demonstrate that contextualisation will not only improve access, delivery and protection: contextualising a mission also enables aid workers to respect the local context without impacting negatively upon universal human rights. The author argues that affecting the societies in which aid is delivered is inevitable. The key then becomes to avoid endorsing indirect cultural relativism. This is why the article puts forward the idea of creating a yardstick or a test that would help in deciding which beliefs and values are to be included when considering the context, and which should be excluded. The process of selection of values and beliefs is to be operated by an empowered local population. The filter suggested in the case at hand is the Muslim legal instrument of maslaha, which protects the public interest. The use of this filter can be efficient only if Islamic authoritative sources are interpreted differently, in a reformist fashion, to try and match universal human rights law. This is possible through the Muslim theories advocating change. Muslim beneficiaries who are vulnerable as a result of a disaster or during a conflict provide an opportunity to test the filter of maslaha, looking at how an empowered community can change and influence the agendas of aid agencies.
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2 The Centre on Conflict, Development and Peacebuilding, ‘Religion and Humanitarianism: Floating Boundaries in a Globalizing World’, Conference Report, 10–11 October 2009, 5, http://graduateinstitute.ch/files/live/sites/iheid/files/sites/ccdp/shared/Docs/Publications/Conf_Report_DEF_LR.pdf.
3 Gerard Clarke, ‘Faith-Based Organisations and International Development: An Overview’ in Gerard Clarke and Michael Jennings (eds), Development, Civil Society and Faith-Based Organisations: Bridging the Sacred and the Secular (Palgrave Macmillan 2008) 17.
4 Clarke, Gerard, ‘Agents of Transformation? Donors, Faith-Based Organisations and International Development’ (2007) 28 Third World Quarterly 77, 78.
5 Andrea Paras and Janice Gross Stein, ‘Bridging the Sacred and the Profane in Humanitarian Life’ in Michael Barnett and Janice Gross Stein (eds), Sacred Aid: Faith and Humanitarianism (Oxford University Press 2012) 211.
6 Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na‘im, Islam and the Secular State: Negotiating the Future of Shari’a (Harvard University Press 2008) 1–44.
7 Jonathan Benthall, ‘Humanitarianism and Islam after 11 September’ in Joanna Macrae and Adele Harmer (eds), Humanitarian Action and the ‘Global War on Terror’: A Review of Trends and Issues (Overseas Development Institute 2003) 37.
8 Donaldson, Thomas, ‘Values in Tension: Ethics Away from Home’ (1996) 74(5) Harvard Business Review 48.
9 Kevin Avruch, Culture and Conflict Resolution (United States Institute of Peace Press 1998) 20.
10 Noeleen Heyzer, ‘Women on the Front Lines: UNIFEM's Work to Promote Women, Peace and Security’ in Yael Danieli (ed), Sharing the Front Line and the Back Hills: International Protectors and Providers: Peacekeepers, Humanitarian Aid Workers and the Media in the Midst of Crisis (Baywood 2002) 85, 89.
11 Hazel Rose Markus and Alana Conner, Clash! 8 Cultural Conflicts that Make Us Who We Are (Hudson Street Press 2013).
12 Jim Kennedy and others, ‘Post-Tsunami Transitional Settlement and Shelter: Field Experience from Aceh and Sri Lanka’, Humanitarian Exchange Magazine, March 2007, http://odihpn.org/wp-content/uploads/2007/04/humanitarianexchange037.pdf.
13 Rachel A Dowty, ‘Humanitarian Logistics: A Cultural Perspective’ in Martin Christopher and Peter Tatham (eds), Humanitarian Logistics: Meeting the Challenge of Preparing for and Responding to Disasters (Kogan Page 2011) 201, 207.
15 Brian W Flynn, ‘Disaster Mental Health: The U.S. Experience and Beyond’ in Jennifer Leaning, Susan M Briggs and Lincoln C Chen (eds), Humanitarian Crises: The Medical and Public Health Response (Harvard University Press 1999) 97, 118–19.
16 Pierre Gassmann, ‘Rethinking Humanitarian Security’, Humanitarian Exchange Magazine, June 2005, 33, http://odihpn.org/wp-content/uploads/2005/07/humanitarianexchange030.pdf.
17 Perrin, Pierre, ‘The Impact of Humanitarian Aid on Conflict Development’ (1998) 38 International Review of the Red Cross 319, 330.
18 Jonathan Whittall, ‘Opinion and Debate: Either … Or – Building Resilience is still not Compatible with Humanitarian Aid’, Médecins sans Frontières, 12 March 2014, http://www.msf.org.uk/article/opinion-and-debate-either%E2%80%A6-or-building-resilience-still-not-compatible-humanitarian-aid; Samir Elhawary, ‘Eroding Humanitarian Principles: Who's to Blame?’, Humanitarian Practice Network, 7 August 2008, http://odihpn.org/blog/eroding-humanitarian-principles-who%C2%92s-to-blame.
19 Judy A Benjamin, ‘Issues of Power and Gender in Complex Emergencies' in Kevin M Cahill (ed), Emergency Relief Operations (Fordham University Press and Center for International Health and Cooperation 2003) 153, 157.
20 Mark Duffield, Global Governance and the New Wars: The Merging of Development and Security (Zed Books 2001) 121; Sarah Collinson and others, Paradoxes of Presence: Risk Management and Aid Culture in Challenging Environments (Overseas Development Institute 2013).
21 Jan Egeland, Adele Harmer and Abby Stoddard, To Stay and Deliver: Good Practice for Humanitarians in Complex Security Environments (Policy Development and Studies Branch, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2011).
22 Kathy Mangones, ‘Alternative Food Aid Strategies and Local Capacity Building in Haiti’ in Ian Smillie (ed), Patronage or Partnership: Local Capacity Building in Humanitarian Crises (Kumarian Press 2001) 51, 65.
23 Carlos Martin Beristain, Humanitarian Aid Work: A Critical Approach (University of Pennsylvania Press 2006) 152.
24 Cheryl Benard, Veiled Courage: Inside the Afghan Women's Resistance (Broadway Books 2002).
25 ICRC, ‘Iran: Dialogue on Islam and International Humanitarian Law in Qom’, 1 December 2006, https://www.icrc.org/eng/resources/documents/feature/2006/ihl-islam-event-011206.htm.
26 Caney, Simon, ‘Human Rights and the Rights of States: Terry Nardin on Nonintervention’ (1997) 18 International Political Science Review 27, 34.
27 Jonathan Benthall and Jerome Bellion-Jourdan, The Charitable Crescent: Politics of Aid in the Muslim World (IB Tauris 2003) 125.
28 Roula El-Masri, Claire Harvey and Rosa Garwood, Shifting Sands: Changing Gender Roles among Refugees in Lebanon (Oxfam International 2013) 15.
29 Kevin Avruch, ‘Culture as Context, Culture as Communication: Considerations for Humanitarian Negotiators' (2004) 9 Harvard Negotiation Law Review 391, 394.
30 Johnston, Alastair Iain, ‘Thinking about Strategic Culture’ (1995) 19(4) International Security 32.
31 Andrews, Caryn Scheinberg, ‘Modesty and Healthcare for Women: Understanding Cultural Sensitivities’ (2006) 3 Community Oncology 443; Lawrence, Paul and Rozmus, Cathy, ‘Culturally Sensitive Care of the Muslim Patient’ (2001) 12 Journal of Transcultural Nursing 228.
32 Seibert, PS, Stridh-Igo, P and Zimmerman, CG, ‘A Checklist to Facilitate Cultural Awareness and Sensitivity’ (2002) 28 Journal of Medical Ethics 143.
33 Benthall (n 7) 37.
34 Bertrand Taithe, ‘Pyrrhic Victories? French Catholic Missionaries, Modern Expertise, and Secularizing Technologies' in Barnett and Stein (n 5) 166, 188.
35 Jonathan Benthall, ‘“Cultural proximity” and the Conjuncture of Islam with Modern Humanitarianism’ in Barnett and Stein (n 5) 65.
36 Jonathan Benthall, ‘Have Islamic Aid Agencies a Privileged Relationship in Majority Muslim Areas? The Case of Post-Tsunami Reconstruction in Aceh’, The Journal of Humanitarian Assistance, 26 June 2008, http://sites.tufts.edu/jha/archives/153.
37 Shirley A Fedorak, Global Issues: A Cross-Cultural Perspective (University of Toronto Press 2013) 34.
38 Rick James, ‘What is Distinctive about FBOs? How European FBOs Define and Operationalise their Faith’, International NGO Training and Research Centre (INTRAC), Praxis Paper 22, February 2009, 7, http://www.intrac.org/data/files/resources/482/Praxis-Paper-22-What-is-Distinctive-About-FBOs.pdf.
39 Scott M Thomas, The Global Resurgence of Religion and the Transformation of International Relations: The Struggle for the Soul of the Twenty-First Century (Palgrave Macmillan 2005).
40 Benthall (n 36) 65.
41 Palmer, Victoria, ‘Analysing Cultural Proximity: Islamic Relief Worldwide and Rohingya Refugees in Bangladesh’ (2001) 21 Development in Practice 96.
42 Ferris, Elizabeth, ‘Faith-Based and Secular Humanitarian Organizations’ (2005) 87 International Review of the Red Cross 311, 325.
43 The authoritative sources are the Quran and the Sunna as primary sources, followed by ijma and qiyas as secondary sources. The Quran is the Holy Book of Islam; it must be interpreted by scholars to be applicable. The Sunna is the sayings, acts and deeds of the Prophet as reported by his companions. These are the primary sources referred to by interpreters. They then practise ijtihad, the effort of interpretation, through ijma, which is a collective consensus of interpretation. Interpreters can also work alone, practising the qiyas or deductive analogy. Interpreters use a rule stated in the Quran or found in the Sunna and apply it to a new problem.
44 Mary Nyangweso Wangila, Female Circumcision: The Interplay of Religion, Gender and Culture in Kenya (Women from the Margins) (Orbis Books 2007).
45 Tamsin Bradley, Religion and Gender in the Developing World: Faith-Based Organizations and Feminism in India (IB Tauris 2011).
46 Ashley Currier and Joelle M Cruz, ‘Civil Society and Sexual Struggles in Africa’ in Ebenezer Obadare (ed), The Handbook of Civil Society in Africa (Springer 2014) 337, 349.
47 Ferris (n 42).
48 Kirmani, Nida, ‘Engaging with Islam to Promote Women's Rights: Exploring Opportunities and Challenging Assumptions’ (2011) 11 Progress in Development Studies 87.
49 Jonathan Benthall, ‘Introduction: Faith-Based Organisations as Political, Humanitarian or Religious Actors’, Proceedings of the Workshop ‘Religion, Politics, Conflict and Humanitarian Action Faith-Based Organisations as Political, Humanitarian or Religious Actors’, 18–19 May 2005, Geneva, 5, http://graduateinstitute.ch/files/live/sites/iheid/files/sites/ccdp/shared/Docs/Religion,politics,conflict,humanitarianism_workhsop%20proceedings.pdf.
50 Wilfred Mlay, ‘Some Myths about Faith-Based Humanitarian Aid’, Humanitarian Exchange Magazine, July 2004, http://odihpn.org/wp-content/uploads/2004/08/humanitarianexchange027.pdf.
51 Nouria Brikci, ‘Is Cultural Proximity the Answer to Gaining Access in Muslim Contexts?’, Humanitarian Exchange Magazine, March 2005, http://odihpn.org/wp-content/uploads/2005/03/humanitarianexchange029.pdf.
52 Kris Hulburt, ‘Precious Lives Honored to Serve’ in Danieli (n 10) 161, 165.
53 Diana Cammack, ‘Gender Relief and Politics during the Afghan War’ in Doreen Indra (ed), Engendering Forced Migration: Theory and Practice (Berghahn Books 1999) 94, 103–04.
54 Patricia Buck and Rachel Silver, ‘Tradition, Enlightenment, and the Role of Schooling in Gender Politics among Somali Girls and Women in Dadaab’ in Lesley Bartlett and Ameena Ghaffar-Kucher (eds), Refugees, Immigrants, and Education in the Global South: Lives in Motion (Routledge 2013) 116, 122.
56 Cammack (n 53) 104.
57 Mitchum, Preston D, ‘Slapping the Hand of Cultural Relativism: Female Genital Mutilation, Male Dominance, and Health as a Human Rights Framework’ (2013) 19 William & Mary Journal of Women and the Law 585; David Rieff, A Bed for the Night: Humanitarianism in Crisis (Simon & Schuster 2002) 23.
58 Cammack (n 53) 103.
59 Frederick Reese, ‘Female Genital Mutilation: An International Crisis that Continues Despite Human Rights Violations’, MintPress News, 21 November 2012, http://www.mintpressnews.com/female-genital-mutilation-an-international-crisis-that-continues-despite-human-rights-violations/41240.
60 Van Engeland, Anicée, ‘Verse 9:5 of the Qurʾān as an Intermixed Ground for Jus ad Bellum and Jus in Bello: Adapting Islamic Classical Theory to Modern Asymmetric Conflict’ (2015) 7 GAIR-Mitteilungen 129.
61 Mashood A Baderin, International Human Rights and Islamic Law (Oxford University Press 2003).
62 Benjamin (n 19) 157.
63 ibid 156.
64 Suvendrini Kakuchi, ‘In Tsunami, Women Put Modesty Above Survival’, Women's eNews, 23 February 2005, http://womensenews.org/story/the-world/050223/tsunami-women-put-modesty-above-survival.
65 Jenny Hayward-Karlsson and others, Hospitals for War-Wounded: A Practical Guide for Setting Up and Running a Surgical Hospital in an Area of Armed Conflict (ICRC 1998) 18.
66 Valentine M Moghadam, Modernizing Women: Gender and Social Change in the Middle East (2nd edn, Lynne Rienner 2003) 263.
67 Médecins Sans Frontières, ‘MSF Charter and Principles’, http://www.msf.org/msf-charter-and-principles.
68 Pamela Lupton-Bowers, ‘Teamwork in Humanitarian Missions’ in Kevin M Cahill (ed), Basics of International Humanitarian Missions (Fordham University Press and Center for International Health and Cooperation 2003) 59, 68.
69 The Centre on Conflict, Development and Peacebuilding (n 2) 4.
70 The Sphere Project, Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Humanitarian Response (3rd edn, The Sphere Project 2011) 71.
71 ibid 93.
72 Avruch (n 29) 392; Clémentine Olivier, ‘Limiting the Risks and the Vulnerability of Humanitarian Aid Workers’ in Danieli (n 10) 211, 216; Brikci (n 51).
73 UNHCR, ‘Guidelines on the Protection of Refugee Women’, July 1991, 23, http://www.unhcr.org/3d4f915e4.pdf.
74 ibid 13–14.
75 UNHCR, ‘Operational Protection in Camps and Settlements: A Reference Guide of Good Practices in the Protection of Refugees and Other Persons of Concern’, 2006, 13, http://www.refworld.org/pdfid/44b381994.pdf.
76 James C Hathaway, The Rights of Refugees under International Law (Cambridge University Press 2005) 439–50.
77 UNHCR (n 75) 19.
78 Kluckhohn, Clyde, ‘Ethical Relativity: Sic et Non’ (1955) 52 Journal of Philosophy 663, 665.
79 Jean Carbonnier, Sociologie Juridique (Themis 1972) 152.
80 Abdul Aziz bin Sattam, Sharia and the Concept of Benefit: The Use and Function of Maslaha in Islamic Jurisprudence (IB Tauris 2015) xi.
81 Bram J Jansen, ‘Two Decades of Ordering Refugees: The Development of Institutional Multiplicity in Kenya's Kakuma Refugee Camp’ in Dorothea Hilhorst (ed), Disaster, Conflict and Society in Crises: Everyday Politics of Crisis Response (Routledge 2014) 114, 120.
82 Humanitarian Accountability Partnership (HAP), ‘Care Staff in Dagahaley Camp and Dadaab, Kenya’, HAP Standard Review Focus Group Discussion, January 2010.
83 Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na‘im, ‘Towards a Cross-Cultural Approach to Defining International Standards of Human Rights: The Meaning of Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment’ in Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na'im (ed), Human Rights in Cross-Cultural Perspectives: A Quest for Consensus (University of Pennsylvania Press 1992) 19.
84 Monica Kathina Juma and Peter Mwangi Kagwanja, ‘Securing Refuge from Terror: Refugee Protection in East Africa after September 11’ in Niklaus Steiner, Mark Gibney and Gil Loescher (eds), Problems of Protection: The UNHCR, Refugees, and Human Rights (Routledge 2003) 225, 231.
85 Gladys K Mwangi and Guyo W Jaldesa, ‘An Assessment of Sexual and Gender Based Violence in Wajir District, North Eastern Kenya’, Reproductive Health Programme, Population Council, January 2009, iv, http://www.svri.org/assessment.pdf.
86 Equality Now, ‘Protecting the Girl Child: Using the Law to End Child, Early and Forced Marriage and Related Human Rights Violations’, January 2014, http://www.equalitynow.org/sites/default/files/Protecting_the_Girl_Child.pdf.
87 Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na'im, ‘Toward an Islamic Hermeneutics for Human Rights’ in Abdullahi A An-Na'im and others (eds), Human Rights and Religious Values: An Uneasy Relationship? (William B Eerdmans 1995) 229.
89 Van Engeland, Anisseh, ‘The Differences and Similarities between International Humanitarian Law and Islamic Humanitarian Law: Is There Ground for Reconciliation?’ (2008) 10 Journal of Islamic Law and Culture 81, 89; Anicée Van Engeland, ‘Bridging Civilizations: The New Hermeneutics of Islamic Law’ in Mahmoud Eid and Karim H Karim (eds), Engaging the Other: Public Policy and Western-Muslim Intersections (Palgrave Macmillan 2014) 111.
90 Ann Elizabeth Mayer, ‘Cultural Particularism as a Bar to Women's Rights: Reflections on the Middle Eastern Experience’ in Julie Peters and Andrea Wolper (eds), Women's Rights, Human Rights: International Feminist Perspectives (Routledge 1995) 176.
91 Donnelly, Jack, ‘Cultural Relativism and Universal Human Rights’ (1984) 6 Human Rights Quarterly 400, 400.
93 Imam al Shatibi, cited by His Royal Highness Prince El Hassan bin Talal, ‘Strategies for Disagreement’ in Cahill (n 1) 41.
94 An-Na'im, Abdullahi, ‘“The Best of Times” and “The Worst of Times”: Human Agency and Human Rights in Islamic Societies’ (2004) 1(1) Muslim World Journal of Human Rights, doi: 10.2202/1554-4419.1017.
95 An-Na'im (n 87).
96 Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na'im, ‘Problems of Universal Cultural Legitimacy for Human Rights’ in Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na'im and Francis M Deng (eds), Human Rights in Africa: Cross-Cultural Perspectives (The Brookings Institution 1990) 327, 331.
97 Lesley Newson, Peter J Richerson and Robert Boyd, ‘Cultural Evolution and the Shaping of Cultural Diversity’ in Dov Cohen and Shinobu Kitayama (eds), Handbook of Cultural Psychology (The Guilford Press 2007) 454, 456.
98 UNDP, Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery, ‘Disaster-Conflict Interface: Comparative Experiences’, 2011, http://www.preventionweb.net/files/20432_20432undpdisasterconflictinterface2.pdf.
99 Katherine Nightingale, ‘Building the Future of Humanitarian Aid: Local Capacity and Partnerships in Emergency Assistance’, Christian Aid, March 2012, 14, http://www.christianaid.org.uk/images/building-the-future-of-humanitarian-aid.pdf.
100 Janice K Kopinak, ‘Humanitarian Aid: Are Effectiveness and Sustainability Impossible Dreams?’, Journal of Humanitarian Assistance, 10 March 2013, http://sites.tufts.edu/jha/archives/1935.
103 James Shaw-Hamilton, ‘Cross-Cultural Collaboration: Building Partnerships’, Humanitarian Exchange Magazine, May 2011, http://odihpn.org/magazine/cross-cultural-collaboration-building-partnerships.
104 International Federation of the Red Cross, ‘World Disasters Report 2014: Focus on Culture and Risk’, http://www.ifrc.org/Global/Documents/Secretariat/201410/WDR%202014.pdf; Gaillard, Jean-Christophe and Texier, Pauline, ‘Religions, Natural Hazards, and Disasters: An Introduction’ (2010) 40(2) Religion 81; Andreana Reale, ‘Acts of God(s): The Role of Religion in Disaster Risk Reduction’, Humanitarian Exchange Magazine, October 2010, http://odihpn.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/humanitarianexchange048.pdf.
105 The Sphere Project (n 70) 54.
106 UNDP (n 98).
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