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Research Report

Islam and Human Rights: Key Issues for Our Times

Elie Abouaoun
Harith Hasan Al-Qarawee
Moataz El Fegiery
Mohammad Fadel
Omar Iharchane
Driss Maghraoui
Imad Salamey
Asma T. Uddin
Edited by Geneive Abdo
Copyright Date: Jun. 1, 2017
Published by: Atlantic Council
Pages: 51
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Table of Contents

  1. (pp. 1-2)
    Geneive Abdo

    Shortly after the first revolution in Egypt in 2011, I traveled to Cairo, a city of collapsing buildings and horrific traffic, even by Middle East standards, and the place where the famous author Najib Mahfouz championed the aging Alley of Midaq (Zooqaq al Midaq) and its teeming cafes in the 1950s and placed it on the map of world literature. It is a vibrant city where I once lived and have visited over the course of thirty years. I traveled there specifically to speak with Salafists, the once-obscure Islamists who have gained notoriety after the Egyptian military’s imprisonment and brutal...

  2. (pp. 3-7)
    Mohammad Fadel

    The relationship between contemporary understandings of Islam and recognizably democratic norms is one of the most pressing issues in the modern Muslim world. Much of the political and social tension in the Middle East today revolves around the notion—widely accepted throughout the region and in the West—that the two are fundamentally incompatible. This is not necessarily the case. As this paper will demonstrate, Sunni Islam, relieved of the burdens of history and religious obscurantism, provides ample space for the exercise of self-government within a legitimate religious context.

    The connection of revealed religion to good governance generally, and to...

  3. (pp. 8-12)
    Moataz El Fegiery

    The notion of blasphemy in Islam stands at the intersection of religion and politics. The comingling of the two undermines its meaning as a theological concept by introducing extraneous factors into what is traditionally a matter for religious scholars and jurists. At the same time, the all-too-common use of blasphemy allegations in the public arena often serves as a weapon against political opposition and outright dissent. The net result is to reinforce the power and influence of the ruling elites at the expense of reformist movements, both in the Street and the Mosque.

    For decades, freedom of creativity, freedom of...

  4. (pp. 13-19)
    Harith Hasan Al-Qarawee

    It is widely argued that the Sunni-Shia divide has become the main rift in today’s Middle East. In countries such as Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Lebanon, and Bahrain, political alignments between local groups and regional powers have been mostly fashioned along sectarian lines. Militant groups, as well as religious speakers, appear ever less hesitant to employ sectarian language and narratives in their efforts to mobilize public support and to delegitimize their opponents. The Arabic word for sectarianism, ta’ifiyya, has become a constant presence—even overused and widely abused—in research papers and political commentaries on regional conflicts. Notwithstanding some valid criticism...

  5. (pp. 20-26)
    Imad Salamey and Elie Abouaoun

    The early centuries of Islam were characterized—in theory and often in practice—by the relatively enlightened treatment of major religious minorities, a practice later institutionalized in large multiethnic, multiconfessional empires under Muslim rule. Yet, developments in the modern Muslim world have failed to keep pace with contemporary understandings of minority rights and freedom of worship. Today, non- Muslims across the Middle East are subject to political, economic, and social discrimination, as well as the very real dangers of outright repression and violence.

    This phenomenon is driven by both the predominant emphasis on conservative readings of religious law and events...

  6. (pp. 27-32)
    Asma T. Uddin

    There is a widespread stereotype that Islamic law, sharia, and women’s rights are inherently in conflict. It is an assumption held by virtually everyone, from seasoned anti-Muslim activists75 commenting on the faith from the outside to intra-community women’s rights activists.76 The former blame Islam itself and consider the problem intractable; the latter find space in Islamic law for change, even as they consider the current application of the law problematic. Muslim-majority states commonly cement the idea that Islamic law and women’s rights are in conflict by, for example, invoking religious law in reservations77 to international standards for women’s rights, such...

  7. (pp. 33-38)
    Omar Iharchane and Driss Maghraoui

    One of the major challenges facing the Muslim world today is how to accommodate contemporary human rights principles within an Islamic worldview and without falling into a false choice between traditionalist approaches to sharia and liberal alternatives drawn from secular discourse. It is this very trap that we need to avoid when discussing issues such as human rights, gender equality, and—of particular relevance here—freedom of belief and apostasy.

    Given the deeply held traditionalist views on the capital crime of apostasy, which claim sanction in the Quran and the Sunna, it is difficult to make the case for the...