Shari`ah and human rights

Authored by: Khaled Abou El Fadl

Routledge Handbook on Human Rights and the Middle East and North Africa

Print publication date:  November  2016
Online publication date:  November  2016

Print ISBN: 9781138807679
eBook ISBN: 9781315750972
Adobe ISBN: 9781317613763


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The construct of human rights has achieved notable symbolic significance in the modern world. Politically, whether a nation regularly violates the rights of its citizens or not, most nations go through the pretense of claiming to honor some version of human rights. In the past half-century, human rights have become a significant part of international relations, as there has been a globalization of human rights concerns and discourses. 1 At least since the widespread adoption of what has been referred to as the International Bill of Rights, 2 the idea of human rights has become established as a powerful symbolic construct often used to shame or embarrass governments into exhibiting a higher degree of restraint in dealing with their citizens. 3 Importantly, in the case of the Muslim world, the human rights movement has, so-to-speak, won indigenous converts, and as a result, it is not unusual to observe the language of human rights being used as a medium for expressing dissent and making demands on local governments. This is the case particularly with women’s rights activists in the Muslim world who frequently cite international standards and obligations as a means for exerting pressure upon their domestic governments. 4 More significantly, the revolutions of the so-called Arab Spring demonstrated the widespread utilization of the language of rights (huquq), demands for dignity, and social justice. There were persistent efforts such as the document called Wathiqat al-Azhar hawl mustaqbal fi Misr (Azhar Statement on the Future of Egypt) in which the Azhar theological seminary recognized that all citizens have basic and fundamental unwavering rights. 5 However, the tumultuous conditions into which the countries of the Arab Spring deteriorated have made attempts at deriving conclusions from these chaotic lived socio-political experiences problematic.

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