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Human Rights and Islam

An Introduction to Key Debates between Islamic Law and International Human Rights Law

Abdullah Saeed

Is there a basis for human rights in Islam? Beginning with an exploration of what rights are and how the human rights discourse developed, Abdullah Saeed explores the resources that exist within Islamic tradition. He looks at those that are compatible with international human rights law and can be garnered to promote and protect human rights in Muslim-majority states. A number of rights are given specific focus, including the rights of women and children, freedom of expression and religion, as well as jihad and the laws of war. Human Rights and Islam emphasises the need for Muslims to rethink problematic areas of Islamic thought that are difficult to reconcile with contemporary conceptions of human rights.
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Abdullah Saeed


This book has shown that there is significant interest in the international human rights discourse among Muslim scholars, the governments of Muslim-majority states, civil society and, increasingly, amongst ordinary Muslims. However, discussions of “rights” among Muslims is not just a recent phenomenon. Rights have a long history in Islamic tradition. Since the early period of Islam, Muslim jurists have been interested in the rights of human beings and their connection to God. Legal and moral frameworks were established in the early Muslim community to safeguard certain rights, such as the rights of children (who were recognised as particularly vulnerable in society), the right to freedom of religion for religious minorities (who were not to be forced to convert to Islam), and the protection of non-combatants in situations of armed conflict. Steps were also taken to rectify injustices that were occurring in pre-Islamic society, such as the lack of agency and legal capacity experienced by women, the killing of female infants, and the practice of marrying unlimited numbers of wives. Notably, these rights and protections are not foreign to the international human rights discourse.

The discourse on rights in Islamic thought has always been explicitly grounded in religious terms. Human rights in Islam come from a religious-moral framework where God is the giver of rights and has rights Himself (huquq Allah), and human beings, while having rights (huquq adamiy), also have duties and obligations. This conceptual architecture does not make Islam’s discourse on rights incompatible...

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