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Liberal Islam and 'Islam and Human Rights': A Sceptic's View

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Liberal Islam has become increasingly prominent in academic discourse with its argument that Islam is the necessary foundation to human rights in the Muslim world. This article argues that this theoretical premise is misguided. Instead of whether or not the rights regime makes sense given political, economic, and social context in Muslim-majority states, in a liberal Islam paradigm the question becomes whether or not there are convincing doctrinal arguments regarding the place of human rights in Islamic law. This accepts, in essence, the need for literalist religious justifications for human rights, making an argument for rights a dispute over religious doctrine: a dispute that takes place on an elite, juristic field on which reformers have little claim to institutional authority, human rights scant normative power, and that is disconnected from everyday political and normative realities. More dangerously, it risks reifying the notion that Islam monopolizes the Muslim public sphere, rather than leaving space for normative diversity. Human rights foundations must be based in the theoretical premise that political change flows out of inherently pluralistic normative environments, and that this is as true in the Muslim world as it is elsewhere.


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