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25 March 2021

Islam and Human Rights. Rethinking Universalism and Justice in a Fragmented World

A review of the international conference – The videos of the conference are now available: you can see them HERE…

Around 10 years after the Arab Spring, the LSRS, the UNESCO Chair in Human Rights of the University of Luxembourg and the Chair of Islamic Law of the University of Tübingen organised an international conference on March 4, 2021 on the topic “Islam and Human Rights. Rethinking Universalism and Justice in a Fragmented World”. A total of 17 scholars from four different continents met online to debate on the relationships between Islam and the Human Rights as well as on questions of (religious) freedom.

The one-day international conference “Islam and Human Rights. Rethinking Universalism and Justice in a Fragmented World”, organised by the LSRS, the UNESCO Chair in Human Rights of the University of Luxembourg and the Chair of Islamic Law of the University of Tübingen, has been a great success. A total of 17 scholars from 4 different continents met online to debate on the relationships between Islam and the Human Rights as well as on questions of (religious) freedom.

After a few introductory words from the three organisers Professor Dr. Mouez Khalfaoui (University of Tübingen), Professor Dr. Robert Harmsen (University of Luxembourg) and Professor Dr. Jean Ehret (LSRS), the first panel was opened by Professor Dr. Shaheen Serdar Ali (Rector of the National Academy of Higher Education in Pakistan). In her presentation, she questioned the extent to which Human Rights represent a challenge for contemporary Muslims. In particular, she emphasised two major challenges: first, the struggle for the appropriate methodology and, second, the question of how to dissolve the boundaries between the “us” and “them” (Muslims vs. “the West” and vice versa) in the discourse.

As president of the Tunisian organisation for Individual Freedoms and Equality Commission, Professor Dr. Buchra Belhaj Hmida (Faculty of Law, University of Tunis) reviewed the post-Arab Spring Era in Tunisia. She pointed out that there have been many positive developments in recent years, especially with regard to women’s rights. She also emphasised that with the revolution, the question of inheritance rights was renegotiated and individual freedoms were advocated for the first time.

Professor Dr. Katajun Amirpur (University of Cologne) dealt with the question of whether Islam and Human Rights are compatible or rather represent a contradiction. With the help of concrete examples, she showed that in contemporary debates on Human Rights, there are a number of Muslim reform thinkers and theologians who demonstrate that pluralism and democracy can indeed be justified with the help of Islamic or Koranic terms.

The second panel of the conference began with a lecture by Professor Dr. Abdullahi An Na’im (Emory University, USA). The scholar of law suggested demystifying both Sharia and Human Rights in order to make them applicable for creative practice. He advocated that all people worldwide must contribute to determining the content of Human Rights for themselves and apply it in their own context. Accordingly, he argued against a universalistic concept of Human Rights.

Professor Dr. Ann Elisabeth Mayer (University of Pennsylvania, USA) examined the Islamic factor in the current Human Rights challenges in the Middle East by comparing ISIS, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Tunisia. Her research shows that there is a wide range of approaches in this regard, which in turn reflects the different attitudes of Muslims. Her lecture has drawn attention to the risk of generalising Islam and its approach to Human Rights.

The last lecture was given by one of the co-organisers of the conference, Professor Dr. Mouez Khalfaoui. As a professor of Islamic jurisprudence and Islamic thought, he raised the rather practical question of how to teach Human Rights to Muslims in the 21st century. Khalfaoui emphasized the sensibility of the subject for Muslims in relation to Western actors and underlined that the rejection of Western position does not mean a rejection of Human Rights per se. In fact, Human Rights are currently one of the most appreciated subjects by Muslim mainstream.

Bringing together perspectives from different (geographical and disciplinary) contexts, the conference led to sometimes slightly controversial but therefore also very enriching discussions. Two points seem to me to be the quintessence of the day: first, one should be aware of the western-centric approach of the Human Rights concept. One often implies a claim of universalism to the concept that does not correspond to reality. Secondly, it is important not to perceive Islam as a singular entity and thus also to recognise that Muslims (depending on their cultural or even national context) have different approaches and claims with regard to Human Rights. When examining the relationship between Islam and Human rights, a differentiated view is needed.

The conference was followed live by more than 100 people worldwide.

 
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