4.3.7 Human Rights and Sharia in the State System


If I am not free to believe, there is no value to my belief…. Creating conditions where I keep the freedom to believe or to not believe is critical for the possibility of being a Muslim.

This short video presents highlights from a conversation with Professor of Law Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im, a specialist on Islam and human rights. An-Naim has written and presented extensively on the question of human rights in the nation-state system, as well as how human rights can be de-linked from (state-centric) colonialism.


Guiding questions:

  1. How does Professor An-Naim define Sharia?
  2. If Sharia is suppositional, do you think it should it be enforced by a state? How would a state define and apply divine norms? Why does An-Naim worry about states (and by extension, certain decision-makers within those state governments) deciding they have the ultimate truth?
  3. Why does An-Naim argue that freedom of religion (and therefore secular government) is necessary to expressing Islamic religious conviction and piety? Do you agree?
  4. An-Naim believes that we should separate our religious (and other) identities from our status as citizens. Would nationalism be possible under this condition if people thought of themselves, civically, first and foremost as citizens of a state?
  5. Recall learning material 4.3.3. Do you think Islam can contribute the necessary positive “social psychology” for a new global order, as suggested by Imam Zaid Shakir, in An-Naim’s ideal world of secular governments that permit full freedom of religion? Are these ideas necessarily opposed?


Thumbnail: The Mosques Of Colors–Prayers For Indonesia 2018–Doa Untuk Indonesia. Image Credit: Daniel Arrhakis, 2018. CC BY-NC 2.0.