Human Rights & Islam

About the Course:

In this course, we will examine the origins and contexts of the human rights discourse. We will adopt historical and analytical approaches to explore the social forces, legal regimes, and cultural norms that have shaped the debate on human rights in a global context and within Islamic societies. We will analyze historical accounts, legal documents, and past and current events to introduce students to human rights beyond its international law framework.

Principally, human rights is a normative and legal claim. Although human rights, as an idea, might be the byproduct of Enlightenment era, many pre-modern societies have had customs and institutions that established guidelines for the dignified treatment of human beings especially during times of war, illness, insolvency, or death. In this sense, the idea that humans are born with inalienable rights seems self-evident. Although international and national organizations began standardizing the dignified treatment of people as early as the nineteenth century, it is the 20th century that could be called the human rights Century. Immediately after the World Wars (of the 20th century), leaders of world nations reached a consensus that allowed them to enter into binding treaties that universalized human rights as norm and law ( in the form of Declarations and Treaties). Yet, despite this stunning progress and consensus about the virtues of honoring Human Rights, almost all nations have, at some time or another, violated the human rights of their own citizens or the rights of people of other countries. There are a few exceptions, but only for lack of opportunity—the nations who have not violated human rights are small and isolated.

So what are the factors behind the violations of rights that seem to be self-evident?

Generally, human rights laws are derivatives of bilateral, multilateral, and international treaties. That means that in most cases, human rights actions are claims against governments. As such, governments often use sovereignty, national security, national interests, cultural specificity, religious exemptions, and public interest to justify non-compliance to human rights norms.

With these assumptions and parameters in mind, this course will explore the origins and evolution of Human Rights in the context of Western and Islamic civilizations. First, students will be introduced to a list of rights derived from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Second, students will examine religious texts from the formative period of the Islamic Civilization (7th century) to see the presence or lack thereof of human rights regimes therein. Third, students will survey the evolution of Human Rights since Enlightenment until codification. Fourth, students will learn about Human Rights regimes, institutions, and mechanisms. Lastly, we will investigate recent cases and probe the contexts of abuse and applications of Human Rights laws.

The objective of the course is to enable students to explore Human Rights from a variety of disciplines, in a multitude of contexts, using an array of documents and media.

For the research paper assignment, this semester, the theme will be “Immigration: Is it a human right? (research paper theme is updated each semester, students must consult the actual syllabus for the most current topic of the research paper).


A detailed schedule of lecture topics, reading assignments, and in-class activities will be made available on ICON. This schedule will be updated regularly as the course progresses. Students are strongly encouraged to follow current events relevant to the topics discussed in class and use the information to participate in discussions.



1.   HUMAN RIGHTS & ISLAM (Read Online or download to your computer from ICON).

2.   Reading Packet 2 and multimedia materials (Download from ICON)

Optional Bibliography Suggestions:

1)   International Human Rights & Practice Cases, Treaties …  Author: Francisco Martin

2)   International Human Rights and Humanitarian Law Author: Rene Provost

3)   Remedies in International Human Rights Law Author: Dinah Shelton

4)   World Poverty and Human Rights Author: Thomas Winfried Menko Pogge

5)   Freedom From Want Author: George Kent

6)   International Human Rights in the 21st Century Author: Gene M. Lyons; Buy New

7)   Islam and Human Rights Author: Ann Elizabeth Mayer

8)   International Human Rights in Context Author: Henry J. Steiner

9)   People’s History of the United States Author: Howard Zinn

10) Human rights and constitutional law Author: Round Hall Press

11) Toward an Islamic Reformation: Civil Liberties, Human Rights, and International Law. Author: An-Na’im, Abdullahi Ahmed.


1.      Islamic Law as incorporated in Ottoman Civil Code ( Rare Books)

2.      Online Islamic Law Encyclopedia (Maghniyyah @

3.      Online Dictionary of Key Arabic Words and Phrases in Islamic Studies

4.      Library: Islamic Studies Encyclopedia; Articles Database: JSTOR; Books: Books Catalog Search

5.      Online Islamic Studies Articles and Books

6.      The Qur’ān online

7.      Grade Conversion Tables

 8.      Documentaries. Videos… (Human Rights Themes)