Human Rights and Islam

Rights in Religion, Society, and Law

About the Course:

Relying on historical and analytical approaches, we explore the social forces, legal regimes, and cultural norms that have shaped the discourse on human rights in a global context. The framing of the course as being about Human Rights and Islam offer us the opportunity to accomplish at least two things: (1) examine the intersections of rights, culture, society, and law in the last 2000 years, and (2) consider the interplay between institutional (formal) and societal (informal) powers that shape human rights norms.

It is often argued that human rights, as a discourse, is a byproduct of Enlightenment thought. However, many pre-modern societies have had customs and institutions that established guidelines for the dignified treatment of human beings especially during times of conflict, illness, insolvency, war, or death. This course is designed to engage with textual, artistic, cultural, philosophical, normative, and legal framing of human rights covering both Western and Islamic thought and events.

In this course, we 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 since 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. Fourth, students will learn about human rights regimes, institutions, and mechanisms. Lastly, we will consider current events and recent human rights cases in order to highlight the interplay between theory and reality.

In terms of learning objectives, students will progressively learn about human rights in broad sense. First, students will memorize the names of key human rights documents, events, and institutions that informed the discourse on human rights. Second, students will define human rights and related concepts, survey historical and legal literature, and categorize ideas and events relevant to human rights. Third, students, will consider some theoretical works, analyze proposed explanations, and critically appraise such ideas and theories about human rights.


A detailed schedule of lecture topics, reading assignments, and group 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. Reading Packet 1 (download to your computer from ICON).
  2. Reading Packet 2 and multimedia materials (Download from ICON)

More videos on human rights…