February 20, 2008

Human Rights and Islam in Iran



Dr. Abdulaziz Sachedina


Washington DC – At a February 15 briefing at the Women’s Foreign Policy Group, Dr. Abdulaziz Sachedina, argued that the U.S. must pursue dialogue with Iran, and that dialogue must start with the human rights question. We cannot remain indifferent to any culture or community that fails to respect human rights for any person,” he said.

A professor of religious studies at the University of Virginia, Sachedina believes that human rights in Iran are indisputably tied to Islam, as both a faith and a culture. His book, The Islamic Roots of Democratic Pluralism, critically analyzes Muslim teachings on pluralism and civil society.

He asserts that Muslims need not distinguish between human rights and political rights, and that Islamic governments should not use the Sharia alone to address heavy, difficult issues like women’s rights and equal protection under the law.

“They [Muslims] must come to understand sharia as a system of values, not just a system of laws,” Sachedina said.

Muslims believe that the Koran serves as the final revelation of universal human values—and rights. This, according to Sachedina, poses a problem for pursuing U.S.-Iran talks.

It is important for Muslims to find an answer in Islamic jurisprudence that can protect human rights. “You can work out a theory of natural law in Islam,” he said.

Sachedina is not a stranger to Islamic political thought or to Iranian culture and history. As a professor of religious studies at the University of Virginia—and a past student at Ferdowsi University in Iran—he has tackled these issues in his work over the past 4 decades.

Sachedina calls for a dialogue with the ‘right’ kind of people in order to engage these issues and build consensus. Because many governments fail to protect the rights of their citizens, religious leaders serve as the guardians of the people.

Iran is a case in point, Sachedina argued.

For Sachedina, true progress will not be achieved unless Western governments engage the religious leaders of Islamic communities.

Dr. Sachedina is the latest speaker in a series of lectures by the Women’s Foreign Policy Group, titled The Carnegie Scholar Islam Series Luncheon. Past events have featured Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Kay Bailey Hutchinson, and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright on issues like women’s rights, international development, diplomacy, and international politics.




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