Emory International Law Review


David F. Forte


Abdullahi An-Na‘im has set his life’s quest on attempting to find a way that Muslim society can be attuned to the moral commands of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a Western creation. At present, the Shari‘a and the Declaration are in obvious tension, if not conflict, in areas such as freedom of religion and the rights of women. An-Na‘im finds that the Shari‘a is a creation of man derived in history from an interpretation of Islamic sources. Muslims today can legitimately develop their own interpretation relying on the root sources of Islam, but only so long as those sources are distorted by the doctrine of Naskh. With a genuine interpretation of norms from the Qur’an, the principles of Islam, articulated through regional and historical experiences, can engage the values of the Declaration in synergetic enterprise. On the other hand, Professor An-Na‘im notes that the Declaration is itself the product of Western history and experience. How then can we be confident that a relationship between variable Muslim experience and the Declaration be successful? The answer, this Essay suggests, lies in the norms of natural law accessible by reason by all peoples. Those norms provide for the “universality” of many parts of the Declaration, and they are in harmony with Islam, properly understood, as well as with Judaism and Christianity.