SOAS University of London

Centre of Islamic and Middle Eastern Law

Community Dialogues - Abdullahi An-Na`im

Abdullahi An-Na`im, who is from the Sudan, is Charles Howard Candler Professor Law at Emory University in Atlanta. He teaches criminal law, human rights, public international law and comparative constitutional law. His primary research interest is in human rights in cross-cultural perspectives, especially in relation to Islamic and African societies. In particular, he is concerned with questions of the legitimacy of internationally recognised human rights standards in different cultural and contextual settings, based on his fundamental premise that state-centric efforts to protect human rights need to be supported by broader strategies for social and cultural transformation.

In previously published theoretical work (e.g., Human Rights in Cross-Cultural Perspectives: A Quest for Consensus, 1992), Abdullahi has argued that the legitimacy of human rights can be achieved by promoting the dynamics of cultural transformation through an internal discourse within each society, and cross-cultural dialogue between societies. In relation to Islamic societies, for instance, both strategies require a clear understanding of the specific political and sociological context in order to promote appropriate legal and theological support for human rights among local communities. In an effort to substantiate this analysis, he is engaged in two major research projects, one on women's access to land in traditional African societies, and the other on the theory and practice of Islamic family law around the world.

In the first phase of the CIMEL/INTERIGHTS project, Abdullahi An-Na`im sought to develop a clearer understanding of the possibilities of initiating and promoting internal community-based dialogue about the values and social institutions underlying 'forced marriage' among diasporic Muslim communities in the United Kingdom in the summer of 2000. His work in the second phase will follow the same approach in relation to 'crimes of honour' (including 'honour killings') in Turkey. Abdullahi is not claiming to conduct a comprehensive investigation and documentation of the phenomenon, or to engage in a direct advocacy campaigns against these practices as such. Rather, he is exploring ways of identifying agents of positive social change, and encouraging and supporting them in their efforts to challenge the legitimacy of social norms and practices associated with 'honour crimes.' In other words, he is attempting to contribute to a scholarly understanding of advocacy for social change in relation to 'honour crimes.'

To this end, in the current (second) phase of the project, Abdullahi visited Istanbul in mid-2001 to interview Turkish social scientists, lawyers and judges, as well as civil society organisations and community leaders concerned with these issues. This visit was facilitated by Bilgi University, Istanbul.