Human rights is a subject that rarely ducks relevance. When
the Law and Religion Program received funding to start its Islam
and Human Rights Fellowship Program in 2001, the plan was to invite
scholars to campus and guide them through research that focused
not only on human rights, but also angled that discussion through
the prism of the Islam.
Halfway through the program’s life cycle, the fellows who
have come to campus have deepened this important discussion.
“The idea is to invest in young scholar/activists who are
scholarly enough to appreciate conceptual thinking about Islam,
history and politics but also are engaged in social policy,”
said Abdullahi An-Na’im, program director and head of the
Religion and Human Rights Project in the Law and Religion Program.
He and program coordinator Shelly Brownsberger administer the fellowship
“We want people who are invested in transforming their societies
and changing attitudes,” An-Na’im said.
The first two of nine fellows came to campus last spring and now
are in the field doing their research. The second set arrived on
campus at the beginning of this semester, and—considering
their work—they definitely meet An-Na’im’s scholar/activist
Recep Senturk is a sociologist by training and a researcher at the
Islamic Research Center in Istanbul, Turkey. Jamila Bargach is an
assistant professor of social sciences at the Morocco’s National
School of Architecture in Rabat.
The fellows are hardly working in isolation. Both Senturk and Bargach
took part in a lunchtime lecture series sponsored by the Religion
and Human Rights Project in which they presented their research
to somewhat small (about 20 people each) but informed groups. Senturk
spoke Oct. 15 and Bargach, Oct. 22.
Senturk’s research project—as well as the title of his
Oct. 15 presentation—is “Sociology of Rights: Human
Rights in Islam Between Universal and Communal Perspectives.”
He is exploring the two, incompatible definitions of human rights
within the Islamic world. One (universal rights) states that simply
being human guarantees one basic rights. The other (communal rights)
holds that rights are granted only to Muslims.
The clash between these two viewpoints, Senturk said, dates to the
eighth century. He added that most Muslims and most governments
in Islamic countries have historically followed the universal definition
of human rights, but there are states that misuse the concept.
“These are debates among scholars of 1,000 years ago, and
they still resonate,” An-Na’im said. “In fact,
Dr. Senturk’s point is we can better understand and better
influence what’s happening today by understanding that history
and scholarship. We can pull from that history instead of appearing
to introduce totally new ideas.”
Senturk said one of the things that has helped him with his research
has been the Law and Religion Program, which has few thematic equals
around the country.
“At Emory there is an identification of the relationship between
law and religion; at most schools and, in my country, that identification
is neglected,” said Senturk, who holds a PhD in sociology
“I felt that I needed to be more grounded in the legal aspects
of human rights,” he said. “My approach is combine the
sociological aspect of human rights with a legal perspective.”
Senturk’s goal is to produce a book in both English and Turkish
on the sociology of human rights.
Bargach’s research is more secularly grounded than Senturk’s,
but the concept of human rights is at its center. “A Human
Rights Perspective to Deal with Urban Marginalization” addresses
the problems inherent to living in Sidi Musa, one of Morocco’s
“There is a view that slum dwellers are dirty and poor, and
this leads to their marginalization,” said Bargach, who has
a PhD in cultural anthropology from Rice University. “These
people are denied all forms of dignified living—they have
no water, no
electricity, their schools are far away.”
Before starting her current project, Bargach was researching the
abandonment of children in Morocco. Therefore, she is not as far
along on her fellowship research as Senturk.
“This is a work in progress,” she said. “The fellowship
has helped me find the time and the resources to do some research
and think about the various approaches I could take.”
Bargach’s field work will deal not only with communicating
with associations and groups that serve slum dwellers in Sidi Musa,
but also with the government. “When dealing with slum living,
you cannot not deal with the state,” she said. After all,
it is the government that essentially is responsible for providing
the basics (water, electricity) for the sustainment of life.
Senturk and Bargach will spend the remainder of this semester on
campus, then return to the field for the remainder of their nine-month
fellowship. However, they will be back on campus for a short time
in the spring—along with the other seven fellows—for
a workshop where each will present his or her research. Previous
fellows have researched women’s health in rural Senegal and
the social exclusion of Africans in Yemen.
Since the program’s beginning in summer 2001, one of its goals
has been to create a permanent online network of scholar/advocates
of human rights who could provide a forum for ongoing dialogue,
consultation, research and publication. An-Na’im said that
the website is near completion and should be up sometime in November.
Once that phase is completed, the next step will be to secure funding
so that the original three-year, $707,000 scope of the program can
Two more lectures are planned for the lunchtime religion and human
rights lecture series. Ekaterina Yahyaoui, Gallatin Fellow of the
University of Virginia, will speak on “Interaction Between
International Instruments on Women’s Human Rights and Islam,”
Nov. 5; and Asma Abdel Halim of the law school will speak on “Reconciling
Public Laws and Shari’a with the Rights of Non-Muslim Minorities
in Nigeria,” Nov. 12.
Both lectures will be at noon in the Agnor Room of Gambrell Hall.
Lunch is provided, but an RSVP is necessary.
For more information, call 404-712-8711.