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Release date:
July 10, 2001
Contact: Elaine Justice, Assistant Director, 404-727-0643, or

Emory Receives $707,000 For Islam and Human Rights Program

Emory University's Law and Religion Program has received a $707,000 grant from the Ford Foundation to establish a new Islam and Human Rights Fellowship Program. The three-year project will bring together young scholars and activists from around the world to develop human rights scholarship and practical strategies for advocacy from an Islamic perspective.

"Implementation of human rights norms in any society requires a thoughtful and well-informed engagement of religion," says project director Abdullahi An-Na'im, head of the Religion and Human Rights Project at Emory's Law and Religion Program. While he doesn't assume either total compatibility or contradiction between religion and human rights, An-Na'im does believe that scholar/advocates can help mediate the two by developing more flexible and inclusive understandings and by combining sound research with practical advocacy.

Despite a strong need for its own human rights models, "very little systematic work is being done on the implementation of human rights in Islamic societies," says An-Na'im. He notes that some Islamic societies resist accepting human rights models that are perceived as being based on Western values.

One of the program's goals is to establish a permanent on-line network of scholar/advocates of human rights who will provide a forum for ongoing dialogue, consultation, research and publication. Three fellows will be appointed per year during the three years of the program, each for a term of nine months, to pursue projects related to human rights from an Islamic perspective. Although the fellows will not necessarily be in residence at the Emory campus (they may be if they wish), a workshop in the spring of 2003 will bring all participants together to establish the new network and organize its activities.

Although fellows will be free to pursue projects of their own choosing, potential topics are likely to include some of Islamic societies' most pressing issues, such as the economic and social rights of women, violence against women, or questions of custody and rights of children, among others.

As An-Na'im points out, addressing human rights issues in Islamic societies "is relevant to more than 1.2 billion people, constituting the majority of the population in more than 50 countries in Africa and Asia, as well as minorities in other parts of the world."

An-Na'im is well-positioned to coordinate such a widespread effort, serving as a member of the board of trustees of The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies in Egypt, RAINBOW (Research, Action & Information Network for Bodily Integrity of Women), and the Institute for Human Rights and Development in Serrekunda, The Gambia. He and colleagues in the Religion and Human Rights Project have directed two other major projects for the Ford Foundation: a five-year study on cultural transformation in Africa; and a three-year project on Muslim family law, both of which conclude this summer with the publication of four new volumes and many articles and briefs.

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