Meet an IAS Residential Fellow: Hassan Abdel Salam


Hassan Abdel Salam
Sociology, College of Liberal Arts
University of Minnesota, Twin Cities

IAS Faculty Fellow, Spring 2021

The Human Rights Fatwas: How Orthodox Jurists Deliver Human Rights Decisions in their Adjudication of Islamic Law

As an IAS fellow, I intend to work on my book project, completing chapters and also hopefully sending my book proposal out to university presses. The book is titled The Human Rights Fatwas: How Orthodox Jurists Deliver Human Rights Decisions in their Adjudication of Islamic Law. In the book, I ask “Do Islamic orthodox jurists advance human rights in their legal rulings – in their fatwas?” In this first-ever book on how orthodox jurists advance human rights, I study the legal decisions of over a hundred contemporary jurists and find that orthodox jurists are unexpectedly making legal rulings in compliance with human rights. This finding runs contrary to media depictions, which cast orthodox jurists as antagonistic to human rights. While classical Islamic law (shari'a) from ca. 800-1300 CE permitted slavery, enjoined the application of corporal penalties for those convicted of adultery, and did not traditionally require that Caliphs (rulers) be selected based on a democratic system of governance, today’s jurists condemn slavery, make corporal penalties “virtually impossible” to enforce, and declare democracy and universal suffrage to be Islamically legitimate ideals. Surprisingly, jurists deliver these legal rulings without rejecting scripture: jurists creatively draw on the shari’a’s age-old doctrines – combining these doctrines in unique, unexpected, and unprecedented ways – to subtly bring Islamic law into compliance with human rights. I document the emergence of a silent human rights revolution galvanized by orthodox jurists from around the world. My hope is to inshallah make progress on the book during the fellowship. After my presentation on the book project, fellows provided helpful comments – I’m thankful for their engagement and for their kindness. I’m grateful to Allah SWT for the opportunity to be a fellow at the Institute of Advanced Study.

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