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date: 25 March 2023

“Whosoever Sees an Evil”: Muslim Americans’ Human Rights Advocacylocked

“Whosoever Sees an Evil”: Muslim Americans’ Human Rights Advocacylocked

  • Sahar AzizSahar AzizBoston University School of Law


The quintessential foil to liberalism in the Western imagination continues to be Islam. Orientalist stereotypes of Muslims as uncivilized and savage justified European conquest that led to centuries of colonialism. The United States followed suit when it replaced Britain and France as the new “Great Power” in Muslim majority countries, but this time through political and military hegemony.

International human rights, formally developed after World War II by Western nations, became a soft power tool that perpetuated Orientalist portrayals of Muslim societies as illiberal, misogynist, and violent on account of their Islamic values. As a result, some Western lawyers and scholars frame Islam as the cause of international human rights violations, thereby making military and political interventions necessary to protect Muslims’ human rights. That is, Islam is antithetical to universal human rights. Meanwhile, insufficient attention is paid to Western nation’s support for the despots that violate their Muslim citizens’ human rights.

To the extent explorations of human rights and Islam are conducted in good faith, the lived experiences of Muslims offer more insights than abstract debates infected by Orientalist academic training. Accordingly, this article looks to Muslims in America as a case study to show how Islamic principles can and do inform Muslim leaders’ defense of human rights. Muslim elected officials, human rights lawyers, and religious leaders explicitly reference their Islamic beliefs as the basis for their social justice work in the United States. The political environment in which Muslims live, rather than their religion per se, is thus more predictive of compliance with international human rights norms.


  • Islamic Studies

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