Polemical assertions about the civilisational clash between Islam and Christianity, and Islams incompatibility with human rights and gender equality are frequently heard these days. Political Islam, however, is far from homogeneous, and the modernist and reformist currents which have emerged in many diverse contexts often seek to embrace both human rights and gender equality. This paper analyses the diverse currents of thinking that feed into the reformist orientation in Iran. The need for change and reform is being voiced not only by secular forces, but also by the true believers, who have included male lay intellectuals, some clerical authorities, and a number of feminists with an Islamic orientation. These disparate streams of reformist thinking constitute a genuinely local effort to move Islamic politics out of the cul-de-sac of traditional Islam by endorsing modernist and universal values of human rights, democracy and gender equality. While these emerging voices represent a paradigm shift in Islamic thought, their political impact has been far from significant. The reasons for this weakness are complex, and include both domestic and external factors explored in the second half of the paper.