The Rights of Mankind: Human Rights and Reformist Islam

Kadivar, Mohsen. Haqq al-Nas: Islam-e nowandish va hoquq-e bashar (The Rights of Mankind: Human Rights and Reformist Islam), 2nd Edition, Essen, Germany: New Thoughts Press, 2023, 532 pages. ISBN: 978-3-948894-09-2


In the context and conventions of the age of early Islam, all Islamic teachings, including shari‘a rulings, were reasonable, just, moral, and more functional as compared with rival systems. Islam never invited anyone to accept any unreasonable, unjust, immoral, or less functional teachings. However, a number of the shari’a rulings gradually lost some or all of their essential conditions over time. Such rulings which were Islamic once, are notso today. It means that they have been abrogated based on a school of thought that concrete reason is one of its epistemic sources.    

Anything that we call Islamic today must be reasonable, just, moral, and more functional according to the conventions of the present time. Anything that is unreasonable, unjust, immoral, and less functional than the rival approaches, regarding the conventions of the time, is not Islamic, even though it might have been so, previously. The main problem of traditional Islam is that it is living in the 21st century while breathing in the atmosphere of several centuries ago. Distinguishing timeless teachings from time-bound ones and abrogated rulings is a complex and professional duty and require structural ijtihad or ‘ijtihad in principles and foundations’. This important deed is the collective responsibility of mujtahids (with the aforementioned characteristics) working in the contemporary academic atmosphere with critical scrutiny.

Traditional Islam is inconsistent with human rights criteria in at least six areas: religious discrimination; gender discrimination; slavery; freedom of religion and criminalization of apostasy and blasphemy; arbitrary punishments, harsh punishments, and torture; and the privilege of jurists over laypeople in the public sphere. These inconsistencies are not only conspicuous in jurisprudence but also are observable in many hadiths and a few Qur’anic verses. Conventional ijtihad in juridical derivatives is not capable of addressing such deeply-rooted problems.

But “traditional Islam” is not equal to Islam, rather, it is the reading and understanding of Islam by scholars of the past. Comparably, it is possible to have a reading of the Qur’an and the Tradition of the Prophet and a methodology in ijtihad and jurisprudence that is consistent with the criteria of human rights.  

This reformist reading does not mean deriving human rights from the Qur’an and Tradition. Moreover, this is impossible since the modern concept of human rights did not exist in the past.

Such reading is the major theme of the present book The Rights of Mankind: Human Rights and Reformist Islam. Considering the fact that the author’s publication has been absolutely prohibited in his homeland since 2009, the second edition of this book is published after fourteen years in Germany. Aside from revision, short reflections have been added to the end of a few chapters. In the critical and detailed introduction to the new edition, Kadivar’s approach has been critically compared with the ideas of five main thinkers in the field of Islam and human rights: Mahmoud Mohamed Taha, Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na‘im, Ann Elizabeth Mayer, Mohammad Mojtahed Shabestari and Abdulaziz Sachedina.


Introduction to the 2nd Edition

Introduction to the 1st Edition

Section One: The Bases for Discussions on Islam and Human Rights

1 From Traditional Islam to End-oriented Islam

2 The Principles of Compatibility between Islam and Modernity

3 An Introduction to the Public and Private Debate in Islamic Culture

Section Two: Islam and Human Rights

4 Imam Sajjad and the Rights of Mankind

5 Human Rights and Reformist Islam

6 Questions and Answers about Human Rights and Reformist Islam

7 Human Rights, Secularism, and Religion

Section Three: Freedoms of Belief, Religion, and Politics

8 The Freedom of Belief and Religion in Islam and Human Rights Documents

9 The Rights of the Political Opposition in an Islamic Society

Appendix: The rights of the Political Opposition in shari’a

Section Four: Women’s Rights

10 Reformist Islam and Women’s Rights

11 Women’s Rights in the Hereafter: A Qurʾanic Theological Study

Section Five: Other Debates in Human Rights

12 The Issue of Slavery in Contemporary Islam

13 The Rights of Non-Muslims in Contemporary Islam

14 Social Security in Islamic Teachings



By the Author

Arabic and German Abstracts

Key Concepts:

Human Rights, Islam, Reformist Islam, Traditional Islam, Women’s Rights, Religious Freedom, Political Freedom, Slavery 

English version: Kadivar, Mohsen. Human Rights and Reformist Islam, Niki Akhavan (tr.), Series in Translation: Modern Muslim Thinkers, Edinburgh University Press in association with Aga Khan University Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilizations, UK, 2021, 432 pages.