Islam, Human Rights and Public Policy

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In this ground-breaking Australian book, a diverse group of international writers, scholars and commentators shed light on some of the most pressing human rights and public policy challenges of our time.

Contributors include thinkers of Muslim background with extensive personal experience in developing countries, and Western writers of both secular and religious orientation. Individual essays deal with the human rights of Muslims and non-Muslims alike, in areas ranging from women’s rights to freedom on religion.

Another valuable focus is on the challenges of adaptation that immigrant Muslim communities in the West face, as do non-Muslims as they seek to understand and come to terms with different Muslim world views. Contentious areas of debate such as the sources of religious violence, and the implications of so-called Islamisation, are not avoided but addressed with openness, honesty and candour. Other specific topics include multi-faith dialogue, Islamic finance, and the nature of Islamic law (Sharia).

The book concludes with a set of practical, concrete recommendations for individuals directly involved in setting relevant public policies.

Islam, Human Rights and Public Policy is an indispensable handbook for Australian and indeed all Western policy makers.

Reviewed by Moyra Dale, lecturer at Ridley Theological College, Melbourne, former educator in the Middle East, and now a ThD candidate at the Centre for the Study of Islam and other Faiths, Bible College of Victoria.

Writing on Islam in the west is never a neutral task. Author and intended audience need to be scrutinised in order for the reader to evaluate the place of any new writing in the plethora of articles and books on Islam. This book focuses on areas that inform public policy with regard to Islam. It is designed as a resource for Australian MPs and people involved in public life. It is not meant to be a general introduction to Islam or sourcebook for people wanting to know how to relate more effectively to Muslim neighbours or colleagues.

David Claydon has brought together a diverse group of international contributors, united by their Christian commitment and critical interest in Islam. The book is in five sections. The first, Introducing the Issues, seeks to set the scene for the following sections which look further at Human Rights, Violence and Peace in spreading Islam, an extensive section on Sharia law and a final section on Da’wa and jihad, and the place of dialogue. The articles are all fairly bite-sized which makes it easier to deal with the complexity of issues raised by the writers. Overall the standard is good, and some write with a stylistic precision that is a delight to read. Only a few of the authors slip into journalese and generalizations. Most of the writers draw on a range of sources which include articles and reports from the internet and daily newspapers, as well as scholarly materials.

The book doesn’t purport to be disinterested. Islamic writings and speeches help set a theoretical context to examine historical and contemporary situations. It asks Muslims speaking for Islam to be accountable in dealing with the questions raised by traditional interpretations of the sacred texts (Qur’an, Sunna, Hadith) that inform the behaviour of the faith community. In particular it explores the compatibility of Sharia law with western systems of law, and why Sharia is given priority over western systems or universal declarations when the inevitable clashes happen. The place of women and of those who wish to leave Islam as a faith system, are discussed. Another chapter gives a helpful basis for how and why fatwas are issued, followed b by a chapter examining what kind of understanding of non-Muslims underlies the anti-terrorism fatwas. Only one chapter (with occasional other references) discusses the link between da’wa (preaching and proselytisation) and jihad. This is a prominent area in the practice and preaching of Muslim communities in Australia that could perhaps have been further explored.

Claydon and Arnold conclude the book with a chapter on Principles for the Development of Public Policy which includes points from the preceding chapters and adds a few more. While the range of issues and perspectives is varied, the overall effect is to give a richness of contribution to a complex area of public discussion and policy. Islam does not separate between religion and government, and is vindicated by being in power. This brings critical questions about its interface with non-Muslim citizens and governments. I recommend the book for people wanting to understand and engage in the debate.

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