An-Na`im’s Advocacy Focus of 9/11 New Yorker Article

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Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na`im

By April L. Bogle

The “radically peaceful vision of Islam” that is the focus of Emory law professor Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na`im’s research and writings is highlighted in a major article in The New Yorker magazine’s September 11, 2006, issue. An-Na`im is Charles Howard Candler Professor of Law and senior fellow in the Center for the Study of Law and Religion (CSLR).

Titled “The Moderate Martyr,” the article chronicles the teachings of Mahmoud Muhammad Taha, a Sudanese intellectual who envisioned and promoted a peaceful Islam where women and people of other religious faiths were treated equally. An-Na`im became part of Taha’s movement in Sudan in 1967 and continued until the movement was suppressed in 1985.  The movement promoted a peaceful view of Islam until Taha and his leading followers were imprisoned without charge or trial from mid 1983 to the end of 1994.  Taha was executed, and the movement suppressed in January 1985. An-Na`im left Sudan a few months later to continue advocating Taha’s views abroad.

The article was written by The New Yorker staff writer George Packer, who is the author of several books about American foreign policy, most recently The Assassins' Gate: America in Iraq (Farrar, Straus and Giroux 2005). In addition to interviewing An Na`im at his Emory Law School office, Packer traveled to Sudan to interview other Taha followers and the man who is believed to have been responsible for Taha’s execution, Hasan al-Turabi. Turabi was also the intellectual architect of Omar al-Bashir’s bloody Sudanese regime.

An-Na`im’s work since he was exiled from Sudan has focused on helping Muslims find a way to live within Islam and embrace human rights for all people. His work has attracted nearly $2 million from the Ford Foundation for a series of international research projects, including studies on women and land rights in Africa, Islamic family law, and an Islam and Human Rights fellowship program, which brought to Emory scholar-activists from Islamic nations advocating for social change in their home countries.

His latest book, Islam and the Secular State: Negotiating the Future of Shari`a, proposes “not a rigid separation of politics and religion…but, rather, a scheme in which Islam informs political life but cannot be introduced into law by an appeal to any religious authority,” according to The New Yorker.

“I need a secular state to be a Mulsim. If I don’t have the freedom to disbelieve, I cannot believe,” An-Na`im says in the magazine.

An-Na`im will preview the book at the 2007 Currie Lecture in Law and Religion January 29, 2007, 4 p.m., at Emory Law School’s Tull Auditorium. Sponsored by the CSLR, the lecture is free and open to the public. For more information, call 404-712-8710 or go to Events.


The CSLR is home to world class scholars and forums on the religious foundations of law, politics, and society. It offers expertise on how the teachings and practices of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam have shaped and continue to transform the fundamental ideas and institutions of our public and private lives. The scholarship of CSLR faculty provides the latest perspectives, while its conferences and public forums foster reasoned and robust public debate.

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