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An-Na`im Honored for His Dedication to Human Rights

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Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na`im (left) accepts the Lifetime Achievement Award from Jose Roberto Juarez, chair of the Journal of Law and Religion editorial board.

11/01/11

Emory Law Professor Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na`im has received two major awards for his dedication to human rights: the 2011 Lifetime Achievement Award by the Journal of Law and Religion and the 2011 Johnson Medal by the James Weldon Johnson Institute for the Study of Race and Difference at Emory University.

A tireless activist and a courageous and esteemed scholar of international human rights, comparative constitutional law, and Islamic law, An-Na`im is Charles Howard Candler Professor of Law. He also serves as director of Emory’s Center for International and Comparative Law and as a senior fellow of Emory’s Center for the Study of Law and Religion (CSLR).

"Professor An-Na'im is precisely the kind of deeply engaged, thoughtful, and bold reformer the world needs to foster better mutual understanding, respect, and harmony across deeply contested religious, cultural, regional, and racial lines,” said John Witte, Jr., CSLR director. “I am proud to call him my friend, brother, and colleague -- and to congratulate him on these well deserved new tributes.”

Adds CSLR Founding Director Frank Alexander, “Professor An-Na`im is a person of great vision whose words and actions have allowed us to see more clearly the paths before us, the neighbors beside us, and the possibilities of justice."

An-Na`im received the Journal of Law and Religion award September 23 in St. Paul, Minn. Produced by Hamline University School of Law, the journal annually honors persons who have devoted a substantial part of their life’s work to scholarship or professional practice in law and religion, and whose character and work reflects the journal’s mission. Among the previous recipients are Harold J. Berman (1918-2007), Emory’s first Robert W. Woodruff Professor of Law; Harvard University’s Mary Ann Glendon, former U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican; and John T. Noonan, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

An-Na`im accepted the Johnson medal November 8. The award honors James Weldon Johnson, the legendary writer, journalist, civil rights leader, musician, and humanitarian, by awarding a medal to five people whose achievements and service reflect a deep and unwavering commitment to civil and human rights. Among the other 2011 medalists is Henry (Hank) Aaron.

A native of Sudan who is now a citizen of  the United States, An-Na`im is a Muslim who can’t accept archaic interpretations of Islamic law, and has focused his life’s work on transforming it. “I couldn’t see how Sudan could be viable without women being full citizens and without non-Muslims being full citizens. ...I couldn’t live with this view of Islam,” he said in a Sept. 11, 2006 interview in The New Yorker.

The official citation from the Journal of Law and Religion highlights An-Na`im’s dedication to the accomplishment of justice through law. “As a scholar, you have articulated a path for Muslim-majority states to protect the human dignity of their subjects, but more importantly, to protect their ability to live authentically and creatively as religious person of true conviction, through the vehicle of the secular state.”

An-Nai`im joined Emory Law in 1995, where he co-founded the Center for International and Comparative Law and leads the Islamic Studies research area of the CSLR. He has authored or edited 16 books, most recently Muslims and Global Justice (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011), and published more than 60 articles and book chapters on human rights, constitutionalism, Islamic law and politics. His current research focuses on American Muslims and the secular state, and human rights, universality and sovereignty. An-Na`im has received an honorary doctorate from the Universite catholique de Louvain (UCL, Louvain-la-Neuve) and Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (K.U. Leuven, Leuven), Belgium. In addition, he served as Global Legal Scholar at the Law School, University of Warwick, UK; Extraordinary Professor at the Centre for Human Rights, Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria, and a Carnegie Scholar.

“I am grateful to former Dean Howard Hunter, former Associate Dean Nathaniel Gozansky, Professor Tom Arthur and the Appointments Committee he chaired for having ‘taken a chance on me’ in 1995.  I realize it was highly exceptional for a leading American law school like Emory Law to appoint someone with my limited experience in American legal education,” An-Na`im said. “My profound and special appreciation, however, goes to Professors John Witte, Jr. and Frank Alexander who championed my candidacy.”

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