Iranian Shiism and the Contemporary Debate on the Human Rights of Sexual Minorities

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Institutional Affiliation : 
Moravian College, Pennsylvania
Academic Bio: 
Arash Naraghi received his Ph.D. in pharmacology from Tehran University (1991), and his MA and second Ph.D. in philosophy (focusing on the philosophy of religion and ethics) from the University of California, Santa Barbara (2008). He was a member of the editorial board of Kiyan (Persian Journal of Theological and Philosophical Studies published in Iran) from 1992 to 2001. His most recent publications include Ethics of Human Rights (Negahe Moaser, Tehran, 2010), The Soul’s Mirror : On Rumi’s Life and Ideas (Negahe Moaser, Tehran, 2010). He is currently an assistant professor of philosophy and religion at Moravian College, PA.
In recent decades, the idea of human rights has occupied a focal point for diverse philosophical, legal and political debates among Muslim scholars. A number of Iranian intellectuals argue that the modern concept of man as the holder of rights is in direct opposition to the traditional Islamic understanding where man is primarily a duty-bearer before God. Therefore, the Shi'i traditionalist camp is not quite capable of incorporating human rights into its readings of Islam.
My paper investigates how traditionalist and modernist Shi'ite scholars in Iran conceptualize the concept of human rights and address the challenges that the modern definition of man and his/her rights creates for an “authentic” reading of Islam. The paper shall begin with a brief survey of the traditionalist take on the three major cases of human rights debates: women’s rights and the rights of religious and sexual minorities.  
The paper suggests that the Iranian modernist Shi'ites have employed at least three different strategies in order to make human rights compatible with new readings of the Islamic texts. Though their strategic readings of these texts allow them to account for women’s and religious minorities’ human rights, the modernist Shi'ite scholars have so far been reluctant to apply the same strategies to the subject of sexual minorities. But is it possible that these readings could also address -- without inconsistency, of course -- the issue of sexual minorities?  

My paper argues that this is feasible. Although the Islamic tradition has historically regarded conduct in the lifestyle of sexual minorities as sinful perversion subject to severe punishments, the tradition has been relatively accommodating towards the moral and legal status of specific sexual minorities (and, to that extent, the traditionalists -- in comparison with the modernists -- have a relatively better record of attending to the well-being of a specific group of sexual minorities). Hence, there are significant tendencies within the Shi'ite traditionalist camp that could accommodate moral conceptualization and legal incorporation of sexual minorities’ basic human rights.

Academic Discipline : 
Religious studies

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