Emory Law News Center

An-Na'im to receive Emory University Scholar Teacher Award
By Emory University School of Law | Emory Law | May 5, 2014

Emory Law's Abdullahi An-Na'im has been named the 2014 recipient of the University Scholar Teacher Award.

An internationally recognized expert on Islam and human rights, An-Na'im will receive the award at the university's commencement ceremonies on Monday, May 12. A member of the Emory Law faculty since 1995, An-Na'im is the Charles Howard Candler Professor of Law.

The University Scholar Teacher Award is given annually on behalf of the United Methodist Church Board of Higher Education and Ministry to an Emory faculty member who has demonstrated exceptional teaching, concern for students and colleagues, and made significant contributions to the scholarly life of the university.

An-Na'im's commitment to the wellbeing of the wider world began early in his career as scholar, teacher and human rights activist. He credits the late Islamic reformer, activist and fellow Sudan native Mahmoud Mohamed Taha with changing his life forever.

"Taha called for a fresh reinterpretation of Sharia in light of the drastically transformed present context of Muslim societies today, to ensure equality for all men and women, without any distinction and other objectives," says An-Na'im, who as a young law student at the University of Khartoum in the late 1960s joined Taha's reform movement.

Tragically, Taha was convicted of apostasy and sentenced to death in 1985 by the government of military dictator Jaafar al-Nimeiri.

"I left Sudan in April of that year," says An-Na'im, "reeling from the profound shock that my mentor had been publicly executed, his books were burned, and the Islamic reform movement he founded in 1951 had been banned."

As An-Na'im remembers it, Taha enabled him how to confront and overcome " the contradiction between my belief as a Muslim that Sharia was divine and immutable, and my personal commitment to constitutional governance and respect for human rights."

An-Na'im dedicated himself to reconciling his Islamic faith and identity with his commitment to universal acceptance of and response for human rights. It is a quest that has taken him from the classroom to all corners of the world, inspiring colleagues and students, and ultimately generating the kinds of changes that Taha challenged him to work toward.

An-Na'im's latest book, What is an American Muslim? Embracing Faith and Citizenship (Oxford University Press, 2014) is perhaps his most personal, an application of his wide expertise in and deep commitment to the positive evolution of law, religion and human rights in an often divisive and flawed world.

The book offers an argument for a secular state in which Muslims can be fully Muslim and fully American. He urges American Muslims to engage in the civil and political life of the country as citizens informed by their faith, rather than a community separated by religion.

"What makes the United States an excellent place to be a Muslim is the unique combination of freedom of religion and freedom from religion," he says, "because a religion coercively enforced by the state is not the religion of any believer."

A member of the Emory Law faculty since 1995, An-Na'im serves as a senior fellow in the Center for the Study of Law and Religion, associated professor in Emory College of Arts and Sciences, faculty fellow in Emory's Center for Ethics, and director of Emory Law's Center for International and Comparative Law.

A prolific scholar, he is the author of six books, editor or co-author of 10 books, and author of more than 60 articles and book chapters. His research has been wide ranging and international, from the study of women's access to and control of land in seven African countries to a global study of Islamic family law, to a fellowship program in Islam and human rights.