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Between Universalism and Fundamentalism: A Critique on the Position of Conservative Shia Clergy on Human Rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran

Jalal Peykani and Mostafa Khalili

Abstract

The Islamic Republic of Iran is unsecular and follows religious interpretations from Shia Islam in deciding the laws of the land. In recent decades, the strengthening of civil society in the country has shaped various political debates on human rights among secular intellectuals and reflected in the discourse of some religious figures as well. While the regime has officially adopted the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam (CDHRI) since 1990, different views on the Islamic human rights and its social implications still exist among the conservative and reformist Shia clergy within the country. This paper examines the view of an influential conservative pro-regime clergy, Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi, who has been concerned about the Western interpretation of human rights and engaged in its theorization based on his interpretation of Shia Islam. He has criticized the theoretical and philosophical foundations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and its each single item and has also proposed his own version of the Islamic Declaration of Human Rights and Obligations. While Islamic fundamentalists have no concrete theoretical support for their negative view of the Western conceptions regarding human rights, Mesbah Yazdi’s approach is based on a reading of Shia theology and Sadraean ontology. He engages in a dialogue with the Western ideologies and rejects UDHR after philosophical and theological reasoning. His stance can be viewed as a reflection of the unsecular political Shia Islam as the main characteristic of the conservative faction within the Islamic Republic of Iran which results in serious policy and social implications on the rights of the people living in the country.


Corresponding author: Mostafa Khalili, Graduate School of Global Studies, Doshisha University, Kyoto, Japan, E-mail:

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Published Online: 2020-07-06

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