Board of Advisors

Since 2003, LibForAll Foundation has attracted a world-class board of advisors that includes prominent Muslim leaders and top Qur’anic scholars from the Middle East, North Africa, South and Southeast Asia, Europe and North America.

Her Excellency Ibu Hajjah Sinta Nuriyah Wahid

Ibu Sinta Nuriyah Wahid is the widow of former Indonesian president and LibForAll co-founder Kyai Haji Abdurrahman Wahid, and the mother of their four daughters, Alissa, Yenny, Anita and Inayah. Born into a prominent Nahdlatul Ulama pesantren (Islamic boarding school) family, Mrs. Wahid has been a tireless proponent of women’s rights her entire life.

The founder of Puan Amal Hayati—an Islamic boarding school dedicated to empowering women—Ibu Sinta is famous throughout Southeast Asia and beyond, for her pioneering work in the field of Qur’anic studies, and gender equality.

A vocal opponent of polygamy, Ibu Sinta received her Master’s degree at the University of Indonesia in the field of women’s studies, and has been instrumental in changing the perception of many traditional ulama regarding the proper status and role of women in Muslim society.

Ulama have long justified the subordination of women by citing traditional commentaries on the Qur’an and Sunnah (the example of the Prophet Muhammad). According to Ibu Sinta, many of these commentaries deviate from the actual spirit and teachings of the Qur’an, by subordinating women to men, as in a classic text which states, “In the household, a wife is like the prisoner of the master (husband).” This and many other degrading statements about women, contained in these traditional Qur’anic commentaries, led Ibu Sinta to wonder, “Does Islam really teach such things?”

Ibu Sinta conducted a thorough review of several prominent commentaries, and incorporated her findings into a book entitled “Youth Marriage and Reproductive Health.” Her book concluded that anyone who thinks polygamy is permissible in Islam, needs to restudy the Qur’an. Specifically, she advises Muslims to penetrate beyond the literal text to examine the contextual circumstances of the revelation, and its purpose for humanity.

Muslim polygamists often justify their position by citing the Qur’anic verse which reads, “marry such women as seem good to you, two and three and four” (fa inkihû mâ tâba lakum min al-nisâ’ mathnâ wa thulâth wa rubâ’). According to Ibu Sinta, Muslim scholars err in citing just that phrase of the verse, which concludes, “…but if you fear that you will not do justice (between them), then (marry) only one or what your right hands possess; this is more proper, that you may not deviate from the right course” (fain khiftum allâ ta’dilû fawâhidah aw ma malakat aymanukum, zalik adna ala ta’olou) (Qs. 4: 3).

Ibu Sinta adds that Muslim scholars frequently misinterpret even the complete verse, for “justice” is often in the eye of the beholder, and depends upon whose perspective is consulted. To a woman emotionally suffering from polygamy, superficially “equal” treatment of wives may not appear just at all.

In addition, the term “just”—as it appears in this Qur’anic verse—has at least two levels of meaning. The first refers to material/financial justice in the treatment of wives. The second transcends material considerations, to encompass love, kindness, and physical, emotional and psychological nurturing. Ibu Sinta maintains that the more important aspect of justice, in regard to this polygamy verse from the Qur’an, is the subtle, immaterial aspect of justice, which she maintains can never be achieved through polygamy. As proof of her assertion, Ibu Sinta quotes another verse of the Qur’an, from the same chapter: “And you will never be able to do perfect justice between wives even if it is your ardent desire.” (Wa lan tastatî’u ‘an ta’dilû baina al-nisâ’ walau haratstum.) (Qs. 4: 129).

From her study of the Qur’an, Ibu Sinta concluded that Islam’s holy scripture does not encourage polygamy. She also cites the example of the Prophet Muhammad, who rejected his son-in-law Ali’s request to take another wife, in addition to the Prophet’s daughter Fatima. The fact that ulama often claim that polygamy is in accord with the Sunnah, or example of the Prophet himself, does not hold water, according to Ibu Sinta, who affirms that God sent Muhammad to free women from the shackle of male domination. During Muhammad’s lifetime, women experienced a dramatic increase in their social status and protections. Yet with his death, the innate tendency of men to oppress women resurfaced, and continues to this day.

Dr. Ahmad Syafii Maarif

Ahmad Syafii Maarif is former Chairman (1998-2005) of the world’s second largest Muslim organization, the Muhammadiyah, with 30-million members. Under his leadership, the Muhammadiyah demonstrated a strong commitment to a pluralistic, tolerant and peaceful understanding of Islam, and to the nation of Indonesia. He inspired the establishment of the Young Muhammadiyah Intellectuals Network, a progressive youth wing of the Muhammadiyah.

Dr. Maarif received his Master’s degree from Ohio University, and a PhD in History from the University of Chicago in the field of Middle Eastern Languages and Civilizations. At the University of Chicago, Dr. Maarif engaged in intensive study of the Qur’an with renowned Islamic reformist Fazlur Rahman. He also engaged in deep discussions with future Indonesian reformer Nurcholish Madjid, who was also studying at University of Chicago.  Together with Abdurrahman Wahid, their thought was formative in building Indonesian civil society and preparing Indonesia for the transition to democracy.

Dr. Maarif is a 2008 recipient of the Ramon Magsaysay Award (often considered Asia’s Nobel Prize) in the category of Peace and International Understanding. Dr. Maarif  was honored for “guiding Muslims to embrace tolerance and pluralism as the basis for justice and harmony in Indonesia and in the world at large.”

Dr. Maarif is a prolific writer and speaker, whose prominent works include “The Dynamics of Islam” and “Islam, Why Not?” He is the founder and chairman of the Maarif Institute, a non-profit, non-governmental institution promoting the values of Islam, humanity, and Indonesian culture.

Dr. Syafii Maarif also serves as patron and senior advisor to LibForAll’s International Institute of Qur’anic Studies (IIQS).

Dr. Ahmad Syafii Maarif on:

The Qur’an

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Dr. Ahmad Syafii Maarif on:


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Dr. Ahmad Syafii Maarif on:

Conveying the message of Islam

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Dr. Amin Abdullah

Amin Abdullah is the former Secretary of the Muhammadiyah Central Board and  served two terms as Rector of Sunan Kalijaga Islamic State University in Yogyakarta, Indonesia.  This was the first and “mother” of all the Islamic State Universities/Institutes (UIN/IAIN/STAIN), and is now one of the leading Islamic universities in Indonesia, with about 15,000 students.

Dr. Abdullah is well known as an Islamic philosopher who distinguishes normative Islam from historical Islam and advocates a new path in Islamic philosophy of knowledge, one that is open to dialogue and integration with many different sources of knowledge.  Internationally recognized for his role in promoting a modern, pluralistic and tolerant understanding of Islam, Dr. Abdullah helped lead the world’s second-largest Muslim organization, the Muhammadiyah, from 2000-2005, when he served as Vice Chairman of its governing board.

Born in the regency of Pati, Central Java in 1953, Dr. Abdullah received his Baccalaureate degree from Pesantren Gontor Ponorogo; his Ph.D. in Islamic Philosophy from the Middle East Technical University in Ankara, Turkey; and has conducted post-doctoral study at McGill University in Toronto, Canada.  He is the author of numerous books, including Religious Education in a Multi-Cultural and Multi-Religious Era; Between al-Ghazali and Kant: Islamic Ethical Philosophy; The Dynamism of Cultural Islam; and Islamic Studies in Higher Education.  He is also the author of dozens of articles, and frequently speaks at international seminars in Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

According to Dr. Abdullah, Indonesia’s network of State Islamic Institutes and Universities have long been at the forefront of issues such as interfaith dialogue and improving overall relations between Islam and the West (“We must explain to the Saudis that they misunderstand the West”).  Dr. Abdullah is currently engaged in the process of modernizing his institution’s curriculum, and expanding its relationships with other leading universities worldwide, while maintaining its links with the past.  Sunan Kalijaga University itself is named after the Muslim saint who ensured the triumph of a mystical and tolerant Islam in 16th century Java, and thereby helped to preserve freedom of conscience for all Javanese.

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Dr. Azyumardi Azra

Azyumardi Azra is one of Southeast Asia’s most prominent liberal Muslim intellectuals. Born in West Sumatra, Indonesia in 1955, Dr. Azra served two terms (1998-2006) as Rector (President) at the prestigious Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University (UIN) in Jakarta. Under his leadership, UIN-Jakarta has played a vital role in Indonesia’s transition from authoritarian rule to democracy—promoting a moderate and tolerant understanding of Islam, at peace with itself and the modern world.  In this regard, the leadership, faculty and staff at UIN-Jakarta serve as a vital bulwark against the inroads of religious extremism inspired from abroad.

Professor Azra graduated from the Faculty of Tarbiyah (Islamic Education) at the Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic Institute (now UIN) in 1982. He was appointed Lecturer there in 1985 and in the following year was selected for a Fulbright Scholarship to pursue advanced studies at Columbia University, New York City. He graduated with an MA from the Department of Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures in 1988. Winning a Columbia President Fellowship, he moved to the Department of History, Columbia University where he undertook further studies: MA (1989), MPhil (1990) and a Ph.D. in Philosophy (1992).

He was Vice Director of the Centre for the Study of Islam and Society at IAIN/UIN Jakarta before his appointment as Vice Rector for Academic Affairs. Professor Azra has been a visiting fellow of Southeast Asian Studies at Oxford University’s Centre for Islamic Studies; a Visiting Professor at the University of Philippines and University Malaya; a Distinguished International Visiting Professor at the Department of Middle Eastern Studies, New York University; member of the Board of Trustees of International Islamic University Islamabad (2004-9); editor-in-chief, Studia Islamika, an Indonesian journal for Islamic Studies (1993-present); member of the editorial board of the journals Ushuluddin (University Malaya); and Quranic Studies (University of London). He has presented numerous papers at international conferences and has lectured at many universities, including Harvard, Columbia, Australian National University, Kyoto, Leiden and others.

Dr. Azra has published 18 books on the subject of Islam and is a regular contributor to Indonesian newspapers and journals. He is also a noted commentator on Indonesian Islam and politics for the Indonesian and international media.  His latest book is entitled The Origins of Islamic Reformism in Southeast Asia (University of Hawaii Press, 2004; Leiden: KITLV Press, 2004; Allen & Unwin, 2004).

“Southeast Asia has an extraordinarily large and well-developed structure of Islamic education that can be a resource of critical importance in the ongoing war of ideas within Islam. These institutions can be expected to keep the Muslim communities in Southeast Asia rooted in their moderate and tolerant values, despite the apparent onslaught of extremist ideology from the Middle East. At a global level, they could serve as the building blocs of a moderate or liberal Muslim international movement to counter the influence of radical Salafi networks.”

~  Angel Rabasa, writing in Current Trends in Islamist Ideology, published by the Hudson Institute’s Center on Islam, Democracy and the Future of the Muslim World

Franz Magnis-Suseno, SJ

Franz Magnis-Suseno, SJ was born in the German province of Silesia (now Poland) in 1936, to a family of devout Roman Catholics.  Having survived the horrors of World War II and forcible expulsion from Silesia, the young Franz Magnis escaped to West Germany. He joined the Jesuit Order at the age of nineteen, and received his baccalaureate degree from the College of Philosophy in Pullach, Bavaria in 1960. The following year he moved to Yogyakarta, in the cultural heartland of Java, where he was ordained as a Jesuit priest in 1967.  A few years later, the young priest surrendered his German nationality and became an Indonesian citizen, in order to dedicate the rest of his life to serving the people of his adopted homeland.

Father Magnis-Suseno is a widely beloved and immensely popular figure in Indonesia, who appears frequently in interfaith dialogues and on radio, television and in the print media, promoting harmony and respect between Indonesia’s many faiths.  Periodically threatened by religious extremists, he responds with a gentleness, love and courage born from his deep faith and religious convictions.

A Doctor of Philosophy who graduated summa cum laude from Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich, Germany (which he attended from 1971-73), Father Magnis-Suseno is currently the Director of Postgraduate Studies at Driyakarya College of Philosophy in Jakarta, Indonesia, which he helped to found and then headed for many years. Driyakarya College—which is also a place for training Roman Catholic priests—has among its students quite a number of Muslims, including many members of Kyai Haji Abdurrahman Wahid’s Nahdlatul Ulama organization, who come to learn European philosophy in order to sharpen their critical thinking and the tenets of their fellow citizens’ Christian beliefs.

Father Magnis-Suseno has served as a visiting professor at the University of Indonesia; Parahyangan University in Bandung, Indonesia; the College of Philosophy and Ludwig-Maximillians University in Munich; and the University of Innsbruck.  He is the author of over 30 books, including “Javanese Ethics and World View,” “In Search of a Rational Purpose for Life” and “Becoming a Witness for Christ in the Midst of a Complex Society.”

Dr. Magnis-Suseno holds the Distinguished Service Cross (“Das Grosse Verdienstkreuz) from the Federal Republic of Germany and an honorary doctorate in theology from the University of Lucerne, Switzerland.

Dr. Abdul Munir Mulkhan

Abdul Munir Mulkhan was born in the town of Jember in the Indonesian province of East Java in 1946. He received his BA from the Department of Religious Interpretation at Raden Intan State Islamic Institute in Lampung, Sumatra, and his MA and Ph.D. in the field of Social and Political Science from the prestigious Gajah Mada University in Yogyakarta, Indonesia—graduating cum laude on each occasion.

For many years Dr. Munir has been an active member of the governing board of the Muhammadiyah, the world’s second largest Muslim organization with an estimated 30 million members. He has served as Vice-Secretary of the organization as a whole (2000-2005); as Secretary of the Office for Organization and Cadres; Secretary of the Council of Religious Interpretation; and as a member of the Council for Higher Education Research and Development. Since 1996 Dr. Munir has been a member of the editorial board of Suara Muhammadiyah (the Muhammadiyah’s official publication), and since 2002 has served as head of the Central Muhammadiyah Board’s “Good Governance” Council, with a primary task of eliminating corruption. In addition, Dr. Munir previously served as Vice-Secretary of the Yogyakarta branch of the Indonesian Council of Religious Scholars.

Dr. Munir is a member of the faculty of Sunan Kalijaga State Islamic University in Yogyakarta, Indonesia.  He has conducted post-doctoral research at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, and served as Visiting Research Fellow at Nanyang Technological University’s Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies in Singapore.

Dr. Munir is the author of over 40 books and hundreds of articles published in various Indonesian magazines and newspapers.

Dr. Ruud Peters

Dr. Ruud Peters is Emeritus Professor of Islamic Studies and Islamic Law at the University of Amsterdam. He is an expert in modern Islam; Islamic law and human rights; political Islam; Islam and education; secular law; and Dutch extremist Islamism.

Dr. Peters holds degrees in law and Islamic languages (Arabic and Turkish) from the universities of Amsterdam and Leiden, and a PhD in Islamic Studies from the University of Amsterdam. Dr. Peters has published Jihad in Classical and Modern Islam (Princeton: Markus Winder, 2005; first edition 1996) and Crime and Punishment in Islamic Law (Cambridge University Press, 2005), as well as various recent articles on Islamic law.

From February through June 2008, Dr. Peters was visiting professor and researcher at The Harvard Law School (Islamic Legal Studies Programme). He also has lectured on Sharia criminal law and human rights in several cities in Darfur, at the invitation of the Rule of Law Programme of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Sudan.

His current research project is focused on globalization and the peripheral periphery: social and legal history of an Egyptian oasis (17th – 20th c.).

Dr. Ruud Peters on:

The historical dimension of the Qur’an

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Dr. Ruud Peters on:

Islamic history and Christian history

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Dr. Sukardi Rinakit

Sukardi Rinakit received his B.A. from the Faculty of Social and Political Sciences, University of Indonesia, Jakarta; his M.A. in Southeast Asian Studies from the National University of Singapore; and his Ph.D. from the Department of Political Science, National University of Singapore. He is the co-founder and Executive Director of the Soegeng Sarjadi Syndicate (SSS), Jakarta, a non-profit organization that promotes democracy and supports the transformation of civil society. His research focuses on the areas of the military, terrorism, security policy, political culture, the process of decentralization, the relationships between religion, politics and civil society, and the protection of human rights in Indonesia.

Dr. Sukardi is the former Head of Department, Research and Development Institute, All Indonesian Labor Unions and a former ghost writer for the Minister of Home Affairs and Minister of Security and Defense. He has published hundreds of articles in leading journals and national newspapers and is extensively quoted in such publications. He has also published numerous books, including a recent one in English, entitled Indonesian Military after the New Order.

Dr. Sukardi is a close confidante of many Indonesian political leaders, and is privy to the internal dynamics of that nation’s military. He currently serves as a policy advisor and speechwriter to President Joko Widodo.

Dr. Magnus Ranstorp

Dr. Magnus Ranstorp is the Research Director of the Centre for Asymmetric Threat Studies (CATS) at the Swedish Defence University (formerly the Swedish National Defence College), directing a large funded project on Strategic Terrorist Threats to Europe which focuses on both radicalization and recruitment of salafist-jihadist terrorists across Europe and the critical issue of the convergence between CBRN and terrorism. Dr. Ranstorp is also the author of a report that recognized LibForAll Foundation programs as best-practices in counter-radicalization.

Previously he was the Director of Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence (CSTPV) at the University of St Andrews, Scotland. He is the author of Hizballah in Lebanon and other numerous articles and monographs on terrorism and counter-terrorism. His most recent edited book is Mapping Terrorism Research: State of the Art, Gaps and Future Direction (Routledge, 2006). He is on the International Editorial Advisory Board of the academic journal Studies in Conflict and Terrorism. Additionally, he is also on the Editorial Board of Dynamics of Asymmetric Conflict as well as Critical Terrorism Studies, two new international, peer-reviewed, interdisciplinary journals published by Taylor & Francis.

He is Advisor to the Terrorism Project on Violent Radicalisation led by the Danish Institute of International Studies as well as Scientific Advisor to the DHS Center of Excellence START program led by the University of Maryland. He is also on the Advisory Board of CSTPV, University of St Andrews.

He is internationally recognized as a leading expert on Hizballah, Hamas, al-Qaeda and other militant Islamic movements. He has conducted extensive field work around the world, interviewing hundreds of terrorists as well as members of militant Islamic movements. His work on the behavior of the Hizballah movement was recognized by Israeli media in March 2000 as among the contributing factors leading to the decision by the Israeli government to withdraw from southern Lebanon.

Dr. Ranstorp has briefed many senior government and security officials from around the world and lectures regularly to most major universities, think tanks and intergovernmental organizations. In 2003, he was invited to testify before the 9-11 Commission in its first hearing.

He was also a member of an Advisory Panel on Terrorism in Europe advising the EU counterterrorism coordinator. In 2005, he was a contributor to the George C. Marshall Center directed project on: Ideological War on Terror: Synthesizing Strategies Worldwide (a project funded by the Office of the Secretary of Defence). In 2006 Dr. Ranstorp was invited to join the European Commission Expert Group on Violent Radicalisation, an official advisory body on all matters relating to violent radicalization and recruitment of extremists within the EU.

He is an elected Fellow of The Royal Swedish Academy of War Sciences.

Dr. Mohammad Mojtahed Shabestari

Dr. Mohammad Mojtahed Shabestari, one of the world’s most important contemporary Shia clerics, is a highly influential Iranian philosopher, theologian, author and professor at Tehran University, where he teaches comparative religion and theology, and regularly organizes international conferences on the theme of Christian-Muslim dialogue.

Trained at a seminary in Qom for seventeen years—followed by eight years as director of the Shiite Islamic Center in the Imam Ali Mosque in Hamburg, Germany—he served as a member of the first parliament of Iran after the revolution, but distanced himself from politics thereafter.

Ayatollah Shabestari’s most significant contribution to Shiite theology may be his authoritative commentary on the essentially limited nature of religious knowledge and rules, and thus the necessity of complementing it with extra-religious sources.

Dr. Shabestari argues that distinguishing the eternal (values), from the changeable (instances and applications) in religion needs a kind of knowledge that is not, itself, contained in the rules developed in Islamic jurisprudence (Fiqh). He laments the lack of such a body of knowledge in Islamic society: In the same vein, he underscores the limited nature of religious knowledge in general, and religious jurisprudence, in particular. In Dr. Shabestari’s view, what is essential and eternal is the general values of Islam not particular forms of their realization in any particular historic time, (including the time of the prophet).

Dr. Shabestari suggests that there has been a divine providence for a separation of religious values and secular realities: In his book, Naghdi Bar Ghera’at e Rasmi az Din (A Critique of the Official Reading of Religion, December, 2000) Dr. Shabestari pursues his critique of religious absolutism as hermeneutically naive and realistically unworkable. Also, he launches a major defense of modern concepts of individualism, democracy, and human rights, although they have not been articulated as such in Islamic sources.

In Dr. Shabestari’s view, human rights and democracy are products of human reason that have developed during the course of time and continue to evolve. As such, they are not already prescribed in the Koran and Sunna.

Indeed, the Koran remains mute with regard to our modern understanding of human rights, and yet these do not in any way contradict the divine truth contained in the Koran. Drawing on modern hermeneutics, Shabestari dismisses any claim that man could ever come into direct possession of God’s absolute truth.

“A historical-critical approach to the sources, one that deals with the Koran and Sunnah in an academic way, does not harm faith. Unfortunately, in the course of Islamic history, a negative, injurious and distorting influence on the Islamic faith has, I believe, been exercised for political reasons. During the time of the Prophet, faith alone was important, the belief in God, life with God, the praise of God, those were the important things. These are of course the main elements of religion. The other things such as how women should veil themselves – well, of course, there is no mention of wearing of veils in the Koran. There is an expression in the Koran that says that one should keep a dignified appearance.

“That refers to a way of life for a particular society and the Prophet’s precepts were intended to be appropriate for that society at that time. But that does not mean that these precepts with regard to ritual or the other points mentioned belong to the core of the faith. Over time, for political reasons, especially during the Abbasid period, a clear distortion occurred. The idea of faith as a way of life declined and it was the formal rules that began to be seen as the essential core of Islam. The Abbasid dynasty encouraged this as a way of legitimising their rule. This legitimisation process depended on laws, which for them became an indispensable part of the religion.”

~ Dr. Mohammad Mojtahed Shabestari

Dr. Abdolkarim Soroush

Dr. Abdolkarim Soroush, prominent Iranian thinker, philosopher and reformer, was named one of the world’s 100 most influential people by Time Magazine in 2005, and the world’s seventh most influential intellectual by Prospect magazine in 2008. Doctor Soroush, a well-known figure in the religious intellectual movement in Iran, is currently a visiting scholar at Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs in Washington, D.C. He has also served as a visiting professor and scholar in residence at several prestigious institutions, including Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Columbia, and the Wissenschaftskolleg in Berlin. A Rumi scholar, Dr. Soroush previously taught at the University of Tehran.

“For more than two decades, Abdolkarim Soroush has been Iran’s leading public intellectual. Deeply versed in Islamic theology and mysticism, he was chosen by Ayatollah Khomeini to “Islamicize” Iran’s universities, only to eventually turn against the theocratic state. He paid a price for his dissidence. Vigilantes and other government-supported elements disrupted his widely attended lectures in Iran, beat him and reportedly nearly assassinated him. In a country where intellectuals are often treated like rock stars, Soroush has been venerated and reviled for his outspoken support of religious pluralism and democracy. Now he has taken one crucial step further. Shuttling from university to university in Europe and the U.S., Soroush is sending shock waves through Iran’s clerical establishment…

“Soroush has been described as a Muslim Luther, but unlike the Protestant reformer, he is no literalist about holy books. His work more closely resembles that of the 19th-century German scholars who tried to understand the Bible in its original context…

“In Iran today, many opponents of the government advocate the creation of a secular state. Soroush himself supports the separation of mosque and state, but for the sake of religion. He seeks freedom of religion, not freedom from religion. Thus he speaks for a different—and potentially more effective—agenda. The medieval Islamic mystic Rumi once wrote that “an old love may only be dissolved by a new one.” In a deeply religious society, whose leaders have justified their hold on power as a divine duty, it may take a religious counterargument to push the society toward pluralism and democracy. Soroush challenges those who claim to speak for Islam, and does so on their own terms.”

~ Mohammad Ayatollahi Tabar, “Who Wrote the Koran”

“If what is meant by an Islamic state is that faqihs [Islamic jurists/clerics] should rule, then I think that it would be the most immoral form of government in the world, because a government of faqihs would consider it not only a right to be dictatorial, but a duty. And this is the most dangerous and brutal form of dictatorship. Ibn Khaldun, too, was opposed to a government of faqihs.

“Unfortunately, we’ve put things the wrong way round in Iran. The misfortune in our country was that they viewed Islam through the porthole of fiqh [Islamic jurisprudence] and they viewed fiqh through the porthole of penal laws. In other words, two upside down notions came to rule over us. Whereas, first, Islam isn’t limited to fiqh. And, secondly, fiqh isn’t limited to penal laws. You can’t find a better example of putting things the wrong way round than this: We say we want to have an Islamic state; then, we make fiqh rule over us; and, then, we start cutting off people’s hands and legs, stoning people and so on. This is what happened in Iran. This is how the Taliban interpreted an Islamic state too. And this is the impression that the world has been left with.

“But if what we mean by a religious state is that people should be left free to have their religious experiences, i.e., that there should be a pleasing environment in which I can have religious experiences and establish a free and pleasing link with God and lead an autonomous, moral life, I consider this to be the best environment. And I believe that a religious state must, in the first instance, bring about an environment of this kind for believers, not to cut off hands and legs and gouge people’s eyes out and to view this as the state’s purpose.”

~ Dr. Abdulkarim Soroush, “Some of our Clerics are no Better than the Taliban”

Dr. Hmida Ennaifer

“One of the show-stoppers of the congress was a presentation by Prof. Hmida Ennaifer, a professor of Dogmatic Islamic Theology at the University of Tunis, on the Image of Christ in the Koran entitled “La Figura Emblematica Di Cristo Nel Corano”. In his presentation, Prof. Ennaifer spoke on the importance of Jesus and Mary in Islam and the commonalities that are to be found in both religions.”

~ The Face of the Faces of Christ, Report on the Seventh Annual “Volto di Volti” Congress in Rome

Slaheddine Jourchi

Slaheddine Jourchi, President of the Al-Jahez Foundation and Vice-President of the Tunisian League of Human Rights, is a noted Tunisian human rights and democracy activist, writer and expert in Islamic affairs.

“Circles close to the al-Qaeda organisation put forth a justification for this violence [terrorist attacks] happening in Western nations, and perhaps the most important change brought about by Ayman Zawahiri—al-Qaeda’s second in command—and others in Islamist strategies is moving the battle from its local and regional level to the international level, their conviction being that changing American and European policies comes through directing painful blows at these nations on their own soil. But while this thinking led to a state of confusion and created difficulties for these nations, it also brought very painful and dangerous outcomes on the Arab and Islamic levels. What has been most harmed by this nihilistic strategy is Islam as a religion, culture and humanitarian vision.”

~ Slaheddine Jourchi

Dr. Ziba Mir-Hosseini

Dr. Ziba Mir-Hosseini, an Iranian legal anthropologist specializing in Islamic law and women’s rights, is a well known and highly sought-after scholar of Islamic Feminism. Presently associated with the Centre for Islamic and Middle Eastern Law at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, Dr. Mir-Hosseini is a prolific author, having written extensively on the topic of women’s rights and family law in Iran. Her publications include Marriage on Trial: A Study of Islamic Family Law in Iran and Morocco; Islam and Gender: The Religious Debate in Contemporary Iran; Feminism and the Islamic Republic: Dialogues with the Ulema; and Islam and Democracy in Iran: Eshkevari and the Quest for Reform (with Richard Tapper). Dr. Mir-Hosseini challenges stereotypes about Muslim women, builds bridges between cultures by addressing universal human concerns, and has established a dialogue with Islamic scholars on the issue of human rights.

Dr. Mir-Hosseini has also co-directed two award-winning and thought-provoking feature-length documentary films on contemporary issues in Iran: Divorce Iranian Style (1998) and Runaway (2001).

Dr. Mir-Hosseini has held a number of research fellowships and visiting professorships, including Hauser Global Law visiting professor at New York University School of Law, and a fellowship at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin. She is a member of Council of Women Living under Muslim Laws, based in the UK, Senegal and Pakistan, and a founding member of Musawah Global Movement for Equality and Justice in the Muslim Family, based in Malaysia.

Dr. Mir-Hosseini received a B.A. in sociology from Tehran University and her Ph.D. in social anthropology from the University of Cambridge.

“In 1995, I heard a recording of a lecture given by the leading religious intellectual Abdolkarim Soroush to Daftar-e Tahkim-e Vahdat, [Iran’s] main student organization, on the theme of the emergence of rights-based as opposed to duty-based approaches to religion. In response to a question about the disregard for human rights in Iranian society, Soroush said something that stayed with me, to the effect that, ‘Until we recognize rights (haqq) as just as important as sexual honor (namus), we cannot speak of respect for human rights.’

“The analogy between the defense of rights and honor is intriguing. It captures the Islamic Republic’s obsession with sexuality and the control of women, as well as the intimate link between democracy and sexuality…”

~ Broken Taboos in Post-Election Iran

Dr. Muhammad Khalid Masud

Dr. Muhammad Khalid Masud is the current Chairman of the Pakistan Council of Islamic Ideology, a constitutional body responsible for giving legal advice on Islamic issues to the Pakistan government and parliament.

A renowned scholar and academician, Dr. Masud previously held the position of Academic Director at the International Institute for the Study of Islam in the Modern World (ISIM) in Leiden, the Netherlands. He has held numerous research fellowships and visiting professorships including: distinguished visiting professor, Faculty of Law, International Islamic University, Kuala Lumpur, Malyasia; senior lecturer, Center for Islamic Legal Studies, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Nigeria; visiting lecturer, École des Haute Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris, France; visiting professor, College de France, Paris; sessional lecturer and Ph.D. thesis supervisor, Quaid-i Azam University, Islamabad, Pakistan; tutor, M.Phil. and Ph.D. thesis supervisor, Allama Iqbal University; and researcher, Islamic Research Institute, International Islamic University, Islamabad.

Dr. Masud has written extensively on Islamic law and social change. His publications include: Shatibi’s Philosophy of Law; Iqbal’s Reconstruction of Ijtihad; Islamic Legal Interpretation: The Muftis and their Fatwas (with B. Messick and D. Powers); the edited volume Travellers in Faith: Studies of the Tablîghî Jamâ’at as a Transnational Islamic Movement for Faith Renewal; and Islam and Modernity: Key Issues and Debates (with A. Salvatore, and M. van Bruinessen). He is also past editor of the journal Islamic Studies and has authored over ninety-five research articles, chapters and encyclopedia articles published in international journals.

Dr. Masud is a member of: Middle Eastern Studies Association, New York; Joint Committee on the Comparative Study of Muslim Societies, Social Science Research Council, New York; Editorial Board, Islamic Law and Society, Brill, Leiden, the Netherlands; Advisory Board, Philanthropy for Islamic Social Justice, Jakarta, Indonesia; and Editorial Board, Rights at Home Project, ISIM, Leiden.

Dr. Masud is also the founder and author of MARUF (MAss-communication and Religious Understanding Forum) on the web at The website is a forum for an understanding of norms and rights from the perspectives of social construction, communicativity and self consciousness.

Dr. Masud obtained his Ph.D. in Islamic Studies at McGill University, Canada. He is fluent in Urdu, English and French, and reads Persian, Arabic, German and Spanish.

“During the huge public discourse, especially in the aftermath of 11 September 2001, Muslim mind-set toward modernity frequently came into question. A whole theology has come into being on the question whether Islam and modernity are compatible to each other. Neither the question nor the arguments are new. Similar debates arose in the nineteenth century when the Western nations colonized Muslim lands. Unfortunately, the terror and violence that accompanied modernization distorted the image of modernity. Today also, the debate on modernity is deflected by the political events that are marred by violence, terror and destruction. The focus of debate shifts the emphasis from the quest of modernity to political concerns. It is in the wake of such concerns that modernity is defined in universalistic and essentialist terms and Islam and Muslims are characterized as incompatible to modernity.

“I find it more fateful that some Muslims have this thesis with religious zeal and reject modernity as a Western ideology. To me, modernity is an historical process and an outcome of a cumulative contribution by all human cultures towards the present stage of development in human history.”

~ Dr. Muhammad Khalid Masud