Human Rights, Universality and Sovereignty: The Irrelevance and Relevance of Sharia

In this article I argue that the paradoxes of universality and self-regulation by the state are inherent to the human rights paradigm itself in its application to every cultural, religious and ideological context. By the paradox of universality I refer to the expectation of global agreement on universal human rights norms among peoples of radically different cultural (including religious and ideological) traditions around the world. The paradox of self-regulation by the state is in expecting any state to adopt human rights norms to limit its own powers, and then to effectively enforce those limitations against the officials of the same state. This article focuses on the internal dimension of this process in relation to Islamic societies. The case of Sharia is examined here to illustrate how the paradoxes of universality and self-regulation can be mediated through an internal discourse within Islamic societies. I examine the prospects of Islamic reform in light of the cultural relevance and the legal irrelevance of Sharia norms and the possibility of their internal transformation from an Islamic point of view.