Islamic Scholar Criticized by Some Muslims for Serving on State Department’s Commission on Unalienable Rights

Sheikh Hamza Yusuf will be joining the State Department’s Commission on Unalienable Rights. Video screenshot

One of the world’s most prominent Islamic scholars is drawing criticism from some Muslims for participating in the State Department’s newly announced Commission on Unalienable Rights.

Sheikh Hamza Yusuf, an influential Sunni leader who co-founded Zaytuna College, America’s first accredited Muslim undergraduate college, will be joined on the commission by Rabbi Meir Yaakov Soloveichik; Stanford professor Russell Berman; Notre Dame Law professor Paolo Carozza; Harvard sociologist Jacqueline Rivers; Katrina Lantos Swett, former chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom; philosopher Christopher Tollefsen; and UC Irvine professor David Tse-Chien Pan.

“Despite Sheikh Hamza Yusuf’s rich, robust and arguably unparalleled contributions to Islamic thought in the West, it pains me to see him collaborate with the most Islamophobic administration in American history,” said Hamzah Raza, a graduate student in Islamic studies at Harvard Divinity School. “Donald Trump is a president who asserted that ‘Islam hates us’ and incited violence against Muslims as a tool to get elected.”

The panel will be led by Harvard law professor Mary Ann Glendon, former ambassador to the Vatican under George W. Bush. A prominent social conservative voice known for her opposition to same-sex marriage, Glendon impeded efforts to define abortion as an international human right at the 1995 U.N. Women’s conference.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the commission on Monday (July 8) as a panel examining human rights through a “natural law” lens. The panel, which includes human rights experts of “varied backgrounds and beliefs,” will help guide foreign policy commitments by determining what the U.S. considers a human right, particularly when human rights claims seem to be in conflict, he said.

“Today the language of human rights has become the common vernacular for discussions of human freedom and dignity all around the world … but words like ‘rights’ can be used for good or evil,” Pompeo said. “We must therefore be vigilant that human rights discourse not be corrupted or hijacked or used for dubious or malignant purpose.”

Critics including the Center for Inquiry and several senior members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee have questioned the implications of the commission’s work being framed in terms of “natural law,” suggesting that the panel could be used to further a conservative political agenda by undermining LGBT rights and reproductive rights worldwide.

Several religious freedom bodies, including USCIRF, applauded the new commission.

Its ability to underscore the importance of religious freedom as a human right will “lead to higher impact negotiations on behalf of the more than 70% of the world’s population that is currently suffering persecution or abuse,” USCIRF Vice Chair Gayle Manchin said.

But the head of the Council for Global Equality, an LGBT foreign policy advocacy group, told The New Yorker that he worried the State Department planned to create a hierarchy of human rights, with religious freedom sitting at the top.

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Source: Religion News Service