The genesis of this book was my experience during almost three decades of study of Middle Eastern history and law, as well as research trips to Egypt, Libya, Pakistan, and the Sudan. My interest in the subject of human rights in the Middle East emerged only belatedly, stimulated by talks with Middle Easterners, whose ideas about human rights and democracy continually intruded into discussions that I initiated regarding other research interests. The attitudes that Muslims expressed on human rights struck me as being different from what my academic training in the West had led me to expect and were often hard to reconcile with the descriptions of Middle Eastern culture and Islamic political thought in scholarly literature written by Westerners. I became intrigued by the comments Muslims made about their aspirations for democratic freedoms. I noticed a common -- though not unanimous -- tendency to demand the same kinds of democratic institutions that exist in liberal democracies in the West and a general impatience with all official rationales that governments exploited to justify repression. I was ultimately brought to the conclusion that Muslims' ideas of human rights deserved more systematic investigation, and I reoriented my research accordingly.
There are so many Middle Eastern friends, colleagues, and acquaintances to whom I owe debts of gratitude for their generous efforts over twenty-seven years to enlighten me about their political attitudes, their understanding of the Islamic tradition, and their ideas of human rights that it would be impossible to list them all here. It might also be inadvisable to mention names in a book on this sensitive topic at a time like the present, when human rights issues are so bitterly contested. Several leading Muslim advocates of human rights whom I would like to thank are now forced to live in exile in the West because of the risks that would be involved in advocating their ideas in their home countries. One friend who did much to enhance my awareness of the dimensions of the struggle for human rights has been imprisoned since 1989 by the Bashir regime in the Sudan precisely because of his