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Khaled Abou el Fadl, L’89

Omar and Azmeralda Alfi Professor of Law, UCLA

Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl is one of the world’s leading authorities on Islamic law and Islam, and a prominent scholar in the field of human rights.  He is the Omar and Azmeralda Alfi Distinguished Professor in Islamic Law at the UCLA School of Law where he teaches International Human Rights, Islamic Jurisprudence, National Security Law, Law and Terrorism, Islam and Human Rights, Political Asylum and Political Crimes and Legal Systems.  He is also the Chair of the Islamic Studies Interdepartmental Program at UCLA.

For the first few years after law school, Khaled Abou el Fadl stuck to what he then considered the practical route. He accepted a position at Kirkpatrick & Lockhart, a large Washington, D.C. firm where he had held a summer associate position while at Penn Law, and he later clerked for Arizona Supreme Court Justice James Moeller. As he toiled through numerous cases and briefs over the years, he thought that his fascination with the “bigger picture” would diminish. Instead, it became increasingly apparent that academia was his true calling.

A native of Kuwait and a devoted scholar of Islamic jurisprudence, Abou El Fadl began a Ph.D. program in Islamic Studies at Princeton University. As a means of support for his family, he continued to practice immigration and investment law in the United States and in the Middle East while completing his doctoral work.

A high-ranking Muslim sheikh with formal training in Islamic jurisprudence, Abou El Fadl has been described as the most important and influential Islamic thinker of contemporary times. He regularly appears on various international media including CNN, NBC, PBS, and National Public Radio as a critical and powerful voice against religious fundamentalism and intolerance, and as a staunch advocate of women’s rights in the Middle East.

His book, The Great Theft, was the first work to delineate the key differences between moderate and extremist Muslims, and was named one of the Top 100 Books of the Year by Canada’s Globe and Mail (Canada’s leading national newspaper).  His book, The Search for Beauty in Islam: A Conference of the Books, is a landmark work in modern Muslim literature.

He was previously appointed by President George W. Bush to serve on the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom, and also served as a member of the board of directors of Human Rights Watch.  He continues to serve on the advisory board of Middle East Watch (part of Human Rights Watch) and regularly works with human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and the Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights (Human Rights First) as an expert in a wide variety of cases involving human rights, terrorism, political asylum, and international and commercial law.

Abou El Fadl credits Penn Law with fostering in its students the confidence needed to explore whatever aspect of the law they found most stimulating, instead of only pursuing more lucrative opportunities. “I had professors who insisted that we not only understand how the law works, but also that we strive to understand law as a concept. They not only exposed us to the various social and political issues affected by the law, but asked us to consider the implications of our own positions on these issues in our daily lives,” he says.