Muhammad Abduh was born to a peasant family which struggled to give him a proper education, yet by the age of 10, he had memorized the entire Quran. In 1872, he left the University of Cairo to become a disciple of Jamal ad-Din Afghani, a reformer and pan-Islamic political activist. When a new leader came to power, Abduh was placed under house arrest and his mentor, Afghani, was expelled from Egypt. When Abduh began speaking out about reforms and nationalism in 1882, he too was expelled from Egypt. When he was allowed to return six years later, he became a judge and began serious institutional reforms in the face of conservative and orthodox opposition. In 1899, he was appointed Mufti of Egypt, which was a position he held until death and used to try breaking the rigidity of Muslim societies. Like his mentor, Abduh’s goal was to “organize Islamic societies in a way that the basic Islamic spirit was not lost and yet the Muslims could compete with the demands of the modern world.” As such, Abduh encouraged reasoning, freedom of the will, rational thinking, equity, and welfare over ignorance and the blind acceptance of traditions. He was one of the premier “Islamic modernists” of the time.


Mahmood, Iftekhar, ed. Islam Beyond Terrorists and Terrorism: Biographies of the Most Influential Muslims in History. Maryland: University Press of America, 2002.


As a young girl, Florence watched her father act as congressman to fight against foreign oil imports and the exploitation of markets. In her own life, Florence worked to fight against the exploitation of the working class, specifically women and children. Florence spent several years of her life as a state inspector, entering rooms in sweatshops where disease ran so rampant it was ingrained in the fabrics. Risking her health with no hesitation, Florence’s goal was to thoroughly investigate the working and living conditions of society’s most vulnerable individuals. Florence’s reports inspired her to take a law course at Northwestern University.

As her inspector reports became more tenacious, Florence used her newly gained knowledge in law to fight for a new child labor law that demanded more responsibility from law-enforcement officers. Her success launched her into a series of battles, fights for minimum wage laws, work place standards, educational standards, and woman suffrage. In 1905, she wrote Some Ethical Gains through Legislation, which presented a number of goals for Progressive law to achieve. The most taxing and challenging of her efforts, however, was collecting evidence of how women and children were affected differently by labor than men. Her research challenged the idea that a law could only be valid if it was applied universally. Florence’s findings provided the main thrust behind the well-known “Brandeis Brief,” in which the maximum ten-hour workday for women was defended before the Supreme Court.



Constance Motley’s experience in law began in 1954, when she helped write briefs during the groundbreaking Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education. With that introduction, Constance was propelled into a tremendous legal career. Many of her beginning cases involved representing young African-Americans whose university attendances had been barred. Her career gathered momentum as she served as associate counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. During this time, she continued to argue in cases involving desegregation in schools, public housing and accommodations, and transportation. Fighting tenaciously before state and federal courts in over eleven states, Florence could not be stopped. Out of ten civil rights cases she argued in the Supreme Court, Constance won nine. Alongside other members of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, she helped lift several injunctions against individuals like Ralph Abernathy, Fred Shuttlesworth, and the great Martin Luther King. Her civil rights work proved her worthy of appointment to the New York State Senate in 1964, the first appointment of its kind ever achieved by a black woman. After only a year, Florence was called to fill a vacancy as the Borough of Manhattan’s president. She was the first woman to ever hold such a position and was reelected for another four-year term. Florence’s term as borough president will be remembered for her work revitalizing Harlem. The peak of her career occurred, however, when President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed her against great opposition to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York where she served for four years.



Eliot Ness lead a small group of trusted associates against the deadly and powerful Chicago mob during Prohibition. He was born in Chicago on April 19, 1903, the fifth child of Norwegian bakers. He went on to attend the University of Chicago, graduating in 1925 with a degree in business and law. His first job was as an investigator for a credit company, Retail Credit Co. of Atlanta, where he was assigned to the Chicago area. Ness began working with the Bureau of Prohibition in Chicago in 1927, after he joined the Treasury Department. It was in this phase of his life that he achieved national renown as the man who captured the most famous criminal of the day, the Chicago gangster Al Capone. Ness had a difficult time beginning his work against the Chicago gangs. Most of the federal agents assigned to the case had been bribed or intimidated. Ness was forced to work with just a small subset of trusted men, a team that eventually numbered just eleven. Once his team was assembled, raids against stills and breweries began, and within six months Ness claimed successful action against illegal breweries worth over one million dollars. The main source of information for the raids was an extensive wire-tapping operation.

Capone’s failed attempt to bribe Ness’s agents led to more public awareness of the strength of Ness’s conviction. A newspaper columnist began to call Ness’s agents, in addition to Ness, “The Untouchables.” There were a number of assassination attempts on Ness, and one of his friends was unfortunately killed. While Ness and his team were undeniably effective against Capone’s bootlegging operation, the real trap for Capone was income tax evasion, a charge that eventually led to his incarceration in 1931. Ness demonstrated a sense of courage and incorruptibility during his lifetime. His determination to incarcerate the original “Public Enemy No. 1” was sensationalized in the media, leading to greater crime awareness. Eliot Ness died on May 16, 1957.


Bardsley, Marilyn. “Eliot Ness: The Man Behind the Myth.” Crime Library. Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. 2011. < outlaws/cops_others /ness/2.html>.


Giovanni Falcone was born into a poor family in Palermo, Italy in 1939. By 1970, after he completed his training, Falcone began his work tackling organized crime. Throughout his career until his assassination in 1992, Falcone courageously defied Mafia threats, standing for justice and equality.

Falcone’s mission was to expose the Sicilian Mafia. In 1986 and 1987, Falcone was involved in leading the prosecution, known as the “Maxi Trial” in which 475 alleged Mafiosi members were charged. The end of the trial convicted 360 members of serious crimes.

However, the success of Falcone’s trials did not come easily. Due to the increased press attention, Falcone quickly became characterized as the head crusader against much of the Mafia. In response, the Mafia contemplated his murder several times; but this did not deter Falcone. He continued his work, resisting any opposition in the government or society at large. Finally in 1992, the Mafia, by means of plastic explosives, assassinated Falcone.

Falcone’s work was innovative in a couple ways. First, he was an adept interrogator, gaining the trust of Mafioso even when others could not; under his protection, the very first senior mafia members turned state’s evidence, leading to many more convictions. Secondly, he worked hard to strip the mystique and mystery from the Mafia, which proved helpful for societal unity. Falcone’s self-sacrifice was necessary for the achievement of justice.


Remembering Giovanni Falcone, from Best of Sicily magazine (2002),

Contributed by Lily Saadat


Thomas Dewey stepped onto the great legal stage in 1935 as a criminal gang prosecutor. Only six years out of law school, Thomas went after powerful New York masterminds with corrupt holds on innumerable businesses. The national press reveled in his energy: Thomas gathered and trained his own investigators, used wile and wit to bypass politicians and criminal protectors, and ultimately put dangerous bosses behind bars. Even more courageously, Thomas took it upon himself to protect his informers, who risked their safety to help expose the ringleaders terrorizing their streets. Winning guilty verdict after guilty verdict, Thomas also began receiving a slew of death threats. Later, investigators discovered a number of plans to assassinate Thomas that had luckily never been attempted. With such unprecedented success, Thomas became the District Attorney of New York.

As his popularity skyrocketed, roles in films were written after him and streets even took his name. Nothing attested to his credibility more, however, than when he was put in the running for the Republican nomination for president. Although he lost, it was not long before Thomas became the governor of New York. As governor he gleaned momentous respect from leaders around the country-so much respect, in fact, that Thomas won the Republican nomination in 1944 to run against Franklin D. Roosevelt. Although he was defeated, Thomas spent the duration of his career supporting and advising the Republican party.