Exam: One-Day Take-Home
This course will survey Islamic law (shari'a) in historical and comparative modern contexts. "Islamic law" historically refers to a diverse set of legal rules and concepts that developed within institutional structures quite different from those of the modern nation-state. The replacement of traditional models with modern structures in the 18th and 19th centuries—mostly from English, French, and Dutch colonial powers—meant the introduction of new governmental and constitutional structures in the modern Middle East and in the larger Muslim world. Now in the 20th and 21st centuries, many Muslim-majority countries have constitutionally established Islamic law as a source of state law or otherwise seek to grapple with questions of the relevance, interpretation, and constraints on Islamic law. These developments raise fundamental questions about issues of legality, authority, and institutional development in the legal systems of the Muslim world, past and present. This course will focus on those questions. We will approach Islamic law through a lens of comparative law and legal history, to explore (a) the basic sources and methods of interpretation in classical Islamic law, and (b) the appeal to and re-assertion of Islamic law today. We will also survey the most pressing areas in which traditional Islamic legal norms remain relevant today—criminal law, family law, and commercial law—as well as recent debates and constitutional controversies over Islamic law in Egypt, Tunisia, and other countries in transition after the 2010 Arab uprisings, as well as in the United States.
Students may take an exam or opt to do a paper or series of papers for an additional credit. For those pursuing the paper option, the course is designed to provide an opportunity to conduct in-depth research on a single issue of Islamic law or theory, to write a scholarly paper on that issue, and to discuss and receive feedback on works-in-progress. Students need not have prior knowledge of Islamic law. There are no prerequisites.