This course will survey Islamic law in historical and comparative modern contexts. Historically, the term Islamic law (shari?a), 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 those traditional models with foreign models in the 18th century—mostly from English, French, and Dutch colonial powers—meant the introduction of new governmental and constitutional structures in the modern Middle East and larger Muslim world. Now in the 20th and 21st centuries, including developments that follow the 2010 Arab uprisings, many Muslim-majority countries have established Islamic law as a source of state law in their constitutions. 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 initially focus on Islamic law in the context of comparative law and legal history, to provide (a) a basic introduction to the sources and methods of classical Islamic legal interpretation, (b) a backdrop for assessing the appeal to and re-assertion of Islamic law today in select countries. It will then survey the most pressing areas in which traditional Islamic norms remain relevant today—criminal law, family law, and commercial law; it will also survey the developments and new constitutional controversies in the public law spheres in Egypt, Tunisia, and other countries in transition after the 2010 Arab uprisings.
This course aims to provide students with an introduction to the sources, nature and function of Islamic law in historical context; as well as to offer a framework for thinking about social realities and institutional structures that help shape Islamic law and explain legal change in Islamic law contexts. This course also aims to encourage comparative legal analysis to assess generalizations about law typically formulated with respect to Western legal traditions. Finally, for those taking the class who opt to do a paper, 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. There are no prerequisites.