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Fall 2022 Seminar

Introduction to Islamic Law

Prerequisites: None

Exam Type: No Exam

This course will survey core concepts in Islamic law (sharia) in historical and comparative modern contexts. Popular perceptions of this legal system imagine it to be a static code from 7th-century Arabia. By contrast, we explore aspects of Islamic law and society, as a dynamic system, that uncover rich debates about cases historically alongside processes of “legislation” and interpretation analogous to our own. We also explore the substantive rulings and institutional structures that substantially diverge from our own. Those laws and structures evolved over time, with notable changes accompanying the breakup of the Islamic empire in the 10th and 12th centuries, colonial interventions in the 18th and 19th centuries, and independence movements in the 20th and 21st centuries. How and why did Muslim jurists, judges, and political leaders define or operate within the grammar of Islamic law? Did the law impose religious-moral values or reflect cultural and socially constructed ones? What explains the recent appeal of shari’a in the last few decades and how might we understand Islamic law in our times? This course will equip students with tools to examine these questions in the course of conversations about key subjects of Islamic law and methods of interpretation. This term, we will also experiment with data science approaches to both. Students must complete one presentaton and one short paper (10pp); they may opt for a long paper (15pp) and/or data science project with two short writing assignments for an additional credit.* Students need not have prior knowledge of Islamic law.

* The additional credit options allow students to conduct in-depth research on a single issue of Islamic law or legal theory using primary sources -cases, legislation, manuals of legal theory, etc. (in English or any other language with which students are familiar), together with new data science tools in connection with the SHARIAsource Lab. This Lab allows students to workshop papers, receive feedback on their works-in-progress, and the opportunity to publish short papers as posts on the Islamic Law Blog.

Note: This course is cross-listed with the History department (History 2538) at FAS.