Courses Related to Islamic Law
Harvard Law School Courses
Professor Intisar Rabb
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.
Professor William Alford, Professor Intisar Rabb
This workshop is intended to provide students with the opportunity to enmesh themselves in scholarly writing in the areas of comparative and international law by exploring challenges scholars in these fields face and bringing to the workshop a range of scholars engaged in some of the most interesting new work in them. Generally, our invited speakers–some from law and some from other disciplines–will present work in progress. Our focus will be on the intellectual underpinnings of the fields rather than hands-on practice. Students in the class will be required to submit four brief “reflection” pieces commenting on the papers to be presented and will also have the opportunity to question the presenter during the session. Some sessions will be reserved for meetings without outside speakers.
Professor Intisar Rabb
This course (inspired by the Global Anticorruption Lab, first taught in Spring 2013), will provide an opportunity for students interested in assessing the way Islamic law functions in contemporary and historical contexts to work on discrete research projects in a collaborative, interactive setting. Students will select one or more topics in legislation and interpretation in a Muslim-majority or Muslim-minority country to explore during the semester. Typical topics will include issues of criminal law, family law, and Islamic finance in addition to Islamic constitutional law. We will meet six times over the course of the semester: twice for introductory sessions and four times for working “lab sessions” to discuss research, exchange feedback, and brainstorm ideas for obtaining and analyzing sources. For evaluation, students will be expected to contribute four short papers (approx. 2-3 pages each), to be published with accompanying sources used in the papers on SHARIAsource.com—a newly created portal for content and context on Islamic law. The sources and analysis for the site are modeled after an Islamic-law version of WestLaw and SCOTUSblog. But unlike those two sites for U.S. law, SHARIAsource will encompass law-issuing institutions in many different countries. Participants will also have opportunities to participate in online discussion and blog debates, and to monitor online and scholarly sources for new developments on Islamic law related to their chosen research projects.
Professor Kristin Stilt
This course will introduce students to the broad range of laws that affect non-human animals (“animals”), including companion animals, farm animals (with a particular focus on factory farms), animals used in the context of entertainment (such as zoos and aquaria), animals used in scientific experimentation, and wild animals. The course will focus mainly on the U.S. but will also include significant attention to the laws of other countries and to international law.
The course will also engage with fundamental questions about animals and the law, such as: Are some animals more deserving of protection than others, and if so, on what basis? What role does culture and belief play in animal law—why are dogs considered pets in the U.S. and food in some parts of the world, for example? Does the status of animals as property pose an insurmountable barrier to increasing protections for animals? What are the advantages and disadvantages of the concepts of “animal rights” and “animal welfare”?
Professor Kristin Stilt
This Reading Group will focus on human rights advocacy in the Muslim world. After providing a very brief introduction to Islamic law, the course will address difficult questions at the intersection of human rights law and some interpretations of Islamic law. Topics to be examined include freedom of religious belief and expression; family law; sexual freedom; and others. The course will focus on how human rights organizations — international, regional, and local — have worked on cases in these areas and will consider how such organizations can be most effective.
Students will be expected to submit short response papers prior to each class meeting and to participate in class discussions.