Course Description

601:542. Islamic Law (3) WI


This course aims to provide a broad introduction to Islamic law in both theory and practice. Islamic law consists of positive law and legal theory that is built upon Islam’s foundational sources, the Qur’an and Prophetic tradition. “Shari’a” is the technical term used for these sources collectively, but in common parlance the term includes both the sources and the law derived from them. Islamic law continues to be relevant to both the personal practice of Muslims and laws governing numerous populations. This class will focus almost exclusively on the latter with the aim of giving students a sense of how Islamic law operates in the public domain and expanding their conception of “law”—in the sense of enforceable rights and obligations— in order to facilitate comparative aspects of the subject matter.

The course will be divided into two main sections. The first will provide a historical and conceptual background on Islamic law, looking primarily at its origins, theoretical foundations, judicial structure and interaction with the state. The objective in this section will be to provide students with the building blocks to properly appreciate the material in the next section. The second section, comprising the majority of the course, focuses on substantive law. It will begin with an examination of four areas: criminal, commercial, labor and family law. These specific areas of law are often where Muslim states inject Shari’a provisions into their own legal systems and also provide ample material for students to engage in comparative thinking with regard to their own law school curriculum. Students will first gain a theoretical understanding of how Islamic legal literature discusses these areas of law and will then examine case law from Muslim countries to see how these ideas are put into practice. The last two classes of this section will look at areas of law that are often not codified into the legal system of Muslim states, but are important parts of contemporary Islamic legal discourse: laws of war and human rights. Students will analyze the legal, social and political considerations surrounding this discourse and its implications for Islamic law moving forward.