Travel Grants 2013–2014

ILSP awarded two travel grants this year to students working on projects involving Islamic law or the legal systems of Muslim countries. Akhila Kolisetty, a Harvard Law School second-year student, traveled to India to explore the legal rights of Muslim women in the Mewat district of Haryana state. Matthew Steele, a Harvard University Ph.D. candidate in Islamic Studies, Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, spent several weeks this winter in Mauritania researching the history of Islamic juridical scholarship. Summaries of each student's report are below.

Akhila Kolisetty

Akhila traveled to India to explore the legal rights of Muslim women in the Mewat district of Haryana state. Working at the Institute for Rural Research and Development (IRRAD), she conducted research and recommended programming regarding the rights of Muslim women in the district. During her stay, she interviewed a variety of women about social and legal problems faced by Muslim women, the laws and institutions in place to assist Muslim women and the challenges of implementation. Akhila was also able to conduct legal research on Muslim personal law using primary and secondary sources.

Akhila reports that she gained an understanding of the key social and legal problems facing Muslim women in Mewat, among them restrictions on women’s movement outside the home, child marriage, domestic violence, harassment and demands for dowry, and polygamy. Muslim personal law and the rights enshrined in it are often not followed. Another finding from her research was that despite the Indian government’s general policy of non-intervention in the rights of minority religions and religious personal laws of Muslims, there have been situations in which Muslim personal laws have come into conflict with India’s civil laws. Further, many women felt comfortable going to only a close circle of friends, relatives, and neighbors for dispute resolution. Both informal village councils and government institutions were often considered either unfriendly toward women or non-functional.

Akhila wrote and presented a 38-page research report to the Institute of Rural Research and Development (IRRAD) on her findings and recommendations for addressing the legal rights of women in this region, focusing on economic empowerment as a means to legal empowerment.

Matthew Steele

To further his dissertation research on the development of legal scholarship in Mauritania, Matthew spent several weeks in Mauritania exploring the history of Islamic juridical scholarship through an experiential trip during which he was enrolled in a college of Islamic law in the isolated village of Nouakchott. There, he studied, along with mainly Mauritanian and Senegalese students, under one of Mauritania’s foremost legal scholars, Sheikh Muhammad Hasan al-Khadim. Through his studies, Matthew gained a much richer understanding of legal studies in the southern Sahara—a much clearer understanding of which authors figure prominently in juridical pedagogy in Mauritania, which texts represent essential curricula that are common across the region and period, and how those authors and texts are taught, and studied, today.

Matthew intends to return to Mauritania in the near future to pursue his studies in one of the Islamic world’s most remote and understudied frontiers.