Islamic Law Courses at Harvard Law School


ILSP Faculty Co-Directors Intisar Rabb and Kristen Stilt will be teaching the following courses in 2014-2015:

Islamic Law and Society: Historians, Biographers, Judges

Professor Intisar Rabb
Fall 2014
Meets: W 2:00pm - 4:00pm
2 classroom credits

This course examines primary sources for the history and historiography of courts in early Islamic law and society by focusing on the writings of ʿAbbāssid-era historians, biographers, and judges in Baghdad, Cairo, and Spain from the 3rd/9th through the 5th/11th century. We will explore broad thematic questions that include: the major actors and issues that arose in early Islamic law and society and made their way into courts; the formal and informal procedures by which judges and other legal actors addressed cases of the ordinary butcher, baker, and candlestick maker; and how to critically read the sources to glean and problemetize elements of both legal and social history of the period and subject under consideration. There is no single subject matter for this course. Instead, topics will focus on types of disputes, procedures for dispute resolution, the social and legal role of the judge, admissible types of evidence, and the relationship between the judge and the political authorities as these issues arise through the selected readings. Arabic language is required.

Note: This course is taught at FAS. The first class will be held on September 3rd in the Gibb Room at Widener Library

Introduction to Islamic Law

Professor Intisar Rabb
Fall 2014
Meets: M, T 10:20am - 11:50am in WCC Room 3019
3 classroom credits

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.

International and Comparative Law Workshop

Professor William Alford and Professor Intisar Rabb
Fall 2014
Meets: W 5:00pm - 7:00pm in Hauser Hall Room 102
2 classroom credits

This class is intended to provide students with the opportunity to engage scholarly writing in international and comparative law, by bringing to the workshop authors of some of the most interesting new work in this field. Generally, our speakers will present work in progress. Students will be required to submit brief "reflection" pieces commenting on the papers to be discussed and will also have the opportunity to engage in dialogue with our guests. Some sessions will be reserved for meetings for enrolled students and the instructor.

There are no prerequisites but the workshop is principally intended for students who are thinking about a career in academe.

Everyone wishing to take this course—including those on any waiting list or considering adding it—MUST attend the first session. If you are on the waitlist and do not attend the first session, you will not be able to add into this course.

Digital Islamic Law Lab: Online Analysis of Contemporary Islamic Legislation and Interpretation

Professor Intisar Rabb
Spring 2015
Meets: M 5:00pm - 7:00pm
2 classroom credits

This course (inspired by the Global Anticorruption Lab, taught in Spring 2013), will provide an opportunity for students interested in assessing the way Islamic law manifests and functions in contemporary contexts to work independently 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 in criminal law, family law, Islamic finance in addition to Islamic constitutional law. We will meet each week for an hour to discuss each other’s research, offer feedback, and brainstorm approaches for accessing and analyzing research questions. In lieu of a final paper or short weekly response papers, students will instead be expected to contribute four substantive posts (1-3 paragraphs each) to a newly-created blog called SHARIAsource, which aims—SCOTUSblog style—to collect and contextualize new legal developments in Islamic law globally. Unlike SCOTUSblog, which focuses on the decisions issued by a single institution in one country, SHARIAsource will focus on comparable institutions in different countries. Participants will also be expected to participate in online discussion and debates about other blog entries, and to monitor online sources and blogs for new developments on Islamic law online related to their chosen research projects. Students interested in expanding their research into a full paper may do so for an appropriate number of additional independent writing credits.

Prerequisite: Enrollment is limited to 12, and is by permission of the instructor. Interested students should email Professor Rabb (irabb@law.harvard.edu); the email should include a current CV, a short statement of interest (preferably including one or two topics you might be interested in writing about)—not to exceed one page, and a list of days/times during the Spring semester when you cannot meet. All applications are due by November 15, 2014; students will be notified after this date of their status in this course.

A prior course on Islamic Law is helpful, but not necessary for enrollment in the course.

Advanced Legislation: Theories of Statutory Interpretation

Professor Intisar Rabb
Spring 2015
Meets: M, T 10:20am - 11:50am
3 classroom credits

Most modern law is contained in statutes and administrative regulations, which lawyers tend to confront alongside case law in almost every area of practice. Building on basic concepts of Legislation and Regulation, this course aims to further explore the theories of the legislative process, judicial interpretation of statutes, and agency implementation of legislation. We will explore ongoing controversies about legislation, regulation, and interpretation, including deep debates about textualist, purposive and dynamic interpretation; about the use of legislative history and canons of construction; and about the constitutional foundations of statutory interpretation. Although there is no single subject matter focus of the course, a significant portion of the substantive areas of law will cover discrimination law, criminal law, and environmental law.

Prerequisite: Legislation and Regulation is required. For LLM students, you will need to seek the permission of the instructor to waive the prerequisite and enroll in this seminar. Please submit all applications by November 15; students will be notified of their application status before Thanksgiving break.

Animal Law

Professor Kristen Stilt
Spring 2015
Meets: M, T 1:00pm - 2:30pm
3 classroom credits

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”?

Students will be evaluated on the basis of class participation; a group project; and a final exam (one-day take-home exam).

There are no prerequisites, and 1L students are welcome in the class.

Islamic Law and Human Rights

Professor Kristen Stilt
Spring 2015 Seminar
Meets: W 5:00pm - 7:00pm
2 classroom credits

This seminar will address difficult questions in the contemporary world at the intersection of human rights law and some interpretations of Islamic law. Topics to be examined include religious freedom, free expression, sexual relations and sexuality, gender equality, the rights of children, and public dress and behavior. The seminar will focus on how human rights organizations—international, regional, and local—have worked on cases in these areas of concern, and will consider how such organizations can most effectively address issues that involve religious belief.

Students will be evaluated on the basis of class participation and a final paper with an associated class presentation. The final paper-class presentation may be done individually or, with the professor’s permission, in a small group.

Students who enroll in the seminar should have some familiarity with international law and human rights law in particular, but there are no specific pre-requisites.