Sharia: an Introduction to Islamic Law
Sharia is often portrayed as Islamic legal maxims and corporal punishment—a rigid, “medieval” religious law, dating from the 7th century Arabia, that’s allegedly incompatible with modern democracy. But this image bears little resemblance to reality. Not only is Sharia a highly complex legal system, it’s also a metaphysical idea, a way of talking about communal life, and a moral law constantly subject to criticism, debate, discussion, and interpretation within Muslim communities from the classical era to the present day. How can we understand Sharia as a legal system and beyond?
In this course we will discuss the history, philosophy, ethics, and modern approaches to Sharia’s moral law, as well as the role of Sharia in contemporary society. Analyzing basic Islamic tenants in historical contexts and contemporary use, we will read a range of thinkers—from classical Muslim scholars to modern Islamic reformers to Islamists who call for Islamic states and society. Students will address such questions as: what is Sharia and how different it is from Islamic law?; who speaks in the name of Sharia?; what are the sources of Islamic law; is Sharia compatible with democracy?; and is a modern Islamic state feasible”? What are the different ways to address common controversies around Islamic law—from gender and sexuality to religious and political freedom? What can the study of Sharia mean both inside and outside Muslim communities? Course readings will include texts from classical Islamic jurisprudence, such as al-Shaybani and al-Ghazali; Muslim revivalists such as Muhammad Abduh, Sayid Qutb and Sayyid Abul A’la Mawdudi; modern scholars of Islam such as Fazlur Rahman, Wael Hallaq, Syed Farid Alatas, Abdullahi An-Na’im; feminist scholars Saba Mahmood and Kecia Ali; and critics of Sharia.
Course ScheduleWednesday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
November 18 — December 16, 2020
Class will not meet Wednesday, November 9th.