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Harvard Law School's Islamic Legal Studies Program (ILSP)



Harvard Law School's Islamic Legal Studies Program (ILSP), established in 1991, seeks to advance knowledge and understanding of Islamic law. It is dedicated to achieving excellence in the study of Islamic law through objective and comparative methods, and fosters an atmosphere of open inquiry that embraces many perspectives, both Muslim and non-Muslim. It seeks to promote a deep appreciation of Islamic law as one of the world's major legal systems.
The main focus of work at the Program is on Islamic law in the contemporary world. This focus accommodates the many interests and disciplines that contribute to the study of Islamic law, including the study of its writings and history.
The Program supports the needs and interests of scholars and students from all parts of the globe and endeavors to mirror the universality of Islam itself. It seeks the active participation of scholars and practitioners from outside the University, particularly from the Muslim world. The Program does so through visiting professorships, research positions, lectures, conferences and publications. It provides fellowships and specialized programs for students at Harvard Law School, especially for individuals from the Muslim world. The Program fosters Western scholarship in Islamic law by supporting young scholars, and it encourages innovative scholarship across many disciplines.
The Islamic Legal Studies Program also collaborates with other institutions and individuals atHarvardUniversity to advance the study of Islamic law, Islam, and the Muslim world. In addition, it has established and will continue to establish close relationships with scholars and institutions abroad.
HarvardLawSchool offers three degrees, the J.D., LL.M. and the S.J.D. The latter two are advanced degrees in law, comprising one and three (or more) years respectively. Although none of the degrees leads specifically to a degree in Islamic law or the laws of the Muslim world, Harvard Law School offers a minimum of two courses annually on the Islamic legal system, open to all students. It also collaborates with and draws upon the resources of the entire University to enable effective interdisciplinary courses of study for a maximum concentration in this field of study.
In addition to a single degree, whereby courses offered by one school can be complemented with courses from other schools taken by cross-registration and used towards that degree, students are also offered the possibility of obtaining concurrent degrees from two Harvard schools. In the field of Islamic (legal) studies and with the cooperation of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, concurrent degrees are possible in the following constellations: the J.D./A.M. and the S.J.D./A.M. The advantage of the concurrent degree program is the possibility that courses taken for one degree may be used for credit towards the second degree, thus reducing the overall time and expense of earning the two degrees as compared with doing them consecutively. Generally speaking, reductions in time do not apply to theLawSchool degree, but can be a factor in the degree offered by the second institution.

Course descriptions

The following Harvard Law School courses are offered during the academic year 2004-2005.SPRING 2005:
The following provides a description of courses currently offered at Harvard Law School. More than 120 additional courses dealing with the languages, history, politics, art, literature, and society of the Islamic world are also available to students through offerings at other Harvard faculties and through cross-registration at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Only the first course is offered annually. Others are scheduled in various years.
Comparative Law: The Islamic Legal System:
This course is a basic introduction to the Islamic law and legal system in historical and contemporary forms. Islamic law, central to Islamic religion but also the law of states past and present, offers profound contrasts with modern Western secular legal and constitutional thought. These contrasts, the organizing focus of the course, are pursued in four subject-matter areas, each occupying one section of the course: (i) basic Islamic legal theory (the "sources of the law,"usul al-fiqh) (through exercises in deriving specific laws, ending in a mock debate between opposed schools); (ii) theory and practice of application of law within the Islamic state (ending in a mock criminal prosecution and trial); (iii) Islamic law in modern state systems (through a case-study of recent family law reforms); (iv) confrontations between Islamic and Western law in contemporary movements to return to Islamic law and to establish Islamic states (ending in a mock constitutional court deliberation and judgment). Fields of substantive Islamic law covered are constitutional, criminal, and family law.Readings and discussion emphasize primary sources in translation and case-studies. There are no prerequisites.
Contemporary Islamic Legal Thought: Law, State, and World Order:
This course explores contemporary Islamic thought on the legitimacy of national and international legal orders; in other words, it reviews contemporary Islamic-legal theories on the topics of legislation, constitution, legal system, nation-state, international relations, war, and world order with regard to both ideal objectives and actual conditions.
Comparative Law and the International Order: The Processes of Reception and Transformation of Islamic Law inAfrica:
Normally we associate Islamic law with Middle or Near Eastern societies. In this course we want to explore Islamic law in an entirely different context, that is, on the African continent. Islamic law is regarded in most African countries as received law. In other words, it has been imported into the pre-existing African customary law system, just as European constitutional law was imported during the colonial era. As a result, most African societies have a pluralistic approach to legal culture. Conflicts between these legal cultures are frequent. The judiciary has to resolve these and come up with models of integration and coherency. The question in regard to Islamic law is to what extent it lends itself to being integrated, as compared to African customary law and European-based laws.
Arabic 254. Islamic Legal Theory:
An introduction to the concepts and arguments of classical Islamic legal theory (usul al-fiqh) covering the main topics of this discipline, including the authentication and interpretation of sources, analogy, and consensus. The connections of legal theory to theology and positive law will also be considered. Prerequisite: Three years of Arabic or equivalent.
Islamic Civilizations 116.Studies in Islamic Law: Early Sunni Legal Doctrine (new)
Comparative Law: Changing Approaches to African and Islamic Law: (Reading Group):
The two non-western systems competing in African countries are Islamic law and African law. Modern academics have been scrutinizing the interaction of these two systems for the last five decades. In this reading group we want to critically examine how the academic legal discourse has evolved and what direction it is now taking.
Feminism in Islam: Reading Group:

Until the 19th century Islamic law offered provisions relating to women that were more liberal than those of other legal systems. Women were given their own rights to property. Women were given the right to household help paid for by their husbands. A physically abused spouse could sue for compensation from the abusing spouse. Why has the practice developed so differently over the centuries? Are women now the conscience of Islamic law, as minorities are said to be in relation to American law? Will new theoretical ideas on reinterpreting Islamic law come from women? Will women develop new ways of negotiating the juxtaposition of socially separated gendered spatiality and claims for legal equality?
We shall read as primary legal texts the Qur'an, the Ahadith (reports on early practices), and a classical juristic text, subjecting them to intense hermeneutical analysis. We shall also read secondary texts written by women-conformists and dissidents, including a 20th century text by a Muslim woman ruler ofIndia.
Comparative Law: The ArabMiddle East:
This course is a comparative exploration of legal systems of the modern Arab Middle East. In a complex development begun early in the last century, countries of the Arab Middle East have assimilated legal systems and laws shaped from Western models. Most legal borrowings were from the civil law tradition of the continent, although English law had influence as well. A few countries -- notably, Saudi Arabia, North Yemen and Oman -- largely evaded Westernization and maintained traditional legal systems applying Islamic and customary law.
Comparative Law: Islamic Contract Law:
This course explores comparatively the Islamic law of contracts. Islamic contract law provides many marked contrasts with rules of Western civil and common-law systems. On close comparative examination, Islamic law exhibits pervasive concern with a distinct morality of property and exchange, summed up in the Qur'anic prohibitions ofriba(interest), gharar (uncertainty), andakl al-mal bil-batil (unjust enrichment). This morality is the source of much of the law's systematic nature and many of its unique rulings.
Comparative Law: Islamic Constitutional Systems:
The study of the constitutional systems of past and present states of the Islamic world has been much neglected. Yet its significance grows daily, as, for example, Islamist political movements agitate for a return to Islamic systems of governance. Most work on Islamic constitutional practice has been done not by lawyers but by historians, political scientists, intellectual historians, and scholars of the Islamic religious sciences. As to historical Islamic legal systems, few scholars have sought to detect and analyze such systems' actual or positive constitutional arrangements, partly due to the difficulty that many elements of such systems do not resemble elements of contemporary Western constitutional systems.
Comparative Law: Systems of Adjudication:
This course explores the role and function of the judge in various legal systems.
Comparative Law Seminar: Islamic Law - Select.
Readings in Arabic:
Human Rights and Islam:
For one fifth of the human race, Islam is a dominant source of values by which to understand the nature of human beings and to govern their lives, both as individuals and within society and state. Because Islam imposes ethical constraints on the state in the fulfillment of these values, Islamic law has always been concerned with issues that are dealt with in the contemporary world under the rubric "human rights." Modern Muslims cannot fully participate in human rights discourse without reconciling that discourse with their own traditions. Muslim and non-Muslim thinkers attempting that reconciliation have found Islamic thought and doctrine to present a moral and political system in competition with modern Western-influenced human rights. In their outcomes at the level of norms and practices the two systems are usually in agreement but at times are divergent or even contradictory.
This course compares the two systems as to premises, doctrines, and practices.

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