Degree Programs

The Program in Islamic Law is devoted to the academic study of Islamic law at Harvard Law School. PIL is not a degree-granting institution, and it does not admit students. To be a student at Harvard University, interested applicants must apply to the appropriate school of interest. Harvard Law School offers JD degrees to students with a bachelor’s degree who successfully meet the admission requirements. The HLS Graduate Program is the division of Harvard Law School responsible for the Master of Laws (LLM) and the Doctor of Juridical Science (SJD) degrees. The History Department offers Masters (MA) and Doctor in Philosophy (PhD) degrees, as does the Center for Middle Eastern Studies. For other programs, please visit HLS Admissions or Harvard FAS Graduate Admissions.

Islamic Law Courses


Harvard Law School, Spring 2022
Course Number: HLS 2358
Course Title: Introduction to Islamic Law
Instructor: Kristen Stilt
This course is a broad introduction to Islamic law in historical and contemporary forms. We will first cover the origins and early development of Islamic law, with a focus on how the sources of Islamic law were used to derive a diverse body of rules and how those rules were implemented. We will then turn to the modern era and examine how Islamic law is relevant to legal systems around the world today, using case studies of family law, food law, finance, and criminal law.
Harvard Faculty of Arts & Sciences, Spring 2022
Course Number: ISLAMCIV 110
Course Title: Major Works of Islamic Civilizations
Instructor: Khaled El-Rouayheb
This course offers a reading of a number of major works of Islamic Civilization, for example from the universal chronicle of al-Tabari (d. 923), the forty hadith of al-Nawawi (d. 1277), a work on the lives of the Shi’i Imams by al-Shaykh al-Mufid (d. 1044), the autobiography of al-Ghazali (d. 1111), the Gulistan by Sa’di (d. 1291), the famous Introduction to History by Ibn Khaldun (d. 1406), a manual on Sufism by Aisha al-Ba’uniyya (d. 1516), and the description of Paris by al-Tahtawi (d. 1873). The course aims to give students an exposure to different, co-existing cultural traditions within Islamic civilization, including chronicles and hagiographies, Islamic creeds, Sufism, belles-lettres, popular folktales and travelogues.
Course Number: ISLAMCIV 179
Course Title: Critical Perspectives on the Dynamics and Development of Islam in Africa
Instructor: Ousmane Kane
An estimated 450 to 500 million Muslims live in Africa—close to a third of the global Muslim population. The overwhelming majority of them live in the northern half of the continent, above the equator. The spread of Islam increased the contact between the peoples of North Africa, the Sahara, and parts of sub-Saharan Africa. The course is designed to provide an understanding of the spread of Islam and the formation and transformation of Muslim societies in Africa. It is organized in two parts. The first part of the course will focus on the history of Islamization of Africa, and topics will include the ways in which Islam came to Africa, the relationships of Islam to trade, the growth of literacy in Arabic and Ajami, the rise of clerical classes and their contribution to State formation in the pre-colonial period. The second part of the course will feature guest lecturers who will present cutting edge research on the transformation of Islam in postcolonial Africa.
Course Number: ISLAMCIV 111
Course Title: Transforming Tradition: Islamic Education in the Modern Muslim World
Instructor: Mary Elston
What counts as Islamic knowledge, how should it be transmitted, and who gets to decide? Muslim communities have grappled with these questions since the early days of Islam, yet in the 19th and 20th centuries such questions took on particular significance in the context of European colonialism, the emergence of Islamic reform movements, and the rise of mass education. In this course, we will explore how Muslims have approached these questions through an investigation of the history and diverse practices, concepts, and institutions that have constituted ‘Islamic education’ in the Muslim world. The primary focus of the course will be on the modern period (19th and 20th centuries), but we will begin with an examination of the development and evolution of madrasa education in the medieval and early modern periods. Through secondary scholarship and primary sources, we will investigate the historical processes through which institutions of religious education became the object of colonial aspirations, state-sponsored reforms, and Islamist critiques in diverse locales such as Egypt, India, Pakistan, Iran, Yemen, and Turkey. Questions that we will consider include: What is a tradition and how does it change? How did the place of Muslim religious scholars transform in the modern period? How did debates about modernity, authenticity, and religious authority shape Islamic educational institutions in the 19th and 20th centuries?
Course Number: RELIGION 2800
Course Title: The Emergence of Islam: Contours and Controversies
Instructor: Mohsen Goudarzi
The birth of Islam in the seventh century C.E. was a momentous historical turning point, but many aspects of this crucial process remain vigorously contested in modern scholarship. Was the Prophet Muhammad a local preacher of righteousness or the conscious creator of a religion with global ambitions? Is the Qur’anic text a record of Muhammad’s own preaching or the result of a collective effort that continued after Muhammad (and perhaps had begun before him)? Did the early Muslims believe in the imminent end of the world or not? Was Islam originally an ecumenical monotheistic movement open to Jews and Christians, or did Islam’s earliest adherents consider it a new and exclusive religion separate from Judaism and Christianity? Did Arabian tribes have a shared sense of belonging to a unified “Arab” ethnos before Islam, or did this sense of identity grow after disparate Arabian peoples conquered the Near East together? This course is dedicated to an in-depth discussion of such fundamental historiographic questions. In the process, we will delve into some of the earliest literary and documentary witnesses to early Islamic history and read from seminal works of scholarship on Islam’s origins.
Course Number: HIST 1009
Course Title: The Making of the Modern Middle East
Instructor: Rosie Bsheer
How was the region of North Africa and West Asia between the Atlantic and Central Asia constructed, physically and discursively, as “the Middle East”? What were the major local, regional, and global events that have most profoundly affected the political, social, cultural, and intellectual realities of the region since the mid-eighteenth century? Throughout the semester, we will draw on interdisciplinary readings to think critically about these and related questions about the challenges of studying the modern Middle East, the politics of modernity, Ottoman reform, the formation of modern nation states, colonialism and imperialism, social and intellectual movements, petro-states in global perspective, and Islam and politics.
Course Number: HIND-URD 108
Course Title: Iqbal’s Urdu Poetry
Instructor: Hajnalka Kovacs
Iqbal’s Urdu Poetry is a comprehensive introduction to Sir Muhammad Iqbal’s (1877–1938) Urdu poetry. Along with reading and translating selected poems from Iqbal’s collections Bāng-e Darā, Bāl-e Jibrīl, Zarb-e Kalīm, and Armaghān-e Hijāz, we will discuss the grammatical, stylistic, and poetic features in his language as well the religious and political ideas expressed in the poems. The primary texts will be supplemented, whenever possible, with secondary readings in Urdu and English and relevant audio-visual material.
Course Number: ISLAMCIV 241R
Course Title: Approaches to Studying Indo-Muslim Culture and South Asian Islam
Instructor: Ali Asani
A seminar for graduate students focusing on current scholarship on Islamic civilization in South Asia.
Course Number: GENED 1087
Course Title: Multisensory Religion: Rethinking Islam
Instructor: Ali Asani
One need only walk into a church, a mosque, a temple, a synagogue or any place of worship to experience the beauty and aesthetic power of religion. For millions of people around the world, understanding of religion is forged through personal experiences, often embedded in the sound, visual, and literary arts. What does it mean to call some art “religious”? How can interpreting an individual believer’s engagement with the arts help us see “religion” in a new light?Using Islam as a case study, this course explores the multifaceted relationship between religion and the arts. We will learn to listen, see, and experience Islam by studying Muslims’ engagement with the literary arts (scriptures, panegyrics, love lyrics, epic romances, folk songs, and folk tales), as well as sound and visual arts (Quran and poetic recitations, music, dance, drama, architecture, calligraphy, and miniature painting). Weaving the voices of poets, writers and musicians with those of clerics, mystics and politicians, we will consider how the arts create a religious tradition and shape the worldviews of Muslim communities around the world.Given the cultural diversity of Muslim societies, the course draws on material from regions beyond the Middle East, particularly sub-Saharan Africa and South and Southeast Asia. This course assumes no prior knowledge of Islam.
Course Number: HAA 224M
Course Title: Drawing in the Islamic Lands
Instructor: David Roxburgh
The seminar examines the medium of drawing in the Islamic lands, focusing on the post-Mongol through early modern periods throughout the Middle East, Iran, India, and Central Asia. Topics include the medium, materiality and practice of drawing; subject matters; purposes; formats (single-sheet) and contexts (manuscripts and albums); autonomy as an art form; and intermedial relationships that include those to writing. Individual artists working in Safavid, Mughal, and Ottoman contexts are also a point of focus.
Course Number: HAA 126V
Course Title: Arts, Artifacts, Architecture: Ottoman Visual & Material Cultures between East and West
Instructor: Gulru Necipoglu-Kafadar
Examines multimedia arts, monuments, gardens, and cities of the Ottoman Empire straddling Asia, Europe and Africa. The selective fusion of Ottoman-Islamic, Byzantine, and Italian Renaissance artistic traditions, and the earliest pictorial representations of the Islamic East by European artists working in the “Orientalist” mode are considered.
Course Number: HIST 2004
Course Title: Understanding Political Economy: The View from the Middle East, and South Asia: Seminar
Instructor: Rosie Bsheer
This course is a critical history of political economy that centers on the Middle East and South Asia. It begins with readings in classical political economy, liberalism, and Enlightenment thought, coupled with colonial, postcolonial, and feminist critiques of these readings. It does so in order to critically trace the development of the field of economics and how it has shaped everyday political, social, material, and environmental life around the world since the 1750s. The course introduces major topics and debates in twentieth-century political economy, paying special attention to questions of private property, the making and naturalizing of the modern economy, and the relationship between capitalism and the environment, imperialism, Islamism, financialization, and development economics.


Harvard Divinity School, Spring 2022
Course Number: 3171
Course Title: Spiritual Cultivation in Islam Part II: The Modern Era
Instructor: Ousmane Kane
This course, as part of the new HDS Initiative on Islamic Spiritual Life and Service, is intended for students preparing for vocation in a variety of settings in which they will provide Islamically-inspired service and support. The course will acquaint students with Islamic pedagogy and practice on spiritual cultivation, highlighting the foundational importance of spiritual-ethical virtues in Islamic piety and the lifelong quest for nearness to and knowledge of God. In addition the course will: explore ways in which spiritual-ethical cultivation has been fostered holistically in the lived devotion of Muslim communities across time, place, and culture, including in various manifestations of the Islamic science of Sufism (taṣawwuf) and its traditional integration within educational and religious life and institutions, with attention to topics such as spiritual mentorship, spiritual training (tarbiya), spiritual companionship, oral tradition and transmission, devotional arts, and the creation of spaces for spiritual connection and service across religious, cultural, and social differences.
Course Number:HDS 3058
Course Title: Gender, Islam and Debates surrounding Female Vocal Nudity in West Africa (Nigeria and Niger)
Instructor: Rahina Muazu
The perception of the female voice in Muslim West Africa as part of her ʿawra (nudity, nakedness), which is determining socially and religiously acceptable gender roles for women, is not only a result of difference in legal opinions (fatwas) but an exercise of social power, the discursive production of female voices as a cultural category and reifying women’s bodies as spaces of religious configuration. Through a gendered approach to voice, this course examines debates surrounding the perception of the ‘female voice’ as part of her ʿawra in two West African Muslim majority countries of Nigeria and Niger. It will analyze Islamic legal positions, Qur’anic verses, and the conversation around the relationship between language (here, voice) and gender. Readings will engage fatwas, fiqh texts, audiovisual materials, and ethnography. Guest interlocutor, Malama Khadija Gambo Hawaja will visit the class on the last day to speak about her experiences as a female Muslim preacher and a religious leader.
Course Number:HDS 3067
Course Title: Muslim Tiktok, #BLACKOUTEID, IG Activism: Muslim Women Navigating Social Media
Instructor: Nurhaizatul Jamil
This course aims to ethnographically examine the relation among pious subject-formation, race, and gender as they relate to Muslim women’s social media engagements. We will interrogate the ways that Muslim women function as objects of discourses on secularism versus Islamic discursive traditions, and as agents of Islamization – within a climate of intensified Islamophobia and digital surveillance. How do we understand Muslim women’s social media practices as part of their reclamation of narratives of self-representation? What forms of religious authorities are fractured or consolidated, and how do they affect emergent modes of sociality?


Harvard Kennedy School, Spring 2022
Course Number: DPI 398
Course Title: Islam & the Age of Democracy: Origins, Continuity and Change
Instructor: Khalil Abdur-Rashid
This course is designed to prepare students to effectively engage with Islam, members of the Muslim community, and the Muslim world broadly speaking. The first portion of the course provides students with a broad, historical survey of Islam, including its origins, central institutions, and its religious, social, legal, and political approaches. In exploring Islam’s journey outside the Arabian Peninsula, the first part of the course will prioritize its focus on Islam’s complex ethnic and cultural diversity. This portion of the course will culminate with exploring Islam’s venture into US soil and consequently the effect of this on the American political and public sphere.The second portion of the course involves introducing students to the various political theories of governance in Islam and exploring how Islam as a faith tradition becomes political when seeking to address key policy issues confronting state and society. Major themes for this section include the questions surrounding the separation of church and state in Islam, political Islam, and what exactly is an “Islamic state”. Students will be required to post responses to readings.The final portion of this course will be devoted to social and legal challenges to changes in Muslim societies. Students will gain knowledge of what constitutes success and failure in working for democratic reform and change in Muslim-majority contexts. Students will complete a final paper of their own design where they propose a solution to a particular policy challenge as it relates to addressing a social, legal, global, or political issue for a majority Muslim population context. This course uses a combination of traditional lectures, video content, in-class discussion of case studies, assignments, and topics debates.
Course Number: IGA 655
Course Title: Middle Eastern Politics and Policy
Instructor: Tarek Masoud
Explores the major political, economic, social, and security challenges facing – and emanating from – the Middle East. Particular attention paid to the causes of the so-called Arab Spring and the prospects for genuine democratization. Explores the role of colonial legacies, Islam, peculiarities of the physical environment, demographic patterns, cultures of patriarchy, the distortions of foreign aid and oil wealth, and the machinations of great powers in generating the region’s particular pattern of political development. Embraces a variety of theoretical and empirical literatures, including translated works by Middle Eastern commentators, politicians, and social theorists. Students will emerge from the course with both an understanding of a changing region whose geopolitical importance – to the United States and the world – shows no sign of waning, and a grounding in some of the principal analytic approaches in the study of comparative political systems.
MIT, spring 2022
Course Number: MIT 4 .612
Course Title: Islamic Architecture and the Environment
Instructor: Hanna Gupta
Studies how Islamic architecture, landscape architecture, and urban planning reflect and transform environmental processes in various regions and climates of the Islamic world, from Andalusia to Southeast Asia, with an emphasis on South Asia, Central Asia, and the Middle East. Using systematic approaches to environmental data collection and analysis, examines strategies behind the design of selected architectural elements and landscape design types, ranging in scale from the fountain to the garden, courtyard, city, and agrarian region. Critically explores cultural interpretations of Islamic environmental design (e.g., paradise gardens), as they developed over time in ways that enrich, modify, or obscure their historical significance.
Course Number: MIT 4 .617
Course Title: Topics in Islamic Urban History
Instructor: Nasser Rabbat
Seminar on selected topics from the history of Islamic urbanism. Examines patterns of settlement, urbanization, development, and architectural production in various places and periods, ranging from the formative period in the 7th century to the new cities emerging today. Discusses the leading factors in shaping and transforming urban forms, design imperatives, cultural and economic structures, and social and civic attitudes. Critically analyzes the body of literature on Islamic urbanism. Research paper required.