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, Fall 2023
Course Number: HLS 
Course Title: The Comparative Law Workshop
Instructor: Intisar A. Rabb, William P. Alford
This workshop will engage key questions in comparative law, using as focal points the study of Chinese and Islamic law and legal history. Students will read examples of influential scholarship in each field both for their importance and as a vehicle for thinking about methodological issues in comparative work in general. Students will also have the opportunity to engage several leading scholars in each field who will present works-in-progress. There are no prerequisites and the instructors welcome students with an interest in comparative legal study but no prior engagement with Chinese or Islamic law.


Course Number: HLS 
Course Title: Reading Group: Islamic Law and Human Rights
Instructor: Salma Waheedi
This reading group will offer students the opportunity to engage with current and emerging debates on Islamic law and human rights. After a brief introduction to Islamic law and its historical development, we will examine legal and practical human rights question at the intersection of Islamic law and its interpretation and application within contemporary Muslim states. Through a number of case studies, will also engage in a critical examination of different modes and discrouses of human rights advocacy across diverse geographic locations and and human rights themes. Topics to be examined include religious freedom, gender and women’s rights, criminal law, and freedom of speech. Students will also discuss and critique the different strategies employed by local, regional, and international human rights advocates in approaching human rights questions involving religious belief and practice.


Course Number: HLS 
Course Title: Writing Group: Topics in Islamic/Comparative Law and Legal History
Instructor: Intisar Rabb
Students enrolling in Fall groups are required to submit a signed Writing Group Registration Form to the Registrar’s Office.


Harvard Faculty of Arts & Sciences, Fall 2022
Course Number: AAAS 186/HDS 3694
Course Title: Religion, Culture, and Society in Africa
Instructor: Jacob Olupona
Exploring the meaning of religion and its impact of on African culture and society broadly, this course will highlight both religious traditions and innovations. Instead of treating each of the religions of Africa, the triple heritage in the words of Ali Mazrui of indigenous African religions, Islam, and Christianity, as distinct and bounded entities, we will explore the hybridity, interaction, and integration between categories throughout Africa. Using case studies, a unique perspective on religious diversity on the African continent and diaspora will emerge.
Course Number: ISLAMCIV 145
Course Title: Introduction to Islamic Philosophy and Theology: The Classical and Medieval period
Instructor: Khaled El-Rouayheb
Islamic Civilizations 145 is an introduction to some of the key problems and figures in medieval Islamic theology and philosophy. The main topics covered will be: The rise of theological controversies in early Islam and the crystallization of theological factions; the rise of an Arabic tradition of Neo-Platonized Aristotelianism with such figures as Farabi (d. 950) and Avicenna (d.1037); the confrontation between the theological and Aristotelian traditions in such works as The Incoherence of the Philosophers by the theologian al-Ghazali (d.1111) and the response by Averroes (d.1198); the powerful influence of philosophy on later Islamic theology; the anti-Aristotelian, Platonist philosophy of “Illumination” of Suhrawardi (d.1191), and the mystical monism of Ibn Arabi (d.1240) and his followers.


Course Number: MODMDEST 102
Course Title: Shi’a Islam and Politics in the Middle East
Instructor: Mohammad Sagha
From the conflict in Yemen pitting the Shi’a Houthis against a Saudi-led coalition, to the civil war in Syria and the Shi’a majority militia-led fight against the remnants of ISIS in Iraq, dominant media narratives portray conflict in today’s Middle East as part of a proxy battle between Iran and Saudi Arabia rooted in an ancient dispute within the Muslim world between the Shi’a and Sunni sects of Islam. In this rendering, primordial hatreds are driving religious wars and civil conflict with Iran, at the heart of the so-called Shi’a crescent, and Saudi Arabia, the stalwart of true Sunni identity. However, such thinking masks over a more complex understanding of the changes occurring in today’s Middle East and prevents accurately differentiating between distinct yet overlapping factors such as actual substantive theological and intellectual differences between Shi’a and Sunni Islam, state competition (that is, between Iran and Saudi Arabia), and historical legacies of empire and state building in the Middle East. This course addresses such dominant narratives and challenges conventional understandings of the interplay between religion and politics in the Middle East and how sectarianism, Shi’a Islam, and geopolitical conflict can be more properly understood from a rigorous analytical perspective and focuses on the foundations and varieties of modern Shi’a political thought; religious clerical institutions; Shi’a political parties and militias in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen; and Iran’s Islamic revolution, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), and the Basij paramilitary organization. The course assumes no prior knowledge of Islam or the Middle East.


Course Number: HAA 226V
Course Title: Visual, Material, Architectural Cultures btw East and West (Early Modern Ottoman Empire, 15-17th C)
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: MODMDEST 117
Course Title: Zawiyas, Harems and Coffee Shops: Everyday Life in the Pre-Modern Middle East
Instructor: TBA
This course discusses various themes of social and cultural history of the pre-modern Middle East. The rise of Islam, the expansion of the Arab-Muslim umma and the establishment of the Caliphates changed the Middle East. These developments also led to the rise of a new civilization whose classical forms developed from late antiquity to the early modern period. By focusing on the history of everyday life, this course aims to help students imagine the lives of people in previous periods and focus on wider segments of society than what traditional political history allows for. It is meant to look at these developments “from below.” The course discusses subjects and themes that include: piety, Sufism, literacy and education, private life, the rise of the harem, marriage, slavery, hisba, public morality, high culture and popular culture, entertainment, coffee-house culture and more. Students are introduced to different debates and arguments in the fields of social and cultural history of the Middle East and to different types of primary sources and ways of analyzing them.
Course Number: MODMDEST 108
Course Title: History of Modern Iran and Turkey
Instructor: Mohammad Sagha
As two of the most populous and important states in the Middle East comprising almost 40% of the population of the region, Iran and Turkey have shaped the foundations of core regional trends from the 19th century up to until the contemporary period. As non-Arab majority states that are often fundamental in setting larger political trendlines, Iran and Turkey’s transnational influences on the Middle East directly impact models of modernization, development, and nation-building for the broader Middle East and Muslim world. They also influence the balance of power in West Asia, the Eastern Mediterranean, and associated subregions of the Caucuses, Balkans, and the Persian Gulf. This course focuses on core themes interlinking Iran and Turkey in the modern Middle East, including: secular state-building and development, ethno-nationalism, Islamism, global geopolitics, and domestic political competition for power. The course will also cover key moments in national and regional histories that have left lasting impacts for contemporary Iran and Turkey including the post-WWI borders of the Middle East, the Cold War and influence of NATO in the region, and minority dynamics such as that of the Alevi and Kurdish communities, the Islamic Revolution of Iran, transnational Islamist politics and, the influence of Shi’a reformism in Iran and Sunni Islamism in Turkey in post-Cold War era, as well as the aftereffects of the Arab Spring, Iran-Turkish rivalries in Syria and Iraq, and beyond. The course assumes no prior knowledge of Islam or the Middle East.
Course Number: PERSIAN 108
Course Title: Persian Sufi Literature
Instructor: Nicolas Boylston
In this course we will explore the major genres of classical Persian Sufi poetry and prose. In addition to examining the formation of these genres and their contexts of composition, we will pursue a range of broader questions, including: What is Sufism, and how do we discern ‘Sufi’ from ‘non-Sufi’ literature? What have the purposes and functions of literature been in Persianate Islamic contexts? What is the relationship between language, realization and experience in Persian Sufi literature, and how do authors in the Sufi tradition deal with the problem of ineffability? What is the place of love in Persian Sufi literature and how is it conceptualized? And, how do Persian Sufi authors deal with the diversity inherent in human experience?Readings will include Baba Tahir, Umar Khayyam, Sana’i, Attar, Rumi, Ahmad and Abu Hamid al-Ghazali, Sa’di, Hafez, Fakhr al-Din Iraqi, Shabistari, and Jami. All readings will be in English translation, but there will be an extra section for students with advanced Persian to read texts in the original.
Course Number: PERSIAN 220
Course Title: Intellectual and Literary Foundations of Classical Persian Poetry
Instructor: Nicolas Boylston
This seminar examines the major intellectual and literary genres that shaped the formation of the classical Persian poetic tradition and the contexts in which this occurred from the 10th to 12th centuries CE. Reading classic and current scholarship as well as works of Persian literature in translation, we will take a multi-layered approach to uncovering the creative and intellectual process of classical Persian poetry of the late-formative period, with the goal of rethinking what it means to read this poetry effectively. Topic discussed include court poetry, metaphysical and anti-metaphysical literature, Sufi homiletics, and imaginative narratives. This is an advanced graduate seminar, presupposing background in Persian or other Islamicate literatures and the willingness to read broadly for each session. All readings are in English.
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: RELIGION 2810
Course Title: Islamic Institutions – Middle East & Beyond: Modern Transformations & Debates (19th-21st centuries)
Instructor: Malika Zeghal
This graduate seminar explores the transformation of Islamic institutions in the modern period, such as religious endowments (Awqaf), sharia courts, and Islamic education. We will engage with the historiography of these institutions and with primary sources in Arabic or in translation that will help us open new paths for research.


Harvard Divinity School, fall 2023
Course Number:HDS 3176
Course Title: What is Lived Islam?
Instructor: Teren Sevea
What are the anthropological and historical approaches to studying Islam? How do our academic approaches help us engage the question: what is lived Islam? This course begins by considering how ‘Islam’ is an object of academic inquiry but remains primarily concerned with the most prominent elements of Islam and being Islamic that have been marginalized within Islamic studies. It acknowledges the methodological difficulties involved in pursuing research on the phenomenon and practice of Islam across social contexts of the past and the present, while discussing possible methods of studying Islam as the everyday religion lived by Muslims and even non-Muslims. Students will be introduced to academic and religious sources that encourage us to (re)approach Islam as the everyday experience of believers, the multiverse of rituals and exercises of knowledge acquisition, as well as contests over moral authority. Students will, moreover, be encouraged to consider if a focus on lived Islam encourages us to discard regnant dichotomies of ‘textual’ and ‘popular’ religion, along with imagined divisions of the Islamic world into a center and peripheries.


Course Number:HDS 3117
Course Title: Animals and the Unseen
Instructor: Teren Sevea
This course considers how we can write histories of religious animals and the Unseen. Students will be introduced to academic literature that has criticized scholarly and popular conceptions of humans having a special status, and assumptions that the religious sentience of non-human animals and the materiality of spirits cannot be studied academically. Students will then be introduced to a variety of sources containing rich information on religious animals and the supernatural from Islamic societies of the globe. In doing so, the course pays particular attention to how human and non-human animals were understood to be religious beings whose bodies and activities were always tethered to the Unseen. Students will be encouraged to explore how the divide between human and non-human animals might not have been evident in societies of the past and the present. Students will moreover be encouraged to engage how these sources may prompt us to remember, or rather realize, that all aspects of material life, including animals’ bodies, physical resources and technologies, were inextricably linked to the imagined non-material realms of the Unseen. On the whole, this seminar class takes steps towards recounting histories of religious animals and the Unseen.


Course Number: HDS 3057
Course Title: Intro to Islam through Prophetic Traditions
Instructor: Yunus Kumek
This course will engage in a critical reading and analysis of well-known Muslim prophetic traditions and a study of the practices of the Prophet Muhammad. Through analysis of Muslim prophetic traditions, such as “Hadith Jibril,” we will develop an understanding of the Islamic value systems, Islamic manners/etiquette and Prophetic Character. The fundamental building blocks such as Islam (the physical surrender of the body), Iman (internal truth), and Ihsan (excellence and beauty) will be closely examined. We will focus on Muslim spiritual care through these building blocks during the semester. We will also develop a framework for understanding core Islamic sciences, such as: Jurisprudence, creed/theology, and spiritual purification. Throughout various modalities and exercises, we will study how this framework can enable a deeper understanding of the practical issues affecting the lives of Muslims. We will have expert guest speakers from different disciplines such as pastoral care/chaplaincy (ministry), poetry & literature, counseling, psychology, education, social work, and medicine throughout the semester. These specialists will give us perspectives and practical tips on how prophetic traditions are applied in a Muslim’s life. This course will provide a basic understanding of the Islamic religion through the eyes of Muslims, while providing an in-depth understanding of the various dimensions of Islamic practices. Students from different backgrounds, with or without prior experience with Islam, will find much enrichment in this course diving into the practice through the lenses of prophetic traditions.
Course Number: HDS 3338
Course Title: The Prophet Muhammad in History, Devotion, and Polemic
Instructor: Mohsen Goudarzi
In the early seventh century, a man named Muḥammad son of ʿAbdallah founded a movement that in time grew into a global religion, empire, and civilization. This course introduces students to three discourses that developed around the life and character of the Prophet Muhammad. First, we will survey some of the biographies that Muslim scholars, both ancient and modern, have written about the life of their prophet. Second, we will explore how the Prophet’s life, teachings and persona have served as subjects of Islamic devotion. Finally, the course examines some of the ways in which non-Muslims, again both ancient and modern, have perceived and portrayed Muhammad in polemic against Islam or dialogue with Muslims.


Harvard kENNEDY School, fall 2023
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.


MIT, Fall 2023
Course Number: MIT 21H .160
Course Title: Islam, the Middle East, and the West
Instructor: Pouya Alimagham
Provides students with an overview of basic themes and issues in Middle Eastern history from the rise of Islam to the present, with an emphasis on exchanges and encounters between the Middle East and Europe/North America. Examines the history of the notion of “East” and “West;” the emergence of Islam and the Christianization of Europe; Ottoman expansion; the flourishing of European powers; European competition with and colonization of Middle Eastern societies, and Middle Eastern responses, including Arab and Iranian nationalisms as well as the rise of Political Islam, the “Clash of Civilizations”, and Islamophobia.
Course Number: MIT 4 .614
Course Title:  Building Islam
Instructor: Nasser Rabbat
Examines the history of Islamic architecture and culture spanning fifteen centuries on three continents – Asia, Africa, Europe. Students study a number of representative examples, from the 7th century House of the Prophet to the current high-rises of Dubai, in conjunction with their urban, social, political, and intellectual environments at the time of their construction.


Course Number: MIT 21H .261
Course Title: Modern Iran: A Century of Revolution
Instructor: Pouya Alimagham
Provides an overview of Iran’s modern history from a social, cultural, and political perspective while also considering factors as they relate to gender and race. Covers the country’s long and complicated interaction with the “West.” Situates Iran in the wider region, thereby delineating how political trends in the Middle East influenced the country and how its history of revolution has in turn impacted the region. Unpacks the Sunni-Shi’ite divide as a modern phenomenon rooted more in inter-state rivalry than in a theological dispute, Western perceptions of the Iranian and the Middle Eastern “Other,” the Iranian Diaspora, political Islam, and post-Islamism.