“Sharīʿa as Civil Rights: Portraits from American History, 1619-2020,” Professor Intisar Rabb, Princeton University


This event is hosted by the Princeton University. Professor Intisar Rabb (Harvard University) will present her research titled “Sharīʿa as Civil Rights: Portraits from American History, 1619-2020. The event will take place  on Thursday, November 16, 2023.



Questions about how to “define sharīʿa” are common among students, journalists, and politicians. Popular outlets—from detractors to practitioners—often take on that task by defining Islamic law with either with reference rituals, such as prayer or fasting, or with reference to political violence stemming from overseas conflict. Historical perspective can help. The popular narratives often overlook the single largest group of Muslims to define sharīʿa in United States history: American Muslims of the civil rights era and their progeny, who joined Islam or represented it from a civil rights‐social justice impetus in response to Jim Crow America and its aftermath. This group often helped define the color of civil rights law and the civil rights movement itself. Think of the likes of Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali. One took a stand against racial injustice at home and decried the politics of poverty and mass incarceration. The other took a stand against global injustice when he refused to fight in the Vietnam War. Both were inspired by their understanding of Islam. Drawing on historical archives and oral histories, this talk will explore historical definitions of sharīʿa and civil rights through highlighting some of the common experiences of ordinary Muslims who helped define it in America most memorably, for their own communities and in advancing civil rights laws writ large.