Fellow Spotlight: Dr. Hedayat Heikal

This month we launched our Fellow Spotlight series, which features interviews with current and previous PIL Fellows, highlighting their work with the Program, their path getting here, and the road going forward. First in this series is our current fellow, Dr. Hedayat Heikal! Heikal is a Research Fellow at the Program in Islamic Law and a Climenko Fellow and Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School. You can read more about her transition from private practice into doctoral work, as well as her background, research interests, and what she does for fun in this fellow spotlight

New Special Collection!

We are excited to announce our new  Islamic Law in the Age of Colonialism Special Collection: a collection of over 3300 legal writings, compendia, and related studies commissioned by, or in relation to, colonial powers ruling Muslim societies in the 19th and 20th centuries. The documents date from the mid-1800s to the early 1900s, and fall into seven regional divisions: British India, Dutch East Indies,  Africa, and Ottoman Turkey. These sources were digitized by the Harvard Libraries. Explore the collection today!




Harvard Law Today announces that Prof. Intisar Rabb has been appointed Special Adviser to the ICC


In a recent spotlight on faculty scholarship, Harvard Law Today announces that PIL Faculty Director Professor Intisar Rabb has been appointed Special Adviser on Islamic Law to the new chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Karim A. A. Khan. Professor Intisar Rabb was named as one of 17 special advisers drawn from different regions of the world, and bring expertise and experiences from different legal systems and specializations. This group of experts also includes HLS alum Professor Payam Akhavan LL.M. ’90 S.J.D., a professor of international law and senior fellow at Massey College, University of Toronto, who was appointed a special adviser on genocide.

Read more today!



IQSS spotlights Professor Intisar Rabb


In their recent article “Digitized Canon: Intisar Rabb’s Work to Develop SHARIAsource and Other Resources on Islamic Law,” the Institute for Quantitative Social Science spotlights PIL Faculty Director, Professor Intisar Rabb. In this interview, Professor Rabb describes the journey that created her vision of a world where scholars like herself could find sources online, which was just the beginning of what would become SHARIAsource. She is now working  with scholars and institutions to concentrate on the larger challenge that will advance the most promising frontier of legal scholarship: expansive AI and data science tools to gain insights into Islamic law. “If indeed we think of ourselves as a global institution and a global law school, then certainly a part of that has to be leading the charge in consuming and expanding the study of Islamic law as a part of the laws of the world; after all, this field covers a fifth of the world’s population,” said Professor Rabb. “Combining data science tools plus digital texts, and placing them in comparative context, will strengthen the study of both American and Islamic law in a way that is simply unparalleled. We are excited for what is to come.” Read the entire article here.

Professor Intisar Rabb Appointed Special Adviser to the ICC

PIL Faculty Director, Professor Intisar Rabb, was recently appointed Special Adviser on Islamic Law to the International Criminal Court. Professor Rabb was appointed as one of 17 experts selected to serve as Special Advisers to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Karim A.A. Khan QC. The appointments were drawn from across the world to “bring on-board rich expertise and experiences from different legal systems and specializations.” Prosecutor Khan appointed this group of experts to “reinforce the Office’s capabilities to effectively and efficiently discharge its mandate under the Statute, and to strengthen specialization on a wide range of issues.” In a recent press release, Prosecutor Khan stated “I am delighted to welcome such an outstanding group of experts and I am grateful for their willingness to serve as my Special Advisers. I have no doubt that with their enormous experience and hugely impressive credentials, they will significantly contribute to the work of the Office and the cause of international criminal justice. I very much look forward to working with and learning from them.” A meeting will soon be convened to discuss what lays ahead and to coordinate between the Special Adviser’s respective mandates and portfolios. 


Congratulations to SHARIAsource Editor Dr. Mehdi Berriah

The Program in Islamic Law extends a warm congratulations to SHARIAsource Editor Dr. Mehdi Berriah who is appointed an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Religion and TheologyTexts and Traditions at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.

Congratulations to PIL Research Fellow 2019-2020 Professor Dana Lee

The Program in Islamic Law extends a warm congratulations to former HLS Program in Islamic Law Research Fellow (2019-2020), Prof. Dana Lee who is appointed an Assistant Professor of Law and the Mohannad and Rana Malas Scholar in Islamic Legal Studies at the University of California, Irvine School of Law where she will be teaching courses on Comparative Law and Islamic Law.

Congratulations to Professor Mariam Sheibani

A warm congratulations to former HLS Program in Islamic Law Research Fellow (2018-2020), Dr. Mariam Sheibani for her new position at the University of Toronto, Scarborough! Professor Sheibani is a Visiting Assistant Professor in History at the Department of Historical and Cultural Studies, and will be teaching courses on Islamic history and seminars on early Islam and Islamic thought. Sheibani continues her involvement with the Program in Islamic Law (PIL) as Lead Blog Editor of the Islamic Law Blog.

SHARIAsource & OpenITI Workshop on Arabic OCR

The Open Islamicate Text Initiative and SHARIAsource at Harvard’s Program in Islamic Law last month co-convened a two-day workshop at the University of Maryland on developments in Arabic OCR. Funded by the Mellon Foundation, the conference brought together humanists and computer scientists to explore over a dozen solutions to crack the code of how to create a robust and reliable tool for Arabic OCR of historical texts. Workshop participants tackled all sides of an OCR job. How can librarians best digitize Arabic, Persian and other Islamicate texts? How do researchers create a “ground truth” of transcribed texts that an Arabic OCR tool will then convert automatically through Natural Language Processing and Machine Learning? How do we create the best UI/UX design – user interface and user experience that will make the experience seamless?

Achieving OCR that has a consistently high accuracy is not only a matter of easing humanities research, nor is it only about accessibility to primary sources. Accurate OCR can lessen limitations in historical and legal research that often obstruct thorough analysis of a question. Too many primary sources to analyze, too few primary sources to provide evidence, too vague patterns to glean anything substantive: accurate OCR turns these problems into more manageable aspects of research. The hope is that with greater accessibility to more evidence through text mining, text reuse tracking, and natural language processing, we can find new answers to old questions and discover new questions and deeper insights. 

Updates live-tweeted under the hashtag #OpenITIAOCP, where presentation summaries and software resources can also be found.

SHARIAsource Partners at UMD & OpenITI Receive $800k Mellon Grant to Create Arabic OCR Tool

The Mellon Foundation awarded SHARIAsource partners at UMD & OpenITI a grant of $800,000 to continue work on Corpus Builder: the first Arabic OCR tool for historical texts, and an integral tool for research on Islamic law. SHARIAsource provided significant support in building the initial infrastructure for  CorpusBuilder 1.0 and will play a lead role in developing Corpus Builder 2.0 along with the new OpenITI Project.

Excerpt from OpenITI announcement

With generous funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, OpenITI AOCP will create a new digital text production pipeline for Persian and Arabic texts.

In June 2019 The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation generously awarded the University of Maryland, College Park (UMD) a $800,000 grant for the Open Islamicate Texts Initiative’s Arabic-script Optical Character Recognition Project (OpenITI AOCP).

The project is led by Matthew Thomas Miller (Roshan Institute for Persian Studies at UMD), Maxim Romanov (University of Vienna), Sarah Bowen Savant (Aga Khan University), David Smith (Northeastern University), and Raffaele Viglianti (Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities at UMD). SHARIAsource, a project of the Program in Islamic Law (PIL) at Harvard Law School (both led by Intisar Rabb), provided significant support for the initial technical infrastructure upon which this project will build (i.e., CorpusBuilder 1.0) and they will also play a leading role in the technical development portion of OpenITI AOCP.

OpenITI AOCP will catalyze the digitization of the Persian and Arabic written traditions by addressing the central technical and organizational impediments stymying the development of improved OCR for Arabic-script languages. Through a unique interdisciplinary collaboration between humanities scholars, computer scientists, developers, library scientists, and digital humanists, OpenITI AOCP will forge CorpusBuilder 1.0 — an OCR pipeline and post-correction interface — into a user-friendly digital text production pipeline with a wide range of new OCR enhancements and expanded text export functionality. The project will also include a series of workshops, a full corpus development pilot, and a Persian and Arabic typeface inventory, all of which will inform the development of the technical components in important ways.

Read full details. Image credit: Open Islamicate Texts Initiative (OpenITI)