Reflections on Interpretation and Serving in the Judiciary

Last month, Former Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer reflected on his 42-year career as a federal judge at a Harvard Law School forum with Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah of the Supreme Court of Pakistan and PIL Faculty Director, Professor Intisar Rabb. In a recent article, Harvard Law Today reported that in“their discussion, which ranged from the judicial process to responses to the COVID-19 pandemic and the devastating floods in Pakistan, the justices found common ground — and even a few opportunities for dissent.” The video is now available online.

(PC: Lorin Granger)

Experiments in Tracking Canons across the Mecelle

Last term, we convened a CnC Research Working Group to bring together a global group of scholars interested in interpretation in Islamic law to share works in progress, read texts, and discuss new ideas on research questions relevant to the history of interpretation, courts, and canons. One aim was to better understand legal canons as tools for interpretation in historical context. A second aim was to see whether and how data science tools can augment that process. To those ends, we meet to workshop works-in-progress deliberately designed to be ‘half-baked ideas’ at the preliminary stages of research. We experiment with ways in which data science tools of the type we are developing at SHARIAsource (CnC Qayyim) can aid in that research. 

Case in point: our most recent workshop on the Ottoman Code of 1869, better known as the Mecelle. Professor Intisar Rabb and PIL Data Science Fellow, Dr. Yusuf Celik, explored debates over how and why the Mecelle Drafting Committee borrowed 99 legal canons to reform Ottoman law. They and the Research Group raised several questions: By looking at patterns of canons clusters that the CnC tools helped produce, what conclusions can we form about why the Mecelle scholars made certain choices over others for which canons to include in their short list of 99 legal canons? If tracking canons across texts, how extensive would a corpus need to be to definitively answer the questions posed? What types of sources would add greater insight into applications of those canons in late-Ottoman law and society? Together, we worked through the clustering of canons in the ‘Mecelle Flow,’ highlighted in the image above. The authors will go back to the digital drawing board to further develop the tools and prepare a paper to publish the results. Read more here!


Legal Canons—In the Classroom and in the Courtroom or, Comparative Perspective on the Origins of Islamic Legal Canons


PIL Faculty Director, Professor Intisar Rabb, gave the 43rd Annual Donald A. Giannella Memorial Lecture on interpreting Islamic law, which was recently published by the Villanova Law Review.

Read “Legal Canons—In the Classroom and in the Courtroom or, Comparative Perspective on the Origins of Islamic Legal Canons, 1265–1519” (Villanova Law Review 66, no. 5 (2022)), which traces the origins of Islamic law canons, with a focus on how those canons were utilized in Islamic courts as well as educational settings.


Faith in the Law

Harvard Law Today recently published an article titled “Faith in the Law” that explores the four distinct programs at Harvard Law School (HLS) that pursue research at the intersection of religion and law. The article spotlights the Program in Islamic Law (PIL) and features an interview with PIL Faculty Director, Professor Intisar Rabb who states “The study of Islamic law is something of increasing consequence and importance for the study and understanding of law generally. For Harvard, which has a global footprint, these programs are an essential part of the school.” The article outlines how HLS’s programs on law and religion fuel innovation in their respective fields through various programming “from using the latest tech tools to mine sources from hundreds of years ago, to bringing people together in unexpected combinations to dream up new ideas, the programs provide participants with opportunities to think big about what is possible.” Read the full article today.

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.