ILSS: Philip Wood

On Tuesday, May 14, 2024 at 12:30-1:30PM US EST via Zoom, Philip Wood (Aga Khan University) will give a book talk on The Imam of the Christians: The World of Dionysius of Tel-Mahre, c. 750–850 (Princeton University Press, 2021) as part of our Islamic Law Speaker Series. This book examines how Christian leaders adopted and adapted the political practices and ideas of their Muslim rulers between 750 and 850 in the Abbasid caliphate in the Jazira (modern eastern Turkey and northern Syria). Focusing on the writings of Dionysius of Tel-Mahre, the patriarch of the Jacobite church, Wood describes how this encounter produced an Islamicate Christianity that differed from the Christianities of Byzantium and western Europe in far more than just theology. In doing so, Wood opens a new window on the world of early Islam and Muslims’ interactions with other religious communities. Register today!

SHARIAsource Lab: Hackathon: Arabic OCR Community Scribes

On Saturday April 13, 2024 at 10:00AM-4:00PM US EST at the Program in Islamic Law’s office in Austin Hall, our SHARIAsource Lab will lead a Hackathon: Arabic OCR Community Scribes event (registration required). Join us for a chance to help write the next chapter in the history of the Arabic script! We’ve teamed up with partners all over the world, bringing our efforts together to finally develop a dependable program that will allow texts using Arabic script to be machine readable. Come for a day-long event of transcription, and meet folks from all over campus and broader community who are also interested. No knowledge of coding or programming needed– we just need you to be able to recognize Arabic letters, and help teach the machine-learning program! Your work in checking and reviewing documents will allow scholars (including yourself!) to access, search, and explore historical and contemporary documents like never before. Lunch will be provided for those who RSVP. A limited number of seats are available for people who are interested in joining the hackathon virtually. Drop by for however long you can, to meet, chat, and transcribe! Registration is required. 

ILSS: Fatma Gül Karagöz

On Tuesday, April 9, 2024 at 12:30-1:30PM US EST via Zoom, Professor Fatma Gül Karagöz (Harvard Law School) will present “The Transition of Ottoman Land Law: Theory and Practice between 16th-18th Centuries” as part of our Islamic Law Speaker Series. In this presentation, Karagöz will discuss the transformation of the Ottoman land law from the early 16th century till the late 18th century through constructing legal texts of the Ottoman land regime: kanunnames (codification/collection of Sultanic regulations) and their impact on the practice through kaḍī court records. These kanunnames included the regulations on the duties and rights of peasant-cultivators who had the usufruct rights on arable lands (which was considered as miri, or state-owned) in exchange of tax-payment. She argues that their rights on land expanded through ʿurf and sharia in the late 16th and early 17th century as a first step, an expansion which continued during the 17th and 18th centuries. The focus of this talk is the text known as Kanunname-i Cedid, a compilation of codes, decrees, and fatwas on land ownership, transfer of land usufruct, taxation, and the “inheritance” rules of land usufruct, highly reproduced from likely the late 17th till the mid-19th century. She will analyze the text through its historicity, by tracing the differences it brought, the reasons behind this transformation, and its impact on practice. Register today!

ILSS: Youcef L. Soufi 

On Tuesday, March 5, 2024 at 12:30-1:30PM US EST via Zoom, Youcef L. Soufi (University of Toronto) will give a book talk on The Rise of Critical Islam: 10th-13th Century Legal Debate (Oxford University Press, 2023) as part of our Islamic Law Speaker Series. In this historical study, Soufi excavates an Islamic legal culture of critique from the 10th to 13th centuries. Focusing on the practice of munāẓara (disputation), Soufi explores how and why oral debates became a pervasive and revered part of the intellectual legal landscape of Iraq and Persia. Pushing back against claims that classical Muslim jurists sought to weed out differences of opinion, The Rise of Critical Islam presents a community committed to the openness, fluidity, and continued exploration of the law. In uncovering this classical legal culture, Soufi invites readers to question claims about the promise of secular critique in disciplining religious passions and forging human solidarity. Register today!

ILSS: Mohammed Allehbi

On Tuesday, February 13, 2024 at 12:30-1:30PM US EST via Zoom, Mohammed Allehbi (Harvard Law School) will present “Creating a new Criminal Law: The Military-Administrative origins of Siyasa” as part of our Islamic Law Speaker Series. His presentation will discuss how between 100 and 600 A.H./800 and 1200 C.E., Muslim rulers, governors, criminal magistrates, and police chiefs enforced criminal justice in cities with military-administrative methods and approaches largely distinct from the religious-jurisprudential frameworks established by jurists and judges collectively known as sharīʿa (sacred law). Criminal administration inflicted excessive beatings, coercive interrogations, and long-term imprisonment on suspects and criminals alike for the express purpose of maintaining government authority and public order. Building on late-Umayyad political epistles, namely the letters of ʿAbd al-Ḥamīd al-Kātib (d. 132/750) and the ʿahd Ardashīr (Testatment of Ardashīr), scribes and other officials sought to formulate a rubric to encompass and legitimize this military-administrative authority and procedures in criminal justice. They experimented with various terms and frameworks, such as raʾy (discretionary judgment), tadbīr (administration), sulṭān (governing authority), mulk (Kingship), culminating in siyāsa (governance) as the primary source for criminal justice. Rulers, criminal magistrates, police chiefs, scribes, and judges justified their authority and practices in criminal justice with the legal rubric of siyāsa. In this talk, he examines the formation of this critical source of Islamic criminal law by tracing the military-administrative genealogy of siyāsa in the mirror for princes, administrative manuals, and literary sources.  Register for the talk today!

Roundtable on Transformation and Adaptation of Ottoman Land Law in 19th-Century Successor States

We are kicking off the semester with our Roundtable on Transformation and Adaptation of Ottoman Land Law in 19th-Century Successor States! Throughout the month of February, scholars of Islamic law and history will be publishing essays on the Islamic Law Blog on the interpretation and adaptation of Ottoman land law in 19th century successor states and administrations. The roundtable features case studies that focus on Greece after the War of Independence (1821-1830), the situation of Bosnia-Herzegovina under the rule of Austrian Empire, Serbia, and Bulgaria after the Berlin Treaty (1878), exploring the impact of transformations and translation processes on the privatization of estates and agricultural lands, the legal rights of landholders, and the link between land ownership and sovereignty. The discussion aims to understand continuity and change between Ottoman and successor state legal systems by analyzing bureaucratic interactions and the use of Ottoman and European legal sources. By considering the political and economic reasons behind these legal changes, including how new administrations used them for nation-building, the roundtable offers new perspectives on legal continuity and adaptation in post-Ottoman regions and, by focusing the situation of land regimes before and after the promulgation of the Ottoman Land Code in 1858, a chance to observe the transformation of Ottoman land law in the long 19th century. The scholars will convene on March 4, 2024 at 12:30pm EST, in a live webinar over Zoom, to discuss the findings in their essays.


(Image Credit: Public Domain)

Pakistan and the FATF Grey List: An HLS Case Study, Harvard Law School

On Tuesday, November 28, 2023 at 12:15pm in WCC 2012, HLS International Legal Studies & the Program in Islamic Law will hold the event “Pakistan and the FATF Grey List: An HLS Case Study.” The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) spearheads global efforts to address money laundering and terrorist financing. This panel discussion will explore FATF’s work and its impact on developing countries through the lens of a forthcoming HLS Case Study on efforts of the Pakistani government in 2022 to get itself removed from FATF’s “Grey List” of countries subject to increased monitoring for deficiencies in anti-money-laundering (AML) and combatting the financing of terrorism (CFT) frameworks.


·       Professor Howell E. Jackson, Harvard Law School

·       Professor Faiza Ismail, Shaikh Ahmad Hassan School of Law, LUMS, Lahore, Pakistan

·       Dr. Shlomit Wagman, Research Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government and former member of the FATF Steering Committee


Sponsored by HLS International Legal Studies & The HLS Program in Islamic Law

“Three Strikes and She’s Out: The Origins and Expansion of a Divorce and Remarriage Stipulation in Q 2:230,” Professor Lyall Armstrong, Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Program, Harvard University


Join us on Monday, November 27, 2023 at 12pm EST for a talk titled “Three Strikes and She’s Out: The Origins and Expansion of a Divorce and Remarriage Stipulation in Q 2:230” by Professor Lyall Armstrong.  

Abstract: Q 2:230 stipulates that if a man divorces his wife three times and then wants to marry her again, she must have married and divorced another man in the intervening period in order for her to be legally licit for the previous husband. This lecture will explore the origins of this divorce ruling by evaluating its relationship to divorce and remarriage law in Late Antiquity and by analyzing the Islamic tradition purported to be the source for the ruling. The lecture will then investigate how early and medieval legal scholars approached the ruling in light of its canonization in the Qur’ān. This evaluation of Q 2:230 hopes to contribute to the expansion of our understanding of the origins and applications, even in the modern period, of Islamic law.





“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.

“Islamic Common Law,” Professor Intisar Rabb, Princeton Islamic Studies Colloquium

This event is hosted by the Princeton Islamic Studies Colloquium. Professor Intisar Rabb (Harvard University) will present her research titled “Islamic Common Law.”  The event will take place at Princeton University, 1879 Hall, Room 137 on Wednesday, November 15, 2023.


Conventional accounts of early Islamic law tend to discount courts but inflate the importance of a symbiotic relationship between caliphs and jurists. These accounts often present judges, who were appointed by caliphs and instructed on questions of law by jurists, as either arbitrary (dispensing justice from under a tree, per Weber) or unnecessary (marginal to the history and operation of Islamic law, per nearly everyone else). The conception of law, throughout, is one of solely divine religious origin and independent juristic elaboration to either be tolerated or obstructed by caliphs. In most histories of Islamic law from its advent in the 7th century until the caliphate’s fall in 1258 (its long ‘founding period’), courts blur into the background.

The usual lament barring attempts to paint a fuller picture of Islamic law is that early Islamic court records were lost, so we lack the sources for any broader brush strokes. But not all is in fact lost. A landmark case during Islam’s founding period—The Case of Bughaybigha, 661–883—illustrates the point. It finds mention in an astonishingly wide range of early founding-era sources that facilitate reconstruction of the ways in which one judge used his discretion to choose certain laws and interpretive methods over others to mediate a major political-legal dispute (so major that it might be called the Marbury v. Madison of Islamic law—a modern U.S. case that set forth the role of judges). In the process of issuing such decisions, judges helped concretize juristic rulings, constrain executive agents, and, I argue, construct a type of Islamic common law. Uncontained in a single ‘court record,’ this Case and the surrounding historical and religious contests informing it come from unexpected places for most legal historians: they range from works of history—historical chronicles, regional histories, geographical dictionaries, judicial biographies, endowment deeds, heresiographies, literary anthologies, and theological tracts; to works of law—treatises on substantive law (fiqh) and jurisprudence (uṣūl al-fiqh), and collections of legal canons (qawāʿid fiqhiyya). Moreover, when approached capaciously, diverse sources from Islam’s founding period are replete with accounts that depict judges at the center of interpretation and the construction of Islamic law at key moments. Rather than look for law in the expected places, it is worth taking law from wherever we find it. In fact, it is essential that we do so: combining sources for history and law, read with attention to both historiography and interpretive methods.

Through examining this generations-long dispute with attention to sources and constructions of both history and law (and against the turn away from centering courts in legal histories of the common law), in this book, I argue that judges formulated an Islamic common law through the strategic and repeated use of legal canons. Adding color from modern statutory interpretation theory deepens perspective on the ways in which Muslim judges historically used these legal canons not only to resolve disputes but to build a judicial practice of interpretive precedent and to mediate institutional relations between caliphs, jurists, and diverse groups of ordinary Muslims. My examination of this generations-long dispute with attention to early medieval sources and constructions of both history and law, along with my appeal to modern theories of law and interpretation, adds texture to the working sketches of Islamic law’s early history, and of the robust role of both courts and canons within it.