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School of Law

Critical Jurisprudence in Islamic Law and Society

Course Code:
Unit value:
Year of study:
Year 1
Taught in:
Full Year

This course provides a comprehensive introduction to the fundamentals of critical Islamic legal thought, from its beginnings in early Islamic societies to present-day debates and controversies. It is designed as an advanced course, targeting students who already possess some knowledge of Islamic law, although this is not a prerequisite. The course syllabus seeks to compliment other courses at SOAS that focus on Islamic law, by introducing or expanding the various strands of critique that are not prominently featured in those courses. Thus, the overall goal of this course is to provide a substantial contribution to an existing graduate platform for Islamic legal and social studies at SOAS and foster this platform’s further development.

The course takes as its cornerstone the historical developments of critical jurisprudence in Muslim societies, spanning three continents and some 14 centuries. It is divided into four parts, which are preceded by a general introductory lecture. Part I focuses on critical debates pertinent to the origins and sources of Islamic law, its early theological directions and structural developments in the formative and classical periods of Islamic jurisprudence. Part II centres on the significant jurisprudential concepts introduced in the social and legal milieux of the three Muslim gunpowder empires (Ottomans, Mughals and Safavids) and debates, specifically, the imperial contexts that had shaped them. Part III introduces various legal phenomena relevant to the encounters of European colonialism and European modernity with the Muslim world, including hybridisation and codification of Islamic law as well as a rising stream of Islamic modernism and anti-colonial thought. It also offers an overview of the key post-colonial and post-modern strands in contemporary Islamic jurisprudence. Part IV discusses a selection of trans-historical and cross-regional topics in critical Islamic legal and social thought, as a living and vibrant pluralist intellectual tradition.  

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

Upon successful completion of this course, students will be able to demonstrate:

  • A clear understanding of the history and developments of critical Islamic jurisprudence;
  • An advanced ability to critically interrogate the various phenomena pertinent to the historical and present-day Islamic law;
  • An awareness of intersecting legal issues relating to history, sociology, politics and culture of Islam and Muslim communities in Asia, the Middle East and Europe;
  • An advanced comprehension of how critical thought operates within, or interacts with, key tenets of the Islamic legal tradition; and
  • An appreciation of the various theoretical approaches that inform existing scholarly analysis of Islamic law.

Method of assessment

  • Coursework: 25% (2,500 words), 25% (2,500 words) and 50% (5,000 words)

Suggested reading

  • Wael B. Hallaq, Sharī‘a: Theory, Practice and Transformations (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009)
  • Ira M. Lapidus, Islamic Societies to the Nineteenth Century: A Global History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012)
  • Knut S. Vikør, Between God and the Sultan: A History of Islamic Law (London: Hurst & Co., 2005)
  • Stephen F. Dale, The Muslim Empires of the Ottomans, Safavids, and Mughals (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010)
  • Aziz Al-Azmeh, Islams and Modernities (3rd edn., London: Verso, 2009)