Middle East Eye: Fear of Sharia: Harvard project aims to shed light on Islamic law

From The Middle East Eye on May 4th, 2017


BOSTON, Massachusetts – As the United States continues to grapple with growing Islamophobia, Harvard Law School has launched a “flagship research venture” to organise the world’s information on Islamic law: SHARIAsource.

The project aims to provide a repository for scholars, journalists and policy makers, by making knowledge freely available, Sharon Tai, SHARIAsource’s research editor, told Middle East Eye.

SHARIAsource hosts scholarly discussions of court cases that have dealt directly with state and Sharia law from all over the world, with a special focus on the US.

“Islamic law is so often seen as an esoteric and impenetrable base of law. There’s this kind of perception of a lack of logic, because it’s based in theology,” Tai continued, “but actually there is a very clear logic behind it. The way it’s laid out historically, it worked well for the societies in which it was applied.”

The project was conceived nearly a decade ago, by Dr Intisar Rabb, Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and a director of its Islamic Legal Studies Programme. The initiative has come to fruition over the past few years.

‘Judges often completely ignore Sharia’

The research initiative’s blog publishes cases in narrative format to “break down the cases into a story and explain what they mean, how it actually played out. That’s what we’re doing to dilute the complexity of these cases,” Tai said.

The overwhelming majority of the 173 US cases published thus far have seen judges often completely ignore Sharia. Many of these cases deal with discrimination lawsuits and religious freedoms of prisoners who have converted to Islam while in prison.

SHARIAsource’s first published case narrative at the beginning of March focused on Aleem v Aleem, where a couple married in Pakistan, moved to the US, and then requested a divorce.

The husband divorced his wife and then argued that she should not have any rights to property because this had not been outlined in the marriage contract that was signed in Pakistan.

On her part, the wife stated that the divorce should be litigated according to US law, and the property split equally. The court agreed, saying that the Maryland court would give no deference to Pakistani statutes, derived from Sharia.

“American legal principles are going to take precedence,” Tai said regarding the case.

With several US states passing a ban on the use of Sharia and foreign laws in state courts and others considering it, Tai and her colleagues have been given another goal, to make the complexities of Islamic law easily understood by the public.”

Read the full article.