NEWS | 08 Nov 2016
Civil Rights Sharīʿa and the Elections as a part of the American Political Process

On election day 2016, Professor Intisar Rabb, SHARIAsource founding editor-in-chief, reflects on the notion of “civil rights sharīʿa”: the role that Islamic law has historically played in honoring and pressing for shared commitments to justice and equality under the law. Modern American history already exemplifies this notion in the legacy of boxing legend Muhammad Ali, who died as a civil rights champion. In addition to advocating for the disadvantaged throughout his life, he once took his case against joining the U.S. military to fight in Vietnam all the way to the Supreme Court, and winning. All this he did on the basis his Islamic faith, that is, his understanding of sharīʿa that drove him to see that conflict as an unjust war against innocent civilians that did nothing to serve the cause of justice given the problems of racial inequality at home. In Ali's own words, “Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights? … Man, I ain't got no quarrel with them Viet Cong. No Viet Cong ever called me n****r." Rabb draws a parallel between this historical example of what she calls "civil rights sharīʿa" and the more recent example of Khizr Khan's speech at the Democratic National Convention this past July, where he exhibited forceful support for the U.S. Constitution as a Gold Star father of a U.S. fallen soldier, who – in contrast to Ali – died fighting in the U.S. military. One a Kentucky native, the other an immigrant, these two Muslims undeniably expressed a morality that differed strikingly from one another but was equally born of their American values and Muslim faith. Their stories powerfully correct a common misconception – highlighted in the sometimes vitriolic contests over the presidency this election term – that sharīʿa is fundamentally at odds with American values of liberal, constitutional democracy. Moreover, prior Islamic history demonstrates that Ali and Khan’s sense of justice and equality is not derived from a uniquely American belief. The historical record of Islamic law shows a precedent of support for the notion of fighting for justice on the basis of shared moral principles in mixed Muslim and non-Muslim settings. Demonstrating this claim is SHARIAsource senior scholar Sherman Jackson's recent article on “Islamic Law, Muslims, and American Politics.” There, Jackson examines the "intelligent moral principles" exemplified by the Prophet Muhammad's Treaty of Hudaybiyya, in which he prioritized peace over "everyone agreeing to the same theological or legal morality." These moral principles do not mutate or dissipate, but as Ali and Khan's actions demonstrate, they often adapt to the realities of the political climate and the demands of justice in any given time and place. Rabb emphasizes that, of course, "whether Muslim or non-Muslim, one should never assume that sharīʿa covers both substantive and administrative procedural laws, or both public law ... and private transactions." In short, under both modern and medieval definitions of sharīʿa, the laws of the state are customary norms that each citizen must follow. In this context, the commitment to upholding the values and spirit of that state are often aspirations rooted both in the U.S. constitution and the moral principles of sharīʿa. Read more. Image credit: The Ringer, Harvard Law Today

From Harvard Law Today: A Citizen's Constitution
Earlier this year, Harvard Law Today interviewed alumnus Khizr Khan, HLS LL.M. '86, for its September 6th issue. Khan discussed how the course of his career from Pakistan to the United States shaped his dedication to American constitutional values, even after the death of his son Captain Humayun Khan in Iraq. A Muslim and published author on Islamic law, he says to those who fear sharīʿa and Islam as encroaching upon American values: “They need to read the Constitution. It has safeguards.... I’m an ordinary Muslim, and I ... am a protector of the United States … Islam has taught me to be caring, to be kind. My religion is to live peacefully with all other religions and all other peoples. Read more.  Image credit: Mike Segar/Reuters
CASE: Islamic Family Law in U.S. Courts

U.S. Editor Abed Awad has been collecting cases of family law related to Islamic law that get litigated as matters of contract in U.S. courts. For each case available in the SHARIAsource portal, Awad summarizes the facts, the issue, and the ruling of each case. From his case summaries, readers can quickly glean and compare how American courts decide family law cases in which prenuptial or/and related contracts contain terms drawn from varied aspects of Islamic law. The courts apply U.S. law to these private contracts, and the outcomes are far from uniform. For example, two cases decided in Virginia,  Afghani v. Ghafoorian  and Farah v. Farah, demonstrate how American courts can differ in resolving disputes at such intersections of law. (SHARIAsource beta access required). Image credit: Decipher Forensics

Other News

Scholars in the News
Professor Intisar Rabb defines the nuances of Islamic law and sharīʿa for a Washington Post piece on how fringe anti-Muslim conspiracy theories went mainstream during this election cycle. 

PersDig@UMD, OpenITI, and the Construction of the Infrastructure for ‘Digital Humanities’ Scholarship on the Premodern Islamicate World (11 Nov 2016 | Princeton, NJ). Roshan Institute Research Fellow and Associate Director of the Roshan Initiative in Persian Digital Humanities (PersDig@UMD) Matthew Thomas Miller will be speaking on his recent work. Organized by the Institute for Advanced Study as part of their Digital Scholarship Conversations. Read more.

Workshop :: Digital Islamic Law and History: Resources and Methods (16 Nov | Cambridge, MA). This workshop will explore the methods for manipulating Islamic historical texts in Arabic through a collaborative platform called Open Arabic, and with tools for converting Arabic PDFs into OCR documents. Maxim Romanov, the architect of these systems, will lead participants through a hands-on exercise of marking and otherwise manipulating digitized Arabic texts to identify trends, build database, and produce data visualizations. By invitation only, with RSVPs directly to Read more. 

Colloquium :: From Text to Map: Arabic Biographical Collections and Geospatial Analysis (17 Nov | Cambridge, MA). Thousands of fully-digitized texts of premodern Arabic sources have become available over the past decade or two. Computational methods of text analysis now offer us a key to the riches of extensive biographical collections. Mapped across time and space, tens of thousands of biographies may give us a novel and multifaceted perspective on Islamic history. Maxim Romanov's presentation will focus on major steps—moving from text to map—and highlight some results of such computational endeavors. Read more.

SHARIAsource Resource Sharing Workshop :: Comparing and Sharing Digital Archival Projects and Resources (17 Nov | Cambridge, MA). Led by Maxim Romanov  and Intisar Rabb, this discussion will showcase major tools and resources (online or digitized sources, CDs and hard drives, etc.) that can be used to research primary source documents in Arabic digitally. To participate, attendees need to submit at least one resource to share and showcase for (2-3 minutes): name of the source, where to locate it (URL or otherwise), its content and scope, examples of use, and pros and cons of use. Examples of these sources include, but are not limited to: the Islamic Texts Initiative, Turath Hard Drive, al-Maktaba al-Shamila, Warraq, Noor CDs, Qurʾānic Arabic Corpus, etc. RSVP or read more.

SHARIAsource MESA Reception (17 Nov | Cambridge, MA). Join a reception to chat informally about your work on Islamic law, developments of SHARIAsource, and otherwise. Light refreshments will be served. Contact Ashley Fournier with any questions at afournier@law.harvard.eduRSVP.

Middle East Studies Association Annual Meeting (17-20 Nov 2016 | Boston, MA). MESA’s annual meeting will host a range of panels on Islamic law, including  "Policing and Punishment in the Making of the Modern Middle East," "Is Saudi Foreign Policy 'Islamic'?," "Islamic Religious Authority between the Arab World and Europe: Multi-tasked and Multi-tasking Imams" (Denmark contributor Niels Valdemar Vinding will be presenting), "International Law, Sovereignty and Subjecthood in the Late Ottoman Empire" (Ottoman editor Will Smiley will be a discussant), "Legal Contests & Disputes, Part I," "Law as Social History in the Late Ottoman Era," "Legal Contests & Disputes, Part 2."  See full preliminary program.

"Qur’anists in al-Andalus?" (5 Apr 2017 4 pm | Princeton, NJ). Incoming ILSP: SHARIAsource and CMES senior fellow Maribel Fierro will be speaking as part of the Institute for Advanced Study's Near/Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies Lecture Series 2016/2017. She explores the production of religious and political authority sharing her study of how prophets accepted by Islam are represented. See full details. 

Workshop on Arabic Periodicals (12 Nov 2016 | Durham, NC). Professor Adam Mestyan of Duke University is organizing a small workshop on early Arabic periodicals. See full details.

Witteveen Memorial Fellowship in Law and Humanities (Spring 2017 | Tilburg ). Tilburg University is establishing the annual Witteveen Memorial Fellowship in Law and Humanities in order to commemorate the life and work of Willem Witteveen. The fellowship aims to enable a junior scholar (PhD or postdoc level) to further develop his or her research in the area of ‘Law and Humanities’ during a visit to Tilburg. Applications are due on 15 Nov. Read more. 

2017 Annual Meeting of the Association for the Study of Law, Culture & the Humanities at Stanford University (21 Mar-01 Apr 2017 | Palo Alto, CA) . The Association for the Study of Law, Culture, and the Humanities is now accepting panel and paper proposals for their twentieth annual meeting. Proposals that include complete panels or focus on pedagogy, methodology, author-meets-readers sessions, or performance (theatrical, cinematic, musical, and poetic) are strongly encouraged. Abstracts of 250 words or less are due on  28 Oct Read more .

The Hurst Summer Institute in Legal History (4-17 Jun 2017 | Madison, WI).  The American Society for Legal History and the Institute for Legal Studies at the University of Wisconsin Law School are now accepting applications for their ninth biennial Hurst Summer Institute in Legal History. Applications are due on  1 Dec Read more. 

Junior Research Group at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, Department of Law and Anthropology (Apr 2017 | Halle). The Max Planck Institute is establishing a junior research group to investigate the bureaucratization of Islam and its socio-legal dimensions in Southeast Asia. There are three PhD positions open; the positions would be for three years. Applications are due 15 Dec. Read more.

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