NEWS | 11 Oct 2016
 Heterodoxy Among Muslim Judges: On Attempts at Jokes and Judicial Constraints

Incoming Senior Fellow at ILSP: SHARIAsource, Maribel Fierroexamines a scene of heterodoxy in the recently published English translation of The Ultimate Ambition. Translated from Arabic into English for the first time in full by Elias Muhanna of Brown University, The Ultimate Ambition was written in the 14th century by a retired Egyptian bureaucrat named Shihab al-Din al-Nuwayri. Fierro looks at a scene in which the judge Yaḥyā ibn Aktham is asked to explain the meaning of desire. When he gives a humorous answer, the theologian Thumāma expresses displeasure. Fierro portrays the theologian's reproach as an expression of his anxiety about the prevailing attitude of being "relaxed" about codified practice and decorum. But, Fierro observes, the judge's attitude was not unique to his time. She discusses ways in which exchanges like that one continue to this day. Read more. Image credit: Public Domain

Book Profile: The Ultimate Ambition in the Arts of Erudition

The Ultimate Ambition in the Arts of Erudition by Shihab al-Din al-Nuwayri, edited and translated from Arabic by Elias Muhanna, Manning Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature, Brown University, (New York: Penguin, 2016).

This incredible work provides background for Maribel Fierro’s post on joking judges in early Islamic courts, and shows how the encyclopedic works of Mamlūk times can be a source for Islamic lawThe following summary comes from the publisher, Penguin Random House.

“For the first time in English, a catalog of the world through fourteenth-century Arab eyes—a kind of Schott’s Miscellany for the Islamic Golden Age. An astonishing record of the knowledge of a civilization, The Ultimate Ambition in the Arts of Erudition catalogs everything known to exist from the perspective of a fourteenth-century Egyptian scholar and litterateur. More than 9,000 pages and thirty volumes—here abridged to one volume, and translated into English for the first time—it contains entries on everything from medieval moon-worshipping cults, sexual aphrodisiacs, and the substance of clouds, to how to get the smell of alcohol off one’s breath, the deliciousness of cheese made from buffalo milk, and the nesting habits of flamingos. Similar works by Western authors, including Pliny’s Natural History, have been available in English for centuries. This groundbreaking translation of a remarkable Arabic text—expertly abridged and annotated—offers a look at the world through the highly literary and impressively knowledgeable societies of the classical Islamic world. Meticulously arranged and delightfully eclectic, it is a compendium to be treasured—a true monument of erudition.”

Source: Penguin Random House. Accessed on 10/7/16

In Summary: SHARIAsource  Workshop Talk with Osama Siddique The Other Pakistan: Special Laws, Diminished Citizenship, and the Gathering Storm
Osama Siddique, the Henry J. Steiner Visiting Professor in Human Rights at Harvard Law School, led a discussion on Friday, September 30th at the International and Comparative Law Workshop on the link between failures in legal institutions and the rise of the Taliban in the Swat region in Pakistan. The discussion was based on research Siddique conducted in the region. Instead of focusing on prescriptive models for solutions, the discussion examined problematic tensions between the region's various interests. Among the conflicting parties were the mainstream Pakistani courts and the traditions of dispute resolution within FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) and PATA (Provincially Administered Tribal Areas), two distinct legal entities in Pakistan. Led by Professor Intisar Rabb and Professor William Alford, the workshop pulled at threads of history, sociology, and economics.  Through the discussion, participants drew parallels between other regions' challenges and considered how different types of research methods can produce more applied findings.
Other News

American Society of Legal History Annual Meeting (27-30 Oct 2016 | Toronto, Canada). Ottoman editor Will Smiley and Professor Intisar Rabb, SHARIAsource founding editor-in-chief, will present at the ASLH Annual Meeting on the panel "Borderlands of Islamic Law: The Ottoman Empire and its Neighbors." Also at ASLH, Egyptian law and society historian Khaled Fahmy will present his paper "Global Forensics: Medico-Legal History in Asia and Africa" on a panel chaired by Mitra Sharafi. See preliminary program.

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. 

Digitizing Early Arabic Printed Books (21 Oct 2016 | Providence, RI)  The Digital Islamic Humanities Project at Brown University will be holding its annual scholarly gathering on print culture in the early modern and modern Middle East. Led by Professor Elias Muhanna and hosted in partnership with Gale Publishers, this event will feature a lecture by  Dr. Kathryn Schwartz  of Harvard University. 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. For more information, email

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. 

“Law as Religion, Religion as Law” (5-7 Jun 2017 | Jerusalem). The Hebrew University of Jerusalem has issued a call for papers to bring together scholars from multiple disciplines (including law, religious studies, philosophy, history, political science and other relevant fields). Abstracts are due on 26 Oct.  Call for papers.

UCLA Journal of Islamic and Near Eastern Law. JINEL is seeking papers for its 2016 volume. Published once a year, JINEL is the first publication of a Western law school to cover Islamic and Near Eastern law. It covers all legal issues, and seeks articles that critically analyze social, political, civil, historical, economic, and commercial topics.  Read more.

Share & Sign Up for News on Islamic Law
Do you have an upcoming event or research opportunity on Islamic law? To include it in our mailings, send details to

Sign up for general announcements by emailing with "Sign up for announcements" in the subject line. 
Editors, contributors, scholars, and researchers: collaborate and discuss possible ideas on the community listserv.