nl en

Islamic Law


Admission requirements

  • Students of the minor Islam: Religion and Society

  • Students of the BA programme Midden-Oostenstudies/Islamstudies

  • Limited amount of places for students of the BA programme Midden-Oostenstudies/Moderne Midden-Oostenstudies

  • Seminar Midden-Oosten 1 (for BA Midden-Oostenstudies students)

No previous background in Arabic or Islamic studies is required for this course. A basic working knowledge of Islam is recommended.


Sharia, or Islamic law, is a term that stokes fear in people’s minds. But what do we actually mean when we talk about the sharia? Both Muslims and non-Muslims tend to give widely different meanings to this term. Like other existing legal systems, the sharia has its own processes of developing and identifying religious and legal norms. Moreover, since the 19th century, traditional Islamic law as jurists’ law has been transformed considerably. This course introduces Bachelor students to Islamic law by offering them a firm understanding in the broad range of views on “living according to God’s Will” that Muslims have developed over the course of more than 1400 years in different parts of the world.

The semester will open with an introduction to the genesis of Islamic law through its sources, terminologies, methodologies, as well as the formation of the classical schools of law. It aims at acquainting students with a critical overview of the principles and practices of Islamic law and jurisprudence, from a predominately historical and sociological perspective. The course will cover anthropological, sociological, political, islamological and comparative law approaches to the study of Islamic law. The scientific possibilities and limitations of these different approaches will also be addressed during the lectures.

In examining the evolution of Islamic law, the normative views of authoritative Muslim scholars and jurists, which can be found in legal texts, will be used as a starting point. Special attention will also be paid to the everyday practice of “ordinary Muslims”, as well as the place of Islamic legal norms in the legislation and case-law of modern states.

The course also focuses on some of the challenges that Islamic law faces in relation to Western legal systems in areas such as constitutional law, family and personal status law, and criminal law. Students are encouraged to engage in current legal discourses and explore the diverse strategies that Muslims use for adapting religious laws to their needs. Although the bulk of the course material deals with classical Sunni Islamic law, it will also take into consideration issues of contemporary concern, such as human rights, gender equality, and minority rights, including Islamic law (fiqh) for minorities in the West. Where possible, the course will also deal with various cases where Islamic law has been debated within the Dutch legal context.

Course objectives

  • Acquiring knowledge of and insight into the main outlines of the history of Islamic law, its methodologies, major concepts, and different manifestations.

  • Acquiring knowledge of and insight into selected areas of the Islamic legal system, such as family law and criminal law.

  • Reading, discussing, reflecting critically and formulating one’s personal views on issues raised in the selected literature about Islamic law in a well-founded and coherent manner.

Students from humanities or social sciences should be willing to familiarise themselves with the outlines of law, whereas law students should be willing to engage in subjects beyond the rules of black letter law.


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction

Attendance and active participation are obligatory for seminars. Students are required to prepare for and attend all sessions. The convenors need to be informed without delay of any classes missed for a good reason (i.e. due to unforeseen circumstances such as illness, family issues, problems with residence permits, the Dutch railways in winter, etc.). In these cases it is up to the discretion of the convener(s) of the course whether or not the missed class will have to be made up with an extra assignment. The maximum of such absences during a semester is two. Being absent without notification and/or more than two times can result in exclusion from the term end exams and a failing grade for the course.

Assessment and weighing

Partial Assessment Weighing
A Paper. Students are required to submit a paper in which they critically reflect on a particular issue raised in the prescribed readings/lectures in a well-founded and coherent manner. The paper counts 2500 words at maximum. Further instructions can be found in the Syllabus Islamic Law Semester 2018 that will be posted on Blackboard in the first week of September 2018. The paper has to be submitted in accordance with the scheduled deadline; there is no resit opportunity for the paper. 20%
Written exam 80%


The resit consists of the final exam and will count for the percentage allocated to this exam, i.e., 80% of the final mark.

Exam Review

If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will be organized.

Reading list

  • Hallaq, Wael B. (2009). An Introduction to Islamic Law. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Vikor, Knut S. (2005). Between God and the Sultan. A History of Islamic Law. London: Hurst & Company.

  • Selected articles (see: syllabus and Blackboard).

The syllabus (Syllabus Islamic Law Semester 2019) for this course will be made available (first week of September) via Blackboard.




Onderwijsadministratie De Vrieshof


Students with disabilities

The university is committed to supporting and accommodating students with disabilities as stated in the university protocol (especially pages 3-5). Students should contact Fenestra Disability Centre

Academic Integrity

Students are expected to be familiar with Leiden University policies on plagiarism and academic integrity. Plagiarism will not be tolerated. If you submit any work with your name affixed to it, it is assumed to be your own work with all sources used properly indicated and documented in the text (with quotations and/or citations).