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Law, Sharia and Governance in the Middle East and North Africa


Admission requirements

This course is suitable for 2nd and 3rd year students in Law, Social Sciences (anthropology, development sociology , public administration), and Humanities (history, area studies, arts). Non-Law students 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. For this course is a sufficient command of English (IELTS 6.5 or higher) is required.


For centuries, the position and role of Sharia has had a strong impact on law and governance in Muslim-majority countries of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), both before and after colonialisation. When most of these countries gained independence in the 20th century, their political elites enacted constitutions and national laws and established new national systems of law and governance. While some countries, such as Turkey, opted for a secular approach, others, like Saudi Arabia, chose to pursue the path of classical Sharia as the foundation of their national law. Initially, most countries opted for an intermediate solution. From the 1970s onwards, however, a process of Islamic resurgence led to the Islamisation of (parts of) national law in a significant number of countries (e.g., Egypt, Iran, Libya). This has raised both domestic and international concerns about the repercussions for women, minorities, and freedom of religion. Since the 2011 Arab uprisings, these questions have acquired new dimensions.
In this course, we ask: what is Sharia? Who decides this? Who applies Sharia? When? Where? We analyse actual processes of change and reform within the fields of family law, constitutional law, and criminal law, and ask how domestic legal and religious institutions have decided about them in relation to Sharia. We also focus on law, Sharia, and governance as they relate to the position of religious minorities in the MENA (Christians; Shia Muslims); fertility and assisted reproduction technologies; and migration in the MENA.

Students will also meet with a select number of development-practitioners from NGOs and humanitarian organisations and are asked to apply their knowledge to find solutions for real-life dilemma’s that these practitioners face in the field of religion and law in the Middle East and North Africa.

Course objectives

Objective(s) of the course

The following achievement levels apply with regard to the course:

  • Students acquire knowledge of the development and functioning of law and legal institutions in the MENA region, in view of the relationship between Sharia and national law in selected countries.

  • They enhance their analytical skills by setting out factors that contribute to this complex relationship, in different historical time periods.

  • They acquire the capacity to effectively study a new legal system (for law students) or new field of study, i.e., law and religion (for students from humanities or social sciences).

  • Students enhance the capacity to use their knowledge to present solutions that directly meet labour market needs.


Check MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction

Interactive classes

  • Number of (2 hour) classes: 11

  • Name(s) of lecturer(s): Nadia Sonneveld and guest lecturers

  • Required preparation: studying literature and audio-visual materials before each class. In some classes, students are asked to prepare a solution to a real-life case study.

  • Required participation: in order to assess students’ knowledge throughout the course, students must be prepared to actively participate in class and present solutions to case studies under discussion.

Assessment method

Examination form(s)

  • Written essay exam (100%)

If the overall grade is lower than 5,5 the student can do a retake of the exam. If a student has not passed the course by the end of the academic year, the scores on the (re-)exam are no longer valid.

Areas to be tested within the exam
Selected articles, subject matters taught in the lectures, and all other instructions which form part of the course.

Regulation retake passed exams
In this course it is possible to retake an exam that has been passed (cf. art. and further of the Course and Examination Regulations) on the condition that this course is not part of the minor. Students who have passed the exam may retake the final written assessment (test) of the course if they meet certain requirements. To retake a passed exam, students need to ask the Student Administration Office (OIC) for permission. For more information, go to 'course and exam enrollment' > 'permission for retaking a passed exam' on the student website.

Reading list

Obligatory course materials Literature:

  • Required readings will be made available on Brightspace.

Course information guide: Not applicable

Recommended course materials None


Check the website under “course and exam enrollment” for information on how to register for the course.

Exchange students have priority and will be registered for the course first. Any remaining seats will be available for students from Leiden University and other Dutch Universities.

Contact information


  • Institute: Metajuridica

  • Department: Van Vollenhoven Institute for Law

  • Room number secretariat: KOG, room B1.14

  • Opening hours: Monday – Thursday 9.00 – 12.30 and 13.30 – 16.00 h.

  • Telephone number secretariat: +31 (0) 71 527 7260

  • Email:


In case of (corona)restrictions imposed by the government, this course description is subject to change.