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


Please note that the following description of the course is only provisional and therefore subject to change.

Admission requirements

This course is suitable for 2nd and 3rd year students in Law, Social Sciences (anthropology, sociology of development, 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) required.


The position and role of sharia has for many centuries had a strong impact on the law and governance in countries in North Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia. When most countries in these regions gained independence during the 20th century, their new political elites enacted constitutions and national laws, and established national systems of law and governance. 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. Most countries opted initially for an intermediate solution. Since the 1970s in several countries a new trend emerged, i.e. Islamising national law – Libya in 1972, 1974 and Iran and Pakistan in 1979. This has raised both domestic and international concerns about the repercussions for women, minorities, freedom of religion, and humane treatment of suspects and criminals. Debates have raged about whether Islam can go together with democracy and human rights. Since the 2011 Arab Spring, these questions have acquired new dimensions.

This course addresses law and governance in Egypt, Libya and Afghanistan, and draws comparisons with other countries in the region. As for Afghanistan, massive assistance programs have already been launched to “strengthen law and governance”. In the wake of the Arab Spring, the international community pledged funds to the same in North Africa. How successful can these efforts be? Obviously, such programs being based on models are perceived as ‘western’, ‘liberal’ or ‘secular’ and are strongly rejected by radical movements such as Taliban or ISIS or Ansar al-Sharia, which are said to operate in the concerned region.
This course records actual processes of change and reform, whether diverging from or converging with rule of law and human rights. It addresses carefully selected issues of constitutional law, family law and or criminal law, and focuses on how domestic legal institutions have decided about them. In doing so it pays attention to how politicians, legal practitioners, and religious scholars have influenced the complex interrelation between sharia, national law and governance.

Course objectives

Objectives of the course

The course has the following objectives:
Acquiring of basic knowledge of the development and functioning of law and legal institutions in the MENA region, in particular in view of the relationship between sharia and national law in selected countries. Enhancing critical understanding of academic literature and public debates (English language material) on this subject. Enlarging academic skills of reading academic material in English, analyzing, participating in group discussions, learning to 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).

Achievement levels

After completing the course students will have:

  • Knowledge and critical understanding of the development and functioning of law and legal institutions in the Muslim world, in particular of the relation between sharia and national law;

  • The ability to independently use English language material to critically evaluate the abovementioned subject; and to present their findings in short oral and written presentations.



Mode of instruction


  • Number of (2 hour) lectures: 5

  • Names of lecturers: Prof. dr. J.M. Otto, dhr. Dr. S.M.K. Ibrahim and guest lecturers

  • Required preparation by students: reading texts for the lecture

  • Number of (2 hour) seminars: 5

  • Names of instructors: Prof. dr. J.M. Otto, dhr. Dr. S.M.K. Ibrahim and guest lecturers

  • Required preparation by students: reading texts for the seminar, prepare a group presentation advance of the lectures

Assessment method

Examination form(s)

  • Written exam (90%)

  • One group presentation-cum-short paper (10%)

If the overall grade is lower the 5,5 the student can do a retake of the exam.

Areas to be tested within the exam
Selected chapters from the book manuscript (see Course Materials), selected articles in the reader, subject matter taught in the lectures, the seminars, and all other instructions which form part of the course.


More information on this course is offered in Blackboard.

Reading list

Obligatory course materials

  • Jan Michiel Otto (ed.), Sharia Incorporated. A Comparative Overview of the Legal Systems of Twelve Muslim Countries in Past and Present, Leiden: Leiden University Press, 2010

Course information guide:

  • Not applicable


  • Reader, available at Onderwijsmaterialen (KOG, room A.045)

Recommended course materials

  • None


Students have to register for courses and exams through uSis.

Contact information


  • Institute: Meta Juridica

  • Department: Van Vollenhoven Institute

  • Room number secretary: KOG, room B3.13, ms. Kari van Weeren

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

  • Telephone number secretary: +31 ())71 527 7260

  • Email: