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


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 a sufficient command of English (IELTS 6.5 or higher) is required.


For many centuries, the position and role of sharia has had a strong impact on the law and governance in Muslim-majority countries. When most of these countries 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. Initially, most countries opted for an intermediate solution. From the 1970s onwards, however, a process of Islamic resurgence les to the Islamisation of national law - in a significant number of countries (e.g. Iran, Libya, Pakistan). 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 is compatible with democracy and human rights. Since the 2011 Arab Spring, these questions have acquired new dimensions.
This course addresses law and governance in Muslim-majority countries with a special focus on the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).
It analyses actual processes of change and reform in sharia, whether diverging from or converging with rule of law and human rights. It carefully addresses selected issues within the fields of constitutional law, family law and criminal law, and focuses on how domestic legal institutions have decided about them in relation to sharia. 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

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 Muslim world especially the MENA region, in particular in view of the relationship between sharia and national law in selected countries.

  • They can set out factors that contribute to this complex relationship, in different historical time periods.

  • Students are able to independently use English language materials to critically evaluate the abovementioned subject; and to present their findings in short written assignments.

  • They have the ability 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).


See Timetable

Mode of instruction


  • Number of (2 hour): lectures: 12

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

  • Required preparation by students: reading texts before each session

Assessment method

Examination form(s)

  • Written exam (80%)

  • Three reaction papers (20%)

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 presentation/paper and the (re-)exam are no longer valid.

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


More information on this course is offered in Blackboard.

Reading list

Obligatory course materials

  • Chapters from 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 will be available via Readeronline

Recommended course materials


Students have to register for courses and exams through uSis.
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: Meta Juridica

  • Department: Van Vollenhoven Institute

  • Room number secretary: ms. Kari van Weeren KOG, room B1.14

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

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

  • Email: