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


Admission requirements

This socio-legal course is suitable for 2nd and 3rd year students in Law, Social Sciences (anthropology, development sociology, public administration), and Humanities (history, area studies, arts). The course looks at both law in the books and law in practice. Hence, non-law students should be willing to familiarize themselves with the outlines of law, whereas law students should be willing to engage in socio-legal subjects beyond the rules of black letter law. As this is an advanced level course (300), students are expected to independently study the course material, and come to class prepared to discuss it and interact with their fellow classmates. For this course a sufficient command of English (IELTS 6.5 or higher) is recommended.


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 colonialization. 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 Islamization 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 analyze 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.

Course objectives

Objective(s) of the course

The following achievement levels apply with regard to the course:

  • Students understand who has the authority to decide what Islamic sharia is across the region and over time.

  • 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.

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


Check MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction

Interactive classes

  • Number of (2 hour) classes: 10

  • Name(s) of lecturer(s): Nada Heddane, Judith van Uden, Nadia Sonneveld and guest lecturers

  • Required preparation: studying literature and audio-visual materials before each class, on the basis of the guiding questions. 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 exam (90%)

  • Participation and quizzes (10%)

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 listed in the syllabus.

Course information guide: Not applicable

Recommended course materials None


Registration for courses and exams takes place via MyStudymap. If you do not have access to MyStudymap (guest students), look here (under the Law-tab) for more information on the registration procedure in your situation.

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.



  • 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: