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Sharia and National Law in the Muslim World


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 development, public administration, political science) , Humanities (history, middle eastern studies, arts).


The position and role of sharia has for many centuries had a strong impact on law and governance in North Africa and the Middle East. As most countries in this region 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 1979 Islamic Revolution of Iran, in several countries a new trend emerged, i.e. Islamising national law. This has raised both domestic and international concerns about the repercussions for women, minorities, freedom of religion, and human treatment of 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 Morocco, and draws comparisons with other countries in the region. At the time of writing massive assistance programs are about to be launched to “strengthen law and governance in the MENA region”. How successful can these efforts be? This course records actual processes of change and reform, whether diverging from or converging with rule of law and human rights. It addresses issues of constitutional law, family law, and criminal law, and demonstrates how domestic legal institutions have decided about such issues. In doing so it pays attention to how politicians, legal practitioners, and religious scholars have influenced the complex interrelation between sharia and national law and governance.

Course objectives

Objectives of the course
Acquiring of basic knowledge of the development and functioning of law and legal institutions in North Africa and the Middle East, in particular in view of the relationship between sharia (Islamic law) and national law in Egypt, Libya, and Morocco. Enhancing critical understanding of academic literature and public debates (English language material) on this subject. Enlarging academic skills of analyzing, participating in group discussions, learning to study a new legal system (for law students) or new field of study, i.e. law, politics, and religion (for students from humanities or social sciences) in a dynamic governance context.

Achievement levels
The following achievement levels apply with regard to the course:
After completing the course students will have:

  • Knowledge and critical understanding of the development and functioning of law, legal institutions, and governance in the MENA region, 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.


The timetable of this course can be found in uSis.

Mode of instruction


  • Number of (2 hour) lectures: 5

  • Names of lecturers: Prof. Buskens, Prof. Otto and guest lecturers

  • Required preparation by students: reading texts for the lecture


  • Number of (2 hour) seminars: 5

  • Names of instructors: Prof. Buskens, Prof. Otto and guest lecturers

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

Other methods of instruction

  • Description: Not applicable

  • Number of (2 hour) instructions:

  • Names of instructors:

  • Required preparation by students:

Assessment method

Examination form(s)

  • Written exam

  • Group presentation, and its written version

  • Participation in class

Submission procedures
Not applicable

Areas to be tested within the exam
The examination consists of the required reading (literature) for the course, the course information guide, and whatever has been taught in the lectures and the seminars, and all other instructions which are 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 via

Recommended course materials

  • None


Students have to register for courses and exams through uSis.

Contact information

  • Co-ordinators: Prof.dr. Léon Buskens, Prof. dr. Jan Michiel Otto

  • Work address: Matthias de Vrieshof 4, Room 111B

  • Contact information: Via secretariat Ms K. van Weeren (see below)

  • Telephone number: +31 (0)71 5272013

  • Email:


  • 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: