nl en

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, 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 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, minoritis, freedom of religion, and human 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 several Muslim countries. The introductory lectures address first a conceptual framework to analyse and compare the relationship between sharia and national law in different countries. Next the extreme examples of wahhabi Saudi Arabia and secular Turkey are discussed as well as the largest Muslim country Indonesia known for its moderate Islam. The second part of the course will focus on the MENA countries, notably Egypt, Libya and Morocco, or other countries depending on recent developments and the availability of guest lecturers with country expertise. After the Arab Spring massive assistance programs were launched to “strengthen law and governance in the MENA region”. How successful have these efforts been? 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

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

The following achievement levels apply with regard to the course:

  • 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



Mode of instruction


  • Number of (2 hour) lectures: 7

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

  • Required preparation by students: reading texts for the lecture

  • Number of (2 hour) seminars: 7

  • Names of instructors: Prof. Otto, Prof. Buskens, Dr. Suliman 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 (85%)

  • One group presentation-cum-short paper (15%)

If the overall grade is lower than 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

  • 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

  • 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: