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Sharia in the West


Admission requirements

This is a 12 week Master SPOC course (Small Private Online Course) that allows for a maximum of 40 students. This course can be taken by:

  • Students at universities that participate in the Virtual Exchange project

  • who are admitted to any Master in Social Sciences, Humanities or Law,

  • and have a basic knowledge of the history of Islam and in particular Islam in the West,

  • as well as a very good knowledge of English (reading, writing and speaking)


The notion and practice of Sharia in the West is entirely new and in continuous development. In this course we will discuss the interaction between what Muslims in the West want and do in terms of Sharia, and how the Western legal, political, societal and cultural systems respond to these manifestations of Sharia. We will see that this interaction creates the dynamic that result in a new synthesis of ‘Sharia in the West.’ In order to study this new domain, we will develop methods of law, anthropology, and other disciplines to approach this domain.
Active participation of the students is key to this course: they are invited to provide examples of sharia from their own Western countries, and to analyse them by means of discussion and essays.

Course objectives

The students will gain insight in how Western policy makers as well as the Muslim communities have been struggling to accommodate an ‘Islamic’ presence in a mostly secular Western environment. The students will acquire the skills to read and discuss the relevant court rulings, policy documents in a critical fashion, to contextualize these readings in a larger academic theoretical framework, and to present the results of independent research in terms of policy briefs or oral advice to government officials or Muslim community officials. The students are encouraged to develop and express their personal views on the various topics in a well-founded and coherent manner.

Week 1: Approaches to Sharia in the West
Week 2: Understanding Sharia
Week 3: Discussion session “Sharia patrol”
Week 4: Understanding ‘the West’
Week 5: Islamic family law
Week 6: Discussion session “Sharia courts in the West”
Week 7: Headscarf and burka
Week 8: Discussion session “Headscarf and burka”
Week 9: Freedoms of religion and opinion
Week 10: Discussion session “Sharia and human rights”
Week 11: Citizenship, integration and participation
Week 12: Discussion session “The freedom to be different?”

Mode of instruction

Online lectures, online discussion sessions (live), online discussion forum (chat), assignments (literature, multiple choice tests, essays), feedback on essays.


  • Six short essays and/or policy briefs (1-2 pages). These essays will be evaluated online by their fellow students, and graded by the instructor.

  • Seven Multiple Choice tests based on the lecture and assigned literature of each week.

  • Five online discussion sessions (oral): Chaired by the instructor, groups of students will engage in discussion based on specific cases or hypotheses, resulting in oral or written policy recommendations to be conveyed to imaginary officials.

  • (By choice:) online discussion sessions (chat): Students are invited to discuss any issue related to the course’s topic on the discussion forum. This may vary from questions regarding the literature or research projects, to personal experiences and observations, or opinions on issues discussed in class or noted in local news outlets.
    Study load
    App. 8-10 hrs per week.
    This course counts for 5 EC. Students who need extra ECs (to a maximum of 5 EC) can contact the instructor for additional assignments.

Assessment method

The students will have successfully concluded this course when they have a) watched all lectures and made all MC tests, b) written all essays, c) participated in all online discussion sessions, d) participated in at least three discussion forums.
The total grade is made up as follows: a) 10%, b) 40% c) 30%, d) 20%.

If a student requests an exam review (first sit or resit) within 30 days after publication of the exam results, such a review will be organized.


All online course content will be made available on Blackboard.

Reading list

Required literature as well as a general reading list will be made available on Blackboard.


Leiden resident students (including students from other Dutch universities, and foreign students registered at Leiden University) apply through uSis


Prof dr Maurits S. Berger


Academic Integrity

Students are expected to be familiar with Leiden University policies on plagiarism and academic integrity. Plagiarism will not be tolerated. If you submit any work with your name affixed to it, it is assumed to be your own work with all sources used properly indicated and documented in the text (with quotations and/or citations).