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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 centuries, the position and role of Sharia has had a strong impact on law and governance in Muslim-majority countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), both before and after colonialisation. 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 Islamisation 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 analyse actual processes of change and reform within the fields of familiy 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 postion of religious minorities in the MENA (Christians, Shia Muslims); fertility and assisted reproduction technologies; and migration in the MENA.
Students will also meet with a select number of development-practitioners from NGOs and humanitarian organisations and are asked to apply their knowledge to find solutions for real-life dilemma's that these practitioners face in the field of religion and law in the Middle East and North Africa.

Course objectives

Learning outcomes

  • 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.

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

  • They acquire the capacity 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).

  • Teamwork and collaboration are essential skills to possess on the labour market. Students enhance their collaboration and teamwork skills by working on formative assignments together.

  • Students enhance the capacity to use their knowledge to present solutions that directly meet labour market needs.


See Timetable

Mode of instruction


  • Number of (2 hour) lectures: 11

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

  • Required preparation by students: reading texts before each session, preparing questions for discussion

Assessment method

Examination form(s)

  • Written exam (70%)

  • Three collaborative reaction papers (30%)

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 articles, subject matters taught in the lectures, and all other instructions which form part of the course.

Reading list

Obligatory course materials

  • Required readings will be made available on Brightspace.

Course information guide:
Not applicable

Recommended course materials


Students must 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