The sharīʿa, or Islamic law, is an exceedingly rich and essential part of the wider Islamic
tradition, and a focus of robust academic scholarship. At Columbia, the legacy of such work dates to renowned faculty members such as Richard Gottheil (1862-1936) and Joseph Schacht (1902-1969). At present, with research being conducted, graduate students trained, and courses on “Islamic Law” taught by professors in three separate departments (Religion, MESAAS and Anthropology), Columbia is uniquely positioned in this important area of study.
The current importance of Sharīʿa Studies for broader educational and public engagement efforts cannot be overstated. In the American public arena, a key theme of present day anti-Muslim bigotry is the fear that the sharīʿa will somehow displace American law. Growing apace, this “sharīʿa panic” has moved beyond the chauvinist laws passed by the legislatures of a number of states. With the surge of Islamophobia following the 2017 elections, “anti-sharīʿa” marches took place in some twenty cities, sponsored by ACT for America, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has designated as an anti-Muslim hate group. Elsewhere in the world, heinous crimes have been committed in the name of the sharīʿa by the so-called Islamic State (ISIL) and other groups.
The academic response by the MEI faculty and graduate student community has been to actively promote scholarly inquiry and debate in the field of Sharīʿa Studies. To this end, the institute organized its Sharīʿa Workshop series to discuss and disseminate new research.