Harvard Law School’s Islamic Legal Studies Program (ILSP), established in 1991, is a research program that seeks to advance knowledge and understanding of Islamic law. As stated in its statement of objectives (incorporated into the terms of its major grants), the Program is dedicated to achieving excellence in the study of Islamic law through objective and comparative methods. It aims to foster an atmosphere of open inquiry that embraces many perspectives: Muslim and non-Muslim, scholar and practitioner, contemporary and classical, Sunni and Shi’i, law and religion. It seeks to promote appreciation of Islamic law as one of the world’s major legal systems.
The main focus of work at the Program is on Islamic law in the contemporary world. Since contemporary thought and practice draw continually on the fourteen-century record of Islamic juristic writings and legal practice, the study of this record demands equal attention. The field of Islamic legal studies is vast, spanning the entire world (wherever Muslims live) and the prodigious substantive content of Islamic law (which claims to address every aspect of human life). Islamic law is central to the study of Islamic civilization in all its aspects, since Islamic law not only supplied most of the law and legal institutions of actual states for over a millennium, but also crucially shaped the religious, ethical, political, and social beliefs and practices of Muslim societies.
For these reasons, the study of contemporary Islamic law and legal systems calls for a broader scope of study than other fields of contemporary law. It must respond to the work of scholars from myriad disciplines, from many parts of the University and of academe, and from all parts of the world. The Program endeavors to reflect the subject-matter and disciplinary diversity of the field by varying the representation of subjects, regions, and sectarian affiliation among our visiting professorships, research fellowship positions, lectures, conferences, and publications.
The Program provides scholarships, travel and research grants for students at Harvard Law School. The Program fosters Western scholarship in Islamic law by supporting scholarly research, and it encourages innovative scholarship across many disciplines. The Program also collaborates with other institutions and individuals at Harvard University to advance the study of Islamic law, Islam, and the Muslim world. In addition, it has established and will continue to establish close relationships with scholars and institutions abroad.