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Islamic Law: Getting Started

Research Guides

If you are not familiar with the topic, you may find that a research guide is a useful tool to assist you with your research.  We hope you find this guide helpful.

1) Aslihan Bulut, Columbia University, Arthur W. Diamond Law Library, Islamic Law Research Guide (last modified Apr. 6, 2011).

2) University of Washington, Gallagher Law Library, Jonathan Franklin [Updated by Carissa Vogel (2007) and Cheryl Nyberg (2012)], Islamic Law Resources.

3) Oxford University, Bodleian Libraries, Islamic Law (Last updated Feb 27, 2012).

You should review the date the research guide was last updated. Using a research guide updated in the last year will help ensure you are relying on current information. However, if you are conducting historical research, an older guide may be helpful.

One of the most popular guides is: Andrew Grossman, Finding the Law:  Islamic Law (Sharia) (Updated July 2002).

You may also find a topical bibliography can be helpful. The Law Library of Congress provides  Islamic Law:  A Bibliography of Recent Works Published in English (August 2009). 

Strategy for Research

Understand the Governmental Structure as well as Islamic Culture and Economic Context
•Understand that some primary sources may not be available and that "case law" may be of limited value
•Utilize secondary sources to identify decrees, legislation, or case sources
•Understand Web-based sources may be helpful to obtain sources in English
•Use familiar U.S. sources that may have applied Islamic law
•Consult an expert (This will be necessary in most cases.)

The Quran/Koran

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Reference Sources

Association of American Law Schools Workshop on Islamic Law

What is Sharia and what are its sources

What is Sharia?

Also meaning "path" in Arabic, sharia guides all aspects of Muslim life including daily routines, familial and religious obligations, and financial dealings. It is derived primarily from the Quran and the Sunna--the sayings, practices, and teachings of the Prophet Mohammed. Precedents and analogy applied by Muslim scholars are used to address new issues. The consensus of the Muslim community also plays a role in defining this theological manual.

Sharia developed several hundred years after the Prophet Mohammed's death in 632 CE as the Islamic empire expanded to the edge of North Africa in the West and to China in the East. Since the Prophet Mohammed was considered the most pious of all believers, his life and ways became a model for all other Muslims and were collected by scholars into what is known as the hadith. As each locality tried to reconcile local customs and Islam, hadith literature grew and developed into distinct schools of Islamic thought: the Sunni schools, Hanbali, Maliki, Shafi'i, Hanafi; and the Shiite school, Ja'fari. Named after the scholars that inspired them, they differ in the weight each applies to the sources from which sharia is derived, the Quran, hadith, Islamic scholars, and consensus of the community. The Hanbali school, known for following the most Orthodox form of Islam, is embraced in Saudi Arabia and by the Taliban. The Hanafi school, known for being the most liberal and the most focused on reason and analogy, is dominant among Sunnis in Central Asia, Egypt, Pakistan, India, China, Turkey, the Balkans, and the Caucasus. The Maliki school is dominant in North Africa and the Shafi'i school in Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei Darussalam, and Yemen. Shia Muslims follow the Ja'fari school, most notably in Shia-dominant Iran. The distinctions have more impact on the legal systems in each country, however, than on individual Muslims, as many do not adhere to one school in their personal lives.

From the Council on Foreign Relations

Study Aid on Islamic Law

Introductory Text on Islamic Legal Traditions

Sources of Sharia

This short discussion of sources of Islamic Law is by  Dr. Zakir Naik, a controversial Muslim figure who has been denied entry into United Kingdom and Canada.

Subject Guide

Jurist Legal News and Research - Current Awareness Topic: Islam

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Islamic Law In Our Times

Blog by a professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law

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