Understanding Shari'a: Islamic Law in a Globalised World



Shari'a has been a source of misunderstanding across both  the Muslim and non-Muslim worlds. For some, it evokes fear, a “perception both caused and sustained by Samuel Huntington’s thesis of ‘the clash of civilisations’”, argues Dr Mohamed Keshavjee. For others, it simply represents a set of norms and guidelines for living their day-to-day lives, entirely compatible with modern contexts — and of course, there are many views in between.

This timely webinar aims to help pull back the curtain a little, and demystify shari'a. Disentangling mainstream media narratives from the latest scholarly thinking, it puts shari'a in the context of current debates on the place of Muslim citizens in Western societies, on issues of integration, identity politics, and the role of women. It also sheds light on the complexity of shari'a’s manifestations today, with reference to cases such as the 1980 Hague Convention on Child Abduction, which are covered more fully in Dr Keshavjee’s book, co-authored by Raficq Abdulla, Understanding Sharia: Islamic Law in a Globalised World.

Chaired by Dr Matthew Nelson, Associate Professor at the Asia Institute at the University of Melbourne, in conversation with Dr Mohamed Keshavjee, a former barrister and scholar affiliated with  The Institute of Ismaili Studies, the session is introduced by Professor Abdullah Saeed, the Sultan of Oman Professor of Arab and Islamic Studies at the University of Melbourne. Laila Arstall, an eminent solicitor, and Dr Ziba Mir-Hosseini, a legal anthropologist specialising in Islamic law, gender, and Islamic feminism, at SOAS, University of London join as panelists.

Most importantly, the webinar speaks to the urgency of the need for a better understanding of what shari'a is—and what it is not—both within the academic community, as well as those working in law and governance, and in Muslim and non-Muslim peoples, societies and diaspora around the world. Indeed, noting the distinction between shari'a (a divine path) and fiqhinfo-icon (real-world, human jurisprudential understanding, always subject to change), Dr Keshavjee shares a glimpse of how perspectives on the term shari'a developed in the legal histories and systems of Muslim peoples in parts of the world into which Islam expanded, such as Indonesia, Yemen, Morocco and India, charting a global path through this central and important subject.