Recent Scholarship in Islamic Law and Society

Compiled by Maliheh Zare (JSD Candidate, New York University School of Law) for the Islamic Law and Society Collaborative Research Network.

FALL and WINTER 2016-17

The contributors to this edition are Matthew Erie, Iza Hussin, Mirjam Kuenkler, Tamir Moustafa, Michael Peletz, and Daromir Rudnyckyj. In addition to publication information, the abstracts of most works are included. Also, the papers and the covers of the books are attached (and are available on Dropbox:

The ILS-CRN Newsletter editor is Maliheh Zare. For any inquiries or if you wish to be included in next edition, contact her at

The Traveling Waqf: Property, Religion, and Mobility Beyond China (April 24, 2017). Islamic Law and Society, Vol. 25, (1-2) (February 2018).

Abstract: For most of their millennial history in China, Muslims have established pious endowments called waqfs that served a variety of functions, including providing land to build mosques. The founding of waqfs radically changed in 1949, when the Communists confiscated land. Recently, a Hui who was performing the hajj in Saudi Arabia discovered a pre-Communist waqfiyya or document that established a waqf in Gansu Province in northwest China. The contemporary Chinese property regime prohibits religious land and hence the waqfiyya is legally void, yet its return afforded the Hui an opportunity to reflect on the relationships between law, lineage, and public goods, laying a foundation for an historical anthropology of Chinese waqfs. Drawing on material from historical Gansu and ethnographic encounters, I argue that whereas shariʿa suffered a kind of “structural death” in China, it does have its own “afterlife,” as illustrated in documents that travel across time and assume new meanings through transnational mobility and memory.


In The Politics of Islamic Law, Iza Hussin compares India, Malaya, and Egypt during the British colonial period in order to trace the making and transformation of the contemporary category of ‘Islamic law.’ She demonstrates that not only is Islamic law not the shari’ah, its present institutional forms, substantive content, symbolic vocabulary, and relationship to state and society—in short, its politics—are built upon foundations laid during the colonial encounter.
Drawing on extensive archival work in English, Arabic, and Malay—from court records to colonial and local papers to private letters and visual material—Hussin offers a view of politics in the colonial period as an iterative series of negotiations between local and colonial powers in multiple locations. She shows how this resulted in a paradox, centralizing Islamic law at the same time that it limited its reach to family and ritual matters, and produced a transformation in the Muslim state, providing the frame within which Islam is articulated today, setting the agenda for ongoing legislation and policy, and defining the limits of change. Combining a genealogy of law with a political analysis of its institutional dynamics, this book offers an up-close look at the ways in which global transformations are realized at the local level.

Mirjam Künkler (University of Göttingen) and David Kloos (KITLV, Leiden) have edited a special issue in the Asian Studies Review on female Islamic authority in Southeast Asia (Vol. 40,4).

Their introductory article titled “Studying Female Islamic Authority: From Top-
Down to Bottom-Up Modes of Certification” is available at

Abstract:This article introduces a special issue on female Islamic authority in contemporary Asia. It provides an overview of the literature on religious authority in Islam and briefly lays out whichmodes of female religious authority have been more accepted than others in the schools of jurisprudence. Based on the articles included in this issue, the introduction makes two chief observations. First, in contrast to the overwhelming consensus among experts of Islamic law that women may serve as muftūn (plural of muftī), in most Muslim-majority societies today women are either seldom found in this role, or where there are muftīyāt (female muftūn), their role is confined to women’s issues. Second, while a growing body of academic studies has drawn attention to the recent phenomenon of state-instituted or –supported programs that train women in Islamic authority, little attention has been paid to the question of how communities react to such programs. The special issue is a call to study female religious authority from the bottom up, in order to better understand why believers, whether men or women, ascribe religious authority to women in some contexts and situations, but overwhelmingly still prefer male religious authority over female, despite the permissiveness for female juristic expertise in Islamic law.


Abstract: Since its establishment in 1979, the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) has played a central role in Egyptian politics.  As the only court with the power of judicial review, the SCC served as a flashpoint between the government and activists of all stripes — from liberals, leftists, and Islamists to human rights organizations, political opposition parties, and everyday citizens — all of whom used the Court to challenge government legislation.  In the process, the SCC played a key role in adjudicating the most important political issues of the day.  This Arabic translation (with new preface) of The Struggle for Constitutional Power (first published in 2007 by Cambridge University Press) offers one of the most detailed accounts, in English or Arabic, of the role of the Supreme Constitutional Court in Egyptian politics over its first three decades of operation.

2013a. “Malaysia’s Syariah Judiciary as Global Assemblage: Islamization, Corporatization, and Other Transformations in Context”.  Comparative Studies in Society and History 55(3): 603-633.

2013b. “A Syariah Judiciary as a Global Assemblage: Islamization and Beyond in a Southeast Asian Context”. In A Companion to the Anthropology of Religion. Janice Boddy and Michael Lambek, eds. Pp. 489-506. New York: Wiley-Blackwell.

2015. “A Tale of Two Courts: Judicial Transformation and the Rise of a Corporate Islamic
Governmentality in Malaysia”. American Ethnologist 44 (1): 144-160.

2016. “Syariah, Inc.: Continuities, Transformations, and Cultural Politics in Malaysia’s Islamic
Judiciary”. In Shari’a Law and Modern Muslim Ethics. Robert W. Hefner, ed. Pp. 229-259.
Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Islamizing Finance: From Magical Capitalism to a Spiritual Economy, Anthropology Today. 32(6): 8-12. 2016.

Abstract: Following recent economic crises there has been a widespread sense around the world that finance is important, but little understanding of what alternatives might exist to prevailing financial practices and networks in which Wall Street and the City of London wield outsized influence. In recent years the Malaysian state has sought to devise an alternative financial system based on Islamic principles, foremost among them a prohibition on interest-bearing loans. Simultaneously the Malaysian central bank has sought to position the country’s capital, Kuala Lumpur, as a principal node in what planners envision as an alternative global financial network to the one centered on New York, London, and Hong Kong. Adverts for Islamic financial products offered by the dozens of Islamic financial firms operating in Malaysia, are pervasive in the country’s larger cities and serve as graphic testament to the hope that Islamic finance offers both more stable global financial arrangements and a means of sustaining the country’s impressive economic growth. In this issue Daromir Rudnyckyj examines contemporary debates over the authenticity of Islamic finance.  Ethnographic attention to the convergence of religious practice and economic action has often been taken as evidence of the mystifying nature of capitalism.  In contrast, Rudnyckyj approaches the magic of capitalism not in terms of occult beliefs or millennial practices, but rather as the tricks and sleight of hand techniques deployed by Islamic finance experts. The initial iteration of Islamic finance in Malaysia relied on what experts refer to as ‘tricks’: stratagems that transformed impermissible contracts into ones capable of being deemed halal by Islamic scholars. Today amidst widespread criticism of these techniques, experts seek to reform Islamic finance and in so doing create a spiritual economy characterized by the ethical practices conducive to neoliberal action: entrepreneurship, risk calculation, and cost-benefits analysis.
The Organizers of the ILS-CRN
Intisar Rabb and
Tamir Moustafa

The Islamic Law and Society Collaborative Research Network is a CRN of the Law and Society Association.  The CRN serves as a resource for scholars working on Islamic law and society from a variety of disciplines, including comparative law and legal history, sociology and cultural anthropology, political science, and related fields.  Areas of collaborative research include the varying and sometimes contested relationships between Islamic law and liberal rights; the transformation of Islamic law and religious authority from the classical to the modern period; contending visions of Islamic law in contemporary social and political movements; and popular understandings of Islamic law among Muslims in the West and Muslim-majority countries.  In these and other substantive areas, a key goal of the Islamic Law and Society CRN is to facilitate conversations between specialists in Islamic legal doctrine and history with scholars examining the social and political construction of Islamic law in its varied forms in the contemporary world.

The CRN sponsors two email listservs:

The Research listserv is dedicated to discussion among scholars with an active research program in Islamic law and society and who have presented their work at an LSA conference at least once in the past three years.  To post a message to the research list, send to:

The Announcements listserv is open to anyone inside or outside of the Law and Society Association with a general interest in Islamic law and society scholarship.  To send a message to the announcements list, direct your message to: