Islamic Law Collections across 14 North American Libraries

By Sohaib Baig

I recently attended a gathering that focused on brainstorming the potential scopes of a digital project on Islamic legal history. Someone posed a deceptively simple question: how many books are there on Islamic law?

I decided to survey a selected number of libraries in North America and share some of the initial findings that emerge from their print collections of Islamic law.

My source is Choreo Insights, an analytics tool developed by OCLC for collection development and management purposes. It allows users to analyze and compare library collections by accessing data directly from WorldCat, the global union catalog.

Libraries by Size of Holdings on “Islamic Law”

I first decided to determine the extent of the Islamic law collections across 14 libraries. I did a search for “Islamic Law” in the FAST Heading filter. As a FAST Heading, it will pull any Library of Congress Subject Headings that contain the phrase “Islamic Law,” whether it be for example “Media (Islamic Law)” or “Paternity (Islamic Law).” The query returned titles from multiple LCC Classifications, including K (Law) and B (Philosophy, Psychology, Religion), and others. Of course, this also means that this understanding of “Islamic Law” is limited to texts that address law directly, rather than accounting for the full range of texts and literatures that carry significance for interpreting legal history.

For Format, I selected: Book, Large Print; Book, Print; Book, Thesis/dissertation; Book, Microform; and Journal/Magazine. I excluded e-books, e-journals, and manuscripts (since not all of these institutions have the cataloging metadata for their manuscript collections in WorldCat).

Below are the numbers Choreo Insights returned for individual libraries. These are not necessarily the top 14 libraries in all of WorldCat, but the 14 that I selected.[1]

  Institution Items
1 Harvard 26,239
2 Library of Congress 16,794
2 Princeton 16,109
4 Yale 10,947
5 Columbia 10,380
6 NYU 10,249
7 UC Berkeley 9,013
8 UMichigan 8,889
9 Stanford 8,259
10 UPenn 8,144
11 UCLA 7,281
12 U Chicago 7,134
13 Cornell 6,676
14 McGill 5,934
  Total Items: 152,048

To be clear, the 152,048 items are not unique titles. Many of the titles overlap across libraries, as we shall see below. Additionally, different editions of the same title are counted as separate items. (Each item represents an OCLC number, not OCLC WorkID.)

To further investigate the strengths of each library, I compiled the number of unique items held by each library. By unique, I mean items for which there is only one holding record in all of WorldCat. I set a filter in Choreo Insights for WorldCat Holdings to equal “1” for any edition (OCLC WorkIDs). (This will also exclude titles that have multiple holdings for different editions across the libraries.)

Libraries by Unique Titles:

Institution: Items: Unique Titles (1 holding in Worldcat): Uniqueness of Collection:
1 Harvard 26,239 2,339 8.9%
2 Princeton 16,109 1,582 9.8%
3 Library of Congress 16,794 950 5.6%
4 McGill 5,934 397 6.6%
5 UPenn 8,144 230 2.8%
6 Yale 10,947 176 1.6%
7 Chicago 7,134 140 1.9%
8 UCLA 7,281 between 69 – 184 .94%-2.5%
9 UC Berkeley 9,013 between 39 – 142 .43%-1.5%
10 Stanford 8,259 112 1.3%
11 Columbia 10,380 108 1%
12 Cornell 6,676 82 1.2%
13 NYU 10,249 66 .64%
14 UMichigan 8,889 56 .62%
Total: 152,048 6,346 – 6,495  

This shows that out of 152,048 total holdings between these 14 libraries, at most 6,495 are the only known items in WorldCat (have only one holding record) – and of these, about 49% (3,921) are at Harvard and Princeton. One can also see how certain libraries, such as McGill and UCLA, have more unique items than many libraries with larger collections.

This does not mean that the rest of the holdings are all duplicated amongst these libraries – it only means that another library in WorldCat, anywhere in the world, has listed another copy.

To account for the total number of titles amongst these 14 institutions (total holdings minus duplicates), I did a joint search in Choreo Insights for all 14 libraries (rather than an individual search for each library).

The total number of titles for all 14 institutions came back as 46,032. This means that at least 1 of the 14 institutions carries any one of these 46,032 items. (Again, this will count different editions of the same work as separate items.)

 Taken together, these titles form a sizeable chunk of printed books and serials designated by catalog librarians as directly addressing Islamic law in some fashion.

I investigated them further to see what they might illuminate in terms of library collection development priorities.

Top 9 Languages (of 46,032 titles):

1 Arabic 30,671 66%
2 English 5,077 11%
3 Persian 3,179 6.9%
4 Indonesian 1,782 3.8%
5 Urdu 1,276 2.7%
6 French 1,033 2.2%
7 Turkish 827 1.7%
8 German 461 1%
9 Malay 420 .9%

 While the preeminence of Arabic as a language of Islamic law is well-known, it is remarkable to see the scale of its dominance in the collections. It is also noteworthy to see the #4 position of Indonesian, surpassing Urdu and Turkish.

 Titles by Country of Publication (Top 15):

1 Egypt 8,134
2 Lebanon 5,972
3 Iran 5,529
4 Saudi Arabia 4,298
5 Indonesia 1,852
6 Jordan 1,852
7 Pakistan 1,739
8 India 1,413
9 Morocco 1,379
10 No place, unknown, or undetermined 1,242
11 Turkey 1,231
12 Syria 1,139
13 England 931
14 Iraq 739
15 Malaysia 695

 In this list, we have the usual suspects of Egypt and Lebanon at the top of the rankings. Iran also surpasses Saudi Arabia by more than 1,200 titles, given its longer history of publishing and perhaps its larger population. Together, these four countries form the bulk of Islamic law collections; the rest of the countries are far limited in scope, including even Jordan and Syria. It is also noteworthy to see India elbowing past Morocco, Turkey, and Syria.

 Titles by Date of Publication:

19th century 1800-1849 88
1850-1859 100
1860-1869 113
1870-1879 168
1880-1889 275
1890-1899 374
20th century 1900-1909 614
1910-1919 332
1920-1929 374
1930-1939 442
1940-1949 364
1950-1959 964
1960-1969 1,783
1970-1979 2,268
1980-1989 4,612
1990-1999 6,772
21st century 2000-2009 10,954
2010-2019 12,608
2020-2022 1,928

This chart starkly reveals how the clear majority of the collections are of very recent publications; in fact, at least 65% of the titles were only published since 1990. In general terms, this corresponds with the growth of Islamic law as a field of research in North American universities.[2]

So far, the collections continue to grow each decade since 1950.

The 15 Most Popular Titles across Libraries in WorldCat

Choreo Insights also provides data on the number of library holdings for a given item in WorldCat. While the popularity of books is usually measured in terms of book sales or the number of citations, this feature enables us to see what libraries across the world sought to acquire for their collections.

Keep in mind that this encompasses publications by trade presses and academic presses; it includes any title that had “Islamic law” in its LC subject headings. The items below are ranked in terms of the number of library holdings for each title, including multiple editions and translations thereof (it is based on OCLC WorkIDs). It does not include holdings of digital editions.

Title Author First Published # of Worldcat Holdings (excluding digital editions)
1 Islamic criminal law in Northern Nigeria: politics, religion, judicial practice Weimann, Gunnar J. 2010 1,550
2 The caged virgin: an emancipation proclamation for women and Islam Hirsi Ali, Ayaan. 2006 1,353
3 Islam and Human rights: tradition and politics Mayer, Ann Elizabeth. 1991 1,263
4 An introduction to Islamic law Schacht, Joseph. 1964 1,218
5 Women in Muslim family law Esposito, John L. 1982 1,202
6 A history of Islamic law Coulson, Noel J. 1964 1,102
7 Outlines of Muhammadan Law Fyzee, Asaf Ali Asghar 1949 966
8 The fall and rise of the Islamic state Feldman, Noah. 2008 850
9 The Rights of Women in Islam Engineer, Asghar Ali. 1992 841
10 War and Peace in the Law of Islam Khadduri, Majid. 1955 833
11 Feminism and Islamic fundamentalism: the limits of postmodern analysis Moghissi, Haideh. 1999 762
12 Feminism and Islam: Legal and Literary Perspectives Yamani, Mai. (editor) 1996 758
13 The Dhimmi: Jews and Christians under Islam Bat Yeʼor, et al. 1985 748
14 Heaven on earth: a journey through shari’a law from the deserts of ancient Arabia to the streets of the modern Muslim world Kadri, Sadakat. 2012 734
15 Islam and the secular state: negotiating the future of Shari’a Naim, ‘Abd Allah Ahmad. 2008 721

While this list provides an idea of which English language books proved most popular within library collections, I sought to get more insights on the most popular Arabic titles. The table below ranks Arabic titles in terms of library of holdings for print editions (excluding translations and digital editions). One will immediately notice how the scale of holdings is far less than the English titles. One will also notice how all the authors are from the medieval period; unlike the English books, these are not works authored by modern scholars.

Title Author # of WorldCat Holdings
1 al-Muwaṭṭaʼ Imām Mālik ibn Anas 257
2 Bidāyat al-mujtahid wa-nihāyat al-muqtaṣid Imām Abū al-Walīd Muḥammad ibn  Aḥmad Ibn Rushd al-Andalusī 163
3 al-Aḥkām al-sulṭānīyah wa-al-wilāyāt al-dīnīyah ʻAlī ibn Muḥammad ibn Ḥabīb al-Baṣrī al-Māwardī 145
4 al-Umm Muḥammad ibn Idrīs Shāfiʻī 119
5  al-Risālah Muḥammad ibn Idrīs Shāfiʻī 115
6 al-Lumaʻ fī uṣūl al-fiqh Abū Isḥāq Ibrāhīm ibn ʻAlī ibn Yūsuf Fīrūzābādī al-Shīrāzī 113
7 Iʻlām al-muwaqqiʻīn ʻan Rabb al-ʻĀlamīn Muḥammad ibn Abī Bakr Ibn Qayyim al-Jawzīyah 106
8 al-Muwāfaqāt fī uṣūl al-aḥkām Abū Isḥāq Ibrāhīm ibn Mūsá al-Gharnāṭī al-maʻrūf bi-al-Shāṭibī 103
9 al-Siyāsah al-sharʻīyah fī iṣlāḥ al-rāʻī wa-al-raʻīyah Abū al-ʻAbbās Aḥmad ibn Taymīyah 101
10 Kitāb al-Kharāj Abū Yūsuf Yaʻqūb ibn Ibrāhīm ṣāḥib al-imām Abī Ḥanīfah 94

The number of holdings for other languages are even more limited. See for instance the top 10 books for Persian (which, like the English books, do include many modern authors amongst them).

Title Author # of WorldCat Holdings
1 Wrongful appropriation in Islamic law (in Persian and English) S. H. Amin 54
2 Sulūk al-mulūk Faz̤l Allāh ibn Rūzbahān Khunjī 27
3 Mukhtaṣar-i nāfiʻ Jaʻfar ibn al-Ḥasan Muḥaqqiq al-Ḥillī 24
4  Barrasī-i ʻaqlānī-i ḥaqq, qānūn va ʻadālat dar Islām M. Kūhyār 23
Vāzhahʹnāmah-i ḥuqūq-i Islāmī: Fārsī-Ingilīsī Ḥusayn Mīr Muḥammad Ṣādiqī 23
Vaṭan va sarzamīn va ās̲ār-i ḥuqūqī-i ān az dīdgāh-i fiqh-i Islāmī ʻAbbās ʻAlī ʻAmīd Zanjānī 23
5 Bīmah dar ḥuqūq-i Islām: baḥs̲ī taḥlīlī va taṭbīqī dar bīmahʹhā-yi ijtimāʻī va bīmahʹhā-yi khuṣūṣī Muḥammad Khāminahʹī 21
Advar-i fiqh va kayfiyat-i bunyān-i ān Ibrāhīm Jannātī 21
6 Islām va ḥuqūq-i bashar Zayn al-ʻĀbidīn. Qurbānī Lāhījī 20
Barʹrasī-i mīrās̲-i zawjah dar ḥuqūq-i Islām va Īrān : taḥlīl-i fiqhī va ḥuqūqī-i irs̲-i zan az dārāʼī-i shawhar Ḥusayn Mihrpūr 20

The Madhhabs in Library Collections

Searching on the basis of madhhab (school of law) can be done using the old-fashioned LC subject headings: “Hanafites,” “Hanbalites,” “Malikites,” or “Shafiites.” However, these are not used consistently – many texts for each school are simply classified as “Islamic Law,” without reference to the madhhab. Hence, the data below is not reliable or reflective of the actual distribution. The top ranking of the Mālikī school nevertheless corresponds with the popularity of the al-Muwaṭṭaʼ as seen in the table above.

There is also a subheading for “Shiites—Legal status, laws, etc.” but it does not seem very active – I found better results searching for “Islamic Law” AND “Shiites.”

Madhhab # of Titles
1 Mālikī 2,369
2 Ḥanafī 2,057
3 Shāfi‘ī 1,868
4 Hanbalī 1,521
5 Shī‘ī 1,415

Concluding Thoughts:

Strictly speaking, the data here does not represent the historical field of publishing, but library collection development at these specific libraries. This data is also very much dependent on cataloging conventions at these libraries. There may be many texts which should be categorized under “Islamic Law,” but are not due to a lack of knowledge, and hence are not included in this dataset. In addition, as in the example of the madhhab, many subheadings for Islamic law are used inconsistently and sparingly.

It should also be noted that library collection development today is a process that involves many constituencies: it is motivated by research on campus by faculty and students, the visions and priorities of subject librarians (who contend with varying budgets and levels of institutional support for processing), as well as vendors on the ground in the respective countries who usually are on the frontlines of acquiring materials for large academic libraries. Building a broad and unique collection in Islamic law in practice requires all the parties involved to have an interest and familiarity in the subjects of Islamic law and its diverse landscapes of publishing.

By far, the largest proportion of the collections are from Lebanon, Egypt, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. Even though these countries are not home to the most populous Muslim societies, their publications dominate the study of Islamic law. Of course, this may reflect their historical preeminence in publishing more generally, as compared to other countries (apart from Saudi Arabia, perhaps). Librarians looking to diversify and expand the breadth of their collections may do well to allocate more resources for other regions and countries around the world, including especially Africa, South and Southeast Asia, Central Asia, Turkey and the Balkans, and even other Arabic-speaking countries.

While the history of collections at some these libraries extends back more than 200 years, the bulk of their holdings for Islamic Law are only 30 years old. This exposes another opportunity to expand holdings of materials published in the 19th century (and earlier) and the first half of the 20th century. Materials from these periods are often more vulnerable to physical disintegration and decay due to the nature of their paper and structure, and less easy to locate due to inconsistent and short print runs. This makes it all the more important and urgent to pursue materials from these periods.

The relative newness of the collections also contains ramifications for digitization projects,, as most materials would by default be restricted by copyright protections and be ineligible for open-access digitization projects. For instance, while HathiTrust hosts about 7,603 digitized items pertaining to Islamic Law (drawn from 25 institutions, but mostly from the University of Michigan and the University of California), only 1,090 are available as Full View (with the latest date of publication being 1927). In contrast, Arabic Collections Online, with more thorough and country-specific copyright guidelines, provides full access to at least 1,811 Arabic items that feature Islamic Law in their subject headings (with the latest publication date as far as 1990).

Altogether, there is an exciting and newfound abundance of resources that can enable scholars to pursue new avenues of research in the years to come. However, there do remain gaps – geographical, linguistic, and historical – in the print collections that deserve to be pursued by scholars and librarians alike to achieve a more comprehensive understanding of the texts and contexts of Islamic law.

Acknowledgements: I’m grateful to Iman Dagher and Guy Burak for sharing insightful feedback on this essay.


[1]  The data in this essay dates to June 16, 2023. The numbers will naturally change as more materials are added to library collections and uploaded to WorldCat.

[2] See Intisar Rabb, Methods and Meaning in Islamic Law, 2 J. Islamic L. (2021), (last visited Jul. 27, 2023)

(Suggested Bluebook citation: Sohaib Baig, Islamic Law Collections across 14 North American Libraries, Islamic Law Blog (Aug. 3, 2023),

(Suggested Chicago citation: Sohaib Baig, “Islamic Law Collections across 14 North American Libraries,” Islamic Law Blog, August 3, 2023,

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