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Middle East Scholar Discusses Islamic Law

November 17, 2011

Haider Al Hamoudi, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, demystified sharia law and its origins during a visit to the law school on Nov. 14.

Widely misunderstood by Westerners, sharia refers more to the methods by which the laws have evolved since 900 A.D. than to a specific body of mandates and taboos, Hamoudi said.

The process through which mandates from the Koran were supplemented with utterances by the Prophet Mohammed and later emerged as a consensus reached through analysis and interpretation by jurists in diverse schools describes sharia, Hamoudi said.

Over the centuries, colonialism influenced Islamic laws throughout the Middle East. Despite the interest on the part of some Muslims in recent decades to return sharia law to its roots, most areas of Islamic law have retained the civilian influence they acquired through colonialism.

While modern Islamist movements have embraced the broad principles of sharia, they lack a consistent vision, said Hamoudi, who spent most of 2009 in Baghdad advising the Constitutional Review Committee of the Iraqi legislature on behalf of the United States Embassy there.

The biggest unresolved questions among Iraqis center less on democratic elections or free speech than on questions of who will serve on the courts, whether or not laws can be passed that violate core tenets of Islam and the extent to which sharia should be the exclusive source of law.

Hamoudi’s appearance was sponsored by the American Constitution Society, Middle Eastern Law Students Association and the International Law and Human Rights Society.