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Decolonising Islamic Studies

Contemporary Islamic legal studies – both inside and outside the Muslim world – commonly relies upon a secular distortion of law. I use translation as a metonym for secular transformations and, accordingly, I will demonstrate how secular ideology translates the Islamic tradition.

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A secular translation converts the Islamic tradition into "religion" (the non-secular) and Islamic law into "sharia"--a term intended to represent the English mispronunciation of the Arabic word (sharīʿah) شريعة. I explore the differences between historical Islamic terms and secular terms in order to demonstrate that coloniality generates religion and religious law; in turn, these two notions convert شريعة (sharīʿah) into "sharia" in both Arabic and non-Arabic languages. Consequently, the notion of "sharia" is part of a colonial system of meaning.


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Professor Lena SALAYMEH is British Academy Global Professor in the Oxford School of Global and Area Studies (University of Oxford) and Professor in the Section des Sciences Religieuses of the École Pratique des Hautes Études (Paris Sciences et Lettres). She is also Co-Organizer of the Decolonial Comparative Law Project at the Max Planck Institute for Comparative and Private International Law (Hamburg). She is a scholar of law and history, with specializations in Islamic jurisprudence, Jewish jurisprudence, and critical theory. She received a Guggenheim fellowship and her first book, The Beginnings of Islamic Law: Late Antique Islamicate Legal Traditions, received the American Academy of Religion Award for Excellence in the Study of Religion in the category of Textual Studies.

Tea and coffee will be served in the IAIS Common Room at 4.45pm.


IAIS Building/LT1