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Middle East Forum

Islamic Law Seminar:


The Center for Middle East and Islamic Studies hosted a fall semester seminar on the Shariah in early November, 2011. As part of a continuing program to expose Midshipmen to major trends in Middle East and Islamic Studies, the seminar featured a few of the foremost Islamic Law experts from around the world to discuss a topic intrinsic to Islam.

Islamic Law, or the Shariah, is perhaps the most contentious and misunderstood area of Islamic Studies. Post 9/11, the general public in America is often left with polemics with little recourse to unbiased interpretations. A basic understanding of the nature of the Shariah; the major Islamic Madhabs - or schools of Islamic legal thought; and the Shariah’s place in Islamic history is an essential toolset for future naval officers who will interact with Muslim populations. This seminar provided a benchmark understanding of USNA Midshipmen on the road to bridging the gap between ‘pop culture’ knowledge of Islamic jurisprudence and legitimate scholarship.

Opening Comments:

John Limbert, Class of 1955 Chair of Middle East Studies, USNA

John Limbert was appointed Distinguished Professor of International Affairs at the U.S. Naval Academy in August 2006 after retiring from the Foreign Service with the rank of Minister-Counselor.  Ambassador Limbert was president of the American Foreign Service Association (2003-2005) and Ambassador to the Islamic Republic of Mauritania (2000-2003).  While serving as Ambassador, he was one of the first civilian officials to enter Baghdad in April 2003, with the Organization for Recon­struction and Humanitarian Assistance.  Ambassador Limbert first joined the Foreign Service in 1973, and his overseas experience also included tours in Algeria, Djibouti, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.  From 1981 to 1984 he taught Political Science at the U.S. Naval Academy, and in 1991-92 he was a Senior Fellow at Harvard University’s Center for International Affairs.  Ambassador Limbert holds the Department of State’s highest award -- the Distinguished Service Award -- and other department awards, including the Award for Valor, which he received after fourteen months as a hostage in Iran.  He also holds the American Foreign Service Association’s Rivkin Award for creative dissent.  His foreign languages are Persian, Arabic, and French.   


David Gompert, Visiting Distinguished Professor of Political Science, USNA

David C. Gompert assumed the position of Acting Director of National Intelligence in May 2010 and was the principal intelligence advisor to the President and provided general oversight of the U.S. Intelligence Community. He as Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence since November 2009. Prof. Gompert was Senior Fellow at the RAND Corporation starting in 2004. From 2003-2004 he was the Senior Advisor for National Security and Defense for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq and has been on the faculty of the RAND Pardee Graduate School, United States Naval Academy, and the National Defense University where he was a Distinguished Research Professor.  Prof. Gompert served as Special Assistant to President George H.W. Bush and Senor Director for Europe and Eurasia on the National Security Council Staff. In addition he has held a number of positions in the Department of State, been a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, Executive Panel of the Chief of Naval Operations, Foreign Policy Association, Atlantik Brucke, and the Board of Trustees of Hopkins House. Prof. Gombert has published a number of books including Underkill: Capabilities for Military Operations amid Populations and War by Other Means: Building Complete and Balanced Capabilities for Counterinsurgency.



Muhammad Fadel, Professor of Islamic Law, University of Toronto Faculty of Law

Mohammad H. Fadel is the professor of Religion and the Liberal State: The Case of Islam. He joined the Faculty of Law in January 2006. He received his B.A. in Government and Foreign Affairs (1988), a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago (1995) and his J.D. from the University of Virginia (1999). While at the University of Virginia School of Law, Professor Fadel was a John M. Olin Law and Economics Scholar and Articles Development Editor of the Virginia Law Review. Prior to law school, Professor Fadel completed his Ph.D in Chicago, where he wrote his dissertation on legal process in medieval Islamic law. Professor Fadel was admitted to the Bar of New York in 2000 and practiced law with the firm of Sullivan & Cromwell LLP in New York, New York, where he worked on a wide variety of corporate finance transactions and securities-related regulatory investigations. In addition, Professor Fadel served as a law clerk to the Honorable Paul V. Niemeyer of the United States Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit and the Honorable Anthony A. Alaimo of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Georgia. Professor Fadel has published numerous articles in Islamic legal history.

Robert Gleave, Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, Exeter University

Gleave's current research projects include: Principal Investigator on the project "Legitimate and Illegitimate Violence in Islamic Thought", a three-year project, funded by the AHRC and ESRC as part of the Global Uncertainties Programme (archived). The total budget is £594,251, and the project commences on 1st January 2010. The project will examine the legal reasoning of Muslim jurists and ethical thinkers by which acts of violence are justified or condemned. The Research Fellow attached to this project is Dr Istvan Kristo-Nagy.  More information on the project can be found on the project website, Principal Investigator for the three-year collaborative project (2009-2011) between the British Society for Middle Eastern Studies (BRISMES) and the British Institute of Persian Studies (BIPS), sponsored by the British Academy, entitled Clerical Authority in Shi'ite Islam: The Seminaries of Iraq and Iran.

Ann Mayer, Associate Professor of Legal Studies and Business Ethics, Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania

Ann Mayer earned her PhD in Middle Eastern History from the University of Michigan, a Certificate in Islamic and Comparative Law from the School of Oriental and African Studies of the University of London, a JD from the Law School of the University of Pennsylvania, and an MA in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures from the University of Michigan. She is author of numerous books on Islamic law and human rights including Islam and Human Rights (2007). Prof. Mayer is a regular consultant on matters of Islam and human rights including recent work for the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights on the situation in post-war Kuwait, the U.S. Department of State on the Middle East and North Africa, and the CIA on Human Rights and Middle East politics. 

Felicitas Opwis, Assistant Professor of Arabic and Islamic Studies, Georgetown University.

In her scholarly inquiries Felicitas Opwis addresses the religious sciences of Islam and the historical, social, and political environment in which Islamic thought is articulated. Her main research field focuses on Islamic jurisprudence, and in particular how the formulation of Islamic legal theory is related to intellectual discourse in other fields of Muslim learning, and to the political and social environment. She investigates how Islamic jurisprudents tackle the perpetual dilemma of achieving legal change without changing the scriptural foundations of the law. Through close comparative analyses she looks at how and why legal principles, such as public interest and juristic preference, change over time. Felicitas Opwis has published several articles and book chapters on questions of legal change in Islamic jurisprudence. These publications deal with the construction of authority within schools of law; re-interpretation of particular legal principles; whether or not a “reformation” has occurred in Islamic law; and the development of the concept of public interest/maslaha. She is currently preparing a book manuscript on the development of the concept of maslaha in Islamic legal theory from the 10th to the 15th century.  

David Powers, Professor of Near Eastern Studies, Cornell University

David S. Powers, Professor of Near Eastern Studies at Cornell, received his Ph.D. and M.A. from Princeton University, in Islamic History, in 1979 and a B.A. from Yale University in 1973. He has been a faculty member in Cornell?s Near Eastern Studies Department since 1979. He will teach a seminar, Islamic Law and History, in the spring semester. B.A. 1973, Yale University Ph.D. 1979, Princeton University


Intisar Rabb, Professor of Islamic Law, Boston College Law School

Intisar A. Rabb is a member of the law faculty at Boston College Law School, where she teaches in the areas of advanced constitutional law, criminal law, and comparative and Islamic law.  She is also a research affiliate at the Harvard Law School Islamic Legal Studies Program and a 2010 Carnegie Scholar, awarded a grant for her research on "Islamic Law and Legal Change: The Internal Critique," which examines criminal law reform in the Muslim world.  Her research in comparative law and legal history combines a policy-oriented assessment of public values with analyses of various schools of legal interpretation in different systems of law.  She is particularly interested in questions at the intersection of criminal justice, legislative policy, and judicial process in American law and in the law of the Middle East and the wider Muslim world

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