US-PPIP Understanding Sharia: Past Perfect/Imperfect Present

Project Participants

  • Project Leader
    University of Exeter
    United Kingdom
    Leiden University
    The Netherlands
    University of Göttingen
    University of Bergen

Much modern Muslim thought, particularly around legal issues, is characterised by an emulation of past perfection, and a dissatisfaction with an imperfect present. Muslim communities and movements (be they radical and violent or liberal and progressive) usually frame their programmes for change as attempts to preserve, revive and recapture the belief and practice of the past Muslim community. From terrorism which claims to be Islamic (most recently the emergence of Islamic State and the Charlie Hebdo attacks) to the European Shari’a law debates, the need for a greater understanding of the pivotal role of historical precedent in the construction of contemporary Muslim thinking is clear. It is this need the Understanding Shari’a Project aims to address. The participants, all internationally recognised experts in the study of Islamic law, will create a research base and draw on an international networks of expertise. They will also engage in activities whereby this knowledge can be disseminated to a wider, non-academic audience (including both those within and outside of the Muslim community). Understanding the importance of the perceptions of the past, and the authority drawn from precedent for current Muslim thought and practice is too often misunderstood within the academic community (viewing it sometimes as 'blind imitation' of the past), but more crucially amongst policy makers and the general public. This project aims to make a contribution to raising the level of public debate around these issues by emphasising the creative and future-orientation of modern Muslim understandings of the past. The project is a collaboration of four institutions: Universities of Exeter, Leiden, Gottingen and Bergen, and in each institution an established academic (Gleave, Buskens, Schneider and Vikor) will work with a postdoctoral researcher; the project will meet for both academic and public events every six-months, working with both academics and practitioners.

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