Islamic law class to be taught next semester
By Erin Cole
Earlier this semester, Jeff Renz, a law professor at The University of Montana, appeared on a conservative radio show to discuss the myths and realities of Islamic law. Accompanying him to Missoula’s KVGO studio were UM professor Mehrdad Kia and Robert Seidenschwarz, president of the World Affairs Council of Montana.
According to Renz, the talk stirred up a fair amount of debate.
“It was an interesting conversation,” he said. “A lot of the myths were repeated and we talked about those as well as a lot of the accuracies that are negative.”
The appearance was a launching pad for Renz, who plans to expand the conversation this fall semester by teaching an Islamic law class at UM.
This development adds UM to the growing number of American universities offering classes on Islamic law, ranging from the University of Minnesota to Yale. Islamic law, also known as Shariah law, guides the daily behavior and actions of Muslims while influencing the legal code of Islamic countries.
The three-credit class, ANTY 491, will meet three times a week and is open to UM undergraduate, graduate and law students. Renz said the course will examine the development of Islam along with the four principles of Islamic jurisprudence and will address the challenges of applying Sharia law in the 21st century.
Renz said Shariah law is not monolithic and that legal codes vary from one Muslim country to another and are often intertwined with tribal law.
“The most important thing they’ll learn is that what people perceive to be Islamic law is really local and national law rationalized, and falsely rationalized, by reference to the Quran,” he said.
Renz said that Shariah law’s core values are dignity, equality and justice, principles that were overshadowed in the midst of Islamic imperialism and European colonialism. Today, Renz said that Shariah law is in “enormous ferment” with regards to women’s and human rights and that he wants to explore both the negative and positive aspects.
Renz developed an interest in the subject due to his travels throughout Central Asia. After years spent studying books and journals on the topic, last fall he attended a week-long Islamic law and human rights conference in Salzburg, Austria. The conference solidified past talks with UM’s Central and Southwest Asian Studies Center about creating the class.
“Somewhere along the way we said we had to do it,” Renz said. “Once the decision was made to do it, things moved fast.”
Seidenschwarz, who participated with Renz on the radio show, said he’s glad UM would offer the course.
“I would greatly encourage anyone to take this class,” he said. “There’s so much misunderstanding and misinformation about what it is and there’s no uniformity in the Islamic world on interpretation.”
He said that many fears revolve around the question of whether Shariah law will either supplement or subordinate the current U.S. legal system.
Despite experiencing “not a peep” of backlash, Renz contends that there might be some disapproval of the class, and he does expect there will be controversy in the classroom.
Original post: Islamic law class to be taught next semester